COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF PROVERBS: PART ONE
SERMON PRESENTED ON 10-24-15
When Solomon became king over Israel, he reflected on how God had blessed his father David and he determined to walk in the way of his father David and govern Israel in righteousness. He knew he could not do this on his own. It is recorded in 1 Kings 3:5 that God appeared to Solomon in a dream and told him to ask for whatever he wanted God to give him. Here is what Solomon asked for and how God replied.
I Kings 3:6-8: Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?" The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, "Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.
We immediately see the wisdom of Solomon demonstrated in an account recorded in 1 Kings 3:16-28. Here we have two prostitutes who live together and each gives birth to a baby. Apparently they weren’t using protection. While both prostitutes are asleep one of the mothers accidently lays on her baby and the baby dies. This mother then takes her dead baby and lays it next to her sleeping roommate and takes her roommate’s baby as her own. When the roommate awakens she realizes the dead baby at her side is not hers but belongs to her roommate. Her roommate denies this and the matter comes up before Solomon. Solomon asks for a sword and instructs that the living child be cut in two and a half be given to each mother. One of the women begged Solomon not to kill the baby while the other woman went along with cutting the baby in half. Solomon was able to quickly determine it was the woman who begged not to have the baby sawed in half who was the real mother.
We further read about Solomon’s wisdom, insights and understanding in 1 Kings Chapter four.
1 Kings 4:29-34: God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. Solomon's wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than any other man, including Ethan the Ezrahite--wiser than Heman, Calcol and Darda, the sons of Mahol. And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon's wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom.
With this brief overview as to the wisdom and understanding of Solomon, let us now begin to look at the Biblical book of Proverbs.
Proverbs 1:1-6: The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young—let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance--for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise.
This book begins by identifying the proverbs it contains as being of Solomon, king of Israel and provided for the purpose of attaining wisdom and discipline, understanding words of insight, acquiring a disciplined and prudent life and doing what is right, just and fair. While Solomon’s proverbs appear to be directed toward the young, it is evident that they are meant to add to the learning of anyone wise enough to listen to them.
Most of the proverbs contained in this compilation appear to be from Solomon. In addition to chapter one verse one identifying the proverbs as being of Solomon, chapter 10 also begins with the phrase, “The proverbs of Solomon,” and chapter 25 begins with the phrase, “These are more proverbs of Solomon.”
It must be noted, however that not all the proverbs in this collection are from Solomon. In Proverbs 22:17 and 24:23 the writer speaks of “sayings of the wise” which may indicate sayings of other wise men are included in this collection. Some scholars have noted that 30 sayings of the wise in Proverbs 22:17 to 24:32 contain similarities to 30 sections of an Egyptian document of instruction that was contemporary with the time of Solomon.
In addition to the “sayings of the wise” possibly being associated with sayings other than those of Solomon, we also find chapter 30 attributed to a person named Agur, son of Jakeh and Proverbs 31:1-9 is attributed to King Lemuel. Neither the Scriptures nor secular sources identify who Argu or Lemuel are.
When it was that the individual proverbs of Solomon and others were compiled and made into a book is unknown. Proverbs 25:1 we read this:
Proverbs 25:1: These are more proverbs of Solomon, copied by the men of Hezekiah king of Judah.”
The indication is there were additional proverbs of Solomon that were found and were being copied by scribes during the reign of Hezekiah. Remember, 1 Kings 4 records that Solomon spoke 3000 proverbs.
What is a proverb? The English word proverb is taken from the Latin word proverbium which means “a common saying.” Proverbs are usually pithy sayings that express a common sense practical understanding of the dynamic of human behavior. The Hebrew word translated Proverb in the book of Proverbs appears to have a broader meaning than the Latin. In Isaiah 14:4, the NIV renders it as “taunt” as in taunting someone. Isaiah is seen as taunting the king of Babylon by saying, “How the oppressor has come to an end! How his fury has ended!” In the book of Numbers the word is rendered as “oracle” in reference to Balaam receiving a message from God regarding the cursing of Israel. In Ezekiel 17:2 it is rendered as the English word “parable.”
In general, Proverbs describe the consequences of human behavior, either good or bad. This is what we largely see in the proverbs attributed to Solomon. Many of Solomon’s proverbs express a contrast and in many of the proverbs Solomon uses figurative language to get a point across. As we will see in studying the proverbs of Solomon, he uses a great deal of figurative language such as analogy, metaphor and rhetorical exaggeration (hyperbole) to make his points. Proverbs 3:13-14 is an example of the use of analogy which is showing something to be like something else. It involves drawing parallels and making comparisons.
Proverbs 3:13-14: Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.
Here Solomon analogizes silver and gold to the seeking of wisdom and understanding. By saying the seeking of wisdom and understanding is more profitable than silver and gold, he compares wisdom and understanding to two commodities that are known to be very valuable and thus is able to drive home the message that wisdom and understanding are of great value.
Metaphor is using the non-literal to represent the literal. Metaphor often uses symbols to represent the real thing. One example of Solomon using metaphor is found in Proverbs 20:5:
Proverbs 20:5: The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.
Here Solomon is using the image of deep waters to represent a man’s heart. Obviously a mans heart is not literally deep waters but Solomon is using “deep waters” to show how the purposes or counsels of man, as some translations render it, can be deep in the heart of man but can be drawn out by understanding. Actually using the word “heart” is metaphoric in that it is symbolic of the seat of human thoughts. In this respect Solomon is using a double metaphor here to represent the thoughts of man.
A third tool of language Solomon uses a lot of in the Proverbs is hyperbole. Hyperbole is the use of language in exaggerated ways to make a point. Hyperbole takes the use of metaphor to a higher lever.
Proverbs 20:2: A king's wrath is like the roar of a lion; he who angers him forfeits his life.
Saying the kings wrath is like the roar of a lion is using a metaphor in an exaggerated manner to get the point across that the wrath of a king is nothing you want to expose yourself to as it can result in your death just as being exposed to the roar of a lion.
Knowledge, Understanding and Wisdom:
An overriding theme in the Proverbs is the importance of knowledge, understanding and wisdom and how these three sisters, as their sometimes called, start with acknowledging God. Solomon emphasizes that knowledge; understanding and wisdom begin with fearing God.
Proverbs 1:7: The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
Proverbs 3:5: Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
Proverbs 9:10: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
Solomon says the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge. To have knowledge is to know about things. It is to have information. Solomon is saying that knowing about things and possessing information begins with fearing God. Possessing information of what it means to fear God is where our knowledge must begin. The first thing we should know is that we must fear God. What does it mean to fear God? We find in the scriptures around 300 references to fearing God. But how do we fear God. We can learn, that is gain knowledge, of what it means to fear God by looking at how the Scriptures define what it means to fear God. Let’s consider just a few of such Scriptures.
In Genesis 20 we have the account of Abraham telling king Abimelech that his wife Sarah was his sister. Why did he do this? The Scriptures reveal why.
Genesis 20:10-11: And Abimelech asked Abraham, "What was your reason for doing this?" Abraham replied, "I said to myself, `There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.'
Abraham did what he did because he felt he would be killed for his wife. He believed Abimelech had no qualms about committing murder to get what he wanted which means he had no respect for God’s proscription against murder.
In Exodus chapter 1 we have the account of the Hebrews being oppressed by the Egyptian Pharaoh but still managing to multiple in number by having many children. Because the Pharaoh felt that the growing Hebrew population was a threat to his kingdom he ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill male newborns.
Exodus 1:17: The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.
In contrast to Abraham’s belief that Abimelech would kill him because he believed Abimelech did not respect God’s proscription against murder, the Hebrew midwives would not kill the baby boys because they did respect God’s proscription against murder.
We find throughout the scriptures that disrespect and disobedience to the law of God equates with not fearing God while respect and reverence for and obedience to the law of God largely defines what it means to fear God. Fearing God is consistently tied to obedience to God. When God gave the Ten Commandments to Israel he said this to Moses.
Deuteronomy 5:29: Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!
Deuteronomy 6;1-2: These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life.
To fear God is to have the utmost reverence and respect for who God is. To fear God is to acknowledge God as sovereign over all reality. To acknowledge God as sovereign over all things is to acknowledge our subservience to God. it is to acknowledge that God is the ultimate source of right knowledge, understanding and wisdom.
Proverbs 2:6: For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
We fear God by acknowledging God as the one who defines right from wrong and good from evil. It is God who defines morality and ethics which is summed up in His law. Solomon, in his book of Ecclesiastes summed up what it means to fear God when he wrote the following:
Ecclesiastes 12:13: Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole [duty] of man.
Solomon said that “knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” To have knowledge is to possess information. To understand information is to comprehend its significance and determine its usefulness. To understand something is to determine its value. For example, I may have knowledge of a particular drug and what it is purported to do even though I don’t comprehend how it works in the body or what side effects it may have or how effective it really is. Now if I study the drug in detail, I can come to comprehend how it works, its side effects and its efficacy. Now I not only have knowledge of the drug and its purported value, but I comprehend how and why it works and if it truly has value.
When it comes to understanding God, we can have a superficial knowledge of God but very little comprehension of who God is, very little understanding of the dynamics that make up God. To understand God we must learn about God. We learn about God through what has been revealed about God in the scriptures. The Proverbs are a good place to learn certain things about God.
Proverbs 3:19-20: By wisdom the LORD laid the earth's foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.
While we often hear it said that God created the physical universe out of nothing, it is evident from the scriptures God used knowledge, understanding and wisdom in the creative process much like an architect does. By studying the scriptures we not only come to a better knowledge of God but we come to understand the dynamics of God’s nature and His character. By studying the scriptures we not only come to have knowledge of God’s creative power and sovereignty but we also learn about how God thinks. For example, we learn from the Proverbs what it is God loves and also what it is God hates.
Proverbs 15:9: The LORD detests the way of the wicked but he loves those who pursue righteousness.
Proverbs 6:16-19: There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.
All this should be very instructive to us because if we are to grow in the grace and knowledge of God as the scriptures teach, we need to learn how God thinks and think accordingly. We need to learn to love what God loves and hate what God hates.
Wisdom is the proper application of knowledge and understanding. One can have a great deal of knowledge, have great understanding of such knowledge but if lacking in the ability to properly apply such knowledge and understanding it can be all for naught. In this respect, wisdom may be the most important dynamic of the three sisters of knowledge, understanding and wisdom. Wisdom is seen as being first in line and its exercise as not only seen in reference to the proper application of knowledge and understanding but as the impetus for acquiring knowledge and understanding.
We see in the Proverbs a great deal of emphasis on wisdom. We see wisdom personified and seen as speaking to us and admonishing us to seek knowledge and understanding.
Proverbs 1:20-22: Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out, in the gateways of the city she makes her speech: "How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?
Proverbs 3:13-18 Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed.
Proverbs 4:6-8: Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you.
While we see Solomon placing high value on knowledge and understanding, he sees wisdom as supreme. Solomon exercised great wisdom in calling for a sword to have the disputed baby cut in half in order to determine who its mother was. Solomon took the knowledge of the situation presented to him, pondered the facts of the matter so he could understand exactly what he was dealing with and them exercised the necessary wisdom to come up with a solution that would be true and just.
In reading through the Proverbs, much of what is written reflects the wise application of knowledge and understanding. Instruction in the use of wisdom is the focus of the Proverbs. We read in Proverbs 1:20 22 how wisdom calls aloud in the streets. Solomon leads up to this personification of wisdom by showing an example of a how wisdom can be applied to avoid negative consequences.
Proverbs 1:10-19: My son, if sinners entice you, do not give in to them. If they say, "Come along with us; let's lie in wait for someone's blood, let's waylay some harmless soul; let's swallow them alive, like the grave, and whole, like those who go down to the pit; we will get all sorts of valuable things and fill our houses with plunder; throw in your lot with us, and we will share a common purse"-- my son, do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths; for their feet rush into sin, they are swift to shed blood. How useless to spread a net in full view of all the birds! These men lie in wait for their own blood; they waylay only themselves! Such is the end of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the lives of those who get it.
Here is a typical example of having knowledge and understanding of a situation and exercising the wisdom to avoid the risks and dangers involved. It is because such wisdom is not exercised that people get into trouble and end up paying with their lives or spending much of their life in prison. Many criminals are criminals not because they are stupid or don’t understand the potential consequences of their behavior. They are criminals because they make unwise decisions. They are enticed by ill-gotten gain. They fail to consider the risks associated with their behavior. In most cases they know and understand what they are doing is against the law and if they are caught there will be a price to pay. But the prospect of un-earned plunder overpowers their use of wisdom in properly assessing and considering the potential risks involved in what they are doing.
Recently a young man was walking past our store and saw the front door was propped open and that the cash register draw was open as well as our employee was checking out a customer. The man came in and reached over the counter and grabbed the cash that was in the register and started for the door. He probably thought he was free and clear and was going to get away with an easy theft. What he didn’t consider was the potential risk of being pursued and taken down which is exactly what happened.
My son Kevin, being the macho man he thinks he is, ran out after the guy, tackled him in a neighbor’s yard and held him down for ten minutes until the police arrived. This man is now in jail were he will spend time reflecting on his lack of wisdom. As it turned out, this criminal was already on probation for another crime he had committed. He must have known that he was placing himself in jeopardy of going back to prison by committing another crime. But the prospect of getting some money in a quick heist overrode his consideration of the dynamics of what he was doing which is what wisdom is all about. Wisdom is all about evaluating the dynamics of a situation and making the best possible decision.
Now you may be thinking that Kevin lacked wisdom in tearing out after a guy that could have been armed. However, sometimes one has to make a quick decision based on an instant evaluation of a situation and act accordingly. Kevin saw no evidence of the man being armed so he pursued him.
As we move through the Proverbs we will learn how to apply wisdom to many situations of life. This will indeed be a profitable journey.