Words, their purpose can be either to build people up or to tear them down. Words can be used to brag or to praise, to criticize or to compliment. Some words help and some do harm.
Words communicate. Words hold meaning. They express thoughts and emotions, represent objects and draw pictures.
According to Google, a proverb is “a short pithy saying in general use, stating a general truth or piece of advice.”
Proverbs use words to communicate a truth or a piece of advice.
Today, we are looking at the “Proverbs of Solomon.”
This word, “Proverbs” is an attempt to translate the Hebrew word “mashal,” and is much more than “a short pithy saying.” The “Pulpit Commentary says:
The radical signification of mashal is "comparison" or "similitude," and in this sense it is applied generally to the utterances of the wise. . . . The predominant idea of the term is that of comparison or similitude, and as such it is better represented by the Greek παραβολή (from παραβάλλω, "to set or place side by side"), literally, a placing beside, or comparison.[ii]
The first 10 chapters of the book of Proverbs are lengthy discourses. Then the “Proverbs” become the comparisons or similitudes that this definition speaks of. The Proverbs use many couplets. These couplets compare things, the wise and foolish, the rich and poor, the godly and the ungodly.
These Proverbs are words, words arranged for a purpose. This purpose is stated plainly in Proverbs 1:2-4. The chief and overriding purpose is to teach people wisdom.
These are words arranged to give people understanding, knowledge, insight and judgement.
These words come from Solomon. He was David’s son and he was king of Israel. As a young king, just beginning his reign, Solomon asked God for wisdom. In answer, God made Solomon the wisest man that ever lived. God inspired Solomon to record these words of wisdom. In view of the fact that these are the words chosen by the wisest man that ever lived, we can assume that wisdom does not get any better than this.
Google defines wisdom as “the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment.” In this definition, we see three parts or components of wisdom: experience, knowledge and good judgment. In Proverbs, we see some of the components of wisdom laid out for us in the statement of purpose. In other words, when Solomon says words like “instruction,” “understanding,” “discipline,” “wise behavior,” “righteousness,” “justice” and “equity,” he is giving us some of the components or parts of wisdom.
We can plainly see that wisdom is much more complex than the simple definition that is given by Google.
Wisdom takes a lifetime to acquire and yet here in Proverbs 1:4 it says, “These proverbs will give insight to the simple.” Wisdom, as a subject, is complex and deep enough to engage the brightest minds for a lifetime and yet plain enough in its basic truths to be grasped by the naïve or simple.
Let’s go to a big question. So what? Why should I care? What is so important about wisdom that I should concern myself with it?
Pithy sayings, snappy comebacks and wise sayings may be interesting to some, but what is their relevance to life?
We have already established that we are talking about much more than pithy sayings. However, the Proverbs have much to say about the value of wisdom. Proverbs 1:7 says, “Fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
With this statement, we are introduced to the antithesis of wisdom, foolishness.
So what, why should I concern myself with wisdom? In several places, the book of Proverbs compares foolishness to wisdom. One such place is Proverbs 1:32 where wisdom says, “For simpletons turn away from me--to death. Fools are destroyed by their own complacency.” This is the biggest reason to concern ourselves with wisdom. It is a matter of life and death.
In verse 7 of Proverbs 1, Solomon gives us the starting point of all wisdom. He says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” (ESV)[iii]
This idea is repeated several times in Proverbs:
Then you will discern the fear of the LORD And discover the knowledge of God.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
The fear of the LORD is the instruction for wisdom.
In Psalm 14:1, it says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” This then is the opposite of fearing the Lord, to say in one’s heart, “There is no God.”
We all know atheists who say there is no God. They may even be prosperous and have much of the world’s goods. Some are brilliant scientists, mathematicians, doctors, lawyers or educators. It appears that saying there is no God does not cause death. It is easy to deceive ourselves because of this. However, the Scriptures say, “For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.” (Matthew 7:13, ESV)
We all have a tendency to say in our hearts, “There is no God.”
When you are all alone, tempted by your favorite sin, does the truth that God is present everywhere restrain you?
Does the truth that God knows your thoughts restrain your fantasies, jealousies and anger?
These questions trouble me, because I find that I live at times as if God does not exist. I find that I cannot hide much from my wife. She seems to know when something is bothering me even before I do. And yet, I try to hide stuff from God.
The ultimate foolishness is to decide in our hearts that there is no God. When God points out to me where I have tried to hide from Him or have lived as if He is not there, my immediate response should be to repent.
The beginning of knowledge and wisdom is to acknowledge God.
John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (ESV) This is talking about Jesus. He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, ESV) Jesus is the expression of God. Hebrews 1 develops this truth by saying that God has spoken to us through His son and His son is the very shining forth of God’s glory.
Our world tries to appear wise by making room for everyone to have their own understanding of who God is. However, this will not work. Jesus clearly says that He is the only way. No one gets to God except through Him. He is the very expression of God. Going into all the reasons we can trust His testimony would take too much of our time, therefore, let’s just say since He is the only person to rise from the dead in all of history, we should take His word for it.
If we compare this truth to our atheist friends who say there is no God, we see that they are throwing away life for what leads to death. John 3:18 says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” However prosperous or successful or smart a person is in this life, what advantage do they have if they face eternity condemned by their unbelief?
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.
As we said, wisdom involves “instruction,” “understanding,” “discipline,” “wise behavior,” “righteousness,” “justice” and “equity” along with knowledge. All these component parts of wisdom start with a right relationship to God. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Nothing that we build that does not acknowledge God will last. 1 Corinthians 3:11-13 says:
For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. (ESV)
This is talking about what we build with our lives. We can build family, fortune, relationships. We can do good works or evil. However, this passage is telling us that there is only one foundation on which to build, Jesus Christ. But, how do we know what to build with? This is where wisdom comes in. How we live our lives is the domain of wisdom. Wisdom is expressed in words, words that bring life and help. The foundation of wisdom is to acknowledge God.
A concise statement of a wise life is found in Proverbs 3:5-6:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. (NLT)
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
[iii] Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.