Book of Proverbs- Introduction

A Study of the Book of Proverbs
By: Pastor Paul Campbell

 

Introduction to the Book 

Proverbs 1:1-6; Ecclesiastes 12:8-14

What does the word “proverb” mean?  As one author said it “is a short sentence drawn from long experience” (Willmington’s Guide to the Bible).  One dictionary definition of the word “proverb” is “a short, pithy saying in frequent and widespread use that expresses a basic truth or practical precept.”  Another dictionary says it is “a pithy saying, especially one condensing the wisdom of experience.”  The first synonym for the word “proverb” in the dictionary is “maxim” which means “a succinct formulation of a fundamental principle, general truth, or rule of conduct.”

The word for proverb from the Hebrew is a little more involved than what our English word for “proverb” would denote.  It includes also the fable, the riddle, the satire, and the parable.

Holman’s Bible Dictionary says this about “proverbs”:  Proverbs generally operate on the principle that consequences follow acts: you reap.   what you sow. In a fallen world, however, God’s justice is sometimes delayed. The “better—than” proverbs in particular show the disorder of the present world, the “exceptions to the rule.” The righteous thus works and prays, like the psalmist, for the day when God will make all things right.

So, we can determine by defining the word “proverb” that this book in our Bible called “The Proverbs” is a book that is to teach us, by short sentences, a very important truth.  It will do this by several different methods, but all of them will be vital for our view of the world and our place as a “wisdom-seeker” in it.

Although the book of Proverbs was given in the Old Testament it is still so very important for New Testament believers.  It’s much like the Psalms in that it is a book without time-honoring hindrances.  It is a timeless book.

A great introduction to the book of Proverbs is the last seven (7) verses of the Book of Ecclesiastes.  Although Proverbs is before Ecclesiastes in our Bible the book of Ecclesiastes was written first, as most theologians and historians assert.  As such, these verses serve as a great introduction.

In this particular lesson we will look at who wrote the book, to whom the book was written, and the reason the book was written.  All of these answers are found in the first six (6) verses.

I.  Who Wrote the Book – vs. 1

Very simply, Solomon

A.  Son of David – it is rather obvious who the “Solomon” spoken of here is

B.  King of Israel – it is equally obvious when they were written – when Solomon was king.  He was not a

child when he wrote these, but had lived a full life, as seen in that this was written after the book of

Ecclesiastes.  Solomon used proverbs as a way of life. 

1 Kings 4:32

(32)  And he spake three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five.

C.  There are some that believe Solomon didn’t write these proverbs but just compiled them.  Since it

doesn’t indicate otherwise, we’ll go on the basis that he actually penned these by inspiration of God,

unless it says otherwise (there are two passages in the book that are attributed to someone else, but we’ll

deal with them when we get there).

II.  To Whom Is It Written – vs. 4-5

A.  The “simple” – vs. 4a

The naive, easily led, whether young or old.

Psalms 19:7

(7)  The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.

Psalms 119:130

(130)  The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.

B.  The “young” (man) – vs. 4b

The immature and inexperienced because young in years.

Psalms 119:9

(9)  BETH. Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.

2 Timothy 2:22

(22)  Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

C.  The “wise” (man) – vs. 5a

Those who have acquired a measure of wisdom.

D.  The “understanding” (man) – vs. 5b

The untaught but intelligent and open-minded, who may also benefit from the wise counsels of Proverbs.

III.  Why Was It Written – vs. 2-6

A.  “To know wisdom and instruction”

1.  Wisdom

Skillfulness – the ability to use knowledge aright.

 

Real Wisdom Is the Fear of God.

Three basic definitions of wisdom summarize the status of the field of study very well. Note that the first two of these definitions are quite secular in nature while the third is religious.

a)    First, wisdom is considered by many to be simply the art of learning how to succeed in life.  Apparently, ancient persons learned very early that there was orderliness to the world in which they lived. They also learned that success and happiness came from living in accordance with that orderliness (Prov. 22:17-24:22).

b)    Second, wisdom is considered by some to be a philosophical study of the essence of life. Certainly, much of the books of Job and Ecclesiastes seem to deal with just such existential issues of life (see particularly Job 30:29-31).

c)    Third, though the other definitions might include this, it seems that the real essence of wisdom is spiritual, for life is more than just living by a set of rules and being rewarded in some physical manner. Undoubtedly, in this sense wisdom comes from God (Prov. 2:6). Thus, though it will involve observation and instruction, it really begins with God and one’s faith in Him as Lord and Savior (Prov. 1:7; Job 28:28).

Proverbs 2:6

(6)  For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.

Proverbs 1:7

(7)  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Job 28:28

(28)  And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.

2.  Instruction – the training of discipline or correction, or even chastening, to teach by discipline

Proverbs 3:11-12

(11)  My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction:

(12)  For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.

B.  “To perceive the words of understanding”

To comprehend the words of insight or discernment

C.  “To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity”

1.   Wisdom – this word is a different Hebrew word than in verse two.  Here it comes from a word that

means to bereave, or to miscarry. Literally, “sayings of bereavement,” which convey the idea of

learning through the unhappy experiences of others, or of oneself.  We are instructed, through the

discipline of unhappy experiences, to follow the right path.

2.  Justice – conduct, right behavior

3.  Judgment – decisions, the ability to try the things that differ

4.  Equity – principles, uprightness, or moral integrity

D.  “To give subtilty to the simple”

Subtilty here is prudence or craftiness.  It conveys the ability to detect that in others.  The purpose of the book of Proverbs is to give this ability to those that are easily led astray so they won’t be.

Matthew 10:16

(16)  Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.

The “discretion,” or discernment, which sets a man on his guard, and keeps him from being duped by false advisers – Albert Barnes

E.  “To the young man knowledge and discretion”

1.  Knowledge – information of a sound character.  “Knowledge” is the gathering of information, while “understanding” is knowing how to use it.

2.  Discretion – thoughtfulness, a characteristic in which the young are generally lacking, but which becomes manifest in one who feeds upon the word of God

NOTE: 

“In these ten words just explained we have the description of a well-rounded character, and it is important to remember that the study and practice of God’s truth alone can produce it.  To the young man this part of Holy Scripture especially appeals therefore, giving him needed furnishing for his path through the world.”  (Notes on the book of Proverbs by H.A. Ironside, pg. 15)

F.  “A wise man will hear, and will increase learning”

1.  This is self-explanatory – as one put it, “It is only the self-confident blusterer who considers himself superior to instruction.”

2.  Hear – to hear intelligently, to carefully consider.  The book of James (the “Proverbs” of the New Testament) tells that we are to be “doers of the Word,” not just “hearers” – that is the definition here.  To act upon what we hear.

James 1:22

(22)  But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

G.  “A man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels”

1.  “Man of understanding” – intelligent and open-minded

2.  “Wise counsels” – pertain to life’s decisions

 

Comes from a word that means guidance or steerage as with ropes – it denotes a plan for an action.  A man of understanding will seek to erect his life by the use of guidance from wise counsel; he will establish his life by a plan that has been proven.

H.  “To understand a proverb, and the interpretation”

This is not saying the purpose of the book of Proverbs is to understand the interpretation of a proverb as we use the word “interpretation,” but rather is actually saying it is “to understand a proverb, as well as the metaphors, the figures of speech, the idioms, the eloquent speeches” (all the other things that go into a proverb) – they are two distinct things used in the book of Proverbs.

I.  “To understand . . . The words of the wise, and their dark sayings”

Dark sayings – hard questions, used also of riddles, things difficult to understand

Psalms 78:2

(2)  I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old:

Matthew 13:34-35

(34)  All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them:

(35)  That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.

2 Peter 3:16

(16)  As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

 

Conclusion:  We can determine from these verses that God intends for us, as His children, to be educated not only on the Word of God but on how to apply it to our lives.  Simply put, the book of Proverbs is a book for living.  It is without time-honoring substance, it goes across testaments, it goes across cultural lines, it encompasses all of us in its scope.  How will we accept it?  Will we, as it says, increase knowledge, or will we say it doesn’t apply?


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