The book of Proverbs is at the heart of the wisdom literature of the Bible. Its central theme and focus is wisdom. But the wisdom the book promotes is not worldly wisdom but divine wisdom, the wisdom of God. Divine wisdom gives one insight into the complexities and nuances of living in a fallen, sinful world. The book spares no effort to encourage, even demand, that people get wisdom at all costs. It is a biblical book with which most people are familiar. Many have read some of it, but how many have read it so as to digest it? If ones reads through their Bible every year, they have read the book of Proverbs. But the book requires a deeper reading. It must be read slowly and thoughtfully because it is deceptively simple. It is designed that way.
Since the focus of the book of Proverbs is wisdom, we might ask, “What is wisdom?” Wisdom, simply stated, is the fear of the Lord. Wisdom from God is the skill for living life according to the will of God. In fact, wisdom reveals God’s will. The writers of the proverbs want to communicate that living by wisdom is truly a blessed life. But the reality is, wisdom must be pursued. It does not come automatically or easily. Yet, the glorious truth is that wisdom is available to all.
Proverbs are of various types. There are longer sayings, but most of the proverbs are short pithy statements that bring home a powerful truth. They seem simple, but are very deep and require meditation rather than a brief reading. Most of these short sayings are of two parts. The two parts of each individual proverb draws either a comparison or a contrast. Sometimes, but not always, the comparison is made by the word “and” and the contrast by the word “but”. It is also important to understand that proverbs are general principles not necessarily promises, though some can be understood that way. These principles often hold true but are not certain. Life is complex. Unexpected things happen. The Lord is in control. This leads the wise person to be humble even in their wisdom.
Solomon is the writer of most of the proverbs. The Bible states that Solomon was the wisest man of his time. He humbly asked the Lord for wisdom and the Lord blessed him richly. Solomon followed the wisdom path for many years, but in his old age his many foreign wives turned his heart from the Lord. Wisdom has its limitations. We need redemption from our sins. There will be another Son of David in whom all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge resides (Colossians 2:3). He will provide redemption for his people.
The book is structured to promote the pursuit of wisdom. It is not a random ordering of proverbial sayings, but a well thought out plan to promote and provide wisdom. The structure of this amazing and beautiful book is found below.
1. The Introduction & Purpose of Proverbs (1;1-7)
2. Invitation to Wisdom (1:8-9:18)
3. The Proverbs of Solomon (10:1-22:16)
4. Thirty Sayings of the Wise (22:17-24:22)
5. More Sayings of the Wise (24:23-34)
6. Hezekiah’s Collection of Solomon’s Proverbs (25-29)
7. Sayings of Agur (30)
8. Sayings of King Lemuel (31:1-9)
9. The Godly (Wise) Wife (31:10-31)
Major Themes in Proverbs:
The book of Proverbs is filled with many recurring wisdom themes. But the foundation underneath all these themes is the two major themes of wisdom itself and the fear of the Lord. These two hold all the various ideas in Proverbs together.
Wisdom: The central message in the book of Proverbs is, “Get Wisdom! And God is the only source for it.” God has true wisdom and he desires to share it with people. Wisdom is something that resides inside a person, yet enables that person to live externally in a way that brings glory to God and good to the person and others. Wisdom does not shield people from hardship, but gives them the capacity to see life from a divine perspective. Wisdom protects one from the foolishness that can destroy ones life. The wisdom in Proverbs challenges conventional wisdom with a realistic understanding of the way life is in a fallen world. But wisdom does not come easily. The person who desires wisdom must be a diligent and vigilant seeker. God promises to give wisdom to the honest seeker. Wisdom and the Torah (the Law) are closely related in the Old Testament. In Proverbs Torah is not a major theme, but the connection is made (Proverbs 28:4-9). A heart for the Torah is what it means to live wisely. The wisdom of Proverbs guides the believer to faithful Torah living.
The Fear of the Lord: The fear of the Lord is a common phrase in wisdom literature, especially in Proverbs. The phrase is found 14 times in the book (1:7, 29; 2:5; 8:13; 9:10; 10:27; 14:26, 27; 15:16, 33; 16:6; 19:23; 22:4; 23:17), which shows the deeply God-centered nature of wisdom in Proverbs. Fear for the Lord is the humble response to the covenant responsibilities, as well as, to the presence of the Lord with his people. The fear of the Lord is to be understood as deep reverence for the holy God and not a paralyzing fear of an unknown threat. Rather than repelling, the fear of the Lord draws the worshipper to the Lord, but keeps the familiarity from becoming frivolous. The relationship between the fear of the Lord and wisdom is close. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” is Solomon’s admonition (9:10). Any wisdom without the fear of the Lord is worldly wisdom. Worldly wisdom may have some utility, but has no salving benefit. The proverbs are designed to help the person who fears and follows the Lord to live a blessed life that brings glory to the Lord.
The book of Proverbs is precious and rich reading for the follower of Jesus Christ. Read slowly and meditatively the book can give the believer great insight into navigating this life successfully. I encourage everyone to read the book of Proverbs often. Take your time and soak in all the wisdom it has to offer. You will find deep waters of inexhaustible truth to bless the patient reader.