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Blog - Introduction to the Book of Proverbs

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If you like this blog, then you will like Get Wisdom, Get Understanding which is Pastor Wagner's commentary on Proverbs chapter 1 which is available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle. Find out more here.

For all the blogs in this series, click here: Proverbs Commentary.

Introduction to the Book of Proverbs


The book of Proverbs is one of the most profitable books a Christian will ever read. He would do well to read it everyday, for God inspired Solomon to write it for this purpose: "To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion" (Pro 1:2-4).

In the book of Proverbs the Lord pleads as a Father with his children to hearken unto Him and get wisdom, making repeated appeals such as, "My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments...My son, let not them depart from thine eyes: keep sound wisdom and discretion...Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding...My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings...My son, attend unto my wisdom, and bow thine ear to my understanding...My son, keep my words, and lay up my commandments with thee...(Pro 3:1; Pro 3:21; Pro 4:1; Pro 4:20; Pro 5:1; Pro 7:1).

The first nine chapters of Proverbs exhort the reader of the necessity and benefits of getting wisdom. After making a thorough and compelling case for getting wisdom in the first third of the book, Solomon begins the actual proverbs in chapter 10.

A proverb is "a short pithy saying in common and recognized use; a concise sentence, often metaphorical or alliterative in form, which is held to express some truth ascertained by experience or observation and familiar to all; an adage, a wise saw" (Oxford English Dictionary). A proverb is that short saying that when heard by a wise man makes him nod his head and think to himself, "ain't that the truth."

The foremost theme in the book of Proverbs is "get wisdom" (Pro 4:5; Pro 4:7: Pro 16:16), which is "the principal thing" (Pro 4:7). Wisdom and its cognates wise, wiser, and wisely are used 125 times in the book of Proverbs. Wisdom is "capacity of judging rightly in matters relating to life and conduct; soundness of judgement in the choice of means and ends; sometimes, less strictly, sound sense" (OED).

In order to judge rightly in matters relating to life and conduct, a man must first have the pertinent facts in his mind, which is another virtue that is extolled in the book of Proverbs: knowledge. Knowledge and its cognates know, knoweth, knowest, and known are found 66 times in Proverbs. Knowledge is "the fact of knowing a thing, state, etc., or (in general sense) a person; acquaintance; familiarity gained by experience, acquaintance with a fact; perception, or certain information of, a fact or matter; state of being aware or informed; consciousness (of anything)" (OED).

In order to have knowledge, a man must have the intellectual ability to perceive and acquire facts, which is the third virtue that is upheld in Proverbs: understanding. Understanding and its cognates understand and understandeth are used 66 times in the book of Proverbs. Understanding is "power or ability to understand; intellect, intelligence; intelligent, capable of judging with knowledge; the faculty of comprehending and reasoning; the intellect; of persons: possessed of understanding; having knowledge and judgement; intelligent" (OED).

Putting it together, in order to be wise, which should be the ultimate goal of a Christian, a man must have the facts (knowledge), and the faculty of intellect, reason, and judgment (understanding), in order to consider the facts and apply correct thinking to judge rightly and choose the best means and ends in his life and conduct, which is wisdom.

Two other notable attributes that are exalted in Proverbs are discretion and prudence. Discretion, which is found six times in Proverbs, is "the action of separating or distinguishing; the action of discerning or judging; judgement; decision, discrimination" (OED). Our modern politically correct world vilifies judgment and discrimination, but God's word magnifies and encourages it, with this caveat: "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment" (Joh 7:24). In order to have wisdom, we must be able to judge between right and wrong, and discriminate between good and bad.

Prudence and its cognate prudent appear 13 times in Proverbs and is defined as "ability to discern the most suitable, politic, or profitable course of action, esp. as regards conduct; practical wisdom, discretion." (Oxford English Dictionary) Prudence is similar to wisdom, in that it is the ability to recognize and choose the most suitable course of action for a given situation. The prudent man dwells with wisdom (Pro 8:12), covers shame (Pro 12:16), gets, conceals, and deals with knowledge (Pro 18:15; Pro 12:23; Pro 13:16), understands his way (Pro 14:8), looks well to his going (Pro 14:15), is crowned with knowledge (Pro 14:18), regards reproof (Pro 15:5), and foresees evil and hides himself from it (Pro 22:3; Pro 27:12).

There is one other characteristic that is spoken of voluminously in the book of Proverbs, but unlike the aforementioned, this one is not a virtue, but a vice: the infamous attribute of foolishness. Foolishness and its cognate fool are used a whopping 84 times in this book devoted to the pursuit of wisdom. Foolishness is "the quality or condition of being foolish;" foolish is "fool-like, wanting in sense or judgement;" and a fool is "one deficient in judgement or sense, one who acts or behaves stupidly, a silly person, a simpleton. (In Biblical use applied to vicious or impious persons.) The word has in mod.Eng. a much stronger sense than it had at an earlier period; it has now an implication of insulting contempt which does not in the same degree belong to any of its synonyms, or to the derivative foolish." (All three definitions are from the Oxford English Dictionary.) Putting it together, he who exhibits the attribute of foolishness lacks judgment, acts stupidly, and is worthy of contempt. In contemporary English, the title of fool often simply denotes a goofy person, but in the King James Bible it is an ignominious term of strong derision.

In conclusion, if God first gives a man an understanding heart, then, by familiarizing himself with the book of Proverbs, that man will acquire the knowledge of God and learn how to apply it to his life; and in doing so he will attain unto wisdom and avoid foolishness and folly. This will yield him a blessed life of righteousness, peace, joy, and prosperity.


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For the next blog in this series, click here: Interpreting a Proverb.

For all the blogs in this series, click here: Proverbs Commentary.