Ask Steve: Wisdom in Proverbs









Question: Steve, I am currently reading through the book of Proverbs and trying to understand its themes. What instruction about wisdom was conveyed in the book of Proverbs? 

Answer: The book of Proverbs is arguably the crown jewel of all wisdom literature. The content of this book really highlight the “wisdom” aspect of this literary work, since the major theme of the book is wisdom. It is a treasure chest of short and salty kernels of spiritual truth scattered throughout the book, which is meant to inform the reader of what constitutes righteous and wise living. These pithy sayings were authored by King Solomon, Agur, and Lemuel during Solomon’s reign from 971 – 931 B.C. The recurring promise of Proverbs is that generally the wise (the righteous who obey God) live longer, prosper, and experience joy temporally while the fools (God haters) suffer shame and death. However, it must be remembered that this general principle is balanced by the reality (as seen in other parts of Scripture and in everyday living) that the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper at times, though only temporarily. So what good is wisdom? The book of Proverbs answers this question, describing the essence of wisdom and how it generally impacts a person’s life. 

The first instruction that the book of Proverbs gives about wisdom is that men are to actively seek after it. There is tremendous blessing that comes from seeking after and acquiring this wisdom. Proverbs 3:13-15 states, “How blessed is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gains understanding. For her profit is better than the profit of silver and her gain better than fine gold. She is more precious than jewels; and nothing you desire compares with her…” The rest of the chapter shows the other benefits of wisdom: that it leads to long life, peace, happiness, understanding, and security. That is why verse 21 says, “My son, let them not vanish from your sight; keep sound wisdom and discretion. So they will be life to your soul and adornment to your neck.” The verse states that wisdom is to be heavily guarded, cherished, and applied to one’s life. The end result is a blessed life in the Lord. 4:7 describes that “the beginning of wisdom is: acquire wisdom…” In acquiring wisdom, one learns that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…” (1:7). The wisdom is foundationally rooted in fear and obedience to Yahweh. Those who act otherwise reject wisdom and instruction (1:7b) and walk a bit that ultimately leads to death (8:36).

The second instruction that the book of Proverbs gives about wisdom is that it is valuable above all other worldly wisdoms, and therefore must be upheld above all. As previously discussed in 3:13-15, wisdom is described as being more valuable than all the gold, silver, and jewelry of this world. Proverbs 8 portrays wisdom as a beautiful woman who calls on people to pursue her, promising to do only good for those who are committed to her. Verse 10 describes lady wisdom in this way: “Take my instruction and not silver, and knowledge rather than choicest gold. For wisdom is better than jewels; and all desirable things cannot compare with her.” Wisdom is described as essentially of infinite value, more desirable and worthy than anything else that vies for people’s attention and commitment. Those who pursue lady wisdom will fully enjoy in her fruit. Verse 18 states, “Riches and honor with me, enduring wealth and righteousness,” and verse 21 states, “I walk in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of justice, to endow those who love me with wealth, that I may fill their treasuries.”

The third instruction that the book of Proverbs gives about wisdom is that it is the way to righteous living. Yahweh’s wisdom represents everything that is holy, true, and righteous, therefore those who follow in His commands do no evil or follow no error. Any worldly philosophy that contradicts godly wisdom is no wise living. That is why 3:5 states, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your body and refreshment to your bones.” Those who trust in God and walk in His ways will flee from sin and evil. Trusting in one’s own understanding, which is the root of all erroneous philosophies and religion, leads to one walking a crooked path leading to death. Passages such as chapters 10 and 11 show wisdom in action by contrasting the ways of the righteous and the unrighteous. Those who have wisdom walk in the way of righteousness. They find vindication before God and prosperity at the end (11:6) while the unrighteous, unwise are “caught by their own greed,” (11:6) and “are overthrown and are no more” (12:7). The book of Proverbs gives many more examples of what the man whose life is marked by righteousness looks like. But the righteous living is always rooted in one’s love for God (1:7, 15:33). This leads to his openness to teaching and instruction (9:9), a commitment to stay away from evil (14:16), a respect for parents (15:20), and humility (11:2).

The book of Proverbs is a book that is noteworthy for defining what wisdom is and what benefits it gives to its followers. It presents wisdom as absolutely necessary for living a life that pleases God and keeping oneself on the straight path that leads to life, in contrast to the crooked path that the fool walks on. Wisdom is foundationally rooted in God, therefore to follow and pursue wisdom is to follow and pursue God. Men must actively seek Him, treasure Him, and see Him as the way to righteous living. Without Him, there is only the ways of the unrighteous and all its devastating consequences.