The book of Proverbs is the first book of Biblical wisdom and includes hundreds of short sayings designed to teach every person how to live and act wisely. Each verse touches on a common area of life and shows us what kind of world we live in and what it looks like to live well before God and toward others.
The book begins with an introduction that links the book to King Solomon. In 1 Kings 3, Solomon asked God to give him wisdom to lead Israel well, and he becomes known as the wisest man in the ancient world.
While not all of the Proverbs and the rest of the Old Testament’s wisdom literature were written by Solomon, he is regarded with beginning the tradition of Israel’s wisdom literature.
Proverbs begins by stating that the purpose of reading the book is to obtain wisdom, which most in today’s world would define as knowledge of right and wrong.
But the Hebrew word for wisdom, “khokhmah,” means more than just mental activity, but also action—applied knowledge. Proverbs is designed to help readers develop a set of practical skills for living well in God’s world, and what a healthy fear, or reverence, of the Lord looks like in day-to-day life.
The first nine chapters include 10 speeches from a father to a son, encouraging the child to listen to wisdom, cultivate a healthy fear of the Lord and live according to this wisdom and fear. The father describes the outcomes of living a life of wisdom and fear of the Lord, as well as the outcomes of deciding not to. The former leads to peace and prosperity, while the latter promotes selfishness and pride, which will cause shame and ruin.
The bulk of Proverbs, chapters 10-29, applies these big ideas about wisdom to every aspect of life: family, work, friendships, relationships with neighbors, marriage, sex, money, anger, forgiveness, diet, speech, justice, etc.
The Proverbs were intentionally written as short, easy-to-remember sentences so they could be memorized and referred back to when it came time to make a decision.
Chapter 30 shifts to tell the story of a man named Agur. Agur is like a model for the reader of Proverbs to follow. He acknowledges his own ignorance and his need for God’s wisdom. Agur discovers that God’s wisdom has already been given to him in Scripture, which teaches him how to live well.
Proverbs closes in chapter 31 with two poems by a non-Israelite king name Lemuel, which describe the characteristics of a wise leader and a woman of noble character, respectively. These poems are models for applying wisdom to daily life.
Prayer: The book of Proverbs explores and explains what it means to live with wisdom, but it also points out that wisdom is not the same as the law (the commands God gave to His people through Moses in the first five books of the Bible) or prophecy (God speaking through a person to the rest of His people). Rather, wisdom is the accumulated insight of God’s people over several generations about how to live in a way that honors God and others.
Fear of the Lord: Fear of God is important in Proverbs because to fear God is to recognize that you are not God. The fear of God described in Proverbs addresses that it is God who makes up the rules of life, not humanity. God decides what is right and wrong, and humanity’s response to God’s superior knowledge should be humble reverence and obedience, even when it’s inconvenient or doesn’t make complete sense.
HOW DOES THIS FIT INTO GOD’S STORY?
Proverbs is God’s invitation to learn from the wisdom of past generations, but this wisdom isn’t human-derived. It’s an attribute of God Himself. By fearing or respecting God and reading and obeying the wise, practical counsel found in this book, the reader can develop the important skills and moral mindset needed to live successful, good and Godly lives.
While the Proverbs are good guides for God’s people, they are not promises. Living a life of wisdom does not guarantee a life without hardship or suffering.
But what Proverbs does offer is wisdom that is applicable to every person, man or woman, in every season of life.