(Bible quotes from the NIV, except where stated
When one reads through the
book of Proverbs, the general impression is that the book consists of many
free-standing, unrelated thoughts. It is as if someone picked up pebbles and
shells on the beach and put them all mixed up into one bag.
However, one can empty that
bag of shells and pebbles on a large table and group together what belongs
In order to highlight the
main messages of Proverbs, and to get easier access to certain types of
proverbs, I recently SORTED the Proverbs into different categories.
This index of Proverbs
identified certain CLUSTERS of related topics. Let us look briefly at nine
clusters of proverbs, and then we can have a closer look at two of them.
In every cluster a VIRTUE is
contrasted with its opposing VICE, like:
joy versus anger
real versus false
justice versus injustice
what God loves and what He hates
The book of Proverbs is
presented as the lessons of a teacher to his students. It addresses the
reader as "my son", which in Biblical terms includes "my daughter". The
students are spurred on to DO the good and wise things, and to AVOID the bad
and foolish things. By contrasting the right with the wrong, and pointing to
the different outcomes, the teacher shows the students what is the best way
to shape their lives.
Let us focus on wisdom
GOD GIVES WISDOM
The Book of Proverbs
emphasizes repeatedly that true wisdom comes from God.
1:7 - "The fear of the LORD
is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline."
9:10 - "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of
the Holy One is understanding."
The New Testament supports this
James 1:5 - "If any of you
lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding
fault, and it will be given to him."
Jesus promised His disciples
that in their persecution, "I will give you words of wisdom that none of
your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict." (Luke 21:15).
Paul points out that Godís
wisdom looks foolish to the world, yet God saves sinners by the foolishness
of the gospel (1 Cor. 1:18-25). Paul calls Jesus "wisdom from God" (1 Cor.
1:30). Isaiah (29:14) predicted that God would destroy the wisdom of the
world by His own wisdom.
How do we get to the true
wisdom of God and avoid the false wisdom of the world? God uses certain
channels to get His wisdom to us, such as His Word
(13:13, 16:10) and devoted parents. There we learn the basic
rules of life - what is good or bad for us, as well as for others.
Wisdom from the WORD
Proverbs stresses the impact
of Godís Word on us. "The LORD" appears 87 times in Proverbs. This name
points to the one true God, Yahweh. Proverbs does not promote a vague
concept of God that can fit all religions. The one true God is on the side
of the righteous and the wise. A few examples:
2:6-8 - "For the LORD gives
wisdom, and from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds
victory in store for the upright, He is a shield to those whose walk is
blameless, for He guards the course of the just and protect the ways of His
3:5-8 - "Trust in the LORD
with all your heart and lean not 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 shun evil. This will bring health to your
body and nourishment to your bones."
9:10 - "The fear of the LORD
is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy one is understanding."
13:13 - "He who despises the
word will be destroyed, but he who fears the commandment will be rewarded."
The New Testament also
emphasizes wisdom from the Word.
Jesus said, "Heaven and
earth will pass away but my words will never pass away." (Mat. 24:35). He
prayed to His Father, "Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth."
(John 17:17). To the Jews He said, "You will know the truth and the truth
will set you free." (John 8:32).
Paul said to Timothy, "From
infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise
for salvation" (2 Tim. 3:15). To the Romans Paul wrote, "Faith comes from
hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ."
Peter affirms this in his
letter to the early church, "You have been born again.... through the living
and enduring word of God" (1 Pet. 1:23).
Wisdom through the Word.
Indeed, the Spirit of truth leads us into all truth by the Word of God (John
Wisdom from PARENTS
Family values and traditions
may become contaminated by manís sinful nature, therefore they have to be
tested and purified by the Word of God continuously.
It is stressed right through
the book of Proverbs that wisdom has to be taught by parents, and it
has to be learned by children. Yes, wisdom can be taught and learned.
Weíre not born with it.
6:20-22: "My son, keep your
fatherís commands and do not forsake your motherís teaching." In the NIV,
proverbs refers 15 times to fathers and 11 times to mothers. The honoring of
parents is the fifth of Godís Ten Commandments. Paul admonishes children to
obey their parents in Eph. 6 and Col. 3.
The learning process at home
and at school starts with acquiring knowledge of facts. (39 times in
Proverbs). A few examples:
10:14 - "Wise men store up
15:7 - "The lips of the wise
15:14 - "The discerning
heart seeks knowledge."
19:2 - "It is not good to
have zeal without knowledge."
Parents should also help
their children to get insight and understanding of the facts and how
they relate to each other. (35 times in Proverbs).
2:3 - "Call out for insight,
and cry aloud for understanding." 9:10 - "knowledge of the Holy One is
understanding." 10:23 - "A man of understanding delights in wisdom." 19:8 -
"He who cherishes understanding prospers."
The many why-questions of
children gives opportunity for parents to convey knowledge and
understanding. If parents make time for discussing the issue, they will
promote more insight than using the easy autocratic approach of "It is so
because I say so."
We must not confuse calm
discussion with rebellious talk-back. By democratic leadership parents can
help their children to move from knowledge and understanding to wisdom -
learning the reasons behind the choices and so helping them to make the best
choices in order to obtain the best results.
No wisdom without knowledge
and insight. Maybe thatís why half of the newspaper consists of facts and
the other half of discussions of the facts.
According to Proverbs,
people whose knowledge and insight led to right conduct have wisdom. Those
who do not translate their knowledge to good insight and to right choices
Even parents and teachers
may fall into this trap. 28:10 - "He who leads the upright along an evil
path will fall into his own trap." Jesus put it even more severe: anyone who
leads a child astray should be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied to
his/her neck (Matt. 18:6).
What kind of "wisdom" do we
implant on our childrenís minds? How have we translated our knowledge and
experience into views, attitudes and conduct? For example: If we have had
bad experiences, we may come to cynical conclusions which we may hand down
to the next generation. Once these family belief-systems have become
entrenched, they are hard to eradicate. We can start to change them by
gaining knowledge and understanding from Godís Word, and applying it on our
views, attitudes and behavior.
This learning process
has to be continued throughout life so that wisdom will be imprinted
on the whole personality.
3:1 - "My son, do not forget
my teaching, keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life
many years and bring you prosperity."
7:1-3 - "My son, keep my
words and store up my commands before you. Keep my commands and you will
live; guard my teachings as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your
fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart."
Because wisdom is conveyed
by communication, Proverbs emphasizes the impact of words on others.
Words can either heal or hurt (12:18), build up or tear down (10:11, 15:4),
clarify or confuse (9:7), and direct others in the right or wrong way (11:9,
12:6). Wars can be won by the words of the wise (21:22). Just as important
it is to speak the right words at the right time (15:23), so it is to keep
silent at the right time (11:13, 13:3). Proverbs strongly discourages gossip
- scattering the kind of words that does nobody any good (16:28).
Proverbs eagerly advertises
the fruits of wisdom (2:9-22), and solemnly warns against the fruits of
foolishness (1:20-32, 26:1-12). Usually, society honors a wise person and
despises a fool. The wise enjoy material and spiritual riches while the fool
shoots himself in the foot time and again.
Jesus told parables about
wise and foolish people. The wise virgins thought ahead and brought enough
oil, the foolish ones did not. The wise servant was diligent in his Masterís
service, the foolish one was not. The wise builder built on the rock, the
foolish one on sand.
When Proverbs stresses the
importance of intellectual activities such as knowledge,
understanding and wisdom, it does not forget the importance of emotional
activities such as charity and compassion.
The Bible maintains a close
link between work and charity. Paul wrote to the Ephesians (4:28), "He who
has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something
useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in
The main motivation for
helping the needy is that God cares about them. If we neglect the poor, we
insult God and arouse His anger (17:5).
22:22-23 - "Do not exploit
the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the
LORD will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them."
This is especially true if
we ignore those who are heading for destruction. We may apply this to
genocide, starvation, epidemics, addiction and to lost souls. "Rescue those
being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you
say, ĎBut we knew nothing about this,í does not he who weighs the heart
perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay
each person according to what he has done?" (24:11-12).
Therefore, it is important
that we donít delay our help when we can help (3:27-28), and that we donít
shut our ears for the cry of those in need (21:13, 28:27). We should rather
be forgiving towards the mistakes of others and have compassion on the poor
(14:21). When we share food with them, we lend to God (19:17), and He will
repay us when we are in need (22:9).
Yes, when we help others we
benefit from it ourselves. It makes us feel good to do good (11:17). It also
activates a "natural" law of Godís kingdom - when we share Godís blessings
they increase, and when we hoard them they decrease: "One man gives freely,
yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A
generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be
Proverbs encourages us to
practice this policy even to animals (12:10) and to our enemies (25:21-22).
Paul quoted this passage in his letter to the Romans, "If Your enemy is
hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you
will heap coals of fire on his head" (Rom. 12:20). This policy should not
only be applied by the individual, but also by the state (29:14).
Our generous approach
towards the needy should include holding back on litigation (3:30, 24:28,
25:8-10). Unfortunately, human rights are sometimes practiced in a selfish
way with the emphasis on my rights, instead of protecting the rights
of others. Being able to ignore an injustice, the proverbial slap in the
face, is seen by Proverbs and by Jesus as a characteristic of the wise
(12:16, 17:9). Indeed, the real spirit of charity continues to give even
when it hurts, even when our help is not appreciated.
Proverbs is part of Godís
Word. What is Godís message through these two groups of proverbs we studied
today? God says: be wise and increase your knowledge and understanding
continuously and apply it in your lives. If you donít, you are foolish.
Furthermore, act wisely by
giving generously to Godís work and to the needy. If you donít, you are
foolish, because then God will turn a deaf ear when you cry for help.
Be wise, my sons, my
daughters, God says, and give heed to all the wisdom I have stored up for
you in My Word, including the book of Proverbs.