We live in a time when everything should be quick and easy and results must be directly measurable. He who thinks that in that respect this book fits in this time, is mistaken. The book of Proverbs is not a ‘quick bite’ literature and a directly desirable effect is more often absent than present. The reading of this book and the meditation on it in the heart demands patience. It can be compared with using a certain medicine which you first ought to take for a while, in order to notice its beneficial effect. When we read and meditate on the book of Proverbs daily, the healthy efficacy of this book will be noticeable after a course of time.
Let us take the time to experience this book, to take in the content, as it were. Like with the medicine it is necessary to ask the blessing from the Lord, which means that we read it prayerfully. It will benefit our spiritual health if we ‘take in’ this part of God’s Word prayerfully. That will express itself in making wise, good choices in all of those situations that daily happen in our lives in which we have to make decisions.
The book of Proverbs is the manual that tells us how we could become wise. It is not meant for people who love to be intellectually busy with philosophy. It is meant for every Christian and especially for the young Christian who realizes that the world wherein he lives is a labyrinth with many traps and pitfalls. This book shows the way in this labyrinth and indicates where the traps and pitfalls are, so that he can avoid them.
If we prayerfully ponder on what we have read and put into practice what we have pondered on, we will have great benefit of it spiritually. Our lives will be to the honor of God and to the blessing of our environment, while it gives us the satisfaction of a life in fellowship with God.
Ger de Koning
Middelburg, June 2016
Introduction to Proverbs
The book of Proverbs follows after the book of Psalms. In Psalms it is particularly about the inward feelings toward God. In Proverbs it is particularly about the outward walk toward the world. As being occupied with Psalms causes one to have a burning heart, being occupied with Proverbs causes one to have a shining face. Each one of these books represents one of the two sides of the life of the believer. You recognize Psalms by what Peter calls “a holy priesthood” and Proverbs by what he calls a “royal priesthood” (1Pet 2:5,95you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;). The book of Psalms places you in the presence of God in order to offer Him spiritual sacrifices as a holy priest. The book of Proverbs places you in the presence of the world in order to proclaim the virtues of God in the state of royal dignity.
In Proverbs we see the kindness of God, Who in His wisdom shows us about His insight in who man is really like. He lets us see ways that man chooses and the results of all ways in which a man can walk. In this book we see the basic principle that whatever a person sows, he will also reap (Gal 6:77Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.). The world is for man, for us, a labyrinth, where one single wrong step can cause bitter results. It is therefore a great grace to have a book that tells us about the way of cautiousness and life and does that from the perspective of the wisdom that comes from God.
Solomon was filled with that wisdom from above. In his letter James mentions the characteristics of this wisdom (Jam 3:1717But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.). Solomon applies this wisdom in a way that we can use it in the world in which we live. He describes the things as God sees them. If we submit ourselves to God’s Word we will discover in this book the travel direction for our lives. It includes the instructions of how to avoid the way of our own wisdom and how to recognize the foolish ideas of our own heart. Let it be clear that the road of life is not a fearful road, but one that gives joy in going it if we take to heart the teaching of this book.
In this book of proverbs, we find useful precepts for all categories of people, for young and old, for man and woman, from high to low. Kings and influential people, but also farmers and all people who live in the poorest conditions, read teaching instructions in it about their behavior in their different circumstances. Its specific prescriptions contain instructions on wisdom and foolishness, the righteous and the ungodly, the tongue, pride and humbleness, justice and revenge, the family, laziness and work, poverty and riches, friends and neighbors, love and passion, anger and fight, masters and servants or employers and employees, life and death. The precepts of life regard the values and standards in the sphere of a family, but also in the sphere of religion, politics and economics. The proverbs deal with each aspect of human relationships, whereby its Divine principles exceed the limits of time and culture.
The whole book is for each person in his own circumstances a compass for determining the right course of his ship of life on the sea of life, whereby the cliffs are being circumvented. We encounter an abundance of healthy rules which are intended to arrange life in all possible circumstances. These rules are put clearly, emphatically and very diversely. If it is our desire to be taught, we can choose from a multitude that is most fitting to our personal situation.
The main goal of the wisdom teacher who speaks to us in this book, which is actually the Lord Jesus Himself, is to sharpen a deep respect for God and to ignite a passionate love for wisdom and virtue. He has admonitions and advices on sexuality, laziness, the use of the tongue, money, courage, respect. He mentions matters like: unrighteousness, ungodliness, lawlessness, idleness, carelessness, drunkenness and nearly every vice.
The wisdom teacher is very straight. He paints these matters in bright colors. He does that especially for the young person, whom he with his teaching, especially has in mind. There is nothing that thoroughly ruins a young person in such a way than bad company, lawlessness and illegal connections. Therefore the teacher uses the most powerful arguments against these vices. He strongly exposes the aimless wandering and hanging around of the young people and the company of the tempting woman.
That is at the same time one of the reasons why the book of Proverbs is not one of the favorite books of the Bible. It is actually a very confronting book.
Another excuse which is used to not read it, is that too general rules are written in it that often do not seem to be working. As an example the following is sometimes quoted: “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Pro 22:66Train up a child in the way he should go,
Even when he is old he will not depart from it.). We all know that also well-raised children sometimes depart from the way of the Lord. What is then the use or profit of such a general rule when it still doesn’t seem to be working? What we are to learn, is to look higher and further than what we observe in the life around us.
In order to understand this book, we need to have the key to this book. Only if we use that key we will experience the great blessing that this book contains. That very key is: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Pro 1:7a7The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
Fools despise wisdom and instruction.). The name ‘LORD’ (Yahweh) indicates a relationship with Him. It is the Name of God that indicates the relation between Him and His people.
If we want to get the real and the most benefit from this book, we need to have a relationship with the Lord Jesus. If we have a living relationship with Him, we will approach this book with the greatest respect for God. Then a treasure will be unlocked that invites us to dig deeper and deeper.
This splendid book is really a goldmine of Divine wisdom. As it is said, it tells us how God sees the human nature and therefore how the human nature really is. We read a description of the life that is devoted to God and we also receive teaching and advice how this particular life has to be lived. Let our prayer be: “Teach me Your way, O LORD; I will walk in Your truth” (Psa 86:1111Teach me Your way, O LORD;
I will walk in Your truth;
Unite my heart to fear Your name.
). We will then on the one hand avoid the conduct of the world, while on the other hand the Lord Jesus will become more and more visible in our conduct (Rom 13:13-1413Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.14But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to [its] lusts.).
The proverbs in this book are derived from the observations that the wise Solomon had made with regard to life or what he himself has experienced. In that way also the ordinary sayings which we use or which we hear others using, do originate. Just take for example our saying, ‘strike the iron while it is hot’. Somebody had seen that at the blacksmith or he has done it himself as a blacksmith. But the proverbs in this bible book go deeper. It is not simply life wisdom. The proverbs are surely derived from observations or they describe experiences, but they are related to faith. This book is the revelation of God pertaining to life. It tells us about man from God’s perspective. He directs life, He is the sovereign God (cf. Pro 21:11The king’s heart is [like] channels of water in the hand of the LORD;
He turns it wherever He wishes.
; 16:3333The lot is cast into the lap,
But its every decision is from the LORD.). Life is not a succession of coincidences.
Solomon has observed people (Pro 7:6-246For at the window of my house
I looked out through my lattice,
7And I saw among the naive,
[And] discerned among the youths
A young man lacking sense,
8Passing through the street near her corner;
And he takes the way to her house,
9In the twilight, in the evening,
In the middle of the night and [in] the darkness.10And behold, a woman [comes] to meet him,
Dressed as a harlot and cunning of heart.
11She is boisterous and rebellious,
Her feet do not remain at home;
12[She is] now in the streets, now in the squares,
And lurks by every corner.13So she seizes him and kisses him
And with a brazen face she says to him:
14“I was due to offer peace offerings;
Today I have paid my vows.
15“Therefore I have come out to meet you,
To seek your presence earnestly, and I have found you.
16“I have spread my couch with coverings,
With colored linens of Egypt.
17“I have sprinkled my bed
With myrrh, aloes and cinnamon.
18“Come, let us drink our fill of love until morning;
Let us delight ourselves with caresses.
19“For my husband is not at home,
He has gone on a long journey;
20He has taken a bag of money with him,
At the full moon he will come home.”21With her many persuasions she entices him;
With her flattering lips she seduces him.
22Suddenly he follows her
As an ox goes to the slaughter,
Or as [one in] fetters to the discipline of a fool,
23Until an arrow pierces through his liver;
As a bird hastens to the snare,
So he does not know that it [will cost him] his life.24Now therefore, [my] sons, listen to me,
And pay attention to the words of my mouth.
) and passes on what he has seen. The observations which he, under Divine inspirations, had made, are thorough and accurate. What we get to see, is not a flattering picture. But if we too learn to observe like as he does, it will enormously help us to go our life’s journey for His honor, for the blessing of others and for our own joy. If we take this book to heart by accurately applying the rules written in it, to our lives and behavior, the result will be that each one of us becomes a “man of God, equipped for every good work” (2Tim 3:16-1716All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;17so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.).
The book of Proverbs is wisdom literature. The nations also have wisdom literature. Egypt for example is famous for that. The big difference between both is that in Proverbs wisdom is seen in the light of the fear of God. In this book we find wisdom for the everyday life, a wisdom which is only to be found in the Word of God (cf. Jer 8:99“The wise men are put to shame,
They are dismayed and caught;
Behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD,
And what kind of wisdom do they have?
). True wisdom is based on the Word of God.
Whoever puts the Word of God aside, is a fool. Words of wise men (Pro 22:1717Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise,
And apply your mind to my knowledge;
; 24:2323These also are sayings of the wise.
To show partiality in judgment is not good.
) are words of those who are familiar with God’s Word, not like scholars from a student’s room, but like people who apply that very Word in their daily life to all things. It regards to everyday life, but particularly seen in the light of eternity. For those who hear the words of the wise men, it will become eternal glory. But behind those who ignore these words, the dark background of the grave rises up (Pro 4:1919The way of the wicked is like darkness;
They do not know over what they stumble.; 15:1111Sheol and Abaddon [lie open] before the LORD,
How much more the hearts of men!).
Behind and above Solomon we see Him Who is “more than Solomon”, the Lord Jesus (Mt 12:4242[The] Queen of [the] South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.). He is the true Teacher Who teaches on life. He teaches on the practical life wisdom. He Who teaches this is the great example Himself of the wise Man (see Isa 11:22The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and strength,
The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
). Everything in this book is perfectly true about Christ. His whole journey on earth was the journey of the wise man. With Him we see in everything that He was perfectly led by the fear of the LORD, while we at the same time observe that foolishness was totally absent with Him.
He is not only the wise Man, but also the wise King, like Solomon also was as a picture of Him. For us as New Testament believers this means that we can only understand this book and bring it into practice when the Lord Jesus reigns in our heart and life.
A division of Proverbs:
1. Prologue (Proverbs 1:1-7)
2. Instructing speeches (Proverbs 1:8-9:26)
3. The first series of proverbs of Solomon (Proverbs 10:1-22:16)
4. The first appendix (Proverbs 22:17-24:22)
5. The second appendix (Proverbs 24:23-34)
6. The second series of proverbs of Solomon (Proverbs 25:1-29:27)
7. The first appendix: the proverbs of Agur, the son of Jakeh (Proverbs 30:1-33)
8. The second appendix: the words for king Lemuel (Proverbs 31:1-9)
9. The third appendix: a praise to the woman (Proverbs 31:10-31)