The book of Proverbs is part of the Old Testament genre of literature called the “wisdom” books. These books express the Old Testament idea of wisdom, often in the style of Hebrew poetry. They include Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs.
Ancient and modern concepts of wisdom
In modern society, wisdom is described as a very practical mixture of intelligence and life experiences. Thus older people are generally seen as wiser. The Old Testament concept of wisdom is very different.
- Wisdom involves a careful view of the world. Old Testament wisdom sees God like an architect, creating the world with certain patterns and structures, but not planning every action. An architect designs the structure of a house, but not how a house is used or decorated.
- Wisdom is the process of discovering the patterns God has created into the world, which may not be readily apparent. One doesn’t have to be old to be wise. Anyone can gain wisdom by committing themselves to discovering the order of God’s creation.
- The person who discovers God’s wisdom and applies it will benefit, because they are aligning themselves with the way the world was made to work.
In summary, Old Testament wisdom is discovering the order of God’s creation, applied with right actions and attitudes. Thus anyone can be wise.
Wisdom starts with the fear of God
The first section of Proverbs, Proverbs 1:1-7, serves as an introduction to wisdom as a whole. It outlines the negative consequences of being foolish and the tangible benefits of being wise. Keep in mind that there is no “in between” with wisdom. A person is either seeking wisdom and is righteous, or is embracing foolishness and is sinful. Verse 7 reveals the foundation of true wisdom by pointing to “the fear of the Lord.” This kind of fear is different from our use of the word. It doesn’t mean being scared of God. The “fear of the Lord” means putting yourself in a right relationship to God – honoring him. You have to know who you are and who God is before you can ever understand his creation.
Reasons to pursue wisdom instead of foolishness
The second distinct section of Proverbs encompasses Proverbs 1:8 – 9:18. This section tries to convince the reader to pursue wisdom and not foolishness. To do so, the writer personifies wisdom and folly as if they were human characters. There are only two choices given to the reader. The first is Lady Wisdom, who shows that even though we benefit from wisdom, wisdom has to pursue us and convince us to listen.
The consequences for ignoring wisdom are tragic.
Proverbs 1:26-27 I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you; I will mock when calamity overtakes you—when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you.
Yet this chapter closes with encouragement for those who seek after Lady Wisdom: the wise will live at ease and be free from the destruction that follows the fool.
By contrast to Lady Wisdom, foolishness is described as alluring and enticing. Rejecting God’s wisdom and embracing foolishness results in us willfully progressing toward our own destruction. Thus the first nine chapters of Proverbs ask a simple question: knowing the consequences, will you pursue wisdom or foolishness? There is no “in between”.
Practical wisdom for common life situations
The third section of the book, chapters 10-31, is filled with brief statements of wisdom, each called a “proverb”. All these statements are simple declarations of wisdom about the way God has ordered the world – and the consequences for us if we follow that order. For example, look at just three proverbs that describe wise actions and attitudes.
Proverbs 12:1 Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.
Proverbs 12:11 Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense.
Proverbs 12:25 Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.
God’s wisdom is practical. It deals with the power of correction, the right pursuits, the benefits of encouragement, and much more. The majority of the book of Proverbs consists of these brief statements of God’s order. It is our responsibility to learn and apply this wisdom to our lives so we, too, can be wise.
- Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
- What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
- Read Proverbs 1:1-7. What is the purpose of these proverbs or “sayings”? What are the benefits of wisdom?
- What does “fear of the Lord” mean? Why is it the foundation of wisdom?
- Read Proverbs 1:20-33. Wisdom is portrayed as a classy lady. What is “Lady Wisdom” described as doing?
- Read Proverbs 7:1-27. Foolishness is described as a tempting adulteress. What is “Lady Foolishness” doing in this passage? What are the consequences for those who listen to the all of Foolishness?
- Knowing that the fear of the Lord is the basis of wisdom, how to you demonstrate that in the way you think and live?
- How do you seek or embrace foolishness in your life? What can you do to encourage the pursuit of wisdom?
- Write a personal action step based on this conversation.