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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 1

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verse 1

1. The title of the book 1:1

Verse one introduces both the book as a whole and chapters 1-9 in particular.

Verses 1-7

A. Introduction to the Book 1:1-7

These verses set forth the title, the purpose, and the thesis of the Book of Proverbs. Far from being a hodgepodge of miscellaneous sayings, the book gives evidence of careful organization in this opening segment.

Verses 1-18


The Book of Proverbs is a collection of at least seven separate groups of proverbs. There are two groups that Solomon spoke and or wrote (possibly chs. 1-9 and definitely Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 22:16).

Verses 2-6

2. The purpose of the book 1:2-6

"The Book of Proverbs has two purposes: to give moral skillfulness and to give mental discernment. The first purpose is developed in Proverbs 1:3-4; then, after a parenthetical exhortation in Proverbs 1:5, the second purpose is developed in Proverbs 1:6." [Note: Ross, p. 904.]

"The purpose of all these sections [all the sections of the book] is the inculcation of certain cardinal social virtues, such as industry, thrift, discretion, truthfulness, honesty, chastity, kindness, forgiveness, warning against the corresponding vices, and praise of wisdom as the guiding principle of life." [Note: Crawford H. Toy, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Proverbs, p. vii.]

This book claims to offer wisdom (Heb. hokmah) to the reader. The words "wise" and "wisdom" occur about 125 times in Proverbs. It is this wisdom that the Apostle Paul commanded Christians to walk in (cf. Ephesians 5:15).

Wisdom is "God’s fixed order for life, an order opposed to chaos and death.

"No longer can wisdom be defined simplistically as ’the practical application of knowledge.’ Instead wisdom must be thought of as a broad, theological concept denoting a fixed, righteous order to which the wise man submits his life." [Note: Bruce K. Waltke, "The Book of Proverbs and Ancient Wisdom Literature," Bibliotheca Sacra 136:543 (July-September 1979):234, 238.]

"’Wisdom’ (hokmah) basically means ’skill.’" [Note: Ross, p. 904.]

". . . wisdom means being skillful and successful in one’s relationships and responsibilities. It involves observing and following the Creator’s principles of order in the moral universe." [Note: Roy B. Zuck, "A Theology of the Wisdom Books and the Song of Songs," in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, p. 232.]

"It isn’t enough simply to be educated and have knowledge, as important as education is. We also need wisdom, which is the ability to use knowledge. Wise men and women have the competence to grasp the meaning of a situation and understand what to do and how to do it in the right way at the right time. . . .

"The pages of history are filled with the names of brilliant and gifted people who were smart enough to become rich and famous but not wise enough to make a successful and satisfying life. Before his death, one of the world’s richest men said that he would have given all his wealth to make one of his six marriages succeed. It’s one thing to make a living, but quite something else to make a life." [Note: Wiersbe, pp. 10-11, 12.]

"When a man knows the right and does the right he is a wise man. It is the wedding of knowing and doing-it is the junction of the good and the true." [Note: Paul E. Larsen, Wise Up and Live, p. 4.]

This is not to say that everyone who submits to God will be able to make equally wise decisions in life. Some Christians, for example, demonstrate more wisdom than others. This is another sense in which Proverbs uses the word wisdom. Nevertheless, essentially, wisdom is a proper or skillful orientation toward God. [Note: For a study of the subject of wisdom as Proverbs uses it, including the shades of meaning the various Hebrew synonyms provide, see Kidner, pp. 36-38; and Zuck, pp. 209-19, 232-38. Several commentaries contain helpful topical indexes to the proverbs (e.g., Ross, pp. 897-903; W. G. Plaut, Book of Proverbs, pp. 333-36; and Kidner, pp. 31-56).]

"Proverbial wisdom is characterized by short, pithy statements; but the speculative wisdom, such as Ecclesiastes or Job, uses lengthy monologues and dialogues to probe the meaning of life, the problem of good and evil, and the relationship between God and people." [Note: Ross, p. 883. Cf. The New Bible Dictionary, s.v. "Wisdom Literature," by D. A. Hubbard.]

The key words in Proverbs 1:2 through 4 have the following meanings.

WisdomPsalms 1:2 aSkillfulness
InstructionPsalms 1:2 aChild training
UnderstandingPsalms 1:2 bDiscernment
RighteousnessPsalms 1:3 bRight behavior
JusticePsalms 1:3 bCorrect decisions
EquityPsalms 1:3 bMoral integrity
PrudencePsalms 1:4 aSensibility in practical matters
DiscretionPsalms 1:4 bThoughtfulness

A second purpose of the book is to solve riddles: thought-provoking problems about life. The riddles in view (Proverbs 1:6) are any puzzles that are unclear and need interpreting, not just what we call riddles today (cf. Numbers 12:8; Judges 14:12; 1 Kings 10:1; Ezekiel 17:2; Habakkuk 2:6). [Note: See Harry Torcszyner, "The Riddle in the Bible," Hebrew Union College Annual 1 (1924):125-49.]

Proverbs 1:2-6 set forth four objectives. God gave us these proverbs to impart an intimate acquaintance with wisdom and discipline (Proverbs 1:2 a) and to impart understanding of wisdom sayings (Proverbs 1:2 b, 6). He also wanted to impart moral insight (Proverbs 1:3) and to identify the intended recipients of wisdom (Proverbs 1:4). [Note: John E. Johnson, "An Analysis of Proverbs 1:1-7," Bibliotheca Sacra 144:576 (October-December 1987):425-28.]

"The Book of Proverbs was not intended to be read as an exhaustive book of right actions but as a selective example of godly wisdom." [Note: John H. Sailhamer, "The Mosaic Law and the Theology of the Pentateuch," Westminster Theological Journal 53 (Fall 1991):247.]

Verse 7

3. The thesis of the book 1:7

This verse enjoys almost universal recognition as the key statement not only in Proverbs but in all the wisdom literature of the Bible (cf. Proverbs 9:10; Proverbs 15:33; Job 28:28; Psalms 111:10; Ecclesiastes 12:13). Some people think of it as the motto of the book, others the foundational principle, others the major premise, or something similar. The verse contains a positive statement followed by its negative corollary.

The "fear of the Lord" occurs at least 18 times in Proverbs (Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 1:29; Proverbs 2:5; Proverbs 3:7; Proverbs 8:13; Proverbs 9:10; Proverbs 10:27; Proverbs 14:2; Proverbs 14:26-27; Proverbs 15:16; Proverbs 15:33; Proverbs 16:6; Proverbs 19:23; Proverbs 22:4; Proverbs 23:17; Proverbs 24:21; Proverbs 31:30). "Fear" includes not only a correct way of thinking about God but a correct relationship with Yahweh. It is an affectionate reverence that results in humbly bowing to the Father’s will. It is a desire not to sin against Him because His wrath is so awful and His love is so awesome.

"Beginning" does not mean that the fear of the Lord is where one starts learning wisdom, but then he or she can move away from it as from the starting line in a race. Rather, the fear of the Lord is the controlling principle, the foundation, on which one must build a life of wisdom.

"What the alphabet is to reading, notes to reading music, and numerals to mathematics, the fear of the LORD is to attaining the revealed knowledge of this book." [Note: Waltke, The Book . . ., p. 181.]

"Knowledge" is a relationship that depends on revelation and is inseparable from character. Even though many unbelievers have acquired much information without the fear of God, true knowledge rests on a relationship to God that revelation supports. We can learn the really important lessons in life only this way.

Other ancient Near Eastern countries produced wisdom literature in addition to what we have in our Old Testament. [Note: See, for example, Cullen I. K. Story, "The Book of Proverbs and Northwest Semitic Literature," Journal of Biblical Literature 64 (1945):319-37; Giovanni Pettinato, "The Royal Archives of Tell Mardikh-Ebla," Biblical Archaeologist 39 (May 1976):45; Edmund J. Gordon, Sumerian Proverbs: Glimpses of Everyday Life in Ancient Mesopotamia, pp. 24, 152; W. G. Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom Literature, pp. 92, 97, 222; James M. Lindenberger, "The Aramaic Proverbs of Ahiqar" (Ph.D. dissertation, Johns Hopkins University, 1974); Leo G. Perdue, Wisdom and Cult, pp. 28-61; and Waltke, The Book . . ., pp. 28-31.] However, the wisdom literature outside Israel did not contain advice to look to a personal relationship with a god as essential to obtaining wisdom. The references to fearing the Lord in Proverbs, including Proverbs 1:7, are unique and make this book distinctive and theologically relevant. The demand for faith underlies the whole book. Only in a right relationship to the true and living God can one enter into God’s foreordained, righteous order for life and find true success and happiness. The fool despises God’s revealed order for life and the instruction that would lead him or her into it (Proverbs 1:7 b).

The Hebrews believed people could acquire knowledge in three ways. One way was through observing nature and human behavior. Another way was by drawing analogies between traditional beliefs (e.g., creeds) and reality. A third way was through an encounter with the transcendent God. [Note: James L. Crenshaw, "The Acquisition of Knowledge in Israelite Wisdom Literature," Word & World 7:3 (Summer 1986):247-52.]

Verses 8-19

1. Warning against consorting with sinners 1:8-19

In this pericope, the wise way (following the moral law in general, Proverbs 1:8-9) does not have the personal appeal, or the excitement and hope of power, that the second way does (Proverbs 1:10-19). Its only reward is goodness, as opposed to acceptance by one’s peers.

"The Bible is the basic textbook in the home. It was once the basic textbook in the educational system, but even if that were still true, the Bible in the school can’t replace the Bible in the home. I note that many modern parents sacrifice time and money to help their children excel in music, sports, and social activities; I trust they’re even more concerned that their children excel in knowing and obeying the Word of God." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 104.]

Proverbs 1:19 articulates the point of the comparison. The Hebrew word translated "gains" (Proverbs 1:19) implies a money-grabbing attitude (cf. Proverbs 15:27).

Verses 8-36

B. Instruction for Young People 1:8-8:36

The two ways (paths, worldviews) introduced in Proverbs 1:7 stretch out before the reader (cf. Matthew 7:13-14). In this section Solomon spoke to his son, guiding him into God’s way. "My son" was and is a customary way of addressing a disciple.

"It derives from the idea that parents are primarily responsible for moral instruction (Proverbs 4:3-4; Deuteronomy 6:7)." [Note: Ross, p. 907.]

The frequent recurrence of the phrase "my son" in this part of Proverbs indicates that the instruction specially suited a young person. This person’s life lay in front of him, and he faced major decisions that would set the course of his life from then on. Though the whole Book of Proverbs gives help to youths, chapters 1-7 address them specifically and can be of particular benefit to them.

The instruction that follows was originally the type of counsel a courtier father gave his son or sons in his home. This seems to have been a traditional form of ancient Near Eastern education, especially among the ruling classes. This instruction did not replace a formal education but supplemented it. [Note: William Kelly Simpson, ed., The Literature of Egypt, p. 54; cf. pp. 178-79.]

In Egypt, for example, "The authors of the [wisdom] ’teachings’ do not present themselves as priests and prophets. They appear as aged officials at the end of active and successful careers, desirous to let their children profit by their experience." [Note: Henri Frankfort, Ancient Egyptian Religion, p. 60. Cf. James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, p. 12.]

Earlier, Akkadian officials evidently practiced the same custom.

"The advice given in the section ’My son’ can have had relevance for very few people. . . . This suggests that we are to construe the text as being in the form of admonitions of some worthy to his son who will succeed him as vizier to the ruler." [Note: Lambert, p. 96.]

Other evidence exists that it was common throughout the ancient Near East for high officials to pass on this special instruction to their heirs. In Proverbs, we have the record of what Solomon told his son Rehoboam, and probably also his other sons.

". . . the Book of Proverbs has a definite masculine focus because in the ancient Jewish society daughters usually weren’t educated for the affairs of life. Most of them were kept secluded and prepared for marriage and motherhood. For the most part, when you read ’man’ in Proverbs, interpret it generically and read ’person,’ whether male or female. Proverbs isn’t a sexist book, but it was written in the context of a strongly male-oriented society." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 172, n. 1.]

In the teaching that follows, there is advice for many situations a king would encounter and have to deal with effectively. These matters included the administration of justice, leadership, behavior, as well as urban and agricultural concerns. Consequently, there seems to be no reason to take these references to "my son" as anything other than what they appear at face value to be (cf. Genesis 18:19; Exodus 12:24; Deuteronomy 4:9-11).

In some parts of the ancient world, the mother shared the duty of instructing the son with the father (cf. Proverbs 1:8; Proverbs 4:3; Proverbs 6:20; Proverbs 31:1; Proverbs 31:26). [Note: Kidner did a subject study on the family in Proverbs. See pp. 49-52.]

"Here the father and mother are placed on exactly the same footing as teachers of their children. . . . The phraseology of these sentences corresponds almost exactly to that of their Egyptian counterparts . . . and this throws into greater relief the one feature which is entirely unique in them: the mention of the mother. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this feature is an example of the adaptation of the Egyptian tradition to the peculiar situation in which the Israelite instructions were composed: a domestic situation in which the father and mother together shared the responsibility for the education of the child." [Note: R. N. Whybray, Wisdom in Proverbs, p. 42.]

Archaeologists have found most of the documents that contain extrabiblical instruction of the "my son" type in excavated scribal schools. This suggests that even though the teaching took place in the home, the teachers preserved their instructions in writing, with a view to sharing them with people outside the family circle. This suggests that what we have in Proverbs is not atypical. Probably when Solomon recorded his counsel to his son, he adapted it to a more general reading audience, namely: all the people of Israel. Eventually all people profited from it.

"The principles articulated throughout the book are as helpful for living the Christian life as they were for providing guidance to the ancient theocratic community of Israel." [Note: Eugene H. Merrill, in The Old Testament Explorer, p. 482.]

Verses 20-33

2. Wisdom’s appeal 1:20-33

This is one of several passages in Proverbs where the writer personified wisdom. Her call comes to people in the market, in the hustle and bustle of life, not in the seclusion of the home or sanctuary (cf. Proverbs 1:8). [Note: See Phyllis Trible, "Wisdom Builds a Poem: The Architecture of Proverbs 1:20-33," Journal of Biblical Literature 94 (1975):509-18.]

"To whom does Wisdom speak? To three classes of sinners: the simple ones, the scorners (scoffers, mockers, NIV), and the fools (Proverbs 1:22). The simple are naive people who believe anything (Proverbs 14:15) but examine nothing. They’re gullible and easily led astray. Scorners think they know everything (Proverbs 21:24) and laugh at the things that are really important. While the simple one has a blank look on his face, the scorner wears a sneer. Fools are people who are ignorant of truth because they’re dull and stubborn. Their problem isn’t a low IQ or poor education; their problem is a lack of spiritual desire to seek and find God’s wisdom. Fools enjoy their foolishness but don’t know how foolish they are! The outlook of fools is purely materialistic and humanistic. They hate knowledge and have no interest in things eternal." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 26.]

It is clear here that people have a choice about which way they will go. Their lives are to a large measure the result of their choices. The fool is one by his own fault, not by fate (Proverbs 1:30-31). [Note: Kidner, p. 60.] Wisdom laughs at the fool’s calamity (Proverbs 1:26), not because she is hard-hearted but because it is so absurd to choose folly (Proverbs 1:26).

"The figure of laughing reveals the absurdity of choosing a foolish way of life and being totally unprepared for disaster." [Note: Ross, p. 910.]

Proverbs 1:32-33 contrast the ultimate destruction of the unresponsive with the peaceful condition of the responsive.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Proverbs 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/proverbs-1.html. 2012.
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