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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Proverbs 1

 

 

Verses 1-7

Introduction To The Prologue (Proverbs 1:1-7).

The book commences with an introduction which explains its purpose in some depth. Its aim is to pass on ‘the sayings of Solomon, the son of David, king of Israel’ so as to give understanding and wisdom with regard to moral living (‘receiving instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice and equity’) in order that those who would might increase in understanding and obtain ‘wise counsels’. Rather than being unusual, the recording of wisdom ‘sayings’ by a king has good precedent (e.g. Khety I the father of Merikare; Amenemhat I Shuruppak) and there is thus no good reason for denying to Solomon the authorship of Proverbs 1:1 to Proverbs 24:34.

Proverbs 1:1

‘The sayings of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel.’

This is now the heading for the whole book, the contents being described by reference to the main contributor, with the final contributions by Agur and Lemuel being added later (or possibly even appended by Solomon himself). The book thus itself makes quite clear that a small proportion of its contents are not the product of Solomon. These words may, however, originally have been the heading for an earlier compilation, which was then added to (e.g. Proverbs 1:1 to Proverbs 24:34, to which was added Proverbs 25:1 onwards), or one which was transferred, along with what followed it, from a work where the contents were indeed all recognised as being the work of Solomon.

It should be noted that here there is no reference to the name of the person being addressed (the one who is later called ‘my son’). Analogous ancient Near Easter wisdom literature, typically at this point name the ‘son’ to whom the wisdom is addressed, its aim being to prepare him for succession to the office of the writer and indicate his subsequent suitability for the position. But the words of Solomon are addressed to all in Israel who will heed his words. He is speaking on behalf of God to ‘God’s son’, i.e. Israel (Exodus 4:22). They are a revelation of God’s wisdom to Israel (Proverbs 2:5-6).

Others, however, argue that this verse is simply the heading for chapters 1-9 in view of the fact that what are seen as similar headings are found later (Proverbs 10:1 - ‘the sayings of Solomon’; Proverbs 24:23 - ‘these also are of the wise’; Proverbs 25:1 - ‘these also are the sayings of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah, king of Judah, copied out’; Proverbs 30:1 - ‘the words of Agur the son of Jakeh, an oracle’; Proverbs 31:1 - ‘the words of King Lemuel, an oracle, which his mother taught him’). To some extent therefore it remains an open question. But in fact the fuller heading in Proverbs 1:1 reads like a main heading, whilst the more abbreviated Proverbs 10:1 and Proverbs 24:23 read as subsidiary headings, and as this is precisely the phenomenon which occurs in wisdom literature elsewhere, it would seem probable that we are to see the work as originally one unit, at least as far as Proverbs 24:34. Either way it would be underlining the idea that chapters 1-9 are indeed the work of Solomon, and in the light of the findings at Ugarit, which are used by some scholars to illuminate the meaning of Proverbs, there are no good grounds for denying it. And this suggestion that it is genuinely the work of Solomon is backed up by the number of proverbs which deal with court matters.

Proverbs 1:2-7

‘To know wisdom and instruction,

To discern the words of understanding,

To receive instruction in wise dealing,

In righteousness and justice and equity,

To give shrewdness to the naive,

To the young man knowledge and discretion,

That the wise man may hear, and increase in learning,

And that the man of understanding may attain to sound counsels,

To understand a proverb, and a figure,

The words of the wise, and their dark sayings.’

The fear of YHWH is the beginning of knowledge,

But the foolish despise wisdom and instruction.’

Note how the aim is that men may ‘know wisdom and instruction’ (Proverbs 1:2 a), whilst it is ‘the foolish’ who ‘despise wisdom and instruction’ (Proverbs 1:7). And this has in mind YHWH because it is ‘the fear of YHWH which is the beginning of knowledge’. The aim is that men may ‘discern the words of understanding’ (Proverbs 1:2 b), and they do this by ‘understanding the words of the wise’ (Proverbs 1:6). It is that men might ‘receive instruction in wise dealing’ (Proverbs 1:3) -- thus ‘increasing in learning -- and attaining to sound counsels’ (Proverbs 1:5). The chiastic pattern will be noted. It may be presented as follows:

A To know wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:2 a)

B To discern the words of understanding (Proverbs 1:2 b).

C To receive instruction in wise dealing (Proverbs 1:3 a).

D To give shrewdness to the naive (Proverbs 1:4 a).

D To the young man knowledge and discretion (Proverbs 1:4 b).

C That the wise may hear and increase in learning, and the man of understanding attain to sound counsels (Proverbs 1:5)

B To understand -- dark sayings (Proverbs 1:6).

A The foolish despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7).

We now learn the purpose of the book. It is intended to be a guide and an enlightener in the pursuit of righteous living and godliness, (for the ‘wisdom’ and ‘instruction’ relate to God’s ways - Proverbs 2:5-6), giving discernment and instruction in wise behaviour, behaviour which is in accordance with righteousness, justice and equity. In view of Proverbs 1:7 it could be described as a book on how to ‘live in the light of the fear of God’.

The idea of wisdom in Proverbs is not of philosophical understanding, but of practical understanding based on the fear of God. The wise man heeds ‘instruction accompanied by chastening’ (musar), (or ‘disciplinary instruction’) both from God (Proverbs 3:11-12) and from godly men (in those days primarily his parents - Proverbs 1:8) and does what is right. He has skill and expertise in God’s ways because he has listened to the outward instruction of God’s word (torah - Proverbs 1:8 b) and the inner voice of God (Proverbs 2:6; compare Proverbs 3:11-12). He is thus a man of discernment, ‘discerning the words of understanding’ (Proverbs 1:2 b). He obtains true knowledge and becomes discreet in his ways (Proverbs 1:2 b, 4). And in Israel this knowledge results in ‘wise dealing, and in righteousness, justice and equity’ (Proverbs 1:3). It is unquestionably moral and God-pleasing.

Note how the references to ‘wisdom’ and ‘understanding’ are taken up in Proverbs 1:5 with reference to ‘the wise man’ and ‘the man of understanding’, and again in Proverbs 1:7 where they are connected with ‘the fear of YHWH’, whilst Proverbs 2:5-6 bring home to us that this wisdom is given by God, and that it is from His mouth that knowledge and understanding comes. What is being taught is not general wisdom, but divine wisdom from the mouth of YHWH.

Its content is addressed:

· ‘To the simple’, that is the naive who have not thought about or understood God’s moral requirements, so that they might become shrewd.

· ‘To the young man’, so that he might learn more about life and gain discretion.

· To ‘the wise man’ that he might increase more in wisdom and understanding.

· To ‘the man of understanding’ so that he might gain more understanding and become a fit counsellor of others.

It has thus a lesson for all who are facing life and are willing to respond to God’s ways. And it will do this through proverbs and figures designed to arouse interest and understanding, and by bringing home the words of the wise and making clear the meaning of their ‘mysterious sayings’ (compare Judges 14:12; 1 Kings 10:1).

Proverbs 1:7

The fear of YHWH is the beginning of knowledge,

But the foolish despise wisdom and instruction.’

And at the root of all this is the fear of YHWH. These purposes in Proverbs 1:2-6 will be achieved in those who ‘fear YHWH’, for in that is the beginning (or prime element) of knowledge. In other words true and worthwhile knowledge about life has its roots in ‘fearing YHWH’ (responding to Him as a loving, but authoritative, figure) and in ‘knowing God’ (Proverbs 1:29; Proverbs 2:5-6; Proverbs 9:10). The emphasis is thus on a ‘spiritual’ life, one lived in conscious dependence on Him. Such a man wants to walk with God. The one who ‘fears YHWH’ (that is, who pays reverent regard to Him and to His requirements in the same way as a man should ‘fear’ his father and his mother - Leviticus 19:3) will be the one who will take heed because he wants to do what is right in His sight. He walks in a personal relationship with God. He departs from evil (Proverbs 3:7; Proverbs 8:13).

In contrast are the foolish who do not fear YHWH (compare Psalms 14:1) and who therefore despise such wisdom and instruction. They live their lives mainly heedless, through deliberate choice, of God and His ways. Thus to Solomon ‘wisdom’ is not just a collection of teaching about living, it is rooted in a personal relationship with, and a reverent obedience towards, YHWH, the covenant God.

This idea of the reverent fear of YHWH does not only occur here. It underlies the first nine chapters (see Proverbs 1:29; Proverbs 2:5; Proverbs 8:13; Proverbs 9:10), and continues on up to chapter 23 (see Proverbs 10:27; Proverbs 14:26-27; Proverbs 15:16; Proverbs 15:33; Proverbs 16:6; Proverbs 19:23; Proverbs 22:4; Proverbs 23:17). Thus the idea of the fear of YHWH underlies chapters 1-24. It is this that gives full significance to what is being said. It demonstrates that the teaching reveals the mind of God. It will also be noted that reference to it brings together the words of Solomon and ‘the words of the wise’ (Proverbs 22:17 to Proverbs 24:34), as indeed Proverbs 1:6 emphasises. And it makes them more than just a collection of improving sayings. They have all rather become a guide to living the spiritual life.

Proverbs makes clear that the fear of YHWH (looking for him to exercise the discipline of a father - Proverbs 3:12; Leviticus 19:3; Psalms 103:13) is a course that men must choose, and that it will be neglected by those who hate true knowledge, spiritual knowledge (Proverbs 1:29), for the fear of YHWH and the knowledge of God are in parallel (Proverbs 2:5; Proverbs 9:10). Those who do fear God will walk in accordance with His instruction (Jeremiah 44:10). They look to Him to be the directer of their paths (Proverbs 3:6). So it is men’s response to YHWH which makes clear the direction in which their lives are pointed. This parallels the idea of those who walk in the narrow way as spoken of by Jesus, rather than the broad way (Matthew 7:13-14). Those who gain true wisdom and understanding will understand the fear of YHWH, and find the true knowledge of God (Proverbs 2:5). Consequently it leads to a spiritual grasp of the truth. The one who thus finds the fear of YHWH will hate evil (Proverbs 8:13), and will grow in true spiritual wisdom and understanding (Proverbs 9:10). The book thus claims to be an inculcator of divine knowledge, rather than just earthly knowledge. It is speaking to the true heart and giving spiritual discernment. In this it is different from much other wisdom literature.


Verse 8-9

Addressed To ‘My Son’. Those Who Seek To Walk In The Fear Of YHWH Will Listen To The Instruction Of Godly Authority (Proverbs 1:8-9).

Here in chapter 1 the appeal is a fairly short one, but the writer may well have had in mind that he had already given a detailed analysis of wisdom and understanding in Proverbs 1:2-7. It does, however, lay down the important principle that the chief source of wisdom to the family is the father and the mother.

Proverbs 1:8-9

‘My son, hear the disciplinary instruction of your father,

And do not forsake the law of your mother,

For they will be a wreath (floral crown) of grace to your head,

And chains (necklaces) about your neck.’

‘My son.’ This was a regular way in which wisdom teachers addressed their students, and we have examples of this expression in wisdom literature from elsewhere, although often in that literature it was addressed to an individual who was being prepared to take over responsibilities. They saw their students as to some extent their children in wisdom and knowledge.

‘My son’ occurs as follows:

· It occurs fifteen times in chapters 1-9, being understandably absent in chapters 8-9 where Wisdom takes over. She dose not speak of ‘my son’.

· It occurs only once in chapters Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 22:16 , where it would not suit the more formal style of the writing which mainly consists of pithy proverbs That occurrence is in Proverbs 19:27 where it has a special significance.

· It occurs five times in ‘the words of the wise’ (Proverbs 22:17 to Proverbs 24:22) where the saying are more extended (as in 1-9).

· It occurs once in Solomon’s words gathered by the men of Hezekiah (Proverbs 25:1 to Proverbs 29:27). That is in Proverbs 27:11, where it is the opening appeal to the second section of that passage.

Sometimes he uses the address ‘sons’ (e.g. Proverbs 4:1; Proverbs 5:7), thus making clear that ‘my son’ is composite. He is not referring to Rehoboam, or to his hundreds of other sons (he had three hundred wives and seven hundred concubines), for if Rehoboam had offered himself as a surety he was hardly likely to be financially embarrassed (Proverbs 6:1-5), and those words were clearly addressed to a theoretical case.

With regard to the use of ‘my son’ and ‘sons’ we can compare how Deborah and the wise woman were seen as ‘mothers in Israel’ (Judges 5:7; 2 Samuel 20:19), those who guided people in God’s ways. But this did address did not prevent Solomon from recognising that the prime instructors and disciplinarians of the people were their own fathers and mothers (Proverbs 1:8; Proverbs 6:20). In Israel the spiritual education of the children was very much their father’s responsibility, and, under his authority, their mother’s. See Exodus 12:26-27; Exodus 13:8; Deuteronomy 6:20-25; Deuteronomy 11:19; Deuteronomy 32:7; etc. These were their guides to true and godly living in accordance with the Torah (Law/Instruction), and in accordance with revealed wisdom. The passing on of Wisdom teaching for Israel lay firmly in the hands of the parents, and included the Torah.

The importance given to the teaching of father and mother comes out again in Proverbs 6:20 where Solomon tells his ‘son’ to ‘keep the commandment of your father, and do not forsake the law (torah) of your mother’, and in Proverbs 10:1 where, ‘a wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother’. This last is important in stressing that the father and mother were acting in their son’s best interests, and thus found delight in his obedience (see also Proverbs 3:12). This was all one with the commandment to ‘honour your father and your mother’, indicating walking before them in respectful obedience, as required by the covenant (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16). And this was because to their children they were to be the prime figures of authority.

But that this authority was not expected to be exercised in a heavy-handed way comes out in the vivid picture used, that their instruction and law would be like a floral crown gracing the head, and a floral chain around their necks, symbols of joy and celebration, as well as of honour (these would be the crowns and necklaces best known to the common people). The word for ‘crown’ or ‘wreath’ is found elsewhere only in Proverbs 4:9, where it parallels a crown of glory (or ‘splendour’). The word for necklace is used elsewhere of decorative necklaces (Judges 8:26 - a camel’s necklace; Song of Solomon 4:9 - a maiden’s necklace). They were to be signs of honour, and of a loving, responsive and joyous relationship. This was the ideal.

Others, however, see the crown and necklace as indicating victory and protection based on possible Egyptian parallels. Then the thought is that victory and security in life will be achieved by following the disciplinary instruction and teaching of their fathers and mothers (in other words, seen ideally, by following godly authority).

Note that it is the father who ‘instructs/disciplines’ (compare Proverbs 3:12) whilst the mother teaches ‘the law (Torah)’. He was the overall head responsible for instruction and discipline, she was a guide to God’s torah. Thus it was the father of the household who had prime responsibility for instruction and discipline, and was, if necessary, expected to exercise discipline in the way which was customary at the time, through the use of the rod (Proverbs 13:24; Proverbs 22:15; Proverbs 23:13). But it is noteworthy that one citation from Solomon himself (Proverbs 13:24) stresses that this is to be done in fatherly love. It was not to be vindictive. Today we do not beat our children with rods, but the use of rods for punishment was customary at that time over a much wider sphere, and was thus seen as the right way of going about things. Life was harder then, time was limited and child psychology was unknown. Discipline had to be swift, effective and seen to be exerted. Nevertheless the lesson is that it is still necessary for us to exercise some form of genuine discipline on our children if we really love them, even if we think we have better ways of going about it. The basic principle is ‘exercise proper discipline over your children’, but expressed in terms of that day, it is not that the rod is the only way of achieving it.


Verses 8-18

Prologue To The Book (Proverbs 1:8 to Proverbs 9:18).

It was common throughout the 3rd to the 1st millenniums BC for collections of wisdom saying to have a prologue preparing for the ‘sayings’ that would follow. Those sayings would then be introduced by a subheading. Proverbs thus follows the usual precedent in having such a prologue in Proverbs 1:8 to Proverbs 9:18, followed by general sayings in Proverbs 10:1 ff headed by a subheading (Proverbs 10:1). It was also common for such a prologue to be addressed to ‘my son’, or similar, with constant references being made to ‘my son’ throughout the prologue. And this is interestingly a feature of Proverbs 1-9, where it occurs fifteen times. One difference, however, lies in the fact that the ‘son’ was usually named in other wisdom literature, something which does not occur in Proverbs. Indeed, in Proverbs ‘my son’ is sometimes replaced by ‘sons’ (Proverbs 4:1; Proverbs 5:7; Proverbs 7:24; Proverbs 8:32). It is addressed to whoever will hear and respond.

The Prologue consists of ten discourses, and divides into two. It commences with five discourses, each of which follows a similar pattern, an opening appeal followed by two further subsections, and closing with a contrast between the righteous and the unrighteous, the wise and the foolish. We can compare how there are five ‘books’ to the Torah, and five books of Psalms. Five is the covenant number. Each of the subsections is in the form of a chiasmus.

From chapter 6 onwards the pattern changes. Initially we find a description of three types, whom we could describe as the naive, the foolish, the wicked (Proverbs 6:1-19), and this is followed by Proverbs 6:20 to Proverbs 9:18 which are centred on the contrast between the seductive power of the strange woman, and the uplifting power of woman wisdom, all continually urging the young man to turn from the enticements of the world and choose wisdom.

The prologue may be analysed as follows;

The Five Discourses.

1). Discourse 1. Addressed To ‘My Son’. Those Who Seek To Walk In The Fear Of YHWH Will Listen To The Instruction Of Godly Authority, And Will Avoid The Enticements Of Sinners Motivated By Greed. Wisdom Is Then Depicted As Crying Out To Be Heard, Longing For Response, Promising Inculcation Of Her Own Spirit, And Warning Of The Consequences Of Refusal (Proverbs 1:8-33).

2). Discourse 2. Addressed To ‘My Son’. The Source Of True Wisdom Is YHWH, And Those Who Truly Seek Wisdom Will Find YHWH Himself, And He Will Then Reveal His Wisdom To Them. This Wisdom That God Gives Them Will Then Deliver Them From All Who Are Evil, Both From Men Who Have Abandoned The Right Way, And From The Enticements Of Immoral Women (Proverbs 2:1-22).

3). Discourse 3. Addressed To ‘My Son’. The Young Man Is To Trust In YHWH, To Fear YHWH And To Honour YHWH, And In View Of Their Great Value Is To Find YHWH’s Wisdom And Obtain Understanding Which Will Be His Protection And Will Through YHWH’s Chastening Activity Restore Him To Man’s First Estate. In View Of Them He Is To Observe A Series Of Practical Requirements Which Will Result In Blessing For The Wise (Proverbs 3:1-35).

4). Discourse 4. Addressed to ‘Sons’. Wisdom And Understanding Are To Be Sought And Cherished, For They Produce Spiritual Beauty, and Lead Those Who Respond Unto The Perfect Day (Proverbs 4:1-19).

5). Discourse 5. Addressed To ‘My Son’ (and later ‘Sons’). He Is To Avoid The Enticements Of The Strange Woman Whose Ways Lead To Death, And Rather Be Faithful To His True Wife (Proverbs 4:20 to Proverbs 5:23).

A Description Of Three Contrasting Failures.

6). Discourse 6. The Naive, The Fool And The Scorner Illustrated. The First Addressed To ‘My Son’ Is A Call To Avoid Acting As A Surety For Others, The Second Addressed To ‘You Sluggard’, Is A Call To Shake Off Laziness, And The Third, Unaddressed, Concerns A Worthless Person And A Troublemaker (Proverbs 6:1-19).

A Contrast Between The Strange Seductive Woman And The Pure Woman Wisdom.

Discourse 7. Addressed To ‘My Son’. He Is Urged To Observe The Commandment And The Torah Of Father And Mother, Avoiding The Enticement Of The Adulterous Woman, And Being Aware Of The Wrath Of The Deceived Husband (Proverbs 6:20-35).

Discourse 8. Addressed To ‘My Son’. After Appealing To Him To Observe His Words Solomon Vividly Describes The Wiles Of A Prostitute And Warns ‘Sons’ Against Her (Proverbs 7:1-27).

Discourse 9. The Call of Ms Wisdom As The One Who Seeks Response, Gives Men True Instruction, Ensures Good Government, Enriches Men Physically and Spiritually, Was Present With God During Creation, And Blesses Men And Brings Them Into Life So That They Find God’s Favour (Proverbs 8:1-36).

Discourse 10. The Appeal Of Woman Wisdom Contrasted With The Allure Of Woman Folly (Proverbs 9:1-18).


Verses 8-33

Discourse 1. Addressed To ‘My Son’. Those Who Seek To Walk In The Fear Of YHWH Will Listen To The Instruction Of Godly Authority, And Will Avoid The Enticements Of Sinners Motivated By Greed. Wisdom Is Then Depicted As Crying Out To Be Heard, Longing For Response, Promising Inculcation Of Her Own Spirit, And Warning Of The Consequences Of Refusal (Proverbs 1:8-33).

Addressed to ‘my son’ (especially the young men of his kingdom) this discourse divides up into three parts and ends with a contrast between the fate of ‘the naive/fools’ and those ‘who hear’. The three parts may be seen as follows:

1) Exhortation to hear disciplinary instruction and torah (Proverbs 1:8-9).

2) Warning against heeding those who would entice into greed and violence (Proverbs 1:10-19).

3) The call by Ms Wisdom for men to receive divine wisdom and knowledge together with a warning of the consequences of failing to do so (Proverbs 1:20-33).

In what follows we have a description of the old age battle between lawful authority and those who would encourage us to unlawfulness. The stress is on the fact that we are to look to the one and reject the other, however attractive the latter might appear. In Israel that lawful authority lay in the hands of the father of the family, then of the father of the wider family, then of the father of the clan, then of the father of the tribe, depending on what was at issue. Thus the father of the family was the first in the line of authority. And as such he was to be listened to, and was expected to exercise discipline. The family was to ‘fear him’ (Leviticus 19:3), that is respond to him in respectful obedience. The New Testament requires the same attitude of Christians towards reasonable judges (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14).

It will be noted that the book assumes a monogamous marriage. The assumption is that both father and mother will take a genuine interest in their children, and will be concerned to guide and lead them. Furthermore, responding to their guidance and instruction will not be an arduous duty. It will rather be like the wearing of floral crowns and floral chains at a feast. It will decorate their lives and make glad their hearts, proclaiming to others their joyful obedience to God (these would be what they naturally thought of when thinking in terms of ‘crowns’ and ‘necklaces’). Or less likely, based on Egyptian parallels, the thought may be of a crown of victory, and a necklace of protection, with guidance and instruction being depicted as the means of victory and security in life.

In contrast those who listen to the enticements of tempters will discover that it results in their ‘losing their lives’, either in loss of enjoyment and value, or, at the extreme, in losing life itself. We can compare in this regard how Jesus often spoke of true life, and warned that ‘he who would save his life (by not walking in the fear of YHWH with all its consequences), will lose it’ (Mark 8:35). What they cling on to will in the end turn to ashes. Jesus pointed out that it is He Who brings us life which is ‘life indeed’, in contrast with those who respond to evildoers and are diverted from following Him (John 10:10). In Solomon’s eyes that life was experienced through ‘fearing God’ and knowing Him and His ways. Such people are reborn of the Spirit (Proverbs 1:23; Psalms 51:10; Psalms 143:10).

Each dissertation that accompanies an appeal in chapters 1 to 3 is divided into three parts. Each commences with ‘my son’ and an appeal to listen and take heed accompanied by an argument as to why they should do so (Proverbs 1:8-9; Proverbs 2:1-11; Proverbs 3:1-10). This is followed by an exhortation or warning (Proverbs 1:10-19; Proverbs 2:12-15; Proverbs 3:11-20), and then by a further section (Proverbs 1:21-33; Proverbs 2:16-22; Proverbs 3:21-35), each of which ends with a contrast between the upright and the wicked or their equivalents (Proverbs 1:32-33; Proverbs 2:21-22; Proverbs 3:33-35). Furthermore, in each of chapters 1 and 2 we have three voices seen as speaking to men. In chapter 1 they are 1) the voices of the parents, 2) the voices of the sinners, 3) the voice of the woman Wisdom. In chapter 2 they are 1) the voice of Solomon, 2) the voice of evil men, 3) the voice of the seductive ‘strange woman’ There may be an intended contrast in chapter 1 and 2, following the parallel warnings against evil men (Proverbs 1:10-19; Proverbs 2:12-15) between the good woman Wisdom who advises men honestly and leads men into truth (Proverbs 1:21-33), and the ‘strange/foreign woman’ who entices men deceitfully and leads men into sin (Proverbs 2:16-22).


Verses 10-19

The Compelling Need To Avoid The Enticements Of Sinners Motivated By Greed (Proverbs 1:10-19).

Solomon now vividly portrays the dangers of greed and violence, two things which often go together. The one who responds to God’s wisdom will avoid such enticements. The ideas are presented in chiastic fashion:

A My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent (Proverbs 1:10).

B If they say, Come with us, Let us lay in wait for blood, let us lurk secretly for the innocent without cause (Proverbs 1:11).

C Let us swallow them up alive as Sheol, and whole, as those who go down into the pit (Proverbs 1:12).

D We will find all precious substance, we will fill our houses with spoil (Proverbs 1:13).

E You shall cast your lot among us, we will all have one purse (Proverbs 1:14).

E My son, do not walk in the way with them, refrain your foot from their path (Proverbs 1:15).

D For their feet run to evil (Proverbs 1:16 a),

C And they make haste to shed blood (Proverbs 1:16 b).

B For in vain is the net spread In the sight of any bird, yet these lay wait for their own blood, they lurk secretly for their own lives (Proverbs 1:17-18).

A So are the ways of every one who is greedy of gain; It takes away the life of its possessors (Proverbs 1:19).

In A sinners seek to entice, and in the parallel it is greed that entices. In B they lie in wait for blood, and lurk secretly for the innocent, and in the parallel they lie in wait for their own blood, and lurk secretly for their own live. In C they want to bring men to death, and in the parallel they make haste to shed blood. In D they seek ill-gotten gain, and in the parallel their feet run to do evil. Centrally in E they call on the young man to follow them and in the parallel wisdom tells him not to walk in their paths.

Proverbs 1:10-14

‘My son, if sinners entice you,

Do not consent,

If they say, Come with us,

Let us lay wait for blood,

Let us lurk secretly for the innocent without cause,

Let us swallow them up alive as Sheol,

And whole, as those who go down into the pit,

We will find all precious substance,

We will fill our houses with spoil,

You shall cast your lot among us,

We will all have one purse.’

Others besides their fathers and mothers will seek to ‘guide’ them. And to them they are not to give consent. For in contrast to the instruction and discipline of father and mother, will be the influence of some of their contemporaries more their own age, who will seek to lead them astray. These will entice them by seeking to arouse their greed, and by offering close companionship. They are described as ‘sinners’, that is people who have wrong intent, and ‘miss the mark’ and turn men in the wrong path.

Peer pressure and gang cultures were just as prevalent in those days as they are in some quarters today, and we must remember that a ‘gang’ (peer group) today might equally be a group of sophisticated people united in a common bond. They can equally get up to, and inculcate, mischief. Thus there is the warning against mixing with and ganging up with the wrong people. There will always be those who seek to ‘entice us’ and lead us astray from God’s instruction, and encourage us to be dishonest, and even violent, and they are to be avoided.

The people described here were the kind of people who would encourage violence with the aim of dishonest gain, lying in wait for innocent people in order to rob them. The intensity of their evil is brought out by the vividness of the description. They delighted in sending people into Sheol and ‘the pit’. Sheol was the shadowy underworld of the grave to which the dead went, the great unknown, the place of darkness and forgetfulness (see Psalms 6:5; Isaiah 14:9-15; Ezekiel 32:21; Ezekiel 32:27). ‘The pit’ was another way of describing it. They were places which were empty of life. They were thus by their actions robbing people of their futures as well as of their goods.

Their aim was dishonest gain, and the motive was greed. They wanted to ‘fill their houses with spoil’. They wanted to possess possessions. But an equally special appeal lay in the comradeship arising from all sharing in the one pot, of all being one together. By heeding the ‘advice’ of their peers they would be ‘accepted’ among their contemporaries. ‘You shall cast your lot among us.’ Each would participate in the excitement of the division of the spoils by lot. ‘We will all have one purse’. They would be all one in purpose, and in the sharing of the spoils. All this would make them feel that they were ‘independent’ of parental control and that they ‘belonged’ in the group. But they would in practise simply have replaced the godly authority of their parents, who were concerned for their good, with the ungodly authority of the group whose only concern was dishonest gain. The principle equally applies of course to any attempt to gain from others by underhand means, and any gathering together which leads to wrongdoing. Today men and women simply do it in a more sophisticated way. It is equally possible to destroy a man by ruining his reputation, or holding him up to ridicule.

‘Let us lay wait for blood.’ Note the emphasis on blood in the passage. ‘They scurry to shed blood’ (Proverbs 1:16). They ‘lay wait for their own blood’ (Proverbs 1:18). They were bloodthirsty days, and Solomon is using an extreme example to get over his point. Violent death was a common experience in days when men went about armed and there were no police. It is significant that in the prologue it is violence and illicit sex that are the two major sins inveighed against. Times have not changed.

Proverbs 1:15-16

‘My son, do not walk in the way with them,

Refrain your foot from their path,

For their feet run to evil,

And they scurry to shed blood.’

As a surrogate father he pleads with ‘his son’ not to ‘walk in the way with them’, in other words not to ‘walk in the counsel of the ungodly’ (Psalms 1:1). Rather he is to refrain from following in their path. He is to resist their enticements. And that is because their feet run to do evil. Thus we are to beware of allowing our contemporaries to lead us into what comes short of the best. In mind here is an extreme example. They are so eager to shed blood that they scurry along in order to do so. Others may be eager for lesser sins, as the book will go on to show, but their ways are still to be avoided.

Proverbs 1:17-18

‘For in vain is the net spread,

In the sight of any bird,

But these lay wait for their own blood,

They lurk secretly for their own lives.’

The writer then points out the folly of all this. He ‘considers their end’ (Psalms 73:17). For, he says, what they are doing will in the end rebound on themselves. They are in essence setting a trap for themselves. They ‘lay in wait for blood’ (Proverbs 1:11), but do not realise that they are in essence ‘lying in wait for their own blood’. They ‘lurk secretly for the innocent’ (Proverbs 1:11) but do not thereby realise that they are lurking secretly for their own lives. They fail to recognise that inevitably their actions will bring evil consequences for themselves.

The point behind the illustration is that, very foolishly, they are by their actions setting a trap for themselves, or throwing a net over themselves, in full view of themselves. (Inscriptions picturing hunters creeping up on birds in order to cast a net over them have been discovered in Egypt). They may be hidden from others in their hiding place, but they are not hidden from themselves. They are fully aware of what they are doing. How foolish therefore they are, for only the foolish person lays a snare or casts a net in full view, so that it is obvious, with the consequence that he does it in vain. A sensible person, when seeking to ensnare birds, does not make his net or his presence obvious. He disguises both so that the bird will not know they are there. (Indeed, that is why these people wait for their victims in ambush. They do it so that they will not be discerned). But what they foolishly do not realise is that they are in fact laying an ambush which will finally trap themselves, and one thing that is sure is that they cannot hide from themselves. They are setting what will finally trap them in full view of their own eyes. Thus they are being doubly foolish. They are doing wrong and they are behaving as no sensible person would do. And the end of their behaviour can only be their own loss when in some way or other they are brought to account. They are by their actions in fact ‘lying in wait for their own blood’.

Proverbs 1:19

‘So are the ways of every one who is greedy of dishonest gain,’

It takes away the life of its owners.’

And why do they behave in this way? It is because they are greedy to obtain wealth though wrong methods. Their hearts are full of covetousness and greed. They will do anything for money. As Paul would later point out, ‘the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil’ (1 Timothy 6:10).

But such an attitude can only in the end take away their lives (as they themselves have taken away the lives of others). It takes away their lives daily as it results in a spiritually impoverished life and a destruction of their finer feelings. And it will destroy them in the end because they will be brought into judgment. Thus unknown to them greed will take away their lives from them, even though outwardly they may appear to prosper from it. We can compare the Psalmist’s words concerning such people, ‘then I considered their latter end’ (Psalms 73:17). We all need to consider, not only what we do, but also its final end.


Verses 20-23

Wisdom Is Depicted As Crying Out In Longing That People Will Respond To Her Words And Gain From What She Offers (Proverbs 1:20-23).

Wisdom is now personified as a woman crying out to people to respond to her words. She is in direct contrast to the woman who cries out to young men seeking to lead them astray (Proverbs 2:1-19; Proverbs 7:8-27) whose name is Folly (Proverbs 9:13-18). See also Proverbs 5:3-11; Proverbs 6:24-35. Thus God’s Wisdom is to be the palliative to immoral yearnings. The one who listens to His wisdom will not be led astray.

It is quite clear from what follows that Wisdom is speaking on behalf of God. To the writer she is not only wisdom, she is God’s wisdom (Proverbs 2:6). This will especially come out in chapter 8. Thus she not only reproves, but also conveys her own spirit to those who will listen. But to those who refuse to listen she can only offer judgment, and mock them because they are suffering the consequences of their refusal. However, then it will be too late to call upon wisdom. She will not hear. And because they have refused to choose the fear of YHWH, and rejected His wisdom, they will suffer the consequences. In contrast those who have responded to God’s wisdom and have chosen the ‘fear of YHWH’, will live in quiet without fear of evil coming on them. Wisdom and the will of YHWH go hand in hand. There is nothing secular about this wisdom.

Proverbs 1:20-21

‘Wisdom cries aloud in the street,

She utters her voice in the broad places (public squares),

She cries in the chief place of concourse, at the entrance of the gates,

In the city, she utters her words.’

Wisdom, in other words, to the writer, God’s word to men which men should respond to in the fear of YHWH, is now personified. She cries out to the ordinary man in the street, she utters her voice to the ordinary man in the public squares, and she even makes herself known to those who sit in judgment in the gateway of the city, in the chief place of hubbub and discussion, where people meet to talk. The whole city hears her words. The gateway included the open space leading through the gate, and the rooms to each side used for storage, record keeping and the meeting together of principle men of the city (see Ruth 4:1-3).

We note here that in Solomon’s view wisdom was for all. His words were not just intended for a small group of academics, or for an individual. They were intended to be heard by the masses.

Proverbs 1:22-23

‘How long, you naive ones, will you love naivety?

And scorners delight themselves in scorning,

And fools hate knowledge?

Turn you at my reproof.’

She calls on the unresponsive to become responsive, and in the process divides them into three groups, the naive, the scoffers and the fools. Note the intensity of response which is involved. They ‘love’ naivety. They ‘delight in’ (‘covet’) scoffing. They ‘hate’ knowledge. These factors possess and rule their lives. These contrast with ‘love’ for God (Deuteronomy 6:5) or for His instruction (Psalms 119:27), ‘delight in’ His word (Psalms 19:10), and ‘hating’ sin (Psalms 97:10). Men must choose one or the other.

The naive, or ‘simple ones’, are those who go on heedless of God’s words, ignoring wisdom, not because they are antagonistic, but simply because they are drifting through life and following their own way. They ‘love’ their naivete. They cling on to it fervently. It frees them from responsibility. But they are easily led astray (Proverbs 7:7; Proverbs 9:16).

The scorners (compare Psalms 1:1) are those who openly mock God’s wisdom. They prefer their own wisdom. They feel themselves superior. And so they take great delight in their mockery, and in rejecting His Wisdom. They ‘covet’ their scoffing.

The fools behave like those who are mad. They know God’s wisdom, but deliberately go against it for their own benefit. They ‘say in their hearts, there is no God’ (Psalms 14:1), and behave as though there is not, not because they do not believe in Him, but because they find it more convenient to ignore Him. They ‘hate’ the truth for they know that if they heed God’s wisdom they will be unable to do what they want to do. Their businesses or their personal lives will be affected. They are not stupid. They are often highly intelligent. But their response to God is superficial, thus demonstrating what fools they are

So God’s wisdom, the way of the fear of YHWH (Proverbs 1:29), calls on all men and women for their response, and pleads with them to turn from their present ways at her reproof.

Proverbs 1:23

‘Behold, I will pour out my spirit on you,

I will make known my words to you.’

And she points out that what she offers is worth having. She will ‘pour out’ her spirit on them, like the heavy rains of winter which will produce fruitfulness, working in their hearts a true appreciation of her, and giving them the motivation to follow her. She will imbue them with her own ‘spirit’ and make her words known to them. Thus her words are living and active. Her spirit will activate their spirits. This is none other than God Himself active in men’s lives through His wisdom. In other words her hope is that they will cry out, ‘create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me’ (Psalms 51:10), and ‘teach me to do your will, for you are my God, your Spirit is good, lead me in the land of uprightness’ (Psalms 143:10).

And she will make known her words to them, giving them understanding and a true knowledge of God, and making it known within them (Proverbs 2:5). This makes clear that she is God’s wisdom, for in the end, as the writer tells us, it is YHWH Who gives this wisdom, knowledge and understanding (Proverbs 2:6).


Verses 20-33

Wisdom Is Depicted As Crying Out To Be Heard, Longing For Response, Promising Inculcation Of Her Own Spirit, And Warning Of The Consequences Of Refusal (Proverbs 1:20-33).

We have here the first of the wisdom passages, where Wisdom herself speaks, crying out to be heard and warning of the consequences of refusal. But Wisdom is essentially God’s Wisdom. Consider especially Proverbs 3:19-20; Proverbs 8:22-31. Thus when Wisdom speaks, God speaks.

The passage conveys its ideals chiastically:

A Wisdom cries out to those who will hear (Proverbs 1:20-21).

B The failings of the naive, scorners and fools are described (Proverbs 1:22).

C Men are to turn at her reproof and receive her poured out spirit and have made known to them her words of wisdom (Proverbs 1:23).

D Wisdom called and they refused (Proverbs 1:24-25).

E Wisdom will laugh in the day of their calamity, (at the folly lying behind their coming calamities), and will mock when their fear comes (Proverbs 1:26).

E For their fear will come like a storm and their calamity like a whirlwind (Proverbs 1:27).

D They will call but she will not answer (Proverbs 1:28).

C Men scorn her reproof, and eat the fruit of their own way and are filled with their own devices (Proverbs 1:29-31).

B The naive and fools will be destroyed for their failings (Proverbs 1:32).

A Those who hear and respond to wisdom will enjoy peace and security (Proverbs 1:33).

Note the chiastic arrangement, A paralleling A, B paralleling B, and so on. Central to the chiasmus is that Wisdom will mock the so-called wisdom of those who will undoubtedly suffer calamities and experience their fear, because of their refusal to heed her. For this fear and these calamities (note the reversal) will come like a storm and a whirlwind. It is quite clear elsewhere that these calamities are seen as coming from the hand of YHWH (Proverbs 3:25-26; Proverbs 3:33; Proverbs 10:3; Proverbs 12:2; Proverbs 15:3), a constant message of the Old Testament.


Verses 24-33

But If They Refuse To Respond To Wisdom’s Voice And Fail To Choose The Fear Of YHWH Then One Day, When They Suffer The Consequences Of Their Refusal As They Surely Will, Wisdom Will Mock At Them, And When They Call Will No Longer Hear Them. It Will Be Too Late For Repentance And They Will Continue To Suffer The Consequences Of Their Rejection. But Those Who Do Respond Will Live In Quietness And Peace Without Fear (Proverbs 1:24-33).

Wisdom now draws their attention to the alternative. If they will not listen to her then disaster will come upon them, and then they will learn too late the laughable nature of their own human wisdom. Note the assumption that in each city there are large numbers who refuse to respond to wisdom. Solomon was well aware of the hardness of men’s heart

Proverbs 1:24-25

‘Because I have called, and you have refused,

I have stretched out my hand, and no man has regarded,

But you have set at nought all my counsel,

And would none of my reproof,’

It is possible, in line with other places in Scripture, that there is here a sudden introduction of the voice of God Himself. It is in fact quite common in the Old Testament to find God suddenly speaking without the writer giving any indication of the fact. It is something which can only be discerned by the content of the words. And that could certainly be true here. But taking the passage as a whole it would still appear to be Wisdom who is speaking. However, in this case the question is not too important, for if it is Wisdom speaking, as it almost certainly is, the writer constantly makes clear that, like the word of God to the prophets, it is the Wisdom of God speaking to men (Proverbs 2:5-6). Thus she is to be seen as speaking on behalf of God Himself. For in the end it is God Himself Who calls to men and stretches out His hands to them through His Wisdom. And the point here is that they have refused to hear the voice of God and submit to the fear of YHWH (Proverbs 1:29).

Note again the intensity of feeling. Through His wisdom God has ‘called’, He has ‘stretched out His hand’, He has given ‘counsel’, He has ‘reproved’. He has done all that He could. But they have ‘refused’, they have ‘disregarded’, they have ‘set at naught’, they would ‘have none of it’. So through His words of wisdom God has called for man’s response, but men have refused to hear; He has stretched out His hand, but they have disregarded it. Indeed they have set His words of wisdom at naught, and have refused to take note of their reproof. The implication is that they are thus found guilty before Him. They have not come to His wisdom in the fear of YHWH. There is a reminder here that we too should take note of His words of wisdom, if we too would avoid His judgment. The proof that we fear God will be found in our response to His Wisdom (and His word).

Proverbs 1:26-27

‘I also will laugh in the day of your calamity,

I will mock when your fear comes,

When your fear comes as a storm,

And your calamity comes on as a whirlwind,

When distress and anguish come upon you.’

When the day of calamity (a day of trembling) comes, and when the things that they fear most come upon them, (as come they will, just as inevitably as storms and whirlwinds come), Wisdom will laugh at their folly in following their own wisdom. She will mock the folly of their ideas. In other words, wisdom will show up their stupidity. The emphasis is not on her mocking them in their situation, but on her mocking the folly which has brought them to their situation. They had been wise in their own eyes, and now their wisdom has come to nought. It has proved futile. Their wisdom has turned out to be laughable. The point is that basically they had mocked wisdom, and thus wisdom now mocks them. The aim of the words is in order to bring out the laughable folly of those who do not receive the wisdom that comes from God.

Note the interesting contrast between the ‘pouring out’ of her ‘spirit’ (Proverbs 1:23) like the fruitful rains, and their ‘fear’ coming like a fierce storm and whirlwind of calamity. If we refuse the first we will experience the second. Note also the small chiasmus in the parallels, ‘Calamity - fear - fear - calamity’, typical of Hebrew poetry. Wisdom emphasises the greatness of the calamity and fear that is coming. Here fear indicates ‘what you fear’. What they fear will come like a storm, something which is inevitable and fiercely destructive. Their calamity (cause of trembling) will come on them like a whirlwind, which arises suddenly and causes distress and chaos. And as a result distress and anguish will inescapably come upon them. It is the inevitable consequence of their refusal to respond to the wisdom of God. Whoever is seen as speaking, whether Wisdom or God Himself, the idea is consonant with other Scriptures that what men sow they will reap, that all our actions lead to consequences. The principle is rooted in Scripture.

Proverbs 1:28-30

‘Then will they call on me,

But I will not answer,

They will seek me diligently,

But they will not find me,

In that they hated knowledge,

And did not choose the fear of YHWH,

They would none of my counsel,

They despised all my reproof.

Then when men and women find themselves caught up in disaster and calamity, they will be brought up short and begin to seek the wisdom that comes from God. They will be desperately looking for any solution. They will thus call on Wisdom, seeking answers to their dilemma. But she will not answer, for they have turned from the way of wisdom. How true to history this is. And how much in line with the teaching of the prophets. When disaster strikes men and women do begin to seek God and His wisdom. But they do it with blinded minds and hardened hearts. It is all superficial. He is the last resort. And once the disaster passes God’s wisdom is once more put aside. As Jesus pointed out, the seed sown on rocky ground, which appears to have taken root, will merely grow superficially, and will soon die away when circumstances alter (Mark 4:16-17).

Note the parallels between Proverbs 1:24 and Proverbs 1:29-30 :

· ‘I (wisdom) have called’ --- ‘they hated knowledge’’

· ‘I (wisdom) have stretched out my hand’ -- ‘they did not choose the fear of YHWH’.

· ‘You set at naught my counsel’ -- ‘they would none of my counsel’.

· ‘You would none of my reproof’ -- ‘they despised all my reproof’.

Here wisdom is clearly equated with ‘the fear of YHWH’.

So Wisdom (in Proverbs God’s wisdom) is here warning that she is not so easily to be found by those who have once rejected her. And why is she not found? Because men hate true knowledge, the knowledge of God (Proverbs 2:5), and they do not choose to fear Him. They want the benefit without the true response. They do not want God’s counsel. They do not want His reproof. They want Him to show them an easy way out so that they can then get back to sinning.

The warning is that if we close our minds to God’s wisdom now there will come a time when that wisdom is no longer easily accessible. We will seek it and will not be able to find it, because our hearts will have become hardened. If we do not submit to the fear of God whilst God is speaking to us, and while our hearts are open, (‘now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation’), we will not find it so easy to submit to it once He has stopped speaking so clearly and once our hearts have built up their barriers against Him.

Proverbs 1:31-32

Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way,

And be filled with their own devices.

‘For the backsliding (turning away) of the naive will slay them,

And the careless ease of fools will destroy them.’

And the result for them of all this is that they will reap the consequences that they deserve. They will eat the fruit that results from their choices. They will be satiated with the consequences of their chosen manner of life. Both ideas, ‘eat the fruit’ and ‘be satiated with’ indicate full participation. They will experience what is coming to the full. And that fruit, and those consequences, will, for the naive and for the fool, be death and destruction. They will be slain. They will be destroyed. The naive, who carry on turning away from, and are heedless of, God’s wisdom, and the fools who deliberately with careless ease blind their eye to it, will both inevitably come to final judgment. And instead of finding life they will find death. For, as Paul reminds us, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). That is also the recurrent message of Proverbs.

Proverbs 1:33

‘But whoever pays heed to me will dwell securely,

And will be quiet without fear of evil.’

In contrast, those who heed God’s wisdom will dwell in peace and security. They will live peaceful and quiet lives without fear of evil. They will not bring upon themselves the ‘fear’ (Proverbs 1:26-27) which is the consequence of rejecting God’s wisdom. Here we find the regular Old Testament principle that the good will prosper and enjoy a good life, whilst the sinful will face the consequences of their sin. Whilst it was not always literally true, it was making clear that the way to the ‘good life’ was through righteousness and fearing God. In Jesus’ terms, whatever outwardly happens to them, they will still find abundant life (John 10:10). Indeed even when the world seems to be collapsing around them, they will have peace, for their trust will be in God. It is the way of the transgressor which is hard.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Proverbs 1:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/proverbs-1.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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