“Bring me a sword,” the young king commanded. Two harlots had been arguing over an infant—both claiming custody of the boy.
“Divide the child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other,” the king said.
The woman whose son it truly was cried out, “O my lord, give her the living child. Do not kill him!”
The other woman coldly replied, “Divide it.”
With that, the king returned the child to his rightful mother.
The young ruler in the story is King Solomon. This oft-repeated account (found in I Kings 3) is used to exemplify his famous wisdom.
After the incident involving the two women, “…all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had judged; and they feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgment” (I Kgs. 3:28).
Soon, people all across the land came to King Solomon for help, guidance and judgments: “And there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom” (4:34).
Even today, Solomon’s wisdom is renowned the world over. Much of it is summed up in the book of Proverbs. Many verses there are finely polished nuggets of truth: “Iron sharpens iron”—“Go to the ant, you sluggard”—“A soft answer turns away wrath”—“A prudent man foresees the evil, and hides himself”—“Train up a child in the way he should go”—“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.”
People long for what they call the “wisdom of Solomon,” thinking that by learning and applying individual proverbs, they too can be wise.
These familiar sayings and stories are important, but each provides only a close-up view of the knowledge the book provides. When Proverbs is examined as a whole, a grander picture opens up, revealing a blueprint for how to attain godly wisdom.
Prologue to Proverbs
While there are many self-contained “nugget” phrases in Proverbs, other verses are more all-encompassing—meaning they are difficult to quickly understand and apply. For example, “…incline your ear unto wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding” (Prov. 2:2)—“My son, attend unto my wisdom, and bow your ear to my understanding” (5:1)—“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all your getting get understanding” (4:7).
There are a number of questions that flow from these statements: “How does one get wisdom?” “If wisdom is the most important thing, what exactly is it?”
A story from early in King Solomon’s reign acts as a prologue to Proverbs. The account, found in I Kings 3, introduces how a person can get wisdom.
“And Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father” (vs. 3). The young king brought a substantial offering to the Tabernacle. That night, God appeared in a dream and offered the young king whatever he wanted. The Eternal said, “Ask what I shall give you” (I Kgs. 3:5).
Solomon responded, “You have made Your servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in…Give therefore Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and bad…” (vs. 7, 9).
God was pleased with the request and gave Solomon much more than understanding, including vast physical riches (vs. 10).
This account reveals more than meets the eye, including four things about the young king and his request: (1) Solomon obeyed God’s commands (vs. 3); (2) he had the right attitude, realizing he could not properly rule over Israel without God’s guidance (vs. 7); (3) Solomon asked for understanding in judgment; (4) he knew that true wisdom comes from God.
The fourth point is the most important, and demonstrates we should approach the topic by first praying to God. Notice: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that gives to all men liberally, and upbraids not; and it shall be given him” (Jms. 1:5). God will give wisdom to anyone who keeps His Commandments and humbly asks for it.
Later, Solomon continued to be blessed: “And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore” (I Kgs. 4:29). These characteristics—wisdom, understanding and largeness of heart—were God’s true gift to Solomon.
Solomon was wise only because God gave him wisdom. It was God’s wisdom, God’s understanding, and God’s heart that Solomon had.
This is the wisdom described throughout Proverbs.
Understanding the definitions of the Hebrew words for wisdom, understanding and heart help frame all of the Proverbs. Follow carefully, as these words are found many times throughout the book.
In I Kings 4:29, the word for “wisdom” is chokmah, which is defined as, “skill (in war),” “wisdom (in administration),” “shrewdness,” “wisdom, prudence (in religious affairs),” and “wisdom (ethical and religious).” (Definitions throughout are from The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon).
A person with chokmah is a skilled warrior, an excellent administrator and a shrewd businessman, who has wisdom in both religious and ethical matters. This is the same term found in Proverbs 4:7: “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom…”
“Understanding” is from the Hebrew word tabuwn, meaning “understanding, intelligence,” “the act of understanding,” “skill,” “the faculty of understanding,” “intelligence, understanding, insight,” “the object of knowledge,” and “teacher (personification).”
Someone with tabuwn is able to understand people’s problems and has insight into many matters. This person is able to teach.
The Hebrew word for “heart” is leb, “inner man, mind, will, heart, understanding,” “inner part, midst,” “midst (of things),” “heart (of man),” “mind, knowledge, thinking, reflection, memory” “inclination, resolution, determination (of will),” “conscience,” “heart (of moral character),” “as seat of appetites,” “as seat of emotions and passions,” “as seat of courage.” In other words, heart is essentially a person’s character, whether good or bad.
Wisdom, understanding, and heart are found numerous times throughout the book of Proverbs (chokmah is used 38 times, tabuwn 19, and leb 91.) Their full meanings make plain what God gave Solomon, as well as what a Christian should take away from Proverbs.
Put together, a person with these three characteristics has an excellence in war, governing, religion, law, and ethics. He is able to understand people’s problems and teach the right way to live. He has a clear conscience, proper passions and goals, willpower and is courageous.
These are all characteristics of God, and what every Christian is striving to develop—to become a king, priest and teacher in the kingdom of God.
With this, the purpose for the book in Proverbs 1 begins to become clear: “To know wisdom [chokmah] and instruction…” (vs. 2). Proverbs is a book written to outline God’s wisdom, as well as detail practical ways to apply it.
Blueprint for Your Life
Whereas much of the Bible provides specific instructions, the book of Proverbs provides formulas for how to do them. Similar admonishments and advice are often repeated, leaving the diligent Bible student with no question as to how God views a particular topic. In effect, Proverbs is a set of detailed instructions from God to His people of how to deal with the affairs of everyday life. Nowhere else in the Bible can you find wisdom in such a condensed and concentrated way.
Recurring themes are found throughout the Proverbs, and can be grouped together for easy reference. Some of these include childrearing, marriage, managing money, proper decision-making, how to get along with people, and moral values.
Mentioned earlier, scriptures on human character, “heart,” can also be easily found. Read the following verses:
- “Keep your heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (4:23).
- “The tongue of the just is as choice silver: the heart of the wicked is little worth” (10:20).
- “He that trusts in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walks wisely [chokmah, with God’s wisdom], he shall be delivered” (28:26).
- “My son, forget not my law; but let your heart keep my commandments” (3:1). Keeping the Commandments should become so natural to you that it becomes part of your character!
On a day-to-day basis, scriptures found in the Proverbs apply to all of us, no matter our current status, career or position.
- “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (22:6).
- “He that spares his rod hates his son: but he that loves him chastens him betimes” (13:24).
Similarly, both men and women can learn how to fulfill their individual roles through certain instructions directed to them.
- “The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the gray head” (20:29).
- “Whoso finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor of the Lord” (18:22).
- “A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that makes ashamed is as rottenness in his bones” (12:4).
- “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies” (31:10).
Other verses also detail practical advice about interacting with people (18:3; 26:18-19)—the “cause and effect” principle (28:18)—overcoming laziness (10:5; 20:13)—and how to be economically prosperous (22:7; 28:22).
There are many more verses that also detail how to live—if you are willing to open your Bible and search for them.
Types of Proverbs
Much of the book of Proverbs is comprised of aphorisms, or to-the-point sayings of wisdom gained by experience. These aphorisms can be classified into four different types.
(1) Synonymous: These are proverbs where the second part of the verse is equal to and repeats or complements the first part of the verse, but in different words: “The evil bow before the good; and the wicked at the gates of the righteous” (14:19) and, “A fool’s mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul” (18:7).
(2) Antithetic: This type of proverb is where the second part contrasts with the first part. This is also the most common type. “The righteous eats to the satisfying of his soul: but the belly of the wicked shall want” (13:25).
(3) Synthetic: In this type of proverb, the second part is a continuation of the first, to emphasize the proverb’s meaning. Consider: “The discretion of a man defers his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression” (19:11). The first part of the verse is completed by the second part, making the proverb more meaningful.
(4) Comparative: These are metaphors that use vivid pictures or illustrations to make a point. “As vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to them that send him” (10:26).
Blueprint for the World
During the reign of King Solomon (whose name means “peace”), Israel was afforded an era of rest. This was to be a type of the millennial “rest” (Heb. 4:1-11) soon to occur throughout the world during the 1,000-year reign of Christ, the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6).
Notice the parallels:
Solomon: “And there came of all people to hear the Wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom” (I Kgs. 4:34).
Millennium: “And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Mic. 4:2).
Solomon: “And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon” (I Kgs. 4:25).
Millennium: “But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken it” (Mic. 4:4).
Solomon: “But now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side, so that there is neither adversary nor evil occurrent” (I Kgs. 5:4).
Millennium: “And [Christ] shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isa. 2:4).
Similarly, the book of Proverbs echoes the gospel of the kingdom. God is working to instill his wisdom, understanding and character in people so that they can rule on Earth with Christ.
The conclusion of Proverbs 2 makes this clear: “For the upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain in it. But the wicked shall be cut off from the earth, and the transgressors shall be rooted out of it” (vs. 21-22).
The Hebrew word erets is translated as both “land” and “earth,” but earth is a better translation. In other words: “The upright shall dwell on the earth.” This is the reward of those who keep God’s commands!
Leading to the conclusion of Proverbs 2 is a series of “if, then” statements. This means that if a person does them, he will rule on Earth.
Begin in verse 1: “My son, if you will receive my words, and hide my commandments with you; so that you incline your ear unto wisdom [chokmah], and apply your heart [leb] to understanding [tabuwn]” (vs. 1-2).
You must be receptive to the instruction in God’s Word and diligently keep His commands. You must apply this wisdom until it becomes a part of your character. This should be the overarching goal for your life.
Continue in verses 3-4: “Yes, if you cry after knowledge, and lift up your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hid treasures…”
If you do these things, “Then shall you understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom [chokmah]: out of His mouth comes knowledge and understanding [tabuwn]” (vs. 5-6). You can grow in godly wisdom now through diligent study, constant prayer, as well as regular fasting and meditation.
Without the book of Proverbs, we would have much less insight into God’s overall plan to train and develop His people for future positions of leadership in His kingdom (Rev. 20:6).
Stop and think the next time you read the book of Proverbs—and the entire Bible—God is offering His wisdom to those who seek it.
Proverbs is the blueprint for growing in godly wisdom: if you diligently keep God’s commands and seek after God’s wisdom, understanding, and heart—then you can develop His holy righteous character and rule with Christ!