âBring me a sword,â the young king commanded. Two harlots had been arguing over an infantâboth claiming custody of the boy.
âDivide the child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other,â the king said.
The woman whose son it truly was cried out, âO my lord, give her the living child. Do not kill him!â
The other woman coldly replied, âDivide it.â
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, ââŠall 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 judgmentâ (I Kgs. 3:28).
Soon, people all across the land came to King Solomon for help, guidance and judgments: âAnd there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdomâ (4:34).
Even today, Solomonâs 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: âIron sharpens ironâââGo to the ant, you sluggardâââA soft answer turns away wrathâââA prudent man foresees the evil, and hides himselfâââTrain up a child in the way he should goâââA word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.â
People long for what they call the âwisdom of Solomon,â 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 ânuggetâ phrases in Proverbs, other verses are more all-encompassingâmeaning they are difficult to quickly understand and apply. For example, ââŠincline your ear unto wisdom, and apply your heart to understandingâ (Prov. 2:2)ââMy son, attend unto my wisdom, and bow your ear to my understandingâ (5:1)ââWisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all your getting get understandingâ (4:7).
There are a number of questions that flow from these statements: âHow does one get wisdom?â âIf wisdom is the most important thing, what exactly is it?â
A story from early in King Solomonâs reign acts as a prologue to Proverbs. The account, found in I Kings 3, introduces how a person can get wisdom.
âAnd Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his fatherâ (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, âAsk what I shall give youâ (I Kgs. 3:5).
Solomon responded, âYou 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 inâŠGive therefore Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and badâŠâ (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 Godâs commands (vs. 3); (2) he had the right attitude, realizing he could not properly rule over Israel without Godâs 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: âIf any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that gives to all men liberally, and upbraids not; and it shall be given himâ (Jms. 1:5). God will give wisdom to anyone who keeps His Commandments and humbly asks for it.
Later, Solomon continued to be blessed: âAnd God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shoreâ (I Kgs. 4:29). These characteristicsâwisdom, understanding and largeness of heartâwere Godâs true gift to Solomon.
Solomon was wise only because God gave him wisdom. It was Godâs wisdom, Godâs understanding, and Godâs 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 âwisdomâ is chokmah, which is defined as, âskill (in war),â âwisdom (in administration),â âshrewdness,â âwisdom, prudence (in religious affairs),â and âwisdom (ethical and religious).â (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: âWisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdomâŠâ
âUnderstandingâ is from the Hebrew word tabuwn, meaning âunderstanding, intelligence,â âthe act of understanding,â âskill,â âthe faculty of understanding,â âintelligence, understanding, insight,â âthe object of knowledge,â and âteacher (personification).â
Someone with tabuwn is able to understand peopleâs problems and has insight into many matters. This person is able to teach.
The Hebrew word for âheartâ is leb, âinner man, mind, will, heart, understanding,â âinner part, midst,â âmidst (of things),â âheart (of man),â âmind, knowledge, thinking, reflection, memoryâ âinclination, resolution, determination (of will),â âconscience,â âheart (of moral character),â âas seat of appetites,â âas seat of emotions and passions,â âas seat of courage.â In other words, heart is essentially a personâs 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 peopleâs 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 developâto 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: âTo know wisdom [chokmah] and instructionâŠâ (vs. 2). Proverbs is a book written to outline Godâs 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, âheart,â can also be easily found. Read the following verses:
- âKeep your heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of lifeâ (4:23).
- âThe tongue of the just is as choice silver: the heart of the wicked is little worthâ (10:20).
- âHe that trusts in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walks wisely [chokmah, with Godâs wisdom], he shall be deliveredâ (28:26).
- âMy son, forget not my law; but let your heart keep my commandmentsâ (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.
- âTrain up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from itâ (22:6).
- âHe that spares his rod hates his son: but he that loves him chastens him betimesâ (13:24).
Similarly, both men and women can learn how to fulfill their individual roles through certain instructions directed to them.
- âThe glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the gray headâ (20:29).
- âWhoso finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor of the Lordâ (18:22).
- âA virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that makes ashamed is as rottenness in his bonesâ (12:4).
- âWho can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubiesâ (31:10).
Other verses also detail practical advice about interacting with people (18:3; 26:18-19)âthe âcause and effectâ principle (28:18)âovercoming laziness (10:5; 20:13)âand how to be economically prosperous (22:7; 28:22).
There are many more verses that also detail how to liveâif 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)âSynonymous: 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: âThe evil bow before the good; and the wicked at the gates of the righteousâ (14:19) and, âA foolâs mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soulâ (18:7).
(2)âAntithetic: This type of proverb is where the second part contrasts with the first part. This is also the most common type. âThe righteous eats to the satisfying of his soul: but the belly of the wicked shall wantâ (13:25).
(3)âSynthetic: In this type of proverb, the second part is a continuation of the first, to emphasize the proverbâs meaning. Consider: âThe discretion of a man defers his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgressionâ (19:11). The first part of the verse is completed by the second part, making the proverb more meaningful.
(4)âComparative: These are metaphors that use vivid pictures or illustrations to make a point. âAs vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to them that send himâ (10:26).
Blueprint for the World
During the reign of King Solomon (whose name means âpeaceâ), Israel was afforded an era of rest. This was to be a type of the millennial ârestâ (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:ââAnd there came of all people to hear the Wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdomâ (I Kgs. 4:34).
Millennium:ââAnd 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 Jerusalemâ (Mic. 4:2).
Solomon:ââAnd Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomonâ (I Kgs. 4:25).
Millennium:ââBut 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 itâ (Mic. 4:4).
Solomon:ââBut now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side, so that there is neither adversary nor evil occurrentâ (I Kgs. 5:4).
Millennium:ââAnd [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 moreâ (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: âFor 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 itâ (vs. 21-22).
The Hebrew word erets is translated as both âlandâ and âearth,â but earth is a better translation. In other words: âThe upright shall dwell on the earth.â This is the reward of those who keep Godâs commands!
Leading to the conclusion of Proverbs 2 is a series of âif, thenâ statements. This means that if a person does them, he will rule on Earth.
Begin in verse 1: âMy 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]â (vs. 1-2).
You must be receptive to the instruction in Godâs 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: âYes, 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 treasuresâŠâ
If you do these things, âThen 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]â (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 Godâs 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 Proverbsâand the entire BibleâGod is offering His wisdom to those who seek it.
Proverbs is the blueprint for growing in godly wisdom: if you diligently keep Godâs commands and seek after Godâs wisdom, understanding, and heartâthen you can develop His holy righteous character and rule with Christ!