“Bring me a sword,” the young king commanded. Two women 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 true mother 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 in I Kings 3 exemplifies 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 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, much of which is summed up in the book of Proverbs, is renowned the world over. Many of his most popular proverbs are finely polished nuggets that summarize in a simple way how Christians should live: “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.”
These familiar sayings are important. However, each provides only one piece of the knowledge the book provides. When Proverbs is examined as a whole, a grander picture opens up—revealing a blueprint for how to think like the God of the universe.
Prologue to Proverbs
While there are many self-contained “nugget” phrases in Proverbs, other verses are more difficult to quickly understand and apply. Some examples: “…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 serves as a prologue to Proverbs. The account, found in I Kings 3, introduces how a person can get wisdom.
It begins: “And Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father” (vs. 3). This was evidenced when the young king made a substantial burnt offering to God in Gibeon. That night, God appeared to Solomon in a dream and said to him, “Ask what I shall give you” (vs. 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, (2) he realized he could not properly rule over Israel without God’s guidance, (3) he asked for understanding in judgment, (4) he knew that true wisdom comes from God.
The fourth point is the most important to know, and demonstrates the first step toward gaining wisdom—praying to God. Remember: “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). The same Being who gave Solomon the wisdom to rule Israel and write the book of Proverbs gives wisdom to anyone who humbly asks for it and keeps His Commandments.
Furthermore, the account describes how much wisdom Solomon received: “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). Truly, God satisfied Solomon’s request by giving him these three qualities “liberally.”
Solomon was wise only because God gave him wisdom. It was His wisdom, His understanding, and His largeness of heart that Solomon received. From these three godly traits flow the many principles throughout Proverbs.
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.
These are proverbs in which 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).
In this type of proverb, the second part contrasts the first. 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).
In this type, 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.
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).
The Hebrew words for wisdom, understanding and heart are found many times throughout the book. The terms are often interchanged in society, but in the Bible they have different meanings.
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 Gesenius’ Lexicon.)
A person with chokmah is a skilled warrior, an excellent administrator, a shrewd businessman, or has a great deal of knowledge in 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 enough mastery of knowledge and insight to be able to teach it to others.
The Hebrew word for “heart” is leb, which means “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),” “seat of appetites,” “seat of emotions and passions,” and “seat of courage.” In other words, the heart is essentially a person’s character, whether good or bad.
These three terms—wisdom, understanding and heart—are found numerous times throughout the book of Proverbs (chokmah is used 38 times, tabuwn 19 times, and leb 91 times). Their full meanings make plain what God gave Solomon, as well as what a Christian should become through studying Proverbs.
Put together, a person with these three characteristics excels in war, governing, religion, law and ethics, is able to understand people’s problems and teach them the right way to live, and has a clear conscience, proper passions and goals, courage and willpower.
These are all characteristics of God every Christian strives to develop—they are qualities that are necessary for us to be kings, priests and teachers in God’s Kingdom.
By understanding this, the purpose of Proverbs becomes clear, summarized in chapter 1: “To know wisdom [chokmah] and instruction…” (vs. 2). Proverbs is a book written to outline God’s wisdom—which is far superior to the wisdom of man. It also details practical ways to apply it.
Blueprint for Your Life
In effect, Proverbs is a set of 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 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.
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 Proverbs apply to all of us, no matter our current status, careers or positions.
- “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 detail how to live—if you are willing to open your Bible and search for them.
Blueprint for the World
During the reign of King Solomon (whose name means “peace”), Israel was afforded an era of rest. This is a type of the “rest” (Heb. 4:1-11) soon to occur throughout the world during the 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).
Kingdom: “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).
Kingdom: “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).
Kingdom: “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 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, 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.
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!