There are three books in the Bible which have been described as the "Books of Wisdom" - the Wisdom Literature.



It was often customary in the ancient world (although not always the case) to use as the title of a book the first word or sentence of that book. For example, the Hebrew title for Genesis is BeRishyth - "In the beginning." The same thing is done in the proverbs. The title of the book is given in Proverbs 1:1.

The Proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel. (Proverbs 1:1).

The Hebrew word translated "proverbs" is mashal. It comes from the root verb that describes the act of ruling or reigning or exercising dominion.

This means that the Proverbs are more than just catchy sayings. They are rules for living. They are given so that the Lord might have dominion over your life. They are concentrated truths. It is like a can of frozen orange juice. You merely add water to expand it greatly.

The Proverbs are also practical truths. They do not merely say that you ought to do the right thing, they often illustrate in a very practical manner.

Differing weight are an abomination to the Lord,
And a false scale is not good. (Proverbs 20:23).

The Proverbs have no grey areas. They are black and white. They show good and evil. And they force you to pass judgment upon yourself.



We have seen in verse 1 that the author of this book is Solomon. This gives us a great insight into the reason behind the writing of this book.

The kingdom of Israel was at its highest pinnacle of glory. The glory of the world was Israel and the glory of Israel was Jerusalem and the glory of Jerusalem was the Temple that Solomon had built. It was one of the wonders of the ancient world.

The days of Solomon were days of peace. His father, David, had carved out an empire and now the ambassadors of Africa, of Egypt and of Tyre came to pay him tribute.

And yet, there were already cracks in the kingdom. It was not immediately apparent, but the unity of the nation was already being threatened. At the death of Solomon, the northern tribes would secede from the Union. The kings and the priests who would follow Solomon would be corrupt.

It is in the midst of this situation that God gives a book that tells us how to live godly in an ungodly world. This brings us to the purpose of the book of Proverbs.



The purpose of the Proverbs is stated in the first 6 verses of the book. It is to know wisdom.

To know wisdom and instruction,
To discern the sayings of understanding,
To receive righteousness, justice and equity;
To give prudence to the naive;
To the youth knowledge and discretion,
A wise man will hear and increase in learning,
And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel,
To understand a proverb and a figure,
The words of the wise and their riddles. (Proverbs 1:2-6).

The purpose of the Proverbs is that we might know WISDOM. This brings us to a question. What is wisdom? Webster's Dictionary might give one definition. It might define wisdom as having a high degree of knowledge or in being practical in your decision-making habits. The Bible gives quite a different picture of wisdom. It is seen in the book of Exodus where the Lord is giving Moses instructions as to the preparation of the garments of the high priest.

"Then bring near to yourself Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the sons of Israel to minister as priest to Me - Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron's Sons.

"And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty.

"And you shall speak to all the SKILLFUL persons [literally: "Wise of heart"] whom I have endowed with the spirit of wisdom, that they make Aaron's garments to consecrate him, that he may minister as priest to Me." Exodus 28:1-3).

The use of "wisdom" in this passage refers to the artistic skill that these people possessed. This suggests to us a corresponding definition of wisdom - "the art of living skillfully."

The Proverbs give you guidelines on how to live skillfully. Anyone can live, but how do you live in a skillful manner? The Bible is a handbook for running the Christian race. It is your life's owner's manual.

Paula and I tend to be a bit different in our approach to machinery. I am one of those people who plug it in and start pushing buttons to get it to work. She, on the other hand, is more methodical in reading through the owner's manual.

You can spend all day on a new VCR trying to figure out how to hook it up and set the clock and get it to record at the right time. Or else, you can just look into the owner's manual and learn those little complexities. Here is a tip. It is a lot easier when you have read the owner's manual. How many of you have a VCR at home where the clock still flashes 12:00?

Here is another tip. The Christian life works a lot better when you have read the owner's manual. Our owner's manual is the Bible. It contains written instructions from the Manufacturer.

Okay, now we know that we need wisdom. And we know that this will involve getting into the Bible. But where do we start? The Bible is a very big book. What is the first step on this journey to wisdom? The answer is given in the very next verse.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
Fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7).

What is the fear of the Lord? First let me say that the Hebrew word for "fear" is - FEAR. It is not mere respect or reverence. It is the realization that God is a lot bigger than I am and that He does what HE wants. In includes a respect for God's authority. It means that you believe that what He says is true and that your order your life accordingly. If you have not stood in the presence of God and feared Him, then you have not stood in the presence of God.

The world denies God's Word. It denies His authority. It is no wonder that the world always misses out on God's wisdom. The world is searching for answers, but it never finds them. It hasn't even reached the starting gate. The starting gate is the fear of the Lord.



For the most part, the Proverbs are given in the form of couplets. The clauses of these couplets are related in terms of parallelism. Most poetry in the Hebrew language was not made up of rhyming words, but of rhyming thoughts and ideas. There are three major types of parallelism used in the Proverbs.


Scriptural Example


Repetitious Parallelism (Synonymous)

To know wisdom and instruction,

To discern the sayings of understanding. (Proverbs 1:2).

The first line makes a statement of truth; then the second line restates and reinforces the principle given in the first clause.

Contrastive Parallelism (Antithetic)

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;

Fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7).

The first line makes a statement of truth; then the second line gives a corollary - the same truth stated in opposite terms.

Completive Parallelism (Synthetic)

The Lord has made everything for its own purpose,

Even the wicked for the day of evil. (Proverbs 16:4).

The first line makes a statement of truth. The second line then adds to the original thought, expanding it so that it brings out a new truth.

The Proverbs tell a story. It is the story of a young man. He begins be deciding which school he shall attend - the School of Wisdom or the School of Folly. Recruiters from both schools come and make their appeals. The young man decides to enroll in the School of Wisdom and from chapters 10 - 28 he takes classes from this school (both graduate and post-graduate classes). Upon graduation, he goes out and he finds a virtuous woman to be his wife





Books of Worship.

Books of Wisdom.

Speak to our Spirit.

Speak to our Intellect.

Teach us how to be holy before God.

Teach us how to practice our holiness before men.

Teach you to love the Lord with all your heart and soul and mind.

Teach you to love your neighbor as yourself.



There are several key lessons taught to us in the book of Proverbs.

1. Proverbs Teaches us the Universal Need of Wisdom.

There are only two kinds of people who are pictured in the Proverbs. There is the one who is wise. And there is the one who is a fool.

There is no middle ground. You are in either one category or else you are in the other. The underlying message of the Bible is that there are two kinds of people in the world. There are those who are God's people and there are those who are not God's people.







We are not righteous by our own good works. We are declared to be righteous through our faith in Christ. HE is our righteousness. And it is in Him that we find wisdom - the skill of living.

2. Proverbs Teaches us the Universal Arena of Wisdom.

You will not have read very far through the Proverbs before realizing that it deals with a great many subjects and a great many circumstances.

There is a principle here. It is that the Scriptures have something to say about every arena of life. There is no distinction between the sacred and the secular. All true wisdom is God's wisdom.

This was a common message of the Old Testament prophets. The idea of a dichotomy between the sacred and the secular, between religious ceremony and practical righteousness is nothing new. They often warned Israel that religious ritual is meaningless when divorced from righteous living.

The New Testament gives us the same message. James tells us that true religion is not in your denominational affiliation or your doctrinal creed but in visiting orphans and widows in their distress and keeping oneself unstained by the world (James 1:27).

Sometimes we get the idea that the Bible only tells us what we ought to do on Sunday but that the rest of the week is our own. The fact that wisdom has a universal arena means that we must seek to apply the wisdom of the Scriptures to all areas of life.

A woman came to G. Campbell Morgan and asked, "Is it okay if I ask God for little things?" Morgan replied, "Madame, can you think of anything in your life that could be considered as big to the God of the universe?"

3. Proverbs Teaches us that what is Good is also what is Right.

Have you ever seen the Hollywood movie, The Rainmaker, starring Burt Lancaster? The story takes place in the west where farmers are suffering a severe drought. The Rainmaker comes, promising that he will be able to bring rain for a price. While staying at a certain ranch, he meets the farmer's lonely daughter who is going through a difficult time of doubting her femininity. Feeling sorry for her, the Rainmaker makes love to her to reassure her. When her brother finds out, he is ready to take a gun and to shoot the Rainmaker. Her father, however, intervenes with the rebuke, "Noah, you're so full of what's right you can't see what's good."

It has been quite a number of years since Situation Ethics came on the scene. These days you don't hear about Situation Ethics. It isn't that they have gone out of style - it is that they have become the only ethics of which anyone knows and it is no longer necessary to give them a specific label.

The world denies the existence of right and wrong and is only concerned with what feels good. The book of Proverbs corrects this kind of sloppy thinking.

  1. Proverbs is not a book of promises, it is a book of principles. Proverbs is not a book of laws, it is a book of lessons. You can take many of these principles and find exceptions to the rule. For example, you can probably think of cases where two Christian parents raised up a child in the way he should go and then when he was old he departed from the faith. Does that mean that the Proverbs are not true? No, but it does mean that Proverbs is a book of principles and not of promises.
  2. While the Bible is all true, it does not contain all truth. And while other religious writings contain some truth, they are not all true. Scholars tell us that Proverbs 23:13 - 24:22 seem to be derived from Egyptian proverbs. They are written by people who did not know the Covenant God, but they said some wise things that are right on the mark. Look also at the King of Lemuel in Proverbs 31:1-5. Who is this man? He was an Arab King. And he said some things that are true.
  3. There is a principle here. It is that all truth is God's truth. That means we Christian should be able to learn from others and that we should never be arrogant about our faith.

  4. The Book of Proverbs do not give us a rose-colored view of the world. It presents the world as a place where bad things really do happen. Tragedy strikes and trouble comes and Proverbs doesn't make those things go away, but it does give you wisdom on how to deal with it.
  5. Christians are called to be street-smart. We are to have common sense. We ought to know about what works and what doesn't work. On of the best ways to be street-smart is to go to the Proverbs and learn how the world works.


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