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27. Wisdom Literature: Proverbs

Words of Wisdom238


Nearly 30 years ago, I had just completed my first year of seminary. My family and I were returning to Washington State for the summer. We had no idea what kind of employment I might find. As we drove into the driveway of my parents’ home, they received a call from the superintendent of schools. A mature and seasoned teacher had literally been driven to distraction by her fourth grade class. They needed someone to finish out the year, and hopefully, to bring the class under control. I was offered the job and gladly took it.

A month later when the school year ended, the fourth grade class was once again well behaved. The principal called me into his office and asked me about my plans for employment for the rest of the summer. He told me that the prison in my hometown was in need of a teacher and promised to give me a good recommendation. And so it was that I became a teacher in a state prison, known by some as the “Shelton Hilton.” There was a fully accredited high school program in that prison, and the principal of that school was my principal when I was in high school. Many of the teachers there were my teachers when I was a student. It was a most interesting and enlightening experience.

I taught the inmates psychology and world history. One of my students was honest enough to inform me that he planned to use what he learned when he was released from prison. What he told me next came as a surprise. He hinted that when he got out of prison, he would return to a life a crime, but he planned to be much smarter this time around. While in that prison, he sought out the gurus of crime and learned all of the tricks of their trade. Then, when he was released, he planned to become a consultant of crime. He would charge a fee for engineering specific criminal acts. He would not participate in the crime directly, but only charge a commission for successful crimes. If his clients were caught, that was their problem; his involvement would be almost impossible to prove.

I think I learned more from teaching that summer than my students did. For one thing, I experienced the difference between “knowledge” and “wisdom.” Knowledge of psychology and world history, when applied with wisdom, could prove profitable. But that same knowledge could be used in a way that would be both criminal and cruel. I wonder how many people in our educational institutions are being educated to do great harm, to themselves and to others.

The Book of Proverbs is all about wisdom:

1 The Proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
2 To learn wisdom and moral instruction,
and to discern wise counsel.
3 To receive moral instruction in skillful living,
in righteousness, justice, and equity.
4 To impart shrewdness to the morally naive,
and a discerning plan to the young person.
5 (Let the wise also hear and gain instruction,
and let the discerning acquire guidance!)
6 To discern the meaning of a proverb and a parable,
the sayings of the wise and their riddles.
7 Fearing the Lord is the beginning of moral knowledge;
but fools despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:1-7).239

Solomon was exceedingly wise, and he wrote most of the proverbs we find in the Book of Proverbs, with the exception of chapters 30 and 31. Remember that Solomon penned many more proverbs than this:

30 Solomon was wiser than all the men of the east and all the sages of Egypt. 31 He was wiser than any man, including Ethan the Ezrahite or Heman, Calcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol. He was famous in all the neighboring nations. 32 He composed three thousand proverbs and a thousand and five songs (1 Kings 4:30-32).

Proverbs are highly compressed, carefully chosen words of wisdom. In the Bible, proverbs are found elsewhere than just in the Book of Proverbs. I cannot help but smile when I read the proverb Israel’s King Ahab cites to Ben Hadad, king of Syria. Ben Hadad had assembled his army and besieged the city of Samaria. He sent word to Ahab, conveying his demands, threatening to destroy Samaria if Ahab did not comply. Ahab sent Ben Hadad this response:

“Tell him the one who puts on his battle gear should not boast like one who is taking it off” (1 Kings 20:11).

We would have said, “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.”

Proverbs may very well exist in every culture. We have many proverbs in our culture. Here are just a few:

“First things first.”
“A stitch in time saves nine.”
“Don’t cry over spilled milk.”
“Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
“Hind sight is better than foresight.”
“People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”
“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

Proverbs are words that are skillfully crafted to stick in our minds and to engage us in thought:

Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout,
so is a beautiful woman who rejects discretion (Proverbs 11:22).
Like a door that turns on its hinges,
so a sluggard turns on his bed (Proverbs 26:14).

The sluggard buries his hand in the dish;

he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth (Proverbs 26:15).
29 There are three things that are magnificent in their step,
four things that move about magnificently:
30 a lion, mightiest of the beasts,
who does not retreat from anything;
31 a strutting rooster, a male goat,
and a king with his army around him (Proverbs 30:29-31).

Proverbs are not necessarily promises, but rather generalizations of what is commonly true. Generally speaking, those who work hard and are self-disciplined prosper, while those who are lazy and gluttonous become poor:

6 Go to the ant, you sluggard;
observe its ways and be wise!
7 It has no commander,
overseer, or ruler,
8 yet it prepares its food in the summer;
it gathers at the harvest what it will eat.
9 How long, you sluggard, will you lie there?
When will you rise from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to relax,
11 and your poverty will come like a robber,
and your need like an armed man (Proverbs 6:6-11; see also 13:18;
14:23; 20:13; 21:7, 17, 25; 23:21; 28:19).
The one who is lazy becomes poor,
but the one works diligently becomes wealthy (Proverbs 10:4).

There are other reasons for poverty, however, that are beyond the power of the poor to prevent:
There is abundant food in the field of the poor,
but it is swept away by injustice (Proverbs 13:23).

Because hard work is no guarantee of prosperity, we find many proverbs that promote generosity and compassion toward the poor:

The one who despises his neighbor sins,
but whoever is kind to the needy is blessed (Proverbs 14:21).

Therefore we find a number of proverbs that indicate poverty may be superior to prosperity in some circumstances:

Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity
than one who is perverse in his speech and is a fool (Proverbs 19:1).
What is desirable for a person is to show loyal love;
and a poor person is better than a liar (Proverbs 19:22).

A poor person who walks in his integrity is better
than one who is perverse in his ways even though he is rich (Proverbs 28:6).

All of this is to say that we must be careful not to read any particular proverb as though it comes with an unconditional guarantee of being fulfilled. Proverbs, like all Scripture, must be interpreted in the light of other Scriptures.

Many of the proverbs appear to be the words of a father, addressed to his son. This seems to be the case in a number of instances, especially when the “son” is also urged to heed the instruction of his mother:

My child, guard the commands of your father
and do not forsake the instruction of your mother (Proverbs 6:20; see also 23:22, 25; 31:1).

Most scholars would seem to agree, however, that the term “my son” is sometimes used more generally in Proverbs. The one who says, “my son” in Proverbs seems to include the wise men of the community – those older and wiser men in the community240 who have a hand in the instruction of the young and immature.

In the Old Testament, the expression, “my father,” is found a number of times in situations where the one who was called “father” was not the biological father of the speaker. In 1 Samuel 24:11, David spoke to Saul as his “father.” In 2 Kings 2, we read the account of Elijah’s exodus into heaven. As Elijah disappears into the heavens, Elisha cries out, “My father, my father! The chariot and horsemen of Israel!” (2 Kings 2:12). When Elisha is dying, the king of Israel uses the same words, “my father” (2 Kings 13:14). Naaman’s servants speak to their master, calling him “father” (2 Kings 5:13). The king of Israel also speaks to Elisha as his “father” (2 Kings 6:21). I think our Lord’s own words suggest a similar understanding of the “father-son” language:

6 “They [the scribes and Pharisees] love the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and elaborate greetings in the marketplaces, and to have people call them ‘Rabbi.’ 8 But you are not to be called Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers. 9 And call no one your ‘father’ on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called teacher,’ for you have one teacher, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:6-12, emphasis mine).

Proverbs is certainly a book for parents to use in the education of their children. It is also instructive to parents regarding their responsibilities as parents. Many Christian parents would do well to heed the instructions of Proverbs regarding child-training and discipline, especially in a culture that tends to regard any spanking or discipline as child abuse. But parents should also heed the lesson that wise people in the Christian community have an important role to play in the education of their children.

Years ago when I was a student in seminary, a professor handed out a list of the abilities and skills that were required of a pastor. When I looked at that list I remarked to the professor, “Sir, in effect you have given us a list of all the spiritual gifts mentioned in the Bible. Do you think that any one of us possesses all of these gifts?” Some pastors act as if they possess all of the spiritual gifts, but fortunately most know better. God has distributed spiritual gifts among the members of the church so that we are interdependent as believers:

12 For just as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body – though many – are one body, so too is Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether we are Jews or Greeks or slaves or free we were all made to drink of the one Spirit. 14 For in fact the body is not a single member, but many. 15 If the foot says, “Since I am not a hand, I am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. 16 And if the ear says, “Since I am not an eye, I am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. 17 If the whole body were an eye, what part would do the hearing? If the whole were an ear, what part would do the smelling? 18 But as a matter of fact, God has placed each of the members in the body just as he decided. 19 If they were all the same member, where would the body be? 20 So now there are many members, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor in turn can the head say to the foot, “I do not need you.” 22 On the contrary, those members that seem to be weaker are essential, 23 and those members we consider less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our unpresentable members are clothed with dignity, 24 but our presentable members do not need this. Instead, God has blended together the body, giving greater honor to the lesser member, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have mutual concern for one another. 26 If one member suffers, everyone suffers with it. If a member is honored, all rejoice with it. 27 Now you are Christ’s body, and each of you is a member of it (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

Parents have a primary role in the raising of their children, but God has given gifts to the whole body of Christ so that we will be interdependent on one another. As parents, we desperately need the help of other Christians in raising our children: youth workers, Sunday school teachers, AWANA, Vacation Bible School, Christian camps, Boy Scouts, and so on. I cannot tell you how much other believers have contributed to the raising of our children.

As we come to the Book of Proverbs, we should keep in mind that the method employed in the Book of Proverbs is very similar to the teaching method employed by our Lord.

Jesus spoke all these things in parables to the crowds; he did not speak to them without a parable (Matthew 13:34).

To discern the meaning of a proverb and a parable,

the sayings of the wise and their riddles (Proverbs 1:6, emphasis mine).

The Greek translation of the word “proverb” above is a transliteration of the Greek word for parable. Several times the Septuagint actually chooses to render the Hebrew word for “proverb” with the Greek word for “parable.” The proverbs are like parables in that they provoke people to thought, and they create vivid mental images of truth.

Two Ways, Two Women

At the very outset of the Book of Proverbs, the reader is challenged to choose one of two “ways.” While wisdom has many different dimensions, in the final analysis, wisdom is a spiritual matter. It is a “way” that one chooses, leading to life.

It begins with the fear of the Lord (1:7), and it ends with eternal life:

But the path of the righteous is like the bright morning light,
growing brighter and brighter until full day (Proverbs 4:18).
She is like a tree of life to those who obtain her;
and everyone who grasps hold of her will be blessed (Proverbs 3:18).

The only other “way” is the way of folly that leads to death:

True righteousness leads to life,
but the one who pursues evil pursues it to his own death (Proverbs 11:19).

Proverbs 1 is both a warning and an exhortation. The first seven verses introduce the entire Book of Proverbs, describing the benefits of wisdom, which Proverbs offers to all who will receive it. The way of wisdom is a choice that must be made, and the only alternative is the way of folly that leads to death. The starting point for the way of wisdom is the “fear of the Lord,” but fools despise wisdom and instruction (1:7). The wise father instructs his son that the way of folly is promoted by false friends:241

8 Listen, my child, to the instruction from your father,
and do not forsake the teaching from your mother.
9 For they will be like an elegant garland on your head,
and like pendants around your neck.
10 My child, if sinners try to entice you,
do not consent!
11 If they say, “Come with us!
We will lie in wait to shed blood;
we will ambush an innocent person capriciously.
12 We will swallow them alive like Sheol,
those full of vigor like those going down to the Pit.
13 We will seize all kinds of precious wealth;
we will fill our houses with plunder.
14 Join with us!
We will all share equally in what we steal.”
15 My child, do not go down their way,
withhold yourself from their path;
16 for they are eager to inflict harm,
and they hasten to shed blood.
17 Surely it is futile to spread a net
in view of any bird;
18 but these men lie in wait for their own blood,
they ambush their own lives!
19 Such are the ways of all who gain profit unjustly;
it takes away the life of those who obtain it (Proverbs 1:8-19).

The words of chapter 1 of Proverbs are painfully true to life. They describe all too well the choices which put one on the wrong path. The choice to take the wrong path is made during one’s youth. A young man must decide whether to trust his parents and follow their instruction and discipline or to follow the foolish counsel of foolish and evil friends. Choosing one’s peers is often synonymous with choosing one’s path. Notice the enticing and seductive offer of these lethal companions.

First, they promise group acceptance and identity. Nothing seems as important to a young person as being accepted by a group of their peers. Those who would lead this young man astray offer him what he desperately wants – acceptance and a sense of identity.

Second, they promise material gain, obtained not by hard work but by violence and crime. I remember all too well a young man that I visited for a number of weeks while he was incarcerated in the Dallas County Jail. He told me that he knew he could get a job when he was released from jail, but that crime would make him a lot more money in a lot less time, and with very little effort! These would-be companions offer “the good life” through crime and violence.

Third, they promise excitement and the thrill that comes from having a sense of power. Now, as then, young people are bored with the routines of life and want more excitement. These false friends offer excitement in abundance, but it is the excitement and sense of power that comes from being associated with those who are wicked, and by committing crimes of violence against those who are vulnerable and helpless.

There are several problems with the offer these false friends make. The “gain” they promise is not honest gain, but rather it is profiting at the expense of others. It is “gain” achieved through crime. Further, all this “gain” is really loss. This kind of gain happens at the expense of the victim and the villain. In the final analysis, those who follow the path of folly face the consequence of death and destruction. Crime might possibly pay in this life, but it does not pay in eternity. Let no one be deceived – the wages of sin is death.

When I taught the Book of Proverbs 20 years ago or so, I found parts of the description of the false friends almost too much to believe. Who would ever seek to lure one to join their group by promising violence and the thrill of causing others pain? The answer is now all too clear, just a few years later – gangs. Is Proverbs 1:8-19 not describing gang life today? The path of folly leads to death, and it begins by rejecting the wisdom of parents for the seductive temptation of false friends.

Those who choose the way of folly do so because they have rejected the offer of wisdom:

20 Wisdom calls out in the street,
she shouts loudly in the plazas;
21 at the head of the noisy streets she calls,
in the entrances of the gates in the city she utters her words:
22 “How long will you simpletons love naivet?
How long will mockers delight in mockery
and fools hate knowledge?
23 If only you will respond to my rebuke,
then I will pour out my thoughts to you
and I will make my words known to you.
24 However, because I called but you refused to listen,
because I stretched out my hand but no one paid attention,
25 because you neglected all my advice,
and did not comply with my rebuke,
26 so I myself will laugh when disaster strikes you,
I will mock when what you dread comes,
27 when what you dread comes like a whirlwind,
and disaster strikes you like a devastating storm,
when distressing trouble comes on you.
28 Then they will call to me, but I will not answer;
they will diligently seek me, but they will not find me.
29 Because they hated moral knowledge,
and did not choose to fear the Lord,
30 they did not comply with my advice,
they spurned all my rebuke.
31 Therefore they will eat from the fruit of their way,
and they will be stuffed full of their own counsel.
32 For the waywardness of the simpletons will kill them,
and the careless ease of fools will destroy them.
33 But the one who listens to me will live in security,
and will be at ease from the dread of harm (Proverbs 1:20-33).

Here, as elsewhere in the Book of Proverbs, wisdom is personified as a woman who cries out publicly, inviting the naive to come and to learn wisdom from her.242 She is contrasted with “Madam Folly,” who is portrayed as a wicked, adulterous woman who seeks to seduce those who are gullible.

16 to deliver you from the adulteress,
from the sexually loose woman who speaks flattering words;
17 who leaves the husband from her youth,
and forgets her marriage covenant made before God.
18 For her house sinks down to death,
and her paths lead to the place of the departed spirits.
19 None who go in to her will return,
nor will they reach the paths of life.
20 So you will walk in the way of good people,
and will keep on the paths of the righteous.
21 For the upright will reside in the land,
and those with integrity will remain in it;
22 but the wicked will be cut off from the land,
and the treacherous will be torn away from it (Proverbs 2:16-22).243

The seductive woman does not really care about her victim. He is only a meal ticket:

For on account of a prostitute one is brought down to a loaf of bread,
but the wife of another man preys on your precious life (Proverbs 6:26).
This is the way of an adulterous woman:
she eats and wipes her mouth
and says, “I have not done wrong” (Proverbs 30:20).

While the adulterous woman does seek to appeal to the sensual desires of her victims (see 7:10, 16-18), her primary weapon is flattery. She tells the unsuspecting lad what he wants to hear. She appeals to his ego:

To deliver you from the adulteress,
from the sexually loose woman who speaks flattering words (Proverbs 2:16).
So that they may keep you from the adulterous woman,
from the loose woman who flatters you with her words (Proverbs 7:5).
She persuaded him with persuasive words;
with her smooth speech she compelled him (Proverbs 7:21).
One can hardly call the appeal of “Dame Wisdom” flattery:
1 Wisdom has built her house;
she has carved out its seven pillars.
2 She has prepared her meat, she has mixed her wine;
she also has arranged her table.
3 She has sent out her female servants;
she calls out on the highest places of the city.
4 “Whoever is naive, let him turn in here,”
she says to those who lack understanding.
5 “Come, eat some of my food,
and drink some of the wine I have mixed.
6 Abandon your foolish ways, so that you may live;
and proceed in the way of understanding” (Proverbs 9:1-6).

In the broadest of terms, then, we can see that the Book of Proverbs sums up all of life in terms of just two “ways,” two paths – the “way of wisdom,” leading to life, and the “way of folly,” leading to death. Each of us is on one path or the other. Each of us make decisions about whom we will believe, about whose authority we will respect and whose instructions we will obey. Each of us is on a path, and the only way we can know the outcome is because God has told us where each path leads. The most important question we will ever answer is, “What path am I on?”

The New Testament has a much more specific answer. In Proverbs, the way of life is the way of wisdom. Wisdom is personified in Proverbs 8, and it is not difficult for the New Testament Christian to see this to be fulfilled by our Lord Jesus Christ. In the New Testament, Jesus is absolutely clear about the “path” we must be on to obtain eternal life:

1 “Do not let your hearts be distressed. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house. Otherwise, I would have told you. I am going away to make ready a place for you. 3 And if I go and make ready a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with me, so that where I am you may be too. 4 And you know the way where I am going.” 5 Thomas said, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:1-6, emphasis mine).

Jesus is the incarnation of wisdom:

22 The Lord created me as the beginning of his way,
before his works of old.
23 From eternity I was appointed,
from the beginning, from before the world existed.
24 When there were no deep oceans I was given birth,
when there were no springs abounding with water;
25 before the mountains were settled,
before the hills, I was brought forth,
26 before he made the earth and its fields,
or the beginning of the dust of the world.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there;
when he marked out the horizon over the face of the deep,
28 when he established the clouds above,
when the fountains of the deep grew strong,
29 when he gave the sea his decree
that the waters should not pass over his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30 then I was beside him as a master craftsman,
and I was his delight day by day,
rejoicing before him at all times,
31 rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth,
and delighting in the human beings (Proverbs 8:22-31).

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The Word was with God in the beginning. 3 All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind (John 1:1-4).

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, 16 for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him—all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers—all things were created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things and all things are held together in him (Colossians 1:15-17).

20 Where is the wise man? Where is the expert in the Mosaic law? Where is the debater of this age? Has God not made the wisdom of the world foolish? 21 For since in the wisdom of God, the world by its wisdom did not know God, God was pleased to save those who believe by the foolishness of preaching. 22 For Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks ask for wisdom, 23 but we preach about a crucified Christ, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. 24 But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 26 Think about the circumstances of your call, brothers and sisters. Not many were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, and not many were members of the upper class. 27 But God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong. 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something, 29 so that no one can boast in his presence. 30 He is the reason you have a relationship with Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:20-30).

2 My goal is that their hearts, having been knit together in love, may be encouraged, and that they may have all the riches that assurance brings in their understanding of the knowledge of the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:2-3).

Character: Profiling Those on the Two Ways

There are many books on the shelves of bookstores that have to do with personality types; some of them are addressed to the Christian community. I hear Christians telling others that they are sanguine or phlegmatic, as though this really defines them. So far as I can tell, this kind of psychological profiling began with the ancients. I have never found one text in the Bible that speaks in terms of these categories. I take it that this means they are not really very significant.

The Bible – and particularly the Book of Proverbs – does speak of a different set of “profiles.” These are profiles of one’s character, not one’s personality. There are five basic character types, which I will very briefly define in this message.244

The simple or naive. This character type is very much related to age and experience. The naive are those who have not experienced much of life. The simple or naive are gullible. They tend to believe whatever they are told:

A naive person believes everything,
but the shrewd person discerns his steps (Proverbs 14:15).

The naive do not look ahead; they do not consider the consequences of their actions:
A shrewd person sees danger and hides himself,
but the naive keep right on going and suffer for it (Proverbs 22:3; see also 27:12).

There is a crucial difference between naivety and innocence. The simple possess a certain measure of foolishness and culpability:

22 “How long will you simpletons love naivet?
How long will mockers delight in mockery
and fools hate knowledge?
32 For the waywardness of the simpletons will kill them,
and the careless ease of fools will destroy them (Proverbs 1:22, 32).

The naive inherit folly,
but the shrewd are crowned with knowledge (Proverbs 14:18).

The simple can learn, however. Sometimes they learn from observing the folly of others and its consequences:

Beat a scorner, and as a result the simpleton will learn prudence;
correct a discerning person, and as a result he will understand knowledge (Proverbs 19:25).

Wisdom therefore seeks to instruct the simple, so that they might become wise:
You who are naive, discern wisdom!
And you fools, understand discernment! (Proverbs 8:5)

4 “Whoever is naive, let him turn in here,”
she says to those who lack understanding.
16 “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here,”
she says to those who lack understanding (Proverbs 9:4, 16).

The fool. The fool is old enough to know better. The fool is a simpleton who has not learned the way of wisdom, but has come to spurn it. The fool is more actively engaged in folly. We should begin by saying that folly is not learned.

Man is born with a predisposition toward folly:

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,
but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him (Proverbs 22:15).

I have the feeling that a lot of parents need to post this proverb on their refrigerator door. It is not what Dr. Spock would have told us.245

If the origin of wisdom is humility and the fear of the Lord, folly is rooted in a deep-seated hostility toward God and those in authority. The fool takes pleasure in evil and flaunts his folly:

A person’s folly subverts his way,
and his heart rages against the Lord (Proverbs 19:3).

The wise person accepts instructions,
but the one who speaks foolishness will come to ruin (Proverbs 10:8).

Carrying out a wicked scheme is enjoyable to a fool,
and so is wisdom for the one who has discernment (Proverbs 10:23).

Every shrewd person acts with knowledge,
but a fool displays his folly (Proverbs 13:16).

The fool is arrogant (14:16; 30:32). He knows better than others. He does not learn from others, or even from his own mistakes:

A wise person is cautious and turns from evil,
but a fool throws off restraint and is overconfident (Proverbs 14:16).

If you have done foolishly in exalting yourself
or if you have planned evil,
put your hand over your mouth! (Proverbs 30:32)

The way of a fool is right in his own opinion,
but the one who listens to advice is wise (Proverbs 12:15).

The one who trusts in his own heart is a fool,
but the one who walks in wisdom will escape (Proverbs 28:26).

The fool is betrayed by his speech.

Even a fool who remains silent is considered wise,
and the one who holds his tongue is deemed discerning (Proverbs 17:28).

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding
but only in disclosing what is on his mind (Proverbs 18:2).

Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity
than one who is perverse in his speech and is a fool (Proverbs 19:1).

The fool loses his temper (14:17; 29:11) and quarrels (20:3). The fool is deeply entrenched in his sin and won’t change (15:5; 17:10, 12; 23:9; 26:11; 27:22). When confronted, the fool will react rather than repent. Confronting a fool is therefore useless and sometimes painful (29:9). The fool is wasteful and self-indulgent (21:20). The fool is unprofitable to others (10:1; 12:1, 7; 14:1, 7; 17:21, 25; 19:13; 26:6, 10).

The sluggard. The sluggard is a most fascinating character. Let’s consider some of the distinguishing characteristics of the sluggard.

The sluggard is lazy and procrastinates. If he fails to work, he hopes to live off the labor of others:

6 Go to the ant, you sluggard;
observe its ways and be wise!
7 It has no commander,
overseer, or ruler,
8 yet it prepares its food in the summer;
it gathers at the harvest what it will eat.
9 How long, you sluggard, will you lie there?
When will you rise from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to relax,
11 and your poverty will come like a robber,
and your need like an armed man (Proverbs 6:6-11).

The sluggard will not plow during the planting season,
so at the harvest time he looks for the crop but has nothing (Proverbs 20:4).

30 I passed by the field of a sluggard,
by the vineyard of one who lacks wisdom.
31 I saw that thorns had grown up all over it,
the ground was covered with weeds,
and its stone wall was broken down.
32 When I saw this, I applied my heart;
I received instruction from what I saw:
33 “A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to relax,
34 and your poverty will come like a robber,
and your need like an armed man” (Proverbs 24:30-34).

The sluggard is not only slow to start, but unlikely to follow through to completion (ouch!):

The sluggard buries his hand in the dish;
he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth (Proverbs 26:15).

The sluggard is a master at rationalization:

The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside!
I will be killed in the middle of the streets!” (Proverbs 22:13; see also 26:13)

The sluggard takes the path of least resistance, always looking for the easy way out, such as “get rich quick” schemes that will allow him to live without laboring:

19 The one who works his land will be satisfied with food,
but whoever chases daydreams will have his fill of poverty.
22 The stingy person hastens after riches
and does not know that poverty will come on him (Proverbs 28:19, 22).

The sluggard is foolish, though he thinks himself wise:

The sluggard is wiser in his own estimation
than seven people who respond with good sense (Proverbs 26:16).

When I taught on the sluggard a number of years ago, I agonized over the way my words might be twisted by some. “Who is it,” I asked myself, “who will twist my words to mean something I don’t?” “Who will cheer me on when I preach this lesson, when they should be rebuked by it?” The answer that came to my mind was the “workaholic.” The workaholic would love to hear me preach about the sluggard. Were my words not a validation of the workaholic’s lifestyle? Actually not! The workaholic is a sluggard, in my opinion. The sluggard is not stupid, nor is the sluggard completely inactive. The sluggard works very hard at avoiding the “work” he most dislikes. The sluggard avoids those tasks which he ought to be doing. The workaholic often uses his job as his excuse for not spending time with his wife or his family. His job is his “lion in the road.” Workaholics, take note!

The scoffer. There seems to be a progression from the simple to the fool to the scoffer. The simple lacks wisdom; the fool scorns wisdom; the scoffer mocks and opposes wisdom.

The scoffer is proud and arrogant:

A proud and arrogant person, whose name is “Scoffer,”
acts with overbearing pride (Proverbs 21:24).

The scoffer is beyond correction:

7 Whoever corrects a mocker is asking for insult;
whoever reproves a wicked person receives abuse.
8 Do not reprove a mocker or he will hate you;
reprove a wise person and he will love you (Proverbs 9:7-8).

A wise son accepts his father’s discipline,
but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke (Proverbs 13:1; see also 15:12).

Punishment and divine judgment await the scoffer:

Although he is scornful to arrogant scoffers,
yet he shows favor to the humble (Proverbs 3:34).

Judgments are prepared for scorners,
and floggings for the backs of fools (Proverbs 19:29).

When the scoffer is punished, those who look on may learn from his experience, even though he will not:

Beat a scorner, and as a result the simpleton will learn prudence;
correct a discerning person, and as a result he will understand knowledge (Proverbs 19:25).

The scoffer is a very negative influence, and the best course of action is to remove him:

A foolish scheme is sin,
and the scorner is an abomination to people (Proverbs 24:9).

Drive out the scorner and contention will leave;
strife and insults will cease (Proverbs 22:10).

The principle of a Christian school once embraced the teaching of Proverbs 22:10, and wisely so. There are some students (and teachers) who are scoffers and who only disrupt and cause dissention. Since they can’t be corrected, they should be removed (kicked out of school, fired). Many employers acknowledge the truth of this proverb. The workplace is a much better place when the scoffer has been removed.

The way of the wise. The whole of the Book of Proverbs is meant to make one wise (1:1-7), so we can hardly sum up the way of wisdom in a few words. Nevertheless, let me list a few of the characteristics of those who are wise:

Humility – 11:2

Fear God – 2:6-7; 9:10; 11:7; 15:33; 21:30

Delight in wisdom – 10:23

Diligently seek wisdom – 4:5-7; 7:4

Choose companions carefully – 13:20

Are a blessing to others – 11:30; 13:14; 15:20; 23:15, 24; 27:11; 29:3

Wise use of their words – 10:13-14, 19, 31; 12:18; 14:3; 15:2, 7; 16:21, 23; 31:26

Self-control, avoid over-indulgence – 20:11; 21:20; 29:11

Seek wise counsel – 24:6

Listen and learn – 1:5; 2:2; 5:1; 18:15; 23:19

Conciliatory – 16:14; 29:8

Impartial – 24:23

Respond well to instruction, correction, and rebuke – 9:8-9; 10:8; 12:15; 13:10; 15:31; 19:20; 21:11; 29:15

Live skillfully – 1:1-6


There are many good things that could be said of the Book of Proverbs, but let me conclude by summarizing some of the benefits that can be gained by studying and applying the Book of Proverbs.

The Book of Proverbs instructs us how to think correctly. Proverbs 1:1-7 speaks of the wisdom that the Book of Proverbs offers those who will diligent seek it. Proverbs helps us learn to think straight and to look at life as it really is. Proverbs will improve our thinking.

The Book of Proverbs instructs us how to live correctly. God not only wants us to think straight but to live righteously. Those who are wise are those who live their lives skillfully. Proverbs not only tells what we should believe, but how we should behave. Let me suggest a few of the practical benefits of Proverbs.

(1)Proverbs teaches us about parenting. Proverbs instructs us that children are born with an innate foolishness that must be addressed by parents. Discipline is necessary to deal with the foolishness of the child. Children are not innately innocent or good. They are predisposed to sin. The “Proverbs parent” understands this and deals with their child accordingly.

(2)Proverbs has much to say to children. They are to listen to and learn from their parents. They are to beware of associating with the wicked. They are to obey their parents. Most of the folly that children experience could be avoided by heeding the warnings of Proverbs.

(3)Proverbs challenges us all to live wisely, to treasure and diligently seek wisdom. It informs us that wisdom comes from God to those who are humble and fear Him. Wisdom is the way of life, turning us from the way of death. It leads to life eternal, as well as enabling us to live life to the full in the present.

(4)Proverbs has much to say about marriage. Those who heed the teaching of Proverbs, and who choose their friends well, will seek to find a mate who is wise. They will embrace the qualities that make one a godly husband or wife (e.g., Proverbs 31).

(5)Proverbs instructs us about our work. It teaches us to avoid slothfulness and to work hard. It tells us to give a dollars worth of product or labor for a dollar paid. It tells us the kind of person to hire, and to fire.

(6)Proverbs is a wonderful source of divine guidance. Someone once said that “divine guidance is a compass, not a map.” Guidance most often comes in the form of general principles. For example, the Bible may not tell us precisely which woman to marry, but it certainly does tell us the kind of woman to avoid, and the kind of woman to seek. Much of the “advice” we receive is from our friends. Proverbs teaches us about the kind of friends we should choose.

A number of years ago, my wife and I decided that we would remain on in Texas. We started looking for a house to buy. I called my father for advice, and he suggested that it would be wise to establish my ministry before we bought a home. It was shortly after this that I came across this proverb:

Prepare your work outside
And make it ready for yourself in the field;
Afterwards, then, build your house (Proverbs 24:27).

We waited until our ministry was established, and then we purchased a home. It was a wise decision, prompted by Proverbs in two ways. First, I sought my father’s counsel, and second, I followed this counsel and the counsel of Proverbs. You might put it this way, “Don’t put the cart (your house) before the horse (your ministry). Proverbs is a rich source of very practical guidance.

(7)Proverbs has a great deal to say about government and politics. There may be wisdom in maintaining a certain degree of separation between church and state, but there should be no separation at all between faith and practice. We have just recently elected a new President. What might the Book of Proverbs have to say to him? Consider some of the counsel that Proverbs offers those in positions of leadership and authority:

A king sitting on the throne to judge
separates out all evil with his eyes (Proverbs 20:8).

A wise king separates out the wicked;
he turns the threshing wheel over them (Proverbs 20:26).

Remove the wicked from before the king,
and his throne will be established in righteousness (Proverbs 25:5).

A king brings stability to a land by justice,
but one who exacts tribute tears it down (Proverbs 29:4).

Loyal love and truth preserve a king,
and his throne is upheld by loyal love (Proverbs 20:28).

The one who loves a pure heart
and whose speech is gracious—the king will be his friend (Proverbs 22:11).

If a ruler listens to lies,
all his ministers will be wicked (Proverbs 29:12).

If a king judges the poor in truth,
his throne will be established forever (Proverbs 29:14).

May God grant us hearts and minds that desire wisdom and that will diligently seek it in His Word. May God make us students of this marvelous Book of Proverbs.

238 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on May 13, 2001.

239 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at:

240 Among the sources of teaching and wisdom in Israel, there were the prophets, the priests, and the wise men (see Jeremiah 18:18; Ezekiel 7:26).

241 A good many years ago, I wrote this in my lesson on Proverbs 1: “A little while ago I read an article on the family of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson. It described the life of the Nelson family during the years the program was on television, as well as the life of David and Ricky since. The thing that caught my eye was that Rick joined a group of ‘hoods.’ The writer said this of Rick’s new associations: ‘Most of his fellow hoods, Ricky later explained, ended up in jail and went into bigger things--like armed robbery.’” It was after this that Ricky himself died in a plane crash, apparently the result of using drugs while in flight. How true this chapter proved to be.

242 See Proverbs 4:1-9; 8:1-36; 9:1-6.

243 See also Proverbs chapter 5; 6:20-25; 7:1-27.

244 My more extensive study in the Book of Proverbs has a more thorough consideration of these character types. See /docs/ot/books/pro/deffin/toc.htm.

245 We are not talking about abusing a child here; we are talking about godly discipline, exercised in love, and in self-control. To characterize all spanking as “abuse” is foolish.

Related Topics: Mothers, Fathers, Wisdom, Children

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