Wisdom? Short reflections on the book of Proverbs

Though well known for its pithy sayings, the book of Proverbs contains threads that run through it. I would hazard a guess that ‘wisdom’ would be the one of the threads that many are familiar with. However, the concept of wisdom in the Hebraic mindset might differ from our modern understanding of it – we often associate wisdom with the mind (how smart we are), whereas for the Jew, wisdom includes moral discernment (how upright we live).

Consequently, the source of wisdom is traced to the fear of the Lord, not merely to intellectual education. Proverbs 1:7 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” and other verses such as this illustrate this point.  We therefore do not attain to godly wisdom by only reading and understanding God’s Word, but by obeying what it teaches us.

However, blind or ritualistic obedience does not please nor honour God. Another key word found throughout the book of Provers is “heart”. What Proverbs suggests and the Old Testament conveys is that we all need heart surgery, so to speak. We, of our own nature, do not desire to obey God, nor walk in His ways. A change of heart is what we need, and that’s what the Old Testament prefigures and the New Testament promises. The reason for the New Covenant is not that we do away with obedience to God, but that our obedience is now motivated by what’s within not only by what’s without: namely, our heart (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34).

*Finally (and the asterisk is my simple way of saying take this last point with a pinch of salt), it seems interesting to me that while the book of Proverbs begins and ends with a similar theme: the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7; 31:30), the last chapter is focussed on the characteristics of a godly wife.

This has tremendous applications for (particularly youths) today. First, the criteria by which we make our choice of a spouse ought to be gospel informed: character rather than charisma/charm! It has been said that the choice of a spouse is the second most important decision you could make in your life, after the God whom you profess. It is crucial to get this right. Secondly, the repeated warnings in Proverbs to be faithful to our spouse and to flee the adulteress need to be heeded more than ever. The foundation of any society rests on the family and the family begins with husband and wife.

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