« Proverbs, Chapter »

Chapter Commentary

1 The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel:2 To know wisdom and instruction; To discern the words of understanding;3 To receive instruction in wise dealing, In righteousness and justice and equity;4 To give prudence to the simple, To the young man knowledge and discretion:5 That the wise man may hear, and increase in learning; And that the man of understanding may attain unto sound counsels:6 To understand a proverb, and a figure, The words of the wise, and their dark sayings.7 The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of knowledge; But the foolish despise wisdom and instruction.8 My son, hear the instruction of thy father, And forsake not the law of thy mother:9 For they shall be a chaplet of grace unto thy head, And chains about thy neck.10 My son, if sinners entice thee, Consent thou not.11 If they say, Come with us, Let us lay wait for blood; Let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause;12 Let us swallow them up alive as Sheol, And whole, as those that go down into the pit;13 We shall find all precious substance; We shall fill our houses with spoil;14 Thou shalt cast thy lot among us; We will all have one purse:15 My son, walk not thou in the way with them; Refrain thy foot from their path:16 For their feet run to evil, And they make haste to shed blood.17 For in vain is the net spread In the sight of any bird:18 And these lay wait for their own blood; They lurk privily for their own lives.19 So are the ways of every one that is greedy of gain; It taketh away the life of the owners thereof.20 Wisdom crieth aloud in the street; She uttereth her voice in the broad places;21 She crieth in the chief place of concourse; At the entrance of the gates, In the city, she uttereth her words:22 How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? And scoffers delight them in scoffing, And fools hate knowledge?23 Turn you at my reproof: Behold, I will pour out my spirit upon you; I will make known my words unto you.24 Because I have called, and ye have refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man hath regarded;25 But ye have set at nought all my counsel, And would none of my reproof:26 I also will laugh in the day of your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh;27 When your fear cometh as a storm, And your calamity cometh on as a whirlwind; When distress and anguish come upon you.28 Then will they call upon me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they shall not find me:29 For that they hated knowledge, And did not choose the fear of Jehovah:30 They would none of my counsel; They despised all my reproof.31 Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, And be filled with their own devices.32 For the backsliding of the simple shall slay them, And the careless ease of fools shall destroy them.33 But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell securely, And shall be quiet without fear of evil.
Chapter Introduction

INTRODUCTION (1:1–7)

1:1 Title

1:2–6 Invitation to the reader

1:7 First Principle

The infinitives are typically claimed to depend upon the title. But no other title links to its following verses; titles stand alone (Prov 10:1–2; 25:1–2; 30:1; 31:1–3; Eccl 1:1–2; Song 1:1–2; Neh 1:1). The infinitives, whether read as for use in -ing (Fox) or in order to, more naturally depend on v. 5, especially accounting for v. 4. Verses 2–3 are verbs of reception, a person knows, understands, and receives, yet v. 4 does not receive but gives to the simple. How can the simple be the audience of vv. 2–4, as most claim, yet logically move from subject (vv.2–3) to indirect object (v.4)?

Reading the wise as the singular subject of the intro resolves this difficulty. It renders, “In order for the wise to know, understand, receive, and give (to the simple), let him hear." The terms in v. 5 further support this structure as learning and counsels are commonly applied to others (i.e., the simple/youth). Thus the wise gain knowledge and skill (vv.2–3), directive resources (v.5), and interpretive faculties (v.6), and included in this education is an audience for output, the simple. Furthermore, this audience is plural (simple ones) while the correlative subjects are singular (wise one/one who understands). This coheres with the rhetorical function of the wise in Proverbs, an ideal portrait to which the reader aspires, and the use of hear, which the father immediately poses to his son (v.8) and follows the pupil, not the simpleton, throughout the book.

Verse 7b envelopes with 2a through wisdom and instruction, and possibly knowledge (7a). It introduces the antithesis of the addressee—fools. While v. 2 may introduce a dual audience and expand through the intro (2a with 3–4; 2b with 5–6) and find some support terminologically and conceptually, this does not account for shift in v. 4. Neither does it cohere with the use of the wise, fool, and simple throughout Proverbs or account for the possibly independent title. In sum, the title stands alone, verses 2–6 build the purposes for which the wise character should hear (5), and v. 7 poses the book’s first principle and concludes the introduction with an envelope (2a).

EXHORTATION AND THE VALUE OF INSTRUCTIONS (1:8–9)

The imperative hear connects the whole passage (5a, 33a) and transitions from v. 7, adding a direct, emphatic address to (you) my son. This general warning is distinguished from the following lesson through re-address (my son, 10a), and the positive context, communicated in hear and attractive images, do not appear again until v. 33, which explodes in chapter 2. The remaining tone of chapter one is negative, thus vv. 8–9 apply not only to vv. 10–9 but broadly for the parent-son-wisdom/instruction relationship.

THE FATHER WARNS HIS SON ABOUT THE WAYS OF GANGS (1:10–19)

1:10–14 Father Warns with a Situation

      1:10 Exhortation

      1:11–14 Hypothetical Scenario of Gang’s Persuasion

1:15–18 Father Warns with an Explanation

      1:15 Exhortation

      1:16–18 Explanation and Grounds

1:19 Concluding Lesson

Most agree on this structure with minor differences on vv. 16–19. The father’s voice continues but my son and the hypothetical if begins a new section. Double conditionals (10a/11a) drive the hypothetical scenario. Verse 14 concludes the gang’s voice and v. 15 begins a new section with my son. The language of walk (halak; 11b; 15a), way (different terms, 15, 19a), ambush/lurk (11, 18), and concept of greedy gain (13–14, 19) cohere the passage, along with balanced exhortations (10, 15) and a final principle (19). The conclusion separates because of the conjunction (thus), universalizing (all), and abstraction (its owner); this contrasts with the referent they (18).

Delitzsch claims v. 15 as a warning followed by three reasons (16–18), while Waltke groups vv. 15–16/17–18. The latter persuades as vv. 15–16 link with walk and feet; vv. 17–18 connect conceptually, through an illustration and comparison, and grammatically with waw subject (18). Delitzsch’s third reason (18) lacks the kis that precede (16, 17), rendering it possible but less likely.

THE SCENE OF WISDOM'S CALL (1:20–33)

1:20–21 The Context of Wisdom’s Call

1:22–27 Wisdom Calls to Refusers

      1:22–23 Invitation

      1:24–27 Refusal and Result

1:28–31 Wisdom Reflects on Refusal

      1:28 Result and Rhetorical Transition

      1:29–31 Explanation

1:32–33 Concluding Lesson

Most agree with this structure, but we must clarify the relationship of 1:28–31. A new subject, syntax-fronted Wisdom, begins a fresh section. The narrator (father) introduces her with speaking verbs and within the city (20–21). Wisdom then speaks to the simple in the city (you, 22–27). She identifies their current problem and proposes a solution (22–23). The conjunction (because, 24a) breaks with v. 23 and marks the audience’s current refusal (perfects), resulting at v. 26 with an emphatic Indeed, I and imperfects. Two subsections cohere in terms: refuse, neglect (24–25) and calamity, come (26–27).

A conjunction (then) and shift from second to third person transition us, though Wisdom still dwells on the results of their refusal conceptually. Another conjunction and perfects at v. 29 build reasons that culminate at v.31 with a waw impf (so they will eat). Delitzsch finds v. 29 providing reasons for v. 28, which resumes with impf. at v. 31. However, verse 31 does not pick up on v. 28, which points back and emphasizes its two lines. Rather, it gives the results of vv. 29–30, as it links with v. 30 by contrasting my counsel/my reproof (30) with their way/their counsels (31). A ki marks v. 32 and definite subjects appear (simple; fools); the waw ptc. at v. 33 links for a contrast of subjects (simple/one who hears) and outcomes (death/security). This conclusion links with the father’s, noting self punishment (vv. 18–9, 32), yet points forward with positive tone (33; ch. 2). Chapter 2 readdresses the son (2:1) and develops the themes of life and protection.

REFERENCES

Achtemeier, Paul J., gen. ed. The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. 2nd ed. New York: HarperCollins Pub. Inc., 1996.

Brown, Francis, ed. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2008 (abbreviated as BDB).

Brown, William. Character in Crisis:A Fresh Approach to the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996.

Cheung, Luke L. The Genre, Composition and Hermeneutics of the Epistle of James. Carlisle, UK: Paternoster Press, 2003.

Cohen, A. The Minor Tractates of the Talmud. 2nd Ed. 2 Vols. London: Soncino, 1971.

Danby, H. The Mishnah. 1933; repr., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983.

Delitzsch, Franz. Biblical Commentary on the Proverbs of Solomon. 2 Vols. Translated by M.G. Easton. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1950.

Dever, William G. The Lives of Ordinary People in Ancient Israel. Grand Rapids: Wm B Eerdmans, 2012.

Fox, Michael. Proverbs 1-9. Anchor Bible. New York: Doubleday, 2000.

Harris, R.L., Gleason Archer, and Bruce Waltke. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. 2 vols. Chicago: Moody Press, 1980 (abbreviated as TWOT).

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. III. Job to Song of Solomon. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1974.

Kidner, Derek. Proverbs: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2008.

------. The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes: An Introduction to Wisdom Literature. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1985.

King, Philip J. and Lawrence E. Stager. Life in Biblical Israel. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.

Neusner, J. The Tosefta. 2 Vols. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002.

Patrick, Simon. A Critical Commentary and Paraphrase on the Old and New Testament and the Apocrypha. Vol. III. London: William Tegg and Co., 1853.

Philo. Translated by F.H. Colson et al. 10 Vols. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Sandoval, Timothy J. “Revisiting the Prologue of Proverbs." JBL 126 no.3 (2007): 455–73.

Visotzky, Burton L. The Midrash on Proverbs. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.

Waltke, Bruce. The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1–15. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004.

Whybray, R. N. Proverbs: Based on the Revised Standard Version. New Century Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans, 1994.Wright, Christopher. Old Testament Ethics for the People of God. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 2004.

Wright, J. Robert, ed. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Old Testament; 9. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005.    
Brief Quotations
This section of the commentary is incomplete. Why not become a contributor?
Background

History of Salvation Context:

With King Solomon (ca. 970–930 B.C.), the nation of Israel conclusively shifted from pastoral, tribal life to a covenantal monarchy. A tradition of wisdom in Israel existed before this, as we recall the wise woman of Tekoa (2 Sam 14), a man of understanding and the king’s counselor (1 Chr 27:32–33), and Jotham’s fable (Judg 9:8–15). Later, the prophets utilize proverbs (Jer 31:29; Ezek 18:2), and a class of sage may have even existed in Jeremiah’s day (18:18). Hence we conclude that “In none of these cases do we have to suppose that wisdom was a sudden or a late arrival" (Kidner, Introduction, 16).

Sages commonly visited other nations to hear and test each others wisdom (Kidner, Proverbs, 17). We see this in the case of Solomon, his rule expanding the nation geographically (1 Kg 10:22), existentially (4:20), and intellectually. Solomon’s fame reveals that wisdom was common to the world: in his encounter with Sheba, “[wisdom’s] writ ran everywhere; it also suggested that shared ground existed between the truly wise of any nation" (Kidner, Introduction, 15). Yet Israel possessed a unique wisdom, for God had given it (1 Kg 4:30 [5:10]), and the nations recognized this. As Kidner writes, “It was because [Solomon’s] wisdom surpassed rather than by-passed theirs, that they flocked to hear him" (Introduction, 15).

When Israel divided (ca. 930 B.C.), their prosperity shifted to foreign and internal exploitation. While Proverbs may have addresses this context, Wisdom’s address (1:20–33) implies not social or religious upheaval but democratization (Fox, 342). Hence Proverbs, like history’s greatest intellectual traditions, most likely stems from an era of prosperity and peace (10th–8th c.) and applies to many contexts.

Wisdom in the Ancient Near East:

Wisdom was born long ago in the ancient Near East. The Egyptians attest to a written tradition beginning in 2650 B.C., with Syria and Mesopotamia in possibly 2500 B.C. (Fox, 19, 23). Many Egyptian works overlap with Proverbs 1: Amenemope bears a prologue similar in language and form (cf. 1:1–7); Anni commends studying to instill eloquence (both ca. 1550–1080 B.C.; cf. 1:5); Duachety upholds both father and mother (ca. 2040–1650 B.C.; cf. 1:8); and from Assyria, Ahiquar may personify wisdom (6th c. B.C.; cf. 1:20–33; Fox, 72–83, 332).

Despite the common ground, the wisdom of Proverbs 1 distinguishes itself in significant ways. Rather than addressing a singular audience, such as a king’s son, the father particularizes in order to democratize: “ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature typically names the son or apprentice to whom the sage directed his instruction, with the special purpose of preparing him to succeed the sage in his high office. . . . By omitting a specific addressee, Solomon and/or the final editor ‘democratizes’ his work to shape the national character of Israel" (Waltke, 174). Likewise, Lady Wisdom may resemble foreign goddesses, but she ultimately meets no parallel (Fox, 333–341). Most of all, Israel inherits the unique source and first principle of wisdom—the fear of a personal God (see at 1:7).

Households:

The household was the fundamental context for Israelite education. Deuteronomy features the elements of teaching, and although it refers to the Mosaic law, the context and value of education pertain to life in the covenant (6:6–9). Education occurs within the family, it continues through generations, it applies consistently and must be remembered. Moreover, it begets blessing for all of life (11:21).

An average Israelite home consisted of four to nine people. Multiple homes combined to form a physical and relational compound, known as the father’s house (bet ’av). Here, an extended family of three generations lived with servants and resident aliens (Wright, 338–339). Christopher Wright suggest that the household was the central unit for three basic, larger relationships. It was the basic unit of social structure; the basic economic unit; and the theological nucleus, where parental teaching preserved knowledge of the covenant (340). For survival and education, the family was the core of an interconnected society. Hence, the familial context of Proverbs’ multifaceted education distends from these biblical emphases (cf. 1:8–9).

The majority of households clustered as villages, which sat 20 miles from the city. At the time of Solomon, cities blossomed and increased interaction between rural families and urban peoples. Villages particularly depended on cities for protection, and at times, trade (see next section).

Cities:

A city was defined most basically by its walls, which villages lacked (see distinction in Josh 19:16; Neh 11:30; Num 21:25; 2 Chr 13:19). City populations varied. For example, at the time of Solomon, Schechem contained 2,000–2,500 people and Jerusalem 5–6,000. During Josiah’s reign, the latter contained no more than 25,000 (HCBD, 188).

The many functions of a city illuminate the speech of Lady Wisdom (1:20–33). The city gate provided entrance through the defensive walls. This area functioned as a court room (Josh 20:4; Ruth 4:1–6), and the squares inside and outside the gate served as places for business. The city walls contained homes of elite families connected to the court and temple (Dever, 137). But cities were not exclusively for the transient and urban. Due to Solomon’s prosperity, “The city gate and the adjacent square were the place of public assembly, as well as the business center where commercial and legal transactions were conducted" (King and Stager, 234). Here, rural and urban populations met together with travelers passing through (HCBD, 266). The gate, from which Wisdom calls, signifies the conglomeration of peoples and classes. It complements the household for the democratization of wisdom, as all tiers of society hear her voice.

Walls primarily protected the inhabitants. So Ezekiel says, “I will go up against the land of unwalled villages. I will fall upon the quiet people who dwell securely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having no bars or gates" (38:11, ESV; cf. Zech 2:4). In the event of threats, which became common after the monarchy divided, surrounding villages would flee to the city for safety. Hence, Wisdom’s promise that “calamity will come" directly challenges the safety of city dwellers, pointing to a danger not militaristic but moral—folly (see 1:26–32).

History of Interpretation

Philo (20 BC – AD 50), in De Ebrietate (On Drunkenness), presents different types of sons in terms of their obedience to parents. The last, and best, obeys both father and mother. For Philo, the father represents right reason that teaches a son to honor God. The mother, instruction, teaches the boy to employ accepted, universal principles (§81). After presenting Jacob (Gen 32:28) as the ideal son, Philo quotes multiple Proverbs and alludes to 1:8. He exhorts virtuous sons to bring “excellence to fullness" by “having learnt to observe the laws of your father and not reject the ordinances of your mother" (§84). The allusion moves Philo to discuss wisdom, as he writes that the wise man adorns himself inwardly and outwardly. In concluding the section, he loads these virtues with eschatological weight (§§86–87).

Church Fathers

The Church Fathers do not extensively comment on the Book of Proverbs. Often, passages of chapter 1 appear in notes on the Psalms or Gospels. However, when the Fathers do interpret and employ Proverbs 1, they illuminate the text and their times.

The Fathers define a proverb in various senses. Hippolytus places proverbs as signs that direct our spiritual journey. He writes, “to those who seek their way to God, [proverbs] serve as guides and signs to revive them when wearied with the length of the road" (ACCS, 3). In contrast to a spiritual interpretation, Jerome claims that proverbs and all adages in 1:6 “belong by right to the sphere of the dialectician and the philosopher" (ACCS, 4). With this, he defends his use of extra-biblical literature. Gregory of Nyssa defines a proverb from a literary perspective. They point to something hidden or instruct by means of indirect signification.

Origen and Clement of Alexandria reveal a rational/irrational dichotomy in 1:1–7. Commenting on instruction, Origen claims it is “the disciplining of the passions of that passionate or unreasonable part of the soul" (ACCS, 2). Clement of Alexandria aligns a pagan’s abstinence or control of pleasure with the fear of God, which is self-restraint and the basis of knowledge (6). Others interpret the fear of the Lord in a positive sense. Prosper of Aquitaine asks, “to whom belongs the beginning of fear?" That is, if fear is the beginning of wisdom, how do we gain that nascent ingredient? He attributes the fear of the Lord to the Lord himself, appealing to 2 Pet 1:2 and 1 Cor 4:7 and the one who gives us all things. From man’s perspective, Chrysostom points to piety as fear. It begets true sight, true hearing, nourishment and action. Hence, its corollary, he claims (so also Ambrose), is that “all sin takes its beginning from a lack of wisdom" (7). For some, the fear of God means restraining the passions; for others it is a gift of God or the first principle for all of the spiritual life.

Several Fathers distend the images of Proverbs 1 into the spiritual realm. Origen reasons that the title (1:1) places Solomon as king in Israel instead of Jerusalem because of our unconsummated salvation history. He writes, “although we are called Israel because of faith, that does not yet mark an attainment by which we should appear to have arrived at the heavenly Jerusalem" (ACCS, 2). Likewise, for Bede and Fulgentius of Ruspe, the mother in 1:8 represents the church. Bede finds her in the Hebrew synagogue and contemporary church, as Fulgentius aligns the mother’s teaching with the canons of the holy church. Chrysostom equates the references to jewels in 1:9 to the unfading crown of spiritual victory, the glory bestowed by Christ in the final resurrection.

The context in which the Fathers employ Proverbs 1 proves interesting. Augustine refers to 1:7 to exhort against pride and towards a gentle piety, in the context of Bible reading. His remark pertains to all students of scripture and is worth quoting in full: “with a mild and gentle piety you should refrain from objecting to passages of the holy Scriptures which you do not yet understand and which seem to the uninstructed devoid of sense and self-contradictory. And you should not try to impose your ideas on the meaning of the holy books but submit and hold your mind in check rather than savagely attack its hidden meaning" (ACCS, 6). Tertullian, in his Prescriptions Against Heretics, appeals to the same passage to underscore the futility of pursuing truth without God. He retorts to atheistic optimism, “Where God is not, there truth also is not" (ACCS, 7). Athanasius employs Prov 1:23 in response to the controversy over Christ’s nature. Against the Arians, he differentiates the precepts and commands of God (Prov 1:23) from the true, incarnate Word himself (Four Discourses Against the Arians §2.39). These Fathers demonstrate the value of Proverbs 1 in the context of scholarship and doctrinal debate.

Rabbinic Literature

From the Misnah, Aboth 6.7 quotes Proverbs 1:9 and equates the wreath and necklace of wisdom to the Jewish law. This tractate (ca. AD 220) recalls the instruction handed down from teachers of 300 BC to AD 200. The quote arises in the context of praising the Law, “for it gives life to them that practice it both in this world and the world to come" (Danby, 460).

We find two quotes in the Tosefta (ca. AD 220–230). Peah 1.3 interprets Proverbs 1:29–31 as “A transgression that bears fruit (pyrwt) [i.e., causes other transgressions] brings a penalty (pyrwt) [in this world], [but] one that does not bear fruit (pyrwt) [i.e., does not cause other transgression] brings no penalty [in this world]." Megillah 3:23 refers to Prov 1:31, “On the top of the walls she cries out," in the context of referring to Jewish builders, who constructed synagogues only on the highest places of town (Neusner, I:48, 650). A minor tractate of the Talmud (6th c.) also refers to Prov 1:31, when Rabbi Nathan interprets the Aboth (’Aboth D’Rabbi Nathan XL:2). He deliberates whether the acts of man lay fruit now and/or in the world to come, citing Proverbs to present one perspective: “Some say that transgression also bears fruit, as it is stated, ‘Therefore shall they eat the fruit of their own way . . .’" (Cohen, 197).

The Midrash Mishle (Midrash on Proverbs; MM) marks a transition point into medieval Jewish scholarship. Dated around the 9th c., MM combines the prior, Jewish styles of non-contextual verse commentary and narrative legends with contextual exegesis and philology that characterized the medieval period. MM comments extensively on Proverbs 1 in comparison to other chapters and allows no precise locale for its original composition (Visotzky, 2–3, 10–12).

MM comments at length on Prov 1:1, surveying answers to the question, “But where can wisdom be found?" (Job 28:12). Reponses include the heart and the head. But consistently wisdom comes from God and most interestingly precedes Torah (ibid., 17). A dialogue supplements the narrative of Sheba and Solomon (1 Kgs 10) as the queen poses additional tests and marvels at his wisdom. The sage questions and explains the title of Proverbs: “Does not everyone know he is David’s son, since he states his own name, Solomon? Hence you learn that everything he did was meant for David’s honor . . . doesn’t everyone know that he was king of Israel? Hence you learn that everything he did was for the honor of Israel" (ibid., 20).

According to the Rabbis, verses 5–6 carry eternal significance. For gaining wisdom procures life now and in the world to come, and studying epigrams (melisah) saves one from “the torment of Gehenna in the future world (ibid., 22). On 1:7, Rabbi Zera finds disagreement between Solomon and David, who link the fear of the Lord with, respectively, knowledge and wisdom (Ps 111:10). Hence he questions, “Are wisdom and knowledge of equal weight?" (ibid.).

To “heed the discipline of your father" (1:8) receives a host of interpretations but consistently points to the instruction delivered at Sinai. Following these commands, and likewise neglecting them (1:11), has totalizing implications: “if you do follow this advice, you will find that you have fulfilled all of the commandments of the Torah, whereas if you do not, you will find that you have transgressed all the commandments of the Torah." And again, the warning stretches beyond this life, since “sin is also stored up for the future world" (ibid., 23). The MM details an extensive connection between vv. 11–14 and the Joseph narrative of Genesis, from the pit of Gen 37:29 to finding treasure in the sale of Joseph.

Verse 14 continues historical reference by equating lot with God’s Torah and possessing a common purse with the moment at Sinai (Exod 34:7). Verses 15–16 become allegorical. The evil-doers are the nations of the world and their path, idol worship. So the figure of wisdom at vv. 20–21 becomes a sage who raises his voice in Torah at the head of the busy streets, i.e., without shame. The characters named in vv. 22-23 encompass the wilderness generation, the evil kingdom that rejects Torah, and Israel amidst the golden calf. Finally, the reprimands that follow (vv. 24–25) receive many interpretations, from the voices of Moses, God, Jeremiah, and the angel Gabriel.

In the Midrash Mishle, Rabbis attended to the Jewish narratives, recalling Solomon, Sheba, David, and Joseph, and imply that Solomon authored the first chapter of Proverbs. They also interpret allegorically or analogously, as the scenes in vv. 14ff. refer, at times universally, to a variety of characters and objects from the Jewish world. Overall, MM and previous Jewish literature reveal a thread of concern regarding the eternal realm, particularly in terms of man’s deeds.

17th–18th Century

Simon Patrick (1626–1707) produced a commentary on much of the Old Testament. He dedicates his work on Proverbs to the Duchess of Monmouth, whom he expects will find Solomon’s wisdom quite attractive and applicable. Patrick’s interpretation of 1:6 accounts for the use of the term learning as verbal eloquence. He claims that the verse promises one will both comprehend maxims and express them with elegance. Patrick references other cultural and literary traditions. In reference to 1:8, he contrasts the Persian, Roman, and Greek empires, who all consulted only the father for wisdom, with the biblical, paired ministry of mother and father. He notes Sirach 3:1–16 and later appeals to Jason in 2 Macc 6ff. as a comparative example of one “undone by his successes" (Patrick, 5).

Like Matthew Henry (below), Patrick emphasizes the sin of financial pursuits. Commenting on 1:18–19, he reminds his reader that the love of money is the root of all evil. At verse 20, he expounds the public call of wisdom by locating her instruction in manifold voices: consciences, laws of God, mouths of his prophets and ministers, examples of good men, and the Lord’s providence and wise governance. Wisdom expresses herself in each of these. Concluding Prov 1, his theology reflects the peaceful assurance of the wise, who “rests secure with a watchful providence over him" (ibid., 7).

Matthew Henry (1662–1714) did not overlook or underwork Proverbs in his Complete Commentary (1708–1710). He reveres Solomon, assured of the king’s authorship, claiming his name signifies “peaceable," which also describes his character and reign. As son of David, Henry even labels Solomon as a type of Christ, who also “opened his mouth in parables or proverbs" (Henry, 791). Solomon wrote with malleable, rash posterity in mind but nevertheless purposed his proverbs “for the use and benefit of all that in every age and place will govern themselves by these" (ibid.).

Henry reads the text through the lens of morality and comments with severe language. He calls those who reject God in v. 7 atheists, fools, and “strangers and enemies to wisdom" (793). The gang at v. 16 hastens because “Satan filled their hearts," and their voice sounds the “temptations of Satan" (795). Nor for the believer does Henry spare a strong word. On the father’s warning at v. 15, he elaborates on man’s relationship to sin: “we must use necessary violence upon ourselves to refrain our foot from it, and check ourselves if at any time we take the least step towards it" (ibid.). Henry structures verses 7–9 together and as central to Proverbs revealing his concentration. The passage constitutes in two principles the fundamental laws of morality: to regard God as supreme and honor parents.

Like Patrick (above), Henry emphasizes the financial aspect of the enemy’s lures. Verses 8–9 contrast virtue with worldly wealth and dignity. Verse 10 unveils cruelty and covetousness, the latter stressing an overvalue of the wealth of this world. In verse 19 we witness destruction in “the love of money" (ibid.). Henry also expounds the manifold ways in which Wisdom speaks: through human reason, civil government, divine revelation, and Christ. Hence he claims the fool in v. 29 rebels against both reason and religion.

Possibly Henry’s most interesting conclusion stems from vv. 20–23. He interprets Wisdom’s words as a sort of allegory to Christ’s gospel call. In this passage he hears a rebuke of sinners and their obstinacy, a willingness to plead and reason, an invitation to repent, and an enabler of grace—the Holy Spirit. In similar fashion but on another theme, the concluding verses of chapter one refer to the “inexorable justice of the last judgment" on some, and for others, “to dwell safely in this world, and to be quiet from the fear of evil in the other world" (797; italics original). In sum, Henry esteems Solomon, stresses morality and money, and places Christ and his gospel on the lips of Lady Wisdom then extends her judgment into the eschaton.

Verse by Verse Exegesis

1:1

Summary of 1:1–7

The author of Proverbs commends the book through its title. With a series of purpose statements, he promises the content and skills of wisdom to his reader, whom he portrays as the wise one invited to assume this posture by attending to the teachings of the book. Humility undergirds the introduction as necessary for learning and teaching. It then constitutes the first principle of wisdom in verse 7 where the education of Proverbs becomes explicitly theological, inseparable from the fear of the Lord in its inception to its fullness. 

The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:

The title indicates that what follows are the proverbs of Solomon. That is, the proverbs authored by him (genitive of authorship). Authorship does not in this case imply inscription, since we find that Hezekiah’s men transcribed some of the proverbs of Solomon (25:1). The title at 1:1 probably stands over the entire book, at least through chapter 29, and not only chapters 1–9. If it applied only to the prologue, we would expect the characteristic “these also are proverbs of Solomon" (10:1; cf. 24:23; 25:1) to begin the next collection; yet we find only the proverbs of Solomon. The purpose of the extended title, then, is to honor Solomon and commend the book by ascribing him son of David, King of Israel. This parallels ANE texts of sages who gathered instruction, incorporating past teachings: “There is thus no contradiction between the claim of Solomonic authorship in Prov 1:1 and the ascription of various proverbs to other sages. Solomon was, in the view of later times, a scholar of ancient texts" (Fox, 58).

A proverb (mischle—mashal) spans from a short memorable saying (1 Sam 10:11ff) to a lengthy allegory (Ezek 17:2ff). It is most an sage-saying, possibly those that have gained currency, become known and widespread. The fundamental sense is “that which stands with something . . . makes something stand forth . . . representing" (Delitzsch, 38). As the title of the book, these proverbs include not only pithy tropes as in 10:1–29:27 but stand for the book’s entire contents including colorful instruction (1:8–19), illustrative examples (1:20–33), numbered sayings (6:16–9; 30:21–3), and similitudes (10:1). Though he may overstate with only, Whybray notes the diversity: “The only common feature of the masal as it is understood in Proverbs is that it is an utterance proper only to the ‘wise’: in the mouths of fools it is ludicrously inappropriate (26:7, 9)" (13).

See also Background

1:2

to know wisdom and instruction

      to understand sayings of understanding

The infinitive breaks from the title and introduces an invitation to the book (1:2–6) by enumerating its purposes that depend upon the reader or listener to hear (v. 5). The terms throughout this section do distinguish facets of wisdom, but the context emphasizes their similarity. These verses display an array of concepts that constitute wisdom and find expression throughout the book. See also Introduction.

to know: the term yada‘ has a broad range of meaning but in the context of Proverbs’ education, it results from hearing and attending (4:1; 9:9). The knower has grasped content and become aware of the situation, with the objects of wisdom and instruction suggesting experiential comprehension. In contrast, the fool/wicked does not know; he is ignorant, especially of what lies behind his actions and circumstance (4:19; 7:23).

wisdom and instruction: narrowly, wisdom is content (2:1–2) and broadly that which Proverbs as a whole seeks to inculcate (cf. 1:7). It joins instruction, which involves discipline though not necessarily punishment. Instruction often holds an educational purpose when used with God’s people (Deut 11:2; Jer 2:30; for punishment as tutelage for repentance, see Hos 5:2, 15). We may best call instruction, schooling or tough education. It implies an instructor, and those who receive it submit to the authority, ideally in humility (Prov 15:33). The emphasis is ethical rather than practical (cf. 1:3), which becomes clear by verse 7 where wisdom and instruction conclusively bind with ethics and religion.

to understand: this specifies to know as a conceptual faculty. It is not only to hear something (Isa 6:9) but to discern or distinguish between true and false or good and bad (1 Kgs 3:9). It implies that man can perceive beneath the surface (20:24) or understand what he is told (29:19). So sayings of understanding (insight, ESV; NRSV; NIV) proceed from the mouth of the insightful. Verse 2b aims “to comprehend utterances of intelligence, i.e., such as proceed from intelligence and give expression to it" (Delitzsch, 38).

1:3

to receive instruction in wise dealing: righteousness, and justice, and equity

Literally, to take (laqach); the sense here is to procure or acquire (BDB, 543). It includes listening to instruction (1:8) yet cannot be forced: “[They] did not listen to (hear, shamah) the voice of the Lord their God and did not take instruction" (Jer 7:28; cf. Jer 2:30). The relationship between instruction and wise dealing, is one of purpose. This instruction aims to produce or impart prudent behavior. See also, “the fear of the Lord is instruction in (literally of) wisdom" (Prov 15:33; cf. “chastisement of our peace"; in the ESV, “the chastisement that brought us peace" [Isa 53:5]).

The verse unpacks the contents of wise dealing (prudent behavior, NIV) in a list of three attributes. Righteousness and justice commonly occur together in the Old Testament. Christopher write notes, “In the broadest terms . . . mispat (justice) is what needs to be done in a given situation if people and circumstances are to be restored to conformity with sedeq (righteousness). Mispat is a qualitative set of actions—something you do . . . Sedeq is a qualitative state of affairs—something you aim to achieve" (257).

Equity rounds the trio as thought or action that is straight and true. For example, lips that “speak what is right" (Prov 23:16, ESV) or when God “judges the people with uprightness" (Ps 9:8b[9], ESV; direct parallel with sedeq). These three terms appear again in Prov 2:9, where they amount to “every good path." That context clarifies that they stem not from man’s notions of social justice or definition of integrity but from the wisdom given by God himself (2:6, 10). The trio forms a comprehensive concept: thought and action that holds to a God-given standard. Thus the cooperative reader of Proverbs should expect instruction that imparts wise dealing, that which is “dutiful, right, and honest" (Delitzsch, 39).

1:4

to give to the simple ones prudence

      to the youth knowledge and discretion

The aim of Proverbs heightens as its reader, receiving wisdom, instruction, and wise dealing, may also give to those in need.

Simple: the simple ones (here plural) are those not yet given to evil or committed to good (gullible, Waltke, 173). At the outset of life, they need faculties of judgment and thoughtfulness in order to avoid folly and embrace wisdom; they are ethically, religiously, and intellectually malleable. Hence they need prudence: “The simple believes everything; but the prudent gives thought to his steps" (Prov 14:15; cf. 8:5; 19:25). In Proverbs, prudence notes thoughtfulness in one’s ways, but elsewhere it can devise ill in terms of craftiness or cunning (Exod 21:14; Ps 83:3).

Youth: the term spans from adolescent to those in their thirties, ranging not only physically but experientially (Waltke, 178). In parallel with the simple this verse emphasizes their nascent approach to life. The youth appears only once more in chapters 1–9 and is again joined to the simple at the outset of committing folly (7:7). In the context of receiving wisdom, Solomon identifies himself a little youth/child (na’ar qaton); he needs knowledge (1 Kgs 3:7; see Scriptural Relations: 1 Kgs 3–4). Discretion (possibly knowledge of discretion) aligns with prudence as a skill of shrewdness that may plan rightly (Prov 5:2; Jer 30:24) yet quite often wickedly (Prov 24:8; Ps 21:11[12]; Job 21:27). 

1:5

Let the wise one hear and increase learning

      and the one who understands acquire guidance

The series of goals now culminates in an admonition to hear. Hearing is not merely listening to or reading words but attending to and valuing the message that they aim to communicate (cf. 1:8; Isa 6:9). This is the vanguard of commands in the prologue of Proverbs, which urges the reader to hear through a variety of terms (2:1; 3:1; 4:1; 8:6; et. al). While many scholars claim verses 4–5 indicate a dual audience—the young/simple and the already learned—the passage most naturally addresses a single reader—the wise.

Proverbs typically portrays characters in extreme form. They are foolish, intelligent, or gullible to the uttermost extent. The purpose of these caricatures is to present “exemplars by which to judge one’s life in many situations" (Waltke, 125). So here, the author addresses the wise because that is the role one should assume. Yet the wise is not a cocksure know-it-all or one who has attained the summit of sagedom, but rather one who is teachable and willing to learn (1:7; 9:8; 10:8). The term frequently adjoins the son who is directly addressed throughout the book (1:8; 13:20; 15:20). The father does not address simpletons but portrays them in scenes that deter the son from such character (1:20ff; chs. 7–9). Thus verse 5 not only commands but invites the reader to posture themselves as wise and so gain the benefits enumerated in verses 2–6. In the words of Timothy Sandoval, it exhorts the addressee “to assume the subject position of the wise and understanding person . . . he in fact will become if he accepts the text’s invitation, stays the course, and strives to understand Proverb’s wisdom" (466).

The purpose of hearing is to increase learning. It refers not to amassed content but to persuasiveness or teaching power. The father gives good precepts (4:2a; parallels torah); Moses’ nourishes the Israelites with teaching (Deut 32:2); sometimes referred to as doctrine (Job 11:4, ESV). In Proverbs, it is most clearly skilled eloquence (16:21, 23; cf. 16:21–30), and in an unclear instance emphasizes gaining more learning in the context of verbal responses (9:9; cf. 9:7).

guidance: often counsel (NASB), the term derives from a maritime context as the root chaval relates to “rope-pulling and hence steering (a ship), used figuratively of wise counsel" (TWOT §596a). It is an ethically neutral skill that emphasizes management or directing (11:14; 20:18; Job 37:12), applies to the individual, and is often used towards others. Hence, by “wise guidance you can wage your war" (Prov 24:6, ESV) or as the thoughts of the righteous are just, so the “counsels of the wicked are deceitful" (12:5, ESV). Whybray applies it as “the ability to steer one’s course successfully through life" (34). The one who understands parallels the wise yet adds the flavor of humility; it is “one who is caused to understand or lets himself be informed" (Delitzsch, 40). The verb hear (5a) implies this humility, a theme developed throughout the introduction.

1:6

to understand a proverb and an epigram

      the words of the wise ones and their enigmas

This verse is not exclusively an exposition of verse 5b, since guidance includes a notion of receiving and giving. To understand may connect to verse 2b where sayings of understanding anticipates the words of the wise (see note). This passage also promises the interpretive faculty but emphasizes its objects of study. The proverb (mashal) connects with headings in the book (1:1; 10:1; 25:1) thus words of the wise ones probably refers to a particular group of sages (see 1:1). Proverb appears with epigram and enigma in Habakkuk 2:6, words that may refer to riddles but also to known, verbally transmitted actions of God (cf. Ps 78:1–2). This suggests that the terms are less distinct but rather cohere and refer to the book of Proverbs itself as the target of understanding. Hence, verse 6 indicates what the successful reader of Proverbs will do: “engage in a dynamic interpretation of the language that follows in the literary artifact in order to interpret and understand the sages’ instruction" (Sandoval, 470–1).

1:7

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge

      wisdom and instruction fools despise

fear of the Lord: the phrase is not simply understood as a pair of two individual terms but comprises a unique concept. Broadly, it is reverential subordination or humility towards the covenant God of Israel (Prov 15:33; 22:4; Exod 3:13–4). Rather than a point of arrival, it is taught and learned, characterizing the righteous (Ps 34:12; see below). Elsewhere the fear of the Lord is wisdom itself (Job 28:28). At this point of the introduction, Israel’s reflection of ANE wisdom acquires a unique brilliance: “Fear of God in Egyptian and Mesopotamian Wisdom is one virtue among many. It is not isolated and identified as the initial step toward wisdom or a deep motive for wise behavior. Its importance in Wisdom literature is an Israelite innovation" (Fox, 71).

beginning: literally, the head, reshit is first in time or the principle part or root; some add a third, vague category of essence (cf. Waltke, 181). In this verse, the temporal sense is forefront due to its context—the outset of the book—and similar term in 9:10 (tchillah), which must mean beginning. However, this does not mean that fear is not a part of wisdom/knowledge (Fox, 68; cf. 9:10; 15:33); for reshit is also wisdom’s principle part, which becomes manifest as we read. Hence we see the inchoate stage of fear—a choice at the outset of wisdom (1:29; cf. 2:5; 4:7). Yet we also see a continual process: “continue in the fear of the Lord all the day" (23:17, ESV; cf. 28:14). And finally, the paragons of wisdom possess it (Prov 31:30; Isa 11:3) and command it (Eccl 12:13).

fools: the motto of the wise acknowledges their antithesis. The fool despises the education of Proverbs and views its promises of knowledge and skill with contempt. Whybray remarks, “to reject the conduct recommended in the chapters which follow – is the mark of fools" (36). A small population will stem from this fundamentally foolish character—the wicked, the scoffer, the one who lacks sense—but they all share his primary fault: pride. Verses 2–7a portray the wise in a posture of humility, yet the contempt of the fool is “rooted in their pride," and in this context, particularly towards God (Waltke, 181; Ps 31:18[19]; 123:4). Even within the first chapter of Proverbs, they hate knowledge (22), refuse to listen (24), and suffer for their complacency (32).

1:8

Verses 8–9 stand as a heading over vv. 8–19 and probably vv. 20–33 (cf., my son, 2:1). The father admonishes his son to listen to familial wisdom and upholds her as an authoritative, attractive, and protective possession, motivating the son to value her and listen. Implied is the temptation to leave wisdom due to the attractiveness of alternative prizes. 

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction

      and do not abandon your mother’s teaching

The author adopts the voice of a father speaking to his son. This locates the following section (vv. 8–19) in the household, Israel’s regular place of instruction (see Background: Households). He commands the son to hear. This implies more than auditory awareness; it urges the son to listen or attend to the father’s instruction (2:1; 3:1; 4:1; et. al). Isaiah distinguishes two senses of hearing: “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive" (Isa 6:9). Our passage clearly has the latter in view—true understanding and perception. The verb connects the son with the ideal reader, the wise, who is also admonished to hear (v. 5). The relationship between father and son presumes obeying the parent (Exod 20:12; Deut 21:18–21). For instruction, see notes at 1:2.

abandon: the mother’s teaching, should not be abandoned. The term natash parallels ‘azab (commonly abandon/forsake) with God (Pss 27:9; 94:14) or men (Deut 32:15) as subject. In most all occurrences, the subject is abandoning something already possessed (LXX apotheo supports; cf. 1:25). Thus the son may have a previous awareness or possession of instruction.

teaching: though torah frequently refers to God’s law, here, in parallel to instruction and possessed by the mother, the term teaching probably does not presume divine status. However, this does not deny the mother’s voice divine authority within Proverbs (6:20; 31:1; cf. Ps 73:1–3).

1:9

For they are a wreath of grace for your head, necklaces for your neck

They refers to instruction and teaching (v. 8), not to the parents, and constitutes a single wreath. Hence the author equates the wisdom of father and mother. The wreath is one of grace (“graceful garland," ESV; “collar of gold," LXX) which may suggest one of favor or beauty. The emphasis is its quality of excellence, a prize bestowed once more by wisdom herself (4:9). Along with necklaces, it conveys authority (Gen 41:39–45), but more than that finds meaning in the Ma’at tradition. If the symbols parallel Egyptian use, then the wreath signifies victory and vindication over enemies. The necklaces—Ma’at himself—represented guidance and protection as these teachings later do (2:8, 10–11; 3:23; 4:6; Waltke, 187–8).

1:10

My son, if sinners persuade you, do not consent

The emphatic my son renews the urgency of the father’s voice (see 1:8). This verse introduces a scene that expounds Proverbs 16:29: “A man of violence persuades (entices, ESV) his neighbor and causes him to go in a way that is not good." The verb persuade carries a sense of “to make open" (Delitzsch, 43) and consent refers to being willing or “giving in" (NIV), which marks not only a psychological tilt but an “actual behavior pattern and action that gives expression to that inner intention" (Waltke, 190).

sinners: the root (chata’) means to miss a goal or path (BDB, 306). In Proverbs, sinners are antithetic to the righteous (11:31; 13:21) and grouped with correlative terms of the wicked (cf. 19:1–3). Sinners are probably no more contemptuous of God than the fool since they commit “disqualifying error" in many circumstances (Waltke, 190; cf. 14:21). In the context of chapter one with the language of way and fear of the Lord (cf. vv. 7, 15, 19), sinners miss the path of wisdom and pose an alternative to the son’s choosing the fear of the Lord (cf. 23:17, “Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day," ESV).

1:11

If they say, “Come with us. Let us ambush for blood.

      Let us lurk for the innocent, for no reason.

The father’s warning from verse 10 takes animated form as he dictates a hypothetic scene of temptation. Although exaggerated (see at 1:12) the danger was real: “As widespread as foot travel was by both day and night, lurking bandits and wild animals made walking hazardous" (King and Stager, 186).

For blood is commonly used with the verb to shed. Here it refers to the blood of a person put to death, one guilty of no wrong (11b; cf. v. 16). To lurk, elsewhere, describes predatory animals (Ps 10:9; Lam 3:10–11) and a gang of townsmen intending to kill (Judg 16:2). The sinners target the innocent victim “with no reason at all" (Waltke, 183). They persuade through speech that impels with three imperatives and attracts through the collective us. Their words betray a way alternative to wisdom’s through language of coming (literally to walk [halak], see 1:15; cf. v. 18).

1:12

Let us swallow them like Sheol, alive,

      and whole as those who go down a pit.

The murderous intent of these men (v. 11) and following pit (grave) indicate that Sheol refers to death. In this context, the pit can be a grave (Ps 28:1; Isa 14:19) or a trap for killing (Gen 37:22). An eternal state such as hell is probably not in view, rather, these men will mortally consume their victims like Sheol. They liken themselves to death itself (Isa 5:14; Hab 2:5; cf. LXX, “we shall remove the remembrance of him from the earth"). Whole (tmimim) means either physically complete or morally blameless ones (2:21; Fox, 87); although the latter coheres with the innocent in verse 11, physical soundness, or completely, matches the corporeal emphasis of verse 12.

Korah: the author may allude to Korah, where a group of Israelites challenged Moses’ authority. Because they “despised the Lord" (Num 16:30; cf. Prov 1:30, “despise my reproof"), the earth “swallowed them" and they “went down alive to Sheol" (Num 16:32–3). We should not blend situations but note that the author may hint at the gang’s tragic end (cf. Prov 1:16, 18). Whybray reveals an Ugarit backdrop: “in the myth of Baal and Mot, Baal ‘goes down into the throat of divine Mot’ – that is, of Most (Death), son of El – and so dies" (40).

The sinners have progressed from reasonless aggression (v. 11) to aligning themselves with the power of death. Would these tempt a young son in the ancient Near East? Felons, especially a picture this extreme, arise nowhere else in ANE wisdom literature. Further, Fox claims that this was “not the sort of dilemma actually faced by most juveniles" (93). Yet this sharpens the scene’s rhetorical effect: “one perhaps intended to cause surprise, even discomfort. Is life really that dangerous?" (ibid.). The father intends not to paint a realistic portrait of temptation but to portray an extremity of wickedness in order to clarify the path antithetical to wisdom (v. 15) and later label it evil (v. 16).

1:13

All precious wealth we will find,

      we will fill our houses with plunder.

Having consumed their victims (v. 12) the sinners now consume the possessions of the dead. Their plunder is not generally valuable or costly things (NIV/NRSV) but wealth with a significant level of quality (Prov 8:18; 13:7; cf. 6:30–1). The sinners underscore the excess of loot with all and promise to fill their houses, which may suggest they are local citizens (Whybray, 40) but certainly poses a rival to the prize of wisdom (v. 9).

1:14

Cast your lot in our midst,

      we will all have one purse."

The gang again directly includes the son in their scheme (cf. v. 11) yet continue their appeal to the collective. If the son participates in their treachery, he will glean a share of the reward. Yet as Delitzsch notes, their pitch is no contradiction: “Do not a share by lot and a common purse exclude one another? . . . The oneness of the purse consists in this, that the booty which each of them gets, belongs not wholly or chiefly to him, but to the whole together, and is disposed of by lot; so that, as far as possible, he who participated not at all in the affair in obtaining it, may yet draw the greatest prize" (45). In other words, the son, even with minimal effort and no blood-thirst, may gain wealth merely through participation. One pictures a coterie surrounding an unsavvy youth: “Just sign the dotted line, and what’s ours is yours."

1:15

My son, do not go in the way with them,

      withhold your foot from their path.

With my son the father recurs his admonitions. The command reflects his initial warning (v. 10), but directly plays on the words of the sinners and adds the concept of way. Just as the gang said “Come with us" (lakah ’tnu) so the father rejoins “do not go . . . with them" (talak ’tam).

way/path: To join the gang means to set foot on their path (derek, 15a; ntivah, 15b). The father employs three terms for a co-referential concept (’orchot, v. 19). Waltke unfolds three attributes of the Hebrew way: “(1) ‘course of life’ (i.e., the character and context of life); (2) ‘conduct of life’ (i.e., specific choices and behavior); and (3) ‘consequences of that conduct’ (i.e., the inevitable destiny of such a lifestyle)" (194). The father beckons the son to take no part in the sinner’s manner of life nor, as we shall see, its inevitable end (v. 19). Raymond Brown claims the path is inherently communal: “A path can only be formed by the passage of many feet; no lone individual can form a path. . . . at stake is the very survival of the covenant community, on behalf of which wisdom and her arsenal of virtues wage their defense" (34).

1:16

For their feet run to evil,

      and hasten to shed blood.

The father supplies a motivating reason for his warning (v. 15). Because his claim is obvious already, as the sinners themselves declare a murderous plan (v. 11), the reference to blood introduces suspense that the father resolves in verse 18—it is their own blood the gang lurks for. Pedagogically, the passage explicitly labels the morality of the gang. Their feet run to evil. If the father’s reference to sinners, causeless murder, and death-like ambition (vv. 10–12) failed to indicate a wicked morality, he brands their way in a term—evil. Waltke notes that the term (ra‘) stands for either moral evil or calamity and in this context represents a double entendre, “which aptly fits both the preceding descriptions of the enticement and the following calamitous consequences" (195). The verb forms suggest that this description typifies such men. The author clothes the father’s moralizing with full-scale theology later in the prologue, where the Lord hates such characteristics, and they are an abomination to him (6:16–8). For possible relation to Isa 59:7a, see Whybray, 41.

1:17

For in vain is a net scattered in the eyes of any bird;

An illustration constitutes the father’s second reason for his warning (v. 15). Here chinnam (no reason, v. 11) means without effect. The final phrase is literally, “in the eyes of any possessor/owner of a wing," and the Hebrew way of referring to a bird. Birds are sometimes depicted as unintelligent (Hos 7:11; Eccl 9:12), and moreover the simple youth is likened to a snared bird with respect to his ignorance, “for he does not know that it will cost him his life" (Prov 7:23b, ESV; cf. 7:21–3). This suggests that the simple is analogous to the bird as one who consents to the gang’s way (i.e., is caught in their [blatant] snare). The son, however, should not identify with the animal but dread the very thought of being so bird-brained. Hence the father drives the son towards wisdom. The image complicates as the bird also represents the gang, which falls prey to its own trap (v. 18).

1:18

But they, for their own blood they ambush,

      they lurk for their own lives.

The father turns a sharp juxtaposition between the birds (v. 17) and the gang (a waw unnecessary subject, they). Less-than-intelligent animals can avoid an obvious trap, but these sinners fall prey to their own schemes. The language again reflects the gang’s persuasion (cf. v. 15) and resolves the suspense of verse 16 (see note). Those who “ambush[ed] for blood and lurk[ed] for the innocent" (v. 11), the father claims, ambush for their own blood and lurk for their own lives. Nephesh (life or soul) need not imply more than physical life in light of the verbs and parallel blood. Thus the father interprets their claims for the son, revealing a paradoxical truth. (cf. the LXX: “For those who partake in murder treasure up evil for themselves; and the evil ruin of lawless men.")

1:19

Such are the ways of everyone greedy for gain,

      the life of its possessors it takes.

Translations interpret the phrase botz‘e batza‘ with a value judgment (“gains by violence," NASB; “greedy for unjust gain," ESV) but the terms do not necessarily include either. It always reflects a “money-grubbing attitude" (Kidner, 58; cf. Prov 15:27; Ezek 22:27) in a disapproving context (Jer 6:13; 8:10; Hab 2:9; Ps 10:3). Life (nephesh) here may mean more than physical life, but see note at v. 18. The it of 19b refers not to plural ways but singular gain.

Summary of 1:8–19 

To conclude, the father universalizes (v. 19). He compares an extreme case of ignorant fools and their tragic end with everyone who strives for what the sinners value. The wreath of wisdom (v. 9) and plunder of murder (v. 13) confront the son. Yet the father has interpreted his hypothetical scenario. He exposes the true moral and futile nature of the sinners’ vocalized plot—it is ultimately the way that leads to death (cf. v. 15). Hence two admonishes resound: “hear, my son" (v. 8) and “do not walk in the way with [sinners]" (v. 15). In what follows, the father employs a third voice to bolster his instruction.

1:20

Summary of 1:20–33

The author portrays the figure of Wisdom in the bustling city center. Overheard by all and in prophetic language, she calls to the simple, fools, and scoffers, promising understanding if they turn to her words. Yet they reject her and will face a storm of calamity. Thus she turns to the remaining crowd and draws a lesson from foolishness, reiterating the fools’ neglect and tracing their way to its conclusion—death. In contrast to fools, she commends the way of the one who hears as begetting peace and safety.    

Wisdom shouts in the street,

      in the squares she gives her voice.

The distinction between father and author is not clear cut. However, here begins a second lesson, similar yet distinguished from the first (vv. 8–19). Chochmot is placed emphatically in the Hebrew; as the plural form of wisdom, it is either the Phoenician singular or most likely the Hebrew plural for intensity and fullness (Kidner, 58; Prov 9:1; cf. 24:7; Ps 49:3[4]). Her shouting (ranan) conveys a clear, shrill voice (Delitzsch, 49). Pedagogy has left the household (1:8) and arrived in the street and squares—the “open air" or city center (ibid.; see Background: Cities). Compared with the father, Wisdom delivers an invitation once private to the public (cf. this pattern in 30:1–9, 10–31); and in contrast to the sinners, “she makes her counter-appeal to the pupil" (Whybray, 44).

1:21

At the head of the tumult she calls,

      at the doors of the gates in the city she says her sayings.

Wisdom says her sayings (or speech, NASB). The author conclusively emphasizes Wisdom’s words, which he features throughout vv. 20–1. Wisdom is a matter of hearing and heeding the proper voice (cf. at 1:8–9, 11). See notes at 1:20 and Background: Cities.

1:22

“How long, simple ones, will you love simplicity?

      and scoffers delight themselves in scoffing,

      and fools hate knowledge?

Wisdom introduces her speech with a question, identifying those in the city center with alternative loves. The terms convey affection and suggest that knowledge and hence wisdom is not valued. Her call begins and ends to the many who reject her (cf. 1:32) and concludes with the individuals who hear (1:33).

We should not read the you as addressing the reader, since the passage nowhere invites us to identify with the simple (cf. 1:4–5). Moreover, the author portrays a scene here rather than direct address, where he invites us to imagine a city with the Lady calling to its crowd (vv. 20–1). She first addresses the wicked yet turns to teach a lesson to onlookers (cf. 1:28ff).

Scoffers: generally aligned with the wicked (9:7), they particularly hate rebuke (15:12), and stand as a warning-lesson for the simple (19:25; 21:11). For scoffers, Proverbs spares no harsh word: he is an “abomination to mankind" (24:9, ESV); “‘Scoffer’ is the name of the arrogant, haughty man who acts in arrogant pride" (21:24, ESV). Kidner sets their actions apart: “The mischief he does is not the random mischief of the ordinary fool, but the deeper damage of the ‘debunker’ and deliberate trouble-maker" (Proverbs, 39). For simple see 1:4; for fools see 1:7.

1:23

If you turn to my reproof,

      behold, I shall pour out my spirit to you,

I shall cause you to know my words.

If you turn to: her summons implies not only a response to but a placing of oneself under her reproof; to turn towards (to heed; Fox, 99; NRSV). Reproof is a source of wisdom (Prov 15:31, 32; 29:15). “It is expected to be effective unless the recipient actively ‘hates’ and rejects it" (Prov 5:12; 12:1); and unlike English reproof, it “does not always presume a past failing" (Fox, 99). For those with a proper posture, she promises comprehension of her words (cf. 1:5; Isa 6:9). Behold suggests immediacy; the attentive must not wait long.

pour out my (ruach): this pouring is a free flow (Prov 15:2, 28; Ps 119:171). Spirit here probably means thoughts given utterance (Ps 33:6; Isa 11:4; NIV, NRSV). Following the verb and in parallel to the enlightenment of 23c, it may emphasize the active power of words. Contra Fox, we do not see an emphasis on feelings or temper rather than intellect (100). The Lady bears wisdom, communicates it, and promises understanding if the negligent would place themselves in her school of reproof.

1:24

Because I call and you refuse,

      I stretch out my hand and no one gives attention.

Because: is best because of the fact that. She introduces reasons (vv. 24–5) with their outcome in verses 26ff. The verbs emphasize not past but present rejection (cf. have called, ESV). She is calling and the wicked are refusing (cf. 1:21, 28).

stretch out my hand: Either to beckon the wandering (Delitzsch; Isa 65:2) or signifying power and aggression (Fox, 100), probably the latter. It is typically a prophetic phrase of the Lord in judgment or using power against an enemy (Dt 4:34; 32:21). However, his hand stretched in power and aggression ultimately desires a right response (Isa 5:25; Jer 21:5; Isa 65 refers back to judgment [cf. vv. 2, 12]; cf. Prov 1:22 and reproof in 1:23).

1:25

and you neglect all my counsel,

      and my reproof you do not consent to.

The synonymous verbs continue a present emphasis with because implied (see v. 24).

Counsel: often advice, it is a pre-provided means that guides wise living: thus the wise listen to counsel (Prov 12:15), it begets future wisdom (19:20), it establishes plans (20:18), and the Lord sets its standard (19:21). Thus the wicked here reject the wise counsel of Wisdom and feast upon their own (cf. 1:30–1). For reproof see 1:23. For consent see 1:10 (cf. 1:30).

1:26

Indeed, I, at your calamity I will laugh;

      I will mock when your dread comes,

The result or outcome based in 1:24 begins with the emphatic Indeed, I. She will laugh, in contempt (BDB, 965), at the very onslaught of dread that comes from inside or out (1:32–3; Ps 31:13[14]). For the significance of her location and imagery, see Background: Cities.

1:27

when your dread comes like a storm

      and your calamity like a whirlwind will come,

when distress and anguish come upon you.

The storm builds line by line, and the repetition leaves no doubt that terror will come. The last two words of v. 27c conclude the storm imagery with vocal artistry. The Hebrew verset reads, “bvo alechem tzarah wtzuchah." See 1:26.

1:28

Then they will call me and I will not answer,

      they will seek me diligently and will not find me.

In this city scene, the Lady Wisdom now turns from addressing the simple, scoffers, and fools, and speaks to the remaining population. Whybray claims there has been no adequate explanation for the switch from second to third person (43). However, it seems that Wisdom draws a lesson by pointing to the sinners—“they will call"—who become a demonstration of denying wisdom. So again, the reader is not to identify with the simpleton or fool but should watch, hear, and learn; this strategy mirrors the father who illustrates and expounds (cf. 1:11–4 and 1:15–9). The coming storm of dread inaugurates a decision (vv. 26–7). The simple, scoffers, and fools finally respond to Wisdom in desperation, but they call too late or miss the mark.

call . . . and not find me: The language resembles a prophetic context where the Lord responds to the pride of Israel or her leadership with similar disregard: “With their flocks and herds they shall go to seek the Lord, but they will not find him; he has withdrawn from them" (Hos 5:6; cf. 5:15; Isa 1:15; Mic 3:4; Jer 11:11). They realize something but not true wisdom (see Quotations, Fox, 102).

1:29

Because they hated knowledge,

      and the fear of the Lord they did not choose,

This verse breaks with verse 28 and enumerates reasons for the tragic outcome of verse 31. The change in verb tense marks further reflection (cf. 1:28) as Lady Wisdom continues her lesson in the city center. The simple and fools hated knowledge, the first principle of wisdom (see 1:7). Hence, they “did not choose the fear of the Lord"—the gullible simpleton abandoned it from outset and the fools and scoffers did not change their ways; they maintain their initial attitude (1:22). Wisdom is a choice, stemming from a fear of the Lord in response to a call and resulting in disparate ways of life (see at 1:15).

1:30

They did not consent to my counsel,

      they despised all my reproof

This continues the lesson from verse 29. What Lady Wisdom spoke directly to the simpletons and fools, she now reiterates as a lesson to all who hear (see at 1:24–5).

1:31

So they will eat from the fruit of their way,

      and from their counsels they will be sated.

Because they rejected Wisdom, the simpletons and fools will feed on their own “wisdom." They follow a way of life based upon their own advice. Their fate mirrors that of the gang, who the father reveals “ambush for their own blood" (1:18). For counsel see 1:25. For way see 1:15.

1:32

For the turning away of the simple kills them,

      and the complacency of fools causes them to perish.

Wisdom declares the grounds for her prior lesson (vv. 29–31) and concludes it with a summary of contrasting characters (vv. 32–33). She replaces they (vv. 28–31) with definite subjects—the simple and fool who share the same fate of death. Yet the emphasis lies on the causes of their destruction.

turning away (mshuvat): the term is used almost exclusively in prophetic contexts to describe corporate apostasy (Hos 14:4; Jer 2:19; 3:6, 8). It may emphasize an internal attitude and disorder rather than a sinful deed (Jer 3:22), but we cannot ignore the possibility that, “apostasy from Wisdom and from God are conjoined" (Delitzsch, 53). Wisdom began with an invitation to turn to her reproof (1:23), and concludes with the simpleton’s refusal and implied turning to their own counsel (v. 31). It causes their death.

complacency: the fool’s correlative to the simpleton’s turning away conveys an emotional composure or security, yet in this case not rooted in wisdom (Prov 17:1; Ps 122:7; cf. v. 33). Waltke notes that this disposition “prompted Jehoiakim to disobey God’s prophetic word (Jer. 22:21), Antiochus Epiphanes’ enemies to arm themselves against him (Dan. 8:25; 11:21, 24), and Sodom to do detestable things (Ezek. 16:49)" (212).

1:33

But the one who listens to me dwells in security,

      and is at ease from the dread of evil.

To contrast the collective who turn to their own advice or sit in languor, she juxtaposes the one who hears. Those who attend to Wisdom’s call will find true security, in contrast to the unfounded peace of fools (32b); security derives from (batakh, to trust) and encompasses a state of inner and outer safety. Furthermore, the one who hearers continues undisturbed from the very dread that storms the wicked (26b, 27a).

Wisdom, like the father, universalizes her lesson, portraying the futures of those who neglect and those who listen to her voice. In the end, the wise amount to a single word: hearer (cf. 1:5, 8, 20–21). Verset b looks back upon the calamity that strikes the wicked; verset a looks forward to the protection that wisdom provides (2:7–8, 11–12, 21–22), transitioning to chapter two.

Comparison / Typology

1 Kings 3–4

The theme of wisdom appears in 1 Kings during Solomon’s early reign as king of Israel. The character of wisdom in Kings reflects that of Proverbs 1. It is given by God: “behold, I give you a wise (chakham) and discerning (nabon) mind" (1 Kgs 3:12). Humility is wisdom’s prerequisite (3:7). Wisdom begets action, particularly justice: “the wisdom of God was in him to do justice (mishpat)" (3:28). And it is attractive (4:34; 10:6–9, 24). Thus wisdom in Kings parallels Proverbs, yet not without important distinctions.

The author of 1 Kings applies wisdom to kingship. Wisdom enables Solomon, as the King of Israel, to fulfill his unique role (3:7) and govern his people (3:9) in order that they might prosper in the covenant (3:14; 4:20). In Proverbs, wisdom trickles through the household and offers herself to all in the city square. First Kings reflects the character of wisdom as seen in Proverbs but specifically applied to kingship. While Kings reserves wisdom for the king and Proverbs democratizes wisdom to all of God’s people, both serve the same end—prosperity for the people in the covenant of their Lord (1:7).

Romans 3:15

Paul quotes Proverbs 1:16 at Romans 3:15: “their feet are swift to shed blood." He also has Isaiah in mind, as Rom 3:16–17 continues by quoting Isa 59:7–8. Paul cites Proverbs in the context of his argument that Jews and Gentiles alike are “under sin" (Rom 3:9). That is, they live under its power unable to escape (7:14–15; cf. Gal 3:22). As evidence, Paul claims this does not differ from the words of the Old Testament, as he writes, “just as it has been written" (3:10a). Romans 3:10b–18 is one of his, if not the, longest citations of scripture and begins with man’s rejection of God (10b–12) described in terms of the Psalmist’s enemies who declare “there is no God" (Ps 14:1–3).

The passage turns to man’s sin against humans (Rom 3:13–18), culling more Psalm imagery as well as Isa 59 and Proverbs. Isaiah 59:7–8 refers to God’s people practicing rites with an unfit heart and in turn oppressing the community. Within this graphic description of wrong-doing, Paul includes Prov 1:16, which in Proverbs refers to the sinners portrayed by the father. A few wisdom terms color Paul’s language and support that he references not only Isaiah but also Proverbs. He refers to the sinners’ way or path (hodos; 3:16–17) and the fear of God (Prov 1:7 LXX, phobos theou; Rom 3:18). Though he omits it, Ps 13:1 (LXX) indicates that the fool denies God, and Paul includes proverbial language: “seeking for God" (cf. Prov 1:28; 2:3–4; 8:17). Furthermore, the locus of this universal sin against man manifests in speech (“throat, mouth, tongues, deceive, curses, bitterness"; ESV).

In sum, Paul combines the Psalmist’s enemies, Isaiah’s unfaithful people of God, and the sinners of Proverbs 1 to portray an image of man under sin, or man fallen short of his original image (Rom 3:23). With authoritative introduction and unmatched length, he emphatically argues that all men hold this condition toward God and others and likewise are redeemed only in Christ (Rom 3:23–24). The significance for Proverbs 1 is that Paul considers the sinner caricature as an utmost and convincing picture of human sin due to a rejection of God. For in Proverbs, these men reject the first principle of wisdom, the fear of the Lord, further binding the relation of man to God and man to men.

James

In his epistle, James does not quote Proverbs 1, but he does share some fundamental concerns with Proverbs’ way of wisdom. Like Proverbs 1, James identifies wisdom as attractive (3:13–18) and as something to be gained (1:5). As Proverbs 1 assumes and chapter 2 will explain, God supplies it (1:5; cf. 4:2; Prov 2:6). And while wisdom comes from an authoritative voice (1:22), it is now more clearly linked with the inscripturated word (1:17–18, 21, 25; 2:8). Wisdom continues to be intensely practical, as believers hear and do the word (1:22–25; cf. 3:16), yet also difficult. James probably addressed an audience under trials, yet a believer’s maturity in wisdom includes the tough schooling portrayed in Proverbs (James 1:2–5, 12, 25), particularly in the struggle against wickedness (4:4, 7; cf. 1:6; 3:1).

Humility is an essential principle for James’ wisdom. Whoever is wise and understanding (Sophia; epistemon; cf. LXX Deut 4:6) should show works in the meekness of wisdom (prautes; 3:13). The same phrase characterizes how we receive the implanted word (1:21; dechomai, LXX Prov 1:3; 2:1; et. al), which is implied in hearing the father (Prov 1:8) and contrasts with the arrogance of rejecting Wisdom (Prov 1:20ff). Quoting Prov 3:34, James writes that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (4:6). Most of all, wisdom requires humility toward the Lord (Prov 1:7; James 4:3, 6–7, 10; 4:15). Luke Cheung comments on the role of meekness in relation to wisdom and Law in James: “Meekness in our present context refers to one’s submissiveness to the authority of God, and a readiness to listen, to accept and to put into practice the word of God" (160).

Two ways confront the pupil in Proverbs 1, and James assumes no third option. The alternative to the way of wisdom is the road of the world paved by man and the devil (3:15; 4:4); the faithless (1:6–8) and non-submissive (4:6–7, 15) tread upon it. In James 3:15–18, wisdom may come not only from above but also from below, a view that Proverbs’ antithesis of Lady Wisdom (ch. 1) and Lady Folly (ch. 9) may support (Cheung 139–140).

James expands Proverbs’ portrait of wisdom by requiring faith in Christ, the giver of wisdom. James declares himself servant of God the Father who is aligned with Christ as Lord (1:1), implying the divinity of Christ and that James’ letter bears his authority. His audience holds to faith in Jesus Christ (2:1). Furthermore, James, most likely Jesus’ brother, lived with his Lord and culls from the Sermon on the Mount (e.g., Jas 5:12/Matt 5:33–37; Jas 2:5, 13/Matt 5:3, 7). This identifies Christ as authoritative sage whom his followers trust and obey.

Theology

The Covenant Lord

Proverbs 1:7 identifies God as no less than the covenant Lord. By name, he is the same God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the one who is and will be (Exod 3:13–15). Hence this Lord’s character and history stands behind the book as a whole, further endorsed by the reference to “Solomon, son of David, king of Israel" (1:1). However democratic the wisdom of Proverbs may become, we cannot divorce it from its principle relation (1:7) and true source (1:20; 2:6). Its content may apply to every man, but its blessings stem from no other god than the Lord of the Bible.

Wisdom for the Covenant People

As the Lord gave Solomon wisdom to rule as king, in Proverbs 1 he dispenses it to all of his people. Since inception, the Lord commissioned Israel to obey his commands so that she might communally prosper and internationally exemplify the blessings of the covenant (Exod 19:4–6; Deut 4:4–6; 6:1–2). The instruction of Proverbs differs from Pentateuchal law but fits within the same covenantal pattern. For the commands depend upon an honoring relationship between parents and children (1:8–9). They instill “righteousness, justice, and equity," those personal standards that manifest socially (1:3b). Finally, instruction begets security and blessing (1:33). The wisdom of God in Proverbs 1 inspires, inculcates, and directs holy living on the daily level for individuals and communities of the covenant.

Wisdom in the New Birth

In view of the biblical God behind Proverbs and covenant people who receive it, we may conclude that the wise are those later known as the regenerate. Our chapter assumes a relation to God for every reader. The wise fear him, listening and obeying his authoritative guides. In contrast, fools despise the Lord’s way of life (1:7) and reject its first principle (1:29). Furthermore, the wicked are spoken of in terms of apostasy (see 1:32). Thus man’s relation to wisdom is fundamentally a relation to God, one which requires a response of faith marked by humility and attention to his word. The portrayal of Jesus Christ resembles such: “Jesus stood up and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone is thirsty, come to me and drink.’" (John 7:37; cf. 3:31–36; 6:60–69). Moreover, James addresses communities of faith regarding wisdom. It is a gift from God above (1:5; 3:15) for the humble, in whom his spirit resides (4:5–6). That is, godly wisdom marks those born anew.

Derek Kidner attests to the full weight of what we have presented here: the wise relate in “a worshipping submission (fear) to the God of the covenant, who has revealed himself by name (the Lord, i.e. Yahweh: Exod. 3:13–15). Knowledge, then, in its full sense, is a relationship, dependent on revelation and inseparable from character . . . When we fence off (as we must) limited fields of knowledge for special study, the missing context must be remembered, or our knowing is precocious and distorted, as at the fall, and we end by knowledge less (cf. 3:7; Rom. 1:21, 22), not more" (Proverbs, 56).

Growth

Growing in wisdom is no less than spiritual maturity. Proverbs 1 marks not only the entrance into wisdom but declares itself as means for growth (1:5–6). The virtues of wisdom increase and the promised skills develop within Proverbs’ school of instruction. Our passage begins the process by structuring values and defining morality. The wise prize wisdom above the treasures of the fool (1:9, 13). The father not only tells a story of fools who glare with wickedness but explicitly labels their deeds: “their feet run to evil" (1:16). Hence he intends no confusion regarding the moral character of the fool’s way of life. With the reinforcing proclamation of Lady Wisdom, the author inculcates the pupil with faculties of moral judgment. These skills mature and refine throughout the prologue and become necessary for reading the collection of sayings (ch. 10ff.), which require situational discernment for proper interpretation and application.

Retribution

In the father’s lecture and Wisdom’s call, there appears a pattern of what many call “retributive justice"—automated rewards and punishments gleaned from corresponding actions. Consider Fox’s definition: “an evildoer is punished by falling into the power of his own evil, and a righteous person receives his rewards through his own goodness" (Fox, 91). Hence we see sinners hasting to murder, yet finally shedding their only blood (1:16, 18). Wisdom claims that fools will “eat from the fruit of their own way" and be sated by their own counsels (1:31). This may simply reveal the “way the world works" according to Proverbs. However, if the Lord and rebirth undergird the first chapter, we cannot read a deistic theology or fatalistic determinism into the book. Whybray rightly comments on v. 18: “This is an example of the traditional belief that sinners will not only be punished, but that they will be punished in a way which precisely corresponds to their deeds. Though this is not stated, it must be presumed that the agent of the punishment is Yahweh" (42).

Application

God Promises Wisdom

The introduction of Proverbs declares the goals of the book, containing an implicit promise: the teachable student will become wise. It promises the contents and skills of wisdom for the whole person, intellectual, practical, social, and moral. Proverbs invites us to grow in godly living from whatever our starting point. What does the invitation require of us? We must fear the Lord. Pride counteracts biblical wisdom; we forfeit wisdom when we despise it. In the educational context of Proverbs, the measure of our teachability is the measure of our fear before God. In short, the sage offers wisdom and asks, Are you teachable?

Listen to the Lord’s Wise Teachers

The voices of father and mother speak authoritatively on behalf of the Lord. The author presumes they hold wisdom, competent to guide the pupil along its path. If the prerequisite to the school of Proverbs is the fear of the Lord, then its entrance exam is listening. The father bids his son to hear. Lady Wisdom cries aloud to the townspeople. We need only heed the voices of teacher, Wisdom, and Word. The Lord provides wisdom through godly instructors and foremost in his own voice.

Discerning a godly sage is precisely the father’s concern in 1:8–19. So he warns, Do not consent to the speech of sinners! Lady Wisdom echoes, Do not reject me as those fools did, complacent, arrogant, and stubborn! In order to discern a teacher, we must examine their attitude towards the Lord’s wisdom. In Proverbs 1, Godly teachers value God’s wisdom, teach it, and uphold it; ungodly voices despise wisdom, ignore it, and promote alternatives.

Value Instruction

The father presents wisdom as adornment, but its beauty does not exclude difficulty. The instruction offered entails a level of hard schooling, blazing a path of wisdom not always easy to follow. The son first encounters evil teachers who speak at variance from wise counsel. They offer camaraderie, material prizes, and possibly a place of power in their scheme. Our world resounds with calls alternative to wisdom. Although contemporary “wicked" summons may appear less villainous than the gang of Proverbs 1, they nonetheless compete for our attention and commitment.

In the US, self-help authors guarantee us a comfortable, successful life. They tend to devalue the community that Proverbs esteems and promote an individualism foreign to the biblical path of godliness. Throughout the world, the anti-gospel of prosperity preaches with power. Many communities have fallen prey to its promise of material blessing as remuneration for deeds. Other enticement plots its path in the way of finance, the way of status, and the way of companionship at the harm of others. These voices countermand the humility and rigor that Proverbs 1 requires. Part of the very discipline that constitutes biblical education includes refraining from following these voices and attending to the call of Wisdom, choosing the fear of the Lord.

Where is our hope for such an endeavor? While Christ does not appear in Proverbs 1, he lived the wise life: as teachable, learning from God in humility; as prudent, discerning the voices of evil; and as committed, valuing the prize of wisdom. In his death and resurrection, he constitutes us children of the new birth. As God places us in Christ and matures us in wisdom through the power of the Holy Spirit, we join the one who provides wisdom and ushers its completion.

Introduction to Proverbs

Book Introduction Coming Soon.

Commentary List

  • Atkinson, David John. The Message of Proverbs: Wisdom for Life. The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.
  • Bede, the Venerable. In Tobiam; In Proverbia; in Cantica Canticorum; In Habacuc. Turnholti: Brepolis, 1983. [Latin]
  • Clarke, Adam. The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments . . . With a Commentary and Critical Notes. 7 vols. New York: Ezra Sargent, 1811. [Google Books]
  • Delitzsch, Franz. Biblical Commentary on the Proverbs of Solomon. Vol. 1. Edinburgh: T. &. T. Clark, 1874. [Google Books].
  • Delitzsch, Franz. Biblical Commentary on the Proverbs of Solomon. Vol. 2. Edinburgh: T. &. T. Clark, 1882. [Google Books].
  • Jamieson, Robert; A. R. Faucet; and David Brown. A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. 2 vols. [Vol. 1: Old Testament]. New York Jamieson: S. S. Scranton, 1875. [Google Books]
  • Jenks, William; ed. The Comprehensive Commentary on the Holy Bible . . . Containing Scott's Marginal References; Matthew Henry's Commentary. 5 vols. Brattleboro, VT: Fessenden, 1835, 1836, 1839 [Vol. 3--Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1849]. [Vol. 3: Psalms to Malachi] [Google Books]
  • Jermin, Michael. Paraphrasticall Meditations, By Way of Commentarie, Upon the Whole Booke of the Proverbs of Solomon. London: Printed by R. Badger, for Philemon Stephens and Christopher Meredith, 1638. [Public Domain]
  • Kidner, Derek. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Volume 17; Proverbs. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008 [1964].
  • Koptak, Paul E. Proverbs. The NIV Life Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003.
  • Leigh, Edward. Annotations on Five Poetical Books of the Old Testament (viz.) Job, Psalmes, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Canticles. London: Printed by A. M. for T. Pierpont, 1657. [Public Domain]
  • Maclaren, Alexander. Expositions of Holy Scripture; The Books of Esther, Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. New York: A. C. Armstrong, 1908. [Google Books]
  • McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible. 5 vols. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1981. [Vol. 3: Proverbs to Malachi]
  • Miller, John. A Commentary on the Proverbs. 2nd ed. Princeton, NJ: Evangelical Reform Publication Co., 1887. [Google Books]
  • Moffat, Peter. A Commentarie Upon the Booke of the Proverbes of Salomon. London: Printed by Richard Field for Robert Dexter, 1592. [Public Domain]
  • Murphy, Roland E. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999.
  • Patrick, Simon. The Proverbs of Solomon Paraphrased; With the Arguments of Each Chapter Which Supply the Place of a Commentary. London: Printed by M. Flesher, for R. Royston, 1683. [Public Domain]
  • Poole, Matthew. Annotations Upon the Holy Bible. 3 vols. New York: Robert Carter, 1853. [Vol. 2: Psalms to Malachi] [Google Books]
  • Rawlinson, George. The Pulpit Commentary; Proverbs. Series edited by H. D. M. Spence-Jones. New York / Toronto: Funk and Wagnalls, 1890s. [Public Domain]
  • Spurgeon, Charles H. Spurgeon's Sermons on Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. London: Metropolitan Tabernacle, n.d. [Public Domain; CCEL]
  • Stuart, Moses. A Commentary on the Book of Proverbs. New York: M. W. Dodd, 1852. [Google Books]
  • Trapp, John. Solomon Panaretos, or, A Commentarie Upon the Books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. London: Printed by T. R. and E. M. for John Bellamie, 1650. [Google Books]
  • Wright, J. Robert; ed. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005.

Chapter Credits

    This Chapter is currently not assigned to a contributor.