The Wisdom of Words

The intent of the book

To train a person;

To form character;

To show what life is really like and how to best cope with it.

Chapters 1-9

Here we find the aim of the entire book:

To provide guidance and training in virtue (1:1-6).

The key words in those verses are:

Learning, understanding, righteousness, discernment, knowledge, and so forth.

It is not an abstract, merely intellectual but practical wisdom.

The fear of the Lord

The seventh verse talks about the fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom (Prov 1:7; see also Job 28:28; Ps 111:10).

It also appears at the end of this section (Prov 9:10) and it concludes the entire book (Prov 31:30).

What does it mean to fear the Lord?

It can mean:

Awe before the divinity;


Observance of the Law.

It stands for proper moral behaviour.

In a nutshell, the verse captures the meaning of biblical religion and piety.

The reader

The reader comes to the book with an attitude of a child - “my son” (Prov 1:8) who wants to learn.

The wisdom teacher is represented by an image of father and mother (Prov 1:8).

Two ways are laid out for the reader:
the way of the foolish
and obedience to Wisdom (Prov 1:32-33).

Chapter 2 - the path to wisdom

In Hebrew it is one long sentence: an alphabetising poem, in twenty-two lines according to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

Prov 2:1-4,5-8,9-11 - contain “if-then message.

Prov 2:12-15,16-19,20-22 - show how Wisdom saves.

Fear of the Lord, knowledge of God, and wisdom are linked together (Prov 2:5-6).

Paradox: - although wisdom is something to be pursued by individual effort, it is essentially a gift from God (Prov 2:6).

Prov 2:20-22 compare with Psalm 1.

Chapter 3

Six admonitions: Prov 3:1-12

Here we find, the need to “hear”, the promise of “life” and a “trust in the Lord” that will eliminate the danger of being “wise in one’s own eyes” (cf. Prov 26:12).

Prov 3:11-12 - God’s discipline is also a sign of divine favour (Hebr 12:5-6).

Prov 3:13-18 - “happy” is the one who finds wisdom.

Notice Prov 3:18 - she is a “tree of life”.

Prov 3:19-20 - the highest praise of wisdom is that God himself possesses her and used her to create world and everything in it.

Compare Ps 104:24; 147:5; Prov 8:22-31.

As no one builds a house without wisdom (Prov 24:3-4), so also wisdom was at work in creation - particularly in the production of water so beneficent to the inhabitants of Palestine (Prov 3:20).

Prov 3:21-31 - another series of admonition “holding on to resourcefulness and foresight” (Prov 3:21) and the importance of honesty in social relations.

Prov 3:32-35 - 3 aphorisms contrasting wisdom and folly.

Chapter 4

Lecture about loving wisdom and hating evil (Prov 4:1-9).

First, the teacher recall how he received instructions from his father (Prov 4:1-4). So: Get wisdom.

Prov 4:6. It is not enough to obey wisdom - one must love it, just as one loves God (Deut 6:5).

Prov 4:7. The first step in attaining wisdom is to acquire - (absorb - hear and assimilate) - the teaching of wisdom, even before one can properly understand and apply them.

Lecture about the two paths (Prov 4:10-19).

Very common theme - Ps 1, Matt 7:13-15

Discipline is needed for acquiring wisdom.

Lecture on the straight path (Prov 4:20-27).

In the Bible - straight = correct behaviour.

Walk straight, for evil and dangers lurk on either side;

Look straight ahead, because temptations beckon all around.

Chapter 5-7

Stick to your own wife (Prov 5:15).

The “strange woman” (Prov 5:1-23; Prov 6:20-35; Prov 7:1-27; see Prov 2:16-20) - notice how often this topic is present.

The adulteress is deadly (Prov 5:3-6);

Every man must keep away from her, or he will pay a severe price (Prov 5:7-14).

Instead, a man should take his sexual pleasure with his own wife (Prov 5:15-20);

God sees everything and sin is inevitably punished (Prov 6:21-23).

There are four other topics in chapter 6:

1. Do not go surety for another’s loan (Prov 6:1-5);

2. Sloth and industry (Prov 6:6-11);

3. The good-for-nothing person (Prov 6:12-15);

4. What God loathes (Prov 6:16-19).

Worth noting is the smooth-talking lady’s speech (Prov 7:14-20).

Prov 7:5; Prov 6:24.

The power of the word to persuade, even to seduce, is highlighted as much as sexual indulgence itself.

Chapter 8-9

Wisdom’s self-praise (Prov 8:1-36).

Wisdom calls for attention to people everywhere (Prov 8:1-5).

Prov 8:12-14 - Prudence, knowledge of shrewdness, resourcefulness and courage - these practical virtues all come with wisdom.

Prov 8:15-16 - insofar as rulers govern justly, they do so through wisdom.

In Prov 8:22-31 - her divine origin.

Prov 8:32-36 - listen (heed) three times - wisdom promises life (Prov 8:35).

Prov 9:1-18 - two banquets - one in the house of Lady Wisdom and the other one prepared by Lady Folly (Prov 9:13-18).

The Two Solomonic Collections

Prov 10:1-22:16; 25:1-29:27

Prov 10:1-22:16

There are 375 sayings.

Proverbs 10:1-15:33 typically contrast two character types: the wise and the foolish, or the righteous and the wicked.

A wise person is the one who knows how to apply secular wisdom in life. Being righteous - a religious value.

The aim of this collections is to make the student (the reader) to shape their action of the wise and righteous.

Prov 16:1-9 - Invites us to think about God’s omnipotence;

Prov 16:10-15 - the king’s powers and responsibilities;

Prov 18:1-8 - on speech and its potentials.

Prov 16:16-17:28; 18:9-22:16 - further maxims.

How to read these collections?

These are short, two-line sayings.

Read limited number - a chapter at a time;

Select from the (roughly thirty) sayings in each chapter two or three verses that catch your attention.

Biblical proverbs

1. Assertive - but the reader has to qualify the validity of its statement; for example by experience - maybe there are exceptions to it.

2. It provides insight and invites to an action.
Prov 26:12. If you agree then what? Prov 3:5-7 and 28:25-26.

3. Change our perspective on seeing things and provokes surprise (Prov 25:15b; Prov 27:7).

4. There are short.

Tensions within the claims of the proverbs

1. On the one hand, they are rooted in experience;

2. On the other, they bear the authority of the tradition - handed over by parents and elders. What happen when there is a conflict between the two?
Prov 10:3a and Prov 14:31 or Prov 17:5?

There are many ambiguities in life that cannot be solved by the simplicity of an aphorism.

Complete wisdom will depend upon keeping in view to entire impact of the collections.

See Prov 26:4-5.

Several levels of meaning

The original context of a given saying is usually irrecoverable.

So, it is the reader who creates a certain context in which the saying is understood.

Sometimes, the reader is correct in understanding.

But sometimes, the reader may bent the saying to support one’s own opinion.

Finally, some proverbs are simply obscure.

Few comments on proper speech

1. It is precious, comparable to sliver and gold (Prov 10:20; Prov 20:15);

2. It is expressed graciously and eloquently (Prov 25:11; Prov 15:2; 16:21,23; 22:11);

3. It is beneficent (Prov 16:24; 15:26; 12:25);

4. It is gentle (Prov 15:1; 25:15);

5. It is honest and reliable (Prov 16:13; Prov 25:12; Prov 12:19, 22; 14:5,25).

6. It is appropriate to its time (Prov 15:23);

7. It brings good to others (Prov 10:11; 13:14; 11:9).


Words should be few (Prov 17:27; 10:19);

Think before you speak (Prov 15:28; 29:20);

Listen before you speak (Prov 18:23);

Watch your tongue (Prov 13:3; 21:23).

One should know how to observe silence

1. You stand to gain more (Prov 12:16,23);

2. And you may even be considered wise (Prov 17:28).

It is worth to see the teaching of James regarding speech (James 1:19; 3:1-12).

Chapter 24

Prov 24:1-22 - maxims mostly praising wisdom and condemning the schemes of the wicked.

Prov 24:23-34 - different maxims and a story about a lazy man;

Chapters 25-29

1. Dealing with social ranks and social conflict (Prov 25:2-27);

2. Dealing with fool, and the various life situation that call for a wisdom approach (Prov 26:1-12);

3. Dealing with the sluggard (Prov 26:13-16);

4. Similar theme that is chapter 25 (Prov 26:17-28).

5. A collection of different proverbs (Prov 27:1-22);

6. A poem that can be read as an advice to a farmer or in a metaphorical sense as addressed to the king, as “shepherd” of his people (Prov 27:23-27).

7. Chapters 28-29 - a collection of proverbs

Other collections

1. Prov 30:1-33 - the words of Agur - “I am a sojourner”. We know nothing about him.

2. Prov 31:1-9 - The “words of Lemuel”.

3. Prov 31:10-31 - The poem about the woman of strength - or an ideal wife

The words of Agur

Some interpret his name “Jakeh” as acronym for “YHWH Qadoshu” - the Lord, holy is he.

Prov 30:4. The question is interesting and brings to mind John 3:13; Rom 10:6-7, and Eph 4:9.

The words of Agur

A man who lacks “common sense” turns to God’s word (Prov 30:2, 5-6).

Prov 30:7-9- a good request - honesty and a middle way between riches and poverty.

Prov 30:11-14 - four breeds of man

Prov 30:15-31 - numerical sayings

Prov 30:15b-16 - four insatiable things;

Prov 30:18-19 - four amazing “ways”; - love as a mystery?

Prov 30:20 - the additional wonder or shocking thing? Can a sinner wipe her sin away as if wiping the crumbs off her face?

The words of Agur

Prov 30:21-23 - four things the earth cannot bear, so unnatural are they.

Prov 30:24-28 - four small (or “weak”) but clever creatures.

Prov 30:29-31 - Four animals that move in majestic fashion.

Prov 30:32-33 - avoid strife.

The “words of Lemuel” Prov 31:1-9

Like Agur (Prov 30:1), Lemuel is from the North Arabian nation Massa.

His name - “belonging to God”.

Apparently, the saying was composed by his mother.

It is an instruction for a king, showing a good sense of social responsibility. But what is fit for the king is fit for all.

(The ‘wise’ mother will be followed by a ‘wise’ wife)

The ideal of the worthy wife - Prov 31:10-31

The woman of strength was already mentioned in Prov 12:4.

It is also confirmation of Prov 18:22.

It is an acrostic poem.

Is she a real person? An ideal?

Does she represent wisdom (Job 28:12, 20; Prov 3:15; 8:11 - cf. Prov 31:10)?


The book purports to offer “life” or “salvation” to the reader.

The Wisdom has a message:

She announces “security” (Prov 1:33) and “life” (Prov 8:35).

The symbols of fountain and tree of life are frequent (Prov 10:11; Prov 13:14; Prov 16:22; 3:18; 11:30; 13:12).

“Life” means:

riches and honor (Prov 22:4);
a good name (Prov 10:7; 22:1),

and a long existence of many years (Prov 3:16; 28:16).

But “Life” is more than merely material goods. The goods are seen as signs of God’s blessings (Prov 10:22).

The Gospel will bring the meaning of life to its fulness (John 1:4)

But the book does not answer one important question:

Why do the just suffer?

The only answer provided is in Prov 3:11-12. But is it an adequate answer?