The book of Proverbs not only gives us instruction for living but also the assurance that in heeding its teaching we will gain the knowledge, wisdom, and skills needed for daily success that honors the Lord.
The Benefits of Discovering True Wisdom
The book of Psalms has told us how to get along with God. The book of Proverbs tells us how to get along with people. Psalms helped us know how to worship; Proverbs is going to help us know how to walk.
“The Hebrew word translated ‘Proverbs’ … comes from the root word māshāl, which means ‘rule.’” A proverb is a rule or a principle that helps us to live wisely.
Proverbs have a way of saying a lot in just a few words, and they are found in every culture around the world. You have probably used many of them yourself, such as, “Better to be on shore wishing you were sailing than sailing wishing you were on shore.” A proverb I have often put into practice goes like this: “Your silence can be misinterpreted, but it can never be misquoted.”
Now, no proverb in the world is more important than the collection found here in the inspired book of Proverbs. God gave us this book in order to give us wisdom for life.
The first verse of this book tells us these are “the proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel.” I have often thought how tragic it was that Solomon stopped practicing his own proverbs.
These opening verses give us a number of benefits gained from studying this inspired collection of proverbs. First, we are told in verse 2 that these proverbs cause us “to know wisdom.” What is biblical wisdom? Let me sum it up this way: Wisdom is the ability to make the right decision for the right reason at the right time. This book will help you do that.
Second, we are told that these proverbs will help us “know … instruction.” The Hebrew word here for “instruction” (musar) carries the idea of a parent’s instruction or discipline. It makes you wise. And let me tell you, when my parents disciplined me, I got a little wiser because of it.
This word refers to being instructed, not only by personal discipline, but also by watching others make mistakes. I remember believing you could jump off the back side of our garage roof—about a ten-foot drop to the grassy backyard—without getting hurt if you held an open umbrella in your hand. Well, I wasn’t totally certain of my hypothesis, so I convinced my eight-year-old brother that it would work, and he happily went along with it. As soon as he jumped, that umbrella just swooshed inside out, and he hit the ground. I learned something from his experience.
A third benefit of Solomon’s proverbs is found in verse 2: they will help you “understand words of insight.” This is what we call discernment; discernment is the ability to distinguish between good and evil, right and wrong.
Solomon adds a fourth benefit in verse 3: we “receive instruction in wise dealing.” And he says that wise dealing with others is marked by “righteousness, justice, and equity.”
Here’s a fifth benefit in verse 4: “to give prudence to the simple.” The word for “prudence” can be translated “shrewdness,” in the sense of critical thinking. The “simple,” or naïve, are inexperienced and gullible people. In other words, Proverbs can take gullible people and give them the ability to think critically.
There’s a sixth benefit for all who learn and practice the proverbs. Verse 4 says they give “knowledge and discretion to the youth.” Maybe you’re thinking, That rules me out because I’m no longer a youth. Well, this word for “youth” is used in the Old Testament for an infant (Exodus 2:6); a seventeen-year-old (Genesis 37:2), and a middle-aged man (Genesis 41:12). The word seems to refer to someone on the threshold of maturing just a little more. And that should describe all of us—we are not just growing old but growing up in the Lord.
There is one more benefit of these proverbs, given to us here in verse 6: they will help us understand “the words of the wise and their riddles.” This refers to understanding the complexities of life—how to work through the maze of riddles and challenges in life.
To review quickly, studying this book will give us wisdom, knowledge, discernment, instruction, critical thinking skills, and understanding. So, the question is not, “Why would we take a wisdom journey through the book of Proverbs?” The real question is, “How can we afford not to?”
Now verse 7 is a key verse in Proverbs. It reads, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” “Knowledge,” “wisdom,” and “instruction” are synonyms in this book.
Solomon is saying that the search for wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord, which is reverence for the Lord. Fearing the Lord is not a fearful feeling; it is “a foundation to build upon.” The foundation of wisdom is respect for God and His Word.
Like many proverbs, verse 7 sets forth a contrast here—this one between someone who reverences the Lord and someone who rejects the Lord. Notice that Solomon says, “Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” He calls somebody who rejects God a fool. He is not pulling any punches here.
You need to understand that in the Bible a fool is not somebody who flunked chemistry or never graduated from kindergarten. A fool in the Bible is someone who disbelieves in God and disregards God’s Word. In other words, a fool will not follow God’s advice.
Now with that list of benefits, Solomon begins to give some practical instruction for his son in verse 10: “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.” The Hebrew text indicates these sinners are people who sin repeatedly. They want to sin, they like to sin, they live to sin.
Solomon gives his son, and us, two ways to respond to the invitation of sinners to join them. The first response is verbal: “Do not consent.” That means you just say no.
The second response is physical. Note verse 15: “Do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths.” They are only going to ruin their lives; don’t join them and ruin yours.
Isn’t it interesting that at the very outset of his advice, Solomon tells his son to avoid the wrong people? Now it is one thing to have friends who are unbelievers—we want to befriend unbelievers so we can win people to Christ. But it’s another thing to make unbelievers your closest friends, because in so doing you are effectively giving them permission to influence you. True wisdom carefully chooses close friends.
People of the world long for wisdom to make the right decision at the right time for the right reason; they just go to the wrong source. Let’s not follow their example.
The Greeks believed that wisdom had its origin with their god Zeus. In fact, they believed Zeus delivered his own daughter, Athena, from some strange opening in his head. Since Athena supposedly originated in the mind of Zeus, she became the goddess of wisdom. According to legend, she was represented by a sacred owl. And that gave rise to the superstition that lasts to this day that an owl is a wise bird. People today still talk about somebody being wiser than an owl.
Well, we know that true wisdom does not come from a goddess or a bird but from God. In the last verse of the New Testament book of Romans, Paul tells us that God is “the only wise God.” And James writes in his letter, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God … and it will be given him” (James 1:5).
So why don’t you go ahead today and ask God for just that—as we begin our Wisdom Journey through the book of Proverbs.
 John Phillips, Exploring Proverbs, Volume One: An Expository Commentary (Kregel, 1995), 14.
 Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1–15 (Eerdmans, 2004), 178.
 Peter A. Stevenson, A Commentary on Proverbs (BJU Press, 2001), 9.
 Waltke, Proverbs: Chapters 1–15, 190.
 Richard L. Mayhue, Practicing Proverbs (Christian Focus, 2000), 41.