What is the Book of Proverbs About?
Read this 3-minute introduction to help you find your bearings in the Bible story, and be inspired to read Proverbs!
This overview video illustrates for us the literary design of the book of Proverbs using creative animations.
This video is part of the series, The Gospel One Chapter at a Time, where Paul David Tripp summarizes each book of the Bible and shows how it points us to Jesus.
It’s easy to misread Proverbs or fail to appreciate the structure of the book. This video will help us not only to read the book as it’s intended to be read, but also learn from the structure of the book, and ultimately delight in reading it.
By studying a couple verses from Proverbs with John Piper at Desiring God, you will get insight into how to use and study the book of Proverbs.
By John Piper. © Desiring God Foundation. Source: desiringGod.org
Proverbs itself mentions Solomon (reigned c. 971–931 BC) as author or collector of its contents (Proverbs 1:1; 10:1), including the proverbs copied by Hezekiah’s men (Proverbs 25:1). There are also two batches of sayings from a group called “the wise” (Proverbs 22:17–24:22; 24:23–34), and “oracles” from Agur (Proverbs 30:1–33) and Lemuel (Proverbs 31:1–9). No author is named for the song in praise of the excellent wife that ends the book (Proverbs 31:10–31).
From Bibles.net: Remember that the ultimate author of every book of the Bible is the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). He has written this book to equip you for life, to help you know the true God, and to give you hope (2 Timothy 3:16; Romans 15:4). The Holy Spirit wrote Proverbs for your good and to lead you into joy.
Although Proverbs was begun in the time of Solomon (reigned c. 971–931 BC), it probably was not in its present form until the time of Hezekiah (reigned c. 715–686 BC).
The book is addressed to a young man. The situations he will face while he is young receive much attention. These situations supply concrete examples from which all readers can apply lessons to their own lives. Anyone who is wise and who pays attention will benefit (Proverbs 1:5) from this instruction.
Unless otherwise indicated, this content is adapted from the ESV Global Study Bible® (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright ©2012 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Wisdom for Life by Colin Smith
In this phenomenal 6-part message series, Pastor Colin Smith talks about the skills you need to build friendships, raise a family, speak encouraging words, have a successful career, and manage your money.
As you read through Proverbs, you might come across words and ideas that are foreign to you. Here are a few definitions you will want to know! Note that this dictionary was created for the New International Version (NIV) Bible.
Sexual union between a man and a woman when either or both of them are married to someone else. Adultery is a sin.
To praise or make holy. The word bless is used in different ways in the Bible: (1) When God blesses, he brings salvation and prosperity and shows mercy and kindness to people. (2) When people bless, they (a) bring salvation and prosperity to other persons or groups; (b) they praise and worship and thank God; (c) they give good things or show kindness to others.
(1) To find someone guilty of doing something wrong and to declare or pronounce a punishment. (2) To be against or disapprove of something because it is wrong.
(1) A request that harm come to someone; (2) blaspheme. In the Bible, curse does not mean to swear or to use bad language. When a person cursed something, he or she wished evil or harm to come to it. When God cursed something, he declared judgment on something.
To be afraid of something or someone. The Bible often uses the word fear to describe the sense of respect or awe that sinful people (and we are all sinful, according to Romans 3:23) should have for God because of his perfection, sovereignty, and holiness.
That which is right and fair. Most of the prophets in the Bible emphasized that God is just and that he wants his people to act justly. Many of the prophets’ warnings were given because the leaders and people were guilty of injustice (such as cheating others, especially the poor).
A short, wise saying. The Bible book of Proverbs is made up of many wise sayings.
The price paid to buy the freedom of a captive or slave. The New Testament says that all people are held captives to sin and death. When Jesus died on the cross, he paid the price—the ransom—to rescue us from the powers of sin and death.
To correct someone sternly; to scold someone.
Thinking and doing what is correct (or right) and holy. God is righteous because he does only what is perfect and holy. A person who has accepted Jesus as Savior is looked at by God as being free from the guilt of sin, so God sees that person as being righteous. People who are members of God’s family show their love for him by doing what is correct and holy, living in righteous ways.
(1) A person who tells what he or she has seen. (2) To tell others what has been seen. Jesus told his followers to be witnesses. We are to tell what we have seen Jesus Christ do in our own lives.
This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
We have found answers to some tough questions that we anticipate may arise as you read this book of the Bible. We know we can’t answer every question you will have; therefore, we have written this article, so you know how to find answers for your kids: How Do I Answer Tough Questions About the Bible?
The following insights are from pastors and scholars who have spent significant time studying the book of Proverbs.
A proverb is often a recommended way of acting that will be wise in some settings and not in others. Or: a general observation of experience that is very often true and useful, but not always true in every situation. The same act may be wise in one setting but foolish in another. The same fact may hold in one situation and not in another.
Source: By John Piper. © Desiring God Foundation. Source: desiringGod.org.
Now, a proverb is very simple. It is a principle stated in concise terms. We could say a proverb is wise in content, and concise in form. It is a brief, to the point, pithy statement for the purpose of instruction; brief, to the point, that they might be remembered. What you have in Proverbs, then, is a compilation of these concise, wise statements. This, then, becomes the basic book of truth that fathers use to teach their children, a book of wisdom.
An accurate apprehension of the main purpose and scope of this book will greatly facilitate its understanding. The purpose of the book of Proverbs appears to be to give teaching about practical life. The true man of God will honor practical inculcation no less than doctrinal teaching. The truth that is in Jesus, in which we are taught by him, is practical truth (Ephesians 4:20-24). While other parts of Scripture show us the glory of our high calling, the book of Proverbs instructs us in detail how we should walk so that we are worthy of this calling.
We look into the book of Proverbs as if we were using a microscope and view all the minute details of our Christian walk. There is not a mood, a look, a word, a movement, the tiniest duty in which we do not either deface or adorn the image of our Lord and witness to him. Even if the book served no other purpose, it would humble even the most consistent servant of God, making him aware of countless failures. Not only is the last chapter, as Matthew Henry says, “a looking-glass for ladies,” but the whole book is a mirror for us all…
The purpose of this priceless book is not to teach secular or political wisdom, although many examples of each are included (Proverbs 6:1-11; 27:23-27), but the knowledge of God (Proverbs 1:7) that makes us wise about salvation and enables us to live godly lives (2 Timothy 3:15-17; Titus 2:11-12). Wisdom’s stunning privileges are set out (Proverbs 3:13-18). It is emphasized strongly that this is the principal thing; it is our very life (Proverbs 4:5-9, 13).
What does it mean for us to value wisdom the way we should? The first nine chapters of Proverbs are motivational. They are motivating us to dig into chapters 10-31. And so we will have the motivation to meditate on and memorize and internalize the proverbs of chapters 10-31 if we have been persuaded by the argument in chapters 1-9.
Source: “Introducing Wisdom | Proverbs (1:1-7).” YouTube video. Posted by “The Word at Work,” August 5, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajN7NkXHzdw
There are four primary characters in Proverbs: the wise, the fool, the simple, and the scoffer. The wise embrace God’s covenant. Fools, on the other hand, are opposed to God, yet they are not beyond hope. The simple are those who remain uncommitted to either wisdom or folly, and because of that they are easily misled. Scoffers are proud and arrogant and scorn God’s ways. Other voices in the book include Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly, each of whom personifies the characteristics of her name, and the Woman of Excellence, with whom the book concludes.
Proverbs should be read “synoptically” along with the other wisdom books to give you a complete picture of life on earth. Proverbs tells us that there’s a created order put into the fabric of the world by its Creator. That is why, in general, hard work tends to lead to good outcomes and laziness to bad ones. But Ecclesiastes reminds us that, because of sin, this created order is confused (it doesn’t always “work”). You may work hard, but only “thorns and thistles” come up (Genesis 3:18). And the Book of Job also reminds us that even though God’s order is still operative—his justice is always working itself out—so often it’s hidden.
If you only read Proverbs, you might become like one of Job’s friends, who believed good people always have good lives. But if you only read Ecclesiastes, you might think it virtually impossible to enjoy wellbeing and satisfaction within the confines of this world, “under the sun.” But we are to read all of Scripture, lest we get a distorted view (just as we’d get a distorted view if we read just the Old Testament or even just the New Testament.)
The book of Proverbs is a gospel book, because it is part of the Bible. That means the book of Proverbs is good news for bad people. It is about grace for sinners. It is about hope for failures. It is about wisdom for idiots. This book is Jesus himself coming to us as our counselor, as our sage, as our life coach. The Lord Jesus Christ is a competent thinker for all times and all cultures. He is a genius. And he freely offers us, even us, his unique wisdom. Do you remember how he concluded his Sermon on the Mount? He defined the gospel as a call to wisdom: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. . . . And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand” (Matthew 7:24, 26). Jesus is our priest and our prophet, but in the book of Proverbs we encounter Jesus as our mentor. Do you see him that way? You can have him that way—the universe’s greatest expert on you. He alone is qualified to have that kind of say in your life.
Let’s not patronize Jesus Christ as a nice man who gives us warm religious fuzzies while we turn to the “experts” (whoever they are), the seriously qualified people, for the challenges of real life. Jesus Christ is the shrewdest man who ever lived. No one ever outthought him. No one ever surprised him or cornered him in debate. He was always out ahead of everyone, both his friends and his enemies. Jesus Christ is the best counselor for all people in all seasons of life. The Old Testament prophesied that the Messiah would be anointed with the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, so that he would not judge by what his eyes see or decide disputes by what his ears hear (Isaiah 11:2, 3). In other words, our Messiah is not fooled by appearances or swayed by hearsay, like other leaders, even brilliant leaders. No one will ever pull the wool over his eyes. The Bible says that Jesus has eyes like a flame of fire, seeing through everything (Revelation 1:14). And God has given this super-smart expert to us as his best gift of amazing grace. The gospel says that Jesus is wisdom from God (1 Corinthians 1:30). It’s why he surprises us. When he taught in his hometown synagogue, his neighbors were astonished and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom?” (Matthew 13:54). Solomon had been the wisest man in history. But when the Pharisees tested Jesus and he reminded them that the Queen of Sheba came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, she was so eager to learn, Jesus said to them, “Behold, something greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12:42). They didn’t have to travel any distance. Wisdom incarnate was standing right there. But they were too sure of themselves to listen.
We will love Jesus more because what we’ll see is Jesus is not just a really nice sufferer and example. He’s brilliant. He has thought everything through and has opened his heart and mind to us. He not only knows us; he understands us personally. And as we sort of chew on the book of Proverbs—the book of Proverbs is not like eating fast food, it’s like sucking on a hard candy. And you put that proverb in your mouth and kind of roll it around with your tongue and think about it for a while and taste it, and that’s how it goes down and that’s how it works. And so that is really the experience of Jesus conversing with us through Scripture in the power of the Holy Spirit so that we actually begin to see reality his way and love him more and understand why he’s so worth following.
… For example, it says in chapter 2, as we open our hearts, it says, “Wisdom will come into your heart.” It’s not just an external, coercive thing, a whip keeping me in line. No wisdom will come into your heart. It will be internalized—become part of our personalities. “And knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.” …I’m in the scriptures. I’m experiencing what God can do through Scripture. It’s profoundly moving and thrilling and powerful. Those are actually some of the great moments of life. And that’s where Proverbs wants to take us.
But what is the fear of the Lord? It is that affectionate reverence by which the child of God bends himself humbly and carefully to his Father’s law. God’s wrath is so bitter and his love so sweet that we have this earnest desire to please him and to fear him, so that we will not sin against him (Hebrews 12:28-29).
Why do so many despise wisdom and instruction? Because the beginning of wisdom, the fear of the Lord, is not set before them (Psalm 36:1). They are unaware of its value. They scorn its directions. They are only wise in their own eyes. They are rightly called fools who despise such blessings. Good Lord, may childlike fear of you be my wisdom, my security, my happiness!
Fearing the Lord means fearing to run away from him. It means fearing to seek refuge, and joy, and hope anywhere other than in God. It means keeping before our eyes what a fearful prospect it is to stop trusting and depending on God to meet our needs. The fear of the Lord is, therefore, the beginning of wisdom not only in the sense that it is the first step in a wise way to live, but also in the sense that all the later characteristics of wisdom flow from the fear of the Lord like a river flows from a spring.
Source: By John Piper. © Desiring God Foundation. Source: desiringGod.org.
Proverbs has one more really important thing to consider. Khokhmah (Hebrew word for wisdom) is not some impersonal force. It’s an attribute of God himself. So in Hebrew thought, your journey to becoming wise has to begin with what proverbs calls the Fear of the Lord. It’s this healthy respect for God’s definition of good and evil and true wisdom means learning those boundary lines and not crossing them.
Wisdom is represented as dwelling with God from all eternity: “I was formed long ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. . . . I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep . . . and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. Then I was constantly at his side” (Proverbs 8:23-30). Compare these verses with John 1:1-2; Hebrews 1:2; Colossians 1:15-16; 2:3. Jesus was the designer of the universe.
When you read the book of Proverbs, put “Christ” in place of “wisdom” in the verse (see 1 Corinthians 1:30). You will then begin to understand the wonderful power that is in this book. “We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true” (1 John 5:20).
Source: This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The third thing we should do to get wisdom is pray. Solomon was not born a wise man. He prayed for wisdom and God said, “Because you have asked this and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold now I do according to your word” (1 Kings 3:11). And Daniel admitted that in himself he had no wisdom (Daniel 2:30), but he said, “To thee, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for thou hast given me wisdom and strength, and hast made known to me what we asked of thee” (Daniel 2:23). And we have seen how Paul prayed that the churches might be given “spiritual wisdom” (Colossians 1:9) and that they might have “a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of God” (Ephesians 1:17). And finally, James puts it as clearly as we could wish: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God” (James 1:5). The wisdom that leads to true and lasting happiness is not natural or inborn. It is supernatural. It is a gift of God. Therefore, if we would “get wisdom,” we must pray.
Source: By John Piper. © Desiring God Foundation. Source: desiringGod.org.
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