The book of Proverbs is different. It reads differently than any other book in the Old or New Testament. Its content is unique. Its style is unfamiliar. Its structure seems random (or non-existent). But despite its unique character, there is a quality about the book that draws us to it. It contains a level of practicality for life that is refreshing, though sometimes obscure. Its short, memorable sayings are useful reminders of God’s desire for how we ought to receive his instruction and move well through life’s circumstances.
Proverb’s appeal, however, goes beyond its stylistic and thematic nature. It can be helpful to consider the character development of a few different actors we encounter throughout the book. As we read, we should ask ourselves, “Which character am I?”
The person who is most highly praised throughout the book is the one who listens to the words of wisdom and enacts them in the right situations. Wisdom is more than simply knowing the right information; it is knowing how and when to employ information and experiential knowledge in the situations we may encounter in life. Wisdom in Proverbs especially relates to the ethical dimension of our lives and how we follow God by doing what is right, just, and fair. The opening verses of Proverbs reveal that true wisdom only comes from a proper relationship of reverence and worship of God. If a person diligently pursues the wisdom that comes from God, he or she will be equipped and empowered to “navigate life well” (as Tremper Longman defines wisdom in How to Read Proverbs). It is a worthwhile pursuit!
For learning wisdom and discipline;
for understanding insightful sayings;
for receiving prudent instruction
in righteousness, justice, and integrity;
for teaching shrewdness to the inexperienced,
knowledge and discretion to a young man—
let a wise person listen and increase learning,
and let a discerning person obtain guidance—
for understanding a proverb or a parable,
the words of the wise, and their riddles.
The fear of the LORD
is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and discipline.
The foolish person, on the other hand, is completely opposed to everything that wisdom stands for — verse 7 above says they “despise wisdom and discipline.” The fool is often connected with wickedness, as every ethical quality of wisdom is discarded for its opposite. They are often antagonistic to true Godly wisdom, and this category reaches its climax when they stand up as a “mocker” to decry the way of the wise and admonish a wicked society.
Stay away from a foolish person;
you will gain no knowledge from his speech.
The sensible person’s wisdom is to consider his way,
but the stupidity of fools deceives them.
While the wise and the fool are more or less set in their ways, the simple (or “gullible”) are still in process. They are young, naïve, and impressionable. They are easily swayed this way and that, and their natural inclination is often to follow the way of the fool.
“How long will you who are simple love your simple ways?
How long will mockers delight in mockery
and fools hate knowledge?
You who are simple, gain prudence;
you who are foolish, set your hearts on it.
The inexperienced one believes anything,
but the sensible one watches his steps.
The book of Proverbs is valuable for anyone who desires to grow in God’s wisdom, but if there is one group of people the book is especially relevant for, it is the young and simple who are sitting on the edge between wisdom and foolishness. The first nine chapters of the book are structured differently than the last 20+ chapters. It reads as instruction from a father to his son (who is simple — young, naïve, impressionable, moldable). The father presents a path before his son to follow and recognizes that along the path, his son will face considerable opposition and significant choices. The father’s responsibility is to teach his son to choose the way of wisdom and to avoid the allure of folly.
As you read through Proverbs, ask yourself which group you belong to, but do not stop at its application for your own life and how you can navigate it with wisdom. Move your gaze to those who are in your care and influence, and consider how you can pass along wise instruction to those who have the chance to turn away from foolishness and embrace God’s wisdom.