Why Study Proverbs? Part 1

“Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise.”

Proverbs 1:2 (NLT)

In my journalism days I learned to write articles that covered the who, what, when, where and why of a topic or situation. As I read the first five verses of Proverbs 1, I realized most of these questions can be answered regarding this wisdom book of the Bible. Last week, I wrote about Solomon, who authored Proverbs. This week, I’m tackling why we should study Proverbs.

Proverbs 1:2 lays it out plainly for us. The wise sayings in this book teach us wisdom and discipline and they give us insight. Wisdom, discipline and insight are easy words to say, but what do they really mean in the context of Proverbs?

Wisdom. The Hebrew word, chokmah (Strong’s H2451), carries the meanings of wisdom, skill, and wit. In Pr. 1:2, the idea of being skillful in life applies. Wisdom is knowing when to use knowledge in different ways in order to get the best outcome. Wisdom is not just in knowing, but knowing how. It is a skill, or craft, that requires thought and practice. It is not a formula, in which A + B always = C. For example, there are two back to back proverbs that tell us (1) not to answer a fool according to his folly and (2) to answer a fool according to his folly (Pr. 26:4-5). These verses may seem contradictory, but they are not. A person using wisdom knows which of these proverbs to apply to a particular situation, and sometimes this is learned by experience. Wisdom is a skillful art.

Discipline. Based on the Hebrew word for discipline, muwcar (Strong’s H4148), this refers to chastisement, reproof, warning and instruction. Proverbs teach us the value of instruction, even when it means that reproof is required. Proverbs exhort parents to correct their children (Pr. 23:13-14, 29:17) and encourages friends to confront each other for the purpose of restoring one another to Christ (Pr. 27:9,17). Proverbs also remind us that God loves us through his discipline and that accepting his discipline brings blessing (Pr. 3:12, 16:20). Wisdom teaches us who and how to discipline, and it teaches us to graciously accept discipline (Pr. 3:11-12). Sometimes our greatest wisdom is gained through discipline.

Insight. Wise people have insight, which means, according to its Hebrew translation (biynah, Strong’s H998), a perfect understanding. Solomon, the author of Proverbs, requested wisdom from God (1 Ki 3:6-15), and God granted it to him, making him the wisest king ever to live. His proverbs were penned with a perfect understanding of life situations and outcomes and which behaviors please and displease God. Proverbs are therefore, counsel that covers a variety of life issues to help us see God’s truth and learn how to apply his wisdom in our own lives.

When we study Proverbs, we have access to God’s perfect understanding, and we learn the skill of wise living along with the purpose of discipline.

Solomon: A Profile

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

Proverbs 1:1 (NIV)

Have you ever heard a fact so much that you really didn’t question it or consider  learning more about it? This occurred to me as I began reading Chapter 1 of Proverbs this morning. I’ve always accepted that Solomon was the primary author of Proverbs, was known as the world’s wisest man, and that he was David’s son and king of Israel. But, I never really questioned the proof for those facts or what else I might discover about him if I searched the Bible for his information.

So, for this week’s blog post I decided to investigate all the verses I could find regarding Solomon. The primary books that cover his life are 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, and 1 &2 Chronicles. We can also glean information about his thoughts from Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs. He is even briefly mentioned in other books including Nehemiah, Jeremiah, Matthew, Luke and John. From this alone, I discovered, there is plenty to read about Solomon in the Bible!

So, what does the Bible tell us about Solomon?

His Birth

Solomon was David and Bathsheba’s second child, conceived not long after their first baby died at seven days old as a consequence of their adulterous affair and the murder of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband (2 Sa 11-12:24). We can conclude that Solomon is indeed David’s son by the number of times his lineage is mentioned in places such as 2 Samuel 12:24, 1 Chronicles 14:4, Proverbs 1:1, and Ecclesiastes 1:1.

God’s favor was on Solomon, as evidenced by the fact that before his birth, God promised that Solomon would succeed David as king and would reign during a time of peace:

“Behold, a son shall be born to thee, who shall be a man of rest; and I will give him rest from all his enemies round about: for his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quietness unto Israel in his days” (1 Ch 22:9).

And, God showed his love for Solomon at his birth by naming him Jedidiah (2 Sa 12:24-25), which means “loved by the Lord.” Even though the name Solomon means “peace” and is the only name used in the Bible to refer to this wise king, some scholars suggest that David may have called his son Jedidiah. Regardless, God’s action of giving Solomon this name showed his favor toward him.

His Kingship

Several verses throughout the Bible proclaim that Solomon would be king after his father, David: 1 Kings 1:13, 17, 30, 47-48. But the road to kingship was not easily paved. In David’s final days, his son Adonijah tried to make himself king. David overrode it by anointing Solomon, and then Solomon later had Adonijah killed over a request for one of David’s concubines (1 Ki 1, 2:25).

Solomon’s anointing as king was greatly celebrated and his kingdom was firmly established (1 Ki 1:39 and 2:12). Under his kingship, he built the long-waited-for temple (1 Ki 8:13, 2 Ch 6:2, Jn 10:23). Solomon reigned over Israel for 40 years (1 Ki 11:42).

His Wisdom

David’s charge to Solomon, like Solomon’s message to his son in Proverbs, shows the importance of living by God’s standards:

“When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son. ‘I am about to go the way of all the earth,’ he said. ‘So be strong, act like a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go and that the Lord may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’”

1 Ki 2:1-4 (NIV)

David prayed that God would give Solomon wisdom: “May the Lord give you discretion and understanding when he puts you in command over Israel, so that you may keep the law of the Lord your God” (1 Ch 22:12).

Taking his father’s charge and blessing to heart and realizing the great responsibility he would have as king, Solomon understood that he needed wisdom (1 Ki 3:7) and asked God for it. God was pleased with his request, telling him, Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings” (1 Ki 3:10-13).

God answered Solomon’s request by making him a wise king (1 Ki 2:9, 4:29-34, 5:12), and Solomon showed his wisdom through judging fairly (1 Ki 3:16-28), answering difficult questions (1 Ki 10:3) and writing 3,000 proverbs and more than 1,000 songs (1 Ki 4:32).

His Marriages

He married Pharaoh’s daughter as part of an alliance with Egypt (1 Ki 3:1, 7:8, 9:16, 9:24, 2 Ch 8:11). He also took on many foreign wives — Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites (1 Ki 11:1, 3), which resulted in his greatest failure.

His Failures

Because he aligned himself with foreign wives, Solomon violated God’s command in Deuteronomy 17:17 and Exodus 34:16 and turned to paganistic religious practices, which directly broke God’s commandment that he should serve no other gods but Him (Ex 20:3).

Even the wisest of men could still fail. Nehemiah 13:26 tells us, “…He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women.” This sin resulted in a later loss of the kingdom from Solomon’s son Rehoboam  (2 Ch 7:19-20 and 1 Ki 11:9-13).

His Wealth

1 Kings 10:23 sums it up: “King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth.”

Solomon had horses imported from Egypt and all other countries (2 Ch 9:28), he had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horses (1 Ki 10:26), and he made silver seem common and cedar plentiful in Jerusalem (1 Ki 10:27).

In the New Testament, both Matthew 6:29 and Luke 12:27 refer to Solomon’s glory and splendor.

His Authorship

Solomon is listed as the primary author of Proverbs (Pr 1:1, 10:1, 25:1), Ecclesiastes (Ecc 1:1, 12:9), Song of Songs (SS 1:1, 1:5, 3:7, 3:9, 3:11, 8:11-12), and Psalms 72 and 127.

Solomon, in his later years concluded that life only has meaning when God is at its center. His advice to us is to “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecc 12:13). Despite Solomon’s failures, we can trust his wisdom because that wisdom is God-given. And because of Solomon’s failures, we realize that we don’t have to be perfect. What we can embrace is the one who is perfect: Jesus. When we fear God and follow his commands, we show our love for Christ. So, embrace Jesus’ love for you and trust God’s wisdom, as Solomon concluded at the end of his life.

 

 

Fruit of the Faithful

“Whoever tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, and whoever looks after his master will be honored.”

Pr. 27:18 (CSB)

The package on my doorstep contained a golf visor and polo shirt, each with the Professional Convention Management Association name and logo emblazoned on them, and a congratulations letter. I was so excited that hot June afternoon in Montgomery, Ala., 25 years ago when I opened that package and found that I had landed my first professional job – editorial assistant for Convene magazine. Only one month after graduation, my post-college career could begin. In a flurry to find a place live, my mom and I scouted out an apartment and I made the move to Birmingham, Ala., and began my first 8-to-5 job.

I came in early and worked late, either to get ahead or simply to keep up, especially on those days when deadlines were imminent. I wanted to do my best to honor my employer, and in essence, honor the Lord. Proverbs 27:18 encourages us to serve faithfully in whatever we are doing because it brings reward to both the worker and the master.

When I worked hard, the magazine looked good, my employer was happy, and I was rewarded with a raise and a promotion, not to mention a paycheck that allowed me to eat each week. My employer knew I was a Christian, and my strong work ethic brought a good reputation for the Lord. I was, in essence, living the principle described in Pr. 27:18: I was tending my fig tree (job) with care, eating its fruit (getting a paycheck), looking after my master (respecting my boss by doing honest work), and being honored (earning a promotion and raise).

Paul echoes this idea in 1 Cor. 10:31 when he tells us to always bring glory to God in everything we do, even in how we eat and drink. The idea of working faithfully is a theme that runs throughout the Bible:

2 Chronicles 15:7: “But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” (NIV)

Psalm 101:6: “I will look with favor on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he who walks in the way that is blameless shall minister to me.” (NIV)

Matthew 25:23: “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’” (ESV)

Luke 19:17: “His master replied, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very small matter, you shall have authority over ten cities.'” (NIV)

1 Corinthians 3:8: “He who plants and he who waters are one in purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.” (NIV)

1 Peter 4:10: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:” (ESV)

We are called to be faithful to God, and part of that faithfulness is shown by how we treat others and how well we act as stewards of everything God has given us (which just happens to be everything we have).

So, how well are you living the Pr. 27:18 principle?

What is your fig tree at this time of your life? Your career, family, ministry, community?

Are you tending your fig tree well? If not, how can you begin giving it more loving care?

God has given each of us specific gifts and talents with which we help each other and honor him. Work faithfully where the Lord has planted you today, and enjoy the fruits of your own fig tree!