How to Read the Book of Proverbs

Have you ever talked with someone who was very wise? Undoubtedly, most of us can think of someone we know whom we look up to for advice about life, and maybe we wonder how they got to be so wise. The Bible talks a great deal about wisdom, specifically in the book of Proverbs.

The Old Testament book of Proverbs tells us it all starts with fearing the Lord. The fear of the Lord is reverence for him, acknowledging that he is the author of all things (Prov. 9:10). Wisdom begins and ends with God, who is the source of all wisdom: "For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding" (Prov. 2:6). To have wisdom is by definition to acknowledge that God is the creator of the universe who is the fountain of all knowledge, truth, and goodness.

Proverbs is like a map.  

Wisdom is a proper ordering of our lives according to a framework or standard. Scripture tells us that standard is God and his commandments. God is holy and perfect, meaning he is the standard of all goodness. A wise person lives in accordance with God’s own wisdom, and his wisdom is always in accord with all of his attributes. Proverbs is like a map that we can turn to when we need guidance applying God’s standards to the many and varied situations in life.

Then you will understand righteousness and justice
and equity, every good path;
 for wisdom will come into your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. (Prov. 2:9–12)

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17)

Wisdom has to do with understanding the way of righteousness, justice, equity, and goodness. It is the way of living that implements these qualities.

Wisdom is precious.

The one who wants wisdom should pursue it with zeal, as if it were buried treasure.

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
and the one who gets understanding,
for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
and her profit better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her. (Prov. 3:13–15)

The way wisdom is talked about and described demonstrates how highly God values wisdom. God delights in wisdom and used it to create the world (Prov. 8:22–31). Whoever finds wisdom finds favor with God (Prov. 8:35).

Wisdom begins by asking for it.

It is the Lord who gives wisdom as a gift. Searching for it begins by asking God to grant us wisdom. "For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding" (Prov. 2:6). In his essay “Theology and Wisdom,” J. I. Packer writes,

To honor, adore, and trust God in this way, and to acknowledge in prayer that wisdom comes from him alone (Jas 1:5), is to be wise at the most basic level. (The Way of Wisdom: Essays in Honor of Bruce K. Waltke, p. 7).

Packer explains that wisdom is a gift because God is the fountain of all wisdom:

For only God is wise in himself and always free of folly; and human wisdom is a gift of God every time, never an unaided human achievement. ( p. 7).

This great gift of wisdom can be pursued throughout a lifetime of gaining knowledge of God, learning discernment, experience, and turning away from evil, arrogance, and pride, and continuing to fear the Lord.

Wisdom trusts in God.

The wise person trusts in God to guide and watch over his people. Before we do anything else, we must ask God for wisdom. After that, the search for this great gift can be pursued throughout a lifetime of gaining knowledge of God, learning discernment, turning away from evil, arrogance, and pride, and continuing to fear the Lord.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding…
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. (Prov. 3:5–7)

God grants to the world a certain amount of natural wisdom, which is why many non-Christians can have some measure of wisdom. To the world, however, God’s ultimate act of wisdom—sending Christ—seems foolish (1 Cor. 1:25). The wisdom of the world tells you to pursue money and power so you will be happy or become renowned or important—so your life will mean something. Wisdom that acknowledges Christ to be the Son of God and Savior of the world knows that life itself can only be found in communion with God. This wisdom can only come from knowing God’s word that is “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). Living a wise life ultimately is living in light of salvation in Christ (Col. 2:3).

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Leah Baugh

Leah Baugh is a theologian and writer. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry before turning to theology and receiving a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies. When she's not writing she is learning Chinese or traveling. Connect with Leah on Twitter @lhbaugh

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