The Book of Proverbs contains practical, timeless wisdom. It’s conversational in nature and easy to understand. It’s inspired by God, and constitutes a collection of wisdom, experience, and insight – establishing a foundation of knowledge and common sense that is based on the human experience.
The primary author of Proverbs is Solomon, who asked and was granted great wisdom by God. Solomon was a great King of Israel, known for his exceptional wisdom. In the Jewish Talmud, Solomon (Shlomo) was also a prophet. In the Muslim Quran, Solomon (Sulayman) was also a major prophet. The Book of Proverbs appears written prior to 931 BC, probably before 686 BC. Still, its relevance to contemporary life is undeniable. Throughout time, Proverbs has remained an invaluable roadmap to understanding and navigating human behavior. It’s a treasure map leading to wisdom, and it’s an identifier of fools.
Proverbs begins with some ground rules. It states that in order to become wise, “…The first step is to trust and reverence the Lord!” (Proverbs 1:7) In other words, we must treasure and respect God above all else and trust in Him completely if we are to become wise, possibly because a relationship with God puts everything in perspective and gives everything both the physical and spiritual dimension that is needed for knowledge to be complete: “For the reverence and fear of God are basic to all wisdom. Knowing God results in every other kind of understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10) Also, because wisdom is based on truth, and God is truth. (Isaiah 65:16)
Proverbs offers practical wisdom for everyone. It imparts understanding based on what one already knows, so that “the wise become wiser.” (Proverbs 1:5).
Of course, Proverbs assumes that its readers are willing to be taught: “Only fools refuse to be taught.” (Proverbs 1:8) It emphasizes listening to, and learning from, others so that we can apply the combined knowledge and lessons learned from others to the circumstances of our own lives. Ultimately, the goal of Proverbs is to teach wisdom. Proverbs has no patience for those who don’t actively seek wisdom. Instead, it warns of the consequences to anyone who doesn’t honor and revere God, who is complacent about seeking wisdom, who refuses to seek and heed the lessons of others, or who ignores the truth:
“Wisdom shouts in the streets for a hearing. She calls out to the crowds along Main Street, and to the judges in their courts, and to everyone in all the land: ‘You simpletons!’ She cries. ‘How long will you go on being fools? How long will you scoff at wisdom and fight the facts? Come here and listen to me! I’ll pour out the spirit of wisdom upon you and make you wise. I have called you so often, but still you won’t come. I have pleaded, but all in vain. For you have spurned my counsel and reproof. Some day you’ll be in trouble, and I’ll laugh! Mock me, will you? – I’ll mock you! When a storm of terror surrounds you, and when you are engulfed by anguish and distress, then I will not answer your cry for help. It will be too late though you search for me ever so anxiously. For you closed your eyes to the facts and did not choose to reverence and trust the Lord, and you turned your back on me spurning my advice. That is why you must eat the bitter fruit of having your own way and experience the full terrors of the pathway you have chosen. For you turned away from me – to death; your own complacency will kill you. Fools! But all who listen to me shall live in peace and safety, unafraid.” (Proverbs 1:20-33)
Wisdom, it seems, begins and ends with God. Human wisdom requires sharing and a willingness to learn from others. Simply put, wisdom requires a collective effort. When we stop revering and having faith in the Lord, when we stop seeking the truth or we ignore it, or when we refuse to heed the lessons of history or lessons learned by others, we become fools.
And fools ain’t someone we wanna be.
Image: Depiction by San Giovanni Baptistry in Florence, depicting Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon for advice and counsel. May be subject to copyright.