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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
February 5, 2012
Introduction to Proverbs
Over the last few months we have been studying the prophecies in Daniel. Some of them have already been fulfilled and so are great proofs of the hand of God in the affairs of men. Only God can reveal what will happen in the future with 100% accuracy. Other parts of these prophecies are still to be fulfilled in the future. (See: History Foretold) That in itself makes them interesting to us because people are curious about the future. More importantly, however, is that an understanding of what God said will happen in the future should cause us to be wise in what we do in the present. I pointed this out in my sermon last week. (See: The Time of the End) The apostle Peter put it succinctly in 2 Peter 3:14-15 as he considered the culmination of the ages, “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation.”
This morning we begin a journey to be diligent to live in such a manner. As I pointed out last week, we want to be those who walk as wise men, not unwise men. We want to redeem or make the most of our time because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15-16). Our quest in the next four months or so will be to gain the wisdom necessary for practical everyday living from the book of Proverbs.
We live in a time and place in which education and knowledge have replaced wisdom and understanding. There is no lack for those who have college degrees of various sorts. In just the 10 year period from 1998/99 to 2008/09 29.5 million people in the United Stated gained some sort of college degree (Associate – 7.27 m. / Bachelors – 15.33 m / Masters -5.98 m / Doctorate – .93 m). And the rate of people earning college degrees during that period increased by 39%. No doubt many of these college graduates have high IQ’s and can be properly called intelligent or smart, but how many are wise and how many are what my parents used to refer to as educated fools? They make lots of money, but live in perpetual debt. They surround themselves with lots of stuff they wanted, but they are still not content. They pursue many pleasures, but remain unsatisfied. They have lots of gadgets to enable them to communicate and participate in social networks, but their relationships are shallow and their personal lives are in turmoil.
Information now flows in incredible volumes, but has it really improved daily life? While knowledge is necessary to form a foundation for understanding, knowledge itself does not result in understanding. Game show contestants who manage to remember some of the factoids from the flood of knowledge being poured out are cheered on to win the prize, but has that knowledge found application in living a successful life? While I admit I am impressed that people can remember such things as what actor or actress played what character in a movie, or is able to recite the statistics of various sports figures, I am disturbed by our entertainment culture that ignores the personal moral character of such stars and gives little thought to the message of the movies they watch. There is much knowledge, but there is little understanding.
It is my concern that wisdom is injected back into our society for we have become a nation that is unwise in much too many ways. Even more so, I am concerned that God’s people walk in wisdom both for the glory of God and for their own sake. When the followers of Christ succumb to be conformed by the pressures of the world, then they live lives of foolishness that ultimately bring shame on the name of Christ. An understanding of the book of Proverbs is an advanced doctorate in wisdom for daily life that will remove that foolishness that is too often a characteristic of the average Christian in America.
Proverbs trains the mind to think and evaluate life in a moral context directing us to do what is right and by that train our character in godliness. It teaches us to be wise so that we can live honestly, courageously and skillfully so we can fulfill God’s purposes in our lives. True success is accomplishing what your Creator intended.
I liked the various statements J. Sidlow Baxter made concerning this book. Proverbs are “pointed precepts for practical prudence.” They are “laws from heaven for life on earth” or “counsels from above for conduct below.” Proverbs are “the words of the wise on the ways of the world.”
Let me give you a practical example of this practical wisdom at work before we even dig into the book. In the course of my life I have had much interaction with both professing Christians that are legalistic and those who are licentious. Both groups actually have the same root problem. Their only real difference is where they draw their personal standards of conduct. Both miss the application of godly wisdom into daily life in order to live well within the commands and precepts of our God.
The legalist tries to be holy by setting a standard higher than God does and then calling it sin to break this man made standard. That was a major problem for the Pharisees who often went way beyond what God had said such as in their many rules concerning keeping the Sabbath. Jesus soundly condemned them saying they were teaching as doctrines the precepts of men (Matthew 15:9).
The licentious person thinks he is safe as long as he does not commit an act of sin, so his concern it what constitutes an act of sin. He can then get as close to the line as possible and still justify himself. This attitude is nothing new for Jesus spoke out against it in His teachings. What is surprising is that a person who is legalistic in one area can be licentious in another area – usually the areas of sin they either like or do not do so well in avoiding. In Matthew 5 Jesus corrected several areas of the common teachings of the Pharisees – murder, adultery, divorce, vows, revenge and love. In each case Jesus cited what they taught and then exposed how far off it was from the purpose of God’s command. For example, they taught that it was the physical act of adultery that was sin. Jesus took it back to an issue of the mind and heart saying, “that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her had committed adultery with her already in his heart.” They thought they were safe if they avoided breaking the seventh commandment concerning adultery, but Jesus pointed out they broke the tenth commandment in coveting and so they also broke the seventh commandment in their minds long before any act of adultery or fornication took place. I mention this particular sin because President Clinton’s legacy has been a generation of young people that seek to use his same defense of redefining words to excuse what they are doing. God defines sin, not man, and God will judge by His own standards, not those of man.
The wisdom taught in Proverbs 21:2 cuts to the core of the issue for both groups saying, “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, But the Lord weighs the hearts.” Neither those who are legalistic or those who are licentious have hearts fixed on God and so they fail in actually living godly lives. They fo
ol themselves with what they think is an outward appearance of righteousness, but the Lord knows the evil that actually exists within them. Until they gain wisdom, they will continue in the deception of their self righteousness.
The Author – Proverbs 1:1
While most Bible translations entitle this book as “Proverbs,” “The Proverbs” or “The Proverbs of Solomon,” the first six verses constitute its actual title and purpose statement with verse 7 introducing the theme of the book. The first verse introduces us to its principal author. Proverbs 1:1 “The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel:”
We know from 1 Kings 4:32 that Solomon “spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005.” The passage then goes on to describe his knowledge of trees, shrubs, animals, birds, creeping things and fish. People came from all over to hear the wisdom of Solomon. This wisdom was a gift from God in answer to his prayer recorded in 1 Kings 3:5-9. “In Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night; and God said, “Ask what [you wish] me to give you.” 6 Then Solomon said, “Thou hast shown great lovingkindness to Thy servant David my father, according as he walked before Thee in truth and righteousness and uprightness of heart toward Thee; and Thou hast reserved for him this great lovingkindness, that Thou hast given him a son to sit on his throne, as [it is] this day. 7 “And now, O Lord my God, Thou hast made Thy servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 “And Thy servant is in the midst of Thy people which Thou hast chosen, a great people who cannot be numbered or counted for multitude. 9 “So give Thy servant an understanding heart to judge Thy people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Thine?”
1 Kings 3:10-14 records God’s answer, “And God said to him, “Because you have asked this thing and have not asked for yourself long life, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have you asked for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself discernment to understand justice, 12 behold, I have done according to your words. Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you. 13 “And I have also given you what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that there will not be any among the kings like you all your days. 14 “And if you walk in My ways, keeping My statutes and commandments, as your father David walked, then I will prolong your days.”
God gave Solomon a wise and discerning heart and no mere mortal before or after Solomon compares to him in wisdom. The only man that exceeds him is Jesus himself (Luke 11:31). It is sad that Solomon did not follow the wisdom given to him, for he married many foreign women even though Deuteronomy 17:17 specifically warned against having many wives. They eventually did what the command warned about and they turned his heart away from the Lord (1 Kings 11:4). This brings up from the very beginning that knowledge of wisdom is not the same as acting in wisdom. Learning and memorizing many proverbs will not do you any good if you will not put into practice its truths.
The book of Proverbs only contains a small portion of the 3,000 proverbs Solomon spoke. These are contained in three sections with additional sections by other authors also complied into the book. Chapters 1-9 contain 15 discourses and two monologues by Solomon extolling wisdom and warning about foolishness. Chapters 10-22:16 is the first collection of Solomon’s proverbial maxims. Proverbs 22:17 -24:34 are the “sayings of the wise.” Chapters 25-29 are additional proverbial maxims of Solomon that were transcribed by the men of Hezekiah. Among those men could have been the prophets Isaiah and Micah. Chapter 30 are the words of Agur the son of Jakeh. We do not have any further identification of him. Chapter 31 is the “words of King Lemuel, the oracle which his mother taught him.” It is the wisdom from a godly mother to her son. There is no further identification of King Lemuel, though there are some who suggest it may be another name for Solomon.
It is reasonable to assume that the first two sections of Proverbs may have been available as early as the later part of Solomon’s reign which ended in 931 B.C. It is unknown when the sections of the “words of the wise” as well the words of Agur and King Lemuel were added. The sections compiled by Hezekiah’s men would date from about 700 – 687 B.C. The final arrangement which has been passed down to us would have been no later than about 400 B.C.
This book then is a compilation under the direction of the Holy Spirit of the proverbs of Solomon and others, but what is a proverb? The Hebrew word translated as proverb is mashal which means “represent,” “be like,” “to become like,” “resemble” or “be comparable to.” There is both a narrow and broader sense to this word. The English word, proverb, which arises from the Latin proverbium meaning “on behalf of words” or “a set of words put forth,” explains the more narrow sense. A proverb explains or expresses a general truth or well known fact in a short sentence rather than in many words. In the most narrow sense, a proverb does this with a short, pithy statement in a single balanced sentence consisting of two parallel phrases. These phrases may be complementary, comparative or contrasting. There are 430 such statements in the book of Proverbs.
Just to give you a better idea of what I am talking about, here are a few examples of each of these types.
Proverbs 11:30 is complementary or synonymous. “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, And he who is wise wins souls.” The second phrase adds to the first part of the sentence and carries it a little farther. Notice the same thing in Proverbs 16:3, “Commit your works to the Lord, And your plans will be established.”
Proverbs 13:20 is antithetic or contrasting parallelism. “He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm.” The actions of the wicked are compared to those of the righteous. Proverbs 14:1 is another example of this type. “The wise woman builds her house, But the foolish tears it down with her own hands.” The use of the conjunction, “but,” makes this kind of proverb easy to spot.
Proverbs 26:1 is a synthetic or comparative parallel. “Like snow in summer and like rain in harvest, So honor is not fitting for a fool.” The first part of the sentence is compared with the second part. Proverbs 16:8 is another example of this type. “Better is a little with righteousness Than great income with injustice.” Comparative words such as “like,” “as,” “better than,” “worse than, “etc. are good clues to identify this type of proverb.
If in a verse of two lines, one or more factual elements in it are related to a moral concept, it may be referred to as a parabolic distich. Proverbs 18:7 is an example of this. “A fool’s mouth is his ruin, And his lips are the snare of his soul.” Proverbs 26:8 is another example. “A lying tongue hates those it crushes, And a flattering mouth works ruin.”
But there is also a much broader meaning of mashal which includes extended parables such as in Ezekiel 17:2-24 and didactic or teaching discourses such as the many that occur in the first nine chapters of Proverbs. It also includes the longer epigrams in chapters 22-24 which tend to be two or more sentences long, and the acrostic poem in Proverbs 31:10-31 which describes the virtuous woman.
There is one final thing to keep in mind about proverbs before we examine the purpose of the book as explained in verses 2-6. A proverb is a general statement of what is normally true in life. They are not absolute statements and sho
uld not be treated as promises. For example, Proverbs 15:1 states, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.” While it is true that a gentle answer is more likely to calm a situation down than a provoking statement, that does not always happen. Even Jesus’ gentle response did not turn away the anger and cruelty of the crowd and those who crucified Him. Countless Christians have responded in gentleness yet still suffered at the hands of evil men for the sake of righteousness on account of the name of Christ.
The Purpose of Proverbs – Proverbs 1:2-6
The purpose of Proverbs is clearly addressed in verses 2-6
2 To know wisdom and instruction, To discern the sayings of understanding, 3 To receive instruction in wise behavior, Righteousness, justice and equity; 4 To give prudence to the naive, To the youth knowledge and discretion, 5 A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel, 6 To understand a proverb and a figure, The words of the wise and their riddles.
Let’s look at each of these phrases in detail
To know wisdom and instruction. Wisdom is from hokm” which refers to a manner of thinking and attitude concerning life’s experiences which included both general interests and basic morality. It is used in reference to the entire range of human experience from technical skill and craftsmanship to battle tactics and government administration. In the Hebrew Scriptures, wisdom is tied to the revelation of God and His will of what is holy, righteous and just, and so it differs greatly from the Greek concept which was theoretical and speculative. In true wisdom human will and understanding is submissive to God’s will and revelation for wisdom resides in God (Job 12:13). The wisdom spoken about throughout the wisdom literature of the Old Testament subjects the practical things learned from human experience to the revelation of God so that man can live the best possible moral and ethical life. Without a knowledge of God and willingness to follow Him, there cannot be true wisdom in man. Luis Goldberg described wisdom well saying it is “exhibiting God’s character in the many practical affairs of life.”
Instruction is from m s r and is also translated as discipline. It is used of parental correction which results in education of their child. This discipline was most often given by words of rebuke and instruction, but it could also include physical correction. This is not a negative. It is the quest to remove folly and build up the character of the child and it arises out of a love for the child. Proverbs 13:24 also uses this word and explains the love behind it. “He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” The father – child analogy is used often of God’s relationship with Israel and His discipline of them in training them to become a holy people. Hebrews 12:6-8 explains that God does the same thing with Christians and that it arises out of His love. This discipline is actually proof of being God’s child.
Proverbs gives knowledge of wisdom and instruction.
To discern the sayings of understanding. Discern and understanding are from the same root word, bîn. It is variously translated as understand, insight and discern. It includes the concept of being able to distinguishing between things. This is knowledge that is much greater than just having a lot of facts. It can distinguish between those facts along with the ability to use them to make proper judgments. In Proverbs this is especially applied to distinguishing between right and wrong, good and evil, just and unjust, etc.
The sayings of understanding would be all those things designed to give a person the ability to use knowledge in life. This would include not only wisdom literature but also the rest of the sacred writings. Proverbs then not only seeks to give sayings of understanding, but also teach the person how to apply those sayings properly in the context of godliness. Without godly discernment, people will pervert and misapply even what God has said in the Scriptures.
To receive instruction in wise behavior, Righteousness, justice and equity. Instruction here is again m s r. By paying attention to Proverbs we will gain training in wise behavior, righteousness, justice and equity according to God’s design. The word “wise” here, sakal, is different from wisdom, hokm”, in verse 1, though the two are used synonymously in many instances. The fine distinction here is that sakal “relates to an intelligent knowledge of reason.” It is the ability to think through complex matters and see what lies behind them and so make wise decisions about them. Wise behavior is performing the proper actions before God which in this verse are according to what is righteous, just and equitable according to God’s standards. The wicked pervert the standards according to their own bent even to the point they call good, evil and evil, good. If it is not right before God, it is not righteous. If it is not just according to God’s law, it is injustice regardless of what man’s laws may be. It is not equitable or fair unless it is so by what God has declared.
To give prudence to the naive, To the youth knowledge and discretion. Prudence is from orm” and carries the idea of being astute, having sharp powers of judgment. This, of course, comes with experience and training which is just what the naive lack or they would be on guard against the falsehoods being proclaimed around them. To be naive is more than just to be simple or ignorant. It is also to be open minded, and the problem with an open mind is that anything can come into it. Proverbs gives the proper screen to protect from what is wrong before God.
In the same way, Proverbs gives to those who are young and therefore lacking in training and experience what they need – knowledge and discretion. Knowledge is not just a cognitive acquisition of facts, but also the skill to use those facts to accomplish things. The same word is used to describe skill in hunting (Genesis 25:27) and playing a musical instrument (1 Samuel 16:16). Discretion, mezimm”, is the ability to plan and carry out your purpose.
A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel. These are the marks of a wise man and the purpose of Proverbs. Those who are wise will pay attention to gain more instruction and insight. Those who have understanding know the value of having the right counsel gathered so that they can make the right choices and go the right direction. Proverbs provides counsel from the wisest of sources.
To understand a proverb and a figure, The words of the wise and their riddles. The greater your familiarity with the book of Proverbs, the greater will be your ability to understand the meaning of the various expressions of wisdom it contains – proverbs, figures, sayings and riddles – and apply their truths to your own life in very practical ways. The starting point of this quest is stated in the next verse which is the theme for the book.
Theme: Proverbs 1:7
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Wisdom must begin with the fear of the Lord for without that fear man will go his own way and reject true wisdom in favor of what is right in his own eyes as is declared in the second phrase of the verse. The fool is blinded by both the god of this age, Satan, and his own innate sinfulness and pride. He actually believes that his way i
s better than what has been declared by God. Though the evidence is all around him and overwhelming, he cannot perceive or understand it and so he perverts the truth until it is deformed enough to fit into his own worldview. There is no hope for such a person until they are shaken enough to seek truth regardless of the cost. The fear of the Lord will do this.
The word for fear here, yir'”, has two components – terror and reverence. There should be a proper terror of the Lord in the heart of every sinner because they stand condemned by the holy, righteous and just Creator. They have not only missed the mark of keeping His perfect will in unrighteousness, they have also disobeyed His law, rebelled against His rule, allowed iniquity to direct their hearts and walked the paths of evil. Unless there is some intervention they will be judged by Him according to their deeds which will condemned them to eternal Hell. The terror of this horrible destiny should cause them to diligent search for a way to avoid it.
There is a way, but only one way. That is the message of the Gospel. God Himself intervenes on behalf of man to pay the price of sin which is death. He then grants forgiveness to those who accept this payment on their behalf. God remains just because the penalty of His law is satisfied. He is also merciful and gracious because He pays this price Himself to redeem sinful man for Himself. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the righteous man looked forward to God’s promise of this sacrifice being completed. In the New Testament we find that Jesus is that sacrifice and we now look back upon it as an historical reality.
Being justified by a gift of His grace we no longer are terrorized by God’s presence. Instead, we long for it and the fear of the Lord takes on its second component which is reverence. It is the proper respect due Him because He is Creator and we are His creatures; He is our Father and we are His children. That reverence is the sign of our humility before Him, and humility is necessary in order to learn and mature.
God gives grace to the humble, but He resists the proud. Pride is the mark of a fool, and that pride will result in a rejection of wisdom and instruction and so salvation too.
Proverbs is a call to be humble and wise to follow the ways of the Lord and a warning to turn away from pride and foolishness. May we be careful to heed its message.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down the scripture references and look them up later 2) Count how many times “proverb”is said. 3) Discuss with your parents the purpose of proverbs and how you can be wise and avoid foolishness.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What is the connection between the study of future prophecy and living in practical wisdom? In what ways is education and knowledge replacing wisdom and understanding in the United States? Give examples you have seen. Has the information and communications explosion been helpful, detrimental or neutral to living successfully before God – explain. What are the consequences when a believer conforms to the world? What are the differences between legalism and licentiousness? What are their similarities? How did Jesus correct both in Matthew 5? How does Proverbs 21:2 correct both groups? Who is the principal author of Proverbs? How did he get so much wisdom? What sections did he write. Who wrote the other sections of the book? What is the difference between knowing wisdom and practicing wisdom? What is a proverb? What kinds of proverbs are there in the book? What other kinds of wisdom literature are in the book of Proverbs? Why can’t a proverb be taken as a promise? Considering Proverbs 1:2-6: What is wisdom? How does Hebrew wisdom differ from Greek wisdom? What is in instruction? What is its proper motivation? What is discernment? How does Proverbs instruct in wise behavior, righteousness, justice and equity? Who sets the standard for wise behavior? What is prudence? Why do the naive need it? Why do the young need knowledge and discretion? Why do wise men continue to increase in wisdom? What is getting counsel so important? How does the book of Proverbs help in the understanding of other wisdom literature? Why is the fear of the Lord the beginning of knowledge? What kind of fear is this? Why do fools despise wisdom and instruction? What kind of fear should believers have for the Lord? What is the relationship between intelligence and wisdom? What is the relationship between humility and wisdom?
Sermon Notes – 2/5/2012
Introduction to Proverbs – Proverbs 1:1-7
We want to walk as ___________ men who make the most of the time (Eph. 5:15-16)
Education and knowledge have replaced _____________ and understanding
We have many, many highly educated people, but how many of them are _________?
Knowledge floods our society, but few _____________ how to live a life pleasing to our Creator
We must learn to walk in wisdom both for the glory of __________ and for our own sake
Proverbs trains the mind to think, evaluate and live life in a _____________ context
Proverbs are “pointed precepts for practical prudence.”
The legalist and the licentious have different standards, but the ___________ root problem
The legalist thinks he is holy because he lives by a standard higher than _____________
The licentious thinks he is holy as long as he does not commit the _______ of sin
Jesus corrected both errors in Matthew 5 – the first sin – ____________ – resulted in more sin
Proverbs 21:2 – “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, But the Lord weighs the _____________.”
The Author – Proverbs 1:1
Solomon is the principal author. He spoke _______________ proverbs – 1 Kings 4:32
Solomon’s wisdom was a __________ from God in answer to prayer – 1 Kings 3:5-14
Sadly, Solomon did not follow the wisdom given to him and disobeyed ________________
The knowledge of wisdom is not the same as _____________ in wisdom
1-9: Solomon’s Discourses. 10-22:16 – Solomon’s proverbs. 22:17-24:34 – Sayings of the wise
25-29: Solomon’s proverbs transcribed by Hezekiah’s men. 30: Words of Agur. 31: Words of Lemuel
A mashal – Proverb – in narrowest sense: a short, pithy sentence consisting of ________parallel phrases
_________________ : Proverbs 11:30; 16:3
_________________: Proverbs 13:20; 14:1
_________________: Proverbs 26:1; 16:8
_________________: Proverbs 18:7; 26:8
mashal in broad sense: A parable or ______________ discourse – Proverbs 1-9, 22-24; 31:10-31
Proverbs are general statements of what is _____________true. They are neither absolutes nor promises
The Purpose of Proverbs – Proverbs 1:2-6
Wisdom: hokm” – a manner of _______________ & attitude concerning life’s experiences
True wisdom ____________what is learned from experience to the revelation of God to live a moral life
Discern & understanding : bîn. – able to _____________ between things – especially good from evil
Sayings of understanding: all those things designed to give a person the ______to use knowledge in life
Wise: sakal – ability to think through _______matters, see what underlies them & make good decisions
Wise behavior acts according to ___________ standard of righteousness, justice & equity
Prudence: orm” – ______, having sharp powers of judgment – this comes through experience & training
Naive – simple, ignorant, open minded – proverbs gives the proper screen to _______from what is wrong
Proverbs give the young the facts, skills and ability to plan and carry out the proper _______before God
The wise pay attention and ___________ more instruction and insight
Those with understanding will gather good _______- proverbs provides counsel from the wisest sources
Familiarity with Proverbs increases ____________ to understand with wisdom it contains.
Theme: Proverbs 1:7
Wisdom must begin with the ___________ of the Lord for without it men go their own foolish ways
Fear: yir'” – ____________ of the Lord – the unrighteous have good reason to be terrified of God
This terror should cause them to diligently ______________ for a means of escape
The gospel is God’s _________________ of a way of escape from sin and its consequences
Those justified by God’s gift of grace fear – yir'” – in the sense of ___________- proper respect due Him
Proverbs calls the _______& wise to follow the ways of the Lord and warns against pride & foolishness
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