God desires and commands us to live in wisdom—”Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.” (Ephesians 5:15).
In Proverbs 23:23 we are told to “get wisdom,” and the Proverbs themselves are one of the best places to observe and learn that wisdom. God gave us this book to teach us how to walk in wisdom—that is, how to conduct and regulate our lives. It helps us conform our lives to God’s character and standards.
The Proverbs, like all Scripture, are from God. They show us something of the compassion of God-that he cares enough about us to give us such careful instructions for obtaining and practicing wisdom. He does not want us to live foolishly.
Throughout this book, God reveals general truths about how we are to conduct ourselves in areas of life like relationships, finances, work, and how we speak to others. These truths are condensed into small units through figures of speech, brief comparisons, mottos, and short parables*.
*What is a parable? Parables are simple stories used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, as told by Jesus.
Proverbs performs all the functions of Scripture mentioned in 2 Timothy 3:16—”It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” In Proverbs, God teaches us principles that will bring us peace and contentment, chides us for the things we have done in sin, shows us how to correct our way of life, and trains us to live righteously.
This book was given also to strengthen our trust in God. “So that your trust may be in the Lord,” we read in Proverbs 22:19, “I am teaching you today—yes, you—so you will trust in the Lord.”
Solomon, the author of most of the Proverbs, comments on their purpose in the book’s first six verses, and in verse seven tells us the underlying foundation for wisdom: “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge.”
Such passages in , Proverbs 8:12–14, and Proverbs 9:10 show how wisdom, knowledge, and understanding are bound together, and how all are based on the fear of God. The wisdom taught in Proverbs is godly wisdom, which has three basic characteristics: the fear of the Lord, spirituality, and skill.
Fearing the Lord means having a deep reverence and respect for God and his Word, a respect and reverence that result in obedience. Such an attitude is found in those who are humble—”With humility comes wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2)—and it cannot be found by a “mocker” or bought by a fool: “A mocker seeks wisdom and never finds it” (Proverbs 14:6).
Godly wisdom is also spiritual. It enters into our hearts from God. The Holy Spirit who rested on Christ was “the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:2). Paul prayed over the Christians in Colossae (Colossians), that they would know God’s will, and it would “give you spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9).
Wisdom is also skill—the ability to apply and use knowledge effectively. Wisdom is “working knowledge.” It is made evident by what it accomplishes, for Jesus said, “wisdom is shown to be right by its results” (Matthew 11:19), and “wisdom is shown to be right by the lives of those who follow it” (Luke 7:35). Wisdom can waste away or spoil if it is not used. In Jeremiah 49:7, God questioned the people of Edom about the “decay” of wisdom there, and in Ezekiel 28:17 He spoke against the city of Tyre because she had “corrupted” her wisdom.
What about us? Have we somehow allowed our God-given skills and wisdom to decay? Through failure to spend time with God and lack of discipline, we could lose our skills, and find our hearts becoming cold to God and our reverence corrupted.
Wisdom is not a “natural” quality, but comes only from God. “For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6). Job said, “the Lord grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Job 12:13). Our wisdom is rooted in Jesus Christ, “For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself.” (1 Corinthians 1:30), and “In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:3).
Since wisdom comes from God, it is something we can ask him for—”If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you” (James 1:5). The Proverbs are an eternal testimony to this. King Solomon asked the Lord for wisdom, and God gave him “very great wisdom and understanding, and knowledge as vast as the sands of the seashore.” (1 Kings 4:29). As a result “People from every nation came to consult him and to hear the wisdom God had given him.”(1 Kings 10:24).
Today, who is seeking from you the wisdom you have asked for and received from God?
Wisdom comes from God, but it is also something we can put forth an effort to obtain—unlike salvation. We are commanded to obtain it—”Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do!” (Proverbs. 4:7).
Since God created everything in wisdom (Psalm 104:24, Proverbs 3:19), we can learn wisdom from observing creation. It cries out to us from every direction: “Wisdom shouts in the streets. She cries out in the public square.” (Proverbs 1:20).
In Proverbs 8:11 we read that wisdom “is far more valuable than rubies. Nothing you desire can compare with it.” What makes wisdom so valuable?
Wisdom provides more protection in this world than wealth. “Wisdom and money can get you almost anything, but only wisdom can save your life.” (Ecclesiastes 7:12).
In our hostile world, wisdom gives us the ability to overcome difficulties: “The wise are mightier than the strong, and those with knowledge grow stronger and stronger.” (Proverbs 24:5). It will ensure success in our undertakings: “A house is built by wisdom and becomes strong through good sense.” (Proverbs 24:3).
Wisdom can even enhance the way we look: “Wisdom lights up a person’s face, softening its harshness.” (Ecclesiastes 8:1).
To have wisdom is to fear the Lord, to receive spiritual understanding from him, to exercise in a holy way the knowledge and abilities we have, and to keep growing in all these areas—so that our lives are constantly being conformed to God’s character and standards. Through reading, studying, and living out the Proverbs we can move closer to this goal.
How should we study the Proverbs? One good method is to read one chapter each day of the month (there are thirty-one chapters), and to pick out the verse or verses each day that strike home in your current situation or problems. Think about how the verse illustrates God’s character and standards, and ask God to help you use the verse in your life. Write down the verse in a notebook or mark it in your Bible so you can review it later. You may also want to memorize it.
In whatever way you study this book or any other portion of Scripture, always approach it with deep respect and reverence. Ask God to touch and enlighten you, and deliberately seek to put into practice what God reveals to you.
Inspired to study Proverbs yourself? Try these helpful resources, alongside your Bible:
See what a God-shaped life looks like when it gets lived out. Using memorable images and poetic turns of phrase, Proverbs describes what our everyday lives look like when we’ve put our spiritual lives in order. Find help for every decision, and apply life-giving insights to the broad range of challenges you experience in your life—family, friendships, injustice, desire, goodness, conflict, and more.
Ruining your life is easy, but living well takes practice. Practice and wisdom. You supply the practice, and The Message of Proverbs will supply the wisdom.
This slim, small booklet is ready to go with you—in your bag, briefcase, purse, or pocket. Whatever situation you are facing today, The Message of Proverbs offers you the wisdom you need to see your circumstances in a new light.
Wherever you are in life, open The Message of Proverbs to find direction for your next step.