The Purpose of the Proverbs

As we open the book of Proverbs in order to discover divine wisdom for ourselves, an appropriate question to ask is, why? Why has God preserved these sayings down through the centuries? If we go back to the preamble of the book, we’ll find the answer. You might want to glance back over Proverbs 1:1–9. As I reflect on those words, I find five reasons God gave us this book of wisdom:

1. To inspire reverence and obedience within the reader’s heart

The opening words of the first section establish the purpose for the entire book in very clear terms: “to know wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:2). Remember, in the Hebrew mind, to “know wisdom” is to put instruction into actual practice. Failing to do what we know to do is the definition of foolishness. Therefore, the chief aim of the book of Proverbs is to bring divine truth into proper focus, enabling us to look at life through God’s eyes—from His eternal, all-knowing point of view—and then live accordingly. Proverbs teaches us how to gain wisdom from God’s reproofs so that, in the power of the Spirit, we will obey.

2. To teach discernment

“To discern the sayings of understanding” (1:2). Discern is a crucial term. The Hebrew term means “to separate; to make distinct.” Discernment is the ability to look at a situation and clearly see all its moving parts. A discerning mind has the ability to think critically, to distinguish truth from error, and to anticipate the likely consequences of any given choice.

3. To develop alertness in the walk

“To receive instruction in wise behavior, righteousness, justice and equity” (1:3). The original term translated receive carries with it the idea of mobility, taking something along with you, or hauling something. In this case, the student of God’s sayings gains “instruction in wise behavior.” The proverbs make us alert for the journey of life. Anyone who has driven long distances can affirm that bad things happen—wrong turns at best; fatal crashes at worst—when the driver is no longer alert. These Old Testament proverbs help us remain attentive to our surroundings and aware of potential dangers.

4. To establish discretion and purpose in life

“To give prudence to the naive, to the youth knowledge and discretion” (1:4). The Hebrew concept of wisdom doesn’t put ignorance and foolishness in the same category. The term rendered naive means, literally, “simple.” Those who have not experienced much of life or have not yet benefited from education are like workers without tools or warriors without weapons. Youthful and naive people approach life poorly equipped. Intellectually empty-handed, they cannot accomplish much as laborers, and they remain defenseless against attack. The sages offered this intellectual and spiritual equipment to the simple, to those who are naive and young.

While some readers and hearers will be older than others, none have “arrived” in life’s journey. Regardless of age or experience, each person remains young and naive in some respect. The book of Proverbs—and Solomon’s section in particular—assures us that these sayings will equip us for life’s challenges. To all those who wander aimlessly, lacking purpose and embracing merely a human viewpoint of existence, the wisdom of God offers hope!

5. To cultivate keenness of mind

“To understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles” (1:6).

These sayings will help us think keenly: divine wisdom will give our minds a razor-sharp edge. Keep in mind such blades require the application of friction if they are to stay sharp. This process of honing causes sparks and is rarely pleasant. Like that hard stone, the proverbs prepare our minds to slice through layers of falsehood to the core of truth in any matter. Divine wisdom gives us the ability to understand more of life’s riddles. Before long, the grind of a merely human viewpoint will slowly be replaced by the wisdom of God’s perspective.

From Living the Proverbs by Charles R. Swindoll, copyright © 2012. Reprinted by permission of Worthy Inspired., an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

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