Listen to God's Wisdom

Proverbs 1:1-4, 7-8, 10, 20-22, 32-33

SS Lesson for 06/07/2020


Devotional Scripture: James 3:13-17

Lesson Background and Key Verse

Background from the NIV Standard Lesson Commentary

June concludes the usual season for graduations from high school and college in the USA. Hearing a commencement speaker address the graduating body of students is a standard part of almost any graduation ceremony. Yet how much of what is said reflects genuine wisdom, and how much merely sounds good at the time? Let's imagine for a moment a person getting up at any state university and presenting the graduation speech. The speaker begins, “I want you graduates to strive to be wise and prudent in your behavior. Do what is right and just and fair. Teach others the right way to live; pass along the knowledge that you have.” Some polite applause would perhaps follow these statements. Then the speaker says, “And remember, graduates, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” In this secular setting, no doubt some in the audience would object to the use of religious language. Likely even more people would question the truth of the assertion that wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord. Yet a biblical understanding of wisdom must begin with the fear of the Lord. Like a college graduate starting the next chapter of life, we are invited in this lesson to choose what our lives will look like.


The book of Proverbs is the third of the five books in the Old Testament that are often called “wisdom literature.” (The group also includes Job, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon.) When most people think of proverbs in general (not just the biblical ones), they probably call to mind pithy statements of truth that are good, general advice for navigating life. “Haste makes waste” and “He who hesitates is lost” are generally true statements, but one can see how these statements might contradict each other. The wisdom of each saying is situational. Biblical proverbs are as well, though they are more than just good advice. They are godly advice, based on the crucial premise that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Keeping that premise in mind helps the wise person discern when a certain course of conventional wisdom might not be best for obeying God's laws. Knowing God yields the wisdom to decide well. The book of Proverbs divides itself into three major sections: (1) a long introduction to the collections of proverbs (chap. 1-9), (2) the collections of the proverbs themselves (10:1-31:9), and (3) an acrostic conclusion (31:10-31). There are six collections: (a) proverbs of Solomon (10:1-22:16), (b) words of the wise (22:17-24:22), (c) more words of the wise (24:23-34), (d) more proverbs of Solomon (25:1-29:27), (e) words of Agur (chap. 30), and (f) words of King Lemuel (31:1-9). The four lessons in this unit are drawn from the nine opening chapters of Proverbs (1-9) that exhort the audience to choose to live by God's wisdom. In these chapters, we find more association between individual proverbs than the more randomized sayings that appear from chapter 10 forward. Most scholars see 10 fatherly appeals or lectures in chapters 1-9. These are 1:8-19; 2:1-22; 3:1-12; 3:21-35; 4:1-9; 4:10-19; 4:20-27; 5:1-23; 6:20-35; and 7:1-27. Our text today includes part of the first appeal.


Key Verse: Prov 1:7

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction


Commentary from the Bible Knowledge Commentary

In these verses the author introduced himself and his literary form (v. 1), gave an extended statement of why the proverbs were recorded (vv. 2-6), and stated a theological reason why his readers should become the kind of people he wanted them to be (v. 7).

1:1. Scholars differ on whether this reference to the proverbs of Solomon includes the entire book or just the first section (1:2—9:18). Since various authors and editors are named in other sections, this phrase probably covers chapters 1-9, with the same phrase in 10:1 introducing 10:1—22:16. The word “proverbs” gives not only the title of the book but also designates the type of literature in the book. On the meaning of māšāl (“proverb”). As discussed there, though māšāl usually means a brief, pithy saying, it can also refer to longer discourses. The word “proverb” then refers to various forms of wise, insightful pronouncements.

1:2. The Proverbs were written to encourage others: (a) to acquire a disciplined skill in right living (for attaining wisdom and discipline) and (b) to gain mental acumen (for understanding words of insight). The first of these is elaborated in verses 3-5 and the second in verse 6. As stated in the Introduction this word ḥokmâh (“wisdom”) in the Old Testament often refers to the mental and physical skills of craftsmen, sailors, singers, mourners, administrators, counselors, and others; but other times, as in Proverbs, it focuses on the application of moral and ethical principles that result in skillful, godly living. A person with this wisdom has “expertise” in godly living. Such wise, skillful living is a life of “discipline” (cf. v. 3) and order. Discipline translates műsār, “moral discipline or correction.” In Hebrew the word “understanding,” also used in verses 5 (“discerning”) and 6 (“understanding”), means insight, or the ability to see “between” issues.

1:3-5. These verses elaborate on the qualities of life that must be acquired for leading a wise life. A disciplined (cf. v. 2) and prudent (cf. v. 4) life is one with high moral standards, a life in which one does what is right... just, and fair (cf. 2:9). An immoral or unjust person can hardly be called wise in God’s sight! The simple (pet̠, 1:4) refers to a person who is naive and untaught. He is not an imbecile, one who cannot comprehend, or a fool who despises wisdom. Instead, he is one whose exposure to life and wisdom has been limited. Because of inexperience he is gullible and easily influenced. Therefore he needs prudence (cf. 1:3), that is, cleverness or sensibleness (ʿormâh, used elsewhere only in 8:5, 12; Ex. 21:14 [“schemes”; nasb, “craftily”]; Josh. 9:4 [“a ruse”; nasb, “craftily”]). The word pet̠ (“simple”) is used 14 times in Proverbs (Prov. 1:4, 22, 32; 7:7; 8:5; 9:4, 6, 16; 14:15, 18; 19:25; 21:11; 22:3; 27:12). On words for “fool” in Proverbs see 1:7. “The simple” and the young need wisdom: “prudence,” knowledge, and discretion (mezimmâh, “wise planning”; also used in 2:11; 3:21, “discernment”; 5:2; 8:12). In 12:2 and 14:17 mezimmâh is used in a negative sense to mean crafty or wicked planning. Also the experienced (the wise, ḥāk̠om, and the discerning, 1:5; cf. v. 2) are reminded of their need to grow in wisdom (in learning and guidance). “Guidance” (taḥbūlôt̠), literally, “steerings” (like the tackle for directing a ship), suggests moving one’s life in the right direction. This Hebrew word is used elsewhere only in Job 37:12 (“direction”); Proverbs 11:14; 12:5 (“plans”); 20:18; 24:6.

1:6. A person who understands “words of insight” (v. 2) understands the meaning of proverbs... parables, and the sayings and riddles of the wise. The word for “riddle” (ḥd̠âh) means an indirect, oblique, or enigmatic statement (like a figure of speech) which needs interpretation. It is used of Samson’s riddle (Judges 14:12-19) and of the “hard questions” the Queen of Sheba asked of Solomon (1 Kings 10:1; 2 Chron. 9:1).

1:7. Fearing the Lord, Solomon wrote, is the beginning of knowledge. The fear of the Lord occurs 11 times in Proverbs (and “fear the Lord” occurs 4 times). “Beginning” is the Hebrew rēʾšt̠ which means “the start.” One cannot gain knowledge of spiritual things if he begins at the wrong point, refusing to fear the Lord (i.e., to recognize God’s character and respond by revering, trusting, worshiping, obeying, and serving Him). Rēʾšt̠ also means the capstone or essence. The essence of true knowledge is fearing God. Apart from Him a person is ignorant of spiritual things (Rom. 1:22; Eph. 4:18; 1 Peter 1:14). The words of Proverbs 1:7a are repeated in 9:10 near the end of the first section (also cf. Job 28:28; Ps. 111:10). In contrast with those who fear God and have knowledge, fools despise wisdom and discipline. “Despise” translates the Hebrew bűz, “to hold in contempt, to belittle, to ridicule” (cf. Num. 15:31; Neh. 2:19). Bűz is also used seven other times in Proverbs: 6:30; 11:12; 13:13; 14:21; 23:9, 22; 30:17. Three Hebrew words are translated “fool” in Proverbs. One kind of fool (keŝl) is characterized by a dull and closed mind. He is thickheaded and stubborn. This word occurs more frequently in Proverbs than the other two words; it is used 49 times in this book. By his laziness and shortsightedness, this kind of fool rejects information from others (cf. 15:14). Another word for fool is nāb̠āl. It is used only three times in Proverbs (17:7, 21; 30:22) and refers to one who lacks spiritual perception. A third kind of fool (ʾĕwl) is arrogant and flippant as well as mentally dull. He is coarse and hardened in his ways. This word is used 19 times in Proverbs and only 7 times elsewhere. The “fools” in 1:7 are those who in their arrogant, coarse ways reject God and wisdom (cf. v. 29). Two kinds of people are contrasted in this verse: those who humbly fear God and thus acquire true knowledge, and the arrogant fools who by their refusal to fear God demonstrate that they hold wisdom and discipline in contempt (cf. “wisdom and discipline” in v. 2). These two kinds of people are contrasted throughout much of the book. This lengthy section is an introduction to the collection of terse sayings contained in the remaining chapters of the book. The purpose of this section (1:8—9:18) is to whet the appetite of the reader(s) (“my son[s]”) so he will apply his heart to his parents’ wise sayings. Solomon piles statement on statement to demonstrate the superiority of wisdom over any other way of life. Besides the warnings against crime and adultery, his statements focus on a productive and meaningful existence. The material may be divided into 16 subpoints.

1:8. The words my son (and “my sons”) are used frequently in the first nine chapters and four times in 22:17—24:34. They probably refer to Solomon’s own son(s), not to students of a sage, because of the reference to their mother in 1:8. Listen is commanded several times (4:1, 10, 20; 5:1, 7; 7:24; 8:32; 19:20; 22:17; 23:19, 22). Teaching renders the Hebrew word tôrâh, usually translated “Law.” When used, as here, with a specific person (e.g., mother) it is translated “teaching” (cf. 3:1; 4:2; 6:20; 13:14). Since parents in ideal Jewish homes taught their children God’s Law (cf. Deut. 6:4-7), the same word (tôrâh) was used both for the Law and for instruction in it.

1:9. If children heeded their parents’ teachings, they were promised a garland (some kind of head ornament; cf. 4:9) and a neck chain (cf. 3:3, 22). That is, heeding parental instruction would give them an attractiveness of life and position. They would be honored. The implied contrast is that disobedience and rebellion lead to dishonor. The appeal of the wicked, so attractive initially, is presented in its full scope. A foolish person is dazzled by the prospects of acquiring wealth easily and being gratified quickly by the immediate (vv. 10-14), but a wise person views the consequence of such sin and folly.

1:10-14. The pressure of peers can be strong, especially on young people. Therefore they need to avoid the invitations by the wrong kind of people (sinners) who invite them to take part in murder and theft. To give in to such influence is a downward step (cf. v. 15). Let’s lie in wait for someone’s blood (cf. 12:6) clearly spells out their murderous intentions. (Cf. 1:18.) These sinners are ready to take people’s lives in order to take their money, to swallow them just as the grave (šeʾôl, not the afterlife here) or the pit (a synonym of grave) “swallow” the dead. In their greed for gaining possessions (v. 13) they urge the young (here the father’s son) to join them (v. 14), promising to divide the booty.

1:15-19. Again Solomon urged his son... not to get involved with such people (cf. v. 10). To set foot on their paths (cf. 4:14) is to be involved in an almost irreversible course of action that quickly involves them in sin and bloodshed (cf. 1:11). Birds are smart enough to avoid a net they see spread out to catch them. But these gangsters, more stupid than birds, not only see the trap; they even set it for themselves! They lie in wait to shed others’ blood, but they themselves are caught in their own trap (cf. v. 32; 26:27; 28:10). The humor of this boomeranging result is evident, that ill-gotten gain (1:19; cf. 10:2; 28:16) cannot be enjoyed. Thieves steal money but then it takes their lives! In other words crime does not pay. Wisdom, personified like a woman, appeals to everyone (vv. 20-23), but a fool ignores her appeal (vv. 24-28) at his own risk (vv. 29-33). Wisdom is also personified as a woman in 3:16-18; 4:3-6; 8:1-21, 32-36; 9:1-6; 14:33.

1:20-23. Whereas the sinners in verses 10-19 were probably secretive about their appeal to the young man, here wisdom shouts in the street, and other public places in the city. In two rhetorical questions she invites three groups to forsake their ways. They are those who would be more likely to refuse her appeal. They are the simple ones (pet̠; v. 4), the mockers (cf. Ps. 1:1), and fools (keŝl; cf. Prov. 1:7). By responding to wisdom’s rebuke a foolish person can become wise (v. 23). Rebuke is mentioned frequently in Proverbs as a helpful kind of verbal correction (vv. 23, 25, 30; 3:11; 9:8 [twice]; 13:1; 15:31; 17:10; 19:25; 25:12; 27:5; 30:6).

1:24-28. To reject and ignore wisdom and not learn from its rebuke (cf. vv. 23, 30) has serious consequences. When troubles come, as they inevitably do to everyone, wisdom mockingly refuses to help sinners. Wisdom’s laughing at disaster and calamity seems cruel. But this simply means that spurned advice will haunt its rejecter when calamity comes. She had called them and they had refused. Now this would be reversed with the same results; they would call... but she would not answer. When a fool who has earlier rejected wisdom attempts to start over and follow the wise path, his efforts are of no avail. Wisdom rejected cannot be reclaimed after she has withdrawn her invitation.

1:29-33. To reject “Lady Wisdom’s” call is to hate knowledge (cf. v. 22) and to refuse to fear the Lord (cf. v. 7). So fools will suffer the consequences of their actions (v. 31). They reap what they sow (cf. Gal. 6:7). As illustrated in Proverbs 1:19, folly (the simple, pet̠ and fools, keŝl, v. 32) ultimately results in death. By contrast, heeding the way of wisdom gives safety (3:23) and peace. These contrasts between the consequences of folly (1:32) and of wisdom (v. 33) set the tone for the rest of the book.


Major Theme Analysis

(Scriptural Text from the New King James Version; cross-references from the NIV)

Purpose of Wisdom (Proverbs 1:1-4)


1 The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel:

2 To know wisdom and instruction, To perceive the words of understanding,

3 To receive the instruction of wisdom, Justice, judgment, and equity;

4 To give prudence to the simple, To the young man knowledge and discretion--


Purpose of obtaining understanding (1-2)

Understanding  through spiritual hearing (Mark 4:9)

9 Then Jesus said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

Understanding is given to those of the kingdom of God (Mark 4:11)

11 He told them, "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables

Understanding draws people to God (Deut. 4:6)

6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people."

Understanding through the reading of God's word (Eph. 3:2-4)

2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God's grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ,

Understanding from living wisely (Eph. 5:15-17)

15 Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.

Understanding from reflecting on God's word (2 Tim. 2:7)

7 Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.


Purpose of instructions in judgment (3)

There should be no judging until the appointed time (1 Cor 4:5)

5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.

Only the Lord is to judge and avenge (Heb 10:30)

30 For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge his people."

Jesus is the one who has all authority (Matt 28:18)

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

Only God can give authority to judge (Rev 20:4)

4 I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

Judge through the conscience remembering that God will judge (1 Cor 4:4)

4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.


Purpose of obtaining knowledge (4)

Knowledge that only comes through Jesus (Matt 11:27)

27 "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Knowledge that comes from being a shining light (2 Cor 4:6)

6 For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

Knowledge that comes from the anointing of the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:20)

20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.

Knowledge that gives an understanding that God is the "true" God (1 John 5:20)

20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true — even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

Knowledge that is eternal life (John 17:3)

3 Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.


Contrast of Wisdom and Folly (Proverbs 1:7-8, 10, 20-22, 32-33)


7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.

8 My son, hear the instruction of your father, And do not forsake the law of your mother;

10 My son, if sinners entice you, Do not consent.

20 Wisdom calls aloud outside; She raises her voice in the open squares.

21 She cries out in the chief concourses, At the openings of the gates in the city She speaks her words:

22 "How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? For scorners delight in their scorning, And fools hate knowledge.

32 For the turning away of the simple will slay them, And the complacency of fools will destroy them;

33 But whoever listens to me will dwell safely, And will be secure, without fear of evil."


Wisdom promotes fear of God (7)

Fear of God based on His power over death (Acts 5:9-11)

9 Peter said to her, "How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also." 10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

Fear of God based on His wrath (Deut 9:19)

19 I feared the anger and wrath of the Lord, for he was angry enough with you to destroy you. But again the Lord listened to me.

Fear of God based on righteous judgment (Luke 23:39-41)

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."

Fear of God based on national disobedience (Micah 7:16-17)

16 Nations will see and be ashamed, deprived of all their power. They will lay their hands on their mouths and their ears will become deaf. 17 They will lick dust like a snake, like creatures that crawl on the ground. They will come trembling out of their dens; they will turn in fear to the Lord our God and will be afraid of you.


Wisdom promotes obedience (8)

Obedience is better because it delights God (1 Sam 15:22)

22 But Samuel replied: "Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

Obedience leads to righteousness (Rom 6:16)

16 Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey — whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?

Obedience keeps us remaining in God's love (John 15:10)

10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love.

Obedience leads to the reward of blessings (Deut. 28:1-6)

1 If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. 2 All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God: 3 You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. 4 The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock — the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. 5 Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. 6 You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.

Obedience brings the reward of freedom (James 1:25)

25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it — he will be blessed in what he does.


Wisdom warns against sin (10, 20-21)

Warnings so that God will show His mercy (Isa 55:7)

7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

Warnings so that God can show His compassion (Jonah 3:10)

10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.

Warnings so we won't perish (Luke 13:3)

3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.

Warnings that God is a jealous God (Deut 6:15)

15 for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land.

Warnings that God can brings curses (Deut 28:15)

15 However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you:


Folly promotes wickedness (22)

Wickedness of detestable practices (Ezek 6:11-13)

11 "'This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Strike your hands together and stamp your feet and cry out "Alas!" because of all the wicked and detestable practices of the house of Israel, for they will fall by the sword, famine and plague. 12 He that is far away will die of the plague, and he that is near will fall by the sword, and he that survives and is spared will die of famine. So will I spend my wrath upon them. 13 And they will know that I am the Lord, when their people lie slain among their idols around their altars, on every high hill and on all the mountaintops, under every spreading tree and every leafy oak-places where they offered fragrant incense to all their idols.

Wickedness that deserves destruction (Ps 94:23)

23 He will repay them for their sins and destroy them for their wickedness; the Lord our God will destroy them.

Wickedness that reaps trouble (Prov 22:8)

8 He who sows wickedness reaps trouble, and the rod of his fury will be destroyed.

Wickedness of forsaking God (Jer 2:19)

19 Your wickedness will punish you; your backsliding will rebuke you. Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the Lord your God and have no awe of me,"  declares the Lord, the Lord Almighty.


Folly results in destruction (32)

Destruction because of coveting (2 Peter 2:3)

3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.

Destruction because of pride (Prov 16:18)

18 Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.

Destruction of homeland (Mic 3:11-12)

11 Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they lean upon the Lord and say, "Is not the Lord among us? No disaster will come upon us." 12 Therefore because of you, Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.

Destruction because of not listening (Isa 65:12)

12 I will destine you for the sword, and you will all bend down for the slaughter; for I called but you did not answer, I spoke but you did not listen. You did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me."


Wisdom results in safety (33)

Safety because Jesus prayed for it (John 17:11)

11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name — the name you gave me — so that they may be one as we are one.

Safety through God's faithfulness (2 Thess 3:3)

3 But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.

Safety through God's protection (Ps 27:5)

5 For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.

Safety through God's Name (Prov 18:10)

10 The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.

Safety through living in godly wisdom (Prov 28:26)

26 He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.


Conclusion and Other Thoughts

Commentary Thoughts from Thomas Constable

At first glance it seems incredible that a father would find it necessary to warn his son about the solicitations of violent men to join them in their life of crime. Several factors, however, incline me to take this danger much more seriously than I might otherwise do. Let me begin with some of the reasons why such a lifestyle would be appealing to a youth.

A Natural Inclination

First, children, while sometimes sweet and innocent, have a natural inclination toward cruelty. When I finished my first year of seminary, we returned to our home state of Washington to spend the summer there. The grade school principal contacted me and asked me to finish out the year for a mature woman who had been a fine teacher for many years. For some reason she began to lose her control of the class. This fourth grade class sensed her weakening and instead of coming to her rescue, set out to totally devastate her. They were successful. There was a fair measure of cruelty in their actions. Children, as we know, can be especially cruel to other children too.

Violence is Attractive

Second, violence has an attraction for young people, even those who have been raised in a warm and loving home. A little while ago I read an article on the family of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson. It described the life of the Nelson family during the years the program was on television, as well as the life of David and Ricky since. The thing that caught my eye was that Rick joined a group of “hoods.” The writer said this of Rick’s new associations: “Most of his fellow hoods, Ricky later explained, ended up in jail and went into bigger things--like armed robbery.”12

Violence is a Way of Life

Third, violence is a way of life for Americans. The media is saturated with violence. A recent study revealed that violence on television has increased 33% in the past year (1981-1982). The incidence of violence on the American television screen is four times greater than that of two Canadian networks.13 The television heroes are men of violence. The toys our children play with are often implements of violence or war. Perhaps even the electronic games may be considered violent in nature.

All of this should bring us to an awareness of the appeal of violence in our culture. Yet this violence, according to the Book of Proverbs, is a part of the evil way which we are to avoid. Let us carefully consider this danger as we approach our study.

A Father’s Instruction (1:8-19)

Verses 8-19 are addressed to a son who is young and inexperienced and who is, as yet, relatively innocent. Wisdom speaks through the parents of the lad, his mother and father (v. 8). I understand the young man to have reached his teen years, the point at which he is facing adulthood and has to make decisions on his own. At this point in life he is inclined to look more to his peers than to his parents for guidance and direction. He will normally begin to question the values taught by his parents. The father urges his son not to forsake what he has been taught and to avoid the evil way advocated by at least some of his peers.

The intention of the father’s words recorded here is preparative and preventative. The child has not yet been approached by evil men, but that may soon come. In the words of a contemporary proverb, “a stitch in time saves nine.” I believe it was Mark Twain who said, “It’s easier to stay out than to get out.” This father is attempting to spare his son the heartache of choosing the wrong way by following the wrong friends and forming unwise associations.”

A Father’s Appeal

Verses 8-10 contain the appeal of this wise father in the most general terms. Both mother and father have faithfully taught this lad, and that instruction should not be carelessly set aside as the boy begins to experience a greater measure of independence and outside influence. Positively stated, adherence to parental teaching will beautify and enhance any child (assuming, of course, that the parental instruction has been godly).

Sweet and innocent as children may often be, there is natural inclination toward foolishness and rebellion in the heart of every child (cf. 22:15). Consequently the parents’ words are not what a child himself is inclined to think. Parents of teenagers will probably agree with me that parental teaching and standards of conduct are thought to be a “pain in the neck,” not an ornamental and beautifying chain about the neck (v. 9).

The assumption underlying the appeal of the father in this chapter is that wisdom is largely conveyed to a child through his parents. But at this point in the life of a young man, that assumption is often challenged. Have you ever had the distinct impression from your teenage child that it is you who are naive, while the child is sophisticated and worldly-wise? Parents are never so backward or ill-informed as during the teen years of their children. Our children roll their eyes and merely tolerate the ideas and ideals as an anachronism from the days following the Flood. The father urges his son not to allow this youthful and erroneous mentality to control his thinking.

What Evil Men Offer

Verses 11-14 move from the general to the specific. In verse 10 the child was urged to reject the enticement of the wicked. Now the father forewarns his son in a much more specific way by supplying him with the substance of the appeal. The words “Come with us . . . ” in verses llff. are spoken by the father, but they are the essence of the appeals which will shortly face the young lad who must cope with peer pressures. This wise father knows what his son will soon face and his words are prophetic.

The godly parent can learn from the instruction of this father. Our inclination is to say something like this to our children, “Now, Johnny, when I was a boy . . . ” To our children that is mere history, and it seems to have little relationship to their lives. Our children cannot fathom the fact that “nothing is new under the sun.” To them, we are the product of another dispensation, and our experiences in the past have no direct connection with them. This wise parent does not speak of the past, but of the future. When sinners approach this son, as the father knew they would, they will show the lad how right his father was. Many of us who are parents have not come to appreciate the value of knowing the temptations our children are facing and of preparing them to meet them before they come alone. Usually we procrastinate and face problems only after they have reached crisis proportions. We can learn from the wisdom of this father.

Let us look more carefully at what it is that evil men offer our children and which they find so appealing.

(1) Group Acceptance and Identity

The first enticement is that of group acceptance and identity. In the teen years children establish their self-esteem more in the way their peers view them than by what their parents think of them. The result is a tremendous sensitivity toward what their peers think, and a strong inclination to be accepted by their own age group. Peer pressure is never stronger. The sinners who entice the young man, I believe, are those whom the child wants to impress, and are probably near his age group or a little older. Within the group there is acceptance, significance, and security--all of which the youngster craves.

Have you ever noticed that people will do things as a part of a group that they would not consider doing as individuals? Mass demonstrations and riots are examples of how group pressure can be used to promote what is evil. That is not to say that all group involvement is bad, for group pressure can work for the good as well as evil. In Hebrews we read,

And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near (Heb. 10:24-25).

The evil is not in group involvement, but in involvement with the wrong kind of group, with those who entice us to join them in doing evil.

(2) Promise of Material Gain

The second enticement of sinners is the promise of material gain:

“We shall find all kinds of precious wealth, We shall fill our houses with spoil; Throw in your lot with us, We shall all have one purse” (1:13-14).

Prosperity is never considered evil in Proverbs, unless it has been gained by sinful means (10:2; 13:11; 19:22; 28:6). Godliness and wisdom are often followed by prosperity (3:9-10,16). But the gain which is offered by the wicked is the result of violence. It is not by diligence and hard work that the wicked become prosperous, but by robbery (1:11-12). Individual effort is down played, and the comfort and prosperity is to be found in a communistic work ethic (1:14).

(3) Excitement and Sense of Power

The third enticement is the excitement and sense of power and exhilaration inherent in crime. Young people get tired of being told that they are to be seen and not heard. They want to be important and able to wield power over others. A life of crime is one quick way of obtaining a sense of power. Looking at a teenager from the wrong side of a 45-caliber revolver appears to give him great respect. A life of crime offers youngsters a chance to experience the chills and thrills they love. The dangers involved only enhance the appeal. After all, why do so many young Americans (and older ones too) pursue hobbies and sports which endanger life and limb?

A Father’s Final Appeal

In verses 15-19 the father makes a final appeal, based upon the enticement he has just described. Verse 15 pleads with the son to avoid this evil way. Verses 16-19 give two reasons to avoid all such offers. In verse 16 we find the first reason-because the money and the excitement of this kind of life are at the expense of others. These are violent men, who are not only hasten to shed blood, but are prone to do so. I know many of you will find this hard to believe, but the three months I spent teaching in a state prison convinced me that there are some who would stab you for the sheer enjoyment of watching you bleed to death. Such men must be avoided.

A Father’s Explanation

Verses 17-19 explain the second reason why a life of violent crime is evil--it destroys the villain as well as the victim. While the evil man may be willing to destroy others, he should be warned that he also destroys himself.

Indeed, it is useless to spread the net In the eyes of any bird; But they lie in wait for their own blood; They ambush their own lives. So are the ways of everyone who gains by violence; It takes away the life of its possessors (1:17-19).

Bible students have found these verses especially difficult to interpret. There are two explanations which are most frequently offered, and it is the second to which I am inclined. The first view is that birds are smarter than most crooks. The bird, we are told, is smart enough to avoid any trap that it sees being set. Although grain is set out, the bird will not touch it, for it knows that there is a trap and that it will be caught. Criminals are not even as smart as birds because they follow a life of crime, unaware that they are bringing about their own destruction.14

The thrust of the second explanation is that such criminals have no more sense than birds, who, having watched the trap being set, allow their appetite for grain to overrule all sense of danger, to their own destruction. Birds watch the net being spread and sprinkled with grain. But sooner or later their eyes behold only the grain and seeking to satisfy their appetites, they descend on the grain, destroying themselves in the process. So it is with those wicked men who choose to live a life of violent crime. They, like unreasoning animals, allow their appetites to reign. Such men are worse than birds. Men have minds and are capable of discerning danger. Men also have parents, who have warned of such evil. Men also are less to be pitied because they lay the trap for themselves by their violence, while birds are the victims of a trap not of their own making. Like Haman, who built a gallows on which to hang Mordecai, yet died on it himself (cf. Esther 7), those who choose to live by the sword, will die by it (cf. Matt. 26:52).15

Wisdom Speaks (1:20-33)

A noticeable change occurs when we come to verses 20-33. In the previous verses wisdom was spoken by a father to a young, impressionable boy. In verses 20ff. wisdom is personified as a woman. She is not speaking to the innocent, but to the guilty. The father urged his son to avoid the evil way; wisdom now speaks to those who have chosen to follow the evil way. The first discourse is preventative; the second is prescriptive. The point is that there are both young fools and old fools. The wisdom of Proverbs is for fools of all ages. While there is no wide-eyed optimism that many will forsake their evil ways and turn to wisdom, the offer is nevertheless made to all.

Wisdom Proclaimed

Verses 20 and 21 introduce us to wisdom personified as a woman and to the place where wisdom is proclaimed. In a nation where righteousness is encouraged and sin is restricted, wicked men cannot entice others to follow them as openly. But while evil men are forced to entice secretly, wisdom calls out to all men from the public places, where the masses are found. The gates of the city (v. 21) are the place where the elders sit and judicial matters are settled (cf. Ruth 4:lff.).

The inference of these verses is clear. We can learn a great deal by considering the source of the “wisdom” which is offered. Wisdom, we know from the previous verses, was to be found in parental counsel and instruction. Here, wisdom is to be gained from the elders of the city, from men who are recognized for their maturity and godliness. The evil men of verses 10-14 will hardly be found in the city gates, for such ilk lurk in the dark alleys and come out at night. Their “wisdom” is not proclaimed publicly, but whispered in private.

If the “son” of verses 8ff. is young and innocent, those addressed in verses 22 and 23 are not so. Ignorance and innocence are not their problem, but willful rejection of the way of wisdom. “How long, 0 naive ones,” wisdom cries, “will you love simplicity? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing, And fools hate knowledge?” (v. 22). Those who are simple love it and those who are scoffers take pleasure in it. It is not that knowledge was unavailable, but that it was unacceptable--they hate it (v. 22).

Wisdom Corrects

Wisdom’s words are appropriately those of correction. “Turn to my reproof,” she admonishes (v. 23). Wisdom calls upon guilty sinners to repent. The only way for sinners to obtain wisdom is for them to turn from their wicked ways, renounce their folly, and walk in the way of righteousness.

Wisdom is Not Natural

Wisdom does not come naturally, but folly does. Consequently wisdom requires a supernatural source (I Cor. 2:6-16). Wisdom therefore offers to pour forth her spirit on those who will flee from folly and turn to her (v. 23). The “spirit” which wisdom offers men is, I believe, the Holy Spirit, who enlightens our minds and illuminates the Scriptures, resulting in an understanding of divine wisdom (cf. Eph.1:17; Col.1:9). It is my personal conviction that Christians see too little of Christ and of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. I find it difficult not to see this text as a reference to the Holy Spirit.16 There is good reason for wisdom’s solemn warning.

Those who have chosen the way of folly are on a path which leads to destruction. In verses 17-19 the father urged his son not to join the evil men because they were on a self-destructive course. In verses 24-32 wisdom warns men who are already on a course of destruction. There are three dominant themes in these verses.

Wickedness is a Choice

The first theme is that men are on the wicked way because they have chosen to be there:

“Because I called, and you refused; I stretched out my hand, and no one paid attention; And you neglected all my counsel, And did not want my reproof” (vv. 24-25).

“Because they hated knowledge, And did not choose the fear of the Lord. They would not accept my counsel, They spurned all my reproof” (vv. 29-30).

From verse 7 we learned that the beginning of wisdom is the moral decision to fear God and to turn from evil (cf. 3:7). Those who are here warned by wisdom are those who have willfully chosen to reject her call and to follow the way of evil.

Men do not reject wisdom for folly, they reject wisdom as folly. Few people pursue the way of evil because they know it is foolish. They do so because, in their minds, they are smarter than the rest.

The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can give a discreet answer (26:16).

When I worked in the state prison, many prisoners openly indicated that they believed I was the fool, not they. I chose to work long hours in order to make a little money. They, in a few brief minutes, could rob a bank and live high for months. The wicked men of 1:11-14 are proud of their way of life. They can get rich quick, with little effort. The innocent (v. 11) are the fools from who they will quickly separate their money.

Rejecting Wisdom Means Painful Consequences

The second theme is that the choice to reject wisdom’s call has painful consequences:

“I will even laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your dread comes, When your dread comes like a storm, And your calamity comes on like a whirlwind, When distress and anguish come on you” (1:26-27).

One may be troubled by the fact that wisdom seems cruel here, but wisdom warns men that calamity and disaster are the consequence of rejecting her. Evil men suffer only what they deserve. God’s justice requires that men not only receive what they have earned (e.g. “the wages of sin is death,” Rom. 6:23), but what they earnestly desired.

“So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way, And be satiated with their own devices. For the waywardness of the naive shall kill them, And the complacency of fools shall destroy them” (1:31-32).

A Point of No Return

The final theme is that there is a point of no return, after which repentance will be too late.

“Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they shall not find me, Because they hated knowledge, And did not choose the fear of the Lord” (1:28-29).

When wisdom calls out to sinners in verses 20-33, it is not an offer than can be set aside until a more convenient time. They way of evil will eventually lead to destruction. Men cannot complacently continue to walk in the way of evil, only to repent as the consequences become evident. It will then be too late. Hell will be populated with men and women filled with remorse, but not with genuine repentance. Justice demands that men face the consequences of the way they have chosen. The time for repentance is now, not later (cf. II Cor. 6:2).

The final verse contrasts the fate of the righteous with those who have chosen the way of the wicked.

“But he who listens to me shall live securely, And shall be at ease from the dread of evil” (1:33).

Those who walk in the path of wisdom will reap the reward of sins forgiven and will not need to fear the penalty of sin. The dread of evil is only for those who practice it. Wisdom delivers men from the destruction which results from sin.

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Concluding Thoughts from the NIV Standard Lesson Commentary

What happened to Solomon? Why didn't he follow his own advice? Thinking of Jesus' statement “Physician, heal thyself” (Luke 4:23), we may wish we could advise Solomon by saying, “Wise man, heed your wisdom.” Can what happened to Solomon happen to us? Certainly! We will not be tempted, as Solomon was, by the beliefs and lifestyles of 700 spouses. But the need to guard our hearts and our ways is as urgent now as ever. We should view Solomon with compassion, not criticism. Anyone's spiritual failures, whether we read about them in the Bible or see them reported in the media, should humble us. Paul's warning to the Corinthians contains its own words of wisdom: “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).


Concluding Thoughts from the Echoes Commentary

Let God Lead - Solomon wrote over 3,000 proverbs expressing God's principles of how to live an intelligent, practical, moral life. The Lord helps us discern a prosperous course to realize right from evil and practically conduct our lives. God laid out a plan to live a full and productive life—if His instructions are followed.

Those who discipline themselves to seek God and search out biblical guidance develop a keen perceptive spirit and please the ultimate Judge. They fair well among others with conduct that is upright and honorable.

Solomon's first proverbs are addressed to the young, but both the young and the old need to admit, "There are many pathways in life I might take, so I am going to listen to Solomon's sayings and discipline my life accordingly."


Fear God - Solomon constantly admonishes the reader to respect God. A reverent fear of Him is the first step toward wisdom. No other understanding or education counts as much. We must recognize Him as a loving, grace-filled Father. Wisdom starts by humbly saying, "1 want to live according to Your will." This is the foundation of godly wisdom.


Foolishness vs. Wisdom - Hardheaded fools push away God's truth and instructions. They listen to other advice, resulting in anger, rebellion, or complacency. An intelligent, godly person will open their ears to God, paying close attention, hearing with a heart to obey. The unbeliever refuses to listen or follow the Lord's way, resulting in destruction. It is wise to search for God and walk His path. Sometimes those who turn away think, "I'm doing all right." This false security will lead to ruin. On the other hand, if we diligently seek wisdom and see it as a place of safety, we don't have to fear evil or distress. Instead, we walk the path of knowledge filled with peace, rest, and security.