A single proverb is not designed for every circumstance in this life. We do not expect an uninspired proverb to apply at all times. The same maxim applies to the Spirit-inspired Proverbs of Solomon. Dr. R.C. Sproul uses the English proverbs “look before you leap” and “he who hesitates is lost” to illustrate this point. There are occasions when we need to tread carefully before making a decision — choosing a spouse comes to mind. However, hesitation is foolish at other times.
Wisdom has become something of an industry in the United States. Talk radio hosts and syndicated columnists develop devoted followers of advice-seekers. Professional consultants help companies of all sizes solve thorny problems.
Humanity’s long quest for the wisdom of the ages continues today. As Christians we know that wisdom is a gift from God, found primarily in the pages of sacred Scripture. In the Old Testament, the Proverbs of Solomon stand out as the place to find wisdom, and so it will profit us to look at how we can properly understand and apply this book’s teaching.
What Is Wisdom?
As the Holy Spirit inspired Proverbs to help us attain wisdom (1:2), understanding this book requires us to explore the nature of wisdom. Simply put, wisdom is “skill,” or “expertise.” Wise people live life well; they avoid common problems and handle other ones with insight. Like many small animals, wise men and women master their domains in spite of their limitations (30:24–28).
According to Proverbs, wisdom is rooted in the “fear of the Lord” (1:7), which characterizes those who obey His law (Ps. 34:11–16; Acts 5:29). The fear of the Lord has an intellectual component: we must study and memorize God’s commandments to know and follow His will (Deut. 6:4–9). But the fear of the Lord is also an emotional response of love for the Father and trusting obedience to His commands (Mark 10:28–31; James 2:14–26; 1 John 4:16). Satan can quote Scripture, but He does not love the Lord and therefore foolishly rebels against Him (Matt. 4:1–11). Jesus calls the rich man a “fool” because he had no regard for his Creator — not because his life lacked wisdom altogether (Luke 12:13–21).
Wisdom is a virtual synonym for righteousness in the book of Proverbs — the prologue tells us these proverbs are given for wisdom and righteousness (1:3). Wise teaching and righteous living produce life (12:28; 13:14), but the godless person and the fool wander the wide road leading to death (10:14; 11:7). Clearly, we cannot be wise without holiness, and we cannot be holy if we do not seek after wisdom (see also Matt. 6:33).