Proverbs 1:1

We may regard the opening words as a general index of the contents, as a designation of the object, and a statement of the value and profit of the teaching, of the book.


1. And first, this in general includes the information of the understanding and of the memory by wisdom. This Hebrew word (chokmah) denotes, strictly, all that is fixed for human knowledge. We may render it "insight." In other places in the Bible, the judge (1 Kings 3:28), the artist (Exodus 28:3), or the man of skill and renown in general, are thus said to be men of insight, craft, or cunning, in the original and good sense of those words. Applied to religion and conduct, it means insight into the principles of right conduct, the knowledge of how to walk before God, choosier the right and avoiding the wrong path - the knowledge of the way to peace and blessedness.

2. The training of the will. The word rendered "instruction" denotes moral education or training. Here, then, is the practical side of the matter. Not only sound intelligence is aimed at, but pure feeling, right affections, the will guided by the polar star of duty. All this is general.

3. But next, particulars, falling within this great scope, are pointed out, viz. "the attainment of justice and right and fair dealing." The first is all that pertains to God, the supreme Judge - his eternal order and will. The second refers to established custom and usage among men - to law, in the human sense. The third, an expressive word, signifying literally what is straight, points to straightforward, honourable, and noble conduct.

4. But the book has a special object in view, and a special class: "To hold out prudence to simple ones, and knowledge and reflectiveness to boys. Each of these words has its peculiar force. The Hebrew expression for the first class is literally the open ones," i.e. those who in ignorance and inexperience are open to every impression, good or bad; simple-minded ones (not fools, which is another idea), who are readily governed by the opinions and examples of stronger minds. They need that prudence, or caution, which the hints of proverbial sense may supply, to enable them to glide out of danger and avoid snares (for the word rendered "subtilty" denotes smoothness, like that of the slippery snake). Boys, or youths also, stand in peculiar need of "thoughtfulness" - a habit of reflecting with attention and forethought upon life and different modes of conduct. The Book of Proverbs, all must see, is specially adapted for these classes. But not for them alone.

5. The book is a book for all. The wise man may listen and gain instruction; for men "grow old, learning something fresh each day." And the intelligent man may obtain guidance. For although by middle life the general principles and maxims of wisdom may have been stored up, still the applications of them, the exceptions to them, form a vast field forever growing acquisition. Knowledge is practically infinite; we can think of no bounds to it. New perplexities continually arise, new cases of conscience present themselves, old temptations revive in fresh combinations; and the records of others' experience continually flash new light from angles of observation distinct from our own.


1. It is a collection of proverbs. Condensed wisdom. Landmarks in the field of experience. Beacons of warning from dangerous shores. Objects of interest in life's travel. Finger posts The "wit of many, the wisdom of one." A portable property of the intellect. A currency honoured in every land. "Jewels five words long, that on the outstretch'd forefinger of all time sparkle forever." They may be compared to darts, to stings, to goads. They arouse the memory, awake the conscience; they fix the floating impressions of truth in forms not easily forgotten. These Bible proverbs are in poetical form; and of them it may well be said, with George Herbert, "A verse finds him who a sermon flies."

2. The mode of speech is often figurative. The word rendered "dark saying" means a profound saying, enigma, "thing hidden" (Matthew 13:35; Psalm 78:2), "obscure allegory" (Augustine). An example of this parabolic way of speaking is found in Agur's discourse (ch. 30.). The power of it, like the power of pictures and of all sensuous symbols and poetical images, lies in the fact that the form "half reveals and half conceals the soul within," and thus excites the curiosity, fixes the attention, stimulates exertion of thought in the listener. The best preachers leave much for the hearers to fill up for themselves. Suggestive teaching is the richest; it makes the pupil teach himself, Such is the method of our Lord in his parables; but not the only method; to be combined, as with him and here, with the direct mode of statement. The application is: "Take heed how ye hear." "To him that hath it shall be given." All wisdom is of God; the teacher and the disciple are both listeners at the living oracle of eternal truth. Knowledge is essential to religion, and growth belongs to both (Luke 17:5; Ephesians 4:15, 16; Colossians 1:11; Colossians 2:19; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Peter 3:18). - J.

The proverbs of Solomon.
1. The book does not consist of proverbs entirely. Much of it is the language of pious exhortation and spiritual precept.

2. The book contains many worldly precepts. Some have a selfish, secular sound. But —(1) It is well to inquire whether the supposed purely prudential maxim is really so entirely a citizen of this world as it seems to be.(2) It is well to remember that many even of our Saviour's discourses might seem open to the charge of being moral and social, rather than spiritual and heavenly.(3) Such precepts by implication convey the assurance that a religious life is intimately connected with worldly conduct; depends upon it; grows out of it; is bound up with it; fails or flourishes because of it. Illustrate by suretyship.

3. The pre-eminent place in the book is assigned to Wisdom, which is one of the names of Jesus Christ.

4. The proverbs contained in the book are peculiar in form. They are highly antithetical. They often contain a double or threefold antithesis.

5. The point of a proverb may often be missed by inattention; sometimes it needs acuteness to see the point.

6. The matter of the Proverbs calls for attention. Note how they concern the gift of speech, riches, and poverty, such sins as sloth. They proclaim great practical truths, and are often of great strength and sweetness.

(Dean Burgon.)

1. The proverbs of Solomon are pleasing to refined taste. He was a preacher accustomed to employ acceptable words full of pungent and profitable instruction.

2. In the second place, proverbs are practical in their use. True religion is not of the head only, nor of the heart only; it is the cultivator of all our faculties, and acts upon our whole person, in its legitimate development, as the God of nature forms a tree or flower, unfolding all parts at the same time, breathing life and beauty on every leaf. The portion of sacred record now under consideration is of especial importance to young persons. The inculcation of duty is no less essential than the defence of doctrine. It is the symptom of a diseased condition, when a patient desires intoxicating draughts rather than wholesome aliment. When a religionist is more voracious of excitement than instruction, and is much more prompt to fight for a dogma than to illustrate his infallibility by a noble demeanour, he would do well to search into the divinity of a faith which is so barren of heavenly deeds.

3. Thirdly, sacred proverbs are ennobling in their tendency.(1) They present the most concise forms of wisdom.(2) In proverbs we have the most profitable type of wisdom. Their statements of doctrine may not be so explicit as in some later portions of Scripture, but what they do assert is of the very highest importance. In particular we are here taught to combine reflection with action — nourishing a mind that ponders over a heart that prays.(3) The proverbs of Solomon are invaluable, because they most clearly teach the importance of correct and immovable principles in the heart; conduct full of nobleness and integrity in every walk of life; the necessity and usefulness of self-discipline; and the importance of bringing every purpose as well as every act to the test of God's holy Word.

4. Fourthly, the scriptural maxims, the merits of which we are discussing, are not only pleasing to the taste, practical in their use, and ennobling in their tendency, but they are saving in their design.

(E. L. Magoon.)

This is the meaning of the term "Proverbs" in the original. A proverb is a weighty sentiment, moral or prudential, expressed in sententious language. It is the recorded verdict of men, sealed by experience, and reserved for future guidance. The proverbs of a people have no small influence upon their character, and sometimes they have a very evil influence. Let one which is erroneous in its morality, or perverted in its application, become current, and it seems to give the sanction of reason, experience, and almost of inspiration to that which is wrong, e.g., "Charity begins at home." This has nourished selfishness and checked benevolence. There is this advantage in a proverb, that it directs the conduct without perplexing the mind or burdening the memory. Proverbs are to the morals of a people what gold coin is to its currency — portable, rich, and always passable. The form in which the Bible proverbs are expressed is usually that of parallelism, or in two parts, the second line repeating the sentiment of the first, or sometimes its opposite.

(W. H. Lewis, D. D.)

Solomon went through a peculiar experience of his own, and God, who in nature gives sweet fruit to men through the root-sap of a sour crab, when a new nature has been engrafted on the upper stem, did not disdain to bring forth fruits of righteousness through those parts of the king's experience that cleaved most closely to the dust. The heights of human prosperity he had reached; the paths of human learning he had trodden farther than any in his day; the pleasures of wealth, and power, and pomp he had tasted in all their variety. The man who has drained the cup of pleasure can best tell the taste of its dregs. The fatal facility with which men glide into the worship of men is a reason why some of the channels chosen for conveying the mind of God were marred by glaring deficiencies. For engraving the life-lessons of His Word, our leather uses only diamonds; but in every diamond there is a flaw, in some a greater, and in some a less; and who shall dare to dictate to the Omniscient the measure of defect that binds Him to fling the instrument as a useless thing away? Two principles cover the whole case. "All things are of God." "All things are for your sakes."

1. The universality of God's government.

2. The special use for His own people to which He turns every person and every thing. Here is a marvel. Not a line of Solomon's writings tends to palliate Solomon's sins.

(William Arnot, D.D.)

No one subject is long pursued in this treatise, nor is there any coherence and connection between its parts. Yet there is a general design running through it, to instruct young people at their entrance into public and active life. This Book of Proverbs is short and soon read. It will perhaps be slighted on account of its contents, as a mere system of dry morality, by those who had rather deal in discourses of the mystic and enthusiastic kind, and admire that sort of rapturous and ecstatic devotion. But whether they will allow it or no, this book contains the main parts of pure and undefiled religion, and lays down the best of rules for the prudent conduct of life, and for obtaining the favour of God and the testimony of an approving conscience. By wisdom Solomon means true religion and virtue, as by folly he means disobedience and vice. Following is an abstract of the acts of religion and morality recommended by him.

I. POSITIVE DUTIES. The foundation of religion is laid upon the principle of fearing God. He exhorts us to love wisdom and to prize it above all things, as the only way and the infallible way to obtain it. He exhorts us to love wisdom betimes, and to make it the first choice, the first object of our affections. He exhorts young persons to honour and obey their parents, and to regard their instructions. He advises discretion in choosing friends. He exhorts to chastity, purity, contentment, control of temper, meekness, mercifulness, industry, etc.

II. NEGATIVE DUTIES. He dissuades from fornication and adultery, from sloth and idleness, from pernicious company; he advises to shun strife, contention, rebellion; to keep the heart free from irregular passions, and not to be vicious in any way, or oppressors. He exhorts to avoid suretyship as a most dangerous indiscretion. He teaches not to trust in riches, in friends, in superior abilities, nor to value ourselves for our oblations and sacrifices, for any of the externals or ceremonials of religion. He earnestly exhorts us not to be scoffers and scorners of religion.

III. THE MOTIVES BY WHICH THESE MORAL DUTIES ARE ENFORCED, AND THE RECOMPENSES WHICH ARE PROMISED TO THOSE WHO PRACTISE THEM. And they are no less than every advantage that a man can reasonably desire in this life; they are the favour of God and His protection, and along with it the testimony of a good consciences courage and confidence, safety from evil, long life, health, plenty, riches, honours, reputation both present and posthumous, and an inheritance that shall descend to children's children.

(John Jorton, D. D.)

The late Dr. James Hamilton said justly that we ought to be thankful to any one who makes a great truth portable. Our memories are weak. Like travellers in the desert or amidst Polar ice, we want to be lightly laden; and yet we must carry on our own shoulders the equipments required for all the journey. And some teachers have not the art of packing. They give out their thoughts in a style so verbose that to listen is a feat and to remember would be a miracle. Occasionally, however, there arises a master spirit, who in the wordy wilderness espies the important principle, and who has the faculty of separating it from surrounding truisms, and reproducing it in convenient and compact dimensions. From the mountain of sponge he extracts the ounce of iodine; from the bushel of dry petals he distils the flask of otto; or, what comes nearer our purpose, from bulky decoctions he extracts the nutritious or the fragrant particles, and in a few tiny packets gives you the essence of a hundred meals. Of such truth-condensers the most distinguished in our country is Bacon. "Knowledge is power." "They are two things — unity and uniformity." "Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man." Truths like these flash like revelations, or shine as the most brilliant novelties on the page of our mighty thinker; but many of them are truths which he had heard discoursed by drowsy pedants, or vaguely muttered by the multitude, and it is the work of his genius to reduce vagueness to precision, and concentrate an ocean of commonplace into a single aphorism. By making the truth portable he made it useful.

The seven wise men of Greece acquired their fame from the proverbial sayings they originated or adopted. Solon of Athens took for his motto, "Know thyself"; Chilon of Sparta, "Consider the end"; Thales of Miletos, "Who hateth suretyship is sure"; Bias of Priene, "Most men are bad"; Cleobulus of Lindos, "The golden mean," or "Avoid extremes"; Pittacos of Mitylene, "Seize time by the forelock"; Periander of Corinth, "Nothing is impossible to industry."

(Christian Million.)

An old man, well known for his goodness, is full of sparkling epigrams, which he attributes to his habit of reading the Book of Proverbs through each month.

(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)

A proverb is the child of experience.

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