The Wisdom of the Proverbs

We love the story of a Genie in a bottle -- an ancient sage who, when summoned, must grant his summoner three wishes. In the 1960s, popular TV sitcom I Dream of Jeannie dominated the airwaves, with lovely Barbara Eden playing a genie who happily granted wishes for a NASA astronaut. This year, audiences enjoyed Will Smith as the Genie of the movie Aladdin, making carpet rides a magical possibility. As awesome as that would be for all of us (and I realize I’m bursting bubbles here), Genies aren’t real.  

There is a true story, though, of a time when an incredible wish was granted -- not by a Genie in a bottle, but by the King of heaven. In I Kings we meet Israel’s King Solomon, who 3000 years ago found himself in an amazing scenario the rest of us can only dream of – the granting of our deepest wish and desire. This astounding offer came directly from the God of the universe himself. Of all the things Solomon could have asked for, he humbly requested one thing: wisdom. God was so impressed with this request, he not only granted him the most wisdom of any man before him or any man after him (save for Jesus) – but he also blessed Solomon with many earthly desires as well: riches, power, love.

Solomon’s reputation for wisdom became world-renowned. Kings and Queens from other nations traveled with their entourages to learn from Solomon. Thankfully for us, Solomon’s wisdom didn’t die with him. He (wisely) wrote it down, so that future generations might also gain the understanding God gave him. His writings are found in the book of Proverbs.  

Truth and Advice

One definition of a proverb is a clever saying that communicates truth and advice. In our social media-driven news-saturated world, there’s plenty of information to process – but how do we know what is true and what is fake news? We need wisdom today more than ever before, in order to navigate our brave new world.

Solomon’s book of Proverbs are included in the Holy Bible for an important reason. It is not a book of survival tips or life hacks for the harsh life of ancient times; you won’t find instructions for how to water your camel, or directions for the fastest route to the Mediterranean. Rather, the book of Proverbs provides truths that are precious for any human, at any time, living anywhere. But, of course, we must be wise enough to both read them, and act upon them.

Practical and Personal

In my own life, God has used Solomon’s Proverbs to help steer me away from grievous sin – especially as a younger man. For instance, many proverbs deal with sexual integrity. Chapter seven addresses a very concrete, real-life issue: what if a beautiful, married woman, whose husband is out of town, asks you to sleep with her? It seems like an easy, no-risk opportunity for a quick score of self-gratification, right?  

But Solomon brilliantly exposes both the evil intent behind the adulteress’s offer, and the dreadful consequences of accepting it. He teaches young men how to handle the situation -- not just by declining her sexual advances -- but by avoiding her street altogether when she is on the prowl (Proverbs 7:25). We learn this not because the young man in the account makes the right choice, but precisely because he makes the wrong choice.  

“With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk. All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare -- little knowing it will cost him his life” (Proverbs 7:21-23).

What seems like a quick and harmless tryst is actually a chamber of death.

“Many are the victims she has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death” (Proverbs 7:26-27).

After reading the page-turning story in Chapter 7, a wise man (or woman) will think beyond his (or her) base-nature and see the bigger picture. Whenever we are tempted to commit sexual sin, those verses in Proverbs remind us that infidelity takes us down the road of ruin -- and that we can choose differently. 

Of course, there are many other themes in the book of Proverbs that advise right behaviors and choices, that encourage us to acquire wisdom and understanding even more than money and wealth (Proverbs 16:16). But Why? Because we are saved by our wise choices and good deeds? No. The book of Proverbs teaches and encourages wisdom because, in the end, if we trace wisdom back to its roots, we will find the author of all wisdom: God. And in knowing God, we find all treasures of wisdom and things to be known (Colossians 2:3) -- and we find life everlasting, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

So for now, if you’re stumped about what to read in the Bible, I encourage you to begin with Proverbs. It can teach you not only how to live wisely in the present, but can bring you to the fount of all wisdom himself.