An Introduction to the Book of Proverbs
The first seven verses of Proverbs are an introduction to the whole book. They acquaint us with the author, the aim, the audience, and the principle admonition.
The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction, To perceive the words of understanding, To receive the instruction of wisdom, Justice, judgment, and equity; To give prudence to the simple, To the young man knowledge and discretion– A wise man will hear and increase learning, And a man of understanding will attain wise counsel, To understand a proverb and an enigma, The words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:1-7).
Author The book as a whole is attributed to Solomon the son of David and king of Israel (1:1; cf. 10:1; 25:1). There are contributions from other authors: certain Men of Hezekiah (25:1); “Wise men” (22:17, 24:23); Agur (30:1); and Lemuel (31:1). We know that Solomon had composed 3,000 proverbs (1 Kings 4:32) of which between 800-1000 appear in the book of Proverbs. It is likely that Solomon compiled and edited the offerings of those other authors and included them along with his own in the final work known as Proverbs (Ecclesiastes 12:9). In addition to being a wealthy and successful king who accomplished remarkable projects (1 Kings 4-10), Solomon was endowed with great wisdom from above (1 Kings 3-4) such that people from all over the earth sought his counsel (1 Kings 10:24).
Aim The purposes of Proverbs are set down in verses 2-6. The book is designed to impart: knowledge, perception, instruction, prudence, discretion, learning, wise counsel, and understanding in the subjects of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity. It also promises to promote understanding of proverbs, enigmas, wise words, and riddles.
Audience Proverbs is addressed to the simple and young (4), as well as the wise and understanding (5). Such an address has two implications. First, the audience is universal: simple and wise, young and old. Second, the attainment of wisdom requires wisdom and humility. Admitting our lack of wisdom is both evidence of wisdom, and the prerequisite for gaining more wisdom (consider Solomon’s prayer for wisdom in 1 Kings 3. It was a pretty wise request). The simple can become wise, and the wise can become wiser, by recognizing their need and seeking God’s instruction.
Admonition There are two prominent and recurring themes in Proverbs: wisdom and folly, righteousness and unrighteousness. In 1:7 the two themes are combined into one life-giving admonition. Wisdom, true wisdom, begins with God. We can’t get wise without going to the Source. To reject God is to reject wisdom, and only fools despise wisdom.