The Way They Should Go...
During my early days as a Christian, perhaps my favorite book of the Bible was Proverbs primarily because I felt that Proverbs was written for me – a young and impressionable teenager who was trying to understand life. I read through this book for the first time when I was about 15 years old and now my wife and I are in the position of teaching the book of Proverbs to teenagers at our church. The teenagers at our church are the type of children who grew up memorizing and learning the Westminster Shorter Catechism; however, it was a shock to me that most of them had not read through the entire book of Proverbs. I began to realize that this experience is not unique to our church. Commenting on this matter, Bruce Waltke states:
“But, tragically, the church has practically discarded the book of Proverbs…Of its 930 ancient sayings many Christians know three – to fear the LORD, to trust Him, and to ‘train their children in the way they should go.”
If true, this is deeply discouraging because we live in a world bombarded by foolish speculation, inane cliches, and triviality. As a consequence, the expression of true wisdom is rare and in short supply today. The church stands alone as the “pillar and support of the truth” and we have been given the rich repository of inspired tradition that carries a mandate for a holy life. As the course and bulk of biblical wisdom, the book of Proverbs remains the model for humanity to learn how to live under God and before mankind. As a consequence, this book calls the church to diligent study and application. It calls the fool, both young and old, to turn from their folly and to walk in the path of wisdom given to us from the Scriptures.
Consider the preamble of the book of Proverbs:
"The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction, To discern the sayings of understanding, To receive instruction in wise behavior, Righteousness, justice, and equity; To give prudence to the naive, To the youth knowledge and discretion, A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel, To understand a proverb and a figure, The words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction" (Proverbs 1:1-7).
Wisdom vs. Folly
The preamble begins by considering the primary author of the book of Proverbs – King Solomon. He was the last king of united Israel and the Scriptures tell us that the Lord gave Him remarkable wisdom (cf. 2 Chronicles 1). Like most wise individuals today, the sages of Israel (including Solomon) drew their inspiration for coining proverbs by observing and reflecting on nature and human behavior. At times, the sages learned wisdom and proverbs from the surrounding nations, such as ancient Egyptian wisdom literature. However, this was not simply a “copy, paste, repeat” type of learning. In all of their learning (include the insights from foreign nations), everything still had to be considered and filtered through Israel’s worldview, which was based on Israel’s unique covenant relationship with God.
Young men and women, throughout all generations, are bombarded with numerous paths to take in life and we all have spent a tremendous amount of time observing and learning from the society around us. However, very few young men and women have the ability to see beyond the surface of human behavior in our sinful world. This book was written primarily for young people as a compass by which to direct their lives. The sayings of the book of Proverbs aim to give Israel’s youth insight and it emphasizes how important it is to seek, purchase, and learn true wisdom and true understanding. If this was needed during the time of Solomon’s reign, how much more do we need this today!
In the book of Proverbs, young men and women are generally categorized as “naive”, as being easily misled or easily seduced. Wisdom and folly are competing for our attention; yet, it’s important to note that our default position is folly. Many of us have experienced the folly of youth – where we are prone to trust every word and stumble into various misfortunes. Many of us have childhood friends who have walked on the path of folly and their lives ended with destruction. Until a person decides to no longer remain uncommitted to biblical wisdom, he is in a wayward state and if he doesn’t embrace the blessings (and admonitions) of biblical wisdom, then he will walk towards destruction. However, because young people are easily shaped, they can be improved by proper instruction so that they walk in the path of godly wisdom. The hope of this book is that young men and women will join the company of the wise and by so doing avoid the pitfalls associated with a life of folly.
Obtaining Wisdom and Insight
This leads to the most basic question: how does one obtain true wisdom and insight. The preamble of this book states that the foundation of this wisdom is the fear of the Lord. As Waltke notes,
“What the alphabet is to reading, notes to reading music, and numerals to mathematics, the fear of the LORD is to attaining the revealed knowledge of this book.”
The responsibility to respond to instruction lies squarely on the shoulders of the simple. They must listen to it, accept it, love it, prize it more highly than money, and not let go of it. In order to receive this wisdom, one has to admit that they are truly naive and simple – this is true for both young and old. One must submit himself to instruction in order to quell the innate waywardness and rebellion. This illustrates a very essential theme in the book of proverbs:wisdom cannot be possessed without instruction to correct a moral fault and this instruction is connected to reproof and teaching. The blessing given to the person who submits under this instruction will give him the same testimony as the Psalmist:
“Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever mine. I have more insight than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, because I have observed your precepts” (Psalm 119:98-100).
The book of Proverbs enables young people to personally internalize and experience wisdom. This wisdom will produce intellectual discernment in youth; in other words, wisdom trains a person how to think properly in God’s world. The wisdom gained from instruction will protect a person from temptation, enable him to behave wisely and speak well, and avoid unnecessary suffering due to acts of folly.
For those parents who have teenagers in your home, it would be my encouragement to walk through this marvelous book with them. May you use this book to instruct them to forsake the path of folly and destruction and to walk in the ancient paths of the godly.