The Purpose of Proverbs

The book of Proverbs does not shy away from its purpose but fully discloses this information in the first six verses of the book. Verse one of chapter one declares “The Proverbs of Solomon.” The word “proverb” comes from “pro” (for) and “verba” (words), thus a proverb is a short set of words used “for words,” i.e. instead of many words. There is nothing simple about a proverb save its initial appearance; it is a literary artform where the choice of only a brief strand of words is used and therefore limits the author to convey the truth in what would normally take a longer discussion. The positive to a proverb is its compact style that leaves one wanting to sit back in meditation on the subject, and not only that, but an audience cannot memorize a long discussion; however, they can memorize a proverb that can speak the same truths.

Immediately following the first verse, Solomon explains, in specific detail, the intention for penning down these proverbs: “To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion. A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.” Solomon just laid down a lot of information, so let’s break this down piece by piece to better understand Proverbs.

  1. To know (ascertain by seeing) wisdom and instruction. Wisdom refers to skillfulness in the ways of life. Vine’s dictionary states that wisdom “was viewed as a mastery of the art of living in accordance with God’s expectations. In their definition, the words ‘mastery’ and ‘art’ signify that wisdom was a process of attainment and not an accomplishment.” The word instruction means to be disciplined and chaste. Thus, these proverbs are to make one well trained and disciplined to the intent of becoming skillful in how to live properly in the eyes of God.
  2. To perceive the words of understanding. A perceptive person is one who is able to properly separate one thing from another in their mind. In this case, the proverbs help us to mentally separate words of understanding from words of worldly foolishness. Solomon’s statement reminds me of Hebrews 5:14, where the writer, speaking of the mature Christians, explains that “by reason of use” they “have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
  3. To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity. The word for wisdom in this verse is a completely different Hebrew word than the “wisdom” in verse two. This word refers to being circumspect; the proverbs give instruction that will result in a person of prudence, patience, caution, and control. A person with full 360-degree insight into every situation. Justice, as used here in verse three, is referring to righteousness (having a right standing in the sight of God), and is equivalent to the statement of Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16, that the words of God (such as the proverbs) are profitable for “instruction in righteousness.” To receive instruction in judgment is also of critical importance. Judgment is to pass the rightful sentence upon human action, and is therefore a significant aspect to many everyday decisions. Lastly, the third verse ends with “equity;” which is evenness or straightness. The importance of living straightly and uprightly is a purposeful subject in this book.
  4. To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion. Subtilty, or prudence, literally refers to emphasizing the small distinctions in any situation. This is an aspect of great skillfulness and is significant in the group that the word is applied to: the simple, who, by definition, is a person that is unable to single out the distinctions between good and evil. Thus, the book is capable of completely changing the mentality of man, if man would only listen to the instruction. Likewise, what the book can do for the simple, the book can do for the young. This word “discretion” is interesting, it is define from the Hebrew as “a plan.” The ability to have a well-planned life; to have already purposefully made the decision of action in any situation. For example, to some the decision to attend the assembly can be a difficult war in the mind every single Sunday morning. But when one has “a plan,” then the decision to be in faithful attendance needs to be made only once and for all. All Sunday to come will not involve a decision to attend or not.
  5. A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels. The book of Proverbs is not a school textbook that imparts wisdom to the young and simple. The well goes much deeper than that. While providing wisdom to the simple, the same words are wiser than the wisdom of the wise man and the man of understanding. The book makes the simple good, the good even better, and the better even more improved in their understanding. A note on the words “wise counsels” from the Hebrew, this literally means steersmanship. The ability to turn in the right direction and be a wise guide through life is the goal of the book.
  6. To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings. His final statement in this section addresses a much deeper purpose of the book. Studying the Proverbs will result in a stronger ability of mind to be able to understand and interpret great wisdom. It is ability by familiarization. To have our nose in foolishness will not result in wisdom, but to study from the wisdom of God will result in great abilities to understand wise words.

Altogether, in considering the above, there can be no doubt of the significance of the book of Proverbs. The promised purpose of the book might seem too good to be true, and it would be, if this was a manmade self-help book; however, this is the wisdom from Almighty God. Let us gleam from what He has provided us.

Article by Tanner Campbell