"To understand a proverb, a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles"
Solomon begins this first chapter by explaining what the whole of the book is for. If someone will pay attention to the comparisons, the riddles, and the ideas that are mentioned here in the book of Proverbs, they will become wise and avoid a lot of the problems of normal life.
The Hebrew word translated to understand is the word bin. It means to perceive, to embrace the information contained in what was said or the situation; but it also means that one grasps the connections between things. If a person is going to be wise, they must see that things are connected to each other. Solomon has included over 700 observations about human nature in these proverbs. Each one of the proverbs is pregnant with meaning in all kinds of directions. Solomon wants us to look beneath the surface and see all the ways that a particular proverb could apply to your life. He wants us to know that there are levels of meaning in each proverb. Don’t just read a proverb – seek to understand its core idea, and watch as that core idea connects to all different parts of your life.
These are not just Solomon’s observations on life. They are also God’s approved observations on life. Solomon made many observations on life that we do not have a record of, but these that are included in Scripture are the ones that God wanted us to have, because they were the truth at a deep level. The fact that they are in the Scriptures speaks to the inspiration that God breathed into them. These human-relationship principles have stood the test of time, because they were penned by the wisest person who ever lived, and they were approved as accurate by the superintending Holy Spirit. Long before there were any people-skills books, there were Solomon’s insights on how to deal with people as recorded in the book of Proverbs. We can have confidence that the insight shared in a particular proverb is true on many levels. And we can have confidence knowing that spending the time to dig out the meaning and application for our lives is worth it on relational, spiritual, emotional, and mental levels.
I find myself going back to the proverbs again and again. I see new application and new depth in these timeless proverbs just as Solomon and God knew that I would. Seek to understand the complexity and simplicity of the comparisons, the riddles, and the ideas that are recorded here. The thoughts in this book are designed to be helpful ways of taking these insights into your daily interactions with people. I do find that the more I can see my people interactions and relationships through the lenses of the proverbs, the more wise I look to others.
The Hebrew word that is translated proverb here in this verse is the word masal. It can mean anything from a short pithy saying to an extended story. Jesus used the extended form when He was teaching His parables in the New Testament. He encased deep truth in a simple story. People could enjoy the story but ignore the point. They could enjoy the story and get the point. They could enjoy the story, get the point, and keep pushing for the deeper applications of the story for themselves. The same is true for the proverbs that are recorded here by Solomon. The insights that Solomon packs into the phrases and comparisons that he uses are weightier than most people-skill platitudes. These are suitcases out of which we can pull truths and projects that don’t seem to fit in such a few words.
When you are praying over the proverbs and God seems to highlight a particular proverb for you that day or in a particular situation, spend the time to unpack that proverb and grasp its connection with your situation. Sometimes I have spent an hour working through how a particular proverb could be connected to my situation. One time recently, I thought I had unpacked why God had highlighted a particular proverb to me after three hours of studying it, only to find that six hours later in the middle of the night a whole new perspective on that proverb and my life opened up.
The Hebrew word for figure is the word melisah. It means an elusive saying or a figure or a proverb. It often is associated with scorn or satire which suggests that this was a way of saying something that made you see an issue from a completely different angle. In our day this could be comparing the fact that Americans spend ten times more on cosmetics than they do on mental health. This is shown in the book of Proverbs, where Solomon hyperbolizes a comparison: “It is better to live in a desert land than with a contentious woman.” “It is better to be unknown and have a servant, than to be well known but be a self-promoter.”
As you read through the proverbs, you will read of Solomon making crazy comparisons or crazy statements to jolt you into realizing a truth. God is goading us through Solomon’s figure of speech to notice a deeper truth. Dig for understanding and how this truth relates to life. Each proverb or figure relates to real life and can help us be wise, avoid a foolish decision, deal with a foolish person, and chart a course of decisions that will develop a great life. But too often the big things of life are hidden by our culture, and we just blindly move forward making the same decisions as all of the people around us. This results in the same consequences as everybody else. What we really need to look at is whether we should choose some different choice, because it really does make more sense if we just stop and look at it.
Wise people do not throw their pearls around for everyone to misuse or misappropriate. Wise people hide their wisdom in riddles and mysteries so that their insights will only be revealed to the person who looks with intensity or pursues the truth with tenacity. In the book of Proverbs, you will find a wealth of people knowledge. There are sixty-three different types of fools that are described with the appropriate responses to them. You will find the eight friends of wisdom and how to use them to find wisdom and a great life. You will find some of the most amazing leadership advice so you can accomplish the purposes that God put in you. I often find myself asking God, through the book of Proverbs, how to handle a leadership situation I am facing by looking at every verse that talks about the king. I often prayerfully ask God to guide me through working with a person who is driving me sideways because of particular trait. I will look up their version of foolishness (arrogance, anger, laziness, sexuality, violence, etc.) and pay special attention to what Solomon says to do with this kind of person.