Every time I have the opportunity to sink some devotional time into the Book of Proverbs (about once ever eighteen months) I am deeply impressed by the depth, beauty and sheer truth that is found in these words. What a glorious call to seek after wisdom and what that is all about! Again and again, the message is clear: there are two ways, two pursuits, two kinds of people. Wisdom is in knowing the difference and following hard after that which has its source in God himself.
I have long felt that the writer is making a distinction between the way of foolishness and the way of wisdom in the allusion to two kinds of women. This comes through forcefully especially in chapter 9 where two very different women are calling for the attention of all the peoples of the world who are passing by their portals — one woman of exquisite beauty representing truth and wisdom; the other a licentious prostitute or adulteress representing lies and foolishness.
But these two are also literally distinguished by the advice of a father to his son to be wary of the appeals of an adulteress woman and rather to seek after a relationship of faithfulness to the “partner of your youth.” This contrast is further emphasized by the climax in the concluding chapter of the description of the virtuous woman whose price is far above rubies. It’s as if the writer is wanting to demonstrate the nature of wisdom by alluding to a person’s desire for ultimate intimacy which may only be satisfied in the beautiful and legitimate relationship of a faithful marriage.
But ultimately this idea of faithfulness is really about taking God and His commands seriously — the true meaning of “the fear of the Lord,” the foundation of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). My son (child), never forget the things I have taught you. Store my commands in your heart, for they will give you a long and satisfying life. Never let loyalty and kindness get away from you! Wear them like a necklace; write them deep within your heart. The you will find favour with both God and people, and you will gain a good reputation” (3:1-4).
Based on this foundational understanding of the what wisdom is all about, what we find in the Book of Proverbs is a wealth of practical advice of what it means to live a life in the context of truth and the fear of the Lord. The Proverbs are really axioms that are universally and continually trustworthy as truth. But it’s also important to understand that they are generalizations of truth whose consistency is found only as they may be considered on a deeper level.
Sometimes, in fact, one can find points of wisdom described here that appear to contradict each other. A classic example of this is found in Proverbs 26:4 and 5, where we actually see two opposite admonitions on the same subject. Thus, Vs. 4, When arguing with fools, don’t answer their foolish arguments, or you will become as foolish as they are. And then Vs. 5, When arguing with fools, be sure to answer their foolish arguments, or they will become wise in their own estimation. What are we to make of this seeming contradiction?
What we see here are really two sides of the same coin. In some instances, it is most unwise to argue with fools because of the potential of such a situation to draw you into the fool’s foolishness. On the other hand, there are instances in which you should pursue engagement with a foolish person because it may be possible to persuade him or her of their foolishness (or at least keep them from assuming they are wise). Thus, it is evident that the universal truth of the wisdom referenced is much deeper than at first appears.
Another example: Proverbs 24:13 says, My child, eat honey, for it is good, and the honecomb is sweet to the taste. But in the very next chapter (25:16), we read, Do you like honey? Don’t eat too much of it, or it will make you sick! And then further in the same chapter (Vs. 27), Just as it is not good to eat too much honey, it is not good to for people to think about all the honours they deserve. In other words, we should recognize the appeal of a good thing, but be cautious about the temptation of becoming obsessed with it.
I love the Proverbs because they offer such down-to-earth advice about how to live a life of true wisdom. I could spend many days of devotional time immersing myself in the wonder and beauty of all that is said in the Proverbs. This book offer a wealth of wisdom about everyday living no matter where or when you live. And ultimately, it can’t help but lead you to the example and salvation found only in Jesus Christ.