To understand a proverb and a saying,
The words of the wise and their riddles (Prov 1:6, ESV).
At first glance, it might appear that this statement simply repeats what came before in verse 2: “to understand words of insight.” We’ve already established that Solomon wants to train us to recognize wisdom when we see it.
But to understand how this fourth purpose advances the train of thought, consider what Solomon is saying when you put the entire sentence together again: “The Proverbs of Solomon [are]…to understand a proverb.” In other words, a purpose of Proverbs is to help us understand proverbs. As one of my seminary professors once said, “the more you understand proverbs, the more proverbs you understand.”
Have you ever read through the whole book of Proverbs before? There are some weird things in there!
Weird Example #1: Whoever winks the eye causes trouble,
But a babbling fool will come to ruin (Prov 10:10).
Weird Example #2: The light of the eyes rejoices the heart,
And good news refreshes the bones (Prov 15:30).
Weird Example #3: The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion in the road!
There is a lion in the streets (Prov 26:13)!
Weird Example #4: The leech has two daughters;
‘Give’ and ‘Give,’ they cry (Prov 30:15a).
Often, to help us understand strange proverbs like these, other proverbs come to the rescue. Proverbs 6:12-15 helps with example #1 by explaining that winking has to do with causing disunity. Many proverbs help with example #2 by defining “the light of the eyes” as an inward vitality (Prov 29:13) that results from a righteous life (Prov 13:9), expressing itself on our faces (Prov 15:13). Proverbs 22:13 helps with example #3 by explaining that the “lion” is simply a fabricated excuse not to go to work. Proverbs 30:15b-16 helps with example #4 by illustrating for us the warning signs of the type of needy person who won’t be helped by our charity.
My point is this: one purpose of Proverbs is to help us to master other proverbs.
Or, the more we understand Proverbs, the more proverbs we will understand. It doesn’t stop with Proverbs either; the more wisdom you glean from Proverbs, the more you will understand the rest of the Bible as well. And the better you truly understand the main points of the Scriptures, the more you will know Jesus, for they all speak of him (Luke 24:44-49, John 5:39-40, 1 Peter 1:10-12). The more you know Jesus, the wiser you become, for he is our wisdom (1 Cor 1:30). In other words, the fourth purpose of Proverbs is to help you master the word of wisdom (see also 2 Tim 2:15). We are tempted to define “wise” and “foolish” however we want, but the Bible must be our measuring rod on these categories. Let’s add this point to our definition of wisdom.
- Knowing the right thing to do in any particular situation.
- Doing it.
- Always improving at both knowing and doing.
- Deriving all of our knowing and doing from the Bible.
A simpler way to phrase this whole definition could be: Wisdom is a continual striving to know and do what the Bible says.