Bible Commentary: Proverbs 1:8-33

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Proverbs 1:8-33

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Avoid Evil Counsel and Listen to Wisdom

 Instruction begins with the words “My son” (verse 8)—and we see this several other times throughout the opening discourses of the book. Some see this address as formulaic of a wisdom teacher speaking to a disciple. Yet here and in Proverbs  6:20, the mention of both father and mother make it clear that an actual son is being addressed. Perhaps Solomon wrote this for his own son—though it is later sad to see that his son Rehoboam did not walk in the ways of wisdom, following the foolish advice of his peers rather than the wisdom of elders (a fact made more understandable by the terrible failings of Solomon himself later in life). In any case, every child is to be the student of his parents. This applies to girls as well as to boys.

The book’s first exhortation (Proverbs 1:8-19) is an appeal to reject enticements to run with the wrong crowd—in this case people bent on harming others for gain. Regarding verses 17-19, The New American Commentary states: “Verse 17 is confusing as translated in the [NKJV,] NIV and most versions. Even if one is willing to admit that a bird is intelligent enough to recognize the purpose of a trap when it sees it (which is doubtful), the proverb has no point in context. In addition, the Hebrew cannot sustain the translation of ‘spread a net.’ The line is best rendered, ‘In the eyes of a bird, the net is strewn {with grain} for no reason.’ In other words, the bird does not see any connection between the net and what is scattered on it; he just sees food that is free for the taking. In the process he is trapped and killed. In the same way, the gang cannot see the connection between their acts of robbery and the fate that entraps them. In vv. 18-19 the teacher brings his point home: the gang members are really ambushing themselves. The very reverse of their proposal in v. 11 has come about. Also, v. 19 concludes, it will ever be that way” (note on verses 8-19).

We then have, in verses 20-33, the first appeal of wisdom in the book, a discourse with a symmetrical or chiastic structure (NAC, note on verses 20-33):

A Introduction: an appeal for listeners (vv. 20-21)
   B Address to the untutored, scoffers and fools (v. 22)
      C Declaration of disclosure (v. 23)
          D Reason for the announcement (vv. 24-25)
              E Announcement of derisive judgment (vv. 26-28)
          D′ Reason for the announcement (vv. 29-30)
     C′ Declaration of retribution (v. 31)
   B′ Fate of the untutored and fools (v. 32)
A′ Conclusion: an appeal for a hearer (v. 33)

Wisdom is personified as a woman crying out for others to hear and heed her instruction. Further chance to reform is given to those who have thus far failed to heed. For those who do accept correction, Wisdom says, “Surely I will pour out my spirit on you” (verse 23). In its immediate context, this simply means wisdom will be given to those who are willing to learn. Yet since the fullness of wisdom is to be found in God, this could ultimately represent God saying that He will give His Spirit, which brings ultimate understanding and wisdom, to those who accept Him. Again, however, this is not what is directly stated here.

“Wisdom is a personification and not a person or a goddess. The statement that fools call on her when they get into trouble is not a reference to literal prayer but a dramatic picture of fools trying to find a way out of the trouble they are in. They ‘call on’ her in the sense that they are at last ready to listen to advice, but it is too late. Their indifference to Wisdom has already destroyed them (v. 32)” (same note). Of course, their rejection of wisdom is a rejection of choosing to fear God (verse 29), which is the beginning of wisdom (see Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 9:10).

This sad warning ends in Proverbs 1:33 with an assurance of security for those who will heed. As noted in the introduction, we must understand this as a general truth over the course of life. It is not a promise that bad things will never happen to righteous and wise people. Ultimately, of course, absolute and eternal security will be granted to the righteous in the future Kingdom of God.