What does Proverbs chapter 1 mean?To fully understand Proverbs, it is important to define four key terms used throughout the book. These words are often used interchangeably in English, but in the book of Proverbs they tend to have individual meanings. The four terms are "learning," "knowledge," "wisdom," and "understanding."
Learning, as used in Proverbs, is the simple acquisition of information. This could be defined as short-term memory. Anything absorbed for a specific use and then discarded, like a phone number, is this kind of learning. It is needed for a specific purpose; when that purpose is over, the information is forgotten.
However, if that phone number belonged to a best friend or spouse and was called on a regular basis, it would move from short-term memory into long-term memory. This is what Proverbs refers to as knowledge, or any information that is retained for later use.
Wisdom is the capacity for action produced because of knowledge. Solomon asked for wisdom so that he could govern God's people. God acknowledges that this wisdom is given to Solomon so that he can properly rule God's people. Therefore, as used in the book of Proverbs, wisdom is the ability to make appropriate and compassionate actions, based upon knowledge. Note that this is an ability, not a guarantee. Solomon possessed extraordinary wisdom. But as the book of Ecclesiastes shows, he did not always choose to listen to it. The opposite of wisdom, "folly," or "foolishness," is inappropriate action founded in selfish and sinful desire. It is acting against wisdom, rather than according to it.
Finally, understanding is the complete knowledge of a subject with a responsibility to pass on that knowledge. Only after something is learned, retained, and used wisely, can it be taught to others. The book of Proverbs, therefore, is the fullness of understanding. Solomon was gifted with great wisdom, which he handed down, through Proverbs, to his sons, his sons' sons, and to all of the generations. One of the great ironies of human experience is that we can gain wisdom, fail to use it, and the pain of that experience can generate a better "understanding," which we are then compelled to tell others about.
Proverbs 1:1–7 outlines the four distinct "to" statements, or purpose statements of the book of Proverbs. This section culminates with the identification of the only source of true wisdom, the Lord Himself. The purpose of the book of Proverbs is to recognize wise instruction and apply knowledge wisely. Most importantly, this all begins with a reverent respect—"fear"—of the Lord and the rejection of foolish ways.
Proverbs 1:8–19 is a warning against foolishness and the allure of sinful behavior. Solomon begins this warning by appealing to his children to honor their parents' teaching. As most parents know, it's helpful to outline negative behavior before stating what happens when one engages in it.
Proverbs 1:20–33 concludes the first chapter of Proverbs. This passage lists the dire consequences of the behaviors defined in the previous section. This section of Scripture is a famous and important metaphor: the first personification of wisdom, as a woman. Throughout Proverbs Solomon describes wisdom as a beautiful woman shouting out for others to hear. The point of this imagery is that wisdom is not hiding. It is out in the open for all to hear, even though it often goes overlooked.
To understand the book of Proverbs, it is essential to consider the human author, Solomon. The first chapter of 2 Chronicles records the conversation between God and Solomon shortly after Solomon has been named the new king of Israel (2 Chronicles 1:10). Solomon's request for "wisdom and knowledge" in order to govern God's people shows his humility before the Lord, and God responds with a promise as well as a blessing (2 Chronicles 1:11–12).
Thanks to Solomon's humble approach, the Lord blessed him abundantly. He was given not only what he asked for (wisdom and knowledge), but also the other blessings he didn't mention (riches, possessions, and honor). True to the nature of God, none have been as wise as Solomon before or since (1 Kings 3:12). However, even with his wisdom, Solomon turned away from God and followed after worldly pursuits. First Kings 11 records that Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Through his life, he found no earthly pleasure to replace the love of God. In Ecclesiastes 1:2, Solomon proclaims "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity."
The book of Proverbs, therefore, is a collection of wise instructions to Solomon's sons, based on his knowledge and experience, so that they can avoid his foolish mistakes. While Solomon had great wisdom and knowledge, he did not always apply his knowledge wisely. Solomon used his power and influence to get what he wanted, even though he knew it was not wise to do so. Therefore, consider the words of Proverbs carefully. They are divinely inspired, penned by the wisest man to ever live, with a wisdom given fully by the Lord Himself.
Of the books of wisdom literature—Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Job—the book of Proverbs is the easiest to understand while providing an incomparable amount of knowledge to the reader. The book of Proverbs also makes a great family devotional book as it has 31 chapters. One chapter can be studied each day throughout a month. Altogether, there are 915 verses in the book of Proverbs. If a chapter a day seems too much to read, studying two or three verses a day will take about a year.