What does Proverbs 2 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
The Greek philosopher Plato identified four virtues, later called the cardinal virtues, which he theorized were present to some degree in every person. Those virtues, as defined in Plato's terminology, are courage, integrity, wisdom, and justice. Here, within the second chapter of the Book of Proverbs, we see a very similar pattern lain out by Solomon, hundreds of years before Plato, as well as his encouragement to live a virtuous life. This sentiment for virtuous living is echoed throughout Scripture. The book of Leviticus repeats God's statement to His people to "be holy for I am holy" five times (Leviticus 11:44; 11:45; 20:26; 21:8). The book of Deuteronomy teaches the people to be holy before the Lord (Deuteronomy 23:14). And, in the New Testament, Peter reiterates the idea of holy living in 1 Peter 1:15–16.

The second chapter of Proverbs can be split into four basic divisions. Those segments are verses 1–5, which imply wisdom; verses 6–8, which imply courage; verses 9–15, which imply justice; and verses 16–22, which imply integrity. Peter would later expound further on the idea of living and growing in holiness, or virtue. The Greek word used in 2 Peter 1:5 is aretē, sometimes translated as moral excellence or "virtue." This word means "the excellence of a thing." Excellence causes that thing both to be itself in good condition and to perform its function well. Adding virtue to our faith then, is meant to bring our faith into excellence so that it performs its function well.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle is credited with saying: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit." Aristotle was a disciple of Plato and he expressed the notion that virtue must also be understood as a kind of moderation. It aims at the mean or moderate amount of anything, so that too much or too little of it would be considered a vice. The easiest example of this is with the virtue of courage, something frequently discussed in Greek philosophy but only alluded to in this portion of Proverbs. Someone who is not courageous is easily recognized as a coward. However, someone who is "too courageous" we would think of as reckless. This version of courage therefore, is the exact point at which we exhibit appropriate care not to be reckless, as well as appropriate fortitude not to be timid.

Adding virtue to our faith is meant to bring our faith to that point of moderation. This is the place where we are completely secure in Christ but not reckless. This place, the median of confidence and caution, is the kind of faith Solomon is trying to teach us in Proverbs chapter 2. It is a place where we live out a holy life for the Lord, not a life of excess and sinful liberty, but not a life marked by legalism. Our lives are meant to be marked by a true faith based relationship with God. This holy lifestyle leads us to be discerning followers of the Lord, not mindless robots nor hypocritical sinners. A people marked by steady faith in God are those who "do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:19–22).
Verse Context:
The first five verses of chapter 2 continue the main theme from chapter 1: wisdom. Wisdom was often featured as a crucial virtue by later philosophers, such as Plato. These verses contain an IF–THEN structure. Verses 1–4 make three distinct ''if'' statements about the proper use of knowledge. Verse 5 gives the outcome that is ''then'' enjoyed by following the instructions which have been given. The same principles are illustrated by some of Jesus' parables found in Matthew 13:44–52.
Proverbs 2:6–8 provides reasons for those who follow God, those who pursue His wisdom, to be confident in the face of adversity. These verses speak of God providing knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. They refer to God as a shield, and a guard, and One who watches over those who exhibit integrity. The Bible often connects reassurance with a call to persevere in the face of trials: this is what we often refer to as courage. While not explicitly mentioned here, courage is a common trait listed by ancient philosophers as a core virtue. These verses provide a flavor of that idea.
Proverbs 2:9–15 refines our understanding of justice, which is possibly the most difficult of the four virtues to master. We have long misunderstood justice as fairness or equality. Everyone is familiar with the common complaint ''that's not fair.'' This is often expressed when someone perceives that they are not being treated identically to others. However, true justice makes no claim to be equal; instead it is equitable. Justice can be defined as giving each person their due. Justice is absolutely fair, it is not necessarily equal.
Proverbs 2:16–22 focuses on the virtue philosophers such as Plato refer to as integrity, which is better labelled as temperance. This virtue is more than doing what is right even when no one is looking, which is how we often define integrity. Rather, it is also keeping ourselves from situations where we might be tempted to do wrong. In the modern sense, integrity is marked by what you do, while temperance is marked by using other virtues to avoid negative situations. For instance, Paul warns how being drunk leads to debauchery (Ephesians 5:18). A person exhibiting temperance might restrict or eliminate use of alcohol, thereby avoiding drunkenness and therefore, avoiding debauchery. This can be stated succinctly as a man mastering or controlling himself (James 3). This passage contrasts the outcome of not controlling oneself against the benefit of living with integrity.
Chapter Summary:
In Proverbs chapter 2, Solomon highlights various virtues, as well as provides encouragement to live a virtuous life. As in chapter 1, specific concepts wil reoccur, and are used in certain ways. Here, these are ideas such as courage, integrity, wisdom, and justice. The gist of this passage is the positive effect that virtue—including these various aspects—will have on one's life. In contrast, those who pursue non-virtuous living will suffer dire consequences.
Chapter Context:
The overarching theme of Proverbs chapter 2 is the relationship between virtue and discernment. As described here, virtuous living is moral living. As a person strives to live a moral life, he or she develops a greater ability to discern right from wrong. Further, beyond simple matters of right and wrong, as virtue grows within a person, he or she becomes more proficient at discerning trickier situations. Real life predicaments often present two or more seemingly valid options. Discernment, then, also includes determining which of many different options is actually best. Likewise, many life situations appear to offer only a variety of bad options. There, discernment is once again required, to determine which option presents the correct choice, or to recognize where a ''good'' option has been hidden.
Book Summary:
Proverbs is best understood in context with the books of Ecclesiastes and Job. In Proverbs, “wisdom” is given in short, simple, general terms. Ecclesiastes represents wisdom based on observation and experience. This often shows how the general principles of the book of Proverbs don’t apply in absolutely every circumstance. Job represents wisdom based on the experience of suffering and injustice. All three come to the conclusion that God does indeed know best, and the most sensible course of action is to follow His will.
Accessed 7/18/2024 9:49:52 AM
© Copyright 2002-2024 Got Questions Ministries. All rights reserved.
Text from ESV, NIV, NASB, CSB, NLT, KJV, NKJV © Copyright respective owners, used by permission.