"The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:" NIV translation
The first part of this book contains sayings from Solomon who was the wisest man the world has ever seen. We remember that, when Solomon was told that he could ask for anything from God, he asked for wisdom and God granted it (2 Chronicles 1).
Proverbs 1:2 & 3
"for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; for receiving instruction in prudent behavior; doing what is right and just and fair;" NIV translation
Here, we see the purpose of these sayings. Wisdom is the ability to properly use knowledge and for us, as Christians, it is the mind of Jesus Christ. Instruction is talking about teaching using discipline while understanding speaks of intelligence. Prudent behavior is referring to the fact that not all knowledge is to be shared at all times with all people. Prudence is using good judgment on when to share your knowledge. In short, these sayings are meant to show us how to live a life that brings glory to God.
"for giving prudence to those who are simple, knowledge and discretion to the young - let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance - for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise." NIV translation
We see that these sayings are for the benefit of everyone. The simple speaks of foolish people and we see that they are given good judgment. A fool will usually run around doing whatever pops into their mind. They have no direction or ability to filter their actions. We see that they give knowledge to the young and the ability to think before acting. We all have been young and impulsive but these sayings can give young people a pause so they do not end up doing foolish things. Even the wise can add to their understanding.
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction." NIV translation
The "fear of the Lord" (Yirat HaShem) is talking about rightly seeing God as He is and showing respect. In this case, it is knowing that this wisdom and instruction can only come from God. The entire book is about living in a way that brings glory to God (artful living) and who is better to learn from than the Creator of all things? As we saw, it was God who granted Solomon his request for wisdom.
Proverbs 1:8 & 9
"Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching. They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck." NIV translation
We see that it is both the mother and father who provide the teaching for the son. We are reminded that this is how God has designed the family. The breakdown that we see today in the family has produced generations that simply follow the crowd. The garland and gold chain were signs of honor and respect that were granted by a king. This was the case with Joseph (Genesis 41:42) and Daniel (Daniel 5:29). They were to set the person apart and mark them as royalty. This principle of a king marking his royalty is carried through even to the last days as God's witnesses are sealed (see Revelation 7).
"My son, if sinful men entice you, do not give in to them." NIV translation
A young man's/woman's first step into the world alone, today, is to go off to college as they mature. There may be different schools trying to get them to attend. This is the picture of what is happening here.
Solomon says that the college of wisdom is calling them but also the college of fools. Those that acknowledge God are of the school of wisdom while those that do not are of the school of fools. The Hebrew root for the word entice is related to the word "simple" or foolish. The sinful men will attempt to get you to forget about the good judgment that was given to you through your parents. Solomon urges his son to stand strong and hold onto his godly principles.
"If they say, 'Come along with us; let's lie in wait for innocent blood, let's ambush some harmless soul; let's swallow them alive, like the grave, and whole, like those who go down to the pit; we will get all sorts of valuable things and fill our houses with plunder; cast lots with us; we will all share the loot' -" NIV translation
The school of fools will often use the prospect of material wealth to lure young people away from the wisdom of God. Here, we see that they are willing to do whatever is required to get ahead even if that means stomping on others. This is compared to the image of death and the grave.
Proverbs 1:15 & 16
"my son, do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths; for their feet rush into evil, they are swift to shed blood." NIV translation
The word path brings to mind the fact that it is a regular way of going and it becomes a habit. Once you have your heart set on material wealth and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it, it gets very hard to get out of it.
"How useless to spread a net where every bird can see it! These men lie in wait for their own blood; they ambush only themselves! Such are the paths of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the life of those who get it." NIV translation
Nets were used to trap birds and other animals but birds are smart enough to avoid a net that they can see.
Once you are on the path of materialism, you can be easily consumed by the quest for more. It can start with small compromises of integrity and lead to bigger and bigger crimes. Those that are on this path become trapped by the worry of being discovered and the guilt of knowing that it is wrong.
Here, Solomon is, in a sense, making his son aware of the net. We have heard the phrase "bird brained" and it is usually used to point to the fact they they have little intelligence due to the fact that they have a small brain. If he is as smart as a bird (which is not very smart) , he will avoid this trap.
Proverbs 1:20 & 21
"Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech:" NIV translation
While the things of God (wisdom) are proclaimed out in the open where everyone can see, those who strive for ill-gotten gain usually do so in secret. They may even go so far as to pretend to be one way in public but be the opposite in private. This is what Paul was talking about (in 2 Corinthians 11) when he referred to Satan and his servants masquerading as an angel of light. A simple lesson from this for Christians is that, if you are afraid that others will find out that you are doing something, then, don't do it!
"'How long will you who are simple love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?'" NIV translation
With knowledge of the things of God comes responsibility. Many people simply do not want that but would rather walk around in ignorant bliss.
For many, the answer to wisdom's questions is that it will end on judgment day. We have all probably seen a child say "I don't know" when asked why they did something. That may work for children in the world but it will not work when a grown person stands before the judgment throne.
"'Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings.'" NIV translation
Repentance is required as we humbly accept that we do not know it all. We have all been young and ready to take on the world. At that time, we thought that we had all the answers and knew everything about life. If we are humble and accept that we do not have the wisdom that we need, God will provide. For Christians, this verse speaks of the work of the Holy Spirit as our counselor. God promises that, if we have faith (trust) in Him, He will not let us be fooled by the false angels of light. Jesus spoke of them using great signs and wonders to deceive (Matthew 24:24) but we will stand through the power of the Spirit in us.
"But since you refuse to listen when I call and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand, since you disregard all my advice and do not accept my rebuke, I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you; when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you." NIV translation
If there is no repentance and the young man/woman continues in the school of fools, there will be consequences. Here, we see that disaster will overtake them as what started out relatively small has reached the scale of calamity. As a parent, one wants to intervene and prevent the consequences for their children but is that the right thing to do?
Proverbs 1:28 & 29
"'Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me, since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord.'" NIV translation
When the consequences of foolish behavior begin, many pray to God to get them out of their trouble. Here, God warns them that He does not hear and answer these prayers because they did not repent. One might ask how this can be with a loving God. The simple fact is that God would rather give them tough love and bring them to repentance than to let them have a false sense of salvation.
"'Since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.'" NIV translation
The ultimate consequence of graduating from the school of fools, is eternal death (separation from God) and a spot in hell. The good news is that, until that final breath is taken, there is the opportunity to stop and choose the path of the school of wisdom (God). That is a change of direction from living for self to living in Christ. The best decision that anyone can make is to drop out of the school of fools and enroll in the school of wisdom!