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The Beginning of Wisdom | Proverbs 1-2

As preached by Timothy O'Day.

1) Disarm the trap of peer pressure (1:8-19).

2) Avoid indecision (1:20-33).

3) Dive into the joy of God’s wisdom (2:1-22). 4) Look to Christ, in whom resides all of God’s wisdom.

The Beginning of Wisdom

Proverbs 1-2

May 19, 2024

How you begin is important. I’ve heard that airplane pilots are taught the 1 in 60 rule, which says that for every 60 miles flown, a one degree error in your heading will cause you to be off course by one mile. Which may not sound like much, but if you flew from New York to Los Angeles 1 degree off course, you would not end up in Los Angeles. You would end up in the Pacific Ocean. That isn’t a minor detail, especially if you are a passenger. 

So as we begin our study of Proverbs, I want us begin well and on course. If we start by thinking that Proverbs is a book about rules or general wisdom, we won’t end up in the right place. If we start with thinking that Proverbs is just a collection of helpful sayings, we won’t end up in the right place. 

So what is Proverbs? It is a book about faith in the Lord. It tells us how to trust the Lord and walk with him in his ways by trust. 

Like the rest of the Bible, Proverbs isn’t God’s demand of you. Rather, it is his gift to you so that you may know him and walk with him as he provides all that you need to do so. 

How do I know this? It isn’t wishful thinking. This is what the introduction to Proverbs, 1:1-7, tells us. The clinching statement of the introduction is verse 7, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” This statement especially, but all of Proverbs 1:1-7, act as the introduction to all of Proverbs. Like an entry way gives you access to all of a house, so does this introduction give us access to all of the rest of Proverbs. So before we go any further into this book, let’s camp out on these verses and set our course well. 

Proverbs 1:1-7 sets out God’s goal with this book and how it can be accomplished. Let’s look at each in turn.

The (Very) Basics of Proverbs

Verse 1 introduces the genre and the primary author of proverbs, telling us that the genre is proverbs (shocking, right?) and the author is Solomon. Solomon is not the only author, but like how a poster for a movie only shows the stars' names, so this introduction gives top billing to Solomon. This is primarily a collection of his proverbs, which are wise sayings—some shorter and some longer—that communicate wisdom that we can try on and live out. Proverbs are not absolute. They communicate how to live in accord with God’s good order and thus honor him with your life. 

And that leads us closer to understanding the goal of Proverbs. If a proverb is a teaching that will help you live in accord with God’s good order and thus honor him with your life, then the goal of Proverbs is to give you knowledge and skill about God and how to live in his world. That’s what Verses 2-6 show us. Look there with me now.

The Goal (and Audience) of Proverbs

“To know wisdom and instruction,

To understand words of insight,

To receive instruction in wise dealing,

In righteousness, justice, and equity; 

To give prudence to the simple,

Knowledge and discretion to the youth—

(Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance)—

To understand a proverb and a saying,

The words of the wise and their riddles.”

In short, the goal of this book is to change your thinking and your living. And this goal is for all of you. Did you notice who the intended audience is? Verses 4 and 5 lay it out: the simple (meaning the naive), youth (meaning the inexperienced), and even those who are already wise. So if you are naive, inexperienced, or wise, this book is able to help you. 

And it helps you by accomplishing all of the goals laid out in verses 2-6. Some of those words may seem unfamiliar to you or, perhaps, too familiar in order for them to properly strike you, so let’s briefly define each:

“To know wisdom:” Wisdom is knowledge rightly employed and deployed according to God’s righteous ordering of the world. A wise man is one who knows what is right according to God and does what is right according to God. He has an answer, a verdict, a plan that lines up with God’s ways. 

The goal of proverbs is to make you into a person who can rightly employ and deploy knowledge for the glory of God and the good of others. 

Instruction means being taught through discipline. Learning requires something of you, but it always gives more than it takes. The goal of proverbs is to instruct you through the means of formative discipline. Discipline is God giving to you. He gives knowledge, but also proper affection in accord with that knowledge. This requires throwing away some things so that your mind and your hands are free to hold on to what is really good. 

Understanding refers to discernment, which is the ability to grasp what is obscure. The goal of proverbs is to help you grasp the details that really matter so that you can see what really matters to God.

Righteousness refers to right behavior, showing us that wisdom is not merely about what is in our minds but what flows out into our actions. This is why I defined wisdom as knowledge rightly employed and deployed according to God’s righteous ordering of the world. The goal of proverbs is for us to want to line up our living with God’s righteous decree. This is hard for us because we love what is evil, but growing in wisdom is growing to love what is good. 

Justice refers to correct decisions. Justice is the righting of wrongs, making the right call, and delivering vindication to the one wronged. The goal of proverbs is that we would call good good and evil evil, not the mixing them up with each other. And as we grow in justice, we will grow in loving God because we will see that he is good. 

Equity refers to moral integrity, which means that you consistent in your moral living. This means you won’t aim to be righteous in one area of living while completely diving into sin with another area of your life. The goal of proverbs is soundness in the health of your heart. Or, to put it differently, the goal of Proverbs is a pure heart so that you can see God. 

Prudence speaks to shrewdness and sensibility in practical matters. You simply know what to do. Proverbs aims to make you useful and helpful toward others. 

Discretion is carefulness of thought. Proverbs aims to make you careful in your decisions, making sure to weigh what is important. 

The Way of Wisdom: Fear the Lord

If you are like me, that all sounds pretty good. Who wouldn’t want to be wise, disciplined, understanding, righteous, just, equitable, prudent, and discrete? Everyone wants those things in theory. The real question is do you want the one who gives these things? This is God alone. Look down at verse 7.

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” 

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge not in the sense that you begin with God and then move on to other things. As one author put it, “What the alphabet is to reading, notes to reading music, and numerals to mathematics, the fear of the Lord is to attaining the revealed knowledge of this book.” You don’t move past the alphabet to read Shakespeare, Dickens, Austin, and Milton. All of your reading is possible because you rest on the alphabet as you read. All knowledge flows from God whether you recognize it or not.

The atheist has knowledge as he observes creation, but who created? God alone. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1) How is it that man is able to accumulate and pass on knowledge? Because God created us to be like him, speaking and teaching beings who know what is true and right. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” (Gen. 1:26a).

If you know anything that is true, it is because the author of life has created things for you to know and given you a mind that can know it. We cannot reason properly unless we reason by using God’s words, not creation alone. This is how we were made to function. Adam and Eve hear from God and from creation, but without God’s words they cannot properly understand creation or how to live in it wisely. The same is true with us and the rest of humanity. 

If you examine the world, you are examining a world made by God. So hearing from him will only lead you to right conclusions about it. If you examine the world divorced form God’s word, don’t be surprised when you go off course. What you think about God—whether he exists or not; who he is and what he is like—changes the course of your thinking and living. 

Proverbs cries out to us, “Get God right because only with him is there life, joy, peace, and meaning. Everything else is utter death.” 

The magnitude of importance that rests on what you think about God is summed up with the phrase, “The fear of the LORD.” 

Fearing the Lord does not refer to being afraid that he will smite you at any moment, living in cowering fear. 

Fearing the Lord means that you are preoccupied with his power, glory, majesty, and love more than anything else. It is seeing God as the starting point and the cornerstone of all things.  Fearing God means that he has preeminence of place in your thinking. You want to be with him because he is so awesome and you hate your sin because he is so glorious. 

When you see God as good, glorious, gracious, and great, you will fear him. And when you fear him, you will humble yourself before his words. That is chiefly what is meant by verse 7. You can only become wise when you are ready to listen to the God of all creation. If you seek knowledge only by observing creation, you can learn a lot of things, but you will not rightly employ and deploy that knowledge in accord with God’s righteous ordering of the world. But when God is truly God, not merely in title but in goodness, greatness, glory, and grace—then you will fear him and listen to him.

But the opposite is also true. If you will not humble yourself under his instruction, saying that you need his words in order to have joy and life, then you will end up despising his wisdom and instruction. Instead, you will seek to make your own way in the world. 

So here, in verse 7, you have the main idea of this book. When you fear the Lord, you will hear him and grow in wisdom. If you disregard the Lord, then you will be a fool who only tastes destruction. The rest of Proverbs 1 and all of chapter 2 flesh this out for us. Let’s take the rest of our time to examine it together.

Disarm the trap of peer pressure (1:8-19)

The first 9 chapters of Proverbs consist of lectures from a father to a son, who is the listener or reader of proverbs. Interspersed with these lectures are what we could call sermons by wisdom personified. In Proverbs 1:8-19, we see this first lecture given from Solomon to us, his sons in wisdom. 

After striking the note that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, verse 7 ends with the statement “fools despise wisdom and instruction,” meaning that they hate to listen to God and humble themselves before God. Proverbs 1:8-19 is one of the first hurdle that youths, but really all people, must overcome and continue to overcome: the trap of peer pressure. In verse 8-9, the father calls the son to listen to his instruction along with his mothers because it will provide blessing and honor. In verse 10, he lays out the warning: “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.” He then goes on in verse 11 to walk through the scenario in more detailed. 

What is noteworthy about this description is the promised pleasure and camaraderie of these sinners. Do you notice how often the plural is used in these verses? “Us” and “our” and “we” are used again and again in verses 11-14. These sinners are calling us to join them in their sin and share in their pleasure and profit from this sin of violent theft. 

Take Heed Against the Deceptive Pleasure of Sin

What could entice us away from fearing God and heeding his words? The twin pleasures of sin and community. All sin is pleasurable, or else it would not be tempting. While it is pleasurable, it is also fleeting. Yet temptations to sin never highlight the fact that the high will end and the pleasure will fade away into nothingness. 

This is why sin mixed with community is so dangerous and why the father, speaking to his son, warns against it right away. When you sin in a community that loves sin, your guilt and shame are numbed. Guilt and shame are God’s gift of a conscience crying out to us, “You are not living with the right order of God’s good creation,” so whatever numbs that is actually bad for us. In a community that loves sin, you are guilted and shamed by others for feeling guilt and shame about your sin. 

Right now, boys and girls are being shamed into cutting off and mutilating their genitalia. Then, parents will hold up their child as a mark of pride, saying “I am brave and wise enough to let my child choose their own destiny.” Wisdom looks at that and says, “You fool.” 

In a community of sin, the fear of sinning against God is replaced by the joy of others approving of you. 

Have you ever noticed that you are bombarded with invitations to fit in with sin everyday? You are invited to gossip everyday. You are invited to complain everyday. You are asked to participate in crude humor everyday. You are asked to smile and nod your head in approval of the things that God hates everyday. The culture is inundated with sexual immorality, violence, slander, anger, and dishonoring through disregard those who are older. You are asked everyday to smile, nod, approve, and join in. 

What should you do when this happens? See it for what is is: an invitation to disregard God and to grow in foolishness. Follow the instruction of verse 10: “Do not consent.” Say no. 

Don’t even entertain the pleasure of sin by thinking about it. Thinking about joining in on the sin only forms your heart by that sin all the more. Thinking, “What would it be like if I did X, Y, or Z?” Is forming your heart around the desire for those sins. It is an attempt to taste the pleasure of sin without committing sin. It is like standing outside of a restaurant saying, “I just want to smell the food.” If that is what you do, after a while you will be inside eating it. 

Instead, follow the wisdom laid out in verses 15-19. There the father tells his son what will actually happen to those who form communities of sin. In setting a net for others in order to satiate their greedy lust, they will kill themselves. This is true in the sense that those who live through crime often die in crime, but it is all the more true when you think of eternal judgment. Sin will take away your life because it will leave you before the eternal judge without excuse. If you dive into sin, celebrating what God calls evil, then you will stand before him one day without excuse. 

So when you are tempted by others to join in on sin, don’t consent. Don’t go home and think about what it would be like to consent. Instead, consider their true end. The fleeting pleasure of sin will pass away and all that will remain for those who disregard the Lord is judgment. 

This is wisdom we need to heed. When you are tempted to consent, ask yourself, “Where does God say that this road will lead?” 

Where will gossip take me in my relationship with God and others?

Where will sexual immorality take me in the formation of my heart and my relationship with God?

Where will complaining about my lot in life move my thinking and feeling? 

If you make violence on God’s ways, then only violent judgment awaits you. That’s what you need to remember and you can only remember it if you fear the Lord above all else. 

Avoid indecision (1:20-33)

Proverbs 1:20-33 contains the first sermon by lady wisdom, the personification of wisdom. In light of the call to fear the Lord as the entry way and path of wisdom, we see the next danger that could keep us from fearing the Lord, namely indecision. 

In verses 20-22, we see that God does not hide his wisdom from us. She is loud and in public, raising her voice and crying out in the market place. What is she saying? Look at verse 22, “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?” 

God is quite frank and does not beat around the bush. He says outright that we need him and without him we have no hope of being wise or gaining understanding. 

God says to all people, “Wisdom is here for the taking!” So will you take it?

One of the risks that people run in hearing about God’s gracious gift in the gospel is only ever thinking about it. That is indecision. “I’m thinking about what God has said,” or, “I am thinking about giving up sin,” or, “I am thinking about delighting in what God calls good and throwing off what he calls evil.” Indecision might sound wise, but it is utter foolishness. 

You must decide: Will you receive what God offers you or not? There is no middle ground.

So many people live as if they were neutrals. There are those whom God loves and those whom God hates, but I am somewhere in the middle. I am not a great person, but I am not a terrible person; I am somewhere in the middle. 

But there are no neutrals. There are only children of God and children of wrath. Saying you are neutral in this world is like saying you are neutral in a river. “I won’t paddle just yet,” you say,” because I haven’t decided which way to go, upstream or downstream.” Well, my friend, the river will take you with its current. And the current of this world is set against God and his ways, existing as a system bent on rejecting God. If you remain neutral then your course is decided. The flow of this world is disregarding God and falling into destruction. 

“Someday” Will Be Too Late

And here is what you need to make sure you know: there will come a day that the river will transition to a waterfall and there will be no coming back. At the coming of Christ or at your death, it will be too late. That’s the warning of wisdom in verses 24-33. When it is too late, the fool will call upon wisdom, but wisdom will only laugh. Why? Because justice is being done. You cannot presume upon God’s kindness, ignore his word of mercy, and then complain when you are judged. 

You kill yourself by rejecting the cry of God’s wisdom to listen to his words of mercy and life! To use another water analogy, you die because you throw away the life preserver that has been thrown out to you while you swim in the ocean of God’s just wrath. To ignore God’s word and his gospel call is to ignore his mercy. If you threw a life preserver to someone out in the ocean, and they stared at it and said, “I am just going to think about it,” you would be surprised. Then, when a wave crashed down on them and you saw them no more, you would be sad, but you would also say, “What a fool.” 

Do you have the right view of yourself? Without Christ, you are adrift in the ocean of God’s wrath, but Christ calls out, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” 

Are you wavering between indecision about whether or not to follow Christ? Don’t delay, someday it will be too late. 

Are you playing with sin, indecisive about whether or not you should kill it or keep it secret? Don’t refuse the merciful and blunt call of wisdom to throw it out. There will come a day that it is too late. 

What should you do? Listen and act on verse 23, “If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.”

In other places in the Bible, this pouring out of the Spirit is spoken of as the new birth, or receiving a new heart, or having the word implanted in you. This is God’s gracious offer: He will make you new, forgiving your sin and changing your hard heart if you will turn to him. 

And all that is required of you is hearing this gracious call of God and responding to it by going to Christ, leaving behind your old life and coming into the new life he offers you.

Why would you wait? Only a fool would do that. 

Dive into the joy of God’s wisdom (2:1-22)

Chapter 2 covers another lecture that Solomon gives to his son. After covering the beginning of knowledge as being the fear of the Lord and covering two traps—peer pressure and indecisiveness—that could draw our attention away from the Lord, he now turns to positive reinforcement by pointing out the value and benefits of wisdom. He lays out how to commit to God’s wisdom and what you will gain if you do.

How to Commit (2:1-4): In order to commit to wisdom, you first must receive the words of wisdom in this book. In verse 1, the father tells the son to receive his words which will lead him to wisdom. But if you look at verse 6, you see that it is the Lord who gives wisdom. That means that the words given by Solomon, collected in this book of Proverbs, are really God’s words. To hear the words of this book, just like hearing the words in any other book of the Bible, is to hear the word of God himself. 

So you commit by saying that you need more than just yourself. You need God himself to give you authoritative knowledge and direction. You must make your ear attentive to his words, incline your heart to hearing him, seeking out what he has to say you would seek silver or a hidden treasure. 

Do you see the illustration used in these verses? “Silver” and “treasure”? In order to commit to God’s wisdom and his ways, you have to see them as valuable. 

Do you actually believe that God’s word is that valuable? More valuable than silver? More valuable and exciting than finding a hidden treasure? Until you do, you will struggle to commit to his ways.

Here is a test: if I told you that I would pay you $100 every morning that you woke up 15 minutes earlier to read the Bible, would you do it more than you already do? 

Do you have the attitude that wakes up and says, “I don’t have to pay anyone to read this? I get to go to church and hear the word preached and talk about it with others FOR FREE? 

Brothers and sisters, I am not trying to make you feel guilty. I want you to feel crazy. You have the words of God to dwell on, readily accessible to you. These are life changing words. These are the words that break shackles off of you, open up doors to wonders that I can’t articulate; these are words that will make you cry with joy, sing with wonder, sometimes beating the table because you have a hard time understanding them but you know there is treasure. These are words that yield sweetness that I can’t describe properly.

I struggle to defend why it is that you should seek God’s words like silver. If you are wondering if there is anything good in the Bible, all I can do is copy Philip’s answer to Nathanael and say, “Come and see.” 

When you do, here is what you will gain as you commit yourself to his words

Understanding of God’s word (5-11): The Lord will give you wisdom, as he says in verses 5-11. You will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God; you will be filled increasingly with understanding. 

But this is not just information. Look at verse 10, “For wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.” You will be changed. What you love will change and be conformed to what is true; what you desire will change and your desires will be conformed to what is true. God’s word is like medicine for the sick soul. A man who is starved comes to a point that he doesn’t even feel hungry. This isn’t because his body doesn’t need food. It is because his body is so broken that his physical desires don’t line up with what he actually needs. As a doctor administers medicine to help a broken body, God’s word is administered to our broken souls, conforming us to who we are supposed to be—like Christ.

This is what God does to his people. He changes them because he loves them. He forgives in Christ because he loves us; and he changes us to be like Christ because he loves us. 

Wisdom Protects

And it is this change that protects us from the temptation that will constantly be with us in this world. Look at verse 7-8 and see the connection of the wisdom he gives to his saints and the protection he gives to his saints through wisdom. The wisdom he gives to us is a shield and a guard. Again, in verse 11, “discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you.”

All of this is to say that God will not keep us from being tempted, but through the wisdom he gives, he will deliver us from temptation. That’s exactly what verses 12-22 make plain.

Wisdom will protect you from evil men calling you away from God, which is what he says in verses 12-15. And wisdom will protect you from evil women calling you away from God, which is what he says in verses 16-19. These men and women are those who hate God and want others to join in  their hatred of God by disregarding his ways. They delight in what God calls evil and despise what God calls good. 

But if you know God’s word, then you will not fall for their lies for you will remember what their true end is and not want to join them. 

Instead, you will want to walk in God’s ways because you have heard and believe his promise that is laid out in verses 20-22. Instead of going off with evil men and women, you will stick to the path that God has laid out, which leads to the land of eternal life. 

God’s wisdom is not a burden if you want to have life. Pursuing the Lord acts to protect you against anything else that would call you away from the path of life, which is God himself. 

Look to Christ, in whom resides all of God’s wisdom. 

None of this is going to be compelling to you unless God is yours and you want to be with him.

If you aren’t in Christ, I want you to know this: God isn’t missing out because he doesn’t have you; you’re missing out because you do not have God. God hasn’t lost because you reject him; you have lost because you do not have him. 

You need to get a right bearing on your situation—you are adrift in a sea of meaninglessness without God, and there is no hope inside of you or in your fellow man. 

But you do have cause to rejoice. God, in Jesus Christ, has brought wisdom to you to save you from folly and death. 

Don’t get this backwards. In Proverbs, God does not make demands of you, he gives to you. In the same way, Jesus Christ comes to give. He gives…

  • His life in place of your life.

  • His righteousness in exchange for your sin.

  • His title of Son for your title of wrath bearer.

Hear the cry of wisdom in the cry of Jesus, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart. And you will find rest for your souls.”

He means it. So come.


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