Lesson One Wise Up to Live Right

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Lesson One

Wise Up to Live Right

Proverbs 1:1-7
Memorize This Week

Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge,

but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

- 1:7 (NLT)
  1. Getting Started

Proverbs was written for three kinds of people: the wise, the simple, and the fool.

The Wise

The wise seek to increase their own personal stock of wisdom as well as convey its insights to others they love, for example, their employees, or the children God has entrusted into their care. We may not be sages, or consider ourselves wise, but do you have the intelligence to understand that wisdom is the key to good living?

The Simple

The simple are youth that don’t know the devious ways of the world. They are innocent to the wicked schemes of the gangs and the criminal. They just don’t know and what they don’t know can hurt them or get them killed.

The Fool

A fool checks out mentally on anything that doesn’t match what he wants or is just not “fun.” He already “knows” and doesn’t want to be bothered since what the wise say might conflict with his own will. She certainly doesn’t want God's opinion of things.

Pray About This

Why not ask God to open your heart and mind to wisdom, to remove bad fear and replace it with the Fear of the Lord.
  1. What is a Proverb?

A proverb is … a short saying that is full of meaning. Every culture on earth uses them because they make truth memorable. Paul Seger in his book, Chief, relates the wisdom he gained growing up as a missionary kid in Nigeria by expounding on the meaning of African proverbs. For instance,

A large chair does not make a king.”

In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges

and the foolish build dams.”

If you want to go quickly, go alone.

If you want to go far, go together.”

The same sun that melts the wax, hardens the clay.”

Write out a familiar sayings you know:

The Word

The word proverbs refers to the Hebrew word, mashal, (מָשָׁל) which can be also be translated parable, allegory, byword, taunt, or discourse depending on the context and usually the length. It is used both as a verb and a noun. As a verb it has three areas of meaning:

One, has the sense of “control” or “rule,” as in “A slave who deals wisely will rule [mashal] over a son who acts shamefully …” (17:2).

Two, has to do with comparing one thing to another, for example, “Man cannot abide in his pomp, he is like [mashal] the beasts that perish” (Psalm 49:20).

Three is related its use in comparisons, for example, “Behold, everyone who uses proverbs [mashal] will use this proverb [mashal] about you” (Ezek 16:44).

Although the Hebrew word is sometimes used in the sense of comparison, which suggests a simile, there are many examples of proverbs, riddles, oracles, allegories, and parables that are referred to by this word, but which contain no comparisons and show no likenesses. For example,

  1. A parable (Ezekiel 17:2)

  2. An expression of contempt (Psalm 44:14)

  3. A folk saying (1 Samuel 10:12).

  4. An obscure manner of speaking (Ezekiel 20:49)

  5. A lament (Micah 2:4)

  6. A prophecy (Numbers 23:7)

  7. A Psalm of Instruction (Psalm 49:4)

  8. An argument or plea (Job 27:1; 29:1)1

1.1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:

The beginning of this collection of proverbial sayings is headed by a prologue which states what we will learn if we put forth the time and mental effort it takes to study it.

Read the following verses from the New International Version (NIV) carefully and then answer the questions:

for gaining wisdom and instruction;

for understanding words of insight;

for receiving instruction in prudent behavior,

doing what is right and just and fair;

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. 

For what purposes were these collected (1:2-6)?

What do you hope to acquire by studying proverbs?

As the opening verses tell us, these proverbs have been collected and written for those who:

  1. need to acquire the ability to gain understanding

  2. to learn prudent behavior

  3. to know how to do what is right, just, and fair

  4. are too young to have learned by experience

  5. need more wisdom to face life’s challenges

If you fit in one or more of those categories, it will be well worth your time to meditate upon the words written in this book.

Remember we are reading wisdom, which is not the same thing as living wise. Knowing is not the same thing as doing. Look at the following Scriptures and record the unwise things that Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, did:

1 Kings 11:1-11

1 Kings 12:4

Nehemiah 13:26

Solomon is a prime example of giving good advice, but failing to follow his own wisdom. We need to be sure that we allow this study to not only make our thinking wise, but change our foolish actions into wise ones.

Pray About This

Ask the Lord to show you where your life doesn’t match up with the wisdom you already know and for the courage and wisdom to do the works of repentance.
  1. interpretation & Mistakes

Three Steps

We use a method of approaching Scripture which is sometimes called literal, but is really just coming to the text seeking to decode the meaning that the author placed in the text as written. We read to observe the words, the grammar and literary structure.

Next, we seek to interpret the meaning the author placed there for his original hearers. Who was the original audience for Proverbs? You should note within the text indications of to whom the author was speaking. Also consider the history of Solmon’s times and the Hebrew language. The greater context is the Law (Torah – Gen. to Deut.).

Once we know what Solomon meant, only then are we able to discern how it would have been applied in his day and then seek guidance to apply its wisdom to our lives. In this we are greatly helped by seeking out other passages which address the same subject area both in Proverbs as well as the rest of the Scriptures.

Three mistakes

There are some common mistakes that people make when trying to interpret a proverb: proof-texting, misdefining words, and failing to discern the form.


A person studies a subject without taking the time to consider the context and to correlate what is said with others. After chapter 10, verse 1, there is a temptation to assume that all that follows is simply a collection of individual proverbs with no arrangement whatsoever. That is not true! A good example of this is in the interpretation of Proverbs 26:5,

5Answer a fool according to his folly,

or he will be wise in his own eyes.

Some will take this to mean that God wants us to answer a fool according to his folly, i.e., we are to correct foolish people by being foolish ourselves. Observing the immediate context would correct this. Note the preceding verse, Proverbs 26:4,

Do not answer a fool according to his folly,

or you yourself will be just like him.

Misdefining Words

Sometimes we refuse to use the author’s definitions of words and substitute instead our own. Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, (p.188) give the following example from Proverbs 14:7,

Stay away from a fool,

for you will not find knowledge on their lips.
“Does this mean that the Christian should not associate with the retarded, the uneducated, the mentally ill? Not at all. In Proverbs, ‘fool’ … refers to an unbeliever who lives life according to selfish, indulgent whims, and who acknowledges to higher authority than himself…. If you are seeking knowledge, you should not seek it from an infidel.”

Failing to Discern the Form

Solomon spoke and these proverbs were written in the Hebrew poetic form known as parallelism. Because we use translations we are not able to discern audible clues that are impossible to reproduce faithfully translation. What we can do is observe the arrangement of thoughts and meanings which can be brought out faithfully in all translations. Leland Ryken, Words of Delight: A Literary Introduction to the Bible, (p.181) says,

Parallelism is best defined as two or more lines that use different words but similar grammatical form to express the same idea. … The phrase thought couplet … is a good synonym for parallelism in the Bible.

Pray About This

Have you been guilty of misusing a proverb? Maybe you used it as an excuse to do what you wanted, or as a device to manipulate someone else?

  1. More on Parallelism

Parallelism is a way of structuring the thoughts and ideas normally in a couplet, two lines, but this can be in a triplet and even a quartet of lines. The amount of parallelism can vary from, complete parallelism where every part of the first line has its counterpart in the second line to incomplete parallelism which has only some parallel terms. Formal (form) parallelism has no terms in common, but the couplet style is followed.

It will be helpful to know some major classifications of the parallelism that occur in Hebrew poetry:

  1. synonymous

  2. antithetical

  3. emblematic

  4. synthetic

As we go along each of these will be illustrated from Proverbs, but for now read over these definitions:

Synonyms are different words which have the same meaning. In this type of poetry at least some of the terms in the second line reinforces the thought of the first line by using synonyms for the words or phrases in the first line (1:2; 2:11).

Antithetical means that the second line of the couplet balances the first line through contrast or opposition. The truth expressed positively at first is given negatively in the second (10:1; 11:1).

Emblematic involves the use of a comparative figure of speech such as a simile or a metaphor to complement the meaning of the first line (10:26; 25:12).

Synthetic parallelism is where the second line completes or expands the thought of the first line without parallelism or repetition (3:6; 6:12; 12:9).

Pray About This

Do you tend to ignore things like structure preferring to just get on with application?
  1. Are You a Fool?

No offense is intended. I am not implying that you are a fool, merely giving you the opportunity to do a self-analysis. If you discover you despise something you are reading or that is being taught in Proverbs, you are being prompted to recognize that you are being foolish!

The first piece of wisdom that we are given is in our memory verse 1:7,

 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,

but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1:7

What does ‘fear the Lord’ mean to you?

As we go along in our study of Proverbs, we should come to a much better understanding of this concept. I would suggest that God knows more about everything than you do, even more than the collective wisdom of every person on earth. He not only knows, but He is right about everything. How is your record compared to God’s?

If you fail to get God's wisdom and put His knowledge into practice in your life … regret will follow, perhaps eternally.

Additional Helps

This structural outline will serve as signposts to mark the major parts of this work:

Introduction (1:1–7)

Wisdom Poems (1:8–9:18)

  1. 1st Exhortation One (1:8-19)

  2. Interlude (1:20-33)

  3. 2nd Exhortation (2:1-22)

  4. 3rd Exhortation (3:1-12)

  5. 4th Exhortation (3:13-35)

  6. 5th Exhortation (4:1-9)

  7. 6th Exhortation (4:10-19)

  8. 7th Exhortation (4:20-27)

  9. 8th Exhortation (5:1-23)

  10. Appendix (6:1-19)

  11. 9th Exhortation (6:20-35)

  12. 10th Exhortation (7:1-27)

  13. Interlude (8:1-36)

  14. Epilogue (9:1-18)

Collections (10:1–31:31)

  1. Solomon’s Proverbs (10:1–22:16)

  2. The Great Thirty (22:17–24:22)

  3. More Sayings (24:23–34)

  4. Hezekiah’s Collection (25:1–29:27)

  5. The Words of Agur (30:1–33)

  6. Lemuel’s Learning (31:1–31)

Insight on History

While the primary speaker of proverbs was Solomon, the book itself was put together in at least two different centuries, perhaps three. This chart of Hebrew kings will help us get our historical bearings.


Dates of Reign



4:1-9 (content)



Chs. 1-24



Kingdom Divided











Queen Athaliah








Israel Destroyed







Chs. 25-29, 30-31









1st Deportation



to Babylon



2nd Deportation



Final Deportation

1 William David Reyburn and Euan McG. Fry, A Handbook on Proverbs, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 2000), 1–2.

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