The Book of Proverbs – Experience the Presence of God Through Wise Living
"Wisdom is more like a creative process than it is a finished piece of art."
As long as we are living, we are at the forefront of time; learning how to handle the challenges of our location in history. Today, this means learning how to handle the hard yolks of speed, access, and information. We have more than any generation previous— and likely this will be a statement that is always true in some way to the person saying it. We are always living at the precipice of history.
In the flood of information, our great task is to learn how to meaningfully apply all that we learn into something that is for the common good of humanity. The flourishing of everything is our primary task, a tangible expression of our worship to God here on this earth, and we need wisdom to learn how to do that well.
The Book of Proverbs is one of the most well-known collections of wisdom literature in the Bible. Passed down from adults to young children, this a book is a dialogue across generations and between the Divine and humans. When we read Proverbs, we are learning about the nature of wisdom and what this means for our one wild life on the Earth. Across this scripture is the imprint of God, and if we take that seriously, we will grow deeper in our understanding of what it means to live a full and joyful life, wrought with meaning and in tune with the movement of God.
"A common misconception about the Proverbs is that it only focuses on personal, moral living. The vision of this text is bigger, and encompasses the whole of creation."
God's Wisdom is More Than Moral Living
A common misconception about the Proverbs is that it only focuses on personal, moral living. The vision of this text is bigger and encompasses the whole of creation. Joy and happy living must always be placed within the context of a community. Our laughter is in vain when our joy is not directed to just living on behalf of others. Happy living, the kind outlined in Proverbs, is found in righteous living done in worship to God. In this post, we'll break down how to start engaging with the Book of Proverbs by doing a deep dive into the first chapter of the book.
But first, some quick background. Popularly framed as the recorded wisdom of King Solomon (David's son), this book is the culmination of a lifetime of lived experience and walking with the Lord. Additionally, Proverbs 30 (known as the ‘Words of Agur’) and Proverbs 31 (known as the ‘Words of King Lemuel’ make up the backend of this collection. Likely written and collected between 700 and 400 BC, the Book of Proverbs isn't a neat list of how-tos. Proverbs is the words of the wise wrapped up in the Word of God. It utilizes art, poetry, metaphor and creative arrangement to bring us deeper, below the surface level of living and into the deep waters of living that is life.
What is Wisdom like in the Book of Proverbs?
The Hebrew word for Wisdom is “Chokmah,” and it isn't wisdom that you develop by attaining intellectual knowledge. “Chokmah” is used to describe a skilled artisan, who is putting wisdom to work. It is the process of refining and developing mastery over the long arc of someone's life. Wisdom is more like a creative process than it is a finished piece of art. We invite you to take 30 seconds and read through the opening lines of Proverbs:
The scope of Proverbs is far-reaching, even in this early lines of the text. Here are a few observations to deepen our definition of wisdom even further:
Wisdom is insight that influences action. (v2-3) True wisdom cannot be siloed off from how we live and interact with the world around us. Wisdom that comes from God is transformative.
Wisdom is connected to moral living. (v3) In addition to wisdom leading to action, our action must be in line with God's justice. To take up the task of gaining wisdom is to take up the cause of justice in the world.
Wisdom is generational. (v4-5) There is an important exchange happening between the current generation and the next. We see this throughout Proverbs as the figures of the wise man, the wise son, the young man, and more are referenced. There is something important that hinges on this transaction between the older and younger generation.
"Wisdom is given so that we may experience life and life in its fullness. This happens in the context of people. To take the structure of Proverbs seriously is to understand that God's wisdom is for human flourishing, and that wisdom is best learned and practiced in community."
God's Wisdom is for Human Flourishing
In the book of Proverbs, we often see wisdom framed by images of human flourishing in connection with a Divine source (i.e.wisdom is like a fountain of life ( in Proverbs 13:14), or wisdom is like the tree of life (in Proverbs 15:4.)
This should catch our attention. In Proverbs, wisdom that comes from God leads to life. Not only that, divine wisdom is often the difference between life and death, thriving and being crushed. Read this next section of Proverbs through the lens of wisdom being for human flourishing:
In this section of Proverbs we are offered a choice: integrate the advice of those who have wisdom into our life or suffer the death that comes from impulsive living. Our flourishing is connected to our ability to experience God in a wisdom-seeking community.
Yes, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” but it is something given and learned through people and communities. What we learn about life, and about God, always comes to us in the form of other people. As Paula D'Arcy has said, “God comes to us disguised as our life.”
Wisdom is given so that we may experience life and life in its fullness. This happens in the context of people. To take the structure of Proverbs seriously is to understand that God's wisdom is for human flourishing, and that wisdom is best learned and practiced in community.
"Proverbs is meant to call into question our current living and show us a way more in tune with the Spirit of God. It is the Word of God breaking through the wisdom of people to call into a more beautiful living."
Proverbs Are Icepicks
Proverbs are the small, powerful tools of wisdom that break away the things keeping us stuck in our ways. They are icepicks, piercing through our habits and routines to ask us if we have experienced life abundant. Proverbs is meant to call into question our current living and show us a way more in tune with the Spirit of God. It is the Word of God breaking through the wisdom of people to call into a more beautiful living. In the last section, we see the prophetic edge of Proverbs in action:
This powerful image of “Lady Wisdom,” shouting in the streets, inviting people to come and see what true living is like should be jarring. It is not how Proverbs tends to be imagined (the sage-like old man with a white beard, offer the young or poor man advice on how to develop a strong reputation and a good name.)
Lady Wisdom wields the icepick (“Repent at my rebuke!”) but it is in the service of true living. Life that is built on a strong foundation runs antithetical to selfish and unjust living (see v18-19). God, personified as Lady Wisdom, is calling us into something deeper.
Want to go deeper into the book of Proverbs? Check out our beautifully designed update on this Biblical classic.