Wisdom for the Way: What is the Purpose of Proverbs?

What is the Purpose of Proverbs?

So we have these wise sayings in the Book of Proverbs. What are they meant to do for us?
Solomon gives us several reasons for Proverbs in the opening chapter:
  1. To learn wisdom and moral instruction (v. 2)
  2. To discern wise counsel (v. 2, 6)
  3. To receive moral instruction in prudent behavior (v. 3)
This list isn't exhaustive because Solomon often seems to repeat himself (probably a part of his teaching method). But let's unpack each of these.

1. Learn Wisdom and Moral Instruction

The NET emphasizes "moral" instruction, versus mere "instruction" (NIV, KJV, NASB, etc.). The noun, musar, can mean "discipline, warning, or [moral] training." In the 1800s, a Jewish movement in Lithuania called the Musar Movement focused on the importance of moral reform and ethical accountability. It was named after this word in Proverbs.

Solomon's point is that this isn't mere classroom instruction. It isn't theoretical. We are meant to learn wisdom and to learn how to live an upright life that pleases God.

Interestingly, wisdom first appears in the Bible in the Book of Exodus, where God places his "spirit of wisdom" on some craftsman and tailors who help build the sanctuary (Exodus 28:3; 31:3; 35:31). The Law was also meant to make Israel wise (Deut. 4:6) and Joshua was given wisdom after Moses laid his hands upon him (Deut. 34:9). The word "wisdom" doesn't play a major role until Solomon, who asks for wisdom (literally, "a hearing heart") so that he can rule ("judge") God's people well.

Wisdom was critical to building the temple and to having good leadership. It was always a gift from God, not something that human beings could obtain on their own.

2. To Discern Wise Counsel

When you're given two pieces of advice, how do you know which one is the best course to take? Part of wisdom (or cousin to it) is discernment: the ability to weigh your options and choose the best path. According to 1 Kings 4:29, "God gave Solomon wisdom and very great discernment." When you pray for wisdom, it comes in a package deal!

But how do we gain discernment?

Psalm 119:104 tells us that "your precepts give me discernment." That is, by reflecting on God's commands, we can gain discernment. Paul offers us another way when he tells us that everything that happened to Israel "happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us" (1 Corinthians 10:11). We are meant to grow in discernment by using history as a series of case studies to learn from. Of course, you can always pray for it like Solomon!

3. Prudent Behavior

Of course, the goal of wisdom is to instruct us in how to live. We are not interested in sitting on a mountain top dispensing advice to visitors. We are meant to live our lives down here, among the people. Let our wisdom be seen in how we live.

The NIV likes the word "prudence" here. It comes from the Hebrew haskel - a word which is most memorably used in 1 Samuel 25 to describe Abigail's behavior (in contrast to her husband's behavior). Go check that story out if you don't remember what it's about.

Basically, Solomon is saying that wisdom will help you know how to live in a prudent way.


We all need wisdom, especially when we live in uncertain times. By studying these wise sayings, the lives of those who wrote them, and by seeking wisdom from God, anyone can grow in wisdom. We can make better decisions, have better insight into the problems of our time, and see our own moral character grow as a result of being intentional about pursuing wisdom.

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