Proverbs 1:6


We may regard the opening words as a general index of the contents, as a designation of the object, and a statement of the value and profit of the teaching, of the book.

I. ITS DESIGN IS TO IMPART PRACTICAL SENSE.

1. And first, this in general includes the information of the understanding and of the memory by wisdom. This Hebrew word (chokmah) denotes, strictly, all that is fixed for human knowledge. We may render it "insight." In other places in the Bible, the judge (1 Kings 3:28), the artist (Exodus 28:3), or the man of skill and renown in general, are thus said to be men of insight, craft, or cunning, in the original and good sense of those words. Applied to religion and conduct, it means insight into the principles of right conduct, the knowledge of how to walk before God, choosier the right and avoiding the wrong path - the knowledge of the way to peace and blessedness.

2. The training of the will. The word rendered "instruction" denotes moral education or training. Here, then, is the practical side of the matter. Not only sound intelligence is aimed at, but pure feeling, right affections, the will guided by the polar star of duty. All this is general.

3. But next, particulars, falling within this great scope, are pointed out, viz. "the attainment of justice and right and fair dealing." The first is all that pertains to God, the supreme Judge - his eternal order and will. The second refers to established custom and usage among men - to law, in the human sense. The third, an expressive word, signifying literally what is straight, points to straightforward, honourable, and noble conduct.

4. But the book has a special object in view, and a special class: "To hold out prudence to simple ones, and knowledge and reflectiveness to boys. Each of these words has its peculiar force. The Hebrew expression for the first class is literally the open ones," i.e. those who in ignorance and inexperience are open to every impression, good or bad; simple-minded ones (not fools, which is another idea), who are readily governed by the opinions and examples of stronger minds. They need that prudence, or caution, which the hints of proverbial sense may supply, to enable them to glide out of danger and avoid snares (for the word rendered "subtilty" denotes smoothness, like that of the slippery snake). Boys, or youths also, stand in peculiar need of "thoughtfulness" - a habit of reflecting with attention and forethought upon life and different modes of conduct. The Book of Proverbs, all must see, is specially adapted for these classes. But not for them alone.

5. The book is a book for all. The wise man may listen and gain instruction; for men "grow old, learning something fresh each day." And the intelligent man may obtain guidance. For although by middle life the general principles and maxims of wisdom may have been stored up, still the applications of them, the exceptions to them, form a vast field forever growing acquisition. Knowledge is practically infinite; we can think of no bounds to it. New perplexities continually arise, new cases of conscience present themselves, old temptations revive in fresh combinations; and the records of others' experience continually flash new light from angles of observation distinct from our own.

II. THE CHARACTER AND VALUE OF THE BOOK. (Ver. 6.)

1. It is a collection of proverbs. Condensed wisdom. Landmarks in the field of experience. Beacons of warning from dangerous shores. Objects of interest in life's travel. Finger posts The "wit of many, the wisdom of one." A portable property of the intellect. A currency honoured in every land. "Jewels five words long, that on the outstretch'd forefinger of all time sparkle forever." They may be compared to darts, to stings, to goads. They arouse the memory, awake the conscience; they fix the floating impressions of truth in forms not easily forgotten. These Bible proverbs are in poetical form; and of them it may well be said, with George Herbert, "A verse finds him who a sermon flies."

2. The mode of speech is often figurative. The word rendered "dark saying" means a profound saying, enigma, "thing hidden" (Matthew 13:35; Psalm 78:2), "obscure allegory" (Augustine). An example of this parabolic way of speaking is found in Agur's discourse (ch. 30.). The power of it, like the power of pictures and of all sensuous symbols and poetical images, lies in the fact that the form "half reveals and half conceals the soul within," and thus excites the curiosity, fixes the attention, stimulates exertion of thought in the listener. The best preachers leave much for the hearers to fill up for themselves. Suggestive teaching is the richest; it makes the pupil teach himself, Such is the method of our Lord in his parables; but not the only method; to be combined, as with him and here, with the direct mode of statement. The application is: "Take heed how ye hear." "To him that hath it shall be given." All wisdom is of God; the teacher and the disciple are both listeners at the living oracle of eternal truth. Knowledge is essential to religion, and growth belongs to both (Luke 17:5; Ephesians 4:15, 16; Colossians 1:11; Colossians 2:19; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Peter 3:18). - J.









The words of the wise and their dark sayings.
Nothing can give a deeper insight into the character and genius of people than their household words — those current maxims and sayings which influence their everyday life, the popular proverbs which pass from mouth to mouth. These are the expression of a people's inward life. It does not belong to a high state of civilisation to originate proverbs. One of our most homely maxims or proverbial sayings, will stir the soul to its very centre and depth, and do more to regulate the life and manners, than all the enactments in all the statute books of the world. In the Book of Proverbs we have nothing but the lessons of practical wisdom. They rest on great principles as their basis — those principles which enter into the eternal reason of things, and which are as unchangeable as God Himself. It follows that the maxims of this book are adapted to all time, all countries, and all people. Humanity is one. The writers, whoever they were, had a profound knowledge of men and things; and we have here the results of no narrow experience. Principles are stated with great clearness; the rule of conduct is laid down with consummate skill and precision, and the lofty aim of the whole is to allure men, and especially the young and inexperienced, into the way of happiness and peace.

1. Some maxims concern the relations which subsist between the young and the old. The young are to take part in the progress and development of the race. They are not only to be the fathers and mothers of a future generation, but also their teachers, and their models. To prepare and qualify them for this, they must have in them the elements of knowledge and of goodness. Youth is the period of acquisition. The present is always more or less dependent on the past. We cannot sever ourselves from those who have gone before us, nor break the bond which connects us with those who are coming after us. The young are to give the impression of their own intellectual and moral life to the generations following.

2. These maxims, though not set forth as coming immediately from the mind or spirit of God, are in harmony with Infinite Wisdom. They have in them nothing of a merely individual character. They contemplate man as man, independently of all outward arrangements and institutions, and deal with that which is common to the race. The Book of Proverbs stands unequalled among all the writings which the world has ever produced. They are human sayings, but possessed of Divine authority; and they have in them all those principles which can ennoble and dignify the character of man, clothing him with true greatness in this world, and in the world to come crowning him with glory everlasting.The following findings seem to come as near as may be to the end or object of the writer: —

1. That a certain degree of instruction and knowledge is essential to intercourse with the more intelligent and better-informed classes.

2. That discretion, uprightness, and unyielding attachment to justice, are qualities of which youth stands most in need, and which enter into all integrity of character.

3. That youth being the period of greater simplicity and inexperience, it needs increased reflection and sagacity to lead to the apprehension and discovery of approaching temptation and danger, and of the best means of escape.

4. That even the wisest and best informed of men have ever something new to learn, and may by listening to the great oracle of truth, increase their knowledge and power of perception without limit.

5. That true wisdom has its basis in true piety, and that there can be no greater folly than to reject this highest form of knowledge.

(R. Ferguson, LL.D.)

Dark sayings mean properly enigmas or riddles. These were used of old as one of the methods of conveying instruction. It was conceived that by giving exercise to the understanding in finding out the solution of the enigma, it was calculated to deepen on the mind the impression of the lesson which was wrapt up in it. This was not done for mere amusement, but for imparting serious instruction; although, to the young, there might in some instances be the blending of an intellectual attainment with the conveyance of useful information, or salutary counsel.

(R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

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