- What is the purpose of the book? It is not a list of sayings or quotes to be turned into bumper stickers or quoted as magic phrases to be repeated that will guarantee success in business, raising children, marriage and life.
It is a father passing on the character traits and disciplines required to rule. It is a manual for learning how to bear responsibility for other people – not just individual development. It is a father personally teaching sons and not simply handing them a book of wise sayings. What are the proverbs you remember from your father and mother? My guess is they have stuck with you far more than many you have read or heard others say.
“Remember who you are, where you are from and what you stand for.”
“Another may have more talent and a head start but they will not outwork me.”
“Don’t mistake an opportunity for a mandate.”
“Do the right thing – even when it is the hard thing.”
“Wealth is a good servant and a terrible master.”
“Reputation is what people say about you. Character is who you are.”
These remain because I learned them from people I respected. I can still hear their voices as they spoke them to me. The same is true of these chapters. They are not just lists of sayings. They are the learnings and instructions from a person we respect. There is a personal voice that speaks them. That is why Solomon says at the outset, “The respect of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and it is fools (people who have no respect for God) who despise wisdom and discipline.”
But, this is also training for responsibility and leadership. The sons will one day be rulers. They will someday carry the burden of that responsibility. These proverbs are part of the prep school curriculum.
What character traits are required to lead well?
Discipline and restraint.
Prudence and carefulness.
Doing what is right.
Discretion, tact and sensitivity.
Understanding and insight.
Without these a person cannot be trusted with responsibility. They are unfit to govern. They need to repeat a grade or go back to the beginning.
The word inheritance does not simply mean a gift that will enrich the child. It is also the word for assignment or a weight to shoulder. That is exactly what the father is doing here. He is preparing the young man for his inheritance of responsibility and his assignment of caring for the lives of other people. We totally misread Proverbs if we think of them only as tips for personal improvement.
- That is the primary relationship in our lives but then, no matter our age, we are shaped by relationships all our lives. If we listen to trolls we become one. If we listen to blatant conspiracies we become easily fooled. If we listen and associate with angry and shameless people we will become that as well. We never stop being shaped by associations – so pick them carefully. Who influences your thinking and your attitudes? Who encourages you to kindness and who to meanness? We all know the proverb “You are known by the company you keep” and “Birds of a feather flock together.” It has never been more true than today. What are the voices in your life?
- Wisdom calls out. She is not secret or hard to discover. We are surrounded by wisdom if only we will pay attention. “She raises her voice in the public squares; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out, in the gateways of the city she makes her speech.”
It is not just wisdom that is found in the Bible but all of creation speaks about the character of the Creator.
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…” Romans 1:20
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.” Psalm 19
Yes, it is easier to pay attention to the noise and tweets of fools, mockers and slanderers but the voices of wisdom are there if we will listen. Wisdom may sometimes whisper but she often shouts and we ignore her voice for the angry and shameless voices of others who call us to destruction.
But it is not just hearing and memorizing proverbs. It is not just knowledge. Wisdom is a process of applying layer after layer until it becomes a part of us. You have probably seen the work of forensic artists who are able to take a skull or even the skeletal remains and craft a clay image of the person when they were living. It takes layer after layer of clay to do the work and that is a good image of wisdom. Wisdom is applied knowledge over the bones of character. Wisdom is the end of the process that began with knowledge of and respect for God.
- What is the inevitable result of not paying attention to the voice of wisdom?
Calamity. That is the end of fools. Maybe not right away but inevitably. “They will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. For the waywardness of the stupid (senseless) will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them.”
“But, whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm”
Eton College was founded by King Henry VI as a charity school to provide free education to 70 poor boys who would then go on to King’s College, Cambridge, founded by the same King in 1441. Eton has educated prime ministers, world leaders, Nobel laureates and generations of the aristocracy and has been referred to as “the chief nurse of England’s statesmen”. Think of Earth as Eton. Think of yourself as one of the poor who are being prepared not just for college but for a place, a role, in a future Kingdom whose King will reign forever and ever. That is what your life is about now. It is not about the outside but the inside. It is not about now but later. It is not about who you are but who you are becoming – and who you will one day be. “I go to prepare a place for you” and every single day you are being prepared for that place now.
Yes, this book is for life now but think about the book of Proverbs as our preparation to rule and to have responsibility in ways we cannot begin to imagine. Let’s not have to spend the first semesters of eternity in remedial work undoing what we have become in following the wrong people and voices. Let’s pay attention to her voice and turn away from the noisy voices of fools.