Early in the book, Solomon gives its purpose: “To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth …” (1:2-4).
Whether it’s dealing with work, managing finances, getting along with neighbors, having a happy marriage, raising children or even coping with the prospect of one’s own mortality, Proverbs has treasure to share.
The author also warns against getting involved in other people’s finances (6:1-5 and 11:15), cheating one’s customers (11:1), being stingy (11:24) and wronging the poor (13:23).
Many a marriage might be saved by the doubtlessly hard-learned lessons of a man who had 700 wives. After repeatedly warning his son to stay far from sexual temptation, Solomon reminds him of the joys of monogamy: “[R]ejoice in the wife of your youth … Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love” (5:15, 18-19).
Many a man might also have been happier if he’d been more circumspect in choosing his wife: “It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife” (21:9).
Regarding getting along with other folks, Solomon warned of the dangers of loving to hear oneself talk: “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (10:19).
He also noted a few character flaws to avoid – “haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies and one who sows discord among brothers” (6:16-19).
Sometimes the simplest sayings are the most profound, such as this warning against thinking oneself smarter than everyone else: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listen to advice.”
In the end, for all its benefit to even the secular mind, Proverbs does not hold itself out as a secular book. Its world-wise advice ultimately seeks to reflect the divine source that it espouses: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (3:5-6).
Of course, for all its benefits for even the secular mind, Proverbs doesn’t claim to be a secular book.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding,” it asserts. “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (3:5-6).
Ultimately, the world-wise advice of Proverbs is a reflection of the spiritual source it espouses: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (1:7).