Proverbs 1
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
I. The Appeal of Wisdom. Chaps. 1–9

The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel;
The Title. Chap. Proverbs 1:11. proverbs] Properly resemblances. Here used of (1) short, pithy sentences, either couched in the form of a similitude, or comparison, or gathering up under their common principle or issue classes of events or actions, which resemble one another in the identity of that principle or issue; such proverbs forming the bulk of the Book from the 10th chapter to the end: (2) longer and more elaborate didactic addresses, such as are contained in the first nine chapters of the Book, and occasionally interspersed in its later portions. See Introd. ch. ii. p. 18.

of Solomon] This does not mean that Solomon was the author of the whole Book, for parts of it are distinctly ascribed to other authors (Proverbs 24:23, Proverbs 30:1, Proverbs 31:1), but that in the main it proceeds from him, and that he is the acknowledged father of this kind of Hebrew literature. See Introd. ch. iii. p. 25.

To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding;
2. To know] The construction in this and the following clauses is elliptical: The proverbs … to know, to discern, to receive, to give; i.e. the proverbs of which the purpose is that men may know, discern, and receive (as it is expressed in Proverbs 1:5), and that they (the proverbs) may give, &c.

wisdom] In this one word the whole subject of the Book is gathered up. But in these opening verses the scope and functions of this Wisdom, which the Book is designed to teach, are set forth by a variety of words employed to expand and describe it. It is instruction, or, rather, discipline (Proverbs 1:2), not only instructive but corrective. It is discriminating, intelligent, penetrating, it discerns the words of understanding (ib. R.V.). It is practical, for it educates or disciplines in wise dealing (Proverbs 1:3; Proverbs 1:1 st clause, R.V.). It is upright and just, and has regard to the severer virtues, for it trains in righteousness and judgement and equity (ib. R.V.). It sharpens the intellect, for it imparts subtilty, or prudence (R.V. marg. Proverbs 1:4). It adds learning (lit. acquirement) and the art of steering one’s course aright (wise counsels) by its growth and fuller application (Proverbs 1:5). It gives play to the imagination and scope to the intellectual powers in proverb and figure, in riddles and dark sayings (Proverbs 1:6, R.V.).

instruction] So both A.V. and R.V. But the word carries with it the sense of correction, or discipline. LXX. παιδεία (on which word in its Scriptural sense see Trench, N. T. Synonyms), Vulg. disciplina. The Heb. word is the same as is rendered chastening, A.V. and R.V. text in Proverbs 3:11, and παιδεία in the quotation of that passage in Hebrews 12:5. As Trench points out there can be no true instruction of man as he now is, without correction and discipline.

understanding] Lit. discernment, the Heb. root being the same as discern at the beginning of the verse. The root-meaning is to go between, divide, distinguish. Comp. “that ye may prove the things that differ” (R.V. marg.), Php 1:10. Penetration is an integral part of wisdom.

The Introduction. Chap. Proverbs 1:2-7The Introduction consists of a statement of the object of the Book (Proverbs 1:2-6), which is primarily to instruct the young in Wisdom (Proverbs 1:4), but at the same time to increase the store of those who are already wise (Proverbs 1:5); and also of a kind of motto, or enunciation of the basis and ruling principle of all the teaching which is to follow (Proverbs 1:7).

To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity;
3. the instruction of wisdom] Rather, instruction (or discipline) in wise dealing, R.V. The word is not the same as that rendered wisdom in Proverbs 1:2; Proverbs 1:7.

justice] Rather, righteousness, R.V. as a wider word. The three words, righteousness, judgement, equity, may be simply cumulative and comprehensive; or possibly righteousness may denote the abstract and inclusive principle, as it affects the character; judgement, the same principle in action generally; equity (lit. equities, marg.), the varied application of that principle in different cases.

To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.
4. subtilty to the simple] Both words are here used in a good sense, or perhaps we might say, in their proper or neutral sense. The Hebrew word for simple is literally open (Heb.), sc. to influence, whether good or bad. The primary meaning of the English word simple, whether it be without fold (Trench) or one-fold (Skeat) is entirely different; but the idea conveyed by it adequately represents the meaning of the Hebrew. For, as Trench points out, to be without fold (or to be one-fold) is to be “just what we may imagine Nathanael to have been, and what our Lord attributes as the highest honour to him, the ‘Israelite without guile.’ ” But then since, as he truly adds, “in a world like ours such a man will make himself a prey, will prove no match for the fraud and falsehood he will everywhere encounter,” he needs the safeguard of subtilty, or prudence (R.V. marg.) to preserve him (see Proverbs 1:22, below). Such subtilty may be the craft of the serpent (Genesis 3:1, where the Heb. word is the same); but it may be the wisdom of the serpent without its guile (see Matthew 10:16, and comp. Proverbs 8:5; Proverbs 15:5; Proverbs 19:25).

The simple, though specially to be found among the young of the parallel clause of the verse, embrace others also.

A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:
5. A wise man will hear] Or, That the wise man may hear, R.V., making the clause a continuation of the direct statement of the design of the Book.

learning] Lit. taking, and so that which is taken, or learned. He will increase his store. σοφὸς σοφώτερος ἔσται, LXX. sapiens sapientior erit, Vulg.

wise counsels] Or, sound counsels, R.V. The figure of steering a ship, involved in the Heb. word for counsels, is preserved in the rendering both of the LXX. (κυβέρνησιν κτήσεται. Comp. κυβερνήσεις, 1 Corinthians 12:28), and of the Vulg. gubernacula. “Skill and facility in the management of life. Comp. Proverbs 11:14; Proverbs 12:5; Job 37:12.” Lange, Comm. ad loc.

To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.
6. This verse intimates that the aim of the Book is to confer an initiation which will make its possessor free of all the mysteries of the Wise. By understanding these proverbs he will acquire the power of understanding all proverbs. (See Mark 4:13, and Speaker’s Comm. on this verse.)

interpretation] So R.V. marg., and Vulg. interpretationem. So too Gesenius, “properly, interpretation, and so what needs an interpretation, an enigma.” But it is better to render, a figure, R.V. text. σκοτεινὸν λόγον, LXX. aculeate dicta, Maur. Comp. Habakkuk 2:6, the only other place where the Heb. word occurs.

the wise] Lit. wise men. There is no article. But perhaps the reference is to a recognised class of what we should call philosophers. See Introd. ch. i. p. 9. Comp. Proverbs 22:17, Proverbs 24:23.

dark sayings] Or, riddles, R.V. marg. The word is rendered riddle both by A.V. and R.V. in Ezekiel 17:2. The LXX. has αἰνίγματα in Proverbs and διήγημα in Ezekiel. The Vulg. has œnigma in both places.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
7. This verse stands out as the motto, or key-note, both of the whole Book, and of the whole subject of which the Book treats. I am offering, the writer would seem to say, to give you the right of entering into the House of Knowledge, to conduct you through some of its goodly chambers, to display to you a portion of the rich and varied treasures with which it is stored. But as you approach the portal, note well the inscription which is traced above it: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. The House is not a Palace only, but a Temple. They only who reverence the Deity who inhabits it are admitted within the shrine. It is the Temple of God; yet not that only but of Jehovah, the God of Israel, the God of revelation and of covenant. To recognise this is the beginning, the necessary condition, the essential pre-requisite of knowledge. Those who seek knowledge in any other spirit or by any other path, really “despise wisdom and discipline,” and in so doing shew themselves to be not wise men but “fools.” See further, Introd. ch. i. p. 10.

The fear] not slavish dread, the “fear that hath torment” (1 John 4:18), but childlike reverence. See Malachi 3:16-17; Luke 12:5; Luke 12:7. In the LXX. this verse has been amplified by the addition of ἀρχὴ σοφίας φόβος κυρίου, σύνεσις δὲ ἀγαθὴ πᾶσι τοῖς ποιοῦσιν αὐτήν, from Psalm 111:10.

the beginning] “the beginning and foundation of all knowledge,” Maur. This is better than the chief part, R.V. marg. Comp. Proverbs 9:10, where however the Heb. is different.

instruction] Rather, discipline. See note Proverbs 1:2.

My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother:
8. instruction] or discipline, as in Proverbs 1:2-3; Proverbs 1:7.

law] or teaching R.V. marg. θεσμοὺς, LXX.

First Address. Chap. Proverbs 1:8-19Proverbs 1:8-9. In these two verses the writer passes to direct appeal. The form of appeal, My son, which is continually repeated throughout these opening chapters, strikes the key-note of the strain in which all the succeeding exhortations and counsels are cast. It indicates not only the fatherly relation which the Teacher assumes towards the young and inexperienced whom he has undertaken to instruct, but also the true source and authority of the teaching he will give them. The Law, though not clothed, as we have seen (Introd. pp. 12, 13) in this Book in its Jewish garb, is recognised in its eternal principles. “The instruction of the father,” and “the law of the mother” are to be accepted with childlike submission and unquestioning obedience, and will lend grace and dignity to the life and character, because and in so far as they are the instruction and the law of God Himself, the Universal Father, and because parents are His vicegerents in the education of their children (comp. Proverbs 6:20-21). And every true teacher is, in measure and degree, His and their deputy and representative. (See Deuteronomy 4:9; Deuteronomy 6:7; Deuteronomy 11:19; and compare the place of the 5th commandment in the Decalogue, as the link or hinge between the 1st and 2nd tables of the Law, and the extended obligation of that commandment to “governors, teachers, spiritual pastors and masters.”)

For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.
9. ornament] Rather, chaplet, R.V. στέφανον, LXX. See Proverbs 4:9, where the same phrase chaplet of grace occurs, with crown of glory, as its equivalent in the parallel clause of the verse.

chains] not of bondage, but of honour and ornament. Genesis 41:42; Daniel 5:29; Song of Solomon 4:9; Jdg 8:26.

My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.
The Teacher passes from Appeal to Warning: Against Evil Companions. Chap. 1. Proverbs 1:10-19

10. sinners] The warning points to a state of society of which indications are to be found not only in the unsettled times “when the Judges ruled” and before the monarchy was firmly established, when “vain” and “discontented” men banded together to lead the life of the outlaw and the freebooter (Jdg 11:3; 1 Samuel 22:2); but also in the better ordered periods of Jewish history when Psalmist and prophet inveigh against those who lurk privily in secret to murder the innocent (Psalm 10:8-10), and those whose feet are swift to shed blood (Isaiah 59:7). When our Lord was upon earth such robbing with violence and bloodshed was so familiar an incident in Palestine that He was able to make it the groundwork of a parable (Luke 10:30). And it is so still. “Strange country! and it has always been so. There are a hundred allusions to just such things in the history, the psalms and the prophets of Israel. A whole class of imagery is based upon them. Psalm 10:8-10; ‘He sitteth in the lurking-places of the villages’ &c. And a thousand rascals, the living originals of this picture, are this day crouching and lying in wait all over the country to catch poor helpless travellers.” (Thomson, The Land and the Book, p. 314.)

Two hundred years ago, when young men even of birth and education were to be found in the ranks of the highwaymen who overran the country (see, for example, Macaulay, Hist. of Eng. Vol. i. ch. iii.), the warning was no less apposite in England. In our own day, even in the special form which it here assumes, the warning, in view of the gangs of desperate men, poachers and burglars, to be found still both in towns and in the country, has not come to be superfluous, while in its wider aspect, “My son, if sinners entice thee consent thou not,” it is of universal application.

If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause:
11. for blood] The shameless form of the proposal shows at once the insecurity and the low moral tone of society. The language is too strong and vivid to admit of a figurative interpretation: Let us rob them violently of their bread which is their life. Compare

“The bread of the needy is the life of the poor:

He that depriveth him thereof is a man of blood.”

Sir 34:21.

without cause] So A.V. and R.V., i.e. though (the reflection being that of the author, not of the speaker) he has done them no harm, given them no cause to injure him. So LXX. ἀδίκως. Others, less probably, take the adverb with the word “innocent”: for them who are innocent in vain (who serve God for nought, Job 1:9, where the Heb. word is the same as here), because, as we will soon shew, his innocency will profit him nothing. “Contra insontem frustra,” Vulg. “Pio nullum pietatis præmium habituro,” Maur.

Let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit:
12. the grave] or, Sheol, R.V. text, ᾅδης LXX., infernus Vulg.

whole] Some (as R.V. marg. even the perfect) give the Heb. word here the moral sense, which it has elsewhere. But both the parallelism and the force are better preserved by the rendering of A.V. and R.V. text. Let us make away with them in a moment in the full vigour of life, as though Hades should open her mouth and swallow them up (comp. Numbers 16:30; Numbers 16:33): yea, let us sweep them from the earth in perfect soundness, as completely as those who go down to the grave are swallowed up by it. The LXX. give a different turn (paraphrase, not translation) to the 2nd clause, ἄρωμεν αὐτοῦ τὴν μνήμην ἐκ γῆς, let us take away the remembrance of him from the earth, as though by whole they understood, wholly, leaving not the memory of him behind.

We shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil:
Cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse:
14. Cast in thy lot] and so R.V. marg. But, Thou shall cast thy lot among us, R.V. text: i.e. Thou shalt share our gains, as the 2nd clause of the verse explains, “We will all have one purse,” R.V.

My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path:
For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood.
16. This verse is omitted here by the LXX. It occurs again in Isaiah 59:7, where, however, the Heb. (but not the LXX.) has “innocent” blood.

Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird.
17. in vain] Because, whereas by the certain destruction which it portends, the net ought to deter the bird from yielding to the solicitations of appetite, the temptation of the bait prevails, and the warning of the visible net is unheeded. “So,” in their unheeding regard of manifest warning, “are the ways of every one that is greedy of gain” (). His devices against others (Proverbs 1:11-12) are really devices against himself Proverbs 1:18. “In the net which they hid is their own foot taken” (Psalm 9:15).

And they lay wait for their own blood; they lurk privily for their own lives.
So are the ways of every one that is greedy of gain; which taketh away the life of the owners thereof.
19. which taketh away] Rather, It (greed of gain) taketh away the life of them that have it. It is the destruction of those who are possessed by it. The same Heb. phrase, owner or lord of, is rendered him that hath it, in Proverbs 16:22, Comp. Proverbs 22:24, an angry man, A.V.; him that is given to anger, R.V. lit. a lord, or owner, of anger, and Proverbs 23:2, a man given to appetite, lit. an owner of appetite.

Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets:
Second Address. Warning against Neglecting the Appeal of Wisdom. Chap. 1. Proverbs 1:20-33

20. crieth] Rather, crieth aloud, R.V.

without] Rather, in the street, R.V. The expression is sometimes used adverbially, without or abroad; but the parallelism here, in the broad places, points to the literal rendering.

There is perhaps a designed contrast between the secret enticing of sinners (Proverbs 1:10) and the open call of Wisdom.

the streets] Rather, the broad places, R.V.

She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying,
21. in the chief place of concourse] Lit. at the head of the noisy places (turbarum, Vulg.). The expression head of the streets occurs Isaiah 51:20; Lamentations 2:19. Comp. at every head of the ways, Ezekiel 16:25; the place where the street branches off and so has its head or beginning. The LXX. (with a slightly different Heb. reading) ἐπʼ ἄκρων τειχέων, on the top of the walls.

openings] Rather, entering in. Just within the gate of an oriental city was the principal square, or open space, where public business was transacted and courts were held. See, for example, 1 Kings 22:10; Ruth 4:1.

How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge?
22. simple] unwary, see Proverbs 1:4 above, note.

love simplicity] when you stand in need of that subtilty, which wisdom offers you (Proverbs 1:4). When war is at the gates, you are not safe without armour. “Parvuli, diligitis infantiam,” Vulg.

scorners] The word is, with few exceptions, peculiar to this Book, in which “ ‘the scorners’ appear as a class of defiant and cynical freethinkers in contrast and antagonism to ‘the wise.’ The root-principle of their character is a spirit of proud self-sufficiency, a contemptuous disregard for God and man (Proverbs 21:24). It is impossible to reform them, for they hate reproof and will not seek instruction (Proverbs 13:1, Proverbs 15:12). If they seek for wisdom they will not find it (Proverbs 14:6). It is folly to argue with them (Proverbs 9:7-8). They are generally detested (Proverbs 24:9), and in the interests of peace must be banished from society (Proverbs 22:10). Divine judgements are in store for them, and their fate is a warning to the simple (Proverbs 3:34, Proverbs 19:25; Proverbs 19:29, Proverbs 21:11).” Kirkpatrick on Psalm 1:1, in this Series.

fools] The Heb. word here used for “fool” signifies, heavy, dull, gross. See Proverbs 17:21, note.

simple, scorners, fools] The enumeration covers the field: the simple, from whom recruits are too easily drawn to the army of evil; scorners, the proud leaders of the host; fools, the rank and file of the host.

Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.
23. We have here the germ both of later prophecies (Isaiah 44:3; Joel 2:28 [Hebrews 3:1]), and of their fulfilment in Christ (John 7:37-39; Acts 2:33; John 7:17).

Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded;
24. The abruptness of the transition from gracious invitation to awful threatening has led to the suggestion that a pause is to be introduced between the two divisions (Proverbs 1:20-33) of this appeal of Wisdom. But, as Maurer points out, Proverbs 1:22 (How long!) shews, as do these Proverbs 1:24-25, that this is rather the last appeal of Wisdom than the first. She has already “all day long stretched forth her hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people” (Isaiah 65:2; Romans 10:21). This is indicated by the LXX. by the tense used, ἐκάλουν, ἐξέτεινον. The rejection of her overtures has been persistent and scornful; and now by the very abruptness and sternness of her address she makes a last effort to awaken and rescue.

“Save, Lord, by love or fear.”

Comp. Luke 13:24-28.

But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof:
I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh;
26. at] Rather, in, i.e. in the time of. Comp. on this verse Psalm 2:4; Psalm 37:13; Psalm 59:8.

When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you.
27. desolation] So R.V. marg. Comp. Zephaniah 1:15, where both in A.V. and R.V. this and a cognate Heb. word are rendered “wasteness and desolation.” The parallel, however, is better preserved if, with R.V. text we render storm, as in Ezekiel 38:9, A.V. and R.V. LXX. has θόρυβος; Vulg. repentina calamitas.

Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me:
28. early] Rather, earnestly, or diligently, R.V. text. The rendering early is due to the doubtful connection (see Bp Perowne on Psalm 63:1) of the Heb. word with the dawn (mane consurgent, Vulg.). Here in fact, so far from being early, it is not only late, but too late. It may of course be urged in favour of retaining the received rendering (as R.V. marg.) that the seeking is early as regards the coming of the calamity (comp. Hosea 5:15); but the other sense includes this.

For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD:
They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof.
Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.
31. the fruit of their own way] As they sow, so shall they reap, in accordance with the eternal law of righteousness. Comp. Galatians 6:7-8.

For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them.
32. turning away] Lit. turning. The word, however, is commonly used of turning away from God and from good. So here: “I called you to turn to me (Proverbs 1:23), and instead, you have turned from me.” Backsliding (R.V.), is less suitable, as denoting a turning away from a position already taken up, whereas “the simple” are regarded as on neutral ground, and not yet having turned in one direction or the other.

prosperity] Rather, carelessness (R.V. marg.), the fruit of prosperity. securitas, Maurer. Comp. Ezekiel 16:49, where the same word is rendered, prosperous ease, R.V.

But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.
33. from] Rather, without, R.V., timore malorum sublato, Vulg.

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