The first verses of Proverbs give us the writers purpose. We can identify three purposes in the second verse: “To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight.” First, the writer wishes his readers to become intimate with wisdom. Then to relate appropriately to instruction. Third, to recognize and appreciate what lays at the heart of an issue, not just the apparent outward presentation. Becoming intimate with wisdom is mentioned first. If we look at the word “know” in a biblical sense, we understand that it’s not to be able to identify something from afar but to have an intimate acquaintance with it. It’s not just intellectual but applicational. “It offers the significant benefit of acquiring the key to attaining capability in life. This book teaches the principles that determine success or failure in the major arenas of human activity, including business, personal relationships, family life, and community life.”[1] In some ways, it refers to common sense. It’s sound, practical judgment concerning everyday matters or an essential ability to see things as they are. But in the Bible, it also refers to the ability to “do” something. It was used of the craftsmen who were able to do intricate and creative work in the tabernacle building. It is competence and skill in any domain.

Solomon wants his readers to be wise and competent, but he knows that nobody is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. How a person deals with his mistakes is crucial, and that’s where “instruction” comes in. How do we respond when someone corrects us? Verse 7 tells us that fools “despise instruction.” It is wisdom that will ask for help, directions, and receive instructions. It’s not always easy to accept advice. It sometimes makes our pride bristle. Whether intended as constructive criticism or not, if one could learn always to take it that way, he would become wise. We need to recognize and acknowledge the wisdom, experience, skill, and knowledge of others. If we are recipients of negative criticism, we will do well to handle it politely and move on with our lives. The book of proverbs attempts to teach us these skills.

Solomon also wants his readers to be able to look beyond the surface of an issue and identify the roots of the problem. He calls this “insight.” When Solomon was confronted by the two women fighting over the one live baby, he exercised insight into the heart of the issue. He presented a solution that would reveal the truth in the matter. This is insight. But in the end, all this common sense, skill in living, and understanding are all part of the overall theme of “wisdom.” It takes wisdom to live a happy and satisfying life.  The New Testament tells us that it takes Jesus.  Colossians 2:3 tells us that “in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Jesus is the personification of wisdom, and we find real life through our faith in Him. I like how The Message translates 2 Corinthians 5:15. It says, “He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own.”

[1] Garrett, Duane A. 1993. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. Vol. 14. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.