Bibliotheca Sacra 144 (576) (1987) 419-432.
Copyright © 1987 by
An Analysis of Proverbs 1:1-7
John E. Johnson
In his address to the Society of Biblical Literature about 20
years ago, John McKenzie reflected what he believed to be a com-
mon sentiment toward wisdom literature. Concluding that Pro-
verbs has never been the most thrilling area of biblical study, he
declared, "The wisdom books attract readers from the general
public which reads the Bible, whoever they may be, no more than
they attract scholars."1
Since that time, however, the church has come to a greater
appreciation of the Old Testament, and wisdom literature in par-
ticular. Articles and books have devoted much space to the
sufferings of Job, the observations of the sages in Proverbs, and the
despair of the Preacher in Ecclesiastes. Scobie recently observed,
"In few areas of biblical scholarship is there more lively interest
at the present time than in the study of 'Wisdom."'2
Yet the material of such books as Proverbs continues to inspire
few sermons. A recent writer suggests this is because of the failure
 John L. McKenzie, "Reflections on Wisdom," Journal of Biblical Literature 86 (March
1967): 1. See Charles H. H. Scobie, "The Place of Wisdom in Biblical Theology,"
Biblical Theology Bulletin 14 (April 1984): 43, for interesting statistical information.
Ludwig Kohler (Old Testament Theology [Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1957]) and
Th. C. Vriezen (An Outline of Old Testament Theology [Oxford: Blackwell, 1970])
devoted less than 1 percent of their theological studies to wisdom, and Walter Eichrodt
gave only 2.5 percent to it.
2 Scobie, "The Place of Wisdom in Biblical Theology," p. 43.
420 Bibliotheca Sacra / October-December 1987
to see the present-day relevance of the book. "The crisis of rele-
vance, which confronts any preacher who tries to bring to life a
two-thousand year old scripture, is especially acute in books like
Proverbs and Ecclesiastes."3 True, the study of wisdom literature
has increased. And yet theological works still give scant atten-
tion to the contribution of wisdom literature to theology proper,
bibliology, and anthropology.
The secular world, for all its intellectual pursuits, also main-
tains a lack of fondness for wisdom. Carl Henry has summarized
its present condition: "Despite its pursuit of knowledge, our
snared in relativities, is a stranger to wisdom.
dom--which Augustine viewed as 'the unum necessarium'--is no
longer considered as the mind's indispensable acquisition, even by
The consequence of such priorities is a modern society of intel-
lectual giants who are pygmies in the art of living. Robinson, in
the foreword of Alden's commentary on Proverbs, makes this sad
observation: "Alumni from noted universities have mastered in-
formation about a narrow slice of life but couldn't make it out of
the first grade when it comes to living successfully with family
If Proverbs is to make a greater impact, if it is to be the source
of more sermons, and if it is to be considered more deeply for its
theological contributions, more attention needs to be given to the
proper interpretation of its truths. Too often, bits and pieces of
this wisdom book are grabbed, taken out of context, and abusively
applied.6 The consequence of such actions is the tendency to treat
the book with trivial respect.
Approaches to the Introduction
Proper interpretation, however, must begin with the intro-
duction of the book in Proverbs 1:1-7. Unfortunately Proverbs
3 John J. Collins, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1980), p. 1.
4 Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1979),
5 Haddon W.
Robinson, foreword to Proverbs, by Robert L. Alden (
Book House, 1983), p. 7.
6 Gordon Fee and Douglas D. Stuart note a number of abuses common to wisdom
literature (How to Read the Bible for All
Its Worth [
lishing House, 1981], p. 188).
An Analysis of Proverbs 1 :1.7 421
suffers the same treatment given to most books. The preface is ap-
proached like a highway in the summer desert: one journeys over
it as expediently as possible to arrive at his destination.
The superficial treatment often given to Proverbs 1:1-7 can be
traced in part to its unusual construction. In addition most
commentaries do little to encourage the student to slow down.
They are anxious to move on to the greener pastures of the book.
Many interpreters find Proverbs 1:1-7 lacking in harmony and
inner consistency.7 If attention is given to this prelude, the focus is
generally on the variety of terms used for wisdom. Alden expres-
ses his appreciation for the "grand array of terms.”8 Crenshaw
refers to the introduction as a collection of words "heaped" to-
gether into a stereometry.9
Crenshaw's assessment may have been influenced by von Rad,
who characterizes the introduction as a cumulation of known terms
presenting the comprehensive nature of wisdom. The "hypnotic
piling up of nouns" is an attempt to fix the limits, to define a spe-
cific area of sense by the use of words that are full of meaning. A
single word would have been inadequate to say what the author
wanted (cf. Bildad's need of four verses to convey the judgment of a
fool, Job 18:7-10). However, rather than "heaped" together, von
Rad concludes that they have been poetically expressed with a
care that "falls little short of that of the modern scientist."10
If any attention is given to the unique syntax of Proverbs 1:1-7,
it is often brief and inadequate. Cox finds a unity that is under-
scored by the grammatical structure, but gives an imprecise de-
scription of the unifying element as the "infinite construct" that
dominates the passage.11 A full discussion is given by Delitzsch,
who says the infinitives in verses 2-6 are the "statement of its ob-
ject," annexed to verse 1.12 In his scheme verse 2 serves as the main
object of Proverbs. Verses 3-5 expand verse 2a, while verse 6 gives
7 William McKane, Proverbs (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1970) p. 263.
8 Alden, Proverbs, p. 21
9 James L. Crenshaw, Old Testament Wisdom (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1981), p.32.
10 Gerhard von Rad, Wisdom in Israel (
11 Dermot Cox, Proverbs (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1982), p. 98.
2 Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Proverbs of Solomon, trans. M. G.
422 Bibliotheca Sacra / October-December 1987
a fuller explanation of verse 2b. Likewise both McKane and Toy
connect the infinitives to verse 1, finding the paragraph syn-
tactically a continuation of verse 1.13
Unfortunately the change of construction in verse 5 is often
overlooked. Delitzsch explains it away as a change for stylistic
reasons. Others see the sentence as a parenthesis or editorial in-
sertion. McKane appears to side with Gemser, who suspects that
it is an intrusion, and Toy comment that, "it seems, indeed, not to
belong here."14 Others lump verse 5 with verses 2-4, and take
verse 6 as a consecutive series of purpose clauses, ignoring that
there has been a significant grammatical change.15
These examples reveal a variety of approaches to the intro-
duction. Some are enamored by the multitude of terms for wisdom,
others give brief attention to the grammar, and some attempt to
find contextual design.16 However, none give a satisfying expla-
nation for the changes in verbal forms, nor do they adequately re-
late the content to the grammatical construction. All this pro-
motes the attitude that 1:1-7 does pot playa significant role in
This article seeks to demonstrate the importance of the first
seven verses of Proverbs. As the book climaxes with careful acros-
tic design, so one finds a work of art in the opening. Synthetic
poetry is skillfully enlisted to state a series of objectives that give
the would-be sage his bearings for the rest of the trip.
An Analysis of the Introduction
proverbs of Solomon, the son of David, the king of
2 To know wisdom and discipline;
To discern the words of understanding;
See also R.
B. Y. Scott, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes
on the title and with it forms a single unbroken sentence."
4 Crawford H. Toy, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Proverbs,
The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1899), p. 14.
See Roland E. Murphy, Wisdom
Literature and Psalms (
Press, 1983), p. 64.
structure, and function of the epilogue of Ecclesiastes (Gerald H. Wilson, "'The
Words of the Wise': The Intent and Significance of Qohelet 12:9-14," Journal of
Biblical Literature 103 (June 1984): 180.
An Analysis of Proverbs 1 :1-7 423
3 To receive discipline of insight,
Righteousness and judgment and uprightness;
4 To give to the simple prudence,
To the youth knowledge and purpose-
5 Let a wise man hear and add instruction,
And let the understanding acquire wise counsel-
6 To understand a proverb and a satire,
Words of the wise and their riddles.
7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
But fools despise wisdom and discipline (author's
THE INTRODUCTION IDENTIFIES THE BOOK'S LITERARY GENRE
The first verse introduces the entire Book of Proverbs. In
these opening words, the basic authorship, the character of the
material, and the kind of literature are established. Similar
verses identify individual collections within the book, as well as
designate the book's structure (10:1; ; 24:23; 25:1; 30:1; 31:1).
The opening verse assigns the authorship of the Book of Prov-
erbs to Solomon much like the authorship of the Book of Psalms is
popularly assigned to David. The title reveals that the book is
set apart as royal literature, written in the context of the court, to
be enjoyed by its patrons and practiced by those close to the king.18
This verse informs the reader about the kind of literature
encountered in the book. It is material set in proverbial form to
encourage the mind to slow down and compare, each couplet serv-
ing as a kind of thesis for discussion among the sages.19 To read
Proverbs rapidly leads to frustration. As Collins put it, "To read
straight through a few chapters of Proverbs is like trying to have
conversation with someone who always replies with a one-
liner."20 Hence from the very beginning the readers are made
ware of the manner in which they must read the book.
7 Three types of parallelism are present in this passage. Verses 1-4 and 6 are
synthetic, that is, the second line in each verse takes up and develops a thought
begun in the first line of the verse. In verse 5, there is a close similarity between
both lines, signifying synonymous parallelism. Verse 7 is antithetical; the second
line contrasts with the first.
8 McKane, Proverbs, p. 262.
9 Scott, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, p. 24.
20 Collins, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, p. 13.
424 Bibllotheca Sacra / October-December 1987
Within the book numerous comparisons are being made-the
wise woman with the adulteress, one road with another road, and
others. Most statements are placed in poetic parallelism in which
one line compares with and explains the other. These lines are
placed antithetically, synthetically, and synonymously.
Antithetical parallelism in particular lends itself to the
sage's philosophy, for he finds no middle ground between wisdom
and folly. This kind of parallelism dominates chapters 10
through 15. Mankind is divided into two diametrically opposed
groups in which, as Gammie puts it, "a mutual antipathy obtains
between the members of the respective groups."21 In an age of
relativism, in which societies pride themselves on their plural-
ism, this clear measuring device is needed.
THE INTRODUCTION DECLARES THE BOOK'S OBJECTIVES
Just as the conclusion is set apart by an acrostic, so the intro-
duction is set apart by its own unique grammatical construction. A
verbal pattern is utilized, one line building on another, to explain
why the book was written.
Beyond the opening verses, much of the first nine chapters
contains exhortation or instruction. In much of the rest of the book,
imperfect verbs appear to make neutral assertions, "definitive
observations on a particular topic"22 without any direct appeal to
the listener. Describing them as retrospective with only an em-
pirical value, von Rad writes, "The experiences are cited, the
conclusions are drawn, and the result is produced."23 However,
these experiences, cited from lengthy observations, do take on a
tone of responsibility. What appears as a descriptive ethic has
prescriptive value. "The fact that these are included with.
overtly didactic sayings suggests that they can be used for didac-
tic purposes on a particular level-for reasons other than that of
merely registering an experiential fact."24
Whereas the rest of the book uses imperative or imperfect
verbs to make hortatory or observational statements, much of the
21 John J. Gammie, "Spatial and Ethical Dualism in Jewish Wisdom and Apoca-
lyptic Literature," Journal of Biblical Literature 93 (Summer 1974): 372.
22 McKane, Proverbs, p. 413.
23 Von Rad, Wisdom in
24 Roland E. Murphy, "Form Criticism and Wisdom Literature," Catholic Biblical
Quarterly 31 (October 1969): 479
An Analysis of Proverbs 1:1-7 425
introduction uses infinitive constructs to set forth a series of pur-
pose statements.25 This alerts the observant reader that some-
thing is different, that there is instruction to be gained before
This form of introduction is found in other wisdom literature,
most notably the Egyptian wisdom of Ptahhotep and Amen-em-
opet. Those writings also begin with a title followed by a series of
purpose statements. In the "other book" in Proverbs ()
infinitive constructs are again employed in the opening verses
(22:19, 21) to declare the objectives.
The origin behind this sort of introduction may be found in the
oral tradition of teaching wisdom, in which a teacher began by
defining his purpose. The unusual length is explained by Murphy:
"Here the prolixity suggests a certain reflection and literary con-
cern on the part of a writer (editor) who wishes to emphasize the
value and importance of what follows."26 However, as the four
objectives of Proverbs are examined, one finds no redundancy here.
Each one stands on its own and is complete apart from the others.
Objective one: to impart an intimate acquaintance with wisdom
and discipline (v. 2a). The first and preeminent purpose of Proverbs
is to state the object with which a wise man must become inti-
mately acquainted-he must know wisdom and discipline (v. 2a).
The all-embracing term for wisdom is hmAk;HA. It conveys the
idea of skill. Proverbs aims to show a person how to become adroit
at the greatest skill of all, the skill of living. Proverbs pictures a
world designed with order, from the tiniest speck to the largest
ocean (Prov. -29). Man in his foolishness has blurred this de-
sign, and so the first principle of wisdom is to discover the skill to
lead a life of moral order in an ordered universe. The importance
of such an endeavor is summarized by Scott, who says that
Proverbs shows man that a life lived in the fear of God can have
"order" and "meaning."27
The intimate sister of wisdom is discipline (rsaUm). While
refers to prudent, skillful, experienced living, rsaUm suggests
25 Five of the six verbal nouns are construct in form. The one absolute infinitive,
from lkaWA (v. 3), serves as a substantive.
26 Roland E. Murphy, Wisdom Literature: Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Canticles, Ecclesi-
astes, Esther (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1981), p. 54.
27 R. B. Y. Scott, The Way of
Wisdom in the Old Testament (
Publishing Co., 1971), p. 228.
426 Bibliotheca Sacra / October-December 1987
correction or chastening. It refers to the correcting of one's wrong
conduct, the chastening of one's life by God to bring him into con-
formity to His will. Those who beseech God for wisdom need to
realize that it does not come apart from discipline or correction.
Objective two: to impart understanding of wisdom sayings (v.
2b, 6). The second objective is to help the reader recognize and
understand "the sayings of understanding," sayings that reflect
discernment about life.
The wise men did not produce simplified "folk sayings" but a
consciously and laboriously developed piece of art. Crenshaw ob-
If we are correct in assuming that the wise constituted a distinct
sages used a characteristic mode of discourse. It follows that the lit-
erary forms within Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Sirach, and Wisdom
of Solomon comprise a special world of communication which can
only be understood in terms of its own categories.28
Because God chose to reveal His wisdom in a language von Rad
describes as "highly daring," the serious sage must be competent to
handle its poetic form, the rhythm found not in vowel but in
The term "understanding" (hnAybi) more accurately refers to
discernment. The person who is truly wise is able to separate, to
discriminate, to read between the lines. On the surface some lines
of poetry seem to have no relationship to each other (e.g., the two
lines in 25:27). Some verses appear to be independent (d. 25:16-
17), while others are connected (26:4-5).
The repetition of the second objective in verse 6 underscores
the difficulties to be encountered. This verse also specifies what a
person desiring wisdom must come to understand. To be wise, he
must pierce the meaning of proverbs, satire, and riddles-
thoughts that deal with the mysteries of life experiences (d.
16:1-3, 9; 25:2-3).
Objective three: to impart moral insight (v. 3). The proverbs of
Solomon have been collected so that a person might receive moral
insight. Like hmAk;HA (“wisdom"), lk,We (“insight") refers to skill, es-
pecially the ability to understand history and foresee future
28 Crenshaw, Old Testament Wisdom, pp.36-37. See also John E. Johnson, "The
Contribution of Proverbs to Ethics,"
An Analysis of Proverbs 427
consequences. The second line of verse 3 distinguishes this third
objective-the ability to have insight into what is upright,
moral, and just. True wisdom is never exhibited apart from a
moral framework of right standards.
The Book of Proverbs is a storehouse of moral instruction. Von
Rad writes, "The Book of Proverbs has always been regarded as
containing the concentrated deposit of ancient Israelite moral-
ity.”29 The Old Testament prophets often emphasized the need
for personal and national righteousness. Yet along with the Torah :
the "deposit" of Israelite wisdom literature may have had a
strong moral impact on the prophets (cf. Isa. 5; Jeremiah's frequent
use of the word rsaUm and Ezekiel's use of the proverbial form).
Side by side, the prophets and the wise men called
moral standards. Waltke finds a common cause in both kinds of
leaders, describing them as "true spiritual yokefellows sharing
the same Lord, cultus, faith, hope, anthropology, and epistemol-
ogy, speaking with the same authority, and making similar reli-
gious and ethical demands on their hearers."30
Proverbs was not written to sharpen an individual's ability to
be crafty or cunning. There must be a moral component which
transforms a person of evil devices into a person of discretion, from
craftiness into prudence.
Again the introduction establishes the criteria by which one
way understand the book. The basic moral issues of justice and up-
rightness should be behind all one's endeavors. From doing acts of
charity to disciplining one's children, the motivation is justice.
Objective four: to identify the intended recipients of wisdom (v. 4).
is objective defines the intended readership of wisdom litera-
ture: "To give prudence to the naive, to the youth knowledge and
discretion." Wisdom offers her advice to a wide range of interests:
“Its precepts follow man into all the details of his daily occupa-
tion, and into all the relations of his common life. Wisdom is the
friend and counsellor alike of the monarch on the throne, of the
artisan in the workshop, and of the husbandman in the field."31
Verse 4 declares, however, that there are parameters as to
the recipients of wisdom. Stated in another way, for certain kinds
29 Von Rad, Wisdom in Israel, p.74.
30 Bruce K. Waltke, "The Book of Proverbs and Old Testament Theology ," Biblio-
theca Sacra 136 (October-December 1979): 304 (italics his).
31 T. T. Perowne, The Proverbs (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1899) p. 13.
428 Bibliotheca Sacra / October-December 1987
of people, wisdom is off limits. The fool is not invited into the
sage's classroom because he will only despise the wisdom of the
sage's words (14:9; 18:2; 23:9).
The "naive" and "youth" are listed as the particular recipi-
ents of wisdom. The affectionate address, "my son," is present
throughout the opening chapters. Fathers were responsible for
conveying wisdom to their sons, so that their boys would not enter
society raw and naive. Scott writes, "Specially is the young man
directed to this book. His undisciplined ardor runs to waste. His
mind fluctuates at the mercy of the winds of opinion in the world
around him; and greatly does he need some settled master-princi-
ples to fix his purpose, choice, and conduct."32
It. is challenging to impart wisdom to the young, but it is
especially difficult to give prudence to the naive (MyxitAp; "simple,
open, gullible"). The word for "naive" suggests an openness to in-
fluence and instruction, whether good or bad, an attitude common
among the immature. For both the young and naive, the book is
given not simply to impart knowledge but to give them greater
skill as they grow in that knowledge.
The sage has declared four objectives. If a reader of Proverbs
proceed, he must be willing to submit to the rigors of
dom, he must become proficient at interpreting the vehicle
through which wisdom is conveyed, he must subscribe to the moral
code of righteousness, and he must qualify by being interested in
moving from immaturity to maturity. Having stated the four ob-
jectives, the sage moves on to the means for becoming wise.
THE INTRODUCTION EXHORTS READERS TO BE RECEPTIVE
In verse 5 the teacher gives his initial exhortation to his stu-
dents: "Hear, increase in, and acquire understanding." Unlike the
verses surrounding it, verse 5 does not join the chorus of statements
that declare the purpose of the book. A significant grammatical
shift has taken place.
From infinitives of purpose verse 5 shifts to imperfects
(which may in fact be jussives). This change leaves the inter-
preter with a dilemma. If there is careful design in the intro-
duction, one must wrestle with the rationale for the change of
structure. Neither style nor parenthesis serves as an adequate
32 Scott, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, p. 2.
An Analysis of Proverbs 1:1-7 429
While it is apparent that the writer was stating his purposes
in verses 2-4, there is a certain awkwardness in the construction.
the governing verb, that normally precedes infinitives, seems to
be absent. There is a sense of incompleteness that may encourage
the careless reader to hurry over the verses.
If one opts for a governing verb, he has two choices. First, the
infinitives may find their completeness in verse 1. This assumes a
“to be” verb, which is often omitted in Hebrew. Hence verse 1
might read, "The proverbs of Solomon, the son of David, the king
On the other hand the infinitives may connect with a verb
that follows. Gesenius gives examples of this grammatical con-
struction, noting that this form occurs when emphasis is placed on
the infinitive33 (also see 22:19). In this case the most likely can-
didate is found in verse 5. It is here that all the infinitives con-
ect, where all the appendages find their attachment to the body.
This construction is substantiated by the normal role of title
verses, which are not linked grammatically to what follows. As-
suming that Ecclesiastes is written by the same author, one finds
that Solomon similarly did not join his inscription with the fol-
Thus Proverbs 1:5 gives the key to reaching the stated objec-
tives. To be intimately acquainted with wisdom (v. 2), to discern
wisdom's language (v. 2b), to develop moral insight (v. 3), and to
move from immaturity to maturity (v. 4), one must be willing to
“hear,” to be receptive. This is the key to wisdom. Though it
sounds simple, it is difficult to achieve. The ability to hear is not
acquired easily. Yet no student can be wise who has not first mas-
tered the art of listening, an attitude of receptivity.
This truth is reinforced at strategic points throughout the
book. In 2:1-4, a number of conditions are established if one is to be
wise, and central to all is a trained ear, a heart inclined toward
instruction (2:2). These two motions are unnatural, evidenced by a
parent's continual need to instruct a child to listen (d. Deut. 6:4-9).
In the "other introduction" in this book (Prov. -21), the ad-
monition to "incline your ear" is given in the opening verse.
The second line (1:5b) is stereophonic, urging a young person
seeking wisdom to procure wise counsel. The wise willingly ac-
 Cf. Gen. 42:9; Num. ; Josh. 2:3 (Gesenius' Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the
Old Testament Scriptures, p. 348).
430 Bibliotheca Sacra \ October-December 1987
quire counsel from others, counsel that will help navigate them
through life. Similar ideas are repeated elsewhere in the book
Verse 6 is positioned to reinforce the beneficial result of being
receptive. The one who listens to instruction and acquires good
counsel will then be able to have insight into the various literary
forms of wisdom and their meanings (cf. v. 2b). The sage was sen-
sitive to embrace both form and content. Only the receptive person
will have the skill to master both.
THE INTRODUCTION GIVES THE GUIDING
PRINCIPLE OF PURSUIT OF WISDOM
Verse 7, which concludes the introduction of Proverbs, gives
the guiding principle for the pursuit of wisdom. Once a person un-
derstands the truth of this principle, he is ready for the instruc-
tion in the remainder of the book.
In this final verse another structural change and a shift in
parallelism reveal the author's desire to capture the reader's at-
tention. If the introduction may be compared to the foundation of
a building, this verse is its cornerstone. The introduction ends
with a strong declarative statement, serving as the motto in
which the distinctive feature of Hebrew wisdom is declared-the
fear of the Lord. The sage now turned to the authority which un-
derlies this book. "The point is simple, yet vital; many profound
moral systems collapse, not from lack of substance, but from lack of
foundation or authority. Hebrew moral wisdom presupposes the
existence of God, which in turn gives the whole system coherence,
authority and integrity."34 Though "the fear of the Lord" is often
as meaning "reverence,"
definition: "The fear of God is the soul of godliness." "The first
thought of the godly man in every circumstance is God's relation to
him and it, and his and its relation to God."35
The importance that wisdom and Scripture as a whole attach
to fearing God can hardly be overstated. The fear of God is the
"beginning" of knowledge. This word tywixre is used in two ways: to
refer to something that has priority in time or origin (e.g., Gen.
34 Peter C. Craigie, "Biblical Wisdom in the Modem World: I Proverbs," Crux 15
(Summer 1977): 8.
35 John Murray, Principles of
An Analysis of Proverbs 431
1:1), or to a principal part. Both meanings seem to be combined in
Proverbs 1:7, in view of what is said in Proverbs about fearing God.
The sage wants the reader to know that this fear is the initial
point to real knowledge. In , a parallel verse, the word trans-
lated "beginning" (tl.aHiT;) is always used to refer to something done
at a prior time (Gen. 13:3; 41:21; 43:18, 20; Isa. ; Hos). Von
Rad, after comparing with 1:7, concludes: "The sentence
means, therefore, that the fear of God leads to wisdom. It enables
a man to acquire wisdom; it trains him for wisdom."36 The second
line of 1:7, which antithetically states that fools despise wisdom
and instruction, also fits with the sense of priority, as Blocher ob-
serves: "It could be an ironic dart flung at the ungodly: those who
lack the fear of God are ignorant of the very ABC of wisdom; they
lie below beginning level!"37 Also the fact that the author of Ec-
clesiastes makes the fear of God the grand finale to his book
() supports the idea of priority in Proverbs 1:7. Having tried
every road that life has to offer, the writer concluded that all
eventually end in deadend streets. Only as man fears God does his
life have meaning.
On the other hand the sage is also declaring that the fear of
the Lord is the very essence of wisdom. It is wisdom's discipline
(rsaUm, ). In underscoring this usage Kidner and McKane use
such phrases as "controlling principle of knowledge" and "the
queen of all the rules of steering through life."38 The fear of God
places in capsule form the main truth taught by the writer."39
Thus fearing God is the very heart, the germ, the choice
ingredient of wisdom. One cannot be wise and fail to fear God. It
is the filter through which true wisdom flows, sifting out all that
is ungodly. Waltke describes its all-encompassing nature this
way: "It is at one and the same time both the source and the sub-
stance, the cause and the effect."40 The writer of Proverbs there-
fore was declaring that unless a person fears and reverences God,
36 Von Rad, Wisdom in
37 Henri Blocher, "The Fear of the Lord as the 'Principle' of Wisdom," Tyndale
Bulletin 28 (1977): 15.
38 Derek F. Kidner, The Proverbs (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity press, 1964), p.
59; and McKane, Proverbs, p. 20.
39 Walter C. Kaiser, "Wisdom Theology and the Centre of Old Testament Theol-
ogy," Evangelical Quarterly 50 (July-September 1978): 138.
40 Waltke, "The Book of Proverbs and Old Testament Theology," p, 33.
432 Bibliotheca Sacra / October-December 1987
he is wasting his time if he proceeds to read the rest of the book.
Perowne captures it best:
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 within which it is stored. But as you approach
the portal, note well the inscription which is traced above it. The
House is not a Palace only, but a Temple.41
In the first seven verses of proverbs, the author first identi-
fied the material; second, he declared the objectives; third, he
called the hopeful to receptivity; and fourth, he pointed up the
motto of wisdom that aspiring "sages" must never forget.
Like a pilot going over a flight plan, the reader of Proverbs is
told the kind of terrain he will find below, the objectives for his
flight, and the guiding compass by which he must ever navigate.
By following this flight plan, it is hoped there will be a greater
appreciation of the book.
41 Perowne, The Proverbs, p. 41.
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