The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge; and the ear of the wise seeketh knowledge. — Proverbs 18:15
Almost every country of the world has proverbs — short, pithy sayings that state a general truth or piece of advice. Many regional proverbs reflect indigenous wisdom garnered from experience over a long period of time within the local environment. Other proverbs are more applicable in any era or culture. Because proverbs are typically brief, colorful, and captivating, they are very quotable and are easily handed down orally.
A quick panoramic view of proverbs from around the world reveals a common thread of instructive guidance mixed with vivid word pictures.
The proverbs of Solomon employ the same mechanics of wit, color, brevity, and guidance as these examples, but that is where the comparison ends. Unlike secular proverbs, in which the only aim is to state a truism or make a point in a picturesque manner, Solomon’s proverbs were divinely inspired. They serve a dual purpose: first, to instill spiritual wisdom that will help his hearers navigate the world safely, and second, to encourage those of the younger generation to remain pure and pleasing to God. The fact that God caused this collection to be included in the Bible shows that this ingenious and “portable” method of passing on counsel was not only a successful teaching strategy, but also a God-ordained method of presenting timeless truths.
While the method of delivery is important, our focus verse points out that the hearer also has a critical responsibility. The one who is “prudent” and “wise” will set himself to obtain knowledge, and make diligent search for it. For any good life, the desire to learn is indispensable. May we strive to cultivate a hunger for acquiring God’s divine truth!
These two chapters continue the section of Proverbs that is often called the “Proverbs of Solomon.” Most of the proverbs from 16:1 to 22:16 have a parallel construction, in which the second part of the verse further explains or repeats the first portion.
In chapter 17, the encouragement to seek wisdom moves into the personal realm as Solomon presented a variety of ways in which folly impacts family members (for examples, see verses 2, 6, 21 and 25). He showed that the strong family life portrayed in his writings could entail vulnerability, for the tightly-knit bonds of the families of the ancient east would suffer immensely from the churlish behavior of one member.
While family was very important in that era, Solomon recognized that friends and associates also impacted personal success and societal stability, which he frequently alluded to as key aims of wisdom. With this in mind, he warned against wicked doers and liars (verse 4), mockers (verse 5), gossipers (verse 9), evil men (verse 11), fools (verse 12), those who justify wickedness and condemn justice (verse 15), men prone to strife (verse 19), and those with a froward heart and perverse tongue (verse 20).
Chapter 18 continues the theme of wisdom’s instruction regarding perils and blessings, with a recurring emphasis on peace in society and purity in speech.
Solomon’s proverbs generally assume a stable environment (in contrast to the prophets, who lived on the edge of calamity and warned of impending judgment), and offer frequent counsel as to how to maintain that stability. In this chapter, he asserted that selfish desires cause a man to insist upon his own way (verse 1). He also taught that contempt, dishonor, and disgrace are the companions of sin (verse 3), and instructed in how to settle disputes quickly (verses 18-19).
Many verses in chapter 18 allude to integrity in conversation, and Solomon stated boldly that “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (verse 21). He pointed out that the characteristics of pure speech are consistent blessing (verse 4) and accurate reporting (verse 8), and summarized by saying that fruitfulness is the result of pure speech (verse 20). He warned against the fool who finds delight in speaking rather than listening and learning (verse 2), those who use contentious words (verse 6), those who speak before listening (verse 13), and those who offend and contend verbally with a brother (verse 19).
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
III. The sayings of the way of wisdom
A. The 375 proverbs of Solomon
2. The call of submission to God (16:1 — 22:16)
Proverbs from around the world may teach us about man and his ways, but the proverbs in the Word of God point us to true wisdom and the necessity of diligent effort to acquire and retain it.