A Proverb a day, with commentary from H.A. Ironside, a great Bible teacher from the mid-20th Century.
The first four verses of the book of Proverbs would seem to justify the title given to this remarkable collection of sayings-“The Young Man’s Book.” There are nine words used in this brief introductory portion that recur throughout the book. These words should be considered in beginning this study since they are not mere synonyms used pedantically or idly. But as “every word of God is pure,” so these terms are employed throughout this passage with admirable precision.
Wisdom is “skillfulness”-the ability to use knowledge correctly. It occurs thirty-seven times in this one book.
Instruction is used to translate a Hebrew word which occurs twenty-six times in Proverbs. It means “to teach by discipline.” This word is also translated “chasteneth,” (Pro_13:24) and “chastening” (Pro_3:11; see also Job_5:17 and Isa_26:16).
Understanding is a word seldom found in Scripture and has the force of “to bereave,” or “to miscarry.” The “sayings of bereavement” might not exactly express the thought, but it conveys the idea of learning through the unhappy experiences of others, or of oneself.
Justice refers to conduct and might be rendered “right behavior” or “righteousness.”
Judgment is equivalent to “decisions.” It is the ability to “try the things that differ.”
Equity refers to principles, rather than conduct. It is uprightness, or moral integrity.
Subtilty (frequently translated “prudence”) is “craftiness” in the original. As used here it conveys the ability to detect that in others. When Christ commanded His disciples to be “wise as serpents” He may have had the concept of subtilty in mind.
Knowledge is “information of a sound character.”
Discretion is “thoughtfulness.” The young generally lack this characteristic, but it is displayed by one who feeds on the Word of God.
These nine words describe a well-rounded character produced only by the study and practice of God’s truth. Therefore this part of Holy Scripture especially appeals to the young man, fully equipping him for his path through the world.
The truly wise are characterized by a readiness to learn. It is only the self-confident blusterer who considers himself superior to instruction. That which is worthy of our contemplation is not always expressed in simple terms. God would have the senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Were it God’s desire just to impart information to His creatures concerning the way to Heaven and Christian responsibility He could have chosen a much simpler way to give us His truth. But this would have eliminated that exercise which is both for our blessing and for His glory. We are exhorted to, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2Ti_2:15). “Dark sayings” become luminous when the child of God studies them having eyes anointed with the eye-salve of the Spirit of truth.
On the threshold of this treasure-house of wisdom we are presented with one of the sharp contrasts which characterize the book of Proverbs. There is no true knowledge apart from the fear of the Lord. All that pretends to be wisdom and ignores God is folly. “The young man” should bear this in mind when meeting the many pseudo-scientific theories now abroad. Philosophers and scholars have cast to the winds the fear of the Lord and ruled Him out of His own creation. “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Rom_1:22). As a result abounding absurdities are readily accepted by the ignorant as science and true philosophy. The word science implies exact knowledge. To call the wild guesses of evolutionists and infidel biologists science is word-prostitution. Hypotheses, however original and erudite, are not science. There never has been, and never will be, a conflict between the Bible and science. The conflict comes between the Bible and unbelievers’ vain theorizing or between unscriptural religious notions and scientific facts.
Throughout the Bible obedience to parents is coupled with subjection to God. Those expositors who see in the ten commandments four precepts dealing with our relationship to God and six dealing with our relationship to man would seem to have missed the mind of the Spirit. The correct view assigns five ordinances to each table. “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” is the last of the first series (Exo_20:12). This commandment is the recognition of divine authority and the position of dependence belonging to the creature. The responsibility to obey this commandment still applies to those that “are not under law, but under grace.” In Eph_6:1 we read, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.” And immediately attention is drawn to the preeminent character of this precept in the law; it is “the first commandment with promise.” Col_3:20 is similar: “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.”
Believing children should be patterns of filial obedience, that they may adorn the doctrine of Christ. Young people who profess allegiance to the Lord, but are impudent and disrespectful to those over them in the home are a sad reproach to the name of Him whom they are supposed to serve. To hear a father’s instruction and to cleave to a mother’s law are the ornaments that beautify the young saint.
The apostle classifies disobedience to parents among the evidences of the last-day apostasy (2Ti_3:1-5). It is the crying sin of the present lawless times, and presages the awful hour of doom soon to strike. The Scriptural “Children, obey your parents” has almost universally been superseded by “Parents, obey your children.” It is a sowing of the wind and the whirlwind will yet be reaped. The human will disdains being bound in any way. The outcome will be terrible when, having cast off all parental authority, men will also throw aside every vestige of allegiance to divine authority.
In these verses the young man is solemnly warned against two things: evil companionships and “covetousness, which is idolatry.”
The line of demarcation between the children of God and the children of wrath is sharply drawn in the inspired Word. “Come out from among them, and be ye separate,” is the command of the Lord (2Co_6:17). If sinners tempt, appealing to the lust of the human heart, turn away from them. Their entreaties are only defiling. Nothing pleases them better than to have the young man cast in his lot with them, all sharing one purse. But the believer can have no part in this ungodly fellowship. “O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united” (Gen_49:6).
“Walk not thou in the way with them” (Pro_1:15).The only safe course is to part company at once. Clean-cut separation from the world in all its forms is the path of blessing. Many a young Christian shipwrecks his life by dallying with the world in the hopes of improving it. Such a course is folly and a great mistake. “Refrain thy foot from their path: For their feet run to evil” (Pro_1:15-16). If you venture first to “walk” in their way, you will soon be “running” with them.
Nor can you plead ignorance in the day of your spiritual and moral breakdown; for God’s Word casts a light on your way, revealing the trap and warning you against the treacherous wiles of the devil.
Contrasting with the call of the wicked, the next section gives the cry of Wisdom. Throughout the first nine chapters of Proverbs Wisdom is personified. She is ever seeking to turn the steps of the young man from the door of folly and ignorance to the temple of knowledge and blessing. In these verses she is presented as one crying in public places, eagerly seeking to attract the attention of the passersby. In the marts of commerce, at the gates of justice, in the centers of population, among the idlers on the streets she pleads with the simple to obey her voice. She is not always met by positive refusal, but by what is far more common and equally as dangerous: procrastination. She cries, “How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity?” But there is no response.
Others definitely refuse to listen to Wisdom’s voice. Scornfully rejecting her testimony, they delight in their fancied independence of mind and demonstrate their true character by their hatred of knowledge.
To those who reject her cry, Wisdom addresses a warning of coming calamity, when it will be too late to heed her gracious invitation. It must be evident to all how similar this call of Wisdom is to the gospel call, with its attendant warning of coming judgment if it is rejected. It is the Old Testament way of saying, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting” (Gal_6:7-8). The principle abides whether applied to sinners or saints. But surely in Wisdom’s cry the “ministry of reconciliation” may be readily recognized. It is “God beseeching, man refusing / To be made forever glad.” And what must the inevitable result be?
The words of Pro_1:32-33 will always possess a tender and precious interest for me. It was through having learned them as a lad in the Sunday school that I was, when fourteen years of age, truly awakened by the Spirit of God to see the awful result of rejecting the call of the gospel. Unable to shake off the vivid impression of God’s righteous wrath if I continued to refuse His grace, I fell down before Him confessing myself a lost, undone sinner. I found in Joh_3:16 the solace my conscience needed: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” It was a night to be remembered forever!
If you are reading these pages but are not saved, you should remember there is not only a world in which you can say no to God, the God of all grace; there is also a world in which He will say no to you, if you meet Him as the God of judgment. There is not only a world in which Wisdom’s cry can be despised; there is also a world where your cry will be despised if you reject the message of grace. There is not only a place where you, in your folly and carelessness of heart, can laugh at the entreaties of Wisdom; a day will come swiftly when Wisdom will laugh at your calamity and mock your bitter anguish. Notice that God will not laugh at the grief of one of His creatures, however abandoned and iniquitous. In these verses Wisdom speaks. That Wisdom which you now despise will then mock your hopeless wails.
What can be worse for a lost soul than to have to remember, in the abyss of woe, the gospel messages once listened to indifferently and the Word of God once taken lightly? That soul will cry in despair, “Jesus died, yet I’m in Hell! He gave Himself for sinners. He provided a way of salvation for me, but I was foolish, and spurned His grace till grace was withdrawn. The door of mercy was closed, and now I am to be on the wrong side of that closed door forever!” Thus will Wisdom laugh at your calamity if you go out into eternity in your sin.
Nor can anyone blame God for the result of their foolishness. All must admit that it was because they hated knowledge and chose not Jehovah’s fear. Turning away with the simple, they are slain; prospering in their folly, they are destroyed. So shall it be with all who despise Wisdom and ignore her entreaties.
But all who heed will dwell safely, forever quiet from fear of evil. “Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about” (Psa_32:10).
Nor must we think only of the warning to the unconverted. Paul the apostle wrote to those who are secure eternally: “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is” (Eph_5:15-17). It is true of saints as of sinners that we reap what we sow. The believer cannot take his own way with impunity. If he turns away from the house of Wisdom to pursue the path of folly, he too will hear the mocking laugh of that Wisdom which he had dared to despise. The chastisement of the Lord must invariably follow departure from the ways of Christ.
It is important to remember that the moment a poor sinner trusts the Lord Jesus as his Savior, his position as a criminal before the Judge is over forever. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Rom_8:1). But the moment he is saved his responsibility as a child having to do with his Father begins; and that Father, “without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work” (1Pe_1:17). His new responsibility springs from his new relationship. Henceforth he is to “reckon [himself] dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom_6:11). If he fails to do this and allows himself to become indifferent to the will of God, he will know the rod of His discipline.
“The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished” (2Pe_2:9). The Christian is dealt with for his failures in this world. The unjust will be dealt with in that day of wrath, though even in this world sin may bring them suffering as well.
Let us remember then that “the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (1Pe_4:17-18)