The Book of Proverbs could rightly be called a collection of collections. Within this book of the Bible, many different strands of Israel’s wisdom coalesce into a book that’s core confession is that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Below, you’ll find a summary of Proverbs along with specific themes of Law and Gospel in the Book of Proverbs.
A Summary of Proverbs
Solomon’s introduction reminds us of the difference between true wisdom and the wisdom of the world.
Solomon warns against joining sinners in their adventurous plots, cautioning that the greedy and violent finally receive their punishment.
God’s will is freely proclaimed and may be universally received.
Two roads exist for every person—the way of righteousness and the way of evil.
God punishes those who stubbornly resist His mercy and refuse to follow His commands. But He promises abundant blessings to all who, in faith, receive His gracious love and salvation through the merits of Jesus Christ.
Solomon, parent and teacher, emphasizes the blessings God gives through the wisdom He imparts. These blessings include the treasures of peace, security, and confidence, apportioned to those who trust in the Lord for forgiveness, new life, and eternal salvation. The blessings of those possessing true wisdom contrast with the condemnation accorded those who resist and scorn God’s favor.
Little or no formal education existed in Old Testament times. Instead, the head of the household taught his family, including small children, in the ways of the Lord. Through this instruction, Israelites came to understand their identity as God’s chosen people, to know God’s saving love and promises, and to anticipate the coming of the Savior. Godly parents warn their children of the temporal and eternal consequences of wickedness.
God shows us what sin looks like, why we sin, and where sin takes us. That is what Solomon does with his son. He gives him a vivid look at the road to and from adultery. What’s more, he shows the sheer joy of deep, lasting intimacy within marriage.
God’s Law shows us not only our sins but also their motivations and consequences.
The Sixth Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” holds high God’s institution of marriage and protects us from the deadly consequences of sexual immorality. Proverbs teaches us to weigh the heavy consequences of sexual immorality before we act.
Whether male or female, husband or wife, the one who commits adultery chooses immediate gratification over faithfully keeping one’s commitments to God and spouse. More significant, this willful sin walks away from God and God’s order in His creation, in which He reserves sexual intimacy for the marriage of one man and one woman.
The Lord is our Wisdom. His words and atoning works call from the heights and the crossroads of life for all humanity to hear. As such, He hates the sins of pride, arrogance, evil, and perverted speech (v 13).
The gracious invitation of Wisdom extends to all who live apart from the life she longs to bring.
God’s Law warns against the deadly foolishness all around us.
The material blessings enjoyed by families should be pursued by prudent and diligent work done honestly. God blesses such labor and uses it to provide for the needs of His people.
The words we speak can be either a source of life and comfort, edifying those around us, or a source of strife and wickedness, stirring up hatred and division.
Both the righteous and the wicked face tempests and challenges. Yet the righteous, who travel the way of the Lord and who live in the fear of the Lord, are blessed with stability, joy, and the promise of everlasting life.
The distinction between the righteous and the wicked is not confined to the private or spiritual realms of life but also manifests itself in public words and actions.
Proverbs teaches the wisdom of living by righteousness as taught by the Lord.
In these proverbs, the characteristics of foolish and wise people are contrasted. The foolish are gullible and believe everything. They are reckless, careless, and quick-tempered. But because wise people thoughtfully evaluate everything on the basis of God’s Word, their words and actions are always prudent and cautious.
These proverbs are especially directed to kings and other public servants. God uses them for the welfare of those who act righteously and as agents of wrath for those who do evil.
The Fourth Commandment not only teaches children to honor their parents but also teaches parents to cherish and take seriously God’s gift of raising their children.
God’s people are not to use the Gospel as grounds for partiality in judging (24:23–24), for calling good evil or evil good (Is 5:20), or for failing to protect the innocent.
The Eighth Commandment warns against false testimony against our neighbor. We should put a stop to gossip before it begins, not only by defending the reputation of the one spoken about but also by calling the gossiper to repentance and safeguarding ourselves from what may do irreparable damage.
Children are born fools, since they are born sinful. No one should be surprised by their excesses and ill manners. Yet no one should abandon them to their sinfulness but nurture and admonish them through God’s Word.
Folly is more than mere stupidity. It is an act of rebellion against God. It not only brings bad consequences in this life but also damns us for eternity. True wisdom does not come from studying hard in school or even from having much life experience. True wisdom flows out of trust in the Lord (“the fear of the LORD”).
Solomon knows that true piety is more than simply avoiding evil but is based on trust in God. Thus, he urges us not to envy sinners but to fear the Lord, for the Lord has graciously promised us a glorious future (23:17–18; 24:1–4, 13–14).
These verses comprise two sets of three topics: conduct in court (vv 23–25, 28), speaking (vv 26, 29), and work (vv 27, 30–34). We are told to be just in judging and honest in our testimony. We are to speak the truth to our neighbor in all circumstances. We are to work hard on the most important priorities and not shirk work like the sluggard.
Righteous people who compromise their principles disappoint us. Hope remains not in the possibility of renewing their righteousness by trying harder next time but rather in God’s righteousness, which is credited to all who trust in the Lord’s mercy.
Israel was not holy, or set apart, because of their own greatness but because of God’s extraordinary kindness in calling them to be His people, the people from whom the future Messiah would be born. For the righteousness of rulers and their subjects is borne out of the divine righteousness reckoned to human beings through faith in God’s promises. The righteousness that saves is a righteousness that only comes through faith in God’s promise; Christ’s righteousness was substituted for our wickedness.
Agur demonstrates the futility of life without wisdom, and also the blessings obtained from God’s Word.
King Lemuel was taught God’s Word by his mother in order to equip him to serve his subjects.
The most basic human relationship, according to God’s design, is the joining of a man and woman in holy matrimony.
Specific Law Themes in Proverbs
Proverbs does not treat foolishness as mere stupidity or lack of knowledge. Foolishness has a moral dimension. Because foolishness is rebellion against God, fools condemn themselves to destruction. God provides instruction to curb the misdeeds of fools and to guide the deeds of the wise. This instruction is evident in the order that God created but is also shared by those whom God makes wise, especially parents.
Specific Gospel Themes in Proverbs
The Lord watches out for us and wants us to discover the wisdom of His ways. He created the world through wisdom, and wisdom is His precious gift to us. He is on the side of those who seek wisdom and righteousness. Ultimately, God’s wisdom is Christ, who delivers us from self-destruction and brings forth righteousness in our lives.
Blog post adapted from Lutheran Bible Companion, Volume 1: Introduction and Old Testament, copyright © 2014. Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Delve deeper into this book of the Bible with Dr. Andrew Steinmann’s Proverbs, Concordia Commentary!