Preface of the Redactor[a]
1 The proverbs of Solomon,[b] the son of David king of Israel:
2 Designed to enable people to appreciate wisdom[c] and discipline
and to comprehend words that foster insight,
3 to acquire instruction in upright conduct,
righteousness, justice, and honesty,
4 so that prudence[d] may be imparted to the simple,
and the young may gain knowledge and discretion.
5 By listening to them the wise will add to their learning,
and those gifted with discernment will increase their ability
6 to perceive the meaning of proverbs and obscure sayings,
the words of the sages and their riddles.
7 The fear of the Lord[e] is the beginning of knowledge;
fools are those who despise wisdom and instruction.
8 Give heed, my son,[f] to your father’s instruction,
and do not reject your mother’s teaching.
9 They will be a crown of grace for your head
and a pendant of honor for your neck.
Prologue: Invitation to Wisdom[g]
If Sinners Try To Entice You . . .[h]
10 My son, if sinners try to entice you,
refuse to join them.
11 They may say, “Come and join us
as we lie in ambush to shed someone’s blood;
let us waylay some innocent man;
12 like the netherworld we can swallow him alive,
in his prime like those who go down to the pit.
13 We will discover riches of every sort[i]
with which we can fill our houses;
14 so throw in your lot with us
and share in the common purse.”
15 My son, do not accompany them!
Do not allow your feet to follow their path!
16 For their feet are rushing headlong to evil;
they are hastening to shed blood.[j]
17 It is useless to spread a net
if the bird is watching.[k]
18 These men lie in wait for their own blood
and set an ambush against themselves.
19 Such is the fate of all who seek ill-gotten gain;
such greed takes away the life of those who acquire it.
Wisdom Cries Out Her Message in the Street[l]
20 Wisdom cries out in the street;
she raises her voice in the public squares.
21 She calls out on the crowded street corners;
at the city gates she proclaims her message:
22 “How long will you simple people continue to be fools?
How long will you mockers[m] delight in your mocking?
How long will you fools continue to hate knowledge?
23 If you would seriously consider my reproof,
I would pour out my thoughts to you
and make my precepts known to you.
24 “However, because you refused to listen to my call,
because no one heeded when I stretched out my hand,
25 and because you rejected all my counsel
and ignored all my warnings,
26 [n]I in my turn will laugh at your distress
and mock you when panic overwhelms you,
27 when terror suddenly strikes you like a hurricane
and your doom approaches like a whirlwind,
when distress and anguish come upon you.
28 “Then they will cry out to me but I will not answer;
they will search for me, but not find me.[o]
29 For they hated knowledge
and chose not to fear the Lord.[p]
30 They refused to accept my advice
and spurned all my warnings.
31 “Now they must eat the fruits of their conduct
and be glutted with the results of their schemes.[q]
32 For the stubbornness of the simple kills them;
fools come to final ruin by their own complacency.
33 But whoever listens to me will be secure
and live in peace, without fear of disaster.”
- Proverbs 1:1 The final formulation of the Book of Proverbs—which took place in the fifth or fourth century B.C.—represents the end of a lengthy process. This set of collections in which very diverse maxims and sayings are piled up, often without any order, requires an introduction. This has been composed by a writer whose concern is to emphasize the value of wisdom for the life of the people of his time.
In accordance with an ancient custom in the matter of wisdom, the masters who taught it placed it under the patronage of a sage; our author chooses Solomon and attributes the whole Book of Proverbs to him (see 1 Ki 4:32; Eccl 1:1; Song 1:1). The sapiential reflection of Israel certainly did not cease after this exceptional king, whose prestige was based first and foremost on his balanced and sound discernment. It was perhaps in his time (tenth century B.C.) that the line of these teachers of morality, the sages, began.
Wisdom is an ancient value, and it is handed over only to the person who knows how to listen and study and to become a disciple: “Listen, my son” is a formula that recurs endlessly. This conception of things has been formed in the experience of life, the reflection of schools, and the consciousness of a people. In making use of ancient sayings, one is initiated not into formulas but into an act of doing and thinking, into a way of life that is both human and religious. Wisdom is certainly knowledge but not one that is theoretical; rather, it is a knowledge of how to act, a teaching and understanding of life. It can find its deepest source in the fear of the Lord, i.e., in faith and devotion, in fidelity to the law, in a word, in the certainty that the Lord is present in one’s life.
Wisdom is ancient but it is also a treasure! For everyone is invited to learn it, i.e., to experience the values that give true meaning to a person’s life.
- Proverbs 1:1 Solomon: the First Book of Kings (5:12) mentions the wisdom of Solomon as well as his creation of proverbs and songs. He also appears in the headings of Proverbs in 10:1; 25:1 (see also Eccl 1:1, “son of David”; Song 1:1).
- Proverbs 1:2 Wisdom: i.e., skill in living, in accord with God’s plan. The Book of Proverbs advises its readers to obtain wisdom (4:5), for it is more valuable than silver or gold (3:13-14). In the New Testament, Christ is called the wisdom from God (1 Cor 1:30; see Col 2:3). Discipline: a way of forming people that eliminates ignorance and leads them away from evil.
- Proverbs 1:4 Prudence: right judgment and good sense (see Prov 15:5; 19:25). Simple: those lacking in maturity and experience and hence easily persuaded for good or evil (see Ps 19:8).
- Proverbs 1:7 This verse sets forth the foundation of all religion and the theme of the Book (see Prov 9:10; 31:30) as well as the motto of the Wisdom Books (Job 28:28; Ps 111:10; Eccl 12:13; Sir 1:18, 24; 19:17). Fear of the Lord: reverential respect for God that leads to submission to his lordship and obedience to his commands (Eccl 12:13). Fools: those who oppose knowledge (Prov 1:22), resent any kind of correction (Prov 12:1), get into quarrels (Prov 20:3), give in to anger (Prov 29:11), are complacent (Prov 1:32), and trust in themselves (Prov 28:26) rather than in God (Ps 14:1).
- Proverbs 1:8 My son: in the sapiential literature, the relationship of master-disciple is expressed by that of parent-child.
- Proverbs 1:10 The values dear to the heart of our author are uprightness, sincerity, docility, good behavior, and, above all, fear of God, i.e., the believer’s upright life in relation to God, to himself or herself, and to others. And the evils opposed to these are also set forth: falsehood, suffering, bad company, and violence. It is the catalogue of virtues and vices that the Book of Proverbs regulates endlessly in the history of Israel. Here, one evil is flogged more particularly: adultery, possibly because it was more prevalent than others at that time.
These first nine chapters are on the whole the work of a fairly recent author, probably in the fifth century B.C. He is not satisfied to string together widely different maxims, but seeks to think about them in a more coherent way. A clear line is drawn between the followers of wisdom and the slaves of folly; by the latter the author means the foolish or senseless persons who let themselves be duped by the appearances of the moment. The author aims, above all, to influence the decisions of the simple and the careless who have not yet made a choice.
In this fine address, Wisdom herself comes on the scene as a person who directs her invitation to men and women in the squares of the city and who calls to each in the depths of their hearts.
- Proverbs 1:10 The author does not use the demanding or upsetting tone of the Prophets. He excels in counseling and putting on notice, indicative of a moralist attentive to the realism of daily life. He is keenly aware of the temptations that lie in wait for people from the moment they let themselves be drawn into participation in evil. He sets forth an appeal to resist the pressure exerted by entourages of evil.
- Proverbs 1:13 Riches of every sort: Proverbs teaches that, contrary to the belief of sinners, it is wisdom that gives people the greatest riches they could ever have (see Prov 3:14-16; 16:16; see also Job 28:12-19).
- Proverbs 1:16 This verse is the same as the first two lines of Isa 59:7, and part of it is cited in Rom 3:15. See Prov 6:17-18.
- Proverbs 1:17 When birds see a hunter spread out his net, they do not fall into it. In the same way, the young person who understands the dangers facing those who follow sinners will be able to avoid them.
- Proverbs 1:20 Here and in three other places in Proverbs (3:15-18; 8:1-36; 9:1-12), Wisdom is personified. People think of Wisdom as confined to palaces and schools, but she is present in public squares. Like the Prophets, she has a strong voice to preach, threaten, and encourage. Indeed, it is right in the middle of the daily affairs that one must listen to the call to conversion. We are called to state our views clearly; if we fail to do so, our days will slip away into meaninglessness. False securities cannot bring about the changes necessary in an existence devoid of deep attention.
- Proverbs 1:22 Mockers: i.e., those who are haughty (Prov 21:24), filled with insults, hatred, and strife (Prov 9:7-8; 22:10; 29:8), and reject correction (Prov 13:1; 15:12) that is due them (Prov 19:25; 21:11). Another name for them is “scoffers.”
- Proverbs 1:26 Wisdom laughs in reaction to the foolishness of the mockers who have rejected her warnings and brought ruin on themselves. They suffer the same fate as the scoundrel (Prov 6:12-15).
- Proverbs 1:28 When they are in trouble, the foolish will search for wisdom—but without success (e.g., see Jn 7:34; 8:21).
- Proverbs 1:29 Fear the Lord: see note on verse 7.
- Proverbs 1:31 Sinners reap the consequences of their actions (see Wis 11:16), and those who do find wisdom find life and blessing (see Prov 1:32; 3:13; 8:17, 35; 14:14). “A person will reap only what he sows” (Gal 6:7).