The Old Testament book of Proverbs is another wisdom/poetry book in the Bible. It contains the wise sayings of King Solomon, King David’s son. Solomon’s sage advice is formatted in a series on concise and direct statements of truth and fact.
Some of these sayings are religious in nature, whereas others are more earthy, resulting from experience and observation.
Learn more in our overview of Proverbs.
If “wisdom” is the theme of Proverbs, then “path” may be the context. There are good paths and evil paths, straight paths and crooked paths. There are the paths of the righteous and paths of the wicked.
For those who are wise and make good decisions, there is the right path, the path of life, of peace, of justice, of the upright, and that leads to immortality.
Taking a journey — the journey of life — implies making decisions. Which paths do you take? This isn’t a one-time selection, but a series of choices, of continuing to choose the right path, repeatedly making the good and right decision.
And the best part is that we don’t need to travel alone. We have a “spiritual” GPS to guide us, God’s spirit. David acknowledged that God had supernaturally revealed the right path to him (Psalm 16:11) and Peter confirmed that many centuries later (Acts 2:28).
We also have the Bible to guide us in selecting the right paths, with over 100 mentions of the word. Proverbs is especially helpful (as are the books of Job and Psalms). Not only does Proverbs mention “path” 28 times, but its sub-contexts point to it as well.
Consider the words that we’ve highlighted in Proverbs. The sluggard and the simple choose the wrong paths. Folly takes one there, as does being quarrelsome or following the adulteress. However, the prudent, those with wisdom, know which paths to take.
Consider the mentions of “path” in the Bible and then choose the right ones.
Among all the reoccurring words in Proverbs, it is “wisdom” that is the most prominent — mentioned 54 times. Wisdom, in fact, is the central theme of the book, effectively summarizing its focus and purpose.
The dictionary defines wisdom as “the ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting; insight; common sense; good judgment.”
Given this definition, it would seem that wisdom is more of an innate characteristic than something that can be learned or acquired. Yet Proverbs continually advises readers to seek wisdom, to obtain wisdom, to get wisdom, to keep wisdom, and to gain wisdom. Not only is wisdom imperative, it is apparently also accessible.
But, how? From God. He gives wisdom. James writes that “if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”
This is how we seek wisdom. Proverbs is the primer; God is the source.
The book of Proverbs contains the majority of the Bible’s mentions of the word “adulteress” (seven times in Proverbs compared to five times in the rest of the Bible). An “adulteress” is “a woman who commits adultery,” that is, she has sex with someone other than her husband. In today’s language, that is referred to as “cheating.”
Solomon warns his son — and all men — to stay away from the adulteress.
The Law of Moses notes that both the adulterer (the male participant) and the adulteress (the female participant) should be put to death (Leviticus 20:10). That is how serious God views the breaking of marriage vows.
Although the majority of modern society takes a much more casual perspective on lifelong monogamy, God’s staunch opposition to adultery hasn’t changed. Fortunately, his response has. In the Old Testament (as mentioned above), the prescribed response to adultery is judgment. However, in the New Testament, Jesus — God’s son — demonstrates a kinder, gentler response: mercy (John 8:1-11).
However, remember that even though Jesus will give both the adulterer and adulteress mercy and forgiveness, the offended spouse may not likely be so understanding.
[Mentions of adulteress in the Bible.]
The word “quarrelsome” is almost exclusive to the book of Proverbs, occurring six times there and only one other time in the rest of the Bible. Quarrelsome means “given to quarreling, contentious, belligerent”; some of its synonyms are argumentative, fractious, and petulant.
Five of the six occurrences relate to a quarrelsome wife — she is undesirable and to be avoided. Twice she is compared to a constant dripping, which could be a suitable euphemism for nagging. The sixth reference is to a quarrelsome man — he is one who kindles strife. (The Bible’s seventh occurrence of quarrelsome is in 1 Timothy 3:3 where it is listed as an unacceptable characteristic of a church leader.)
Lest the ladies are feeling unfairly chastised, recall that Solomon — who wrote much of Proverbs — had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Surely there were a few quarrelsome ones among the group, giving him ample reason to be so sensitive regarding this topic.
Regardless, quarrelsome is most certainly a characteristic to be avoided, both as a personal trait and among those you associate with.
[Occurrences of quarrelsome in the Bible.]
The word “folly” occurs 23 times in Proverbs and only 16 times in the rest of the Bible. The dictionary defines folly as “a lack of good sense, understanding, or foresight; an act of foolishness; or a costly undertaking having an absurd or ruinous outcome.” I think that is exactly what Solomon had in mind as he advised against folly.
Over half of Proverbs’ verses that include “folly,” also pair it with the word “fool.” That gives the perspective that folly is foolishness.
Also, just like the word “simple,” “folly” is often contrasted with being “prudent.” This implies that prudence is the prescription for folly.
Interestingly, in one instance, Solomon personifies “folly” as a woman who is loud, undisciplined, and without knowledge. That is a most effective metaphor, explaining why folly is to be avoided.
Of course, there are the simple who may desire a woman like Folly, but that just wouldn’t be prudent — and Solomon repeated cautions against liaisons of that nature.
[23 occurrences of folly in Proverbs]
In contrast to the sluggard, is the prudent person. The word “prudent” also predominates the book of Proverbs with 10 appearances, contrasted to only two in the rest of the Bible.
“Prudent” means “wise in handling practical matters; exercising good judgment or common sense; careful in regard to one’s own interests or conduct.” It seems that in many ways being prudent is the opposite of — and therefore the desired alternative to — being a sluggard.
Interestingly, half of the mentions of “prudent” specifically reference the male half of the population (“prudent man”), with only one to the female side (“prudent wife” — she is a gift from God). The remaining mentions are directed to all people.
Based on this disparity in gender mentions, one might assume that being prudent is a bigger issue for men than women — but that conclusion might not be prudent! The reality is that most everyone can improve in this area, that is, to be more prudent. Plus, it is easier (albeit shortsighted) to be a sluggard than prudent.
How might one’s prudent behavior honor God?
[Mentions of “prudent” in the Bible.]
The word “sluggard” occurs 14 times in Proverbs, but is nowhere to be found in the other 65 books of the Bible. This is curious.
First, what is a sluggard? A sluggard is “a slothful person; an idler; a person who is habitually indolent [lazy]” Consider then, Proverbs’ 14 mentions of a sluggard:
- How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep?
- As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is a sluggard to those who send him.
- The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.
- The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway.
- The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he will not even bring it back to his mouth!
- A sluggard does not plow in season; so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing.
- The sluggard’s craving will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work.
- The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside!” or, “I will be murdered in the streets!”
- I went past the field of the sluggard, past the vineyard of the man who lacks judgment;
- The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the road, a fierce lion roaming the streets!”
- As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed.
- The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth.
- The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who answer discreetly.
It is clear that Solomon does not think much of sluggards, of lazy, idle, slothful people. According to his proverbs, sluggards do not plan or take initiative; they procrastinate and delude themselves about their own wisdom.
While few would consider themselves a sluggard, the preceding sluggardly characteristics are something that most of us struggle with upon occasion.
What steps do you take to avoid acting like a sluggard?
[Mentions of sluggard in the Bible.]
There are several words that appear with disproportionate frequency in the book of Proverbs — and with minimal representation in the rest of the Bible. They are:
- Sluggard occurs 14 times in Proverbs and nowhere else in the Bible.
- Prudent occurs 10 times in Proverbs and only twice elsewhere.
- Simple is found 14 times in Proverbs and only six other times in the entire Bible.
- Folly occurs 23 times in Proverbs and 16 times in the rest of the Bible.
- Quarrelsome occurs 6 times in Proverbs and only one other time in the rest of the Bible.
- Adulteress is mentioned 7 times in Proverbs and only 5 times elsewhere in the Bible.
Plus, there are some additional words that appear with surprising regularity in Proverbs:
- Wisdom occurs 54 times in proverbs.
- Path and paths are mentioned 29 times in Proverbs.
In upcoming posts, we will look at each of these words.
[The 1984 NIV version of the Bible was used in determining the number of occurrences.]
The book of Proverbs in the Bible has 31 chapters. They are organized as follows:
- Chapters 1 to 9: Solomon’s personal instructions to his son (or sons). [Proverbs 1:8]
- Chapters 10 to 24: More wise sayings (proverbs) of Solomon. [Proverbs 10:1]
- Chapter 24:23-34: A brief collection of proverbs from other sources. [Proverbs 24:23]
- Chapter 25-29: An apparent addendum, added by King Hezekiah’s men, but understood to have been from Solomon. [Proverbs 25:1]
- Chapter 30 and 31: Two appendices by other people that fit the book’s overall theme: the sayings of Agur [Proverbs 30:1] and the sayings of King Lemuel [Proverbs 31:1], followed by an epilogue, about the wife of noble character [Proverbs 31:10], which is perhaps the most familiar passage in the entire book.