For learning about wisdom and instruction, for understanding words of insight, for gaining instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity; to teach shrewdness to the simple, knowledge and prudence to the young— let the wise also hear and gain in learning, and the discerning acquire skill, to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs can be a difficult read, and is perhaps one of the less familiar books in the Bible for many of us. The biblical index of Rejoice and Sing, for example, offers no hymns referring to verses in Proverbs! You might be feeling uneasy that it is a text open to abuse – for example, the temptation to read Proverbs 3:9-10 as a promise of earthly rewards for honouring God.
However, this prologue to the book, and particularly verse 7, tells us something about how we should read the book. Not as a potential source of arguments supporting our own previously arrived-at views, but as a prompt to let God work on our hearts, and perhaps change our minds.
Although Proverbs could be seen as a series of instructions for a father to teach a son, there is a hint in verse 5 that perhaps the truly wise will take instruction whatever their age, identity or previous experience. One of the things I love to see in church life is that people in their 80s and 90s are still exploring the faith, testing ideas, and interested in how younger people might prompt them to see something differently. If any of us think we have all the answers, and are living perfectly faithful lives, I suspect we are deluding ourselves, and could benefit from reflecting further on this passage!
Having said that, what are my own blind spots about this passage? I live in a city with two universities, where learning and the quest for knowledge are esteemed – even more so since Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert and her colleagues developed the Covid vaccine! May I be tempted to focus so much on reading and reflecting that living out the faith can take a back seat?
As we begin our study of Proverbs, inspire us to set aside our prejudices and fears about the text. May we be open to the questions that might make us see the faith differently. Save us from the temptation to think we have all the answers and from despair that we don’t have the answers. So that we may take instruction from our study and live out our faith in our lives. Amen