Proverbs 1 begins with an introduction to the entire book. It then gives two speeches: the first, given by a father to a son, warns him about joining gangs, and the second, a speech of personified Wisdom, harshly condemns those who don’t listen to her.
The father warns his son to avoid gangs. He explains how those involved set out to kill, but get killed themselves: “My son, do not set out with them; Keep your feet from their path. For their feet run to evil; They hurry to shed blood… But they lie in ambush for their own blood; They lie in wait for their own lives. Such is the fate of all who pursue unjust gain; It takes the life of its possessor.” (vv. 15-19)
III. Important verses
v. 7: The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and discipline.
vv. 8-9: My son, heed the discipline of your father, And do not forsake the instruction of your mother; For they are a graceful wreath upon your head, A necklace about your throat.
v. 10: My son, if sinners entice you, do not yield…
v. 19: Such is the fate of all who pursue unjust gain; It takes the life of its possessor.
v. 22: How long will you simple ones love simplicity, You scoffers be eager to scoff, You dullards hate knowledge?
vv. 27-29: When terror comes like a disaster, And calamity arrives like a whirlwind, When trouble and distress come upon you. Then they shall call me but I will not answer; They shall seek me but not find me. Because they hated knowledge, And did not choose fear of the LORD
7. Programmatic statement
8-19. First speech: avoid gangs
20-33. Wisdom’s condemnation
The book of Proverbs begins with a title verse: “The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel.” What is a mashal “proverb”? Fox writes (Proverbs 1-9, p. 54), “The word mashal is applied to a great range of utterances, from one-line adages to extended poems. ‘From evil comes forth evil’ (1 Sam 24:13) is [called] a mashal, but so is the allegory describing the great eagle (Ezek 17:1-10). It does not designate a single genre or category… The word has two distinct meanings: (a) A trope. A trope is a word, statement, or image displaced from its primary, surface meaning so as to represent something else, by virtue of an imputed similarity. (b) A saying that has currency among the people. This is its sense in Proverbs (1:1, 6; 10:1; 25:1; 26:7, 9).” While many “sayings” are not tropes, and many tropes are not sayings, some mashalim are both sayings and tropes.
The title is followed by a short prologue which states – in many synonymous ways – the purpose of studying the book: to gain wisdom. Many scholars have pointed out the similarities between this prologue and those of other ancient Near Eastern wisdom texts such as the Instruction of Amenemope (an Egyptian text going back to at least 1200 BCE, see Context of Scripture 1.47). For example, that text begins “Beginning of the teaching for life, The instructions for well-being, Every rule for relations with elders, For conduct toward magistrates; Knowing how to answer one who speaks, To reply to one who sends a message. So as to direct him on the paths of life, To make him prosper upon earth; To let his heart enter its shrine, Steering clear of evil; To save him from the mouth of strangers, To let (him) be praised in the mouth of people.” It seems that there was a conventional way of beginning works of Wisdom, and the book of Proverbs followed that convention. The introduction ends with a programmatic statement in v. 7: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and discipline.” The words “fear of the Lord” play an important role in Proverbs, appearing a total of 14 times.
Like many sections in Proverbs (e.g. 2:1, 3:1, 5:1, 6:1, etc.), the first unit begins with a father’s speech to a son: “My son, heed the discipline of your father, And do not forsake the instruction of your mother; For they are a graceful wreath upon your head, A necklace about your throat” (vv. 8-9). The father warns his son to avoid the temptations of the wicked: “My son, do not set out with them; Keep your feet from their path. For their feet run to evil; They hurry to shed blood.” (vv. 15-16) The section ends with a “summary-appraisal formula” in v. 19: “Such is the fate of all who pursue unjust gain; It takes the life of its possessor.” Another example of such a formula is Job 8:13: “Such is the fate of all who forget God; The hope of the impious man comes to naught.”
The last section is a speech of personified wisdom. It begins, like other speeches of personified Wisdom (cf. Prov. 8:1-3, 9:1-3), by depicting the public setting in which it was said: “Wisdom cries aloud in the streets, Raises her voice in the squares. At the head of the busy streets she calls; At the entrance of the gates, in the city, she speaks out” (vv. 20-21). Wisdom’s message is harsh, condemning in a merciless fashion those who do not listen to her: “Since you refused me when I called, And paid no heed when I extended my hand, You spurned all my advice, And would not hear my rebuke, I will laugh at your calamity, And mock when terror comes upon you, When terror comes like a disaster, And calamity arrives like a whirlwind, When trouble and distress come upon you. Then they shall call me but I will not answer; They shall seek me but not find me.” (vv. 24-28)
Murphy makes an interesting point: in the book of Proverbs personified wisdom seems to take on the role of God. He writes (p. 12), “An astonishing feature of Wisdom’s speeches in chaps. 1–9 is that she speaks like the Lord, no less… What was referred to God is now referred to her. It is she who feels rebuffed, and who threatens those who refuse to listen. She has divine authority, and she hands out reward and punishment. She does not mention the Lord; she does not urge conversion to God, but to herself! One looks forward with a certain wonderment to speeches that will be proclaimed by her.” As support for this assertion he compares the following verses: Wisdom says (in Prov. 1:24) “Since you refused me when I called (ya’an qara’ti), And paid no heed when I extended my hand” much like God (in Is. 66:4), “… For I called (ya’an qara’ti) and none responded, I spoke and none paid heed…” Similarly, Wisdom says (in Prov. 1:28) “Then they shall call me but I will not answer; They shall seek me but not find me,” much like God (in Zech. 7:13), “… ‘So,’ said the LORD of Hosts, ‘let them call and I will not listen.’”