These are the proverbs of Solomon, one of the most renowned kings in the history of Israel. The word translated “proverb” is the Hebrew word “mashal.” The root of the word contains the idea of “compare”—it is translated throughout Scripture as “parable” just as often as “proverb.”
This gives us some insight into the nature of these sayings. Proverbs are not prescriptions. It is not about a formula for how to manipulate circumstances and bend them to our will. That might be wishful thinking, but doesn’t work in reality. The proverbs are, in a sense, “comparing” our human perceptions to the reality of God’s world; trying to connect the two by providing principles that shape our perspective and inform our choices such that we live constructively—that is to say, wisely.
Like parables, the proverbs are meant to guide us “to wisdom”, that is, into a way of living. A way of thinking and perceiving. It is about molding and shaping our perceptions, values, and character into something that is consistently in tune with God, not just as a rule-follower but as someone who understands and practices the essence of the divine. One who sees the world through God’s eyes, and acts accordingly.
Ecclesiastes might be thought of as a philosophical foundation for wisdom. It shows the way to properly view the many aspects of life we cannot control, the “hebel” or vaporous nature of all that surrounds us. The main thing Ecclesiastes shows us is the importance of choosing to trust God, and make good choices based on that trust.
Proverbs will reiterate the philosophical foundations of Ecclesiastes, then zoom in and expand upon the practical application of trusting God and choosing a true perspective within certain areas of life. Proverbs leads us to choose a true perspective in all areas of life, and creates a foundation from which we can choose actions that are constructive, beneficial, and fulfilling.
There are only three things we control in life: who we trust, our perspective, and what we do—our actions. Ecclesiastes makes this reality abundantly clear. Trying to control what we cannot leads to complete futility. Trusting God, however, provides a foundation for constructive living. Proverbs teaches us how best to steward the choices we have—how to trust God, how to choose His perspective, and the key actions to take that lead us to the path of wisdom.
Throughout Chapter Five of The Book of Proverbs, Solomon continues to establish the realities of the two paths available to us in life—the path of wisdom or the path of wickedness. There is no third alternative. In a variety of techniques and allegories, Solomon explains the reasons we get into each path, the realities of committing to each and the consequences they bear.
First is the practical ramification for each path. If we choose the path of wisdom, we keep to the purpose of the created order. We align with reality. We grow in our ability to learn the truth and discern how to act in a world full of complicated and diverse circumstances. Wickedness tempts us by promising an easier way, one in which we can be in control and not have to deal with the mystery and the challenge of life. These are sweet-sounding promises, but are lies. Wickedness promises everything but produces nothing. It ends in destruction and death.
Solomon then moves to the quality of life we can expect, depending on which path we choose. Utilizing the juxtaposition of the wife of one’s youth and the tempting stranger, he shows that wisdom is the way to enjoy life for all it is worth. On the other hand, wickedness is a sort of forfeiture of life. We hand over our existence to the evil one, shackling ourselves to flesh and sin. By trusting the stranger we become a stranger to ourselves.
Solomon uses another allegory to talk about the way our decisions affect our actions. Water is an essential element to human existence. Likewise, wisdom is essential to the thriving vibrancy of the human soul. Without it, we choke and suffer, forgetting what it is like to truly be alive.
We reap what we sow. The wicked become apathetic toward good. They will regret and make excuses, but it will be too late. They will have entered the house of evil. To avoid this, Solomon warns us not to go near these deceptions. To keep a healthy distance and commit our focus otherwise—to the wisdom, instruction, and understanding that line the path of eternal life.
And God, the Lord of all, is watching over the decisions of mankind.