We have here an introduction to this book, which some think was prefixed by the collector and publisher, as Ezra; but it is rather supposed to have been penned by Solomon himself, who, in the beginning of his book, proposes his end in writing it, that he might keep to his business, and closely pursue that end. We are here told,
I. Who wrote these wise sayings, Prov. 1:1. They are the proverbs of Solomon. 1. His name signifies peaceable, and the character both of his spirit and of his reign answered to it; both were peaceable. David, whose life was full of troubles, wrote a book of devotion; for is any afflicted? let him pray. Solomon, who lived quietly, wrote a book of instruction; for when the churches had rest they were edified. In times of peace we should learn ourselves, and teach others, that which in troublous times both they and we must practise. 2. He was the son of David; it was his honour to stand related to that good man, and he reckoned it so with good reason, for he fared the better for it, 1 Kgs. 11:12. He had been blessed with a good education, and many a good prayer had been put up for him (Ps. 72:1), the effect of both which appeared in his wisdom and usefulness. The generation of the upright are sometimes thus blessed, that they are made blessings, eminent blessings, in their day. Christ is often called the Son of David, and Solomon was a type of him in this, as in other things, that he opened his mouth in parables or proverbs. 3. He was king of Israel—a king, and yet it was no disparagement to him to be an instructor of the ignorant, and a teacher of babes—king of Israel, that people among whom God was known and his name was great; among them he learned wisdom, and to them he communicated it. All the earth sought to Solomon to hear his wisdom, which excelled all men’s (1 Kgs. 4:30; 10:24); it was an honour to Israel that their king was such a dictator, such an oracle. Solomon was famous for apophthegms; every word he said had weight in it, and something that was surprising and edifying. His servants who attended him, and heard his wisdom, had, among them, collected 3000 proverbs of his which they wrote in their day-books; but these were of his own writing, and do not amount to nearly a thousand. In these he was divinely inspired. Some think that out of those other proverbs of his, which were not so inspired, the apocryphal books of Ecclesiasticus and the Wisdom of Solomon were compiled, in which are many excellent sayings, and of great use; but, take altogether, they are far short of this book. The Roman emperors had each of them his symbol or motto, as many now have with their coat of arms. But Solomon had many weighty sayings, not as theirs, borrowed from others, but all the product of that extraordinary wisdom which God had endued him with.
II. For what end they were written (Prov. 1:2-4), not to gain a reputation to the author, or strengthen his interest among his subjects, but for the use and benefit of all that in every age and place will govern themselves by these dictates and study them closely. This book will help us, 1. To form right notions of things, and to possess our minds with clear and distinct ideas of them, that we may know wisdom and instruction, that wisdom which is got by instruction, by divine revelation, may know both how to speak and act wisely ourselves and to give instruction to others. 2. To distinguish between truth and falsehood, good and evil—to perceive the words of understanding, to apprehend them, to judge of them, to guard against mistakes, and to accommodate what we are taught to ourselves and our own use, that we may discern things that differ and not be imposed upon, and may approve things that are excellent and not lose the benefit of them, as the apostle prays, Phil. 1:10. 3. To order our conversation aright in every things, Prov. 1:3. This book will give, that we may receive, the instruction of wisdom, that knowledge which will guide our practice in justice, judgment, and equity (Prov. 1:3), which will dispose us to render to all their due, to God the things that are God’s, in all the exercises of religion, and to all men what is due to them, according to the obligations which by relation, office, contract, or upon any other account, we lie under to them. Note, Those are truly wise, and none but those, who are universally conscientious; and the design of the scripture is to teach us that wisdom, justice in the duties of the first table, judgment in those of the second table, and equity (that is sincerity) in both; so some distinguish them.
III. For whose use they were written, Prov. 1:4. They are of use to all, but are designed especially, 1. For the simple, to give subtlety to them. The instructions here given are plain and easy, and level to the meanest capacity, the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein; and those are likely to receive benefit by them who are sensible of their own ignorance and their need to be taught, and are therefore desirous to receive instruction; and those who receive these instructions in their light and power, though they be simple, will hereby be made subtle, graciously crafty to know the sin they should avoid and the duty they should do, and to escape the tempter’s wiles. He that is harmless as the dove by observing Solomon’s rules may become wise as the serpent; and he that has been sinfully foolish when he begins to govern himself by the word of God becomes graciously wise. 2. For young people, to give them knowledge and discretion. Youth is the learning age, catches at instructions, receives impressions, and retains what is then received; it is therefore of great consequence that the mind be then seasoned well, nor can it receive a better tincture than from Solomon’s proverbs. Youth is rash, and heady, and inconsiderate; man is born like the wild ass’s colt, and therefore needs to be broken by the restraints and managed by the rules we find here. And, if young people will but take heed to their ways according to Solomon’s proverbs, they will soon gain the knowledge and discretion of the ancients. Solomon had an eye to posterity in writing this book, hoping by it to season the minds of the rising generation with the generous principles of wisdom and virtue.
IV. What good use may be made of them, Prov. 1:5, 6. Those who are young and simple may by them be made wise, and are not excluded from Solomon’s school, as they were from Plato’s. But is it only for such? No; here is not only milk for babes, but strong meat for strong men. This book will not only make the foolish and bad wise and good, but the wise and good wiser and better; and though the simple and the young man may perhaps slight those instructions, and not be the better for them, yet the wise man will hear. Wisdom will be justified by her own children, though not by the children sitting in the market-place. Note, Even wise men must hear, and not think themselves too wise to learn. A wise man is sensible of his own defects (Plurima ignoro, sed ignorantiam meam non ignoro—I am ignorant of many things, but not of my own ignorance), and therefore is still pressing forward, that he may increase in learning, may know more and know it better, more clearly and distinctly, and may know better how to make use of it. As long as we live we should strive to increase in all useful learning. It was a saying of one of the greatest of the rabbin, Qui non auget scientiam, amittit de ea—If our stock of knowledge by not increasing, it is wasting; and those that would increase in learning must study the scriptures; these perfect the man of God. A wise man, by increasing in learning, is not only profitable to himself, but to others also, 1. As a counsellor. A man of understanding in these precepts of wisdom, by comparing them with one another and with his own observations, shall by degrees attain unto wise counsels; he stands fair for preferment, and will be consulted as an oracle, and entrusted with the management of public affairs; he shall come to sit at the helm, so the word signifies. Note, Industry is the way to honour; and those whom God has blessed with wisdom must study to do good with it, according as their sphere is. It is more dignity indeed to be counsellor to the prince, but it is more charity to be counsellor to the poor, as Job was with his wisdom. Job 29:15; I was eyes to the blind. 2. As an interpreter (Prov. 1:6) --to understand a proverb. Solomon was himself famous for expounding riddles and resolving hard questions, which was of old the celebrated entertainment of the eastern princes, witness the solutions he gave to the enquiries with which the queen of Sheba thought to puzzle him. Now here he undertakes to furnish his readers with that talent, as far as would be serviceable to the best purposes. “They shall understand a proverb, even the interpretation, without which the proverb is a nut uncracked; when they hear a wise saying, though it be figurative, they shall take the sense of it, and know how to make use of it.” The words of the wise are sometimes dark sayings. In St. Paul’s epistles there is that which is hard to be understood; but to those who, being well-versed in the scriptures, know how to compare spiritual things with spiritual, they will be easy and safe; so that, if you ask them, Have you understood all these things? they may answer, Yea, Lord. Note, It is a credit to religion when men of honesty are men of sense; all good people therefore should aim to be intelligent, and run to and fro, take pains in the use of means, that their knowledge may be increased.