TODAY’S READING: Proverbs 22–24
Proverbs 22 begins with the superscription: The Sayings of the Wise. While most proverbs are generally associated with the wisdom of Solomon, the proverbs in chapters 22 to 24, “as well as the outline by which they are arranged, appear also in a book of Egyptian wisdom, called The Instruction of Amen-em-hotep.” This book of proverbs is a collection of collections and show similarities (often word for word) with other non-Israelite wisdom.
There are important differences, however. The wisdom teaching of the ancient Middle East (particularly Egypt and Babylon) had three critical underlying assumptions: that the world is orderly; that human beings are able to understand that order; and that the way to derive principles of wisdom is through personal experience, observation, and adherence to tradition.
Israel’s version of wisdom teaching is somewhat distinct, though. The basic assumptions of wisdom were quite secular. They spoke of worldly matters and had little to say about God. Wisdom was sought through human experience, not through prayer or any direct revelation. Israel’s sages, not quite comfortable with such a focus, sought to incorporate God more fully. As a result, Israel’s central theme was “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10). Devotion and obedience to God were seen as prior to and more important than the human quest for wisdom.
Proverbs, then, is the Bible’s most secular book in that it draws most heavily on the wisdom of the nations and looks for universal and eternal principles. Secular, trans-national wisdom was not adopted willy-nilly but redeemed through submitting it to the authority of Israel’s God, Jehovah, and connecting it to Israel’s history and traditions. That history was directly linked to David, Moses, the Patriarchs, and Abraham. Essentially, Proverbs is the wisdom that takes the Abrahamic covenant (all nations will be blessed) global. Proverbs gives the practical constructs by which the gospel message must be carried and communicated to all peoples. Reading Proverbs with that lens leads to missionary applications of its wisdom.
“He who loves purity of heart and has grace on his lips, the king will be his friend” (Prov. 22:11). When we communicate the challenging gospel from a pure heart and with gracious lips, we befriend the power brokers of our context who can open doors to a wider hearing. Those who excel in the work of pure, gracious gospelizing will stand before kings (v. 29). The God of universal wisdom is Jehovah, the covenant God of Abraham. When Jehovah’s ambassadors are faithful in communicating His character and salvation plan to the unreached, He preserves that truth. When Jehovah’s truth is fixed on our lips so that our trust is in Him, He gives us counsel and wisdom that we know the certainty of the “words of truth to those who send to you” (vv. 18–19, 21). Proverbs is missiologically beautiful! From the ends of the earth we will be sent and if we trust in the Lord, He will put within us pleasant and excellent truths that will lead the nations to life.
A mighty redeemer, souls delivered from hell, and a sure hereafter of hope could easily have been the three main sermon points of George Whitefield or Billy Graham, yet they first appear in Proverbs (23:11, 14, 18). Jehovah seemingly inserting Himself into the wisdom of the ancients is really His reclaiming of truths that came from Him and issuing them through us to all peoples. Proverbs 24 continues in gospel tone by stating we should deliver those who are drawn toward death and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter (v. 11). All these salvific comments are echoed in the wisdom text of the ancient Egyptians, and the nations watch how God’s people act and speak (v. 24). How wonderful that this most “secular” book of the Bible was birthed among the peoples of earth, refined by the God of Israel, and preserved for us that we do missionary acts in wise and enduring ways. Proverbs roots us in the continuing missionary heart of God and helps us remain His missionary people. The proverbs of the past help us bring the wisdom of 1.4 million Chechans into the gospel library, submitting it to Jehovah’s redemption, celebrating that God in His wisdom has room for it and them in His house.
 The Chronological Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008. 895.