Most stories have a key moment when the protagonist meets her mentor, someone wiser and further down the path of life who can help her on her journey. In Proverbs 1:8, the author directs his instruction to “my son.” Here is our mentor, a loving parent offering wisdom from his experience and observations out of a desire to teach the inexperienced how to choose wisely.
Who is this mentor? The proverbs come from a composite of authors, known and unknown, collected by different wise teachers and scribes throughout Israel’s history. The writers include figures from within the nation of Israel and men, such as Agur and Lemuel, from other nations. The book spans years, from Solomon’s time, possibly before, to at least Hezekiah’s rule and most likely beyond. It also spans nations, most likely including wisdom collected from Egypt and Mesopotamia. While the book originated from different sources, God inspired the writers and collectors to include them in His Word. Like jazz music, the various writers pick up a thread and riff on the melody and harmony of God’s wisdom.
Proverbs were first collected for the Israelites under the Mosaic covenant, which promised that as long as they followed and honored God, ultimately by loving God and loving their neighbor, they would be blessed, but if they turned their backs on Him and followed the ways and idols of the pagan nations, they would be put in serious time-out. The proverbs collected in this book flow out of this understanding, commenting on what this looks like in everyday life and relationships, but they differ from the law and the prophets because they aren’t commands with promises or prophetic warnings. They reflect personal and social experiences.
This compendium was used by parents and teachers to teach the young how to live. It was used in the community to remind the old how to relate to one another, how to treat their finances, and how to order their lives. Written to the simple, the young, and the wise, the proverbs require only a listening heart. Anyone can grow in wisdom, no matter where she is on her journey, young or old, inexperienced or experienced, one with mistakes in her past, or one with a quiver of good decisions.
We live under Christ’s law of grace rather than the Mosaic law, but our music riffs on the harmony of the Old Testament. Our Creator-Redeemer-King has created the world, and has a divine plan for it. He is intimately related to every aspect of life. Every part of our lives is held bare before Him, and as His image-bearers and Christ’s representatives in the world, we have a responsibility to live according to His order and reflect His ways. Proverbs remains a wise mentor for us as we seek to live this out in our everyday lives, whether we come as young or old in our faith, no matter our pasts.