What is a Proverb? Most dictionaries list the following as the definition of the word. “A brief, popular saying that gives advice about how people should live or that express a belief that is generally thought to be true.”
However, if you look specifically at the definition for the biblical meaning of the word, Proverb, then you’ll find this: “A profound saying, maxim, or oracular utterance requiring interpretation.”
The first seven verses of Proverbs chapter 1, tells us this:
The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction, To perceive the words of understanding, To receive the instruction of wisdom, Justice, judgment and equity. To give prudence to the simple, To the young man knowledge and discretion A wise man will hear and increase learning, And a man of understanding will attain wise counsel, To understand a proverb and an enigma,The words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,But fools despise wisdom and instruction.
But wait! Look at verses 8-9.
“My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother; for they will be a graceful ornament on your head and chains about your neck.”
We are given seven verses that tell us why the book of Proverbs was written. So why then, does the first proverb seem so easy to figure out? We’ve just read that in order the gain the wisdom contained within, we have to figure out the riddle and yet this proverb is clearly telling us it’s a good idea to listen to your parents.
The meaning seems obvious, so we must be one of the wise right? Perhaps not. In the New Testament in Mark 12:10-11 Jesus’ disciples ask why He speaks to the people in parables. He tells them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given”
The parables Jesus tells, all have a basic, moral principal behind them that anyone can understand. Jesus tells his followers that the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven are for them to know, but every time Jesus uses a parable, the disciples have to ask Him what it means. They knew there was more to the story, they just didn’t know what it was.
The same is true for the book of Proverbs. There are meanings that are skin deep and there are meanings that go down to the very marrow of the bone. It is in this later place that you will unlock the wisdom in the proverb.
How do you solve these riddles? Well, you can start where the disciples started. Ask God to help you see what has been hidden in the Word.
Read with a concordance by your side. Hebrew words have deeper meaning than English words. Look up some of them you’re sure you have an understanding of. You may be surprised at what you find.
For example, if we take verses 8-9 above and look up the words ‘graceful’ and ‘ornament’ we’ll find the following Hebrew definitions.
Graceful: To find favor in the eyes of someone, to be acceptable to him.
Ornament: To bend or curve a wreath or garland. This word comes from another, root word which means ‘To be joined or to join one’s self to.”
When first reading the second part of our proverb ‘for they will be a graceful ornament on your head and chains about your neck.” The first thing you might think about is jewelry that looks nice on you. You might interpret the proverb as saying something like ‘Listening to the instruction of your parents is attractive to people. They won’t scowl at you, instead, they’ll smile and be happy.’
While that is true, the Hebrew definitions of ‘graceful’ and ‘ornament’ show us there is much more to this verse than meets the eye. Hearing the instruction of your father and being sure not to forsake the law of your mother will be a graceful ornament to your head.
This is saying that the ornament you are decorated with, will cause people to find favor with you and it will be a pleasure for them to be around you. But the meaning of the word ‘ornament’ appears to be a verb. It is the act of bending or curving a wreath or garland. By hearing the instruction of your father and remembering the law of your mother you are creating this ornament.
It isn't something that is given to you to wear, it is something you build into your life, something you choose. When you’re living with your parents as a child and a young adult you listen and obey or you act out and rebel. After you leave their house to start your life as an adult, you have the choice to continue following the advice your parents gave you as a kid, or you can forgo what they've told you and make your own way in the world. It is your choice, but one will leave you with a graceful ornament and one will not.
There is another thing to learn from this passage. If we remember that God is our Father, we can apply these verses to the instructions He gives us as well. Choosing to build the ornament created by listening to God, is a jewel to surpass all others.
Take some time every day to unlock the mysteries of God’s kingdom that He has given to us in His Word. It will be well worth the time and effort.