Proverbs 1:2-7 nicely sets forth the purpose of the entire book. Here is instruction intended for the young, but also for senior citizens (vv. 4-5), teaching the art of "steersmanship" (1:5; NRSV, "skill"), that is, providing instruction on how to navigate the ship of life through the world with its delights and dangers. The Greek Old Testament uses the word kybernesis here, from which we get the English "cybernetics," meaning "control, steer." Gerhard von Rad has wisely written:
These maxims, saturated as they are by experience, resemble buoys set out on the sea by which one can find one's position. Herder says very shrewdly that one has not to learn "from" such maxims, but "with their help."…And people had also to learn how to manage money, and their own bodies and--what was hardest of all--their tongue, which had no less than life and death in its power (Prov. XVIII.21). (Old Testament Theology, vol. 1, [New York: Harper & Brothers, 1962] 421, 434)
The popular painting of a young boy standing at the wheel of a ship, piloting it through stormy weather, with the figure of Jesus in the background, unseen by the lad, is a good illustration of Proverbs as a manual for "steersmanship" under the hidden but steady guidance of God.
2 For learning about wisdom and instruction,
for understanding words of insight,
3 for gaining instruction in wise dealing,
righteousness, justice, and equity;
4 to teach shrewdness to the simple,
knowledge and prudence to the young
5 let the wise also hear and gain in learning,
and the discerning acquire skill,
6 to understand a proverb and a figure,
the words of the wise and their riddles.
7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
10 February 2011