As we approach the book of Proverbs, we need to understand the nature of the book. The first thing that we must know is that this is a book of proverbs that were primarily written by King Solomon. Solomon was the son of David, and succeeded David to the throne (1 Kings 1:39). 1 Kings 4:32 tells us that he wrote and collected more than 3,000 proverbs. The Holy Spirit has not preserved all the proverbs that Solomon ever wrote, for there are only about 800 verses in the book of Proverbs. So these are selected proverbs. Chapters 1-24 are a collection of proverbs that was probably collected during the time of Solomon. Chapters 25-29 were collected and published under King Hezekiah. Chapters 30 and 31 contain proverbs written by Agur and Lemuel respectively, and may have been collected by Solomon. Some have even speculated that “Lemuel” is another name for Solomon. But in any case, Solomon played a prominent role in writing and collecting these proverbs.
Now, Solomon was a good king who walked after the LORD…for most of his life. God prospered Solomon and the kingdom of Israel. The LORD appeared to Solomon and asked him what He should give to him (1 Kings 3:5). Solomon replied, “You have shown great lovingkindness to Your servant David my father, according as he walked before You in truth and righteousness and uprightness of heart toward You; and You have reserved for him this great lovingkindness, that You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. Now, O LORD my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. Your servant is in the midst of Your people which You have chosen, a great people who are too many to be numbered or counted. So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” (1 Kings 3:6-9).
As a young man, Solomon knew that many challenges awaited him during his reign. He had seen the struggles that David had as he ruled the kingdom. So he does not ask God for money or for land or for victory over his enemies. He asked God for the wisdom to rule God’s chosen people. And God replied that He was pleased with this. He then said, “I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you” (1 Kings 3:12). God told him also, “If you walk in My ways, keeping My statutes and commandments, as your father David walked, then I will prolong your days” (1 Kings 3:14).
But Solomon did not always walk with the LORD. Solomon married many foreign women, totaling 700 wives and 300 concubines, “and his wives turned his heart away” (1 Kings 10:3). That is the reason that God commanded the kings of Israel not to marry foreign wives (Deut 17:17). “For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians and after Milcom the detestable idol of the Ammonites. Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not follow the LORD fully, as David his father had done” (1 Kings 11:4-6). Tragic. The wisest man. The wisest king. And he became a fool (in his own words in the Proverbs) and followed after other gods.
So can we still trust the Proverbs if they were written by a man whose heart was turned away from God? This is a fair question. It does seem that Solomon returned to the LORD toward the end of his life. We do not know how long Solomon was turned away from the LORD, but it was enough that God “was angry with Solomon because his heart was turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not observe what the LORD had commanded” (1 Kings 11:9-10). Yet we find in Ecclesiastes that Solomon looks back on his life and concludes that all is vanity (Ecc 1:1) and all that matters is to “fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Ecc 12:13-14).
I think we can be encouraged by Solomon. God used him to give us three wisdom books in the Bible. He greatly blessed him with vast wisdom. But yet even this wise man gave into temptation. And we do too. Maybe not to the degree that Solomon did. Maybe we are not punished as severely as God punished Solomon. But even that wise king was just a man who struggled to live in a wise way. As we study these Proverbs, it is important to not just assent to their truth. It is important to live them. Use them to guide your walk, and ask the Lord to strengthen you as you do. These proverbs, if used in a wise way, will help us to walk in a manner worthy of our Lord to please Him in all respects (cf. Col 1:9-14).