Proverbs 23:12

Apply thine heart unto instruction, and thine ears to the words of knowledge.
– Proverbs 23:12

The word for apply means to enter and signifies the deliberate pursuit of instruction and knowledge. The word for instruction means discipline. It is a holistic view of training, including both positive instruction and correction. The word for knowledge means understanding and positively refers to the truth about God. Wisdom teaches we have to lean into the instruction and correction of wisdom in order to acquire wisdom. Wisdom teaches us not to follow our hearts but rather to apply our hearts to seek out the wisdom of God (Proverbs 2:2-6; 5:1-2; 22:17).

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Proverbs 22:20

Have not I written to thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge,
– Proverbs 22:20

The word for excellent things has been subjected to various difficult interpretations. It is variously translated as captain, lord, instrument of musick, great measure, measure, prince, and excellent things in this proverb. The word means a triple, or at least carries the idea of three in its range, which is why some take the word to indicate the number thirty. There are also extra-biblical incentives to take the word to mean thirty. However, trying to make this collection of proverbs fit the scheme of Thirty Sayings seems a stretch.

The word has a musical application, a military application, and an application to measurement—third part. Kidner suggested “chief proverbs.” I liked Toy’s summary conclusion in his commentary on verses 17-21, “Notwithstanding the difficulties of the text, the general thought of the paragraph is plain : the pupil is to devote himself to study, in order that his religious life may be firmly established, and that he may be able to give wise counsel to those who seek advice.” 1 Sadly, Toy failed to follow his own advice and failed to stay in the way of wisdom as he embraced Darwinian evolution and European higher criticism and went on to reject the inspiration of Scripture and the divinity of Jesus Christ. He failed to keep walking with wise men and found a warm reception among those who praised his intellectual liberalism as courage. 2

So what do we do with this word? Verses 17-21 form an introductory paragraph to this collection of proverbs. It’s notable the word is coupled with written, since the transmission of proverbs referred to in the book is primarily oral. We can at least assume excellent things refers to a deliberate and orderly arrangement of the proverbs written. This would be similar in sense to the statement at the conclusion of Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 12:9-14).

The word for counsels means plans and the word for knowledge means understanding, or skill. The purpose of the proverbs in this collection is to enable the learner to make intelligent plans. In other words, wisdom equips the learner to know what to do.

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Notes:

  1. Toy, Crawford Howell. A critical and exegetical commentary on the Book of Proverbs (Kindle Locations 9157-9160). Kindle Edition.
  2. Making a Heretic

Proverbs 22:17

Introduction
The next section in Proverbs begins in Proverbs 22:17 and goes through Proverbs 24:34. This section is titled, “The Words of the Wise,” per 22:17. Solomon did not write these proverbs but rather collected them as wise sayings from his predecessors. The collection has over 70 proverbs that are typically two to three verses in length, and do not follow the two-line structure of the Proverbs of Solomon. The collection features three sections—22:17-21; 22:22-24:22; 24:23-34—touching on various wisdom themes common to Proverbs. The first section is a short introductory section, calling for attention to wisdom and enumerating blessings of wisdom that treasures up wisdom, deepens trust in the Lord, creates stability in the life, and fits the lips to speak sound wisdom to others.

Bow down thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply thine heart unto my knowledge.
– Proverbs 22:17

The word for bow down means to stretch, or bend. The word for hear means to listen with attention. You must think about what you hear and strive for understanding. The word for apply means to set and the word for heart indicates the mind. The word for knowledge means perception, or understanding. Wisdom continually calls us to listen and exercise all our faculties to understand and retain the words of wisdom (Proverbs 2:1-5; 3:1; 5:1-2; 8:33-34; 23:12). Wisdom teaches effort must be expended and wisdom sought for diligently (Proverbs 2:2-6). The reminiscent exhortation to hear gives three imperatives to the prospective learner—bend your ear and listen to “the words of the wise,” and commit your faculties to “my knowledge.” We might also add, expect repetition.

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Proverbs 20:15

There is gold, and a multitude of rubies: but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.
– Proverbs 20:15

The word for multitude means abundance and makes the supply of rubies sound more like that of sedimentary rocks. Both gold and rubies are relatively rare and highly valued. However, lips of knowledge, one who speaks wisdom, is rarer and more valuable. The word for knowledge means skill and discernment. It is one of the words used to describe wisdom in Proverbs. One who has wisdom speaks and spreads knowledge (Proverbs 15:7). Such wisdom is rarer and more valuable than adornments of gold and rubies (Proverbs 3:15; 8:11; 16:16).

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Proverbs 19:27

Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge.
– Proverbs 19:27

The wording presents difficulties in this proverb and commentators take it variously. The word for understanding means discipline, or correction. Without any modifiers, the word is positive in Proverbs. It is the good discipline and correction of wisdom. So it is not the instruction that causes to go astray, but rather the refusal to hear and heed instruction that causes to go astray. It is akin to the admonition in Proverbs 14:7. The words of knowledge lay down a good way to go. One must hear the words of knowledge and walk in them (Proverbs 3:18; 4:4, 13; 15:24).

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Proverbs 19:2

Also, that the soul be without knowledge, it is not good; and he that hasteth with this feet sinneth.
– Proverbs 19:2

This proverb pairs with the previous one. The word for knowledge means perception, or skill. The word is used in Proverbs to speak of the knowledge of God, and therefore the knowledge of truth. The instruction of wisdom is designed to give “knowledge” (Proverbs 1:4). The “beginning of knowledge” is the “fear of the Lord” (Proverbs 1:7). By contrast, fools “hate knowledge” and the “fear of the Lord” (Proverbs 1:22, 29). To be without knowledge is to be without success, i.e., not good. His schemes and plans go astray, as expanded in the second phrase of the proverb. The word for sinneth means to miss the way, or go wrong. That he hasteth means that he hurries, or presses forward. The proverb expands on the fool of the previous proverb. He hurries to get rich or work his scheme, but he does so without knowledge and contrary to it (Proverbs 1:16; 28:22). Ultimately, he fails (Proverbs 1:16-19).

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Proverbs 18:15

The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge; and the ear of the wise seeketh knowledge.
– Proverbs 18:15

The word for knowledge means understanding, or learning. Getting and seeking knowledge means it can be increased. Our understanding and learning can, and should, grow. The proverb’s punch is in the seeming paradox. The prudent and the wise are seeking knowledge. The modern utilitarian mind wonders why they would do that if they are already wise and prudent. The word for prudent has to do with separating, or making distinctions. The word for wise means shrewd, skillful, or crafty. The first means having discernment—the ability to sort out the things learned. The second means being able to figure things out and make plans. They are continually looking and listening to acquire learning (Proverbs 1:5; 9:9; 15:14). Fools are only interested in what they think they need to know (Proverbs 14:6; 18:2; 26:12).

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Proverbs 17:27

He that hath knowledge spareth his words: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit.
– Proverbs 17:27

The word for spareth means restrain, as you would expect. The proverb commends careful speech. The sparing of words is not an effort to appear to have knowledge, or to acquire it. The word for knowledge means discernment and skill. Knowledge controls the tongue, rather than spewing out what comes to mind (Proverbs 15:28). The person without control of the tongue invites destruction (Proverbs 13:3). Control of the tongue can keep us from damaging relationships and even sin (Proverbs 11:12-13; 10:19). The second phrase expands the control to the temper (Proverbs 16:32). Wisdom is seen in appeasing and dampening strife, but folly excites it, and often through the tongue (Proverbs 14:29; 15:18; 19:11).

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Proverbs 15:14

The heart of him that hath understanding seeketh knowledge: but the mouth of fools feedeth on foolishness.
– Proverbs 15:14

The word for seeketh means to search out and indicates a deliberate search. The word for knowledge means cunning, perception, and discernment. Proverbs presents wisdom as accessible to all (Proverbs 8:1-11; 9:1-6), but acquired only by those who seek for it (Proverbs 2:1-6). One of the marks of wisdom is to continue to seek for wisdom (Proverbs 1:5; 9:9). The contrast speaks of feeding on foolishness rather than seeking wisdom. The word for feedeth means to pasture, or graze. The word for fools is the most common word in Proverbs for fools. The word means stupid and obstinate. The usage in Proverbs shows the word describes one who chooses the way of folly and not one who is mentally impaired. The fool gobbles up foolishness and spews it out freely (Proverbs 15:2). The fool has no heart or patience for acquiring wisdom (Proverbs 17:6, 24). He prefers his easy foolishness so much he returns to it like a dog to its own vomit (Proverbs 26:11).

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