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.” [ref]Toy, Crawford Howell. A critical and exegetical commentary on the Book of Proverbs (Kindle Locations 9157-9160). Kindle Edition.[/ref] 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. [ref]Making a Heretic[/ref]

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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