The audience of Proverbs is everyone, especially the impressionable (“the simple”) and the young, but also the spiritually mature (vv. 2–6). The purpose of the book is to impart wisdom, and its various descriptions of wisdom reveal its nuances: it is intellectual (“instruction,” “knowledge”), penetrating (“riddles”), applied (“discretion,” “guidance”), and ethical (“righteousness”) (vv. 2–6). The book aims to enhance its hearers’ willingness to increase in wisdom, regardless of maturity level: “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser” (9:9). The all-important motto of Proverbs is “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (1:7). The fear of the Lord, foundational to all that Proverbs teaches, encompasses reverence toward God and submission to his will; therefore, the starting point and controlling principle for spiritual growth is worship and humility before our Creator. The author contrasts the wise, who fear and obey the Lord, with “fools,” who “despise wisdom and instruction” (v. 7). This distinction runs through the book, as wisdom and its close companion, godliness, clash often with folly and its good friends, iniquity and ridicule.
Theology for Life—The fear of the Lord is the motto not only for Proverbs but also for all of the OT wisdom literature. God’s people need the worshipful submission to God that it encapsulates now more than ever.