Wisdom for the Beginning, the Middle, and the End
November 29, 2023
-Dr. J. Vernon McGee, from the Proverbs Bible Companion
Proverbs are short sentences drawn from long experience.
A proverb is a saying that communicates a specific truth in a pointed and pithy manner. A good proverb is a truth that’s easy to remember, it’s a rule for conduct, a philosophy based on experience.
The book of Proverbs seems like it’s a collection of sayings without any particular order. You read them and think, Finally, I’ve found a verse in the Bible that I can lift out and let stand alone. I can put it in a frame and hang it on the wall.
Sorry, but I don’t believe you can do that even with Proverbs. It’s important to understand the context. The book tells a story of a young man starting out in life, and he gets his first lesson in the first chapter, verse 7: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
After the young man grows a while, he is invited to two different schools. They send out their catalog to him, telling about the advantages of their school. The first is known as the “College of Wisdom.” The other is the “College for Fools.” (By the way, they still advertise today.)
In chapter eight, the young man goes to the College of Wisdom and chapters 10–24 are his curriculum. This instruction is good for all of us. It transcends all dispensations—from the Old Testament, to the New Testament, to the church. Proverbs is a good book for anyone—I wish I could give it out to every young person in the world today. That would be wonderful. I want them to learn about the broad way and the narrow one. The broad way is the wide path at the entrance where the mob hangs out. It’s where you can do what you please and call it the way of liberty.
But notice this broad way gets more narrow as you go along. The way of the lawless is the dark way. “The way of the wicked is like darkness” (Proverbs 4:19). Bright lights adorn the entrance, but down a little farther, the lights go out and people don’t even know what they stumble over. That is the broad way the Lord Jesus described in Matthew 7:13-14. It’s like the big end of a funnel that shrinks until it finally ends in destruction.
In contrast, the narrow way is just that—very narrow at the entrance. The Lord Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way ….” It’s so narrow that it’s limited to one Person: Jesus Christ. No one can come to the Father but through Him. You just can’t find a way more narrow than that. Peter said in Acts 4:12, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Jesus said in John 10:9, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” The entrance is narrow, but after the entrance the way gets wider and wider, leading to an abundant life here and on into the light of heaven itself. My friend, we need to enter into the narrow end of the funnel, and that end is labeled The Lord Jesus Christ.
That is exactly the picture we get from our verses in Proverbs. We are given the option of two ways: the path of the just and the way of the wicked. Our choice will define our beginning, the middle, and the end of our lives. The broad way is described in Proverbs 16:25, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” That’s lesson one.
As an aside, here’s something that will make our study of Proverbs a thrilling experience for you. I believe there is a proverb that is a thumbnail sketch of every character in the Bible, and we’re going to study a few of them. There will be a proverb that fits all your friends and acquaintances, every one of us. As we read through the chapters, every now and then you’ll come to a proverb and it will make you immediately think of Mr. or Ms. So-and-So. The proverb will fit them exactly! It’ll show us just how up to date the Word of God really is, and it will make for an interesting study. I’ll warn you now—you’ll be wise if you keep some of those descriptions to yourself, because not every one will be flattering. But the Bible is like a mirror, and wisdom will determine what you do with what you see.
This excerpt is from the Proverbs Bible Companion. Download yours for free.
Want to start a wise habit? Keep a journal on what you’re learning in Proverbs. Write verses out in your own hand and describe what it means to you. You will be so glad you did this when our study is over. (What you’ll realize is that the study never really will be over—you’ll learn more and more each time you focus on Proverbs.)
Do you do this already? You may have noticed that Proverbs has 31 chapters—perfect to read one every day, corresponding to the day of the month (read Proverbs 16 on the 16th day of the month, etc.). Many Christians have made a lifelong habit of this, consistently, if not always perfectly. Join the ranks of Dr. McGee, Billy Graham, Corrie ten Boom and many, many others in this habit. Begin today!
P.S. You might want to circle or underline your favorite or most meaningful verse every day, and write about it in your study journal.
In your notes or journal, or in conversation with your study group, make it a habit to call out when a proverb is stated here in Proverbs, but repeated or illustrated elsewhere in the Bible. Dr. McGee did this in this piece on “the broad way and the narrow way,” describing how Jesus illustrated this in Matthew 7:13-14. Listen and learn closely, and your list will grow.