The book of Proverbs, most of which is also attributed to King Solomon, is referred to as Wisdom Literature in the Old Testament. These books center around wise sayings and advice on how to live one’s life. In Proverbs, the advice often takes the form of a couplet called in Hebrew a mashal, meaning a comparison. For example, the acts of a wise man can be contrasted with the deeds of a fool. Listeners are encouraged to learn from these comparisons and to choose the wise way of living.
Here, Solomon reflects on the value of wisdom. As we remember, wisdom was the request Solomon made of God, and a “wise” request it was. He wanted to be gifted with intelligence and common sense. He wanted to view the ordinary decisions of life through God’s perspective. For that reason, he would long be remembered as a wise king and judge.
In this passage, the Bible notes that a life of wisdom has distinct advantages. It is “better than folly” (v. 13). Solomon compared foolishness to walking in the dark—being unable to discern what might trip you or get in your way. Wisdom is able to see ahead and consider the consequences.
But the passage then takes a pessimistic turn. If wisdom is truly the purpose of life—to gain it and to use it—then why do both fools and wise men perish? Both meet the same fate. “Like the fool, the wise too must die!” (v. 16).
Is wisdom bad? No. Wise choices provide a better life on this earth. But even wisdom in and of itself should not be the end goal of our lives. Solomon reminded us that both the wise and the fool will one day be forgotten. Wisdom alone does not promise eternal reward or satisfaction.