This verse offers the fourth purpose for the Book of Proverbs — in two sections. First, “prudence to the simple.”
Virtually the same English word as “prudent” in verse 3, it’s a different word in Hebrew. While our English word has a positive connotation, the Hebrew term had a wider and more interesting meaning.
Frequently translated “crafty” or “shrewd,” it had both good and bad connotations. Here it’s positive — but in Genesis 3:1 it wasn’t (the serpent was “more crafty!”).
The idea doesn’t seem to be one’s moral character, but their ability to grasp information – which might be used appropriately or not. My Helping Up Mission translation — “street smarts.”
One of the purposes of Proverbs is to make us “street smart!”
I think this is what Jesus meant by, “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16) and “…the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of light” (Luke 16:8).
The second part of this purpose in Proverbs is “knowledge and discretion to the young.”
“Knowledge” focuses on true facts and the reality of situations – seeing things as they really are. “Discretion” focuses on using this “knowledge” to form a good plan of action.
All this prudence, knowledge and discretion is offered “to the simple…to the young.” The surprising first two characters in Proverbs — it does make sense.
“The simple” is the noun form of the verb “to entice” (1:10) — thus those easily enticed or lured into something. Not stupid, their lack of life experiences doesn’t give them a good frame of reference for appropriate choices. The same would be true about “the young.”
Proverbs was written to make a difference in everyone’s life — and from the jump it was focused on those who need it most!