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The Bible - Book by Book - Proverbs

“Work smarter, not harder.” “Don’t let you mouth write a check that your backside can’t cash.” These are some of the proverbs that I heard from my father while growing up. It was his way of giving me life advice in short statements that were simple to remember. This is the nature of all proverbs: reflections on life crystallized in a brief, memorable sentence.[1] Proverbial statements are meant to impart wisdom to the hearer or reader. And what is wisdom? Wisdom is more than knowledge – even though it certainly includes knowledge – it is applied knowledge, skill, and expertise.[2] It is the ability to apply God’s Word to every area of one’s life. Wisdom and the book of Proverbs is prefaced by this statement: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 1:7).

The book of Proverbs can be described as a collection of collections. It is the collection of the works of “the wise” (22:17; 24:23), Agur (30:1), King Lemuel (31:1), and Solomon (1:1; 10:1; 25:1). The entire collection is seen as a tribute to or from Solomon, since he is the epitome of a wisdom seeker in the Hebrew Scriptures. Upon reading Proverbs, the reader will notice that there is a lack of explicit “God-talk” (think of the book of Esther), yet the entire collection should be read considering the entire canon of Scripture wherein all wisdom is from God and in light of Proverbs 1:7 as was previously stated. The first nine chapters of the text set the tone for what follows. Just as my father worked diligently to impart wisdom to my brother and I, so does Proverbs begin with the scene of a father imparting wisdom to his son. The father presents the son with two choices in this life: Lady Wisdom or Dame Folly. Each lady has much to offer, but only one’s offer leads to life. The rest of the proverbs are to be read with these choices in mind.

It is wise (no cliché) to note that the proverbs are not exhaustive, nor are they absolute promises to the reader. Author Ernest Lucas has written that “life is too complex for a brief sentence to sum up all the truth about a given situation. Those who are wise are aware of that and will use proverbs with due discretion.”[3] To examine that proverbs are not promises, one can consider the often misused Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” We unfortunately know that this is not an absolute promise for we can name loved ones that were raised in the fear and admonish of the Lord and have sadly turned their backs to the faith. Yet hopefully, we have seen this to be a general truth: that children who are raised in the Lord, discipled well, and catechized remain a part of God’s covenant people and raise their children the same. This is the way in which we should see Proverbs, as observations and snapshots of life that provide instruction, warning, and hope.

The book of Proverbs is the collection of life’s snapshots presented to God’s covenant people. It is to guide the general direction of our lives as well as our individual choices. It is also a collection that is meant to be read Christologically. All Scripture speaks of Christ (Luke 24:27), and Proverbs speaks of Him no less. Jesus Christ is wisdom personified. Not only does wisdom point us to Christ, but in Him wisdom is embodied. We look to Him to view what following Lady Wisdom and applying God’s Word in this life looks like. Jesus is the better King Solomon, who not only seeks wisdom (Luke 2:52), but is wisdom.

[1] Lucas, E. C. Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Psalms & Wisdom Literature

[2] Waltke, B. K. An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach

[3] (Lucaas, 2003)

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