Our daily Bible reading this year is from the book of Proverbs. We are hoping you are all keeping up with the reading. And, if you are, what are you getting out of it? Do you just read it in the 3-4 minutes it takes to read it daily so you can say “I’ve done the reading?” OR are you trying to learn from it and grow from it? I mean, isn’t that the purpose of ALL Bible study? We aren’t just reading to say we’ve read, we’re trying to learn and grow and apply and change.
So it might be helpful to understand more about the book so for the remainder of the year it might be more meaningful and help us all to grow in wisdom.
Proverbs (along with Job and Ecclesiastes) is considered Wisdom Literature. Some would include Psalms, Isaiah and Song of Solomon and maybe 1 or two other books but strictly speaking, it is these 3. Wisdom literature teaches that man must be concerned with the common, everyday relationships between man and God, man and man, and man and his environment.
In the book of Proverbs, we are given access to a perspective similar to that of a brilliant teacher, offering her insights on a wide range of subjects from relationships to wealth to spirituality. Proverbs shows us that there is an aspect of God, His wisdom, that can guide us through our lives. Proverbs personifies this wisdom as "lady wisdom" and attempts to show us that anyone can access this wisdom and make an incredible life for themselves out of the gifts that it freely offers, so long as they are careful to respect the source of this wisdom—God.
There are two types of Hebrew wisdom literature: Skeptical and Practical. The books of Ecclesiastes and Job deal with skeptical wisdom. Skeptical wisdom is concerned with the question, "Why are things going so bad when I have been so good and have lived according to the proverbs of the righteous men?"
The book of Proverbs deals with practical wisdom. Practical wisdom deals with common sense, i.e., the common observations of day to day life. In the book of Proverbs, Solomon immersed himself in practical instructions as to how to cope with life, its problems and events.
Much of the Wisdom literature is written in Hebrew poetry. Therefore, it is important that one understand a primary characteristic of Hebrew poetry – parallelism. Parallelism is defined as two or more lines of Hebrew poetry that are in some way related to each other. Furthermore, parallelism is divided into two parts – internal and external. Internal parallelism has to do with the smallest unit, usually two lines. External parallelism has to do with a large block of material, four or more lines.
There are six types of Internal Parallelism: for times sake, let’s just look at 3 of them:
1) Synonymous – defined as two lines which say the same thing but in different words. Example from Ps. 24:1 – The first line states a truth an the second line clarifies the truth of the first line. "The earth" and "the world" are in parallel, and "th fulness" and "those who dwell" are in parallel and refer to the same thing, that is, "the people." We have another example in our reading for this coming week in Prov. 15:23 – teaching the same truth but worded differently.
2) Antithetic – defined as poetry in which the second line teaches the same truth as the first line by making a contrast. Our reading this past week is full of antithetic proverbs. Example Prov. 15:1 – "a soft word" is contracted with a hard, or "harsh word." The truth taught is the same but in contrast. An example of a practical proverb – more on that in a minute. Another contrast is found in 15:5; same with 15:9
6) Inverted – normally consists of four lines, but sometimes two lines, arranged in an "a-b-b-a" arrangement. A two line Example is found in Isa. 11:13b – Ephraim…Judah; Judah…Ephraim. Other examples – Prov. 23:15-16 (line two is in parallel with line three, and line one is in parallel with line four).
The book of Proverbs takes its name from the opening words of the text, "The Proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel" (Prov. 1:1). Many of the early Christians referred to this book as Sophia (Wisdom).
TYPES OF PROVERBS The word "proverb" (Heb. mashal) means "to be like, a comparison; noting likeness in things unlike." A mashal is the most common type of proverb, being a brief saying of keen discernment making a point on practical experience. A proverb can also be Historical, Metaphorical, Riddle, Allegorical, or Didactical. For times sake, we’ll just consider two of the 5 – Metaphorical and Didactical.
Metaphorical – These proverbs use a figure of speech in which a name, action, or descriptive term characteristic of one object from nature or life is applied to another to suggest a likeness between them. Example Hosea 4:9. Hosea reveals that the priests and people will stand alike in the judgment of God. Example Ezekiel 16:44. Ezekiel compares the apostate Jews with the Canaanites. Jerusalem had so adopted the Canaanite ways that she had become like a daughter imitating her mother, the Canaanite. Other examples dealing with humanity (Proverbs 19:13; 27:15-16).
Metaphorical proverbs also have to do with the area of nature. Example Proverbs 1:17. As clear as the warning is to the birds, it is vain, for they still fly into the net and are entrapped. The lesson is that the great net of God's judgment is spread out, open to the eyes of all, yet the wicked still rush into it. Other examples (Prov. 17:12; 6:6).
Didactical – These proverbs deal with all phases of human life and behavior, as well as man's relation to God. The first nine chapters of Proverbs consist of Didactical proverbs. Object of Proverbs The book of Proverbs is a source book of instructional materials for teaching the youth, the mature person, and every individual during private study. Its object is to cultivate personal morality and practical wisdom; to regulate life in all its conditions in order to achieve the good life (Proverbs 1:2-5). Proverbs is partly moral and partly intellectual. It seeks to instruct the young in the way of wisdom, to edify those who have already made progress, and to discipline all to receive and assimilate the highest teachings. In other words, Proverbs is concerned with the practical religion necessary to deal with the conduct of life. It teaches duty to God, to oneself and to neighbors, as well as domestic duties and civil and political responsibilities.
Characteristics and Teachings of Proverbs (1) Universalism – Proverbs is concerned with man in general and not just the nation of Israel. In fact, the name "Israel" is not mentioned at all in Proverbs. The Lord God is viewed as Creator, and as such, the Father of all nations. Therefore, the behavior standards set forth in Proverbs reflect the laws of this Creator, and are to be the standards for every culture. Attention to all matters in everyday life is of little consequence if one does not fear God (Prov. 1:7).
(2) Simplicity – There are three basic classes of men listed in the book:
a. The wise or righteous (Prov. 10:1-3). These individuals are ones whose life-styles are characterized by high ethical qualities and attitudes of fear, or reverence, toward God.
b. The simple (Prov. 9:4). These individuals are ones who are misled by their simple-mindedness or foolishness. There is great hope for such individuals, for they may be reclaimed through discipline (Prov. 19:25; 21:11).
c. The fool or wicked. The fool is the man who, whether from weakness or character, or from stubbornness, lacks the perception necessary to guide him in the paths of righteousness. He is one who hates knowledge (Prov. 1:22), delights not in understanding (Prov. 18:2), and delights in mischief (Prov. 10:23). A fool or wicked person has no desire to do right in the sight of God. He is distinguished from the simple by the fact that he is self-sufficient in spiritual and intellectual matters.
(3) Practical – Proverbs is not spiritual centered. Its main concern is how to become wise and not be foolish. Read Prov. 14:4-8. Tony just preached on these verses a few weeks ago.
To be wise, one must develop positive attitudes: patience, generosity, modesty, trustworthiness, benevolence to the poor, etc. To be wise, one must also avoid certain pitfalls such as laziness (Prov. 24:30-34), drunkenness (Prov. 23:29-35), and loose women (Prov. 5:1-6). Proverbs teaches lessons in applied religion taken from the world of human affairs as well as the world of nature. Wisdom is viewed as a personified agent of God (Prov. 3:19-20; 8:22-31).
(4) Strict view of retribution – The principle that men are rewarded in this life according to their works pervades the entire book. There is immediate material success as the reward for a good life and failure for the wicked life. Health, wealth, honor and long life are to be seen as visible evidence of divine approval (Prov. 22:4-5). He who is wise will conduct himself in such a way that he will live a long, happy and prosperous life. The good man receives his rewards of happiness, prosperity and long life here on earth; the wicked man is punished by a premature or violent death. The wise and the foolish, their different aims and situations in life, are contrasted with great frequency.
Let me ask you a question in conclusion: do you pray for wisdom on a regular basis? You should. We all should. Why?
"Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her." - Proverbs 3:15
Don't turn your back on wisdom, for she will protect you. Love her, and she will guard you." - Proverbs 4:6
Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people." - Luke 2:52
When it comes to wisdom, no one arrives. There is always more wisdom, more to learn. Remain teachable and be open to learn new things and you will be wise. Jesus, the wisdom of God, was not beyond growing in wisdom. If Jesus grew in wisdom, surely we too should continue to mature in wisdom.