This brings us to the book of Proverbs. Here we find abook of wisdom for those who want to find “the good life;” a life worth living.
Well first of all let’s look at the layout of the book. The first nine chapters serve as a kind of preface to the book seeking to convince one to read the book. Then chapters 10-31 contain the collection of wise sayings that we call “proverbs.”
In short, Proverbs is a book of wisdom – containing much of what the Bible teaches about how to live our everyday lives.
How to Read Proverbs
To be quite honest, Proverbs can be confusing. The book is filled with short, pithy statements – small, bite-sized bits of truth that can easily be misunderstood and misused. These statements can be confusing and even dangerous. With this in mind here are some basic principles to help one study this wonderful book.
1) Common sense is required.
For example, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is a secular proverb stating that a general rule for health is to eat good food. But what if you don’t eat an apple a day and don’t see bad effects? Does that mean the proverb is false? No, it is generally true and speaks of a bigger principle. Same is true about opening the Bible – you need to keep your common sense.
2) Individual proverbs are always ultimately true.
Proverbs will not always appear to be immediately true (think of above example). For instance, Proverbs 16:7 says, “When a man’s ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” Think about what we know about the life of Jesus. He had many enemies who were not at peace with Him, but ultimately God will cause all of His enemies to be a peace with Him when He makes ever knee bow before Him and confess that He is Lord.
3) Individual proverbs are normally true now.
Take the above examples – these teach truths that are normally true even now in this life. In thinking of Proverbs 16:7, listed above, if one seeks to honor God by being kind, generous, loving, forgiving, patient, humble, gentle, etc… then often one will find himself at peace with those around him.
4) Individual proverbs employ poetic imagery.
Proverbs 16:17 says, “The highway of the upright turns aside from evil; whoever guards his way preserves his life.” Does this mean that the righteous people have built a highway to travel on so that they don’t have to use the same road as the unrighteous? Of course not. It refers to how the righteous live their lives.
5) Individual proverbs are partial in themselves.
Individual proverbs are only partial. They don’t exhaust all that is involved in a subject. For example Proverbs 17:8, “A bribe is like a magic stone in the eyes of the one who gives it; wherever he turns he prospers.” So are bribes a good thing? This proverb is merely stating what is often true but not what will honor God by being what is right. Add to this Proverbs 17:23, “The wicked accepts a bribe in secret to pervert the ways of justice.” It is dangerous to merely grab one proverb and think it is telling you all that you need to know on any given subject.
6) Individual proverbs are sometimes obscure.
…because you don’t have an understanding of the cultural background to understand everything that was written three thousand years ago. For example, Proverbs 16:30, “Whoever winks his eyes plans dishonest things; he who purses his lips brings evil to pass.” So is winking bad? Not necessarily. In the author’s day, winking was associated with evil plans. That’s what he was getting at.
7) As a whole, the proverbs are religious.
The book of Proverbs is not simply a book of secular wisdom, like “don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” It is a book about our lives before God. It tells us that “the good life” can be found only in wisdom about God and about ourselves.
Why Read the Book of Proverbs?
To answer this question, simply read chapter one of Proverbs. Here we learn that the book was written to help us; to show us how to live so as to avoid great dangers and to find great blessing. The last two verses of chapter one serve as a great summary:
“For the simple are killed by their turning away,In short the book of Proverbs teaches that to ignore this wisdom is to invite great dangers into your life and to seek this wisdom is to invite great blessings into your life. Proverbs is urging us to choose the way of life now!
and the complacency of fools destroys them;
but whoever listens to me will dwell secure
and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” (Proverbs 1:32-33)
But Proverbs is not the final word on the subject of wisdom. The way of life, true wisdom, is ultimately found in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and for this we need to look at the New Testament.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,Christ is the perfect wisdom of God. In Him we find wisdom, forgiveness, true friendship, true love. The call for us is to repent of choosing our own way and to trust in the perfect life and substitute death of Christ. Jesus Himself said, “I came that they might have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18-24)
The call for everyone of us today is ths: repent of your foolishness and hard-heartedness and for all of the times you have chosen the path of death. And Turn instead to the way of life. Choose what the world calls foolish – the sacrifice of God’s Son on the cross to pay for the sins of all those who would ever repent and believe in Him. He is the way of life; both eternal and now.