A Word or Two about Proverbs

This collection, provided for us by the Lord under the title we have given to it, is extraordinary. Thirty-one chapters of solid help for living in ways to please God can be found nowhere else in such concise form. Yet, it has been neglected by theologians and laymen alike. So, it is probably wise (a word that characterizes the book) now and then to say a word or two about it.

First, not all of it is the same. The first nine chapters are more-or-less essays (of varying lengths) on one subject or another. These must be exegeted contextually as must other Scripture. There is nothing difficult or esoteric (e.g., apocalyptic style or form) about them. Then, we have the rest of the book which, apart from the essay on the remarkable woman (Chapter 31), consists of couplets on various subjects. These are not arranged topically. Now and them, you may find a series of several couplets which do address the same subject, but this is the exception, not the rule. The section on the neglected property of the lazy man (24:30-37) is a powerful vignette that, together with the provisions of the one who does care (24:30-34), give us much to think about. But such potions are rare.

One of the interesting facts about the bulk of the book is that the vast majority (in most cases, entire chapters) of couplets are FYI. That is to say, they are laid out as observations about God, people, and life in general. Apart from one unusual series of “don’ts” they provide no explicit direction or admonition. The reader is left with the task of figuring out what the Proverb is about, and how that might help him to live in ways that please God. Early on, two themes emerge: obedience to parents (and teachers), and obtaining the wisdom which leads to the fear of God. This material, as I said, may be found in Chapters 1-9. In those chapters are drama, dialog, and strong exhortation about how to live life on God’s pathway.

The Book has much to say about the “fool.” Three words in the Hebrew are translated by that one English word. This is unfortunate—especially if you want to know whether or not you fall into such a category! Because of this, in my translation of the Book (found in The Christian Counselor’s New Testament and Proverbs), I have translated them as, Stupid Fool, Stubborn Fool, and Shameful Fool. The book addresses the naïve as well.

Proverbs are portable pictures. You can get hold of a truth through the imagery usually found in a proverb and, then, carry such principles with you by remembering the picture. Such truth, laid out as it is, largely in FYI form, may have multiple applications. You are given neither the interpretation nor the application of an FYI proverb. And that constitutes the challenge that God set before the reader. It is often better to ponder a proverb for a day and have something to take away that is invaluable, than to “read” a complete chapter that you don’t understand or know how to gain wisdom from.

So, my friend, I leave the book, reluctantly, knowing in this short word I have not even scratched the surface of what might be said, yet, with the hope that this little glimpse of the Book will, nevertheless, profit some of you.


Comments are closed.