Rightly Understanding the Book of Proverbs

Grace Church is getting ready to go through a series in Proverbs. Here’s a few thoughts about reading and applying the book of Proverbs…

The Rebellious and Horny Proverbist:
Solomon was Israel’s pop-icon and international king who was notorious for his wisdom and wealth (1 Kings 10:23), as well as his wives (700 wives and 300 concubines – 1 Kings 11:3) and his rebellion against God. Part of Solomon’s disobedience was his alliance and love for “Egypt” (Deut. 17:16). Ancient Egypt was known for their power, wealth, religion, and for their proverbs. 1 Kings 4:32 tells us that Solomon “spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five.” Adopting a proverbial style of communicating truth from Egypt was one thing, but unfortunately, Solomon’s love and mimicking of Ancient Egypt Proverbsdid not stop there. He married their women (1 Kings 3:1), received gifts from their blood-bath conquests of power (1 Kings 9:15-16); worshipped their gods (1 Kings 11:1-4), and even enslaved people, like Egypt did (1 Kings 4:6;5:13; 9:15). Needless to say, though he began well, Solomon was not a good guy. However, he was granted wisdom and favor early on, and “Solomonic Proverbs” were passed on throughout the years, kept, and eventually written down.

The Writer of Proverbs:
Undoubtedly, much of the book of Proverbs are “Solomonic” but he is not the author of the book. Proverbs is a collection of sayings and writings (specially from parents/fathers to children/sons) from a number of writers – King Hezekiah, Agur, and Lemuel (a non-Israelite). As Tremper Longman puts it, “…the book of Proverbs is actually a collection or anthology that has the following form: Preamble (1:1-7), Extended Discourse on Wisdom (1:8-9:18), Solomonic Proverbs (10:1-22:16; 25:!-29:27), Sayings of the Wise (22:17-24:34), Sayings of Agur (30:1-33), Sayings of Lemuel (31:1-9), and the Poem of the Virtuous Woman (31:10-31).

Practical Shalom:
So Proverbs is a collection of writings but for what purpose? One distinction to make is that Proverbs not at all the same as the Law or the Prophets. The difference is one of emphasis rather than basic orientation.

The Law and the Prophets lay their stress on the covenant people as a whole, called to show the world what shalom (restored humanity) can be; Proverbs focuses on what shalom (restoration) should look like in day-to-day behavior and in personal character.

Proverbial Wisdom for Everyday Stuff:
A key term in Proverbs is of course “wisdom.” The word (Hb. khokmah) can have the nuance of “skill” (as it does in Ex. 28:3), particularly the skill of choosing what is right and truly beneficial. In the covenantal framework of Proverbs, it denotes skill in the art of godly or shalom living. As Eugene Peterson described it, “Wisdom is the art of living skillfully in whatever actual conditions we find ourselves…Wisdom has to do with becoming skillful in honoring our parents and raising our children, handling our money and conducting our sexual lives, going to work and exercising leadership, using words well and treating friends kindly, eating and drinking healthily, cultivating emotions within ourselves and attitudes toward others that make for peace.”

Our everyday life matters greatly and God, the author and giver of everyday life, has much to say about it. There is a right way to live and living rightly is a skill that only the Gospel can grant.

Proverbs are general principles – not universal rules or promises - covering a wide array of topics from daily life: diligence and laziness (6:6–11); friendship (3:27–28; 18:24); speech (10:19–21); marriage (18:22; 19:14); child rearing (22:6); domestic peace (15:17; 17:1); work (11:1); getting along and good manners (23:1–2; 25:16–17; 26:17–19; 27:14); eternity (14:32; 23:17–18); and much more.

Here are some resources to help your personal study the book of Proverbs: