The Spearsville Road Church of Christ will begin studying the Book of Proverbs for our Spring-Summer quarter. Please come and join us on Sundays at 10:00 am., and study this extraordinary book full of wisdom.
Here is an excerpt of our study guide:
1. What Are the Proverbs?
OT Category: Wisdom Literature
The book of Proverbs is included in the “wisdom literature” or poetry of the OT, along with Job, Psalms, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. These books present an array of lessons on everyday life: from worship to work, from speech to suffering, from family to foolishness.
“Truth, beauty, and goodness are summed up in the all-important term wisdom, and all forms of evil (personal or national) are pictured as folly or disobedience to divine law” (Herman O. Wilson, Studies in Proverbs, p. 8).
“The wisdom which is honored throughout the book of Proverbs is a prudential and practical wisdom. It is equated with such terms as understanding, knowledge, instruction, truth, good counsel, discretion, righteousness, and the fear of Jehovah. Thus the ethical and moral sense of the term is emphasized far more than the intellectual or rational idea of wisdom. To the Hebrews it meant a life directed by God’s unchanging will and in harmony with his own character …
Even from a “common sense” standpoint, there are lessons to be learned by observing life. Some choices inevitably lead to trouble, such as overindulgence in alcohol or committing adultery. There is an observable connection between the action and the outcome. Ultimately, however, the principles that come from God steer us in the direction of health and well-being. The world rarely learns the lessons of history and often gives the wrong advice. We must go to God for His instruction in how to speak, act, socialize, prosper, handle the things of this world and serve Him.
“God is the source of all true wisdom, and God is also the object. Thus to know the statues or laws of God, and to bring one’s life into harmony with his will, was considered not only perfect wisdom but the whole duty of man. Religion, knowledge, right conduct – all these and more were summed up in the general term wisdom and, therefore, bore upon all the day-to-day problems and relationships of men” (ibid, p 13).
The Structure of the Book
In short, there isn’t much structure in Proverbs. There are broad categories of authorship: Solomon (10:1; 25:1), Agur (30:1), Lemuel (31:1). Chapters 1-9 are in the form of personified wisdom pleading with men to seek it and implement wisdom in their lives. Otherwise, the proverbs are arranged rather randomly. This study will examine the proverbs primarily by topic.
The Form of a Proverb
The proverbs are often couplets, a pithy saying of two lines where the second usually repeats, reinforces or amplifies the first:
- “Do not love sleep, lest you come to poverty; Open your eyes, and you will be satisfied with bread” (20:13).
- “Diverse weights are an abomination to the Lord, And a false balance is not good” (20:23).
Sometimes the second line of the couplet states the opposite of the first line:
- “The glory of young men is their strength, And the splendor of old men is their gray head” (20:29).
- “The poor man uses entreaties, But the rich answers roughly” (18:23).
Proverbs may also take the form of a short essay, such as the description of the man enticed into adultery (6:20-35) or a godly wife (31:10ff).
The General Use of Proverbs
The use of maxims, adages and/or proverbs is common to all cultures and times. They help express certain truths in a terse and easy-to-remember format:
Other examples in Israelite history (Look at the context and tell what they mean):
- “Is Saul also among the prophets?” – 1 Sam 10:12.
- “Wickedness proceeds from the wicked” – 1 Sam 24:13. (cf. Mt 7:17)
- “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house” – 2 Sam 5:8.
- “They shall surely ask counsel at Abel” – 2 Sam 20:18.
- “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” – Ezk 18:2.
Jesus uses a parabolic form quite often:
- “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine” – Mt 7:6.
- “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” – Mk 2:27.
- “Every city or house divided against itself will not stand” – Mt 12:25 (in use today).
Exercise: Can you think of three “modern proverbs”? List them and tell their meaning. Here’s a couple to get started:
You can’t judge a book by its cover. Meaning:
Fool me once; shame on you. Fool me twice; shame on me. Meaning:
Overview of Proverbs: “Although its subject matter is far-reaching, this book is unified by one oft-repeated aim: to reprove the evil in men’s lives and to encourage each reader to seek wisdom, truth, and righteousness” (Wilson, p. 7).
“The overriding purpose of the book and the individual passages is to teach what is right and pleasing to God, to encourage the love of wisdom or true understanding, to warn against the sins of pride and the evils of carnality, and to contrast holiness and wickedness, wisdom and folly” (ibid, p 9).