Overview: Proverbs

The book of Proverbs. The word proverb
typically refers to a short clever saying that offers some kind of wisdom
and this book has a lot of those. But they’re almost all in the center section
of the book chapters 10 to 29. But there is way more going on in the book of
Proverbs especially at the beginning -chapters 1 to 9- and the
conclusion -chapters 30 and 31. The book’s been designed with an introduction
-chapter 1 verses 1 through 9- and it first of all links this book to King Solomon
now remember the story and first Kings chapter 3, Solomon had asked God for
wisdom to lead Israel well, and so Solomon became known as the wisest man in the ancient world and we’re told in first Kings chapter four, that he wrote
thousands of proverbs and poems and collected knowledge about plants and
animals. So Solomon was like the fountainhead of Israel’s wisdom
literature. So while not all the material in this book is written by him
personally, he is where Israel’s wisdom tradition began. The introduction says
that by reading this book you too can gain wisdom. Now wisdom for most of us means knowledge but the Hebrew word Khokhmah means much more than just mental
activity, it was first to action also. So think skill or applied knowledge. This is why back
in the book of Exodus chapter 31, it was artists and craftsmen in Israel
who were said to have to Khokhmah. So the purpose of this book is to help you
develop a set of practical skills for living well in God’s world and this gets
linked with another key idea in the introduction; The fear of the Lord. Now fear
here is not about terror it’s about a healthy sense of reverence and offer
God and about my place in the universe it’s a moral mindset that recognizes I am
NOT God and that I don’t get to make up my own definitions of good and evil of
right and wrong. Rather I need to humble myself before God and embrace God’s
definition of right and wrong even when that’s inconvenient for me. Now this
introduction leads us into the first main section of the book
chapters 1 through 9 which also doesn’t contain short
one-liner proverbs rather what we find here are 10 speeches from a father to a son.
About how the son should listen to wisdom and cultivate the fear of the
Lord and live accordingly which means a life of virtue and integrity and generosity all of which lead to success and peace. The father warns his son also about
folly and evil and stupid decisions that will breed selfishness and pride all
leading to ruin and shame. And so the son should make the pursuit of wisdom and the fear of the Lord his highest goal in life. And this way of thinking it forms
the moral logic of this entire book. Now these speeches from the father also clue us
into what biblical wisdom literature is and how it’s different from other parts
of the Bible. These books explore how to live well in God’s world but wisdom is
not the same as law, like what Moses gave Israel at Mount Sinai. And it’s not the
same as prophecy, divine speech to God’s people. Rather wisdom literature has the
accumulated insight of God’s people through the generations about how to
live in a way that honors God and others. And so through the book of Proverbs now these human words about wisdom have been put together as God’s Word and
wisdom to His people. Which connects to the other thing you find in chapters 1
through 9. There are four poems from lady wisdom. Here wisdom has been
poetically personified as a woman who calls out to humanity to pay attention
and to seek her. Wisdom says that she is woven into the fabric of the universe
and so wherever you see people making wise decisions they are relying on her.
So you see someone being generous or having sexual integrity or upholding
justice they are drawing on wisdom. These lady wisdom poems they’re a creative
poetic way of exploring this idea that we live in God’s moral universe and that
goodness and justice are objective realities that we ignore to our own
peril. And so fearing the Lord living wisely it’s living along the grain of the universe. Now together these two sets of
speeches from the father and Lady wisdom they make a powerful claim about this
book that you’re not simply reading good advice, you’re reading God’s own invitation to learn wisdom
from previous generations. And so in the next section of the book
chapters 10 to 29 we find hundreds of ancient proverbs and they
apply wisdom in the fear of the Lord to every life topic you could imagine:
family, work, neighborhood, friendship, sex, marriage, money, anger, forgiveness, alcohol, debt, everything. And these are all filtered through the value system of
Proverbs 1-9. Now these proverbs they’re all pretty short, they’re easy to memorize and
actually this section of the book is meant to become a reference work
that you return to time and time again throughout the years which raises some important issues in learning how to read these proverbs. First of all proverbs are by nature about probabilities So you fear the LORD and you make wise good choices, things will likely go well for you. And
if you don’t fear the LORD, you’re foolish, your life will likely not go so well. Now
that is all often true but not always. Which leads to the next point.That
proverbs are not promises, they’re not formulas for success. So some proverbs, for example: The fear of the Lord prolongs your life
but the years of the wicked are cut short. Or train up a child in the way they should go and when they’re old they won’t turn from it. So yes, fearing God, being a moral person will
most likely lead to a better longer life and raising your kids in a stable loving
home does set them up well. But there are no guarantees. Lots of things can and often do go wrong in our world. And so lastly proverbs by nature
focus on the general rule but not the exceptions. Which are many. And the wisdom books actually aren’t ignorant of that. The exceptions are with the other wisdom
books Job and Ecclesiastes, are all about. And together these acknowledged that
life is too complex for simple formulas which is why we need all of the wisdom
books together to get the bigger picture this all leads to the final section of
the book two large collections of poems first poems from a man named Agur. Who begins by acknowledging his own ignorance and folly, and his great
need for God’s wisdom. And then Agur discovers that divine wisdom has been
given to him in the scriptures which teach him how to live well and so Agur is put
before us as like a model reader of the book of Proverbs somebody
who’s always open to hearing God’s wisdom through the scriptures. The final poems are connected to a man named Lemuel he’s a non-Israelite king and he passes on the wisdom that was given to him by his mom. It´s guidance for being a wise
and just leader and then the final poem is an acrostic or an alphabet poem where
each line begins with a new letter of the Hebrew alphabet and the entire poems
about the woman of noble character. It depicts a woman who lives according to
the wisdom of proverbs and stands like a model of someone who takes God’s wisdom
and then translates it into practical decisions and everyday life. At work or
at home, in her family and in her community. So the book opens with words from a father to a son about listening to Lady wisdom and so now the book
closes by offering the words of a mother to her son about a woman who lives
wisely. The book of Proverbs is for every person in every season of life. It’s a guide for
living wisely and well in God’s good world. And that’s what the book of
Proverbs is all about.

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