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Proverbial Proverbs

Updated on October 7, 2013

Inspired Thoughts Full of Good Advice


From God Comes Wisdom

The Proverbs often are said to have been written by Solomon, the son of David. In fact they were entitled "The Proverbs of Solomon," but modern scholars mostly believe they are a collection of wise statements written by various Hebrew authors over a long period of time.

A constant theme of the Proverbs is, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction." (Chapter 1) Solomon appears to be speaking to his son: "My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother." (Ch 1) The Proverbs inspire respect for one's parents and condemn disrespect. "There is a generation that curses its father, and does not bless its mother." (Ch 30)

Throughout the Proverbs, the authors give sound advice on avoiding sinners, heeding the advantages of wisdom, being obedient, and trusting in God. Happiness, it is said, will come from wisdom. If one is obedient to God, he or she will have no fear. Kindness toward others is a virtue. The wise always are contrasted with the foolish in the Proverbs. We are told to seek wisdom, knowledge and understanding. "The Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding." (Ch 2) But this advice is qualified by cautioning, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding...Do not be wise in your own eyes." (Ch 3)

Sins can occur with the lips, the eyes, or the heart. They are to be avoided. Harlots especially should be rejected. Wicked people shouldn't be admired. Faithfulness in marriage is wise and good. "Rejoice with the wife of your youth." (Ch 5) But this is not to say that all marriages will be good ones. "Better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and angry woman." (Ch 21) The wiles of evil women and harlots are mentioned frequently in the Proverbs, which consist in large part of advice relevant to the male gender in particular. (Ch 7) "A harlot is a deep pit, and a seductress is a narrow well. She also lies in wait as for a victim, and increases the unfaithful among men." (Ch 23)

As for practical, worldly matters, the Proverbs warn of the dangers of being "snared" by becoming a surety for someone, the foolishness of remaining idle when there's work to be done, and the shamefulness of adultery. People who have forsaken their religion are called perverse. (Ch 6) But one is not to become self-righteous. The foolishness of criticizing some people is pointed out. "Do not correct a scoffer lest he hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you." (Ch 9) "Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words." (Ch 23)

Wisdom and folly often are contrasted and personified by examples in the Proverbs. So are justice and wickedness, sloth and industriousness, sincerity and perverseness, hatred and love, lies and truth, pride and humility, simplicity and deceitfulness, mercy and cruelty, and charity and selfishness. (Ch 10, Ch 11) There is a call to do the right thing. "Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight" (Ch 11) and "Diverse weights are an abomination to the Lord, and dishonest scales are not good." (Ch 20) The Golden Rule to love one's neighbor as oneself is recommended. "He who is devoid of wisdom despises his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his peace." (Ch 11) "He who despises his neighbor sins, but he who has mercy on the poor, happy is he." (Ch 14) "The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him." (Ch 18)

One should know when to swallow one's pride for the sake of humility. The Proverbs have a lot to say on this subject. "He who loves correction, loves knowledge; but he who hates reproof is foolish...A fool's wrath is known at once, but a prudent man covers shame." (Ch 12) "A wise son heeds his father's instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke...By pride comes nothing but strife, but with the well-advised is wisdom." (Ch 13) "A wise man fears and departs from evil, but a fool rages and is self-confident." (Ch 14) "A fool despises his father's instruction, but he who receives correction is prudent...He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, but he who heeds rebuke gets understanding." (Ch 15) "Before destruction, the heart of a man is haughty; and before honor, is humility." (Ch 18) "A haughty look, a proud heart, and the plowing of the wicked are sin." (Ch 21) "Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips." (Ch 27)

The ironies and ambivalence of comparisons of wealth and acquisition of riches are discussed shrewdly by many Proverbs. "One is as it were rich, when he has nothing; and another is as it were poor, when he has great riches." (Ch 13) "There is one who scatters, yet increases more; and there is one who withholds more than is right, but it leads to poverty." (Ch 11) "Wealth gained by dishonesty will be diminished, but he who gathers by labor will increase." (Ch 13) "The rich man's wealth is his strong city, like a high wall in his own esteem." (Ch 18) "Better is the poor man who walks in his integrity than one perverse in his ways, though he be rich." (Ch 28)

Although wealth is qualified, poverty is not glorified. "Wealth makes many friends, but the poor person is separated from his friend...All the brothers of the poor hate him; how much more do his friends go far from him! He may pursue them with words, yet they abandon him" (Ch 19) "The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender." (Ch 22) But in the end, the Proverbs take an overview and conclude, "The rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all." (Ch 22)

The Proverbs offer philosophical but practical advice to people who would seek to become wealthy. "When you sit down to eat with a ruler, consider carefully what is before you; and put a knife to your throat if you are a man given to appetite. Do not desire his delicacies, for they are deceptive food. Do not overwork to be rich; because of your own understanding, cease! Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven." (Ch 23) "A faithful man will abound with blessings, but he who hastens to be rich will not go unpunished." (Ch 28)

The concept of an invisible, ever-present God, established by the Hebrew authors of the early Mosaic books of the Bible and continued forward to the present time in nearly all religions, also is recognized by the Proverbs. "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good." (Ch 15) "The spirit of a man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the inner depths of his heart." (Ch 20) The wisdom, shown centuries later in Jesus' teachings regarding outward shows of self-righteous piety as less important than humble silent prayers, is brought forth in the Book of Proverbs. "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is His delight." (Ch 15) "All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirits." (Ch 16) "Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts." (Ch 21)

Many of the rich, philosophical topics of debate in the Proverbs are like those treated in the Talmud texts which are part of the intellectual foundation of the Jewish religion in addition to the first five books of what Christians call the Old Testament. The Talmud is not as well-known to people outside the Jewish faith but the Proverbs, published in Christian Bibles, have a wider range of familiarity and are brief compared to the many pages of the Talmud.

The Proverbs are gracefully expressed and touch on many subtle topics. The psychological effect of positive human interactions, for example, and their connection to physical well-being are recognized by Proverbs. "The light of the eyes rejoices the heart, and a good report makes the bones healthy." (Ch 15) "Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones." (Ch 16)

The Proverbs have a way of zeroing in on the traits that can make some people annoying. "A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgment. A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart." (Ch 18) "As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife." (Ch 26)

There is a lack of tolerance for intoxication. "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise...It is honorable for a man to stop striving, since any fool can start a quarrel." (Ch 20) "Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long at the wine, those who go in search of mixed wine. Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly; at the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper." (Ch 23)

But for all this good advice the Proverbs still are not self-righteous. They recognize the common weaknesses of all mankind. "Who can say, 'I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin'"? (Ch 20) Not only that, but the Proverbs recognize that wisdom exists in creatures other than humans. "There are four things which are little on the earth, but they are exceedingly wise: the ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their food in the summer; the rock badgers are a feeble folk, yet they make their homes in the crags; the locusts have no king, yet they all advance in ranks; and the spider skillfully grasps with its hands, and it is in kings' palaces." (Ch 30)

Religious Advice on How to Live

Solomon's Sins

Samuel Clemens wrote that advice is easy to give but hard to take. So it is with Solomon, who, despite his good intentions and excellent advice, did not live a life that was perfect. Although his father David was much closer to perfection, even he did not achieve absolute perfection in avoiding some of the things the Proverbs later would warn of.

When Solomon prayed to God and dedicated the temple in Jerusalem to God, Solomon was an exemplary man. Later in life, Solomon would have many wives. Some of them would be from foreign nations where the one invisible God of Israel was unknown. Some of Solomon's wives took his attention off the one true God.

Therefore, not only did he have too many wives, but some of them weren't very religious women. (1 Kings 11) But no human being ever was perfect. Only Jesus is said to have been the perfect Son of Man.

Solomon amassed tremendous wealth. His love of gold was great. Year after year, he continued to acquire more and more gold.

Thus, despite the fact that Solomon is reputed to be the wisest man who ever lived, he still was not perfect in the eyes of God.


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