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Reading the Bible: Proverbs
In this hub will investigate how to read the proverbs. When I refer to the Proverbs, I am not referring to the book in the Bible necessarily. I'm talking about the literary genre of Proverbs. Proverbs are found mostly in the book of Proverbs, but there are a few scattered here and there throughout the Bible, mostly embedded inside of a narrative.
There is a difference between interpreting the proverbs found in the book of Proverbs and those found elsewhere however. A proverb from the book of Proverbs is a divinely inspired piece of wisdom. It is Godly wisdom. However, if you encounter a proverb in a story in the Old Testament for example, it may or not be Godly wisdom. When you find a proverb inside of a story, all we can know is that a person said it. The story is simply telling what happened, and what happened is someone spoke a proverb. That proverb may have come from a righteous person or an unrighteous person. For that matter the righteous man could have spoken wrong or the unrighteous man could have spoken right. So those proverbs need to be checked with other scriptures to see if they are from God or not. The one's in proverbs are truth.
Most of the Proverbs were written by Solomon. This is only fitting given the person the Solomon was. In 2 Chronicles 1 we get the story of the young king sitting there feeling very insignificant for the task before him of ruling a country. God asked Solomon what he wanted. Solomon could have asked for power, wealth, a genie in a bottle...anything. Rather than ask for something material he famously asked for wisdom. God said that because he had asked for wisdom and not something else that He would make him the wisest man who ever lived. So that's the author of the majority of the Bible's proverbs: the wisest man of all time.
When reading the Proverbs there is not much context to consider. I used to try to read the whole chapter and look for an overarching theme that Solomon was talking about. However upon further study I came to discover that historically this was not how the Proverbs were written. When Solomon spoke a Proverb, it was just one or two verses typically. There are some larger ones, but most of the time it is just a sentence. All of these Proverbs were eventually compiled into one book, and then later chapter and verses were added. These chapters and verses lead us to think that everything in chapter 20 was written at one time and all tie together. This isn't the case. When reading the Proverbs, take them one at a time.
The proverbs were meant to be universal wisdom. What is wise 1000 years ago is still wise today. Wisdom is wisdom no matter when it is. A famous proverb is "a gentle answer turns away wrath." That was true is Solomons day, and is still true today. Context makes little impact on that statement.
Truth or not Truth
I want to be very careful how I communicate this because I do believe in the complete truth of the Bible. I believe that the Bible is a standard for truth, and there aren't any mistakes in it. With that said I will say that absolute truth and absolute wisdom are not the same thing. What do I mean by that? Let me illustrate it by a famous proverb: Proverbs 22:6
"Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it."
What Solomon is talking about in this Proverb is how to influence our kids to do the right thing. If you want your kid to be a certain kind of person, the wise thing to do is raise them in such a way that they will be that kind of person. For example, if you don't want your child to be a quitter, then never let your child quit anything when they are young. By teaching them to finish everything they start from a young age you are indoctrinating them to be that kind of person their entire lives. How you train your children matters. Wisdom says that if you want something to be present in your adult child's life, then instill it when they are young.
This is Godly wisdom, but its not absolute truth. What am I saying? This is not a guarantee that just because you raise your kids right that they will do right their whole lives. In the end when your kids grow up they are people who are capable of making their own decisions. Just because you trained them the way you want them to go does not mean that your children are going to stay on the straight and narrow. So if its not true then whats the point? While this proverb is not a guarantee of success in parenting, it is still the wisest thing you can do as a parent. When you think about it, how many kids truly complete depart from how there parents raised them? Sure, they may rebel in the late teenage years and into college, but typically speaking they will continue on the path their parents put them on. This is seen very clearly in politics. If the parents are liberal, normally the kids are liberal. If the parents are conservative, then the kids are conservative. Is that always true? No. Is it a trend? Yes.
So in the end a proverb gives you the wisest way to approach a situation, but does not guarantee that the situation will go they way you are expecting. Not having a guarantee should not discourage us from following a proverb however, since it is wisdom from God. And wisdom from God is the kind I'm looking for.