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Themes in the book of Proverbs

FROM:

The Yearning of Yahveh
a devotional Bible Study

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Scroll down for INDEX of Proverbs.

Exploring the Paths of Proverbs

(Bible quotes from the NIV, except where stated differently)

When one reads through the book of Proverbs, the general impression is that the book consists of many free-standing, unrelated thoughts. It is as if someone picked up pebbles and shells on the beach and put them all mixed up into one bag.

However, one can empty that bag of shells and pebbles on a large table and group together what belongs together.

In order to highlight the main messages of Proverbs, and to get easier access to certain types of proverbs, I recently SORTED the Proverbs into different categories.

This index of Proverbs identified certain CLUSTERS of related topics. Let us look briefly at nine clusters of proverbs, and then we can have a closer look at two of them.

In every cluster a VIRTUE is contrasted with its opposing VICE, like:

wisdom versus folly

generosity versus stinginess

joy versus anger

love versus lust

diligence versus laziness

good versus bad life-styles

real versus false security

justice versus injustice

what God loves and what He hates

The book of Proverbs is presented as the lessons of a teacher to his students. It addresses the reader as "my son", which in Biblical terms includes "my daughter". The students are spurred on to DO the good and wise things, and to AVOID the bad and foolish things. By contrasting the right with the wrong, and pointing to the different outcomes, the teacher shows the students what is the best way to shape their lives.

Let us focus on wisdom first.

GOD GIVES WISDOM

The Book of Proverbs emphasizes repeatedly that true wisdom comes from God.

1:7 - "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline." 9:10 - "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding."

The New Testament supports this viewpoint.

James 1:5 - "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."

Jesus promised His disciples that in their persecution, "I will give you words of wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict." (Luke 21:15).

Paul points out that Godís wisdom looks foolish to the world, yet God saves sinners by the foolishness of the gospel (1 Cor. 1:18-25). Paul calls Jesus "wisdom from God" (1 Cor. 1:30). Isaiah (29:14) predicted that God would destroy the wisdom of the world by His own wisdom.

How do we get to the true wisdom of God and avoid the false wisdom of the world? God uses certain channels to get His wisdom to us, such as His Word (13:13, 16:10) and devoted parents. There we learn the basic rules of life - what is good or bad for us, as well as for others.

Wisdom from the WORD

Proverbs stresses the impact of Godís Word on us. "The LORD" appears 87 times in Proverbs. This name points to the one true God, Yahweh. Proverbs does not promote a vague concept of God that can fit all religions. The one true God is on the side of the righteous and the wise. A few examples:

2:6-8 - "For the LORD gives wisdom, and from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds victory in store for the upright, He is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for He guards the course of the just and protect the ways of His faithful ones."

3:5-8 - "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones."

9:10 - "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy one is understanding."

13:13 - "He who despises the word will be destroyed, but he who fears the commandment will be rewarded." (NKJV).

The New Testament also emphasizes wisdom from the Word.

Jesus said, "Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away." (Mat. 24:35). He prayed to His Father, "Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth." (John 17:17). To the Jews He said, "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free." (John 8:32).

Paul said to Timothy, "From infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation" (2 Tim. 3:15). To the Romans Paul wrote, "Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ."

Peter affirms this in his letter to the early church, "You have been born again.... through the living and enduring word of God" (1 Pet. 1:23).

Wisdom through the Word. Indeed, the Spirit of truth leads us into all truth by the Word of God (John 16:13-14).

Wisdom from PARENTS

Family values and traditions may become contaminated by manís sinful nature, therefore they have to be tested and purified by the Word of God continuously.

It is stressed right through the book of Proverbs that wisdom has to be taught by parents, and it has to be learned by children. Yes, wisdom can be taught and learned. Weíre not born with it.

6:20-22: "My son, keep your fatherís commands and do not forsake your motherís teaching." In the NIV, proverbs refers 15 times to fathers and 11 times to mothers. The honoring of parents is the fifth of Godís Ten Commandments. Paul admonishes children to obey their parents in Eph. 6 and Col. 3.

The learning process at home and at school starts with acquiring knowledge of facts. (39 times in Proverbs). A few examples:

10:14 - "Wise men store up knowledge."

15:7 - "The lips of the wise spread knowledge."

15:14 - "The discerning heart seeks knowledge."

19:2 - "It is not good to have zeal without knowledge."

Parents should also help their children to get insight and understanding of the facts and how they relate to each other. (35 times in Proverbs).

2:3 - "Call out for insight, and cry aloud for understanding." 9:10 - "knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." 10:23 - "A man of understanding delights in wisdom." 19:8 - "He who cherishes understanding prospers."

The many why-questions of children gives opportunity for parents to convey knowledge and understanding. If parents make time for discussing the issue, they will promote more insight than using the easy autocratic approach of "It is so because I say so."

We must not confuse calm discussion with rebellious talk-back. By democratic leadership parents can help their children to move from knowledge and understanding to wisdom - learning the reasons behind the choices and so helping them to make the best choices in order to obtain the best results.

No wisdom without knowledge and insight. Maybe thatís why half of the newspaper consists of facts and the other half of discussions of the facts.

According to Proverbs, people whose knowledge and insight led to right conduct have wisdom. Those who do not translate their knowledge to good insight and to right choices are fools.

Even parents and teachers may fall into this trap. 28:10 - "He who leads the upright along an evil path will fall into his own trap." Jesus put it even more severe: anyone who leads a child astray should be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied to his/her neck (Matt. 18:6).

What kind of "wisdom" do we implant on our childrenís minds? How have we translated our knowledge and experience into views, attitudes and conduct? For example: If we have had bad experiences, we may come to cynical conclusions which we may hand down to the next generation. Once these family belief-systems have become entrenched, they are hard to eradicate. We can start to change them by gaining knowledge and understanding from Godís Word, and applying it on our views, attitudes and behavior.

This learning process has to be continued throughout life so that wisdom will be imprinted on the whole personality.

3:1 - "My son, do not forget my teaching, keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity."

7:1-3 - "My son, keep my words and store up my commands before you. Keep my commands and you will live; guard my teachings as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart."

Because wisdom is conveyed by communication, Proverbs emphasizes the impact of words on others. Words can either heal or hurt (12:18), build up or tear down (10:11, 15:4), clarify or confuse (9:7), and direct others in the right or wrong way (11:9, 12:6). Wars can be won by the words of the wise (21:22). Just as important it is to speak the right words at the right time (15:23), so it is to keep silent at the right time (11:13, 13:3). Proverbs strongly discourages gossip - scattering the kind of words that does nobody any good (16:28).

FRUITS

Proverbs eagerly advertises the fruits of wisdom (2:9-22), and solemnly warns against the fruits of foolishness (1:20-32, 26:1-12). Usually, society honors a wise person and despises a fool. The wise enjoy material and spiritual riches while the fool shoots himself in the foot time and again.

Jesus told parables about wise and foolish people. The wise virgins thought ahead and brought enough oil, the foolish ones did not. The wise servant was diligent in his Masterís service, the foolish one was not. The wise builder built on the rock, the foolish one on sand.

When Proverbs stresses the importance of intellectual activities such as knowledge, understanding and wisdom, it does not forget the importance of emotional activities such as charity and compassion.

CHARITY

The Bible maintains a close link between work and charity. Paul wrote to the Ephesians (4:28), "He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need".

The main motivation for helping the needy is that God cares about them. If we neglect the poor, we insult God and arouse His anger (17:5).

22:22-23 - "Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the LORD will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them."

This is especially true if we ignore those who are heading for destruction. We may apply this to genocide, starvation, epidemics, addiction and to lost souls. "Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ĎBut we knew nothing about this,í does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?" (24:11-12).

Therefore, it is important that we donít delay our help when we can help (3:27-28), and that we donít shut our ears for the cry of those in need (21:13, 28:27). We should rather be forgiving towards the mistakes of others and have compassion on the poor (14:21). When we share food with them, we lend to God (19:17), and He will repay us when we are in need (22:9).

Yes, when we help others we benefit from it ourselves. It makes us feel good to do good (11:17). It also activates a "natural" law of Godís kingdom - when we share Godís blessings they increase, and when we hoard them they decrease: "One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed" (11:24-25).

Proverbs encourages us to practice this policy even to animals (12:10) and to our enemies (25:21-22). Paul quoted this passage in his letter to the Romans, "If Your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head" (Rom. 12:20). This policy should not only be applied by the individual, but also by the state (29:14).

Our generous approach towards the needy should include holding back on litigation (3:30, 24:28, 25:8-10). Unfortunately, human rights are sometimes practiced in a selfish way with the emphasis on my rights, instead of protecting the rights of others. Being able to ignore an injustice, the proverbial slap in the face, is seen by Proverbs and by Jesus as a characteristic of the wise (12:16, 17:9). Indeed, the real spirit of charity continues to give even when it hurts, even when our help is not appreciated.

Proverbs is part of Godís Word. What is Godís message through these two groups of proverbs we studied today? God says: be wise and increase your knowledge and understanding continuously and apply it in your lives. If you donít, you are foolish.

Furthermore, act wisely by giving generously to Godís work and to the needy. If you donít, you are foolish, because then God will turn a deaf ear when you cry for help.

Be wise, my sons, my daughters, God says, and give heed to all the wisdom I have stored up for you in My Word, including the book of Proverbs.

 

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Index of Proverbs Themes

This Index is from
a devotional Bible study on the Old Testament
'The Yearning of Yahveh'

 

Lessons 352 - 358 of this book cover some of these themes.

Wisdom vs. folly

God is the source of wisdom 1:7, 2:5-8, 3:5-12, 9:10, 9:22-31, 11:30, 16:3

fruits of wisdom 2:9-22, 3:13-26, 4:6-19, 6:22-23, 8:3-36, 9:11-12, 13:14, 13:20, 14:8, 22:17-21

fruits of foolishness 1:22-32, 5:3-14, 13:16, 20, 16:22, 26:1-12

parents 1:8-9, 4:1-5, 4:20-5:1, 6:20, 13:1, 24, 15:5, 19:18, 23:13, 22-25, 29:15, 17

learning process 1:2-9, 2:1-4, 3:1-4, 4:1-9, 20-27, 5:1, 6:21-23, 7:1-2, 9:7-10, 12:1, 13:18, 15:12, 22, 31-32, 16:22, 18:15, 19:2, 20:18, 22:6

wisdom seekers 9:7-9, 10:10, 12:1, 15, 13:1, 18, 20, 14:6, 33, 15:5, 12, 14, 31-33, 17:10, 18:15

word-power 10:10-21, 31-32, 11:12-13, 12:6, 13-14, 17-18, 25, 13:2-3, 14:3, 15:4, 7, 15:23, 16:20, 23-24, 18:20-21, 21:22-23, 25:11-12, 15, 29:8

peer pressure 1:10-19, 2:12-15, 14:7, 18:24, 22:24-25, 24:21, 27:17, 28:7

wisdom personified 1:20-33, 8:1-9:6

Diligence vs. laziness

diligence 10:4-5, 22, 12:11, 24, 13:4, 11, 14:4, 23, 16:26, 18:9, 20:4, 13, 22:13, 24:30-34, 27:18, 27:23-27, 28:19, 31:10-31

laziness 6:6-11, 10:26, 12:24, 27, 13:4, 19:15, 19:24, 20:4, 20:13, 21:25-26, 22:13, 24:30-34, 26:13-16, 26:13-16,

Generosity vs. stinginess

charity/goodwill 3:27-35, 11:17, 24-26, 12:10, 14:21, 31, 17:4, 19:17, 21:13, 22:9, 22-23, 24:11-12, 25:21-22, 28:27, 29:14

pledging is dangerous 6:1-5, 11:15, 17:18, 20:16, 22:26-27

Joy vs. anger

anger 12:16, 14:16-17, 29-30, 15:1, 18, 28, 16:27, 32, 17:9, 14, 19, 27, 18:3, 6-7, 18-19, 19:11, 19:18-19, 20:3, 22, 21:14, 22:10-11, 24- 25, 24:28-29, 25:15, 26:20-21 , 29:8, 11, 29:22

joy 13:9, 12, 14:30, 15:13, 15, 30, 17:22

Virtues vs. vices

wicked and. righteous 11:3-31, 12:2-7

dishonesty 6:12-15, 17-19, 10:2, 6, 11, 22, 11:1, 3, 18, 17:8, 20, 23, 19:5, 9, 22, 20:10, 23, 17, 21, 20:23, 21:6, 22:5, 27:5-6,

gluttony 21:17, 23:1-3, 6-8

inebriety 20:1, 23:20-21, 23:29-35, 31:4-7

immorality 2:16-22, 5:3-14, 6:24-7:27, 9:13-18, 23:26-28

Love vs. lust

marriage 5:15-20, 27:8, 31:10-31

adultery 2:16-22, 5:3-14, 6:24-7:27, 9:13-18, 23:26-28

women, recognition 11:16, 12:4, 14:1, 18:22, 19:14, 31:10-31

women, criticism 11:22, 12:4, 14:1, 19:13, 21:9, 19, 22:14, 23:26-28

Real vs. false security

false security 11:28, 12:9, 12, 15:16-17, 27, 16:8, 19, 17:1, 18:11, 19:1, 4, 6, 21:9, 19, 23:4-5, 25:24, 28:6, 11, 20, 22,

modesty 3:34, 10:14, 19, 11:2, 12:23, 13:10, 29:23

pride 6:17, 11:2, 12:9, 13:7, 15:16-17, 16:5, 8, 18-19, 17:1, 18:12, 21:4, 24, 22:2, 25:6-7, 26:23-28

wisdom and smartness 3:5, 12:5-6, 15, 13:18, 14:12, 16:25

Justice vs. injustice

authority 16:10-15, 28:12, 15-16, 28, 29:2, 4, 14, 16,

justice 16:10-15, 17:15, 23, 18:5, 17, 19:5, 9, 28, 20:21, 21:15, 26, 21:6, 28, 22:8, 28, 23:10-11, 24:23-25, 25:8-9, 29:7

gossip 10:18, 11:12-13, 16:27-28, 17:4, 18:8, 20:19, 26:20-27, 29:20

What God loves and what He hates

Godís law 12:3, 28, 13:6, 13, 14:27, 34, 15:9, 33, 16:20, 19:16, 23, 20:9, 28:4, 5, 7, 9, 13, 29:16, 18

God hates these 6:16-19, 11:1, 20, 12:22, 15:8-9, 26, 16:5, 17:15, 20:10, 23, 21:27,

God punishes sin 5:21-23, 13:13, 21:12,

God rewards goodness 3:5-12, 10:3, 11:30, 12:2-3, 13:6, 13, 14:26-27, 34, 16:6, 20, 19:23, 21:3, 22:4, 23:17

 

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