"The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to those who are simple,knowledge and discretion to the young— let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance—for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise.The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. " Proverbs 1:1-7
As we launch into a Summer-long study of the Proverbs the essential question would be, "What are "proverbs?"
Did you realize the book of Proverbs are just part of the Bible’s wisdom literature? There are actually three books in the Bible that belong to the category of wisdom literature. One of those books, of course, is Proverbs, our study the next few months. The other two books are Job and Ecclesiastes, which look at the darker, more cynical side of wisdom.
Let me give you a definition of proverbs. Proverbs are short, memorable sayings whose meanings are relevant to many different situations.They are "truth taglines", easy to remember and directly applicable to life situations.
Every society has its own set of proverbs that represent the collective wisdom of that society. Let me give you some other examples that come from our culture.
"Look before you leap."
"Easy come, easy go."
"A penny saved is a penny earned."
"Live one day at a time."
The Bible’s book of Proverbs represents the collective wisdom of ancient Israel. And because as Christians we believe the whole Bible is inspired by God, the collective wisdom of Proverbs represents God’s angle on wisdom. Most of the proverbs comes from king Solomon, the guy who was the king of Israel during her golden reign. But Proverbs also has wise sayings from other people as well.
It’s likely that the book of Proverbs started as a book to help parents instruct their kids in life skills. In fact, the first nine chapters of Proverbs are a father instructing his son in how to live wisely in the world. So Proverbs was originally a parenting strategy as moms and dads tried to equip their children to live God centered, successful lives according to the grain of God’s creation.
But it’s also likely that Proverbs later became a textbook in ancient Israel to prepare people to serve as leaders. In this sense, it was a textbook for equipping emerging leaders who could serve as advisors in government posts. By the time of King Solomon, there were several counselors or sages who were known for their common sense and wisdom.
Now it’s important to understand how to apply the wise sayings from Proverbs to our lives. The sayings we find in the book of Proverbs are generalizations about what’s true most of the time. They’re guidelines for wise living, but we should resist turn them into rigid, absolute promises. These sayings tell us what usually works in most circumstances. But the proverbs don’t work in every, single circumstance. In fact books of Job and Ecclesiastes in the Bible both deal with those situations when these wise sayings don’t seem to work.
So we shouldn’t read Proverbs as if these wise sayings are absolute promises or laws. For example, one proverb tells us, "A gentle answer turns away wrath" (Proverbs 15:1). That’s true most times, but it’s a generalization. It’s not always true, but all things being equal, it’s true in more circumstances than it’s not true. So it makes sense to give a gentle answer when someone’s really mad, but this proverb is not a guarantee that a gentle answer will always defuse anger.
Let me give you another example: One of the proverbs tells us, "The years of the wicked will be short" (Proverbs 10:27). That’s true more often than not, but it’s not true in every single case. In most cases, a lifestyle of wickedness cuts a person’s lifespan short. But, as Ecclesiastes observes, this isn’t true in every single case.
So these are generalizations, observations about how life works in most cases. This is very important to understand, especially when it comes to verses about parenting and marriage.
The Proverbs are wise sayings that are relevant to many different situations.
Today we begin our study of the Proverbs and I issue the challenge, "Wise up!"