Daily Bible Study Tips: Proverbs

Psalm 119:9-16, Thy word have I hid in my heart.
Proverbs 1:1-19, Introduction.
Proverbs 1:20-33; 3:13-26, Wisdom calls us to a good life.
Proverbs 7:6-27, Folly is a harlot.
Proverbs 8:1-36, Wisdom was God’s first creation.
Proverbs 10:1-9, 11:1-6, “X, but Y.”
Proverbs 16:3-7, 11, 13, 15, 17-18, “X and Y.”
Proverbs 12:9, 16:8, 16, 19, 32; 17:1, “X is better than Y.”
“Never pass up an opportunity to keep your mouth shut.”
“Avoid fools, and try not to be one.”

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Psalms 119:9-16, Thy word have I hid in my heart. (5/31/2010)

We’re going to spend a couple weeks looking at the book of Proverbs. My Greek teacher is fond of pointing out that the proverbs are not predictions; they are observations. It is not predicted that God-fearing people will live longer, happier lives than irreligious people; rather, it is observed that God-fearing people live longer, happier lives. In fact, this observation has been born out by sociological studies to be statistically true. You don’t have to read scientific journals, though. Just look at the newspaper, and you’ll see that people who belong to gangs, use drugs, drive drunk, commit armed robbery, and so on, tend to live shorter, unhappier lives than people who go to church.

On the other hand, only the good die young.

Proverbs are like that. Each one, taken by itself, is true in general, statistical terms about some set of circumstances, but sometimes they seem to contradict each other. So why bother? Because they are short, memorable sayings that, statistically speaking, will enable you to lead a long, happy, God-fearing life. We begin with a psalm that points out the importance of learning and remembering what God has said, in order to keep our lives pure.

Proverbs 1:1-19, Introduction to the proverbs of Solomon. (6/1/2010)
Why read the book of Proverbs?  The introduction tells us why.

Proverbs 1:20-33; 3:13-26, Wisdom calls us to a good life. (6/2/2010)
When wisdom is personified in the Bible, it is always as a woman.  By coincidence, we're discussing some of the wisdom literature in Sunday School right now, so this past Sunday we were wondering about why this is.  As far as I know, nobody knows.  Wisdom calls us to come to her, learn from her, and be like her, and she warns us of the consequences of ignoring her teachings.
Today we define wisdom as the ability to discern what is right or true, or as common sense or good judgment, or as accumulated knowledge.  The Bible very often uses wisdom to mean practical knowledge or skill, as in Exodus 35, or as a synonym for the fear of the LORD, as in Psalm 111:10 or Isaiah 11:2.  Biblical wisdom is normally much more closely related to common sense or good judgment than it is to the other two modern definitions. 

Proverbs 7:6-27, Folly is a harlot. (6/3/2010)
The good news is that Wisdom is always personified as a woman.  The bad news is that Folly is also personified as a woman, and - even worse - one who is a prostitute. 
We all know that the House of the Rising Sun has been the ruin of many a poor boy.  Solomon goes so far as to say that it is a shortcut to death.  This may seem a little severe to you.  Probably the key is in vss. 14-15.  Folly takes the meat from her sacrifice to God and uses it to promote prostitution; and by the way, prostitution is a common Old Testament metaphor for apostasy.  So the progression is this:  lack of wisdom = folly, which leads you into apostasy = death.

Proverbs 8:1-36, Wisdom was God’s first creation. (6/4/2010)
John Wesley has this to say about wisdom: Certainly vss. 22-23 are an example of the first idea, because these two verses clearly state that wisdom was created, the first of everything that God made.  Orthodox Christian belief, as stated in the Nicene Creed, is that Christ was with God in the beginning and was "begotten, not made."  Wesley's great question remains, however, and other commentators have also wondered whether Wisdom is a personification or a person other than the second person in the Godhead.
Have I explained to you before that the Biblical concept of a "mystery" is a secret, which must be revealed, and not a problem, which may be solved?  Wisdom's nature is a mystery.  We will find out when we get to Heaven.

Proverbs 10:1-9, 11:1-6, Finally, some proverbs.  “X, but Y.” (6/7/2010)
A whole week on Proverbs, and all we've seen are Wisdom and Folly!  By now you are probably convinced that there are no proverbs in the book of Proverbs.  But there are, as we'll see this week.  Many (not all) of the proverbs follow one of several fairly stylized formats, like a limerick or a knock-knock joke.  That makes them easier to understand and remember, which I suspect is the reason they developed that way.  We're going to look at three formats.  Proverbs also has some favorite topics, and we'll look at two of those at the end of the week.
Today's format is "X but Y."  Both X and Y are making the same point, but they make the point in ways that contrast with each other, as in "Chocolate is delicious, but everyone hates broccoli."   

Proverbs 16:3-7, 11, 13, 15, 17-18, More proverbs, “X and Y.” (6/8/2010)
The second common format for proverbs is "X and Y."  Like the "X but Y" proverbs, "X and Y" proverbs make the same point twice, but they make the point twice in the same way, whether positive or negative.  "Chocolate is delicious, and ice cream is a delight to the tongue."  "Broccoli tastes nasty, and nobody likes cod liver oil."  Sometimes the two parts are joined with "and," and sometimes they aren't.

Proverbs 12:9, 16:8, 16, 19, 32; 17:1, More proverbs, “X is better than Y.” (6/9/2010)
We've seen "X but Y," and "X and Y."  Today we see "X is better than Y."  The tricky part about today's proverbs is that Y doesn't always seem that bad.  Having gold and silver would be fine.  I'd rather divide the spoil with the proud than be the spoil of the proud.  A soldier who takes a city could well be a hero.  More often, though, there's a sinister twist to Y:  great revenues with injustice; feasting with strife.  "X is better than Y" often has the flavor of "the best things in life are free."  But not easy.

Proverbs 17:27-28; 18:6-8, 13, 21; 19:5, 20; 21:23, More proverbs.
“Never pass up an opportunity to keep your mouth shut.”

Fellow-reader Doris B. wrote to say that she likes broccoli.  The thing about proverbs is, many of them are only true most of the time.  Consequently, sometimes they contradict each other.  A stitch in time saves nine, but haste makes waste.  Opportunity only knocks once, but if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. 

This characteristic of being true in some circumstances and not in others is well illustrated by several of today's proverbs.  I have had many golden opportunities to keep my mouth shut in my lifetime, and sometimes I have taken advantage of the opportunity, and sometimes I haven't.  Vs. 17:27 says that when I keep my mouth shut, I am smart.  Vs. 17:28 says I only look smart.  Vs. 19:20 suggests that at least some people who give advice and instruction are smart.
By the way, one of my favorite possessions is a little plaque that hung on my Grandpa's wall for decades: Obviously the writer of this saying had read the book of Proverbs.

Proverbs 17:12, 16, 21, 24-25; 18:2, 6-7; 19:1, 3, 10, 13, 29; 20:3, 26:4-11, More proverbs.
“Avoid fools, and try not to be one.”

We started Proverbs with a brief study of Wisdom, and we end with a brief study of fools.  The named writers of Proverbs include King Solomon (1:1, 10:1, 25:1), Agur son of  Jakeh (30:1), and King Lemuel (31:1), who is otherwise unknown and might be Solomon again.  None of these writers have any use for fools.
Speaking of contradictory proverbs, take a special gander at 26:4 and 26:5.

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