Introduction to Proverbs*
This coming week we will wrap up Book 1 of Psalms (Psalms 1~41) and start Proverbs. Whereas the Psalms are filled with expressions of emotion, of pain, joy and praise, and in turn show us how to process our experiences before God, Proverbs calls us to study, to think, to learn the practical discipline of centering our thoughts and actions on God. Indeed, one of the main messages of Proverbs is—you’ve never really thought enough about anything. Psalms is about how to throw ourselves fully upon God in faith; Proverbs is about how—having trusted God—we should then live that faith out. If the Bible were a medicine cabinet, Psalms would be the ointment put on inflamed skin to calm and heal it. Proverbs would be more like smelling salts to startle you into alertness.
Proverbs as Poetry
Proverbs is not a set of “simple steps to a happy life” for quick consumption. A proverb is a poetic art form that instills wisdom in you as you wrestle with it. As English readers we cannot receive the full force of the original, and yet we can still learn enough about the feature of Hebrew poetry to discern layers of meaning that we would otherwise miss. Perhaps the most fundamental mark of Hebrew poetry is parallelism. Two phrases, clauses, or sentences are brought into close connection with each other so that they modify and expand on each other. The second may magnify and extend the thought of the first, or it may instead offer a counterpoint that limit and soften the first idea.
In each case the two thoughts mutually clarify each other, sharpening our understanding. So Proverbs 13:6 says, “Righteousness guards the person of integrity, but wickedness overthrows the sinner.” The first clause help us understand “wickedness” in the second clause more specifically as a lack of integrity. Because of parallelism, the words “wicked” and “righteous” and “wise” and “foolish,” which show up constantly and (seemingly) repetitiously, actually mean somewhat different things in each proverb. We miss much of the meaning of a proverb unless we compare the clauses very closely and watch for the interplay between words.
Proverbs as Part of the Whole Bible
While we call Proverbs a “book,” it really is one chapter in a much larger book—the Bible—which presents, through all its various parts and narratives, a single, coherent story. That story is that the human race has marred God’s good creation through sin and now needs salvation, and that this salvation has been accomplished and can be found only in Jesus Christ. Therefore, like every other part of the Bible, Proverbs will give up its fullest and richest meaning only when it is read in the light of the person and work of Jesus. Jesus dazzled his listeners with his wisdom (Luke 2:40, 47). He claimed to be the new Solomon with the ultimate wisdom (Luke 11:31). The personified Wisdom that created the world (Proverbs 8:22-31) is finally revealed to be Jesus, the Word of God, with whom God created the world (John 1:1-4). Paul calls Jesus the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:24, 30), the one in whom all God’s wisdom is hidden (Col 2:3).
Remember, too, that “the fear of the Lord” is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 1:7). A living, vital relationship with God is wisdom’s absolute prerequisite. This “fear” as we will see, is not cringing terror but an attitude of awe and wonder before the faithful, covenant love of God. The New Testament shows us that the kind of relationship with the Lord that Proverbs calls for can be fully realized only through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
* Adapted from God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life by Timothy Keller.
This Week’s Bible Reading Schedule:
|Monday: Psalms 40||☐||Thursday: Proverb 2||☐|
|Tuesday: Psalms 41||☐||Friday: Proverb 3||☐|
|Wednesday: Proverb 1||☐||Saturday: Proverb 4||☐|
Bible Column & Reading Plan by Rev. Chang Soo Lee
Mississauga Camps Lead Pastor