The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel:
Today, we look at the word proverb to discover what it means and why Solomon used this form of teaching to communicate God’s wisdom to us.
As we learned yesterday, Solomon wrote over 3,000 proverbs during his lifetime but the Holy Spirit decided to only use the ones found in this book to reveal His unchanging truth to us. It doesn’t mean the other sayings of Solomon aren’t important. It just means they aren’t inspired. They’re not “God breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). They’re simply the sayings of a wise man and not the infallible, inerrant words of our sovereign God.¹
And the wise sayings of Solomon aren’t the only ones the Lord considered inspired. In the Proverbs we find sayings from “Agur the son of Jakeh” and someone known as “King Lemuel” (Prov. 30:1; 31:1), although many feel King Lemuel was another name for King Solomon. That may, or may not be the case, but we’ll look into that matter in more detail at another time.
Suffice it to say, the Book of Proverbs is a collection of… well, proverbs. God-inspired proverbs. And since most of them are from the lips and pen of Solomon, the book is rightly known as the Proverbs of Solomon. But for me, a better title would be: The Proverbs of God Given to Solomon to Give to Us. But that’s just my opinion.
What’s a Proverb?
Which begs the question, “What’s a proverb?” A proverb is defined as a “short, pithy saying in general use stating a truth or piece of advice.”² Biblically speaking, a proverb can be defined as “a short saying that expresses a general truth about God for practical, Godly living.” For us, the Proverbs of Solomon contain the wisdom of God that shows how to live above the sin and degradation of our society and how to understand and fully embrace the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). The Proverbs give clear, practical examples on how to “walk in the Spirit” and not “fulfill the lusts of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). They teach us how to live everyday as an “overcomer” (1 John 5:5) and reveal to us that the “abundant life” Jesus promised is truly obtainable and not just beyond our grasp (John 10:10). And they present us with a vivid, in-your-face contrast between the painful consequences of choosing the path of the foolish or the wondrous blessings that come with walking in the way of the wise.
But there’s so much more.
Not all the God-inspired proverbs are found in the Book of Proverbs. Other proverbs can be found spread throughout the Old Testament and many are quoted in the New Testament.³
Plus, proverbs or proverbial sayings are not exclusive to the Scriptures. Every culture has their own set of proverbs, their own collection of “homespun wisdom” or “short statements of truth.” See if you recognize any of these sayings from American folklore:
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
A fool and his money are soon parted.
A friend in need is a friend indeed.
A penny saved is a penny earned.
Better safe than sorry.
Great minds think alike.
And in our culture, a common-sense saying like these, often repeated, is considered true.
But this is where the two part company. The difference between a man-made proverb, which may be true, and a God-inspired proverb, which is always true, is that often the man-made proverb contradicts itself. But that’s never the case with the Proverbs of Solomon.
Let me give you a couple of examples of this type of inherent contradiction:
“Opposites attract” and “Birds of a feather flock together.” How can they both be true?
“The early bird gets the worm” and “Haste makes waste.” Again, seems like a contradiction to me.
“Clothes make the man” and “You cannot judge a book by its cover.” If both are true as individual statements, they should also be true when combined. But they’re not.
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder” and “Out of sight, out of mind.” Ouch.
Do you get the point? Human proverbs or common, cultural truisms cannot be trusted to be true in all situations. They really can’t be trusted at all. But the proverbs from God, the proverbs found in the Book of Proverbs are, like all Scripture “given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). They are God’s Word and absolutely true regardless of man’s evolving mindset or changing moral compass.
But Why Short, Pithy Statements?
And that’s a great question. The simple answer is because each proverb summarized the core nugget of a much larger truth and it does it in a way that’s easy to memorize and later remember. For example, John MacArthur can preach an hour long, 10,000 plus word sermon on pride and we would be hard pressed to remember much of what he said Monday morning. But Solomon can summarize God’s teachings and warnings about pride in just a few, short, easy to remember statements like these:
The promise and warning: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” – Proverbs 16:18.
The warning and the contrast: “When pride comes, then comes shame, but with the humble is wisdom” – Proverbs 11:2.
Another warning and contrast: “By pride comes nothing but strife, but with the well-advised is wisdom” – Proverbs 13:10.
And finally, the promise and contrast: “A man’s pride will bring him low, but the humble in spirit will retain honor” – Proverbs 29:23.
See the difference?
This is why God so effectively employed, through His servant Solomon, the art of speaking proverbs so He could implant in our heart His power-packed, short statements of truth in such a way we could easily remember them and “not sin against Him” (Ps. 119:11). Ask yourself, which is easier to understand and remember? The 10,000 word sermon with all its examples and rabbit trails, or a concise, eleven word lesson on the consequences of pride?
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” – Proverbs 16:18.
Yeah, I’m with you. Give me the eleven words, the catchy song lyric, the “short, pithy statement” anytime.
Nothing Left Unturned
So as we go through the Proverbs of Solomon, remember each of these proverbs contain a condensed summary, or a bullet-point type collection of God’s truth found elsewhere in the Scripture. They’re compact by design. But don’t be misled by their size. They’re incredibly powerful, like the power that comes from the splitting of a single atom.
God has chosen, for our benefit, to pack as much of Himself as possible into the few words that make up each proverb. And if He took the time to specifically choose each and every word, then we will need to spend some time unpacking those words to help us understand the meaning and implication of everything He said.
Why? Because God never wastes a word in the Book of Proverbs. He never wastes anything. After all, He chose the design of the book and the very words He would use, each consonant, vowel, and syllable to communicate His wisdom to us.
So don’t take this study lethargically. Don’t sleepwalk through the next 39 days? Why? Because God is about to rock our world by revealing to us His wisdom from the Proverbs of Solomon.
- Have you ever read the entire Book of Proverbs?
- What was your experience like?
- How long did it take you to complete all thirty-one chapters?
- Did you then, or are you now, reading more than one chapter a day?
- Have you ever considered reading just one chapter each day for a month?
Next Step Challenge
Would you commit, for the next 40 days, to read the first chapter of Proverbs at least five times each day? Would you also commit to reading it out loud?
And would you commit to praying the following each day before reading?
Dear Heavenly Father,
I deeply desire to know You more and to understand You. Would you speak to me today through Your Word and change my life with what You show me? I pray this in the name of Your Son, Jesus, my Lord. Amen.
1. Warren Wiersbe gives us the perfect interpretation of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 in his book Be Skillful by saying: “All Scripture is profitable in four ways: for doctrine— that’s what’s right; for reproof— that’s what’s not right; for correction— that’s how to get right; and for instruction in righteousness— that’s how to stay right.”
2. The word pithy means “something concise or forcefully expressive” and is a word brought back into popular use primarily by Bill O’Riley.
3. For example, Proverbs 3:11-12 is quoted in Hebrews 12:5-6; Proverbs 3:34 in James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5; Proverbs 25:21-11 in Romans 12:20; and Proverbs 26:11 in 2 Peter 2:22. See Wiersbe, W.W. (1996). Be Skillful. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.