The Book of Proverbs is spiritual milk of the Word. All believers, not just spiritually new-borns, are to “crave pure spiritual milk” (1 Pet. 2:2 NIV). Being one of the “wisdom books” of the Bible, Proverbs is very easy to understand. It is thus unlike some of the doctrinal, historical, and prophetic parts of the Bible which are the meat of the Word. In Proverbs, wisdom is personified, the Person being the Eternal “Word” (Jn. 1:1-3). Here we are told that God appointed wisdom “from the beginning, before the world began” (Prov. 8:23; 22-31). We are told to “get wisdom” (Prov. 4:7), the wisdom which “the Lord gives” (Prov. 2:6). In contrast to the wisdom we are warned against (1 Cor. 1:20), the wisdom of Proverbs is practical, based on God, and not theoretical, based on human intellect.
It is true that many of the thoughts may be found elsewhere in earlier Near Eastern literature, but those in Proverbs were compiled through the leading of the Holy Spirit and bear His imprint. They thus became inspired Scripture.
What Are Proverbs?
Proverbs are short sayings, adages or generalizations, and are subject to all of their limitations. Thus at times they may seem to contradict other Scripture: Ahaziah’s mother encouraged him in doing wrong (2 Chr. 22:2-5) whereas Proverbs 1:8-9 advises us to follow a “mother’s teaching.” They may even seem to contradict each other! One says, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly” but the very next one says that we should “answer a fool according to his folly” (Prov. 26:4-5). However, if we consider the second part of each proverb, the contradiction is removed. The first is telling us not to respond to foolishness with foolishness, as we may be tempted to do, while the second tells us to help a fool with appropriate advice. In Scripture a fool is one who does not believe in God (Ps. 53:1) and who makes “a mock at sin” (Prov. 14:9 KJV). The Scripture also says that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10).
The Book of Proverbs provides wisdom for all of life, not just religious life. In studying it, each proverb should be considered separately and in connection with all the rest of Scripture. Proverbs has much to say about control of the tongue, sexual behavior, attitude of mind, well-doing, as well as some unique things about women, and so on.
Control Of The Tongue
The New Testament has important teaching about our speech and how hard the tongue is to control (Jas. 1:26; 3:3-11), but it is in Proverbs that we find specific examples of its wise use. For example, Proverbs 9:8 says: “Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will be wiser still.” Also, Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger.” And Proverbs 24:28 says, “Do not testify against your neighbor without cause or use your lips to deceive.”
While the New Testament exhorts us to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18), it is Proverbs that gives many details to help us to put such advice into practice. While in most versions these proverbs address the male (Prov. 5; 6:24-29; 7:5-27; 30:20), the principles apply equally well to women.
The power of the sex drive is tremendous! And those, male or female, who have had little experience with it are often quite unprepared for its power which they feel when they get “turned on.” Because of sound instruction, their heads will tell them “no,” but their bodies will still drive them on. The seducer or seductress knows well the mystery of “the way of a man with a maiden” of which the proverb speaks (Prov. 30:19).
The world’s wisdom tells those with a strong sex drive to do whatever it takes to satisfy that drive, but God’s wisdom in Proverbs warns that so doing with a prostitute (or “escort”), is like falling into an unseen pit or well, where water or mire and great discomfort can be expected.
Also, the world’s wisdom tells a man and woman who are strongly attracted to each other to live together for a while, but God, knowing the perils of such an arrangement, says in the New Testament that “each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband,” and furthermore that “the husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to the husband” (1 Cor. 7:2-3). Where these duties are not fulfilled, adultery can become deceptively attractive, as God’s wisdom in Proverbs 7:5-27 indicates, and warns that those lured into adultery make themselves like an “ox going to slaughter” or a “deer stepping into a noose” (Prov. 5:22). This is very dramatic and effective symbolism.
Alcohol And Mind-Altering Drugs
Alcohol has been used since Bible times for its initially pleasant effects, and wine was sometimes mixed with alcoholic extracts of plants containing psychoactive substances to produce “strong drink.” Distillation to produce strong drink was not yet known.
Proverbs 20:1 warns against their misuse saying, “Wine is a mocker and strong drink is raging; and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (KJV). It is well known that when one has had too much to drink the resulting “high” creates a state where judgment is impaired and unwise decisions are made. This fact is used by swindlers and sexual seducers. Proverbs also warns about the “hangover” that follows the high of intoxication: “In the end it bites like a snake … ‘They hit me.’ you will say” (Prov. 23:32,35).
There is a proper use for these substances. In Proverbs we see wisdom saying, “Come … and drink the wine I have mixed” (Prov. 9:5). In Scripture we see that our Lord engaged in appropriate “eating and drinking,” unlike John the Baptist, “who came neither eating bread nor drinking wine” (Lk. 7:33-34).
Alcohol can also be used as a source of quick energy when needed, or as a tranquilizer: “Give strong drink unto Him that is ready to perish and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink … and remember his misery no more” (Prov. 31:6-7 KJV).
Proverbs And Women
Wisdom is personified as a woman (Prov. 1:20-33; 8:1-36; 9:1-6). Men are wise if they seek a wife whom the Lord wants them to have, for “a prudent wife is from the Lord” (Prov. 19:14). Hence, “a wife of noble character … is worth more than rubies” (Prov. 31:10), but too often men look for other qualities in choosing a wife. God’s wisdom advises that, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Prov. 31:30 ). Men are also advised against their tendency to dump an older wife: “May you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer – may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love” (Prov. 5:18-19). Why are we warned? Because beauty is fleeting and maturity brings out other virtues.
The Book of Proverbs considers many other topics, often in the form of short, pithy statements. These are practical instructions that, when properly explained, can be understood by all age levels. Two or three of them, considered in connection with other Scriptures, can provide the basis for interesting and challenging sermons or Bible class lessons.
Proverbs is spiritual milk, easily digested, that can help people of all ages to grow spiritually and become scripturally wise.
By Alan H. Crosby
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org