Guidelines For Understanding Proverbs
1. Proverbs uses poetic imagery.
Proverb, in Hebrew, means ‘to be like’ where we hold something next to something else for observation to understand. For example, Proverbs 10:11 which says, "The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life." This explains how words can heal, like a fountain of water giving life to an arid wasteland.
2. Proverbs use humor to be memorable and instructive.
i.e. "A beautiful woman without discretion is like a gold ring in a pig's snout." Prov 11:22
3. Proverbs are principles and not categorical absolutes.
This wisdom is marked by common sense that helps the reader see things that are generally true, like a rule of thumb. It is not always true but generally so. For example, the early bird gets the worm.
4. Proverbs display consequences.
"Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty and slumber will clothe them with rags." Prov 23:20
5. Proverbs are designed to be unpacked by meditation and discussion.
While Proverbs contains truth in capsulized or compressed truth, they are not suited for fortune cookies or a bumper-sticker theology.
6. Proverbs are theological at heart.
They are theological pronouncements about God, extensions and applications of the Ten Commands. The key to understanding the proverbs is in Proverbs 1:7. He says, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. This is the interpretive key that it opens and closes the book and is used 14 times within. Without reading the proverbs through this lens, one cannot understand their true depth. But what exactly is the fear of the Lord? The fear of the Lord is not fright or terror but rather something profoundly more beautiful. The fear of the Lord is a response or posture of the heart that comes as one recognizes the incredible redeeming love of God in his saving acts. For the OT saint, he looks back at God’s deliverance of Israel from the Exodus and recognizes with fear his power to save, in spite of our sin. "But with you there is forgiveness that you may be feared." (Psalm 130:4) Remember this is a covenantal book written to the children of God who have seen and savored his delivering mercy and grace.
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