I’ve been posting some talks and articles on Proverbs recently. A few years back we did a teaching series through the book and it was highly enjoyable. Many Christians find it helpful to learn individual proverbs. However, we tend to shy away from running expository series through the book because the literary style is very different to what we are used to. So I’ve dug out my pre-series notes for our preaching team. I hope this is of help to others considering a crack at this wonderful book.
Key themes to look out for
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom/Trust in he Lord with all your heart
Wisdom of a characteristic of God –God is wise/God is wisdom –the true source of wisdom
Wisdom as from God –our true teacher
Linking wisdom to God’s Word/Revelation
Looking back –The Torah /Law as wisdom –wise living. Wisdom as a moral category and much as an intellectual category. Look for links especially to Deuteronomy
Looking forward –The Gospel as wisdom –wisdom in Christ. Christ as God’s revelation. Knowing God – think about wisdom and foolishness in 1 Corinthians. Think about the Proverbial dimension to Christ’s teaching –see especially Matthew and The Sermon on the Mount
- Wisdom –as practical. How to live wisely in the world –think family relationships, work, government, church, relationship to food and drink, bad and good company etc
Collection 1 – Proverbs 1-9
Collection 2 –Solomon’s Proverbs (10:1-22:16)
Collection 3 – Thirty Sayings of the Wise (22:17-24:22)
Collection 4 –Further Sayings of the Wise (24:33-34)
Collection 5 -Solomon 2 (25:1-29:7)
Collection 6: -Sayings of Agur (30)
Collection 7 – Sayings of Lemuel
No reason to doubt that Solomon was the actual author of those parts attributed to him. Nb. The Sayings of the wide include a collection of proverbs similar in content and style to a collection of Egyptian proverbs from a similar time (The sayings of Amenmope). It is possible that Solomon’s wisdom influenced the Egyptian proverb writers but it’s generally accepted that the literary relationship was more likely to be the other way round (i.e. that the Biblical proverbs draw on the Egyptian ones for influence.). This should not be a problem for us.
- It fits with the Biblical historical record –there was clearly a relationship with Egypt and Israel and Solomon married an Egyptian princess (1 Kings 3:1)
- The bible drawing on other sources isn’t a problem. It reminds us that God’s common grace and general revelation mean that people all around the world have access to wisdom to some extent. However, when those wise sayings are taken and drawn into special revelation in Scripture it transforms them by giving them their proper context within the framework of salvation history.
Agur was possibly a court official –Lemur’s identity is unknown.
Note the book has been edited and compiled over time.
Genre & Style
This will affect how we preach and teach. Can we capture the style and tone in our style and approach as well as content?
It’s important not to confuse proverbs with promises. This means wisdom will include things that are generally true but may not always be the case
For example wise living is a reasonable requirement for healthy, happy existence but does not guarantee it. Wise people get sick, suffer, struggle, die.
“A soft answer turns away anger” is generally true and we know that the best way to make a situation worse is to respond to anger with a few sharp words of our own. However, many of us will have experienced situations where we tried to respond gently and still had our heads bitten off!
Another aspect of wisdom literature is that like much of Hebraic thought it requires us to do the nuancing. So two seemingly contradictory statements may appear close together. Proverbs will ask us to “not answer a fool according to his folly” and also to “answer a fool according to his folly”
The two extremes provide boundary markers and enable us then to think about how to apply the truth in our context within those boundaries. This may be helpful because
- This will highlight how Scripture functions elsewhere –e.g. what do we do with the data on male and female roles in church and marriage
- It may help people think about how to listen to preachers. Sometimes we have a short amount of time to catch people’s attention. So what we say is not nuanced. You need to hear everything that we have to say and hear it in context.
e.g 1. Is it contradictory for me to preach and say that people should serve out of joy and not compulsion and to say “sometimes if we don’t have that sense of joy it’s time to stop” but then to ask people to help and even encourage someone who is struggling to continue?
e.g. A statement that we cannot change the world and are not asked to change it could be heard as pietism because it is not nuanced. This may lead people to think that the preacher does not care about matters such as justice, poverty, the environment etc. However in context we can see that they do. They just want to make sure people don’t carry a false burden or lose the sharpness of the Gospel.
Try reading wisdom literature as poetry. Look for the rhythm of the text. Enjoy the devices used such as personification and parallelism.
This helps us to get a feel for what is being said and how it is being said.
It also means that we may be able to capture a sense of how things to fit together. The links may not always follow our logical patterns. Sometimes the proverbial genre has been likened to stringing a necklace of pearls. A text may not always progress to a logical conclusion but one thought may send the author off in a certain direction. Think of how a comedian links his material
Teaching through Proverbs
With chapters 1-9 we will probably be able to work through each passage as a whole. This may not always be possible with the later material. So rather than trying to preach on every proverb, I suggest we look for
- Themes and links
- One or two key proverbs to focus on and apply
- Keep grounding this all in the Gospel –apply through Christ
We may find it helpful on some occasions to team teach. For example one of us could set out the big picture one Sunday morning and then invite other church members to comment on a specific proverb (2 or 3 mins each on how it is helpful to them) we would then draw things to a conclusion by pinpointing how the proverbs lead us to the Gospel.