Overview of Proverbs

A couple of weeks ago we talked about Solomon. When God told Solomon he could ask for anything he wanted, does anyone remember what Solomon asked for? [Let them answer.]


We talked about how wisdom and knowledge are different. Knowledge is knowing things and facts. Wisdom is having the ability to discern between a right choice or a wrong choice, or even an okay choice and a better choice. Decisions aren’t all, after all, black and white or right and wrong. If you’re deciding what college to go to, rarely is there a wrong or sinful choice. It’s about making a wise choice—looking at the options and making the choice that is best for your career goals, financial situation, and personal life.

Solomon was known throughout the land for his wisdom—so much so that even foreign leaders came to visit him to learn from him. And Solomon decided that it wasn’t the wise choice to keep all of his wisdom to himself, so he compiled the book of Proverbs.

I saw compiled because some of these sayings in the book are older than Solomon. But Solomon found it wise to take all of the wisdom known to the people of his time plus his own wisdom and make this book: which is a collection of proverbs.

What is a proverb? Well a proverb is a short saying that conveys a life truth or piece of advice or for lack of a better word wisdom. A modern example of this that you may have heard is the saying, “A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.” Have you guys ever heard that saying before? [Let them answer.]

Does anyone know what it means? “A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush?” [Let them answer.]

Well it means if you have a bird already, you caught a bird—for whatever reason you were bird hunting or you want a pet bird, whatever it is. And you caught a live bird. But there are two other birds you would rather have in a bush. If you attempt to get one of those two other birds, you’re probably going to lose the live bird you’re already holding. So it’s better to just keep the bird you have, then to lose what you have in the hope of getting something else.

Basically what you have in your possession is better than taking the chance of losing it to attain something else you don’t have.

Now this is just an English proverb that from my googling has been around since the 15th century. This is not a Biblical proverb. But it’s an example of the sort of thing that the proverbs are.

Today we’re going to look at a selection of Biblical Proverbs.

So please open your Bible to the book of Proverbs. It’s right after Psalms. If you’ll remember the trick to finding Psalms is just to open right in the middle of your Bible and then to get to Proverbs you’re just going to flip over to the next book.

[Give them a minute to get to the book of Proverbs. I highly suggest not giving them page numbers in the Bible. We’re trying to encourage Biblically literacy. It may take them several minutes to get to the right place depending on who is in the class.]

[For reading verses I generally start on one side of the room, pick the student immediately to my left, and then have them go around reading. So one student reads the first selection and then the next reads the next, etc]

Read Proverbs 1:1-7.

1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:

2 For learning about wisdom and instruction,
    for understanding words of insight,
3 for gaining instruction in wise dealing,
    righteousness, justice, and equity;
4 to teach shrewdness to the simple,
    knowledge and prudence to the young—
5 let the wise also hear and gain in learning,
    and the discerning acquire skill,
6 to understand a proverb and a figure,
    the words of the wise and their riddles.

7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction.

This section is basically explaining why Solomon compiled the proverbs. He writes that he did it for a couple of reasons. First for learning and instruction. Solomon had wisdom and he wanted to pass down that wisdom to others, so that others could be wise. He then says the instruction is for wise dealing, for righteousness, for justice, and for equity—so that means instruction on how to do right, how to be just, and how to be fair.

He then goes on to say who the audience of the book is. It says for the simple—so basically to teach wisdom to people who aren’t very wise. Also for the young—that’s you guys!—and it uses the words knowledge and prudence. We’ve talked about before that the big difference between a teenager and an adult is wisdom. Sometimes teens even know more facts and pieces of information than their elders. But what older people have that teenagers don’t is life experience and wisdom. Solomon is saying that by compiling this book he’s basically helping jump start young people so they know that wisdom older people already have! But Solomon goes on to say that this book isn’t just for people without much knowledge or life experience, he’s saying that there is also something here for the wise to learn from. There is something for everyone at every walk of life to learn from the book of Proverbs.

And then the very first piece of wisdom that Solomon shares is verse 7. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

Fearing God is not something we often talk about these days, but in this context fearing God just means respecting God and understanding his authority. Respecting God and knowing that he is the ultimate authority is the beginning of wisdom! That’s the first step. So if you already have that down then that’s like half the battle of becoming wise right there!

Let’s read the next two verses. Read Proverbs 1:8-9.

Hear, my child, your father’s instruction,
    and do not reject your mother’s teaching;
9 for they are a fair garland for your head,
    and pendants for your neck.

This sort of teaching is repeated a lot through the proverbs. That its very important to remember and learn from the teachings of your parents. We’ve talked about this before in this class, but remember most parents have your best interests at heart. They want you to be the best you can be. They know that as kids you don’t have a lot of life experience—but they do. Your parents, believe it or not, were kids before. They’ve literally been in your shoes. And when they tell you not to do something or advise you towards a certain course of action, it’s because they don’t want you to make the mistakes they made. They know the pitfalls and issues that are on the path before you—because they’ve walked that path. They’re trying to teach you the wisdom and life experience they either learned from their parents or learned the hard way! That’s why it’s so important for us to listen to our parents—even when you’re adult! Your parents have walked the path before you and they teach you to help you.

Now that’s not to say that parents are always right or that every parent is a perfect parent. Sometimes parents make mistakes because they’re human to! But generally speaking your parents know what’s up and what they’re about.

Of course, this isn’t taking into account abusive parents. Solomon is talking in generalities here—he’s speaking about the average parent who loves their children and wants what’s best for them. Abusive parents are not wise and they’re not teaching their children wisdom, so that’s an entirely different subset that Solomon is not speaking to here.

Alright let’s continue looking at some of these Proverbs. Read Proverbs 3:5-7.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not rely on your own insight.
6 In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight.” This is a very famous verse though in its most famous translation the second half says “and lean not on your own understanding.” As Solomon says in his introduction, the most important and wisest thing you can do is trust God. Your parents have your best interest at heart and give you the experience of their wisdom. God is like the uber-parent, the perfect parent. You think your parents love you? God loves you even more than that, and he wants you to know his wisdom and be able to flourish. That’s what Solomon is saying here, and that is the foundation of wisdom.

Now another famous one, read Proverbs 6:6-8.

Go to the ant, you lazybones;
    consider its ways, and be wise.
7 Without having any chief
    or officer or ruler,
8 it prepares its food in summer,
    and gathers its sustenance in harvest.

Does this sound familiar to anyone? Maybe not the verses but the concept of the hard worker ant who prepares food for the summer? There is a fable about this right? The ant and grasshopper. Which is what the movie “A Bug’s Life” is based on. The ant works hard to sustain itself. While there is a queen ant it’s not like she’s a queen like a human queen. She doesn’t give direct orders. Ants work together for the betterment of the hive—without direction to do so. They collect food and provide because it’s necessary to survive, not because some boss is bossing them around.

That’s how we should work—at whatever our job or craft is. We should work diligently without having to have bosses or parents or leaders yell at us. We work hard at our jobs because it’s the right thing to do, but also because we need to do so to earn money so we can live and provide a home for our families and food for our tables. God says this sort of diligent work is good and wise.

Now someone read Proverbs 10:12.

Hatred stirs up strife,
    but love covers all offenses.

What does this mean? The Message version of the Bible interprets this verse as, “Hatred starts fights, but love pulls a quilt over the bickering.” Basically, it means that hating someone or something or acting in hatred is never the solution, it just makes things worse. But love, love can calm things down and build bridges. It’s sort of like Star Wars right—Hate leads to the dark side. But as we’ve discussed many times in this class, love is the answer, love is what Jesus commanded us to do. And love can calm things and sometimes even heal wounds. But hatred just leads to more hurt. That’s why Jesus tells us to love our enemies, and not to hate them. Hating our enemies just leads to an endless cycle of hatred—we hate them so they hate us so we hate them. But if we love, we end that cycle.

Read Proverbs 10:17.

Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life,
    but one who rejects a rebuke goes astray.

This verse basically says we need to be able to handle taking instructions, criticism, and correction. That’s what rebuke means—we need to be able to handle people telling us we’re wrong. This is literally a life skill, one that is hard. It’s hard to accept criticism! It’s hard to listen to people tell us we’re wrong. But we’re all only human and sometimes we’re wrong. This is important at home, and at school, and at work. At home your parents correct you. At school your teachers do. And someday when you have a job you’ll have employee reviews where your bosses will tell you what you’re doing good and what you’re doing not so good, not to hurt you by pointing out what you’re doing wrong, but to help you so you can fix it and do better.

That’s why it’s important to be able to handle criticism. People correct us because they want us to do better, to be better. Your teacher doesn’t give you a bad grade because she hates you. She gives you a bad grade because your answers were wrong and she wants you to learn the right ones! Life is a learning process, and if we can’t accept those corrections, we’re never going to learn and we’re never going to become better people.

Someone read Proverbs 13:20.

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise,
    but the companion of fools suffers harm.

The moral of this verse is that peer pressure is a very real things. If your friends are wise, they will give you wise advice and help you to stay on a wise path. Good friends prop each other up and lead each other to be better. But bad friends? Bad friends can lead you astray. This is why parents are often so concerned about who your friends are. They are worried that bad friends will take you down a bad path. It’s not because they hate you or hate your friends. It’s because they’re worried. If a friend is pressuring you to do wrong, your more likely to do the wrong thing then if you had friends who think doing that wrong thing is silly.

Now read Proverbs 14:29.

Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,
    but one who has a hasty temper exalts folly.

This verse is pretty straightforward. It’s important to be slow to anger. A quick temper can result in a lot of bad things—it makes everyone around you defensive and upset. But staying calm—even in the face of other people losing their tempers—that helps keep things calm and if you maintain your cool you can talk to the person who is upset and learn what they’re truly upset about, and come to understand them better and maybe even address their issue.

Read Proverbs 14:31.

Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker,
    but those who are kind to the needy honor him.

Another one that seems pretty straightforward. Being kind and helping the poor honors God, while oppressing them is an insult to God. Really straightforward, and yet many people struggle with this. Oppression is alive and real in our world, something that happens all the time, and a lot of time it is rich people taking advantage of poor people.  If you ever find yourself in a position of power, as a Christian it’s our job to help the poor, to remember them, and not to make their situation worse.

Read Proverbs 16:2.

All one’s ways may be pure in one’s own eyes,
    but the Lord weighs the spirit.

Have you guys ever heard the phrase that “everyone is the hero of their own story?” Basically, it means that even bad guys, even evil people, often think of themselves as in the right—as the hero. They think everything they’re doing is right, even when it’s not. That’s sort of what this verse is talking about. People—we can rationalize almost anything and any behavior. We can say we’re doing this wrong thing for the right reasons or doing this right thing—but it’s for the wrong reasons. What this verse is saying is it doesn’t matter what lies people tell themselves to convince themselves what they’re doing is right and good—even when it isn’t. God looks inside of us and at our spirit and he sees the truth, he sees our intent and he sees our true motivations. For good and for bad.

Okay now this next verse is really famous. Someone read Proverbs 16:18.

Pride goes before destruction,
    and a haughty spirit before a fall.

You’ll most commonly here people shorten this verse to “Pride comes before a fall.” Have you guys ever heard that before? Anyone have an idea what it means?

No matter how much you know, you’ll never know everything. And you’ll certainly never know more than God. When we get to the level of pride where we only trust in ourselves—and not God or others—and when we think we know everything and start refusing to listen to anyone else or ask advice or for help—that sort of pride often leads to us messing up big time, aka a fall. Because we are only humans. No matter how expert you get in your field, you will never know *everything.* In fact Albert Einstein said “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” Albert Einstein was one of the smartest men in the last 100 years, and even he wasn’t prideful enough to say he knew everything.

Pride is addictive, we humans like to think we’re the best and that we know everything, but as we already read we’re not to lean on our own understanding. We’re to lean on God. And we need to keep that in perspective or else we can get ourselves in big trouble.

Another famous verse, someone read Proverbs 17:17.

A friend loves at all times,
    and kinsfolk are born to share adversity.

A friend loves at all times. All times. Not just the good times, but also the really bad and horrible times. If you’re only someone’s friend when their life is good, you’re not really their friend. A friend is someone who will be with you through thick and thin, and will stick with you even when the going gets tough.

The second half of the verse uses some old-timey language and the Message translate it to, “families stick together in all kinds of trouble.” Basically, it’s the job of a family to stick with each other through hard times and prop each other up. To share each other’s pain and suffering. To life each other’s burdens so no one person gets overwhelmed.

This is a handful of verses we just looked at here, some of the more famous ones but certainly not all the famous ones or even a fraction of the wisdom Proverbs has to offer. There are 31 chapters in Proverbs and we’ve barely skimmed the surface. The purpose of this lesson is not to be a deep dive into all of Proverbs but so you guys can be familiar with it and know what it has to offer. This is ancient wisdom, wisdom from like three thousand (ish) years ago, and it’s still applicable to our lives. Because times may have changed, but a lot of things about people haven’t.

We still have friends. We still have families. Children are still young and inexperienced. There is still poverty in our midst. There are still foolish people. And there are still rich people who refuse to help those beneath them. None of this has changed in the 3,000 years since this wisdom was compiled.

And that’s why we’re looking at it now. Because this is good wise stuff that can help you. Lean on God. Be slow to anger. Be there for your friends and family. Listen to your parents. This is still good advice.

And that’s Proverbs. A book of good advice.