The Bible is a huge book and it speaks about many different things in many different ways. It tells stories and it teaches theology. It tells us how to live and how to prepare for death. The Bible tells us about many interesting people and the good and bad choices they make, and it does so in the context of their relationship with God. The Bible is primarily about God, and is indeed, God’s own Word, written by men as inspired by the Holy Spirit.
The Bible is God’s eternal Word. God, who is above and beyond all time, sends his eternal Word into this temporary world, where time keeps running out on everyone. To humans on their way to the grave, God makes an eternal invitation. Believe in me, God says, and you can live forever.
The Bible’s primary message is that the eternal and Almighty God came to earth in person as Jesus Christ, in order to forgive our sins and to show us the way to life eternal. That is what God wants for us.
But that isn’t all God wants for us. God is concerned not only about our eternal life, but God is also concerned about how we live our lives right now. With that in mind we will look at the book of Proverbs, a book focused on the here and now, filled with practical wisdom for the living of our day to day lives.
Many people complain that the Bible is too difficult to read and understand for the average person. That is true of much of the Bible. There are large parts of Scripture that you aren’t going to fully comprehend the first time through.
But you can’t make that complaint about Proverbs. It is one of the most readable books of the Bible. It is easy to understand and can speak right into your heart. The problems described and the advice given by these ancient wise men twenty-five centuries ago can be readily applied today.
Take for example the first proverb of chapter 15: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs anger.” Or Proverbs 11:17 which says, “A kind man benefits himself, but a cruel man brings himself harm.” Or verse one of the same chapter, “It is better to have just a dry crust of bread with peace and quiet, than a house full of feasting with strife.” Or in the nineteenth chapter: “The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one can rest content.”
Anyone can understand these simple words and benefit from such wisdom. What we read in the Proverbs is usually nothing more than plain old common sense. But as is often said, ‘Common sense isn’t so common.” Then again, living a moral life isn’t so much a matter of education, as it is in being reminded. We have known most of the basics of how to behave ourselves ever since kindergarten. We just need to be reminded of what is right and reminded of our accountability to God. The book of Proverbs contains many such reminders.
Even though the wisdom contained in Proverbs is common and simple, it is very often not applied. That is why the Deuteronomy six tells us to write the words of the law on our doorposts and carry them on bracelets on our wrists and headbands on our foreheads. We may not want to do that in just that way, but we’d be obeying the intent of the command if we just read the Proverbs regularly and committed a few of the best verses to memory. Then, when someone irritates us, we may not snap back right away, but may instead remember verse Proverbs 12:16 which says, “A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a wise person overlooks an insult.” Or perhaps when tempted to stick your nose into an argument that you should stay out of, you might remember Proverbs 26:17 which says: “The person who meddles in a quarrel that is not his own, is like one who seizes a big dog by the ears.” These are things we know, but have a way of forgetting at all the right times. The power of the word of God is that it can come to you at the right time– if you know it.
The beginning of the book of Proverbs says, “The proverbs of Solomon, Son of David, King of Israel.” That seems to apply to just that section and not the whole book, because others are given credit in other parts of the book. The book of Proverbs is an anthology of wise sayings from throughout Israel’s history. In ancient Israel there was a class of wise men, just as there were priests and prophets. Their job was to instruct the young, or whoever else came to them for advice or teaching. Solomon was the king and the most famous of these sages, but there were many others. They did their teaching publicly at the gate of the city, but they were also available for personal counsel and instruction.
Job was one of these wise men. Job 29 describes Job’s position as an elder at the city gate: “When I went out to the gate of the city and took my seat in the square, all were silent. When they heard me, they called me blessed. They all listened to me and waited and kept silent for my counsel. After I spoke, they did not speak. I sat as their chief.” Other Old Testament verses also speak of these upright and respected men who sat at the gate to teach, settle disputes, and give counsel. (continued…)