We’ve all heard them! Pithy statements that cause us to stop, think, and mull over life and choices we make. A few “classics” include:
Don ’t count your chickens before they hatch. Strike while the iron is hot. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
These kinds of witty, memorable statements, known as proverbs, offer wisdom for practical living. We use the pictures of unhatched eggs, hot irons, and chains to emphasize doing things at the right time or with the right resources. Often, like the ones above, proverbs are simple and easy to understand with little effort. Others, especially in the book of Proverbs, have both simplicity and depth. They are designed to be contemplated. Consider four helpful reminders as you dive into proverbs in the Bible.
1. Find the principle. Remember that proverbs often speak with concrete pictures that go beyond the picture in meaning. “Because of laziness the building decays, and through idleness of hands the house leaks” (Eccl. 10:18) is literally true, but is not solely about building management.
2. Notice the structure. Examine the parallelism by looking at each line in connection with the whole sentence or sentences. In Ecclesiastes 10:18, the first and second statements are very similar, almost synonymous. Other proverbs, however, might have a contrast instead such as Proverbs 14:5 – A faithful witness does not lie, but a false witness will utter lies.
3. Ask “Why? ” Why does a faithful witness not lie? Because a life of habitual truth -telling in life will continue in that habit in a court setting. Why does a false witness utter lies? Because a life of habitual lying will be evidenced in bearing false witness. This proverb is about credibility which comes from the habitual choices made in life.
4. Remember the rest of the story. Proverbs are not just an “add -in” to scripture that are a break from reading the historical accounts of the Bible. They emphasize a theme that the rest of the Bible emphasizes – choice between good and evil. When Jesus ends the sermon on the mount, He pictures those who hear His words and do them as a wise man who builds his house on a solid foundation, and contrasts that with a man who hears and does not do as a man who builds his house on the sand. When storms of life come, only one house can stand. Wise, practical living has spiritual consequences. In fact, the beginning of wisdom is described as the fear of the Lord (Prov. 9:10).