Our church went through the book of Proverbs this summer. I put together an acrostic as kind of a review, but I think it works equally well as an introduction to the book—if you don’t take it as any sort of final word but use it as a starting point for stepping into this wonderful book.
What should we look for in the book of Proverbs?
P is for profound. It was Shakespeare in Hamlet who wrote that “brevity is the soul of wit.” We all know plenty of people who need no introduction—they just need a conclusion! To say something meaningful is a few words is not an easy thing, but it’s what Proverbs majors in. What significant thing can you say in nine words? Here are some examples of nine-word verses out of Proverbs:
- “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another,” (27:17),
- “To answer before listening—that is folly and shame,” (18:13),
- “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people,” (14:34).
Succinctness without sacrificing depth—that’s profound!
R is for relevant. The book was composed almost 3,000 years ago but it is easily understandable to people today. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the challenge we face with Proverbs isn’t that we don’t understand it—it’s that we do!
Proverbs has a lot to say about marriage and family—especially in regard to raising our children. Parents, it’s a great book to share with them whether you read it to them, post verses on your refrigerator, or just talk about its truths at the dinner table. It’s bite-sized truths are perfect for children.
O is for observational wisdom. That’s much of what Proverbs is—a record of seasoned people who have learned from life and recorded their wisdom for our benefit.
- “Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam, so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out,” (17:14).
- Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down,” (26:20).
- “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues,” (17:28).
If we’re paying attention, we should be learning from life. It’s clear that the writers of Proverbs were!
V is for values based. Over the centuries millions of people have learned a host of values from the book. The value of wisdom, generosity, discipline, hard work, telling the truth, forgiveness, honoring God, and so much more are to be found within its pages. Listen to these pinnacle values of Proverbs:
- “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight,” (3:5-6),
- “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it,” (4::23).
E is for encouraging. Proverbs is an encouraging book because its simple, straightforward style brings clarity to our culture of confusion. We live in a time when one of our Supreme Court Justices—someone who sits on the highest court in our land and has the final word in determining our laws, claimed she was unable to define what a woman was despite the fact that she is one and has a daughter!
Welcome to the 21st century where everyone is told to live out their own truth. There’s no clarity in that because as Jeremiah said, “People’s lives are not their own, it is not for them to direct their steps” (10:23). He wrote that over 2,500 years ago and it’s still true. Proverbs is not someone’s advice—it is God’s wisdom for living. There is right and wrong, good and bad, true and false, and Proverbs doesn’t shrink from telling us what it is. It is a much-needed light in the midst of darkness.
R is for relational. The book has a lot to say about how to get along with others. Here’s a sampling:
- If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor early in the morning,
it will be taken as a curse,” (27:14),
- “The righteous choose their friends carefully,” (12:26a),
- “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother,” (18:24).
B is for balanced. Proverbs recognizes the complexities of life. While there are absolutes in the book (3:5-6 for example), much of the wisdom offered is intended to be taken as general principles (22:6). For example, in 26:4 we’re told:
- “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.”
Then we find this in the very next verse:
- “Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.”
Well, which one is it?
The answer is that it depends upon the situation. The first reminds us that we don’t have to attend every argument we’re invited to. Mark Twain said, “Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.”
A person I know took the position that everything the apostle Paul wrote about in the New Testament was invalid. I said more than enough to refute such a silly idea but they chose to ignore it. They wanted to continue the discussion but what was the point—they weren’t willing to listen. Jesus did the same thing when the chief priests and elders wanted to know by what authority He had cleansed the temple of the moneychangers and merchants (Matthew 21). He asked a question they refused to answer, end of discussion.
Nonetheless, if a fool tells us they are getting ready to go somewhere and they are going to drive down the left side of the road, we are obligated to treat that differently because they could harm themselves and others. So, Proverbs is balanced—it understands that there are times when one answer does not fit all situations and accommodates that.
S is for spiritual. Because Proverbs is such a practical book dealing with everyday matters, we might be tempted to think it lacks spiritual depth. Such a conclusion would be a mistake. If we’ll look, there is a depth to Proverbs.
- “. . . Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God,” (30:8b-9).
- “The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair,” (1:1-3).
Don’t rob yourself of the wonderful blessing God has for you in this book!