Lessons from The Proverbs

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The book of Proverbs is to be found roughly half way through the Old Testament just after Psalms, just before Ecclesiastes, consisting of 31 chapters, and principally written by Solomon, the wisest man that ever lived, aside from Christ himself.

It is a book that is often skipped over, but I would like, briefly, to explore this fascinating book with you and highlight its value for the servant of God, showing that if we are to go about our daily lives in a manner that is acceptable and pleasing to God, then this is one section of scripture that we simply can not afford to ignore.

Proverbs was written around 900 BC mainly by Solomon, king of Israel and son of David.

In I Kings, chapter 3, one can read as to how Solomon came to acquire great wisdom. See 1 Kings 3:9-12.

God told Solomon to ask for whatever he desired most earnestly. Solomon asked for wisdom so that he might be able to govern his people properly and wisely. That put him in God’s favour and brought him rewards.

And in 1 Kings 4: 29 – 34….

Solomon wrote 3000 proverbs, 1005 songs, and works on botany and zoology.

Attributed to him are three books of the Bible: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon.

So, a wise man indeed and it is obvious that the collection of sayings ascribed to Solomon was far longer than presented here, and the songs are almost altogether lost.

Proverbs begins with a short prologue, just a few words that convey to the reader the purpose of the writings to be found in the book. Let’s have a look at them.

Read Proverbs 1 : 1-7

The book of proverbs can therefore help us…

… to form the right thinking of things, and to fill our minds with clear and distinct ideas, so that we may know how to speak and act wisely.

Also… to distinguish between truth and untruth, good and evil – to take in the words of understanding.

And… to order our conversation aright.

To sum up we must read and study the Book of Proverbs:

For instruction;
For a better grasp of justice, wisdom, judgment and equity;
For “fine tuning” our quality of thoughts
For knowledge;
For developing greater discretion;
To increase one’s learning;
For wise counselling;
To understand the proverbs and their interpretations;
To understand the words (teachings) and dark sayings of the wise;
To hear what God has to say about His ways.

v.7 is like a motto to us. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction, this verse lays down the principle which is the basis of the whole book.

Then follows a series of speeches concerning wisdom (1:8 – 9:18). After that, there is little story flow, even within an individual chapter. However, scholars do recognize several separate collections of proverbs:

The “proverbs of Solomon” (10:1 – 22:16).
“Sayings of the wise” (22:17 – 24:22).
“More proverbs of Solomon” (25:1 – 29:27).
The “sayings of Agur son of Jakeh” (30:1-33).
The “sayings of King Lemuel” (31:1-9).
The book concludes with an acrostic poem praising the virtues of a noble wife (31:10-31).

There are at least 100 references to “wisdom”, “wise men”, or “being wise” in this book and not surprisingly, Proverbs is the chief book in what is known as wisdom literature, with the other books Job and Ecclesiastes falling in the same category. The books of wisdom do not place primary emphasis on such topics as repentance, mercy, love, faith, prayer, eternal life or other similar subjects regarding salvation, instead it contains sound advice of practical use in everyday life.

In Proverbs, we find two common ways in which that wisdom is expressed: the saying and the instruction.

Most sayings are just one verse long. For example: “A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother” (10:1) or “A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor” (22:9). These sayings are not laws however, but general principles based on careful observation of the human experience.

An instruction might extend over an entire chapter — chapter 7, for example. Instructions can provide positive directives, such as: “Honour the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine” (3:9-10). Or they can be prohibitive, such as: “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice, or the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from him” (24:17-18).

Since the primary concern in Proverbs is not theological, the book does not speak much about God. Nevertheless, Proverbs emphasizes that wisdom and knowledge are grounded in respect for God. The fear of the Lord is the dominating principle in the books of wisdom and wherever men are found, wherever they come together, wisdom, which is based on the fear of the Lord, cries out to be acknowledged, accepted, and allowed to guide and direct men’s lives.

The principles contained within, apply to all people. No passage is addressed exclusively to the Hebrew and the tone of the Book is universal throughout…. Its teaching is applicable to all men everywhere and is true of life generally and not of any particular people or land. Proverbs is the handbook of practical living, valid for all ages.

Many vital subjects are addressed in Proverbs, but the information on any one topic is scattered throughout the book. I’d like to pick out and expand on one theme though, one that provides a fundamental reason for why we are looking at Proverbs… and that is something called the seven abominations. The seven abominations sum up beautifully why we should be fascinated by the book of Proverbs as they highlight the key theme of sin, but not only that, the whole reason for this book is to provide us with the wisdom to overcome sin and in particular to overcome these abominations which the Lord detests so much.

153 verses in Proverbs make reference to sin and iniquity which is defined in the Bible as the breaking of God’s law.

Let has have a look at this passage… Proverbs 6 v 6 – 23

The section which starts in v 16 is a new section, but is not a new subject and is essentially a continuation from earlier in the chapter, and if we are to look at verse 12 to find the context, that naughty man is literally ‘a man of Belial’, or ‘man of iniquity’. The name Belial is frequently used in the OT to convey a sense of worthlessness, wickedness or a man of no use to God. There is no suggestion that it is a proper name, in the same way that Satan is not a proper name (which simply means adversary)… and later on, in 2 Cor 6:15 we read… And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?

Which we could read as… what friendship does Christ have with the worthless and the ungodly?

v. 16 – These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination to him.

The word abomination is defined as: “Extreme disgust and hatred, abhorrence, detestation, loathing. These seven things which follow are all to be found in a man of Belial, and the Lord detests them all.

In summary the seven abominations are (v17-19):

Haughty eyes
A lying tongue
Hands that shed innocent blood
The heart that devises wicked imaginations
Feet that are swift in running to mischief
A false witness
One that sows discord among brethren

This may seem like a negative subject, but on the other hand we have a positive and definite declaration that the Lord hates these things, and these seven evils are so prominent in the world, we would do well to look at them for a little while in all their ugliness, so that we may hate them too. Although we call these the seven abominations, it is possible to read into them that the Lord hates the first six and the seventh is one he really loathes. It doesn’t really matter though, we know he hates them and these aren’t the only things which are claimed to be an abomination to the Lord by the writer. We also have…

Lying lips 12:22
The sacrifice of the wicked 15:8
The way of the wicked 15:9
He that justifies the wicked 17:15
He that condemns the just 17:15
Divers weights and measures 20:10, 23.

…all these are an abomination to the Lord.

Going back to our original list, it is not difficult to see these evils in the people of the world.

Proud or haughty eyes are hated by all who are looked upon by them, even those with haughty eyes themselves hate them when looked upon by them. Haughty eyes are a hateful assumption of superiority on the part of weak and foolish man.

A lying tongue is condemned – even by liars. No-one likes to deal with the untruthful, and even the most untruthful usually retain some degree of values, enough to dislike being labelled a liar. But it’s not only an outright lie that we should be concerned with, politicians and lawyers perhaps, who are well known for distorting the truth or bending it, would resent the suggestion that they are liars, but a slight exaggeration can have all the effects of a lie, and a little may be worse than lots. A gross exaggeration for example doesn’t cause much harm. It is a foolish form of speech no doubt, but it isn’t set out to deceive. A slight exaggeration on the other hand is often believed and may be passed on again and again, exaggerated a little more each time and a destructive lie is produced. Care must be taken to speak the truth and only the truth.

Our third item on the list is hands that shed innocent blood. There is as ever a readiness to condemn such violence, but it only takes a little national pride and excitement, and little bit of national greed and many are all to willing to shed their values and respect for their neighbour. Think of the violence that we have seen in recent years at football matches, think of the recent riots in London regarding the tuition fees.

How about closer to home, and the alcohol fuelled muggings and murders on our streets? How about the gangs of youths preying on the innocent and vulnerable as they walk home late at night?

If you asked these offenders if they were capable of murder they would say no, but put them in the wrong situation and men who have no personal quarrel and are innocent of offence against each other will make haste to shed innocent blood, regardless of age or sex.

You say, ‘we would never commit murder’. But, let us be careful not to commit murder in our heart, and we would be wise to listen to the words of John in 1 John 3:15, “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer”

A heart that deviseth wicked imaginations is fourth. You might think this is the same as the lying tongue, but it is not quite the same. While many wicked imaginations do arise through the lying tongue it is possible for very evil thoughts to never reach the tongue or even to become an action.

Even the most active are sometimes still and the most talkative are sometimes silent, but our thoughts and imaginations are always with us, even when we are asleep. Though our outward actions may be righteous, carrying out the laws of God – all the while we may be building up wrongful thoughts in the heart and God who looks upon the heart will be displeased with what he sees.

The feet that are swift in running to mischief are next. This describes the person who hastens to carry out their evil plans. Not only do they devise wicked purposes, but they put their evil thoughts into practice as well. It is one thing to plan evil, and another thing to actually do evil. You will notice that these are “swift” to run to mischief. No doubt the gossiper would fit in just fine here. One who hears a juicy tale (which may or may not be true) and swiftly hastens to repeat it to another.

The sixth is a false witness that speaketh lies. While essentially the same as the lying tongue, this refers to a particular aspect of lying. One might lie to save themselves or their reputation, and ordinarily their might be some measure of excuse. A witness though is someone who stands in a position of responsibility, whether it is in a court of law or in the church for example, but as followers of Christ there is an extremely heavy responsibility on us as witnesses for Christ. We must neither hold back any vital truths nor put forward anything that is false when it comes to the word of God.

The Law of Moses spoke on this subject, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Exodus 20:16). When Jesus was brought before Caiaphas on trial, there were false witness who testified against him. Reading from Matthew 26:59-60, “Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death; But found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none”

They could find nothing wrong in Jesus so they brought in false witnesses to speak against him.

In the case of Stephen in Acts 6, “And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon Stephen, and seized him, and brought him into the council, and set up false witnesses” (Acts 6:12-13). God hates, God despises the one who lies, especially the one who bears false witness.

The seventh, and arguably the most abominable of them all is he that soweth discord among brethren. You will note that this person is described as one who “soweth.” A sower makes plans; he must cultivate and prepare the soil. He then spreads the seed. His work is premeditated. That is the way the writer describes one who spreads discord among brethren. There are some who if they cannot have their own way they will seek to destroy. They cannot control what is happening, so they go about to discredit or defame others. And generally they commit the other abominations beforehand, in that they offer lies and falsehoods.

God hates all sin, but these are seven sins in particular that the Lord describes as an abomination to him. Each of us must be on our guard against these sins. You will notice that each one of these can be attributed to originating from the heart. It is from the heart that evil thoughts and deeds arise, and often in conjunction with the tongue or the swift feet, the evil thoughts are acted upon. Proverbs talks a lot about the heart and the tongue.

Over 70 references to the heart.

There are the foolish hearts… Pro 11:20, Pro 12:20, Pro 26:22-25 for example.

The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body. Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel are fervent lips with an evil heart. Whoever hates, disguises himself with his lips and harbors deceit in his heart; when he speaks graciously, believe him not, for there are seven abominations in his heart

But fear not for Proverbs also has words to say about wise hearts: Pro 15:28, Pro 16:21,23, Pro 23:15.

These are just a few references and I encourage you to look out for the rest for yourselves.

A wise heart will take care of everything, if the heart is filled with the wisdom of God then everything else will fall into place, and this is the reason why we should be so interested in the book of Proverbs. I can’t emphasise this enough… If we take to heart the sayings in this wonderful book of wisdom, there will be no evil in our hearts, our tongue will be tamed, speaking only truths, and our feet will be swift to do the work of the Lord.

What should you do if you want this wisdom? Very conveniently Proverbs chapter 2 answer this for us. (2:1-4)

Accept God’s word (2:1).
Store up His commands. (2:1).
Develop an “ear” for wisdom (2:2).
Set your heart to get understanding (2:2).
Call out – cry aloud for understanding (2:3).
Search for it as if it were a treasure (2:4).

There are promises and rewards for you if you seek wisdom: (2:5-9)

You will understand the fear of the Lord (2:5).
You will find the knowledge of God (2:5).
From the Lord will come knowledge and understanding (2:6).
Victory is in store for the upright (2:7).
God will be a shield to anyone whose walk is blameless (2:7).
God guards and protects the faithful ones (2:8).
You will understand what is right and just (2:9).

Why do we need this wisdom? (2:10-12)

Wisdom will enter into your heart (2:10).
Knowledge will be pleasant to your soul (2:10).
Wisdom and understanding will guard you (2:11)
And deliver you from the evil ways of man (2:12)

Without wisdom one is bound to follow in the ways of wicked men and women, as plainly stated in Proverbs – The wicked will go the way of death, but the wise shall go the way of eternal life.

What ultimately happens to the wise and the wicked is not a topic that I have covered here. Let me assure you though, without wisdom, their will be no salvation… and remember our key verse from first chapter of Proverbs (v. 7)…

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

There is an undeniable wealth of advice to found in this book, and sound and sensible answers to all manner of complex difficulties are found within its thirty-one chapters. Certainly, Proverbs is the greatest “How to live” book ever written and those who have the good sense to take the wise King Solomon’s lessons to heart will quickly discover godliness, prosperity, and contentment are theirs for the asking.

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