Summary: To have wisdom we must develop the fear of the Lord, determine to get it, decide to ask for it, and then dedicate ourselves to Jesus.
Rev. Brian Bill
Pastor Scott Hoezee points out that 3,000 years ago in Ancient Near Eastern schools of wisdom, teachers would give final exams by stating the first half of a proverb and the students were required to complete the wise saying. There are also a lot of popular proverbs in our culture today. Let’s see how well you know them. I’ll say the first part and you shout out how they end.
A dog is a man’s…best friend.
Don’t cry over…spilled milk.
Don’t judge a book…by its cover.
Sticks and stones may break my bones…but words will never hurt me.
Don’t count your chickens…before they hatch.
Many hands…make light work. (We’re sure finding that out during the flood cleanup)
People in glass houses…shouldn’t throw stones.
The early bird…catches the worm.
The early bird may catch the worm, but the second mouse…gets the cheese.
Talk does not…cook rice. (On the sign at the high school this week)
Have you ever noticed that many Country and Western songs are proverb-like in their brevity and brilliance? Here are a few fun titles – I’m not making these up.
“How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?”
“I Would Have Wrote You a Letter, But I Couldn’t Spell…Yuck!”
“I Bought the Shoes That Just Walked Out on Me.”
“I Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well.”
“I’ve Got Tears in My Ears from Lying on My Back While I Cry Over You.”
Some of the Proverbs found in the Bible paint quite a picture as well. Here’s one from Proverbs 11:22: “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.” One of my favorites is Proverbs 26:14: “Like a door that turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed.”
As we journey through the middle books of the Old Testament we’ve completed Psalms and today and next Sunday we’ll be in Proverbs. We’ll then move to Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Job and Lamentations. Someone told me last week that she finds great comfort in the Psalms but finds the Proverbs too convicting.
The Proverbs are highly compressed, carefully chosen words of wisdom that have been skillfully crafted to stick in our minds so that our behavior changes. A proverb has been called a “short sentence founded upon long experience.” That’s probably what was behind this one: “Like one who seizes a dog by the ears is a passer-by who meddles in a quarrel not his own” (26:17). That’s wisdom from experience! Proverbs are easy to say and hard to forget.
Before we go much further, it’s crucial that we understand the kind of teaching Proverbs provides. Many people end up in a bad spot simply because they forget that there’s a difference between Proverbs and other books of the Bible. John Ortberg does a good job explaining that there are three specific types of literature in the Old Testament.
* Laws. A law is a command that we must always obey: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5).
* Promises. A promise is a guarantee that is always true: “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you.” (Psalm 139:17-18)
* Proverbs. A proverb is a catchy observation about the way things generally are but it is not a precept or a promise. In other words, they are descriptive, not prescriptive. These guidelines for living are generalizations about the way things generally turn out. Check out Proverbs 15:1: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” The works most of the time, but not in every single situation.
Proverbs are designed to be read slowly and thought about throughout the day. We shouldn’t race through them or handle them carelessly. Proverbs 26:9 says, “Like a thornbush in a drunkard’s hand is a proverb in the mouth of a fool.” Just think about what happens when an inebriated individual grabs a bunch of thorns – he or she will get hurt. Likewise, we must avoid just grabbing a proverb that we like without using care and discernment, throwing it around like a magic potion. They’re designed to be studied, memorized, meditated upon, and practiced.
Let’s look together at the very first verse of Proverbs: “The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel.” We know from 1 Kings 4:32 that Solomon wrote over 3,000 proverbs which don’t all appear here. He wrote the vast majority of the ones in the Book of Proverbs, with the exception of a couple final chapters written by Agur and Lemuel.