The Power of Proverbs
Proverbs are generally fairly short statements that are designed to teach us something. They have been used since ancient times as a teaching tool. They are easy to remember and can come to mind when we face situations that are particularly relevant to their application. Although they date from ancient times they have enjoyed a revival in our present culture in slightly different forms. The sound bite, strapline and advertising jingle can all be examples of modern proverbs at one level.
Biblically the word translated Proverb can mean, “to be like.” (MacArthur, 1997, p. 874) Many proverbs in the Bible tend to be in two parts and everyday items and situations are compared to deeper meanings and truths.
Solomon was famous for his God-given wisdom and for the three thousand proverbs he spoke (1 Kings 4:32).1 32 He spoke three thousand proverbs; Some five hundred and thirteen of these are collected within the Old Testament book, “The Proverbs of Solomon,” which we tend to call, “Proverbs.”
Jesus made use of proverbs when He was teaching. These apophthegms (short weighty sayings) abound throughout His teachings. Jesus quoted many scriptures and some of these were proverbs. Paul quotes (Proverbs 25:21, 22)2 21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat. If he is thirsty, give him water to drink; 22 for you will heap coals of fire on his head, and Yahweh will reward you. when teaching the Roman Christians to love their enemies (Romans 12:20)3 20 Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so, you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
We can learn much wisdom from reading and thinking about the proverbs that are in the Bible. Here are some examples:
In (Ecclesiastes 11:3) we are told an apparently self-evident fact that wherever a tree falls that is where it will lie.4and if a tree falls toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falls, there shall it be. In my youth, I had the task of moving a large fallen tree. This was a major undertaking that required cutting it up and moving it bit-by-bit. It took time and a great deal of effort. The proverb is teaching us that certain things happen in our lives which we may be unhappy about and want to change. It is not sufficient to ask God to take these issues away to change them. They will remain as roadblocks in our lives unless we take the time and the trouble to move them. This can take time and effort. Some things in our lives really need to change but do not because we are not willing to invest our time and energy to do this.
Sometimes proverbs are grouped together with others following a theme or showing a contrast. In the next example some advice is given and then the exact opposite advice is given (Proverbs 26:4, 5).5 4 Don’t answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. 5 Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.Two possible ways are given when dealing with a foolish, unwise, person. In one instance we don’t respond and in the other, we are to rebuke. We should not respond to a fool when it means we will behave like him. Someone met a youth who was shouting insults at him. Unfortunately, he started insulting back and became exactly like the person he was rebuking. In a different situation, a person was facing someone who was insulting God to a group of people. In that situation, he pointed out the flaws and inconsistencies in what the man was saying both to help him and those who were listening.
An example of a larger grouped theme deals with advice about the company we keep (Proverbs 1:10-19).6 10 My son, if sinners entice you, don’t consent. 11 If they say, “Come with us. Let’s lie in wait for blood. Let’s lurk secretly for the innocent without cause. 12 Let’s swallow them up alive like Sheol, and whole, like those who go down into the pit. 13 We’ll find all valuable wealth. We’ll fill our houses with plunder. 14 You shall cast your lot among us. We’ll all have one purse.” 15 My son, don’t walk on the path with them. Keep your foot from their path, 16 for their feet run to evil. They hurry to shed blood. 17 For the net is spread in vain in the sight of any bird; 18 but these lay in wait for their own blood. They lurk secretly for their own lives. 19 So are the ways of everyone who is greedy for gain. It takes away the life of its owners. The company we keep does have an effect on us. It is foolish to think that we are impervious to those around us. This does not mean we walk around fearing that we might be contaminated by wrongdoing. It does mean that we should be wise in the choices we make about the company we keep and what we fill our minds with. T. V. advertising works because it has an influence on those who see it. We are urged to fill our lives with good things (Phillippians 4:8)7 8 Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report: if there is any virtue and if there is any praise, think about these things. and be wise in the company we keep (1 Corinthians 15:33)8 33 Don’t be deceived! “Evil companionships corrupt good morals.”
Share a proverb that has been particularly helpful to you?
How can riddles help us learn wisdom when they are not easy to understand?
Are there any modern proverbs that teach Biblical truths which you can share?