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What does it mean . . .?




Proverbs is a book from the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. It is an example of a type of literature known as 'Wisdom.' Some of the sayings found in Proverbs have become an integral part of our English language and British culture, for example 'Pride comes before a fall' 16:18 and 'Love covers a multitude of sins' Proverbs 10:12

Wisdom literature is personal, pragmatic and practical, it helps us to live our lives. Proverbs is full of common sense, saying such things as 'Don't visit your neighbours house too often, you will wear out your welcome' 25:17.

The Book of Proverbs begins by giving us an idea of what it is about and where it comes from Proverbs Chapter 1:1

'The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair...'

It is said that when Solomon became king he had a vision of God in which God asked him what his heart desired above everything else. Solomon asked that he be granted wisdom. Because he asked for this instead of riches or fame, God gave him all three. Proverbs therefore at first appearance seems to be the collected wisdom of the wisest king that Israel ever had. (1 Kings Chapter 4 29). However although tradition has ascribed the entire work to the Hebrew king Solomon, we now know that it was an ancient custom to pay tribute to famous figures by making such statements. Proverbs is most probably best described as a collection of short moral sayings composed or compiled by a number of unknown persons. The most commonly accepted view is that these persons were professional sages who offered moral and religious instruction to young, upper-class Jewish men. Although some of the material contained in Proverbs may date from the time of Solomon, the whole collection most likely was given its present form sometime during the 5th or 4th century BC. Some of the teaching is thought to go back into the Bronze Age!

Some of it probably started as traditional sayings handed down by word of mouth. Other sayings are very polished and literary and may have been written for educational purposes. The Book of Proverbs is concerned mainly with three areas of life

1. The home- advice for parents and children 2.The village - advice for living in the wider community 3.The royal court - political advice.

Many cultures had wisdom teachings, such as Egypt and Babylon, the difference for the Biblical Wisdom is that it starts with God. It is not just about how to get on in life and be successful. It starts with a relationship with God and deals with motive, why should we bother to be wise? Why not enjoy being evil? The answer is that God is wise, people are made in his image and should follow his ways. God is just, therefore we should be just, God is wise, therefore we should be wise.

Christians believe that God has built into his creation certain principles and order. God is wise and his creation reflects that wisdom. Just as we can discover certain physical laws in nature, such as gravity, so as we experience life we can discover certain moral laws built into the structure of the universe.

Obviously this means that different religions will often agree on many things, having discovered the same 'moral laws,' it is general revelation. There are many things which we can learn about God from just living in his world. It might be thought of as human wisdom, but it is God given. Common sense is most probably better described as 'God's sense.'

What is clear from Proverbs is that the reader can choose to either seek wisdom or live a life of folly. Certain temptations are clear and obvious crimes of violence (1:10-19, 4:14-19) binding oneself by a rash pledge (6:1-5), sloth (6:6-11) and sexual impurity (2:16-19, 5:3-20, 6:23-35, 7:4-27, 9:13-18). If one is able to avoid these kinds of dangers then the rewards will more likely be long life and prosperity and honour. If one fails to heed the warnings then there will be dangers and pitfalls.

Proverbs is a book about how followers of God can live alongside others with integrity and put their faith into action. It shows how a relationship with God can permeate every action and thought. So there are proverbs about speech and thoughts, weights and measures and marriage.

We started by saying that the Proverbs form part of the Hebrew Bible, they are Jewish. They are also a part of the Old Testament, which means that for us as Christians we read them in the light of Christ. Jesus is seen as the living embodiment of the wisdom of God. The wisest teaching is that of Christ and the way he lived showed most clearly how we should live in relation to others. Charles Royden


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