I began teaching series in Proverbs with a ladies' Sunday school class. I have decided to summarize each week's lesson here on my blog.
I'm using Kathleen Nielson's study on Proverbs for my outline, but also reading Dan Phillips book God's Wisdom in Proverbs, John Kitchen's verse by verse commentary, and Ray Ortlund's book Proverbs: Wisdom that Works.
Yesterday, we were introduced the book of Proverbs, and then looked more closely at 1:1-7 to see the benefits of studying Proverbs.
What is a Proverb? I like Dan Phillips' definition:
A compressed statement of wisdom artfully crafted to be striking, thought provoking, memorable, and practical. (God's Wisdom in Proverbs, p. 23)
I like Dan's phrase "addage without paddage" to describe a Proverb. Proverbs are short, pithy, and memorable. They require pondering and ruminating over.
The Proverbs are poetry. Hebrew poetry is different from English poetry. While English poetry relies much more on specific words through rhyme, meter, and pattern, Hebrew poetry develops principles and themes through pairing of phrases, or parallelism. In addition to using parallelism, Proverbs uses imagery. For example, in 1:8, we are told that a father's instruction and a mother's teaching are a "graceful garland." The combination of imagery and the pairing of verses is what makes Proverbs so striking.
What are the benefits studying Proverbs? Verses 2-6 of Proverbs 1 give us a list:
- to know wisdom and instruction (v.2)
- to understand words of insight (v.2)
- to receive instruction in wise dealing (v.3)
- to receive instruction in righteousness, justice, and equity (v.3)
- to give prudence to the simple (v.4)
- to give knowledge and discretion to the youth (v.4)
- to the wise who listen, an increase in learning (v.5)
- to the one who understands, guidance is obtained (v.5)
- to understand a proverb and a saying (v.6)
- to understand the words of the wise and their riddles (v.6)
In the secone part of v. 5, the idea of being given guidance relies on words that are usually meant for sea navigation, as a sailor pulled the ropes to steer a ship. John Kitchen says in his commentary:
The ones who rightly discern the things of God will, by continuing to study these proverbs be able to steer a safe and true course through life. (John Kitchen, Proverbs, p. 40)
That sounds like something I want to do.
The lesson ended with verse 7 which introduced our discussion for next lesson: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. What is wisdom; and specifically biblical wisdom? It is skill for living in the fear of God.
The scope of Proverbs is truly amazing. I remember the first time I read through Proverbs as a young Christian and thinking they all sounded the same, and sometimes sounded contradictory. Now that I am older and have learned a little, I see their absolute brilliance. I'm excited to start studying.
It's comforting to know that wisdom and instruction are for everyone. In verse 4, we are told the benefits for the young and in verse 5, the benefits for the older. Even as we get older and gain in understanding, we are expected to listen and increase in learning. That's a comforting and exciting prospect.