Monday, April 4, 2016

A Tour of Proverbs - Why you and I need to study the book of Proverbs

Proverbs 1:1-2 The proverbs of Solomon, the Son of David, King of Israel: (2) To know wisdom and instruction, to discern the sayings of understanding.

When I was a boy, my family had traveled to visit my uncle. He had a wood stove and had been recovering from a then recent hospital stay. At the time, various people would come to help him out with the chopping of wood and the stacking of it beside his home. While we were there visiting, I thought I would go outside and chop some wood to help him out. The ax that was near the wood pile was particularly weathered – with a cracked wood handle and a rusted ax-head. As I placed the first log on the chopping block – I raised the ax to begin the chopping. To my surprise, the ax suddenly became very light – to which I discovered in the next split second was due to the dislodging of the ax-head from the handle! I panicked. Five seconds later I heard a dull thud about 15 yards behind me. The ax-head landed on the ground and thankfully, no one was outside! The point of this story is to illustrate not only the dangers of a dull ax in chopping wood, but also the dangers of not having God’s wisdom in your life.

Why I have begun reading Proverbs, and why you should too
Recently I began reading through the Book of Proverbs. My motivation for taking up the book of Proverbs is to gain insight into God’s plans and purposes for our lives. Currently, my family and me are making some major decisions and are in a major transition phase of our lives. Whenever I have had those times in my life where I see my situation outstripping my current level of trust in God, Proverbs is one of the Bible books to which I turn. I imagine you who are reading this post today are facing a series of tests and situations that demand a greater need for wisdom. Like me, you want to have “God’s mind” on the given matter at hand. In rehearsing the above illustration about the dull ax and the wood, whenever we face a stack of logs (whether they be challenges, decisions, wrestling with sin, increasing faith in God, raising families, building stronger marriages), we’d best be sure to have a sharp and effective edge to our Christian walk. That is how wisdom in the Hebrew scriptures operates.

In the New Testament we find this command from James 1:5 “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” In reflecting upon that command, I find two major sources for acquiring the wisdom of God: first, the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30; Colossians 2:3); and second, the Word of God in general and the Book of Proverbs in particular. Certainly the entire 66 books of the Bible are the verbal embodiment of God’s wisdom delivered to His people (Psalm 19:7). For the sake of brevity in our post here, we will deal with Proverbs. So, the question is: how is it that Proverbs delivers wisdom to those who read it?

What Biblical wisdom is, and isn’t
To begin, we mustn’t equate wisdom with intelligence or academic performance. Oftentimes, some of the most intellectually gifted people in the world display little wisdom. Unlike Greek concepts of wisdom that refer to acquisition of knowledge or speculation on abstract ideas, the Hebrew mind understood wisdom as having to do with the “skills needed for living life before God”. In the Book of Proverbs and throughout the Hebrew scriptures (of which the Old Testament was originally composed), three major terms were used to define what was meant by “wisdom”. Bible scholar Gleason Archer in his seminal work: “A Survey of Old Testament Introduction” discusses each of these terms: “Hokma, “wisdom”, the term most frequently used, pertains not so much to the realm of theoretical knowledge or philosophy as to a proper grasp of the basic issues of life…”. Archer then adds further explanation wherein he writes: “and of a relationship of God to man as a moral agent”. The premier example of this word’s usage is found in Proverbs 8.

The second term translated “wisdom” or more so “understanding” in the Bible is the Hebrew term “binah”. Dr. Archer explains the meaning of “binah”: “Binah, understanding, connotes the ability to discern intelligently the difference between sham and reality, between truth and error, between the specious attraction of the moment and the long-range values that truly govern a successful life.” Solomon uses this term in Proverbs 1:2, which the NASB translates as “understanding”. Certainly the first seven chapters of Solomon’s book deal with a father attempting to impart “binah” or “understanding” to his young son.

The third term used to describe wisdom in the Old Testament in general and Proverbs in particular is a Hebrew term translated “discretion” in Proverbs 3:21. Dr. Archer explains the meaning of this term: “tisiyyah, or sound wisdom, efficient wisdom, or, in a derived sense, abiding success. This term conceives of wisdom as an authentic insight into or intuition of, spiritual or psychological truth.”

Whenever we consider these three terms, we can liken the concept of Biblical wisdom to that of a three legged stool. Each term explained above functions as the legs upon which rests the concept and practice of Biblical wisdom. The Book of Proverbs enables the Christian to “sharpen the ax of faith” so-to-speak. Dull axes can hurt when chopping trees or firewood, since more work has to be done and the effort quickly wears the person out. However, with a newly sharpened ax, what was an impossible task suddenly is made quick work. This is what the Book of Proverbs achieves, and why it is included in our Bibles. The Holy Spirit knew God’s people in future generations would need wisdom from on high. Truly if you and I want to have more wisdom, we need to study the Book of Proverbs.

A very brief outline of the Book of Proverbs
Many commentators have noted throughout the centuries that the Book of Proverbs is not as easy to outline as other Bible books, due to the fact that much of its contents are topical in nature. I have found when studying Proverbs, it is helpful to note the many topics and themes one encounters as they read the book. Such an approach can prove helpful when dealing in counseling situations or in aiding oneself in better understanding the practical realities of Christian living. Based upon certain headings that we find in the book, we can discover how the Proverbs are situated into certain “collections”. Let the reader note:

A. The Proverbs of Solomon to his son on relationships and character. Proverbs 1-9

B. The Proverbs of Solomon as they pertain to the general matters of life. Proverbs 10-24

C. The Proverbs of Solomon for Kings and Leaders. Proverbs 25-29

D. More Proverbs that deal with relationships and character. Proverbs 30-31

Closing thoughts

So if you and I want to have more wisdom, we need to study Proverbs. I find it interesting that the book emphasizes the need for God’s wisdom in relationships and character development. How many of us can testify to the ever-increasing need for God’s wisdom in those areas? The oft-times appeal for leadership in our churches and culture and the need for wisdom in the complexities of life are covered in the middle parts of the Book. For reasons such as these, it would be to our benefit to read the Book of Proverbs – one chapter a day. If we do that, we can enjoy renewed faith and increased wisdom in the span of a month.

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