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Living the Proverbs
Insight for the Daily Grind
By Charles R. Swindoll
WORTHY PUBLISHINGCopyright © 2012 Charles R. Swindoll, Inc.
All rights reserved.
The Grind of Human Viewpoint
The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel:
To know wisdom and instruction,
To discern the sayings of understanding,
To receive instruction in wise behavior,
Righteousness, justice and equity;
To give prudence to the naive,
To the youth knowledge and discretion,
A wise man will hear and increase in learning,
And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel,
To understand a proverb and a figure,
The words of the wise and their riddles.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
Fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Hear, my son, your father's instruction
And do not forsake your mother's teaching;
Indeed, they are a graceful wreath to your head
And ornaments about your neck.
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Day 1: Proverbs 1
Life in Three Dimensions
Every waking moment of our lives, we operate from one of two viewpoints: human or divine. I sometimes refer to these as the horizontal perspective and the vertical perspective. Humanity remains willfully and stubbornly limited to the horizontal. We jealously guard our autonomy from heaven: we much prefer to think, maintain our attitudes, and conduct our lives independent of our Maker. Consequently, human opinions influence us more than God's commands and principles. We base our choices on what's best for ourselves and our loved ones (maybe) without much regard for the long-term moral implications. Horizontal solutions give us the illusion of greater security and pleasure, so we tend to either reject or ignore vertical remedies to our challenges. For example, when under the gun of some deadline, we desperately search for a tangible way out rather than heed God's counsel to trust Him. Instead of waiting on our Lord to solve our dilemma in His own way and in His own time, we usually step in and begin manipulating a quick, painless escape.
Because divine wisdom fills the book of Proverbs, we can anticipate a vertical perspective even though the grind of having a strictly human viewpoint comes so naturally. This vertical wisdom includes practical guidance to help us live wisely in the horizontal dimension. Therefore, the more we pore over the sayings in Scripture, the more oil we apply to the daily grind. Without a doubt, the wisdom of Solomon and other Hebrew sages offers the most practical, down-toearth instruction in all the Bible. The entire book of thirty-one chapters is filled with capsules of truth, often in the form of a short, pithy maxim, to help us face and even rise above the daily grinds of life. These sayings convey specific truth in such a pointed and easy-to-understand manner that we will have little difficulty grasping the message.
Think of a significant decision you made in the past. What additional insight emerged when you considered that situation from the vertical perspective? Considering the outcome with the benefit of hindsight, what impact did the vertical perspective have on your decision—and having done that ... what, if anything, would you do differently?
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Day 2: Proverbs 1
Wisdom and Style
The book of Proverbs conveys divine wisdom—practical counsel with a vertical dimension—in a style that follows the conventions of Hebrew poetry. The most common structure in Proverbs, for instance, is the couplet. The writer places two ideas side by side such that each complements the other. Take Proverbs 13:10, for example:
Through insolence comes nothing but strife,
But wisdom is with those who receive counsel.
The book of Proverbs employs at least four distinct types of couplet: contrastive, completive, corresponding, and comparative.
In a contrastive couplet, the key term is usually but. One statement contrasts with the other to show two sides of the same coin, as it were. The contrasting conjunction links the statements together, yet keeps the two ideas distinct. Each statement can stand alone but, together, their message becomes more profound.
A wise son accepts his father's discipline,
But a scoffer does not listen to rebuke. (13:1)
Poverty and shame will come to him who neglects discipline,
But he who regards reproof will be honored. (13:18)
He who withholds his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him diligently. (13:24)
In completive couplets, the second statement completes the first. The first statement, while true in itself, doesn't offer a complete picture without the second. These couplets typically feature coordinating conjunctions like and or so.
The heart knows its own bitterness,
And a stranger does not share its joy. (14:10)
Even in laughter the heart may be in pain,
And the end of joy may be grief. (14:13)
Commit your works to the Lord
And your plans will be established. (16:3)
The corresponding couplet—very common in the Psalms as well—features two lines expressing the same thought using different terms. Another name for this kind of couplet is "synonymous parallelism." While the first statement expresses a complete idea, the second adds depth, dimension, and color. The effect is not unlike seeing the world through two eyes instead of just one. A personwith one eye can observe the world, but he or she lacks depth perception. Two eyes allow us to perceive the world in 3D, which is so much better.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (9:10)
The parallelism allows us to define the terms more precisely. "Fear of the Lord" and "knowledge of the Holy One" correspond to one another. To "fear" God, then, is to "know" Him—and vice versa. Moreover, "beginning of wisdom" and "understanding" correspond. They aren't exactly the same, but they share a common source: an intimate, in-depth relationship with God.
Finally, as the name comparative couplets suggests, the two statements invite a comparison. These feature terms like better ... than, as ... so, or like ... so. For example:
Better is a little with the fear of the Lord
Than great treasure and turmoil with it. (15:16)
It is better to live in a corner of the roof
Than in a house shared with a contentious woman. (25:24)
Comparative sayings usually paint vivid word pictures that draw upon the reader's own experience to describe a new truth. The structure of the couplet implies, in effect, "This new truth is much like this other truth you already accept." Consequently, the word picture rings so true to life that the reader unconsciously nods in hearty agreement.
The style of Hebrew wisdom literature and other poetic expression isn't difficult to interpret, but it is somewhat different from our twenty-first-century Western writing. In what ways, if any, do you think this difference will affect your willingness to study the book of Proverbs? What does your willingness say about your desire for wisdom?
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Day 3: Proverbs 1
While much of the book of Proverbs came directly from the pen of Solomon, the finished work actually combines the wisdom of several sages, which a final editor compiled and arranged as we have it today. Ultimately, this is the work of the Holy Spirit. Like the sixty-six books of the Bible, Proverbs combines the writings of many human authors working under God's direct inspiration. Providence brought all the written material together through the efforts of an inspired compiler. This book of divine wisdom cannot be said to come from one individual; it truly is the mind of God expressed in writing.
After a brief preface (1:1–7), Proverbs can be divided into seven sections or collections:
The Words of Solomon on the Value of Wisdom (1:8–9:18)
The Proverbs of Solomon (10:1–22:16)
The Proverbs of Wise Men (22:17–24:34)
The Proverbs of Solomon Collected by Hezekiah's Men (25:1–29:27)
The Wisdom of Agur (30:1–33)
The Wisdom of Lemuel (31:1–31)
Unlike other books of the Bible, Proverbs contains no direct information about the people to whom it was originally written. It doesn't mention the Hebrew nation, its culture, customs, laws, or history. The Old Testament books of law and history require us to draw timeless principles from words written to people living far away and long ago; the book of Proverbs, however, is timeless and universal. The wisdom of Solomon and the other sages requires no translation; the truths apply to all people living everywhere at any time. Even so, we must consciously exchange our twenty-first-century Western filter for the worldview of the Hebrew God.
Western thinkers, for example, make a distinction between theoretical and practical wisdom; the Hebrew sages did not. In other words, Greek or Western philosophy teaches that a person can be filled with knowledge yet behave foolishly. Consequently, Western thinkers believe that our challenge is to live out what we say we believe to be true. Western philosophers call us to live up to our potential by putting into practice what we know to be true.
The Hebrew sages considered this nonsense. For a person to know truth and then behave contrary to that truth is the very definition of stupid! For example, if people accept the law of gravity as a fact and truly understand how it operates, we don't dance on the ledge of a skyscraper. If we do, our theoretical knowledge of gravity only makes us greater fools. Wise people stand clear of dangerous places and usually live longer as a result. In the Hebrew mind, to "know wisdom and instruction" necessarily means to put it into practice. Wisdom occurs when knowledge produces obedience.
As we read the wisdom of these Hebrew sages, we are wise to challenge many of the notions we take for granted. Rather than subject Proverbs to our preexisting opinions of what is right or wrong, good or bad, we must give this book the benefit of divine authority. That is to say, if we read these words with an open heart, we will find ourselves agreeing with what we read much of the time—and occasionally offended. When these words of divine wisdom cause inner turmoil, I urge you to pause. Don't dismiss it too quickly. This is your opportunity to allow the Holy Spirit to straighten out some faulty thinking and to set you on a corrected course. If you allow the Word of God and the Spirit of God complete access to your mind, then your life at home, at work, with friends, and in the world at large will be transformed. After all, the core message of the book of Proverbs is this: "Do things God's way, and you'll be more successful in every sphere of life. Ignore divine wisdom, and you will fail."
Our Western mind-set tends to equate knowledge with wisdom. According to the Bible, people can be called "wise" only when they behave wisely. Education and insight aside, does your behavior reflect wisdom? Ask a trusted friend or mentor to answer that question for you.
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Day 4: Proverbs 1
This Means You
While we are getting better acquainted with the ancient sayings, I should mention that this is a book full of various kinds of people facing a variety of common challenges. Years ago I completed an in-depth analysis of Proverbs and was surprised to discover that the book includes more than 180 types or categories of people. Men and women, young and old, foolish and wise, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, married and single—Proverbs addresses virtually every demographic imaginable to offer specific advice concerning the issues they face. Moreover, the sages discuss circumstances that all people must face, regardless of age, gender, race, nationality, where they live, in what era, or even what religion they practice. Common themes include work, money, marriage, friendship, family, home life, hardships, conflict, youth, old age, sin, forgiveness ... challenges for which everyone needs guidance. It's no wonder so many people throughout history have discovered this book to be helpful: when it comes to gaining wise counsel for horizontal living!
Despite the broad range of topics, however, everything eventually goes back to an individual's personal relationship with God and His Word. By the end of this book of wisdom, we discover a great paradox. Regardless of the categories that divide us, we human beings are united by the same challenges. Furthermore, the practical wisdom provided by the book of Proverbs points all people—our differences notwithstanding—in the same direction: toward a right relationship with God.
While the sages affirm a sole Deity ruling over humanity, they nevertheless present Him as a complex being with many facets to His personality and several roles to fill. He is transcendent (distinct from creation) yet immanent (personally involved within the world). He is the sovereign King of the universe, ineffable and inscrutable, yet He calls all people to a personal relationship with Him. He is the righteous judge, handing out rewards and punishments according to merit, yet He is the advocate of the helpless, giving grace and mercy to all who ask.
As this book of wisdom reveals, God presents Himself to each individual according to his or her spiritual need. To all people everywhere, God is the Creator (3:19–20; 14:31; 16:11; 17:5; 20:12; 22:2) and the all-knowing Shepherd of souls (5:21; 15:3; 15:11; 22:12; 24:12). To the stubborn, unrepentant sinner, He is the righteous Judge (8:35; 17:15; 21:3; 22:22–23; 23:10–11; 29:26). To the helpless, God is the Advocate of the weak (14:31; 15:25; 17:5; 22:2, 22–23; 23:10–11; 29:13). To the faithful, the Lord is the Benefactor of the righteous (3:1–10; 8:35; 10:32; 11:1, 20; 12:2, 22; 15:8; 16:20; 18:22; 19:17; 28:25).
For our purposes as readers of this volume, God is the Author of wisdom, whom we cannot—must not—ignore without suffering unwanted consequences in this life and then facing a fearsome reckoning in the life to come.
If you received a letter written by God addressed specifically to you, how would you respond? What would you do with it? Because the book of Proverbs offers practical counsel that applies to all people, living in all places, throughout all time, and in all cultures, it can be said that God wrote this book for you! How are you responding to it?
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Day 5: Proverbs 1
The Purpose of the Proverbs
As we open the book of Proverbs in order to discover divine wisdom for ourselves, an appropriate question to ask is, why? Why has God preserved these sayings down through the centuries? If we go back to the preamble of the book, we'll find the answer. You might want to glance back over Proverbs 1:1–9. As I reflect on those words, I find five reasons God gave us this book of wisdom:
1. To inspire reverence and obedience within the reader's heart
The opening words of the first section establish the purpose for the entire book in very clear terms: "to know wisdom and instruction" (Proverbs 1:2). Remember, in the Hebrew mind, to "know wisdom" is to put instruction into actual practice. Failing to do what we know to do is the definition of foolishness. Therefore, the chief aim of the book of Proverbs is to bring divine truth into proper focus, enabling us to look at life through God's eyes—from His eternal, all-knowing point of view—and then live accordingly. Proverbs teaches us how to gain wisdom from God's reproofs so that, in the power of the Spirit, we will obey.
2. To teach discernment
"To discern the sayings of understanding" (1:2). Discern is a crucial term. The Hebrew term means "to separate; to make distinct." Discernment is the ability to look at a situation and clearly see all its moving parts. A discerning mind has the ability to think critically, to distinguish truth from error, and to anticipate the likely consequences of any given choice.
Excerpted from Living the Proverbs by Charles R. Swindoll. Copyright © 2012 Charles R. Swindoll, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of WORTHY PUBLISHING.
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