What does the Bible say? What does it mean? How does it relate to my life? Genesis to Revelation, a comprehensive, verse-by-verse, book-by-book study of the Bible, will strengthen your understanding and appreciation of the Scripture by helping you engage on these three levels. Newly revised, these Abingdon classics are based on the NIV translation and are presented in an easy-to-read format. Each of the volumes includes thirteen sessions.
Study the entire Books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs in this comprehensive study beginning with a look at the springs of life in the Proverbs and ending with the Song of Songs' declaration that love is as strong as death. Some of the major ideas explored in this study are: the cost of getting involved, joy unlimited, the constancy of friendship, time to love and to hate, and the old and the new. The meaning of the selected passages is made clear by considering such aspects as ancient customs, locations of places, and the meanings of words. The simple format makes the study easy to use. Includes maps and glossary with key pronunciation helps.
The Leader Guide includes the additional information you need to lead:
- A verse-by-verse, in-depth look at the Scriptures.
- Background material, including word studies and history of the biblical setting.
- Answers to questions asked in the Participant Book.
- Application of the Scripture to daily life situations.
- Discussion suggestions.
- A variety of study options.
- Practical tips for leaders to use.
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About the Author
James L. Crenshaw is the Robert L. Flowers Professor of Old Testament at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.
Read an Excerpt
EVERYTHING FLOWS FROM THE HEART
DIMENSION ONE: WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
Answer these questions by reading Proverbs 1
1. What is the beginning of knowledge? (1:7)
"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge."
2. What happens to people who acquire ill-gotten wealth? (1:19)
They lose their lives.
Answer these questions by reading Proverbs 2
3. Despite our efforts to learn about life's mysteries, who grants true wisdom to individuals? (2:6)
When all is said and done, God gives wisdom. From the mouth of the Lord come knowledge and understanding.
4. From what does wisdom deliver young men? (2:16)
The young man who has wisdom escapes from the adulterous woman.
5. What happens to those who surrender before the adulterous woman's seductive speech? (2:18-19)
They lose their way and forfeit their lives.
Answer these questions by reading Proverbs 3
6. What happens to young people who heed the teachings of their parents? (3:1-2)
They live a long life of prosperity.
7. Whom should we trust? (3:5)
We should trust in the Lord with our whole heart.
8. What special relationship exists between God and the subject of divine discipline? (3:11-12)
A loving relationship exists between God and those the Lord disciplines.
9. What does wisdom hold in each of her hands? (3:16)
In her right hand she holds long life; in her left hand wisdom holds riches and honor.
10. What three things is wisdom like? (3:15-18)
Wisdom is like precious rubies, pleasant ways, and a tree of life.
11. In the beginning, when God created the world, what assisted the Creator? (3:19-20)
Wisdom, understanding, and knowledge assisted God in the creation of the world.
12. When should we help others? (3:27)
We should help others when we are able and when they deserve it.
Answer these questions by reading Proverbs 4
13. What does wisdom place upon the head of the one who loves her? (4:9)
She places a garland of grace and a glorious crown on the head of anyone who loves her.
14. What characterizes the separate paths of the righteous and the wicked? (4:18-19)
The way of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn. The way of the wicked is covered in deep darkness.
15. What flows from the human heart? (4:23)
Everything you do flows from the human heart.
DIMENSION TWO: WHAT DOES THE BIBLE MEAN?
Proverbs 1:1. The Book of Proverbs begins with an inscription that links the sayings that follow with an authoritative figure of the past, the great King Solomon. There may be some truth in the biblical tradition that the son of David was in some way connected with wisdom. Solomon was probably the royal sponsor of the wise. However, we cannot be sure that Solomon actually wrote any of the proverbs preserved here.
According to 1 Kings 4:32-33, Solomon uttered 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs. However, very few of the proverbs have as their subject matter the kinds of things 1 Kings 4:33 attributes to Solomon. Such encyclopedic knowledge was the subject of inquiry by the wise of Egypt and Mesopotamia.
This inscription is not the only one we shall encounter in the book. Other superscriptions appear in 10:1; 24:23; 25:1; 30:1; and 31:1. It is likely that in 22:17 "the sayings of the wise" (NRSV) originally served as a superscription but a later scribe mistakenly incorporated the two Hebrew words into the verse itself. The NIV translates the words as "Thirty Sayings of the Wise" and makes them a subhead.
Proverbs 1:2-7. In an introductory paragraph, the final editor of the Book of Proverbs subjects the total work to his own religious perspective. This introduction is very similar to the initial section in the Egyptian Instruction of Amenemopet. Portions of this document have influenced Proverbs 22:17–24:22.
The writer spreads the net as widely as possible, hoping to snare all types of students. Beginning with those needing elementary instruction, he includes young people as well as mature scholars as objects of his interest. Mature scholars will learn how to probe beneath the surface to grasp hidden meanings and symbols and enigmatic expressions. When Jesus ben Sira describes the task of the wise about 190 BC, he also emphasizes the importance of getting to the very heart of a matter. See, for example, The Wisdom of Sirach 39:l-3, in the Apocrypha.
Verse 7 alerts us to the fact that religious sentiment undergirds the teachings that follow. In the writer's view religion is the "queen of the sciences," for true wisdom comes from the Lord. All knowledge is faith seeking understanding, to use an expression later popularized by the church father Anselm. The meaning of the Hebrew is not exactly clear. It may mean that religion comes before insight, or it may imply that religious truth is the chief ingredient of knowledge.
Verses 2-7 use several words to describe the meaning of wisdom. Each word (understanding, insight, prudence, knowledge, discretion, learning, guidance) sheds light on what it means to be truly wise.
Proverbs 1:8-19. Israel's wise used certain devices to persuade individuals to be obedient. Two of these devices occur in this unit about misguided conduct. The first is the quotation of the imagined speech of sinners. The second is the citation of a popular maxim to make a decisive point that none could dispute.
The images contained in the imagined speech are often exceptional. Here the symbol of a ravenous grave (Sheol, NRSV), the land of the underworld, offers an appropriate simile for those who threaten the lives of innocent people. The writer is not erecting straw figures that can easily be knocked down. Instead, the teacher takes the invitation quite seriously as one that can ruin young lives.
The popular maxim (verse 17) appears at the decisive stage of the argument precisely because its truth has dawned upon the entire human community. Everybody knows it is futile to spread a net while birds are watching. Here, as often is the case, the maxim does not exactly fit the context. The teacher probably wants to emphasize how those who adopt ways of violence fall victim to its cruel blows.
Proverbs 1:20-33. This is the first of several instances where wisdom is described as a female person. (See also Proverbs 2:10-15; 7:1-5; 8:1–9:6.) Here she seems to be patterned after a prophet, at least in her language. Some interpreters, though, think Greek traveling philosophers provide the best parallel to her activity. However, since the content of her speech is so totally prophetic, one need not go beyond Israel's border to explain the text.
Wisdom begins by adapting the opening words of a lament: "How long, O Lord?" Substituting "you who are simple" for the Lord, she addresses humans in language usually reserved for God (verses 22, 28). The similarities with Amos's proclamation of the divine word are impressive. (See Amos 8:12.)
Proverbs 2:4-6. Although 2:6 asserts that wisdom is a gift, these three verses acknowledge the necessity of searching diligently for knowledge. According to the world view of wisdom, the Creator concealed the secrets of the universe within the natural world. Humans must search out those truths. One well-known proverb states this truth: "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; / to search out a matter is the glory of kings" (Proverbs 25:2). This truth is also illustrated in Job 28. Here a majestic poem celebrates human achievement in searching for treasures in the recesses of the earth. But Job 28 also expresses the belief that wisdom cannot be found. For the author of the poem in Job, only God has access to wisdom. That sentiment finds expression in Proverbs 2:6. Unlike Job 28, this text says God dispenses wisdom among human beings.
Proverbs 2:16-19. The wise seem preoccupied with the dangers posed by loose women. In fact, the wise create a temptress who opposes personified wisdom (Proverbs 9:13-18). Why this preoccupation? Perhaps the fertility ritual, imported into Israel from neighboring conquerors, provides the context for interpreting these warnings against foreign women. Israelite prophets denounce such practices as abominable yet very real. Hosea complains about sexual practices in worship. Ezekiel also fights against this elevation of sex as the ultimate gift to God.
The present passage may simply allude to foreign women who lived in the midst of God's people and who threw off all restraint when cut loose from their own culture. Or perhaps the reference is to Israelite women who defied convention. Whether foreign by birth or by action, this adventuress posed a real threat to those who advocated self-control at all times. And, her husband represented an even greater threat (see Proverbs 6:29-35).
Proverbs 3:5-8. Knowledge is power, and awareness that one stands above the masses often leads to a sense of pride. In many instances, visions of self-importance come upon us unawares, for a clear gulf separates fools and wise individuals. The author of 3:7 warns against self-reliance when it veers away from pure religion. Aware that pride precedes a fall (Proverbs 16:18), he urges humble submission to God.
The warning against relying upon one's own insight is surprising. After all, wisdom assumes that humans possess the ability to cope with reality. This belief is based on an assumption that virtue is rewarded and wickedness punished. It follows that individuals choose their lot in life, and they act accordingly. Those who opt for wicked ways suffer the consequences. Those who select the path of goodness enjoy long life and prosperity. That promise is present in verse 8, which uses the image of good health.
Proverbs 3:9-10. Despite the deeply religious sentiment of this first collection of proverbs, ritual obligations are missing for the most part. This passage is an exception, for it alludes to the requirement that worshipers bring an offering of their first fruits to the Lord. That the proverb does not mention any particular holy place destined to receive such offerings suggests that the proverb was composed after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586 BC. The old promise of blessing accompanies the proverb, in any case.
Proverbs 3:16-18. The imagery of these verses is familiar to students of Egyptian wisdom. There wisdom holds a symbol for life in one hand. There also the way of wisdom is likened to a tree of life. The image is probably a universal one. Its presence in the Book of Proverbs is well known and does not necessarily indicate foreign influence.
Proverbs 3:19-20. When the wise attempted to think theologically, they usually began with the notion of creation. The creator of the world entrusted humans as the good stewards of the earth (see Genesis 1:28). According to an ancient story (Genesis 9:8-17), God made a covenant with Noah that the earth could be relied on from that day forward. The wise based their theology on this promise. A truth once discovered could be depended on, for order prevailed throughout God's universe. This is what is implied by the claim in verse 19 that the Lord founded the earth by means of wisdom.
Proverbs 3:21-24. These verses echo the passage in Deuteronomy that urges keeping God's word and promises security through such devotion (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). See also Proverbs 3:3 and 6:20-23.
Proverbs 4:1-6. At least three settings for instruction existed in ancient Israel: the family, the royal court, and the school. Probably, the earliest context was that in which mothers and fathers instructed their children. The international contacts of Israel's kings necessitated learned counselors, and these had to be trained in the royal courts. Similarly, scribal duties increased as Jews began to carry on commercial enterprises within the Greek world. So schools arose to prepare young men for these important tasks. The first mention of a school is found in Sirach 51:23 ("Draw near to me, you who are uneducated, / and lodge in the house of instruction").
The setting for Proverbs 4:1-6 is undoubtedly the family. Mention of the mother may be because of the tendency to write poetry in parallel lines, for the actual teaching is attributed to the father. In Proverbs 6:20, the mother is credited with teaching alongside the father. There, and here in 4:1-6, the allusions to parents seem literal. But in time the word father denotes a teacher and son designates a student.
Proverbs 4:18-19. Light has been associated with good deeds from the beginning of time, and darkness with wickedness. Righteous persons and sinners travel distinct paths. The Wisdom Literature tends to insist on sharp distinctions between good and evil, as well as between wisdom and folly. This continued in Psalms and eventually gave birth to literature advocating two ways. This tendency is especially true of the religious community that bequeathed the Dead Sea Scrolls to posterity. One of their documents is entitled "The Wars of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness." Jesus used such images as sheep and goats, a narrow way and a broad one, to indicate the separation of good persons from evil ones. A Christian counterpart, The Didache, written perhaps at the end of the first century AD, literally means teaching. The first of the four sections is on The Two Ways: The Way of Life and the Way of Death.
Proverbs 4:23. This image of the heart as a wellspring providing life-sustaining water (NIV 1984) calls attention to the heart as the center of thought. We must guard against all sullying influences, from without and within.
DIMENSION THREE: WHAT DOES THE BIBLE MEAN TO ME?
Proverbs 1:7 — Faith and Knowledge
Two things stand out in this verse that functions as a motto for the initial collection of proverbs. First, the idea of fear of the Lord. This theme comes close to being the dominant one in Proverbs 1–9 and is joined by the female personification of wisdom. Wisdom achieves prominence here and in later wisdom literature such as Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon in the Apocrypha. What does fear of the Lord mean? In a word, religion, which included worship and one's complete orientation to life.
The second noteworthy feature of this verse is the special name for God that the Israelites used even though they understood the Lord to possess no rival. As a rule Wisdom Literature prefers the general name for God, since the teachers derived their truths from every conceivable source and did not speak about Israel's special relationship with a covenant God. Naturally, their emphasis upon the creator of the universe did not invite use of special names for God. A decisive shift in this regard takes place in Sirach, where creation theology and covenant terminology appear together.
Try to lead the class into a discussion of the competing ideas of God as distant creator and as present champion. What are the dangers of forgetting either pole in this dialectic? What factors led to Jesus' stress upon the loving Father? Does the historical context affect the metaphors we use to describe God's relationship to the human race? For example, are words such as King, Lord, and Redeemer useful for everyone in our society?
Proverbs 1:8-19 — Violence Breeds Violence
The story of Adam and Eve calls attention to generosity among those who dared to sin. Eve shared the forbidden fruit with Adam. Adam had been standing with her, and joined her, rather than discouraging her bold action (Genesis 3:6). In this way, the author of the story reveals clear knowledge about the nature of sinful conduct. It possesses a restless desire to get others to join in the activity. One might even say that sin has an evangelistic impulse.
An important issue surfaces from the bold invitation in verse 14, "cast lots with us; / we will all share the loot." Are the words of violent people trustworthy? How should we as Christians evaluate other people's speech? How has Jesus offered a clue that will help us see past external expression to the character beneath? How useful is the criterion that words are to be assessed by the deeds they give birth to? Try to lead the class into examining its own struggle to maintain consistency between talk and action.
Proverbs 1:24-28 — The Fool Who Refuses to Learn
The resemblance between this text and Amos (particularly the liturgy of wasted opportunity in Amos 4:6-12) is impressive. In both texts, the emphasis is on seeking and failing to find God. Each text raises the possibility that God's patience comes to an end. The prophet Amos alludes to various disasters that God sent upon Israel for the purpose of chastising her. In every instance, the heavenly strategy failed. Elsewhere, Amos threatened the people in God's name with the total withdrawal of the Lord. The result of this divine absence is described in detail. The mention of futile seeking after God's word is noteworthy.
Excerpted from "Genesis to Revelation: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs Leader Guide"
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Table of Contents
Introduction to Proverbs,
1. Everything Flows From the Heart (Proverbs 1–4),
2. A Fountain of Joy (Proverbs 5–9),
3. The Truth Lasts Forever (Proverbs 10–14),
4. Listening for Understanding (Proverbs 15–18),
5. Why Human Plans Go Wrong (Proverbs 19:1–22:16),
6. A Future and a Hope (Proverbs 22:17–24:34),
7. Probing Life's Mysteries (Proverbs 25–29),
8. Worth More Than Rubies (Proverbs 30–31),
9. Everything Is Meaningless (Ecclesiastes 1–3),
10. No One to Comfort Them (Ecclesiastes 4–8),
11. The Race Is Not to the Swift (Ecclesiastes 9–12),
Introduction to Song of Songs,
12. Lovers in the Garden (Song of Songs 1–4),
13. Love Is as Strong as Death (Song of Songs 5–8),