To know wisdom and instruction,
to understand words of insight,
3 to receive instruction in wise dealing,
in righteousness, justice, and equity;
4 to give prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the youth—
5 Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
and the one who understands obtain guidance,
6 to understand a proverb and a saying,
the words of the wise and their riddles.
7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction. – Proverbs 1:2-7
This is the mission statement for the book of Proverbs. Based on this mission statement, the book is for everyone. Regardless of how wise one may be due to lots of life experience or from unusual insight given by God as in the case of Solomon, we can always profit from reading and meditating in the book of Proverbs.
Wisdom literature, which includes Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Job, is a unique genre of literature. It is different from the historical narrative in which we get the Bible stories that are the fodder for children’s stories, and different from the epistles of the New Testament or the imagery of apocalyptic literature like Revelation, Daniel, and Ezekiel. These Wisdom books are also known as Poetic literature because they all contain lots of Hebrew poetry. When reading Proverbs, it is important to keep in mind the type of literature we are reading.
One key to help understanding Proverbs is to understand parallelism. Here are some examples of parallelisms of different types.
In synonymous parallelism, a second clause repeats the thought of the first clause using different words.
The evil bow down before the good,
the wicked at the gates of the righteous. – Pro. 14:19
A fool’s mouth is his ruin,
and his lips are a snare to his soul. – Pro. 18:7
In antithetical parallelism, the second clause presents a contrast to the first clause.
The righteous has enough to satisfy his appetite,
but the belly of the wicked suffers want. – Pro. 18:25
A joyful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. – Pro. 17:22
In synthetic parallelism, the second clause continues the thought of the first clause.
Good sense makes one slow to anger,
and it is his glory to overlook an offense. – Pro. 19:11
Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty;
open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread. – Pro. 20:13
There is also parallelism of comparison in which one clause resembles the other.
Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes,
so is the sluggard to those who send him. – Pro. 10:26
A word fitly spoken
is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. – Pro. 25:11
Occasionally a verse will be composed of three clauses instead of two.
Do you see a man skillful in his work?
He will stand before kings;
he will not stand before obscure men. – Pro. 22:29
When your eyes light on it (wealth), it is gone,
for suddenly it sprouts wings,
flying like an eagle toward heaven. – Pro. 23:5
When reading and meditating on Proverbs (this book is to be meditated on, not just read) ask yourself what kind of parallelism you are reading. The answer will help you to interpret what the proverb is communicating correctly. Today’s devotional is not so inspirational, but if this knowledge of parallelisms is new to you and you apply it, you will find yourself mining more nuggets of the gold of Biblical wisdom from Proverbs going forward.
Never forget, Jesus is the wisdom of God. You will find him in this book as well. Before meditating and studying Proverbs, don’t forget to ask the Lord to open your eyes to see wondrous things out of his word, including the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ in the Proverbs. He is there.
God bless your reading and meditating on God’s word.