The Problem With Proverbs

The Problem With Proverbs November 4, 2013

I’ve beenusing a Bible reading plan this year that sprinkles Proverbs throughout thewhole calendar. Every day I read one or two pithy statements about wise livingin a broken world. Often, I’ll make the “proverb of the day” the last ScriptureI read in the morning and mull it over throughout the day.

Like mostChristians, I love the book of Proverbs. It’s practical, memorable, andaccessible. But my meditations have unearthed some perplexities for me.Sometimes, for example, these sayings just don’t seem true, like when I readthat pride leads to destruction and then watch a steady stream of politicians,athletes, and CEOs get away with blatant arrogance. And then sometimes I wonderwhy God isn’t more prominent in Proverbs. I mean, other than an occasionalreference to “the fear of the Lord,” most of the book is just good commonsense. This problem only gets worse when you start looking for Jesus inProverbs. After all, it almost seems like most of the proverbs would still“work” in our lives even if Jesus had never come.

So on theone hand, I find Proverbs preferable in some ways to the rest of the OldTestament because of its personal focus and its relative disinterest incovenants, rituals, and other cultural oddities. But on the other hand, I’mconcerned that Proverbs might not be quite reliable enough, God-centeredenough, or redemptively oriented enough. Am I the only one who feels thistension?

Actually, Ithink these three issues represent the three most common errors readers make inhandling this book: 1) Absolutism, i.e., treating the proverbs as promises; 2)Practical Atheism, i.e., applying Proverbs without regard for God; and 3)Moralism, i.e., assuming that Proverbs is primarily about us and what we mustdo, rather than about Jesus and what He has done.

AsI’ve puzzled over these problems, I’ve worked out (to my own satisfaction atleast!) a fairly straightforward solution, one basic rule of interpretation thatwill help us avoid all three errors. Aren’t you glad? Want to hear it? Sorry,out of room. More next week. In the meantime, you work out your own answer.After all, Proverbs tells us: “To search out a matter is the glory of kings”(25:2).