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Bible Thought

Proverbs: A Book to Live By

In February of 2018 my family sat down to dinner with a pastor, his family, and a new couple who had recently been visiting the church. Conversation at dinner included military aircraft and helicopter training. The pastor was fascinated by the A-10 Warthog and the man who sat across the table from me was a retired Navy rotary wing instructor.

Soon we turned the conversation to the Bible. I don’t remember how we got on the topic of Proverbs, but the flight instructor said, “Proverbs has never made sense to me. It does not read like any of the other books. I can’t figure out what the theme and story of each chapter is.”

The Curse of Knowledge

This conversation was interesting to me and was at the front of my mind for several weeks after that night. I was so struck by the fact that this man did not understand the book of Proverbs that I remember little else about the evening (except that it was also the 16th birthday of the pastor’s daughter).

The book of Proverbs is not confusing to me. I have been taught often from Proverbs and can see clear themes in the book. Sometimes, however, the more familiar we are with a topic the harder it is for us to see that others don’t have the same understanding we do. In one of my favorite books the authors call this “the curse of knowledge.”

My Introduction to Proverbs

I can remember the circumstances in which I was introduced to Proverbs and how the book has become such a part of my life. I’m sure I had heard about Proverbs previously, but when I was 10 years old, several months after I was saved, our Christian school got a new school administrator. I don’t remember what he taught us in daily devotions those first few weeks or months he was at the school, but I very clearly remember the main subject Bro. Hartsfield would speak on during the eight years I sat under him: the book of Proverbs.

Small Chunks

Bro. Hartsfield taught from Proverbs in the way I think the book should be taught: small chunks with a single point. He would share with us the principle found in one verse or small group of them. Certainly he taught from other books of the Bible, but it was like he was drawn to Proverbs and couldn’t stay away for too long.

We learned so many truths about how to live in society and how to honor God with our life. Proverbs emphasizes obedience and honor to parents. We also learned about wisdom and how to apply it to our daily lives.

Looking back over the 40 years I have known the book of Proverbs and the man who taught it to me, I am thankful for those simple principles taught in the book. But, I later realized something about the way he taught…

He Was Cheating!

In school Bro. Hartsfield would often tell us, “I was reading in Proverbs chapter (whatever) and I came across this verse…” As a 10 or 12 year old kid, I was amazed that he could read the Bible in the morning and come up with something so profound to say about a single verse. I learned that he would read a chapter in Proverbs every day corresponding to the day of the month. That meant he read through the book at least 12 times a year.

A few years after I started traveling and preaching regularly, I sometimes thought Bro. Hartsfield was cheating by going back to Proverbs so often. It was a book he read daily. How hard can it be to teach from a book that you know so well? He had intimate knowledge of the book. Each one of the principles in the book was a part of his life. He didn’t even have to study to be able to teach us what the book said. Isn’t that cheating?

Teach What You Know

As I’ve continued in my ministry of preaching and teaching the Bible, I try to be aware that not everyone knows what I know about God’s Word. I should teach those things that I have learned.

It is easy for Bible teachers to assume that others already know what we know. We avoid teaching basic truths from the Bible because we think that everyone we teach already knows these things. This is the curse of knowledge at work.

I now know Bro. H. wasn’t cheating, he was teaching what he knew. As 7th and 12th graders, didn’t know the things that he knew. He was able to teach us things that were basic to him, but new and profound to us. If you are in the position of teaching others, it is very helpful to review the basics instead of assuming everyone else knows what you know.

Gentle Aside: If you are a preacher or teacher of the Bible, try to avoid saying things like, “you know in the story of so-and-so how this means such-and-such…” Consider that not everyone knows that story or how it is applied. And you’ve just made that person feel like an ignorant outsider because they now think they should know the Bible better to be part of your church service. No student of the Bible is offended to hear a quick summary of the story being taught in an effort to make sure everyone clearly understands the point of what you are teaching.

A Book for Life

As perplexing as that dinner conversation was to me at the time, I have since thought much about my relationship with the book of Proverbs. I am thankful for Bro. Hartsfield and many others who have taught me from this book of wisdom.

While there isn’t a clear story line in each chapter, Proverbs is a book that you can learn from each time you read it. Meditate on its verses as you read from it regularly. You shouldn’t neglect reading other parts of the Bible, but reading a few verses (if not a whole chapter) each day will benefit you and those around you as you apply what you learn.

I trust that the posts in this series on Proverbs has been a help to you as you continue to study the Bible and, particularly, the book of Proverbs.

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31 Days of Proverbs

Over the last few weeks I have been writing a series of posts on the 31 chapters in the book of Proverbs. This was not intended to be a comprehensive commentary on the book. Rather, it is a set of 31 lessons that can be learned from the book. There are certainly many more lessons that could be written, but here is the “playlist” of posts in chapter order.

I have other posts related to Proverbs or this series that can be found below.

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Bible Thought

King Destroyers

Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings.

It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink:

Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted.

Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.

Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.

Proverbs 31:3-7

Wise Words from Mom

These verses are attributed to the mother of King Lemuel (v. 1). We don’t definitively know who Lemuel was, but there is speculation that this could have been a nickname given to Solomon from his mother Bathsheba.

Whether we know who he was or not, these words are still true. And, if God felt it was important for us to know, He would have made it more clear. Learning the lessons from these verses seem to be the important point that God was giving to us.

These words came from this king’s mother that he wrote down for us. She was giving him counsel probably based on what she had seen in her experience as queen.

Destruction by Women

Lemuel’s mother warned him not to give his strength to women (v. 3). He should not spend his energy chasing after women.

If Lemuel was not Solomon, maybe his mother was a contemporary of Solomon. She had seen the foolish mistakes Solomon was making by having his many wives and harems (1 Kings 11). Solomon’s heart was turned away from God because of the many wives that he had (1 Kings 11:3, 4).

Chapter 11 of 1 Kings describes Solomon’s heart being pulled away from the things of God. It talks of the evil he did later in his life. All of this was attributed to him chasing after women that God never intended for him.

Destruction by Wine

The next few verses talk of another destroyer of kings: alcohol. Those who sit in authority and rule over others are unwise to allow their minds to be clouded by wine and strong drink (vv. 4, 5). It leads to a lax relationship with the law and causes decisions to be made that affects others.

I have been in hospital rooms and detox centers with families who are in turmoil over the destruction that alcohol has brought into their lives. The one who is controlled by alcohol so often can’t see how their actions affect those around them. They tend to think only of themselves and their own desires.

The mother of Lemuel had seen this destruction in the lives of others and she warned this young king of the dangers of strange women and alcohol. A good lesson for us as well.

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Bible Thought

Little, But Wise

24 There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise:

25 The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer;

26 The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks;

27 The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands;

28 The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings’ palaces.

Proverbs 30:24-28

Proverbs 30 is attributed to Agur, son of Jakeh. This chapter is the only mention of him in the Bible. He claims to be a person of below average intelligence and understanding (vv. 2, 3). However, I would say he was a pretty wise person to have assembled these sayings at the leading of the Holy Spirit.

This chapter looks a bit different than most of the book in that he takes several verses to talk about a few different topics. These longer topics are more like chapters one through nine.

Towards the end of the chapter, Agur gives several groups of “four things.” These are: four things that are never satisfied (vv. 15-17), four things that seem too wonderful for the writer to comprehend (vv. 18-20), four things that don’t make sense (vv. 21-23), four things that are exceedingly wise (vv. 24-28), and four things that are proud (vv. 29-31).

We will just look at the “four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise.”

Ants

He says of ants that they are not strong, yet they prepare for the future. I’m sure there are ants in most habitable places of the world. I know they certainly like hanging around our house every place we’ve lived. While they are considered a pest, I have been fascinated by ants since I was a kid.

I grew up in west Texas where it was fairly dry most of the time. We didn’t have luscious grass lawn. Therefore, it was easy to see the red ants and black ants crawling around on the grey-brown dirt. These weren’t your runty little ants that I see most places. Ours were so big that even a grandpa without his glasses could see these.

Though I would get bitten occasionally, I still enjoyed playing with them by making “dams” in their “rivers.” That meant putting sticks and rocks in their little paths that they made between their homes and their food source. When they left their homes, they were always walking, walking, walking. Always gathering food for that time of year when they seemed to go dormant.

Small, yet wise enough to work and prepare for the future.

Conies

These are animals that I’m not familiar with from my childhood, but they are mammals more commonly known today as a hyrax. They are common in much of Africa and the Middle East.

Agur says they are feeble, but are wise enough to make their homes in a protected area. They live among the rocks where they can be protected from common predators.

They practice the lessons learned from Proverbs 27:22 in being prepared for the evil that comes their way. Of course they didn’t read the Bible to learn that, but God put that instinct into them and then pointed us to them to help us learn to be wise in our preparation for the dangers that come up in life.

Locusts

Another pest we had growing up was what we called locusts, but would more appropriately be called cicadas. Cicadas are not the type of animal talked about here. The Bible is referring to what is more commonly known as grasshoppers.

Doing a little research on these little creatures, I learned that they are called grasshoppers until they form swarms. At that point they are called locusts. They can devastate crops and whole economies. As I write this, the world is experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, there are two recent gigantic locust swarms that are destroying much of the crop production in east Africa today. The plague of locusts will probably be as deadly for the people in Africa as the pandemic will be.

Locusts have no leader, yet they are as destructive and deadly as many armies because of their strength in numbers.

Spiders

Spiders can be found everywhere: clean houses, dirty houses, palaces and even barns with pigs named Wilbur. They are industrious and constantly working.

Some spiders build a new house each evening for catching insects just to tear them down the next morning and build them again that evening. Others maintain a web for months.

No matter how often their web gets torn down, they will build it again. They work their way into the position they hold in the king’s palace.

Agur tells us about ants that are careful planners, conies who seek safety from the predators around them, locusts that find safety and strength in numbers and the humble spider who industriously works their way into the palace. Each has a lesson for us today.

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Bible Thought

Wise Sons Make Glad Fathers

Whoso loveth wisdom rejoiceth his father: but he that keepeth company with harlots spendeth his substance.

Proverbs 29:3

There are at least six times in Proverbs where the idea of fathers rejoicing because of their wise sons is mentioned. This verse in Proverbs 29 is the last of the six that I found. Here are the other five passages.

The proverbs of Solomon. A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother.

Proverbs 10:1

A wise son heareth his father’s instruction: but a scorner heareth not rebuke.

Proverbs 13:1

A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish man despiseth his mother.

Proverbs 15:20

24 The father of the righteous shall greatly rejoice: and he that begetteth a wise child shall have joy of him.

25 Thy father and thy mother shall be glad, and she that bare thee shall rejoice.

Proverbs 23:24, 25

Whoso keepeth the law is a wise son: but he that is a companion of riotous men shameth his father.

Proverbs 28:7

Parents and Children

In each of the above verses, the words used for father and son are gender specific. However, I think it would be appropriate to take the male terms and allow them to generically apply to fathers and mothers as well as to sons and daughters.

Children are a treasure handed down from God (Psalms 127:3). We, as parents, have a responsibility to care for them and to help them grow in the way God would want (Proverbs 22:6).

Directed to Sons/Daughters

If you look at these verses you will see that Solomon is directing his comments to sons. He is not talking to fathers directly. The parents are recipients of the joy that a wise child brings into the family, but they are not being told directly to make the child wise.

Remember that wisdom is not only about the stuff you know in your head, but the understanding and application of that knowledge. We, as children, have to make the decision to apply the knowledge that we have been given.

Parents receive the blessing, delight, and joy of wise children. But it is the children who need to strive to obtain that wisdom.

Shame and Heaviness

These verses also tell us of the results of not acting wisely. We bring shame to our fathers (Proverbs 28:7) and heaviness to our mothers (Proverbs 10:1). A mocker (scorner) will not listen and learn from instruction (Proverbs 13:1). He will even come to a point of despising his mother (Proverbs 15:20).

What’s a Parent to Do?

While these verses aren’t directed towards parents with any action we need to take, that doesn’t mean that are free from our responsibilities to train and model wisdom for our children. The book of Proverbs is an example of a father teaching his son. We should do the same by passing on the wisdom that we have learned so that our children can grow into wise adults.

We should also be praying for them. Pray that you will handle your responsibilities as a parent properly. Also, pray that your children will respond properly to the instruction you are giving them.

May God help us all to be wise children for the joy of our parents, and to experience the joy of having our own children walking in the wisdom of God.