The Purpose of the Book of Proverbs

To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion. A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.

Proverbs 1:2-6

Proverbs chapter one starts out by telling us what the purpose of the book is. Let’s look at these opening phrases quickly with the understanding that they could each warrant a more in-depth look later.

To know wisdom and instruction

You are invited to come to the book of Proverbs without having infinite knowledge, understanding and wisdom. One of the purposes of the book is so that you can learn these things. Take time to study the book over and over. Like many skills in life, you learn even more when you practice what you learn and then come back to read the source material over and over.

To perceive the words of understanding

The book of Proverbs will help the reader have discernment. That is, to judge well and correctly. The book is full of topics which the writer, Solomon, is teaching us to perceive and understand: finances, human emotions and personalities, casual and intimate relationships, how to parent our children and how to be a good child.

To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice …

Having a good teacher does not mean that every student is going to learn in the same way. Some students may not pay attention or have no interest in the topic being taught. I’m sure we’ve all met young people who struggle in some areas of school but excel in other subjects. Solomon is teaching us that we should become students of wisdom, justice, judgment and equity.

That word receive in verse three is a generic word meaning to get, obtain, fetch. But it can also mean to seize by force. Throughout the book you will see this word used telling the reader that learning the truths of the book doesn’t happen casually. You must work to obtain this information.

Another way this particular word is translated is marry. I love the idea of obtaining this instruction and holding onto it for a lifetime.

To give subtilty to the simple

A naive person does not have to remain that way their whole life. One of the purposes of the book of Proverbs is to help people grow in wisdom. Approach this wonderful book with some humility and a willingness to learn. Proverbs doesn’t want to beat you up with your ignorance, it wants to help you to grow in wisdom and in knowing how to deal with the world.

Maybe you no longer consider yourself a young person. It is not too late for you to learn God’s wisdom as taught in His Book. Start now and ask God to help you learn through the book of Proverbs. Its purpose is to teach, not to beat you over the head for your ignorance. Though it does seem to step on my toes quite a often when I realize that I have done many of the foolish things that it is trying to steer us away from.

To give knowledge and discretion to the young man

When is the best time to plant a tree? Twenty years ago. When is the next best time to plant a tree? Right now.

There is no better time to start learning the principles of Proverbs than as a young person. But if you have missed that opportunity, start now. Don’t put off learning the wisdom of God’s Word because you are no longer young.

Don’t believe the lie that says “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” That is not true with dogs nor with humans. Sometimes people stop learning as they get older because they have chosen not to learn; not because they are incapable of it. It is true that it may take longer to learn new information, but it isn’t true that it is impossible. Be open to the fact that God’s Word has something to teach you. That is one of the purposes of Proverbs.

To understand a proverb …

The whole verse is: To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.

Allow me to paraphrase.

To discern a proverb (teaching, parable, aphorism, similitude) and the puzzle within it (the meaning). To understand what those who are skilled in a subject are trying to teach; even the riddles and hidden meanings.

This book works on the assumption that you can learn how to be wise and discerning. Not everything will make complete sense the first time you read through, but it will become clearer and clearer with time. Allow God’s Word to permeate your thinking. And, as it concerns every day life and your interaction with other people, there is no better part of God’s Word to study than the book of Proverbs.

Interesting Words in Proverbs

As I introduce a new series on the book of Proverbs, I thought it might be helpful to define some of the words found often in the book that I think are interesting.

I am posting this at the beginning of a 31-day series of posts on Proverbs. I will update this post as I go through the month. Therefore, you might want to come back to this one when the month is over to see the updates.

Wisdom

The words wisdom, wise, wiser, and wisely are found 119 times in the book of Proverbs. The vast majority of the time it is a Hebrew word that can also be translated as skill.

What does wisdom (typically thought of as applied knowledge) and skill have to do with one another? They are both learned. I think this is one of the biggest lessons of Proverbs: you aren’t expected to know everything, but you can acquire wisdom by applying the principles found in the book of Proverbs and the rest of the Bible.

Scorner

Scorner is not a word we use regularly today, but we have all experienced the actions of a scorner. The base word means to talk arrogantly, to boast, to mock, and (my favorite) to make mouths at.

You probably never did this yourself, but you may have seen this in school. The teacher tells another student to do something they don’t want to do and the student turns around to his friends and mimics the teacher talking with a mocking smirk or head wag. That is exactly the idea of this word scorner: to move the lips mockingly.

Sluggard/Slothful

This word is interesting in that, in the Bible, the underlying Hebrew word is only ever found in the book of Proverbs. It means lazy, slothful, sluggish.

This is not talking about someone who is taking a day off. But it is a descriptive word meaning someone who is like this as

Hero Worship or Motivation

My friend David Cross passed away last year. He was a great encouragement to me. Pastor Cross was a man who consistently lived out what he believed about the Bible. Was he perfect? According to the Bible, no, he was not. Did I ever personally find fault in him? Not that I can remember.

He was the long-time pastor of the church my family and I attend. Though I only knew him well the last 4 years of his life, I first met him 15 years before he passed away. During the early years of knowing Pastor Cross I enjoyed seeing his consistency in the ministry though I was not around him regularly. During the last 4 years, when I attended his church, my respect for him grew even more.

I think it is easy to overlook the faults of those we consider to be heroes. And we certainly should not get our eyes off of Christ and place the actions and words of men above the actions of Christ and the words of the Bible. However, we are told in the Bible to be good examples to others (1 Timothy 4:12; 1 Peter 5:3). Therefore, I think we should look to others who are good examples for us.

Too Much Hero Worship

I heard someone say one time that they did not enjoy going to the church because of the “hero worship” that went on there. My friend was specifically talking about the praise that was given to Pastor Cross for his many years of service at the church. But the person generalized the point about hero worship to apply to everything that the pastor did. This person felt like you could not go to the church if you did not worship the pastor.

I was confused and surprised by his comments. I certainly did not feel like anyone made worshiping the pastor a requirement to be in the church. But as I thought about my friend’s comments more I think I know what might cause that attitude.

Motivation or Conviction?

If you see another person’s actions (or lifestyle) as a positive motivation for you then you don’t necessarily see your relationship with the person as hero worship. (When I use the term “hero worship” here I mean it in the negative connotation that my friend meant it). You view the person’s good example as an encouragement and motivation for you to do right in your own life.

However, if the lifestyle of the one who you feel others are worshiping is convicting to you, then I can see where you may want an excuse to step away and get out from under the influence of that person.

As stated earlier, there is no question about placing other people above our respect and reverence for the Bible and our Lord Jesus. We probably all know of inordinate loyalty to a man. Sadly I have seen a few preachers through the years who have amassed a group of people who would blindly follow them anywhere and do anything for them. Many times this is demonstrated by a dictatorial spirit. This is not the type of good example I am talking about.

What we need are people in our lives who are more spiritually mature and can help encourage us to live right and do right. We should follow good examples. Furthermore, we should be good examples.

If you start to be convicted by the life of another Christian and think that there is hero worship going on, you should step back and check your own reasons for feeling this way. Is it because there is something really wrong with the other person? Or is it because God is using that other Christian to bring conviction to you?

How to Use a Strong’s Concordance

If you’ve done much Bible study you have surely run across Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. It is a great book. But, being familiar with Strong’s and knowing how to use Strong’s may be two very different things for you.

Strong's book coverTwo Main Uses

There are two main ways to use a Strong’s Concordance. One is to use it to help you find verses where you know one of the words in the verse. The other primary use is finding information about a word in your Bible that you are interested in.

Find Verses When You Know a Word

If you know any word that appears in a verse you are able to find the verse you want using a Strong’s Concordance. This is assuming at least two things: you actually know the word and not a mis-remembered derivative, and that the word is in the King James Version of the Bible. Strong’s contains every word in the King James Bible. Knowing any word in the verse will help you find the verse, but it is much easier to do if you pick a less common word.

If, for example, we wanted to find the verse that said something like, “effectual fervent prayer” does something. Maybe I don’t remember the rest of the verse, but I can at least remember these three words. Prayer is probably the most common of the three words. So looking up “effectual” or “fervent” would probably yield few results. (They each occur fewer than 10 times).

In the front section of a Strong’s Concordance (which is about 1/2 the book) is list of all the words in the Bible. Look up the word “effectual” (or “fervent”) and see if you can find a verse that fits the one you were looking for. Once you do you can find that the reference is for James 5:16.

Find More Information About a Word

As you are reading in your Bible you may come across a word that you would like to know more about. Maybe you suspect that it is related to another word. Or, you aren’t sure you understand the definition of a word. While Strong’s Concordance is not necessarily a dictionary, it is a good place to start in learning about a word. You are able to look at all the ways that same Hebrew or Greek word is translated in the Bible and get a very good picture of what the word means.

To do this you first find the word you are interested in. This is done the same way as above when looking for a verse. Find the word alphabetically listed in the first part of the concordance. Then find the listing for the verse where your word appears. Take note that the English word you are looking at may fit several original words. You have to look through the columns to find the exact reference for the word you are interested in.

Over to the side margin of the column where the word and its reference appears will be a number. If you are in the Old Testament, the word will be translated from Hebrew. Therefore the number you see in the margin will point you to the Hebrew section of the concordance. If your word comes from the New Testament, then the number will appear in the Greek section of the book. It is important to know which section to look in because most of the numbers can be found in 2 places. You need to pay attention to whether the word is a Hebrew or Greek word.

Once you find the number corresponding to the word that interests you, then you can find the word in the corresponding section towards the back of Strong’s. Now look at all the different ways that word can be translated. You will also see what that word is related to. Looking up a couple of parent words may give you a broader understanding of the original word.

It is an interesting study to find a word and trace every use of that word in the Bible. Strong’s can help you do that.

An Easier Way

While knowing how to use the paper book is helpful, there is a much easier way to get this information. There are many good apps for phones or tablets that contain all the standard Strong’s information. The app I use is called MySword for Android. There are certainly many apps for iPhones and Windows phones that also contain Stronhg’s information. If I am at my computer, my website of choice for looking up Strong’s numbers and explanations is BlueLetterBible. It gives you many more tools to choose from besides Strong’s. There are some great Bible dictionaries there too.

Strong’s Dictionary

While I said that the Strong’s Concordance is not a dictionary, James Strong did write one for us. I have never used a paper copy of this book, but I am sure this is equivalent to the information I get in the tools from MySword and BlueLetterBible.

I enjoyed teaching this information to a Sunday School class this weekend and thought you might enjoy it too.

Alliteration: Helpful or Not?

I have a love-hate relationship with alliteration. Mostly hate. I am talking about when alliteration is used in sermon outlines and Sunday school lessons. I see the value in alliteration in poetry—when applied by a skilled writer.

Meaning

Typically we think of alliteration as the use of the same beginning letter for the points in a message. This can be a consonant or vowel sound, though most of the time it is a consonant sound. Also, alliteration is usually related to the sound of the words. It is not necessary that the letters themselves be the same.

Memory

One of the benefits to alliteration is that it can actually be helpful in remembering the points of a message. There have been studies that show there is greater and quicker recall of information when paired with alliteration.

Manhandle

However, if words are manhandled to make them fit an alliteration scheme, then the whole idea usually does not work as well as the speaker or writer would hope. An example of this is the Sunday school lesson I am studying for tomorrow. There are 14 pages of notes! The short version of the notes—which will be handed out to the students—has 4 big points and 4 sub-points under each one. All of these points are alliterated to each set of 4 on their outline level. That makes 16 words that are alliterated. With that many words that are supposedly important, I doubt anyone will walk out of class tomorrow with the ability to remember even the 4 big points.

Manipulate

In my recent study of the book of James I looked at outlines written by various authors. Many of them had an alliterated outline. Certainly there is nothing wrong with alliteration if it stays true to the text. But some of these outlines seem to manipulate the meaning of the text so that the author can keep his cute alliteration.

Multivocal

Alliteration is also not helpful as a memory tool when the speaker uses an obscure or marginal word that the listeners aren’t going to remember anyway. By the way, multivocal means “having more than one meaning.” The fact that I had to look the word up and then have to explain it should be a sign that it is a terrible word to use for alliteration purposes.

Main Message

I am not totally against alliteration. I use it myself sometimes. But it should not be forced to the point that you obscure the meaning of your message. And certainly the meaning of the Bible text should never be manipulated just so that it will fit with your alliteration.

[Yes, I intentionally did some bad alliteration with my paragraph headings. I would be curious as to how you might alliterate the points in this article: either better or painfully worse. Leave a comment below with your alliteration or comments on the subject.]