Proverbs is, at one level, a simple book to understand, and, at another level, a book that requires a great deal of spiritual discernment and wisdom. To get wisdom, we must read wisdom and we must pray for wisdom. As James tell us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).
The Wisdom literature is among the most neglected of all genres in Scripture. This is, no doubt, partly on account of the fact that there are an abundance of difficulties when we approach the reading and study of Proverbs–our historical distance from them, the apparent similarity with writings of other wisdom literature from the Ancient Near East, the apparent lack of Gospel focus and the fact that, at times, the Proverbs seem to over promise. Yet as we read them we find that we begin to discover life, wisdom and the fear of the Lord. Facing the difficulties of reading the Proverbs–while knowing that they are necessary for our spiritual growth in grace–here are seven tips on how to get the most out of reading Proverbs.
- Remember the authors and audience of Proverbs.Context always ought to be your starting point. Large portions of Proverbs were written by Solomon and addressed to his son(s). That puts Proverbs, first and foremost, in the sphere of the history and theology of the kings of Israel and, specifically, that of the Davidic covenant. When you are reading Proverbs (and many of the Psalms) you are reading the wisdom of the Kings’ Charter (read Deuteronomy 17:14ff). How should a king be good and righteous king? By knowing and living the Proverbs! Clearly these leadership and life principles apply to everyone in authority – Proverbs speak especially now to pastors, elders, deacons and heads of households, as well as those they instruct.
- Proverbs should be read and applied through three lenses: the immediate context, the Christological fulfillment and its application to us.If the Proverbs provide wisdom for the Davidic kings, that concept is fulfilled most fully in the life of Christ (see Luke 2:40; 51-52). Jesus, from his childhood into his earthly ministry, epitomizes the Proverbial life. He is redemptive wisdom to us as well (see Colossians 2:3; 1 Corinthians 1:30-31). Naturally, if the Christian is united to Christ by faith then Christological wisdom becomes a reality for the Christian too–both redemptively and practically in the way that we live. We ought to ask ourselves, how does Proverbs speak to the Kings of Israel, how does it speak to the Great King of Israel and how does it speak to the King’s people?
- Proverbs presents redemptive grace to us.Proverbs shows us the fear of the Lord (1:7), enduring wealth and righteousness (8:18), the fountain of life (16:22). That is to say, we ought to expect to find all elements of covenant life under a gracious God in the Proverbs. If God is wisdom (and He is!) then Proverbial wisdom comes straight from God, to His people, that they may have life and live well before him.
- Proverbs also presents common grace to us (that we ought not confuse with redemptive grace).
- Pay careful attention to repeated themes
- Proverbs is fundamentally patriarchal.
- Proverbs is also matriarchal.