|Taking Every Thought Captive|
Proverbs: Keys to Successful Living
by Massimo Lorenzini
Definitions of a proverb:
Pithy saying with a nugget of truth. The searching out of the ways of God. Statements of rules for personal happiness. Nuggets of truth passed down from experienced people. Condensed statements of the wisdom of experience. A pithy, compact statement of wisdom meant to express truths about human nature and behavior. Most proverbs are generalizations, not promises or predictions of the future.
Definition of biblical wisdom:
"Wisdom is the reasoned search for specific ways to assure well-being and the implementation of those discoveries in daily existence" (Crenshaw). Wisdom is the application of moral truth; skilled living.
The Theme of Proverbs:
Purpose of Proverbs:
Instruction in wisdom for Young People. Wisdom is prerequisite to skillful dealing in every area of life.
The basis of Proverbs:
Wisdom literature sees experience as a means of revelation. This is based on the fact that God created the universe and orders it according to His will. When people violate God's order, negative consequences result. When we learn from these negative consequences, we are learning from God's order, from God's revelation in the creation (Rom. 1:20; 2:14-15; Prov. 8). God's creative hand underlies the cause and effect pattern of proverbs, where good conduct carries its own reward and bad behavior brings its own woe. This is why wisdom comes with age and our testimonies are valuable tools in witnessing to unbelievers and encouraging the saints.
Structural Outline:I. Two Collections of Solomon's Proverbs (1:1-22:16)
A. Solomon's Proverbs on the Virtues of Wisdom (1-9)
B. More Proverbs of Solomon's (10:2-22:16)II. Two Collections of Proverbs of Wise Men
A. "The Sayings of the Wise" (22:17-24:22)
B. More "Sayings of the Wise" (24:23-34)III. A Collection of Solomon's Proverbs made by Hezekiah's Men (25-29)
IV. The Words of Agur (30)
V. The Words of Lemuel (31:1-31)
Beginning at 1:8 there are 10 consecutive exhortations or homilies, each beginning with the words "my son." In this series of exhortations the father sets before the son what might well be called "the theology of two ways": the way of wisdom and the way of foolishness. These passages do not contain individual proverbs, but consist of brief, logically argued treatises that serve to whet the son's appetite to apply the actual proverbs, which begin at 10:1. There is an ordered flow of thought in the first nine chapters of the book, but this is not true beginning at 10:1. The best way to study the latter section is by topics (for a good topical arrangement, see The Narrated Bible by F. LaGard Smith; also published as The Daily Bible).
For our purposes (to introduce the proverbs and the wisdom contained in it in order to whet the appetite for wisdom), we will study the first nine chapters and ask you to read the remaining chapters on your own.
Two major forms of literature dominate these first nine chapters: Instructions (extended admonitions usually directed to "my son" or "sons") and wisdom speeches (poems that picture wisdom as a person calling people to follow or folly doing to the same).
Types of Poetic Parallelism. Structurally balanced lines of two but often three to five that may be combined in one of three main ways. Synonymous parallelism has the second line restate the first line, usually with synonyms, to reinforce the meaning (1:8). Antithetic parallelism has the second line restate the opposite viewpoint of the first. It clarifies through contrasting opposing ideas (3:33). Synthetic parallelism uses the second (or third) line to advance and complete the sense of the first. It synthesizes or brings together ideas to make up one compete idea. The verse, thus, contains one basic thought enhanced or elaborated by the additional line or lines (3:12).
What are the three types of parallelism?
Forms of Proverbs. The two main kinds of proverbs in the book are sayings and admonitions. Both types of proverbs can use all three kinds of parallelism, together with other literary techniques we will cover. The sayings are in the indicative mood not imperative. They describe wisdom rather than command (3:35). Two main subcategories of sayings are worth noting. Comparisons may be made by (1) laying similar ideas back to back so that one line (sometimes two) illustrates the main point (26:3); (2) by using simile words - like or as - to express the link between the illustration and the main point (26:8). And (3) by "better than" sayings to demonstrate how wise behavior outweighs power or influence at the cost of folly (15:17).
Numerical sayings is the second subcategory of the sayings form. They were probably derived from games or riddles and usually follow an x, x + 1 pattern (30:18). The final item in the sequence is often the point of the proverb (6:16-19).
Now admonitions, the second kind of proverb, feature the imperative (let him obey, hear, etc). They give positive commands, often followed by the reasons, introduced by "for" (3:1b-2). And they also give negative prohibitions, whose reason may be introduced by "for" or "lest" (1:15-16). "Lest" means to prevent the possibility of something (22:24-25). Admonitions illustrate the reasonableness of the wise teachers. They do not shove their wisdom down the pupil's throats. Again, these proverbs are based on experience not theory.
What are the two forms of Proverbs?
Other literary forms. Rhetorical questions which make the point without being answered (6:27). Calls to attention highlight the importance of the following proverb (5:1). Reflections on experiences (4:3-9). Account of personal observations is another form of argument by experience (7:6-23). Beatitudes are promises or exclamations of happiness (3:13-14). Allegory or extended metaphor begins with imagery - water, cistern - and gradually becomes literal as it interprets itself - wife of your youth, love (5:15-23).