The Proverbs are for the Christian walk in the office, in our homes and out at play. Criticisms of the book are that is doesn’t talk about God or anything particularly religious or spiritual. But God is taken for granted and the whole book is not unlike the New Testament authors’ practical application at the end of most of their letters prefaced by the word ‘therefore’.
Proverbs are some of the Old Testament’s ‘therefore’. It says to us, “Because you know this…do this” and adds, “trust me, if you do it, it will go well with you”. The first verses (1:2-4) tell us that this is the book’s intention. The pithy comments are very simple and easy to understand. The Bible is not a Modern Greek book for people trying to be clever in philosophical arguments. We can learn from the ant, it says!
Two important facts
There are two important facts to know when embarking on understanding the overall message of Proverbs. This book is a book of proverbs, not promises and the Christian life has a very practical outworking. The proverbs are general statements about life and how it works. For example, Proverbs 22:6 tells us that if we “train up a child in the way it should go… when they are old they will not depart from it”. But everyone knows that this is not always the case. Some of the most solid God-fearing Christians’ children have made their own choices and taken their own road – sometimes rejecting God and right living totally.
So these are not promises to be claimed as absolutes. In general, children trained in the right way do follow that way. Equally, train a child in wickedness and they will generally follow that way. What is the message for us then? Training children to live for God is vital!
Proverbs is a collection of wisdom writings from at least five authors. Solomon the Wise, the men of Hezekiah, Agur, and King Lemuel and his mother are cited. If you divide the book up into subject material there are three major sections: counsel for young men (Chp. 1-10), counsel for all men (Chp. 11-20), counsel for kings and rulers (Chp. 21-31).
Wisdom and folly
One of the major themes in the book is the contrast between wisdom and folly. Structurally the whole book may also be divided by this theme. Chapters 1-9:18 are a long discourse on wisdom and folly whilst the rest of the book is composed of short statements about wise and foolish matters in life.
The first nine chapters in the book are very different to the rest. These first nine are the introduction to the rest of the book. The main themes of the first chapters are the great value of wisdom and the serious danger of folly. Chapter 9 creatively presents us with the personification of wisdom and folly as two different women. One author points out the importance of chapter 9:3 with reference to the whole book. It says that the ‘lady wisdom’ has sent out her women from the highest point in the town. In Near Eastern teaching this would be referencing the place of God. Contrasted is lady folly who “sits at the door of her house” (9:14) but almost surprisingly she also echoes from the ‘highest places of the town”. With this subtle contrast Proverbs reveals that these ‘little tales of wisdom and good ideas’ are actually for more than meets the eye. What is at stake is nothing more than life and death. Which hill will you ascend and by which way? The way of wisdom leads to the hill of God, the way of folly leads to any other god.
The New Testament views Proverbs as this important. Believing Jesus is ultimate wisdom as He is the wisdom of God contrasted with missing Jesus as certain death. Christ has become our wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:30). The New Testament asks us the question: will we dine with wisdom or folly? Jesus Christ or any created thing put in His place?
Please don’t forget that reading through the Bible in a year is one thing, but actually getting more familiar with the scriptures’ deep teaching and fellowship with the God they describe is the real goal.
At the start of reading the Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs) you should know that you are reading more than a teaching on lovemaking within a marriage relationship. There are approximately three major schools of thought with regard to interpreting the song: those looking for spiritual meaning, those looking for practical teaching, or those looking for poetic mastery.
The Song of Songs should be considered to be a type of perfect illustration or metaphor. It should be taken at literal face value – a book of love songs where the writer enjoys describing the many aspects of romantic and sexual love. But the Song is believed to be more than just a love song. It is ‘wisdom via entertainment’ and should be interpreted typologically.
Typology is where the text is allowed to speak literally but also illustrates a spiritual teaching. There is rich spiritual teaching that comes from allowing the in-built metaphor to work. Scripture itself indicates that the husband wife relationship is parallel (a type, a picture) of the relationship Christ has with his Church.
As you would have learned by now we need some experience and skill to help us get more out of reading the Bible. The poetry in the Song is quite difficult to get a message from if you have not tried before. To simplify it a bit, try reading the poems considering you (and us as the church) to be the woman and the man to be Jesus. This won’t solve all the difficulties but will help with many of them.
One troublesome phrase can sometimes be, ‘Arouse or awaken love till it pleases?’ Maybe Michael Eaton’s interpretation as an example will help. He says, “Once again the poem ends with the words that we have already seen in 2:7. It is a warning not to do anything that is artificial.
Daughters of Jerusalem, I ask for an oath!
By the gazelles and the wild deer of the field,
promise not to arouse or wake up this love until it pleases (3:5).
“It is as if the girl is saying to her friends: ‘Do you want a love like this? Be ready for some surprises and let this kind of love develop in its own way’. The Christian life has great heights and depths in it! It is wonderful when it is easy, but sometimes we must work at finding God in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Read it slowly. Ask many questions about who is saying what and why. You will find that ‘new glasses’ appear as you get into the language and style more closely.
There is one book of Kings in the Hebrew Bible. Together they are a rich historical look at the kings of Israel and Judah from Saul to Zedekiah. Kings is history written for a distinct purpose and for a distinct people. Jeremiah is the strongest candidate for the author but authorship is open to question. The readers were supposed to read the history in these books and be moved by it. By focussing on the characters of the kings the book shows first-hand the purpose of God despite immense human failure. Most probably it was written to the exiles in Babylon to show them that God had not totally abandoned them.
Foremost on the minds of the original Hebrew readers would have been two promises from God: (1) that Jerusalem would be His dwelling place; (2) that David’s rule would last forever. In a place of exile the book seeks to restore faith to the nation by reminding the reader that God is faithful. Authors call it a theodicy – literature that seeks to justify God’s actions. In this case it shows that the exile was a result of Israel’s repeated disobedience.
The reader needs to note the history of the two kingdoms of Israel to the north and Judah to the south. Israel is made up of ten tribes and Judah of just two. Both Judah and Israel have 20 kings. Judah survives 140 years longer because of the good kings that reigned there.
Kings introduces us to some larger than life characters. Many of the kings are terribly wicked and some are wonderfully good. The book also introduces Elijah and Elisha to us. Elijah is on the stage of the rest of the Bible as a figure who represents the coming of the kingdom of God in victorious opposition to ruling wickedness. Ahab and Jezebel feature as figures of weakness and wickedness personified.
There are many lessons to learn in Kings for the individual and the church. Let the Holy Spirit show you these things.