It seems that our culture is caught up in trying to find the edge or the secret to success and advancement in life. Some of the best selling books on the market are claiming to give you the keys to success and happiness. Wouldn’t that be nice? Wouldn’t it be great if we did have some easy-to-follow guidelines to a successful life? The book of Proverbs is just that kind of book. The majority of this book was written by King Solomon in the early days of his life. The purpose of the book was to instruct the young men in his court on how to live the “good life” and find success and happiness in everything they did. What was his secret formula for success? It can be found in the first chapter. Proverbs 1:7 says,”
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning
of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom
In other words, “if you want to succeed in life; put God first, seek wisdom, and live a disciplined life.” Proverbs is a book full of practical, how-to wisdom-nuggets that will serve as guideposts along our path of life. If we want to “succeed” in life, then we need to become students of this book.
The book of Proverbs can be divided into two major sections. In chapters 1-9, Solomon paints a portrait of two women who are calling out to the young men in the city. The one woman is Wisdom, the second woman is Folly. Wisdom is seen as a strong and beautiful woman who is the personification of all that is right and good and is according to the ways of God. Folly is seen as an adulteress, a prostitute, a temptress; enticing young men to come to her for a quick rush of fun, then leaving them to die. Each woman is calling out to the world, trying to convince everyone who walks by that her way is the best way. Each of us is like the young man to whom Proverbs is written. Each of us has the choice, every day, to listen to Wisdom or to chase after Folly. Chapters 1-9 spell out the benefits of Wisdom and the consequences of Folly. The second section is simply a collection of short sayings that have to do with practical, every day life issues. The individual proverbs contained within chapters 10-30 are not necessarily organized by theme or any particular order. They are simply common sense nuggets that are ours for the discovery. In chapter 31, we return to a theme based upon a woman. Proverbs 31 paints a picture of what a godly woman looks like. We’ll get to that next week. This week we will focus on chapters 1-9 and examine the portrait of the two women that are competing for our allegiances. The illustration may help summarize this section.
*** A note to women!! The language of Proverbs is very masculine. Remember that the context was a father speaking to his sons. That does not mean that women are less important, nor does it mean that women are off the hook. The timeless truths regarding holy living in the book of Proverbs are universal. When it speaks to the young man, please read young woman as well. When it speaks of fidelity from a man to his wife, please read from a wife to her husband as well. I think you get the idea.
Proverbs: A Sorted Issue
When you were a kid, did you ever enjoy getting a big bag of M&M’s and sorting them into groups by color? Wasn’t it exciting when they would come out with a new color (OK, maybe not exciting, but it was fun when you were a kid)? In this second half of our study of Proverbs we see that Proverbs is a lot like that bag of M&M’s. Actually it’s more like a treasure box full of precious stones. Each proverb is like a jewel that is unique and self contained. While each jewel is unique, there are also a limited number of types of jewels; diamonds, rubies, emeralds, crystals, etc. The proverbs can be divided up into major categories and practical life themes and each of these themes is like the categories of precious stones. The jewels from each category are interspersed throughout the book and are beckoning us to sort them out.
One helpful method for studying and sorting the Proverbs is to take a sheet of paper, or a spreadsheet on a computer, and, every time you come across a new theme or topic, make a new column for it. Every time you run across another “jewel” from that topic add it to the column underneath the appropriate heading. By the time you have combed through the entire book you will have sorted out several piles of jewels all organized by topic. If you have written this down then later on you will have your own quick reference, topical guide to wisdom.
In the devotional this week we will be looking at five separate topics – one for each day — and reading the jewels that pertain to it. Of course there are many more that we have completely ignored. One of the joys of Proverbs is that every time you read through it you will notice that the Holy Spirit makes a different set of jewels sparkle and catch your eye depending upon your place in life in that moment. On one read through you may be hit with the proverbs about gluttony and convicted to go on a diet. The next time you read it you may be convicted by the indictment to not be lazy and work hard. The topics chosen for these five are the ones that stood out on this go around. Enjoy the assortment!