Proverbs makes no guarantees

no guarantee

I used to wonder if Proverbs should be included in the Bible.  I was taught (and still believe) that the Bible is the Word of God and that it is truthful.

  • John 17:17 says, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” (NASB)
  • 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (NASB)
  • 2 Peter 1:20-21: “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (NASB)

If these verses are true, how can the following statements be included in the Bible?

  • Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

I know of some excellent parents, who have children that seemed to depart from what they were taught.

Or this one:

  • Proverbs 10:27-29 The fear of the Lord prolongs life, But the years of the wicked will be shortened. 28 The hope of the righteous is gladness, But the expectation of the wicked perishes. 29 The way of the Lord is a stronghold to the upright, But ruin to the workers of iniquity.

If you try to take these verses, literally you might be tempted to say that if someone lives a short life, that they were wicked.  If someone experience “ruin,” they had sinned.

This understanding of Scripture is ridiculous and very wrong.

Reading Proverbs can be confusing.  Sometimes, we overlook the fact that the book of Proverbs was written differently than other parts of Scripture like Genesis or the Gospels.  If we try to read Proverbs just like other books, we might begin to question if the Bible is accurate.

The truth is that these verses are accurate. As my husband taught the kids at VBS, you need to know what kind of literature a book is to understand it correctly.  If you pick up an encyclopedia, you expect everything in the book to be precise and accurate, but you do not have the same expectations if the book begins “once upon a time.”  Or a book of poetry might describe a woman with a waterfall of hair.  I have never seen a woman with water flowing out of her head, but it communicates an intended message and is not consider inaccurate.

The book of Proverbs is a special kind of Hebrew poetry. Proverbs should not be taken as a guarantee. Google describes any proverb (not limited to Biblical proverbs) as “a short pithy saying in general use, stating a general truth or piece of advice.”  I don’t normally quote Wikipedia (because its trustworthiness can be questionable), but I like the wording.  Wikipedia describes a proverb as “a basic rule of conduct.” In the book of Proverbs, God was not giving us absolute promises, but rather “this is how things generally are.”

With what you have learned about how to read a Proverb.  Let’s look at Proverbs 10:27-29 again.

  • Proverbs 10:27-29 The fear of the Lord prolongs life, But the years of the wicked will be shortened. 28 The hope of the righteous is gladness, But the expectation of the wicked perishes. 29 The way of the Lord is a stronghold to the upright, But ruin to the workers of iniquity.

Instead of looking at this verse as a promise that if you fear God you will have a good long life or fearing God to see what we can get out of it (a prolonged life, or hope, or gladness, or even strength). Let’s fear the Lord because that is what God created us to be and trust that God will be pleased with our commitment.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, God does seem to reward those who fear Him.  But are we really honoring God if we are doing it for our rewards?

I would love to hear if you have ever struggled with your interpretation of the Bible.  What helped you understand the Bible better?  Please share in the comment section below.

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