How to Interpret Wisdom Literature (Proverbs) PART 3—Recommendations, Not Reality.

Note that generally, the Book of Proverbs is a book of recommendations and suggestions on how a good society CAN be, not how the society ACTUALLY is. Found therein are not facts/rules but suggestions.

The Law of Moses stated rules. Exodus 20:3, for example, says, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” This is a RULE, and it MUST be adhered to. No exceptions.

But when it comes to proverbs, they are not RIGID RULES. They are SUGGESTIONS i.e. how things SHOULD be.

Take Proverbs 16:7 for example, “When a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.

Now, is this REALLY the case in every society? Are the enemies of every man who PLEASES God at peace with him? The honest answer would be no. Many a time, men are hated and persecuted in their locales for their commitment to God.

Take Jesus for example. He led a life pleasing to the Father. In John 8:29, He says “…the Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.

Now, were the enemies of Jesus at peace with Him? No! They crucified Him (see Matthew 27:15-26). So Jesus, a Man who pleased God, is delivered to die. This might appear to contradict Proverbs 16:7, only if we fail to realize that proverbs are not ABSOLUTE statements. They have exceptions.

Proverbs must NEVER be taken as absolute truths. They are conditional. Proverbs describe how things OUGHT TO BE in a normal society, not necessarily how things ARE.

SEVERAL other examples of this abound in the Book of Proverbs:

Proverbs 10:3 (NKJV)

3 The Lord will not allow the righteous soul to famish, but He casts away the desire of the wicked. 

Again, this is not an absolute statement! We have seen some righteous people famished and even die! Job, for example, lost everything, even though he was righteous.

See how he is described in Job 1:1, “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was BLAMELESS and UPRIGHT, and one who FEARED GOD and SHUNNED EVIL.

We find here an upright man, yet he lost all he had. First of all, he lost his lifestock and employees (Job 1:13-17). Not only that, he also lost his children (Job 1:18-21). His loss climaxes in the decline of his health (Job 2:7-8).

Job losses everything! Even though he was righteous. So we see a righteous man famished, although Proverbs 10:3 says otherwise. A proverb, therefore, is not absolute truth. It may or may not happen.

We find another example in vs. 30 of the same chapter, “The righteous will NEVER BE REMOVED, but the wicked will not inhabit the earth” (Proverbs 10:30).

The word “removed” translates the Hebrew “mot” which has to do with being overthrown from one’s land, expatriation (whereby one lives outside one’s own country).

This usually happened where foreign nations came and removed the people from their own land. The Prophets often warned the people of Israel concerning this.

Amos 7:17 (NKJV)

17 “Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Your wife shall be a harlot in the city; your sons and daughters shall fall by the sword; your land shall be divided by survey line; you shall die in A DEFILED LAND; and Israel shall surely be LED AWAY CAPTIVE from HIS OWN LAND.’”

Expatriation was usually the punishment Israel received for her sins (captivity in a foreign land). However, not only unrighteous people are removed from their land.

Examples abound of righteous persons driven from their homes by natural disasters or persecutions.

Take, for example, Acts 8, where Saul persecuted the Church.

Acts 8:1 (NKJV)

1 Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was AT JERUSALEM (their land); and they were ALL SCATTERED THROUGHOUT THE REGIONS of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 

Here, we see righteous men (Christians) removed from their own land due to persecution. Vv. 3-4 say, “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Therefore THOSE WHO WERE SCATTERED went everywhere preaching the word.

Proverbs 10:30 is therefore not ALWAYS obtainable in EVERY given circumstance.

Note however, that in most cases, the righteous live peacefully, while the wicked are always hunted by the law. So Proverbs 10:30 is true SOMETIMES, not EVERY TIME. This is how proverbs work.

Proverbs 13:18 says, “POVERTY and SHAME will come to him who DISDAINS CORRECTION, but he who regards a rebuke will be honored.

This is not always the case as sometimes, the stubborn become rich and famous. Some of the richest people in the world today live shameful lives!

Another famous example here is Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he WILL NOT depart from it.

There have been children who were brought up correctly but departed from that training later in life. Proverbs 22:6 must not be taken to be an absolute statement.

Parents can only TRY their best. The child can CHOOSE to yield to good social upbringing or not. He/she has a freewill. A child turning out wayward does not ALWAYS mean the parents did not do their best to train him properly.

Proverbs are therefore conditional statements, which may or may not happen, depending on the circumstance.


© Josh Banks Ministries. 2022.


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