(…continued) The prophet’s job was to proclaim God’s Word, and they would thunder their judgments saying, “Thus saith the Lord.” But the book of Proverbs never speaks like that. These wise men dealt more in human wisdom gained from observing how life was best lived in God’s world. God had ordered life in his world in a certain way, and gave commands as to how life could best be lived. The wise men, already well versed in God’s Law, offered further explanation and application to daily life.
The fact that these wise men based their wisdom on their faith in God can be seen in the seventh verse of chapter one which sums up the theme of the book: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” This reliance of God’s Word is again emphasized in Proverbs 3:5-6. These are perhaps the most familiar verses in the entire book: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths.” The book of Proverbs begins with the fear of God and the command to trust in him alone. From that starting point the old sages went into almost every area of life, describing with simplicity and wit how one might “acknowledge the Lord in all his ways.”
A major theme of the Proverbs is how to get along with each other. Then, as now, wisdom is needed to avoid conflict and live in peace and harmony. The Proverbs encourage us to be kind, patient, truthful, fair; and silent, unless we have something good to say. Proverbs 12:18 says, “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” There is advice against revenge, saying, “Do not say ‘I will pay you back for this wrong,’ but wait for the Lord who will deliver you.” Other Proverbs encourage patience: “A patient man is better than a warrior; the man who controls his temper is better than the one who takes a city.” Simple kindness is more important, says the Proverbs, than power and fame and glory.
The Proverbs often remind us of the danger of putting material things ahead of our spiritual concerns. Hard work and discipline are encouraged, but it is clear that the goal must never be simply to get rich, as in 23:4-5: “Do not wear yourself out to get rich… Cast but a glance at riches and they are gone.” Then, in chapter 30 is this profound prayer: “Two things I ask of you, O Lord, do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me, and give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say ‘who is the Lord?’, or I may become poor and steal and dishonor the name of God.”
The Proverbs have much to say about planning for our future, and again the emphasis is on seeking God’s guidance and will. Chapter 16 says, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, for blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord.” You can plan all you want and figure every angle, but if you ignore the Lord, it will not end well (14:12): “There is a way that seems right to person, but in the end it leads to death.” And be careful of pride, for “Pride goes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit leads to a fall.”
There are many more themes in Proverbs, but this overview would be incomplete if we only looked at the advice. The advice certainly makes up most of the book, but there are also promises. Most of the promises deal with the here and now: how godly living results in a good life, and how wicked living leads to pain and sadness.
But the wise men knew that it did not always work that way. Then, as now, it often seemed like the wicked did rather well, and good people often suffered; and then death ended all good fortune and all suffering for everyone. But even in death there was hope for the godly, as the Old Testament sometimes anticipates the New Testament promise of life beyond death.
Though Proverbs doesn’t say much about eternal life, the writers were ready to trust God for something good after death. Proverbs 14:32 is one of these expressions of hope, saying, “When calamity comes, the wicked are brought down, but even in death the righteous have a refuge in God.”
The coming of Christ and his promise of eternal life in the future went far beyond the wildest imaginations of these long ago people. But already, they felt that longing for something more than is offered in this brief life, and had that trust that even in death God would be their refuge.
The coming of Christ was the fulfillment of those longings, and his death and resurrection guaranteed their hoped for life after death. Until then, these old words can help us live the good life of contentment, peace of mind, and good will.
In you, Lord my God, I put my trust…
Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.