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Essential Proverbs for Today

The Proverb Series

Topical Proverbs

Fear of God

Understanding Proverbs

To understand and properly apply proverbs it is essential to read it in the right sense. As with any other scripture reading it in the right spirit will direct one to appropriate applications and keep one from deviating into misapplications.

Let us take an example which on the surface appears as a contradiction.

Proverbs 26:4 Donít answer a fool according to his folly, Lest you also be like him.
Proverbs 26:5  Answer a fool according to his folly, Lest he be wise in his own eyes.
On the surface, taken literally, these appear as contradictory commands. But what we must understand is that for many if not most of the proverbs there are two principles which describe the sense in which they are written which resolves such paradoxes.

Principle #1: Many of the apparent commands are to be taken not as explicit commands but rather as principles - IF A THEN B.

Principle #2: Most of the proverbs are GENERAL principles as opposed to things which are true in every particular case. Thus most should be understood to be preceeded with the expression "Generally speaking".

So for example in the cases above we would say

"Generally speaking if you answer a fool according to his folly then you will be like him, but on the other hand you will prevent him from being wise in his own eyes."
Thus you are presented with a choice in answering a fool. Proverbs considers the pros and cons but leaves it up to you to decide which is best for your particular circumstances. Thus proverbs is less a set of rules and regulations and more a set of observations from which the wise in spirit can derive applications.

An application of Principle #2 is to beware of applying labels universally. For example proverbs speaks much of "fools" as if there are a distinct group of people in the world who are fools and everyone else is not a fool. But in fact all of us are fools to different degrees. And so also is in the case with other such labels as the sluggard, the stingy, the scoffer, the righteous, the wise, the faithful. But this is not to say that it is inappropriate to label individuals. For such is done both in society and throughout the Bible. However such labels, if they refer to a person's behavior, are not to be taken in an absolute sense but rather to be understood as a description of the person's overall lifestyle or character.

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources Jan 29,2022