The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Author: Solomon and others.

Time: 1000 –- 700 BC.

Summary: Proverbs is a collection of wise sayings from several sources, including King Solomon, laying practical rules for right living based on godly wisdom. The sayings deal with many different problems and situations. Most of the proverbs are very short and easy to remember. The proverbs are not organized in a way that puts all the sayings on one topic together. Instead, almost every verse raises a new and important idea. Proverbs presents the idea that humans are either good or evil, wise or foolish, with God or without him. Both are known by their deeds, their "fruits", their chosen "ways" in life and their fitting ends.


"The phrase 'The Proverbs of Solomon' is a title for the entire book. The title does not imply that Solomon authored all the proverbs in this collection; some sections are collections from different authors: the sayings of the wise (Pro 22:17–24:22), more sayings of the wise (Pro 24:23–34), the words of Agur (Pro 30:1–33) and Lemuel (Pro 31:1–9). The title does not imply that the book was in its final canonical form in the days of Solomon; the men of Hezekiah added a collection of Solomonic proverbs to the existing form of the book (Pro 25:1–29:27). The original collection of Solomonic proverbs appears to be the collection of short pithy sayings in Pro 10:1–22:16, and the title might have originally introduced only these. There is question whether Pro 1–9 were part of the original form of the book in the days of Solomon because they do not fit under the title; they are not 'proverbs' per se (sentence sayings) but introductory admonitions (longer wisdom speeches). Pro 1–9 could have been written by Solomon and perhaps added later by someone else. Or they could have been written by someone else and added later in the days of Hezekiah" (NETn).


Key verse: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning, of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" (Pro 9:10).



1. Superiority of the way of wisdom: Pro 1:1 – 9:18

a) Introduction: Pro 1:1–9
b) Appeals and warnings confronting youth: Pro 1:10-19
c) Wisdom's warning: Pro 1:20-33
d) Commendation of wisdom: Pro 2:1–4:27
e) Warnings against folly: Pro 5:1–7:27
f) Appeals addressed to youth: Pro 8:1–9:18

2. Main collection of Solomon's proverbs (375 separate proverbs): Pro 10:1–22:16

3. The thirty sayings of the wise: Pro 22:17–24:22

4. Additional sayings of the wise: Pro 24:23–34

5. Hezekiah's collection of Solomon's proverbs: Pro 25:1 – 29:27

6. The words of Agur: Pro 30:1–33

7. The words of Lemuel: Pro 31:1–9

8. The virtuous woman (an acrostic): Pro 31:10-31


"Brief and pithy statements of practical truth -- known as proverbs -- are powerful. They are more or less current everywhere. They are easily understood, and easily remembered: and they influence action where formal disquisition would be powerless. No civilised community is without them. The Scriptures, which lack no good feature, have this as well. A whole section of them is devoted to 'proverbs'. But there is a difference between the proverbs of the Bible and the proverbs current among men. Bible proverbs have God in them; merely human proverbs have not. Bible proverbs recognize God as the ruling factor in human action, which human proverbs leave out of account. Besides this, Bible proverbs have God in them in the sense of owing their origin to the Inspiration of God. 'God gave Solomon wisdom exceeding much.' Paul tells us that the voice speaking in the proverbs is the voice of God 'speaking to us as children' (Heb 12:5). Because Bible proverbs have God in them, they are as far superior to human proverbs as long-sightedness and accuracy are superior to shortsightedness and error" (RR).


Theme Of Proverbs

"As we view the state of the world, in this age of so much cleverness and so little wisdom, so much mechanical accomplishment and so little true living or understanding of life, we are deeply and sadly and thankfully impressed with the crying need for divine guidance and instruction.

"The Proverbs, like the rest of Scripture, teach us two basic, elemental lessons upon which all true accomplishment by man must be built -- 'It is not in man himself to direct his way aright'... And -- 'The fear of God is the BEGINNING of wisdom.'

"Until by meditation, and experience, and self-examination, we are impressed to the depths of our being with these two cardinal truths, we can make little progress in life.

"The great revelation of the Bible is that man is naturally evil and foolish, that God is all wisdom, and that man's wisdom lies in seeking God with the whole being, and learning the teachings of His Word.

"The more we see the wise of the world rejecting the eternal Word of God and building on the shifting sands of their own man-made, man-centered philosophies, and the more we observe the tragic results of this in corruption, immorality and violence, the more we are impressed with the infinite value of God's Word, and the infinite superiority of God's Way -- the Way of Beauty and Holiness and Truth and Life -- as compared with man's natural way of lust, pleasure, emptiness, greed and death.

"The spirit of the Proverbs is awe and reverence, and the fullest recognition of man's littleness and weakness. Its lessons are many, but outstanding among them are these eternal truths --
"The Proverbs emphasize -- perhaps more than any other book of Scripture -- the vital truth that the Gospel of salvation is a WAY OF LIFE. It concerns and must control ALL activities of the mind and body, if it is to mean anything.

"Being 'in the Truth' is infinitely more than just believing a set of doctrines. If our whole life -- everything we are or think -- is not consciously striving toward ever-increasing harmony with God, we are on the way of death.

"One thing is certain: If we truly get the glorious message of Proverbs, if we truly comprehend and appreciate the greatness of God's gracious love toward us, if we truly realize the magnitude and urgency of the joyful work that lays before us, to serve and glorify God and prepare ourselves for His eternal companionship -- then we shall never have either the time or inclination to cry or feel sorry for ourselves. We shall be too busy doing and rejoicing.

"TO FEEL SORRY FOR OURSELVES IS A REPROACH AGAINST THE LOVE AND GOODNESS OF GOD. It is shallow, cowardly faithlessness. It cannot be anything but displeasing to Him" (GVG).


"Fallen man will always seek to establish a dichotomy between the sacred and the secular, between religious ceremony and practical righteousness. The OT prophets frequently addressed this misconception by warning Israel that religious ritual had no value when divorced from righteous living, such as caring for the poor and oppressed (cf Isa 1:10-17; Jer 20-29). Jesus, likewise, addressed this kind of dualism (cf Mat 23:23,24). Later, James had a similar word on this subject (cf Jam 1:21-27).

"The Book of Proverbs will not allow Christians to linger in the land of the theoretical. We love to keep Christianity on an abstract level, rather than on an applicational one. Our greatest failing as Christians is not that we know too little (while this is often regrettably true), but that we fail to do what we know we should. The emphasis of Proverbs is both on the acquisition of wisdom and the application of it. Seldom do we find ourselves 'in church' in this book, but rather in the home, on the job, and dealing with the mundane matters of daily living.

"Proverbs forces the reader to translate principles into practice. Often, it was the prophets who proclaimed the principles which Proverbs specifically related to life. For example, Amos wrote: 'But let justice roll down like waters, And righteousness like an everflowing stream' (Amos 5:24).

"Proverbs instructs us in more specific terms: 'Diverse weights and diverse measures, are both alike abominations to the Lord' (Pro 20:10). The Book of Proverbs commands the butcher to be righteous by taking his thumb off the scales" (Deff).


The Wisdom Writings

The Wisdom literature (which includes Proverbs) is a distinctly different category from the rest of the OT. The differences between the "wisdom" of Proverbs and the "wisdom" of other portions of the OT has been cogently set out by Aleck Crawford, in the following chart (slightly adapted):

1. Why sin is wrong
It is disobedience
It defiles
It is folly
2. Why righteousness is right
It is just
It is commanded
It is wise

There are many reasons why we should reject the evil and choose the good. The power of Proverbs (and, indeed, of all the Wisdom literature as well) is that it puts this dichotomy in the simplest of all possible terms: (a) Sin is wrong because it is folly -- sheer foolishness -- and it will drown man in all sorts of "lakes" and "oceans" of wrong turns and dead ends. (b) Righteousness is to be desired because, ultimately, it is the only true wisdom; the way of God is the way of wisdom; and wise men will choose it -- for its practical benefits as well as for its eternal benefits.

For the same reason, many of the individual proverbs are true on several different levels: they are true in the literal sense, and often constitute a primer of how to succeed in public relations, business, domestic affairs, etc. Secondly, they are true in the metaphorical sense: ie, the simple, straightforward literal meaning can be carried forward as a guide in other walks of life. And thirdly, the proverbs are often true in the most spiritual sense: for the "natural" is, in God's wisdom, the pattern of the "spiritual".

Let the reader tremble before the Word of God and rejoice at the opportunity of finding great resources from the Mind of God. Let our intent be learning and obedience only, without even a trace of mere academic interest -- or knowledge for the sake of pride.


" 'Make the bad people good, and the good people nice', is supposed to have been a child's prayer: it makes the point, with proverbial brevity, that there are details of character small enough to escape the mesh of the law and the broadsides of the prophets, and yet decisive in personal dealings. Proverbs moves in this realm, asking what a person is like to live with, or to employ; how he manages his affairs, his time and himself. This good lady, for instance -- does she talk too much? That cheerful soul -- is he bearable in the early morning? And this friend who is always dropping in -- here is some advice for him... and for that rather aimless lad...

"But it is not a portrait-album or a book of manners: it offers a key to life. The samples of behaviour which it holds up to view are all assessed by one criterion, which could be summed up in the question, 'Is this wisdom or folly?' This is a unifying approach to life, because it suits the most commonplace realms as fully as the most exalted. Wisdom leaves its signature on anything well made or well judged, from an apt remark to the universe itself, from a shrewd policy (which springs from practical insight) to a noble action (which presupposes moral and spiritual discernment). In other words, it is equally at home in the realms of nature and art, of ethics and politics, to mention no others, and forms a single basis of judgment for them all.

"Such an approach could have the effect of lowering everything to a common level, if wisdom were equated with selfish calculation. There IS calculation in Proverbs, for there is every encouragement to count the cost or reward of one's actions, and to study the ways of getting things done; but wisdom as taught here is God-centred, and even when it is most down-to-earth it consists in the shrewd and sound handling of one's affairs in GOD'S world, in submission to His will" (Kidner).


"Our daily readings recently have been from the Book of Proverbs. We may have felt a pang of regret that we have left the Psalms, with their high spiritual tone and their particularly appropriate messages for our individual needs, to read what the heading of our Bibles refers to as 'Moral virtues and their contrary vices'. It may seem at first sight a great fall in spiritual values from the yearning and devotion of the Psalmist to the warnings against intemperance, greed, slothfulness, evil companionship of both sexes, pride and tale-bearing, with an occasional highlight on the praise of wisdom or the excellencies of the virtuous woman.

"The truth of the matter is that we require both the Psalms and the Proverbs in the process of 'thorough furnishing' unto all good works which it is the purpose of the inspired Scriptures to accomplish in us. They both have their place 'for instruction in righteousness': we need the uplifting influence of the Psalms and the warnings of the Proverbs, for if our heads and hearts at times reach unto the clouds, our feet still remain on the earth; and the strange duality of the flesh and the spirit which is ours requires that varying treatment which only the word of God is able to supply...

"Careful reading of the Book of Proverbs soon discloses that there is much more in it than a mere catalogue of moral maxims: there is a deep underlying purpose in the book: it reflects the desire of one who has experienced life in all its aspects to guide the young and inexperienced through its complications and pitfalls: to help them to discern the true from the false, the realities from the shams, the gold from the tinsel: his advice is not to 'try everything once' which seems so popular today, but to decide in advance which things are really worth while to follow, and which should be avoided. Above all, there is a continued insistence on the distinction between the 'right way' and the 'way which seemeth to be right'.

"One cannot fail to be impressed by the affectionate tone of the writer. He had experienced himself the blessing of a good home and the affectionate care of parents, and had come to recognize what a priceless heritage these are: 'For I was my father's son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother. He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words, keep my commandments, and live' (Pro 4:3)" (FWT).

Proverbs is an eternal Book: there is no mention of the Law of Moses, sabbath, tithing, sacrifices, etc.

New Testament quotations

Although there are many other allusions to Proverbs in the New Testament, the Book is directly quoted ten times:

Pro 1:16
Rom 3:15
Pro 3:7
Rom 12:16
Pro 3:11,12
Heb 12:5,6
Pro 3:34
Jam 4:6
Pro 10:12
1Pe 4:8
Pro 11:31
1Pe 4:18
Pro 24:21
1Pe 2:17
Pro 25:21,22
Rom 12:20
Pro 26:11
2Pe 2:22
Pro 27:1
Jam 4:13,14

Other Lessons:

See Lesson, Things new and old.

See Lesson, Prov, wise and fool in.

See Lesson, Prov and God.

See Lesson, Prov, parents and children.

See Lesson, Prov and the heart.

See Lesson, Prov and money.

See Lesson, Prov and speech.

See Lesson, Prov and strife.

See Lesson, Prov and temper.

See Lesson, Prov and work.

See Editorial, When to keep your mouth shut.

See Lesson, Wisdom and knowledge.

Guidelines For Understanding Proverbs

The Book of Proverbs includes many practical and down-to-earth sayings. Yet for many the Book of Proverbs apparently seems like "nothing more than a deserted stretch of highway between Psalms and Ecclesiastes" that appears "dry and barren" (Thomas Long, "Preaching and the Literary Forms of the Bible"). John Collins ("Proverbs", Knox Preaching Guides) asserts that "the crisis of relevance" for the preacher is particularly acute for the Book of Proverbs since it provides little inspiration or excitement. According to him, "With the exception of Leviticus, it is doubtful that any Biblical book is viewed with less enthusiasm by the preacher." Why is it that, although Proverbs is a rich source of devotional reading, preachers and teachers normally bypass Proverbs for public presentation?

Greg Parsons (BibSac 150:598:152-171) lists six problems that face the Bible student in seeking to understand the Book of Proverbs.

How can the Bible student deal with such obstacles to his understanding of the Book of Proverbs? Are there any guidelines to assist him in negotiating this "obstacle course"?

Drawing on the writings of other scholars, Parsons offers five guidelines for understanding and interpreting Proverbs, which (with some adaptation, and modification) are summarized below.


Guideline One: Interpret individual passages in light of the overall structure, purpose, and "motto" of the Book of Proverbs.

a. Overall structure of the Book

The overall literary structure of Proverbs suggests that the book is not only an anthology of sayings but is also "a collection of collections of wisdom materials" (David Hubbard, "The Communicator's Commentary"). The headings that introduce its major sections at Pro 1:1; 10:1; 22:17; 24:23; 25:1; 30:1; and 31:1 may indicate seven distinct collections that vary in form and content.

Therefore it seems prudent to interpret each individual proverb or small section initially and primarily within the context of its own individual collection. Then one must consider the context of the Book of Proverbs as a whole. The use of a concordance is essential for the precise meaning of words in the wisdom (or proverbial) vocabulary.

b. Purpose and setting

In contrast to many books of the Bible, the purpose of Proverbs is clearly stated in Pro 1:2–6. As a primer of right conduct and proper attitudes, Proverbs gives the inexperienced youth (Pro 1:4) -- or even the older immature person -- wisdom and instruction necessary to conform to God's will. A twofold emphasis is indicated: to give MORAL prudence and skillfulness for holy living (Pro 1:2a,3–5); and to give MENTAL discernment (Pro 1:2b,6). The latter includes discerning the meaning of various kinds of wisdom sayings such as proverbs, riddles, and figurative maxims or expressions (v 6). The proverb in the mouth of a fool is inappropriate and can even be hazardous (Pro 26:7,9). Discernment may also refer to knowing the difference between sham and reality so as to sift out the counterfeit versions of "wisdom". This involves insight concerning lessons of life "such as distinguishing permanent values from immediate gratifications" (Ross, "Proverbs", 905).

Though the setting of Proverbs has been debated (whether it was the royal court or the home), the data seem to indicate that the Book of Proverbs in its canonical form was an "instructional manual" designed "for use by the young men of Israel's society who were being groomed for positions of leadership" (Hubbard). Hubbard also suggests that the centralization of government under David and Solomon called for many administrators to be trained for positions of responsibility. Beginning in Solomon's day there may have been some kind of schooling system such as was known in Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia. Hezekiah may also have had a similar system (Pro 25:1).

However, the individual sayings reflect the family (or clan) wisdom of centuries past handed down from father to son throughout the generations (cf Pro 4:1–4). The Book of Proverbs is "the boiled-down summation of many generations of experience in living" (LD Johnson, "Israel's Wisdom").

c. Motto

The motto of the book is found in Pro 1:7; 9:10. These two verses bracket, more or less, the first major section of the Book ("The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge/wisdom"). This serves as the compass to give orientation to all of Pro 1 -- 9. This motto rectifies the view that Proverbs is basically secular in its orientation. Proverbs is designed to teach people how to steer their lives properly (cf Pro 1:5) under the command of Yahweh.


Guideline Two: Recognize the various literary forms and devices (the "building blocks" of the individual passages or proverbs) as a clue to the context.

a. Literary forms

In general there are two basic literary forms or types of proverbs: the wisdom sentence and the admonition. The wisdom sentence (or saying) is an observation based on experience that is stated in the indicative mood (eg, Pro 12:4). This type occurs primarily in Pro 10:1–22:16 and Pro 25–29.

The admonition, or "command" form, which occurs in the imperative mood, is found mainly in Pro 1–9 and Pro 22:17–24:22. It may be a positive instruction or a negative prohibition. The admonition may add the reason(s) or motivation(s), which are often introduced by "for" (see Pro 3:1,2 and Pro 1:15,16, combining both negative and positive components). Frequently there are extended admonitions to the "son" (especially in Pro 1–9).

b. Basic types of poetic parallelism

Though all the basic types of poetic parallelism can be illustrated from the Book of Proverbs, the most significant are antithetic and emblematic parallelism.

Antithetic parallelism is the most common category in Proverbs, particularly in Pro 10–15, in which about 90 percent of the proverbs are of this type. This type emphasizes the importance of choosing correctly to avoid the fate of the fool. It contributes greatly to the teaching of "the two ways", setting "before the reader the choice between the wise and profitable way versus the foolish and disastrous way" (Ross) (cf Pro 12:5).

Emblematic parallelism is actually a type of synonymous parallelism in which one line is figurative and the other line is literal (see Pro 10:26; 25:25; 26:20). Proverbs of this type may also qualify as riddles: every statement "A is like B" implies the question "HOW is A like B?" Therefore one must determine the common denominators in the comparison, ascertaining the main point of the comparison within its historical-cultural context.

In analyzing the meaning of half of the parallelism, one must consider the proverb as a whole, utilizing both halves of the verse. For instance Pro 10:1 reads, "A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish son is a grief to his mother." The two halves of this antithetic proverb must not be isolated so as to conclude mistakenly that a mother has no joy in a wise son or that the "macho" father shows no grief over a foolish son. Rather the parallelism of "father"/"mother" means "parents" who share emotions of joy or grief. Thus the total message may be greater than the sum of its independent components; it emerges from the harmonious interaction between the two lines.

One problem for many readers is that much of Proverbs has indeed become proverbial in English with the result that only a portion of the individual proverb is quoted. This tends to divorce one half from its mate and distorts the proverb's meaning.

The clues in the various English translations as to the probable kind of parallelism need to be observed carefully. Antithetical parallelisms normally use the word "but". Emblematic parallelisms have the word "like" or "as" at the beginning of one line. However, since a translator frequently has added these words from the context (as in Pro 25:25,26,28), the reader must be cautious about the "announced" kind of parallelism. These clues may sometimes convey an incorrect message.

Since so much of the Book of Proverbs consists of individual proverbs (which may be compared to color slides placed somewhat randomly in a projector tray), the expositional caveat implied in the proverb, "A text without a context is a pretext," must be applied in a unique manner:

  1. The internal context of each individual proverb is heightened.
  2. Other verses in the immediate paragraph(s) or chapter(s) are not nearly so important as the literary and theological context of the whole collection. A topical study of the subjects and words will provide a perspective helpful in interpreting an individual proverb. Proverbs employs the technical jargon of wisdom literature.
  3. The theological context of the "motto" (Pro 1:7; 9:10) must always be considered.

Guideline Three: Beware of the false assumption that proverbs are unconditional promises.

a. Assumptions of proverbial wisdom

Bullock correctly observes that the Book of Proverbs as wisdom literature assumes "a fundamental relationship between the natural and social/moral order." Pro 3:19,20, which states that Yahweh created the universe through wisdom, and the many references to His acts of creation (Pro 8:22–31) demonstrate that creation is viewed as the basis for order in the universe. The implication is that God through wisdom placed "order" in the very fabric of the cosmos. These verses set the stage for the whole book, which is designed to exhibit the order that holds together all of life. Within this context there is a "solidarity" between all parts of God's creation, over which He is Ruler, from the universe itself down to a colony of ants (Pro 6:6). What one observes in the natural cosmos has implications for understanding the social and moral order.

Proverbs assumes that the physical and moral universe operates by cause and effect. Therefore good behavior is rewarded and bad deeds are punished (eg, Pro 10:30). In Hubbard's words, "the various analogies and comparisons between animal life and human experience make sense (see Pro 30) because behind both stands the hand of the one Creator. It is that hand which underlies the cause-and-effect pattern of Proverbs, where good conduct carries its own reward and bad behavior brings its own woe."

b. The nature of proverbial wisdom

Because proverbs are wise observations based on experience, they must not be understood as unconditional promises but as pragmatic principles (or procedures) to follow. In other words, "they work" -- most of the time! Neither are the proverbs "legal guarantees from God", but rather they are "poetic guidelines for good behavior" (Fee and Stuart, "How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth"). Thus the proverbs tell what generally takes place without making an irreversible rule that fits all circumstances. This is a key to understanding problematic proverbs such as Pro 22:6 ("Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it"). This verse should not be considered a promise but a general "principle of education and commitment" (Bullock).

Furthermore certain proverbs that make amoral observations (eg, Pro 14:20; 17:8) must not be seen as condoning or encouraging evil. A distinction must be made between what is described as ordinary, on the one hand, and what is encouraged as right and proper, on the other.

The proverbs are limited by the characteristics of brevity and catchiness. On the surface some proverbs read almost like a mathematical equation or mechanical law: "Humility and the fear of the LORD bring wealth and honor and life" (Pro 22:4). Robert Alden observes that the verse seems to say, "Obedience plus humility EQUALS riches, honor, and life." However, Fee and Stuart ("How to Read the Bible for All its Worth") aptly state that proverbs are "worded to be memorable" rather than "technically precise". The very literary form necessitates that they overstate the case and oversimplify without including "fine print" or "footnotes" with "lists of exceptions" (Hubbard). So one must be alert to the following limitations implied from an overall study of the context of the Book of Proverbs:

  1. Pro 26:4–5 demonstrates limitations to certain circumstances. These side-by-side, seemingly opposite proverbs should not be considered as inconsistent or contradictory; rather, they define specific situations noted in the Bible text. Complementary proverbs imply that the application of a specific aphorism must be tempered by certain conditions. Pro 15:22 praises careful planning with the use of human counselors; however, this is balanced with the warning that while "man proposes, God disposes" (Pro 19:21; 16:9; cf Pro 20:24; 21:30,31). Zuck suggests that folly, which according to Pro 22:15 is "bound up in the heart of the child", may introduce a situation that is an exception to the general principle of Pro 22:6 ("Train a child... and he will not turn from it").
  2. Proverbs may be limited to a certain tendency of things to cause a particular effect (see, eg, Pro 15:1). A gentle answer MAY turn away wrath, but at times such an answer may have no positive effect on stubborn individuals.
  3. Proverbs may be limited to what ought to be done, not (necessarily) what actually takes place (see, eg, Pro 16:10).
c. The literary context of wisdom literature as a whole

This brings a more balanced understanding to the Proverbs. The traditional wisdom of Proverbs deals with the "built-in regularities which make nine-tenths of life manageable". But this traditional view is challenged by Job and Ecclesiastes: "Proverbs seems to say, 'Here are the rules for life: try them and see they will work.' Job and Ecclesiastes say, 'We did, and they don't' " (David Hubbard, "The Wisdom Movement and Israel's Covenant Faith," Tyndale Bulletin 17:6). As Derek Kidner puts it, these books operate in "creative conflict" with Proverbs. And sometimes it is necessary to interpret Proverbs in the light of Job or Ecclesiastes, or understand the one as balanced off against either of the other two. (In a corresponding fashion, either of Job or Ecclesiastes might need to be interpreted in the light of Proverbs' "wisdom", or balanced off against it.)

The message of Job and Ecclesiastes illustrates that the proverbs are ultimately limited by the mystery of Yahweh's sovereignty. The natural order God established in the universe cannot tell us everything about God. Hubbard rightly concludes that "the fear of the LORD" (which is a common denominator in Wisdom literature: cp esp Pro 1:7; 9:10; Job 28:28; Psa 111:10; Ecc 12:13; and numerous other instances) should restrict self-confidence in using the various proverbs to determine how God will (always) act.

We cannot use proverbs like subway tokens or coins dropped in a soft drink machine. The are not guaranteed to achieve the desired result every time. They are guidelines, not mechanical formulas. We heed them as best we can, try to gain the wisdom that experience can teach, and then leave large amounts of room for God to surprise us with outcomes different from what our plans prescribe.


Guideline Four: Realize that some proverbs ARE unconditionally true.

The recognition that the proverbs have limitations does not nullify the fact that some proverbs may always be true. Frequently these are connected to an attribute or action of God (Pro 11:1; 12:22; 15:3; 16:2,33; 22:2). However, this does not mean that because the name of the LORD is used in the proverb there is a "blank check" to use in an unconditional fashion. For instance, Pro 15:25 ("The LORD tears down the proud man's house but he keeps the widow's boundaries intact") and Pro 16:7 ("When a man's ways are pleasing to the LORD, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him") must not be forced to apply to all situations. The experience of mankind will often alert the student to proverbs that have exceptions. However, ultimately the way to decide whether a proverb is always true or limited to certain circumstances is not by means of a subjective "vote" but by correlation with the rest of the Biblical canon, beginning with the context of the Book of Proverbs and of wisdom literature as a whole and concluding with the New Testament evidence.

For instance, the promises of long life, peace, riches, and honor to those who obey the commandments of parents or teachers (Pro 3, esp vv 1,2,16) can be clarified by noting Jesus' life. Though he embodied wisdom and fulfilled all the requirements of Pro 3, he did not have a long life, riches, or much honor while on earth (in seeming contradiction to the text). This does not mean that these proverbs are inaccurate or uninspired; rather this illustrates that they are general precepts that describe the norm but are not without exception. Eph 6:1–4 includes a "promise" of blessing and long life on earth. Though the commandment to obey and honor parents must be considered as absolute (Exo 20:12), the motivation or reward must not be interpreted as an unconditional promise. God in His sovereignty may make an exception, as in the case of Jesus.

On the other hand, certain promises -- as above -- ARE in fact unconditionally true, IF one expands the horizon for their fulfillments to the Kingdom Age and beyond. Then every promise of God, about long life and prosperity and honor, WILL be true -- even for those who died in faith, though young, or for those who suffered poverty or terrible persecution, or were reviled and hated in this life. Such promises WILL BE absolutely true, if we only get our perspective right, and take the long view of things: "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2Co 4:16-18).

When our son was very young, and listening to and then reading Proverbs with us, he asked the same question several times: 'But that verse isn't always true, is it?' Good people suffer. Righteous people die young. The godly sometimes must beg for their food. And he was right.

And so, in answer to his general question, we coined a term: "Adam, you have to remember: here we are talking about... PROVERBS TIME. In 'Proverbs time' something may NEVER be true, so long as this world continues, but in the Kingdom Age, when Christ comes, then it WILL be true forever and ever." And so, to this day, "Proverbs time" has, for us, become an acceptable way of categorizing all those possible "promises" that never seem to have worked out as one might hope in this life. And of course, such promises are not limited to Proverbs: for example -- as any good Christadelphian will have learned as a matter of course -- God's covenant promise that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would live forever in the Land of Promise was not true in the past, and is not true even now, but will be absolutely true -- "in PROVERBS TIME"!


Guideline Five: Interpret the Book of Proverbs in light of the historical-cultural context.

This is necessary for at least two reasons. First, Solomon was not the sole author of all the Proverbs but the inspired editor or collector (as was also Hezekiah, presumably: see Pro 25:1) of wise sayings from other cultures. This is clear from the plain statement that Proverbs includes the words of King Lemuel (Pro 31:1), apparently a non-Israelite. According to Kidner, further support is derived from the possible translation of the word "oracle" in Pro 30:1; 31:1 as "Massa" (NIV mg), which may identify Agur and Lemuel as Ishmaelite converts from northern Arabia (cf Gen 25:14). Also, the several parallels between Proverbs and Egyptian literature (esp Pro 22:17–23:14 and the Egyptian "Instruction of Amenemopet") demonstrate that the Book was not written in a vacuum. (See Kidner, "The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job & Ecclesiastes", 126-132, for some specific parallels, and Waltke, "The Book of Proverbs and Ancient Wisdom Literature", 234,235.)

Second, the Book of Proverbs shares the literary forms of the proverbial and wisdom literature of the ancient Near East. Pro 1–9 and Pro 22:17–24:22 share many of the same literary forms as the instruction genre of Egypt and Mesopotamia (see William McKane, "Proverbs", 51–208; concerning the commonality of literary forms between Proverbs and the Egyptian literature, see Waltke 223–226). This common literary background may help the student achieve one of the purposes of the Proverbs, namely, to understand the various types of wisdom literature including proverbs, instructions, riddles, and fables (Pro 1:2b,6).

An awareness of the historical-cultural, and literary background of Proverbs minimizes the temptation to interpret Proverbs from the modern Western perspective. A common error is to forget that Proverbs is an ancient wisdom book. For example one would totally miss the meaning of Pro 26:17 if one envisioned a pet dog being taken by the ears. In the ancient world, dogs were wild scavengers similar to jackals.


How can the student (and teacher and speaker) make the Book of Proverbs more relevant to himself (or his listeners)?

Comparing Scripture with Scripture

One necessity is to make sure that any particular proverb is "validated" by other portions of Scriptures. Be on the guard against taking any proverb out of context and thus misapplying it in a too literal way. For instance, Pro 10:22, which speaks of God's blessing of wealth, is sometimes preached as a sign that God wants all believers to prosper materially. However, the immediate context is a contrast between the righteous, who work diligently, and the wicked, who are negligent (Pro 10:3–5), both of whom the LORD will pay accordingly (Pro 10:16). And the application must be tempered by the larger context of other verses that clearly imply that godly individuals may be poor (see Pro 15:16; 16:8; 19:1; 28:6).

Doing topical studies in Proverbs with the help of a good concordance provides an initial safeguard against using any single proverb as a "proof text". Kaiser argues cogently that the Bible "gives no aid to the view that poverty is in all its forms a result of the judgment of God and an evidence that the persons so afflicted are outside the will of God". Such a universal categorization is, he writes, a caricature of the Biblical position" ("The Old Testament Promise of Material Blessings and the Contemporary Believer," TJ 9:166). Though many have become poor through laziness (Pro 10:4,5; 12:24; 20:13), ignoring discipline (Pro 13:18), or through gluttony and drunkenness (Pro 23:20,21), others are impoverished only because of the providential will of God (Pro 29:13); therefore the poor must not be mocked (Pro 17:5).

An awareness of the overall context of Proverbs may clarify certain passages (eg, Pro 31:10–31). To read this passage in a literal fashion and preach it as the pattern for women today may leave many wives and mothers feeling inadequate. As Fee and Stuart observe, this passage could seem to "the literalistic reader to be a pattern of life impossible for any mortal woman to follow". But is this the purpose of the acrostic poem? The numerous parallels between the feminine imagery of Pro 1–9 and Pro 31:10–31 suggest that the ideal woman embodies the essence of wisdom that has been espoused in the book. Therefore it seems likely that hyperbole has been used to emphasize the joy a good wife and mother brings to her family. These parallels plus the mention of "the fear of the LORD" in Pro 31:30 serve as literary "brackets" to balance out the first main section (Pro 1–9). Through somewhat idealized language and the use of the alphabetic acrostic, the passage implies that the young man ought to marry someone like Lady Wisdom. But, since the description is couched in the language of ancient Israel's culture and may include hyperbole, one must exercise care in transferring all its detail to today's society.

Note the context of the Bible

Though Proverbs does not mention the salvation history of Israel as in the Pentateuch and the Prophets, the reader must not ignore the implicit covenant context of the book. The foundation motto concerning the fear of Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel, ties creation and covenant together. In addition, it should be pointed out that Israel's wise men did not have a different religion from the psalmists and the prophets! The Proverbs were spoken in a culture in which the religious character of life permeated everything. Consequently Long argues, "To listen to a proverb without at the same time hearing its covenantal background is to pry a gem from its setting." Therefore what Kaiser calls the "antecedent theology" of earlier Bible writings such as the Pentateuch and other books may be important in interpreting some of the proverbs. For instance the proverbs condemning dishonesty in business may be a poetic reflection of the legislation of the Torah. Those referring to false weights and measures as being abominable to the LORD (Psa 11:1; 20:10, 23; cf Pro 16:11) point to the commands of Lev 19:35,36 and Deu 25:13–16. The seemingly materialistic motivations of Proverbs may find clarification in God's promises to Israel in Lev 26 and Deu 28. As Hubbard wrote, "This covenant setting is what keeps the proverbs from shriveling into legalism. Their ground rules for life are not a prescription for salvation... The proverbs are not bite-size tablets of the law but neither are they sparkling tokens of grace... They are designed to enable us to live out the full meaning of the life that springs fresh daily from the hand of the Creator and Savior."

Thus the expositor must consider the impact of Christ and the New Covenant in seeking to understand and apply proverbial wisdom. The New Testament portrays Christ as the Wisdom of God (1Co 1:24,30). Therefore the invitations of Lady Wisdom (Pro 8:32–36) should be proclaimed in tandem with that of Christ (cf Mat 11:27–30). Furthermore one must carefully note any quotations, allusions, or New Testament parallels to the Proverbs. Also the practical wisdom of the Book of James and other portions of the New Testament, written under wisdom influence, must be explored.


Another guideline to make the Book of Proverbs more relevant and meaningful: Use the nature of proverbial wisdom as a foundation for GRAPHIC communication of its timeless principles.

Certain essential characteristics of the proverbs, namely, brevity, intelligibility, and "flavor", make them ripe for preaching or exhortation. It has been said that genuine proverbs are like good knitting needles -- short, sharp, and shiny. They are thought-provoking to the interpreter. On one hand they prick the mind through their "teasing refusal to explain themselves." On the other hand they prick one into thought by the sharpness of brevity and by vivid pictures and analogies (Kidner). Recapturing this flavor of being simple and clear yet also profound helps produce a good exhortation. These characteristics make proverbs memorable, an excellent "handle" on which to attach a timeless principle.

Proverbs are stimulating, not boring. Although not entertaining in the strictest sense, they are sometimes humorous (eg, Pro 11:22; 26:13,14; 27:14). Through this type of "honest humor," instruction is more likely to be received and retained than through a sermonic tone (Bullock).

Another important characteristic of proverbs is that they are universal and timeless, not restricted to ancient Israel. Because they have been "germinated in the soil of time and experience" (Bullock again), the scholar can "transplant" them into modern society.

The experiential richness, the "folk wisdom", of proverbs means that the environment where they really come to life is the everyday situation where they apply. The best way to teach or study Bible proverbs is to supply a context for each one from someone's actual experiences or from observations of what is going on in society and the world. One reason for the applicability of Proverbs is the practical orientation inherent in the design to instruct the young person in his proper place in society.

The student should also consider the literary and rhetorical effect of proverbs as a factor in making valid and relevant applications. Long ("Preaching and Literary Forms", 57) suggests that the rhetorical effect of a proverb is to propel the reader in two directions -- both backward and forward. The proverb makes a reference backward by summoning the reader to imagine the kind of experiences that caused its development. It also sends the readers on a memory search for suitable examples. It pushes the reader forward by implying yet future incidents in which it will apply. It provokes the imagination to ponder "other situations in which the wisdom of the proverb may apply and thereby provides an ethical guide for wise response."

Designed as a manual for successful living, Proverbs provides both negative and positive guidelines. The instruction genre (or admonition form) provides a good foundation for application with its dual emphasis: a prohibition or a negative example to avoid, and/or a positive command or example to be emulated. The Book of Proverbs demonstrates that there are only two paths to follow -- the way of the righteous (or wise) and the way of the wicked (or fools). This anticipates the New Testament teaching that there is no middle ground.

Though Proverbs is fertile ground for modern application, some cautions are urged. First, one must remember that the proverbs do not necessarily fit all situations and are not promises. A particular proverb can properly apply only when it corresponds with those situations "that are similar in key ways to the ones that called it forth" (Long). Second, one must recognize that some proverbs are problematic because of cultural considerations. One must determine whether they are still applicable (as worded) or whether modern equivalents should be substituted in the transfer to today's society. The problem of Pro 23:13,14 (disciplining the child) has already been cited. The context of v 14 in conjunction with the similar proverb in Pro 13:24 helps clarify the intent of the text. Pro 23:14 and Pro 13:24 clearly give love as the motivation for discipline. And the latter verse shows that diligent (and perhaps "careful", as in the NIV) discipline is in view rather than an angry and unrestrained beating.

Several proverbs express their wisdom according to practices and institutions that are foreign to modern audiences. Unless the expositor understands this and is able to translate them properly, the meaning will seem irrelevant or become completely lost. Two examples:

  1. "Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife" (Pro 21:9 = Pro 25:24). Here, one must realize that flat-roofed houses of Bible times enabled people to sleep there especially in hot weather. A paraphrase for "corner of the roof" might be attic or patio or porch.
  2. "A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping on a rainy day" (Pro 27:15). This verse illustrates the need to comprehend cultural aspects in order to understand the figures of speech in Proverbs. The meaning is enhanced when one realizes that the dripping of rain did not in this case lull a person to sleep. Rather, the dripping referred to the common but obnoxious sound caused by a leaky roof or by bad drainage. A modern equivalent to such an irritating noise might be a leaky faucet.
Thus to understand the cultural background is not all that is needed to make the right transfer to today. For instance it does not guarantee the correct understanding of the figures of speech.

The interpretation of Pro 26:8 ("tying [or binding] a stone in a sling") is complicated, until it is noted that this is compared to giving of honor to a fool. (The context of Pro 26:1 is an important key in understanding the point of the figure, namely, that it is incongruous and absurd.) To bind a stone in a sling is, in this case, to prepare the stone to be hurled as a lethal projectile. Thus to give honor to a fool is to put a "weapon" in his hands that may possibly at some time in the future cause great damage -- for the very reason that the one wielding it is a fool!


Finally, Parsons suggests that the speaker or teacher explore "the creative use of Proverbs characters":

"Imagination and sense of humor may be used in imitation of the proverbial characters. Pro 26:14 was not intended as a serious portrait of the sluggard but as a caricature. Kidner states that lessons are better learned from these characters 'by a flash of wit than by a roll of sermonic thunder.' The tragic comedy of the sluggard and other fools is a seedbed for one's own imagination to illustrate in today's society."

The preacher could use Pro 4 to warn young people against meandering through life, and to motivate them to make serious commitments. Life is a series of forks in the road where decisions must be made. Youth must pay attention to the road (Pro 4:21,25–27) in order not to miss the correct turns. Ultimately there are only two routes to take: "Wisdom Lane" (vv 10–13), which could be illustrated as a small ordinary-looking road going up a big hill, and Folly Freeway (vv 14–17), an eight-lane expressway leading downward with apparently no obstacles or red lights (cp Mat 7:13,14). Pro 4:19 shows that the ultimate destiny of the fool who fails to heed the warning signs is darkness and destruction.

Whybray wisely remarks that the use of creative imagination to visualize the circumstances behind Pro 26:14 and other sayings will "reveal a vivid picture of a real human society in all its variety". Much like the great novels of Charles Dickens, "a host of characters pass through its pages: the farmer, the courtier, the drop-out, the dishonest trader, the adulterous woman, the husband absent on business, the street gang, the schoolboy and the teacher, the rather simple young man, the prostitute, the thief, the gossip, the royal messenger, and many more" ("The Book of Proverbs", p 13).

These various characters are good object lessons for young people concerning the foolishness that leads to death, the tragic comedy of the sluggard, the ridiculous naiveté of the simple, and the irreverence and doom of the scoffer. The strong warnings against adultery in Pro 5–7 and Pro 9 are very relevant for today's society. For instance the expositor must alert young and old alike to the bitter results of adultery (Pro 5:1–14) and the beauty of intimacy in marriage (Pro 5:15–23).

The teacher may also use drama to communicate the message of the proverbial characters. The possibilities are almost unlimited for depicting the vivid characters in the Proverbs through drama.

The characters in Proverbs may also be correlated with other Bible personalities (whether named or unnamed) who illustrate wisdom themes. Joseph is a classic example of a wise man who feared God, and the wise woman of Tekoa (2Sa14) illustrates shrewdness in dealing with others.

Proverbs Subject Headings

"Twenty chapters of the book of Proverbs (beginning with Pro 10 and ending with Pro 29), consisting mostly of entire sentences in each verse, could not well be reduced to proper heads, and the contents of them gathered; I have therefore here put the contents of all these chapters together, which perhaps may be of some use to those who desire to see at once all that is said of any one head in these chapters. Some of the verses, perhaps, I have not put under the same heads that another would have put them under, but the most of them fall (I hope) naturally enough to the places I have assigned them" (Matthew Henry):

  1. Of the comfort, or grief, parents have in their children, according as they are wise or foolish, godly or ungodly: Pro 10:1; 15:20; 17:21,25; 19:13,26; 23:15,16,24,25; 27:11; 29:3.
  2. Of the world's insufficiency, and religion's sufficiency, to make us happy (Pro 10:2,3; 11:4) and the preference to be therefore given to the gains of virtue above those of this world: Pro 15:16,17; 16:8,16; 17:1; 19:1; 28:6,11.
  3. Of slothfulness and diligence: Pro 10:4,26; 12:11,24,27; 13:4,23; 15:19; 16:26; 18:9; 19:15,24; 20:4,13; 21:5,25,26; 22:13,29; 24:30-34; 26:13-16; 27:18,23,27; 28:19. Particularly the improving or neglecting opportunities: Pro 6:6; 10:5.
  4. The happiness of the righteous, and the misery of the wicked: Pro 10:6,9,16,24-25,27-30; 11:3,5-8,18-21,31; 12:2,3,7,13-14,21,26,28; 13:6,9,14,15,21,22,25; 14:11,14,19,32; 15:6,8,9,24,26,29; 20:7; 21:12,15,16,18,21; 22:12; 28:10,18; 29:6.
  5. Of honour and dishonour: Pro 10:7; 12:8,9; 18:3; 26:1; 27:21. And of vain glory: Pro 25:14,27; 27:2.
  6. The wisdom of obedience, and folly of disobedience: Pro 10:8,17; 12:1,15; 13:1,13,18; 15:5,10,12,31,32; 19:16; 28:4,7,9.
  7. Of mischievousness and usefulness: Pro 10:10,23; 11:9-11,23,27; 12:5,6,12,18,20; 13:2; 14:22; 16:29,30; 17:11; 21:10; 24:8; 26:23,27.
  8. The praise of wise and good discourse, and the hurt and shame of an ungoverned tongue: Pro 10:11,13,14,20,21,31,32; 11:30; 14:3; 15:2,4,7,23,28; 16:20,23,24; 17:7; 18:4,7,20,21; 20:15; 21:23; 23:9; 24:26; 25:11.
  9. Of love and hatred, peaceableness and contention: Pro 10:12; 15:17; 17:1,9,14,19; 18:6,17-19; 20:3; 25:8; 26:17,21; 29:9.
  10. Of the rich and poor: Pro 10:15,22; 11:28; 13:7,8; 14:20,24; 18:11,23; 19:1,4,7,22; 22:2,7; 28:6,11; 29:13.
  11. Of lying, fraud, and dissimulation, and of truth and sincerity: Pro 10:18; 12:17,19,22; 13:5; 17:4; 20:14,17; 26:18,19,24-26,28.
  12. Of slandering: Pro 10:18; 16:27; 25:23.
  13. Of talkativeness and silence: Pro 10:19; 11:12; 12:23; 13:3; 17:27,28; 29:11,20.
  14. Of justice and injustice: Pro 11:1; 13:16; 16:8,11; 17:15,26; 18:5; 20:10,23; 22:28; 23:10,11; 29:24.
  15. Of pride and humility: Pro 11:2; 13:10; 15:25,33; 16:5,18,19; 18:12; 21:4; 25:6,7; 28:25; 29:23.
  16. Of despising and respecting others: Pro 11:12; 14:21.
  17. Of tale bearing: Pro 11:13; 16:28; 18:8; 20:19; 26:20,22.
  18. Of rashness and deliberation: Pro 11:14; 15:22; 18:13; 19:2; 20:5,18; 21:29; 22:3; 25:8-10.
  19. Of suretyship: Pro 11:15; 17:18; 20:16; 22:26,27; 27:13.
  20. Of good and bad women, or wives: Pro 11:16,22; 12:4; 14:1; 18:22; 19:13,14; 21:9,19; 25:24; 27:15,16.
  21. Of mercifulness and unmercifulness: Pro 11:17; 12:10; 14:21; 19:17; 21:13.
  22. Of charity to the poor, and uncharitableness: Pro 11:24-26; 14:31; 17:5; 22:9,16,22,23; 28:27; 29:7.
  23. Of covetousness and contentment: Pro 11:29; 15:16-17,27; 23:4,5.
  24. Of anger and meekness: Pro 12:16; 14:17,29; 15:1,18; 16:32; 17:12,26; 19:11,19; 22:24,25; 25:15,28; 26:21; 29:22.
  25. Of melancholy and cheerfulness: Pro 12:25; 14:10,13; 15:13,15; 17:22; 18:14; 25:20,25.
  26. Of hope and expectation: Pro 13:12,19.
  27. Of prudence and foolishness: Pro 13:16; 14:8,18,33; 15:14,21; 16:21,22; 17:24; 18:2,15; 24:3-7; 26:6-11; 28:5.
  28. Of treachery and fidelity: Pro 13:17; 25:13,19.
  29. Of good and bad company: Pro 13:20; 14:7; 28:7; 29:3.
  30. Of the education of children: Pro 13:24; 19:18; 20:11; 22:6,15; 23:12; 24:14; 29:15,17.
  31. Of the fear of the Lord: Pro 14:2,26,27; 15:16,33; 16:6; 19:23; 22:4; 23:17,18.
  32. Of true and false witness bearing: Pro 14:5,25; 19:5,9,28; 21:28; 24:28; 25:18.
  33. Of scorners: Pro 14:6,9; 21:24; 22:10; 24:9; 29:9.
  34. Of credulity and caution: Pro 14:15,16; 27:12.
  35. Of kings and their subjects: Pro 14:28,34,35; 16:10,12-15; 19:6,12; 20:2,8,26,28; 22:11; 24:23-25; 30:2-5; 28:2,3,15,16; 29:5,12,14,26.
  36. Of envy, especially envying sinners: Pro 14:30; 23:17,18; 24:1,2,19,20; 27:4.
  37. Of God's omniscience, and His universal providence: Pro 15:3,11; 16:1,4,9,33; 17:3; 19:21; 20:12,24; 21:1,30,31; 29:26.
  38. Of a good and ill name: Pro 15:30; 22:1.
  39. Of men's good opinion of themselves: Pro 14:12; 16:2,25; 20:6; 21:2; 26:12; 28:26.
  40. Of devotion towards God, and dependence on him: Pro 16:3; 18:10; 23:26; 27:1; 28:25; 29:25.
  41. Of the happiness of God's favour: Pro 16:7; 29:26.
  42. Exhortations to get wisdom: Pro 16:16; 18:1; 19:8,20; 22:17-21; 23:15,16,22-25; 24:13,14; 27:11.
  43. Cautions against temptations: Pro 16:17; 29:27.
  44. Of old age and youth: Pro 16:31; 17:6; 20:29.
  45. Of servants: Pro 17:2; 19:10; 29:19,21.
  46. Of bribery: Pro 17:8,23; 18:16; 21:14; 28:21.
  47. Of reproof and correction: Pro 17:10; 19:25,29; 20:30; 21:11; 25:12; 26:3; 27:5-6,22; 28:23; 29:1.
  48. Of ingratitude: Pro 17:13.
  49. Of friendship: Pro 17:17; 18:24; 27:9,10,14,17.
  50. Of sensual pleasures: Pro 21:17; 23:1-3,6-8,19-21; 27:7.
  51. Of drunkenness: Pro 20:1; 23:23,29-35.
  52. Of the universal corruption of nature: Pro 20:9.
  53. Of flattery: Pro 20:19; 26:28; 28:23; 29:5.
  54. Of disobedient children: Pro 20:20; 28:24.
  55. Of the short continuance of what is ill gotten: Pro 20:21; 21:6,7; 22:8; 28:8.
  56. Of revenge: Pro 20:22; 24:17,18,29.
  57. Of sacrilege: Pro 20:25.
  58. Of conscience: Pro 20:27; 27:19.
  59. Of the preference of moral duties before ceremonial: Pro 15:8; 21:3,27.
  60. Of prodigality and wastefulness: Pro 21:20.
  61. The triumphs of wisdom and godliness: Pro 21:22; 24:15,16.
  62. Of frowardness and tractableness: Pro 22:5.
  63. Of uncleanness: Pro 22:14; 23:27,28.
  64. Of fainting in affliction: Pro 24:10.
  65. Of helping the distressed: Pro 24:11,12.
  66. Of loyalty to the government: Pro 24:21,22.
  67. Of forgiving enemies: Pro 25:21,22.
  68. Of the causeless curse: Pro 26:2.
  69. Of answering fools: Pro 26:4,5.
  70. Of unsettledness and dissatisfaction: Pro 27:8,20.
  71. Of cowardliness and courage: Pro 28:1.
  72. The people's interest in the character of their rulers: Pro 28:12,28; 29:2,16.
  73. The benefit of repentance and holy fear: Pro 28:13,14.
  74. The punishment of murder: Pro 28:17.
  75. Of hastening to be rich: Pro 28:20,22.
  76. The enmity of the wicked against the godly: Pro 29:10,27.
  77. Of law as a restraint to conduct: Pro 29:18.
(Slightly modified)

Proverbs Index

This index (from EBC) covers the short sayings of the book as well as the longer discourses. Since the passages are most frequently complex, ie, showing a contrast, a "better than" statement, a consequence, or a development of ideas, it is clear that they could each be listed under several topics. However, the headings chosen here for the verses attempt to focus on the main teaching of each passage, ie, one central idea, even though it may be elucidated by contrasts and causes:

better than privilege, Pro 17:2

test of, Pro 24:10

following, Pro 23:26-28
of a friend, Pro 27:9

dangerous, Pro 12:26; 17:12; 22:24,25
evil, Pro 16:29; 24:1,2
poor, Pro 23:20,21
unprofitable, Pro 14:7
with wise or fools, Pro 13:20

renewed call to, Pro 23:12,19

effect of, Pro 28:22

success of, Pro 17:8

foolish indebtedness, Pro 6:1-5
socially responsible, Pro 11:26

Character traits (negative)
anger, Pro 29:22
antisocial, Pro 18:1
beauty without discretion, Pro 11:22
blaming God, Pro 19:3
distasteful, Pro 14:17
greed versus trust, Pro 28:25
hatred, Pro 29:27
hot temper, Pro 19:19
inappropriate positions, Pro 19:10
jealousy, Pro 27:4
laziness, Pro 26:13-15
need versus desire, Pro 27:7
pride, Pro 21:4,24; 29:23; 30:13
quarrelsomeness, Pro 26:21
self-conceit, Pro 26:12,16
self-deceit, Pro 28:11
self-glory, Pro 25:27
self-righteousness, Pro 30:12
stubbornness, Pro 29:1
unfaithfulness, Pro 25:19
unmerciful, Pro 21:13
wicked, Pro 21:10
wicked expressions, Pro 16:30

Character traits (positive)
compassion for animals, Pro 12:10
faithful love, Pro 20:6
faithfulness, Pro 28:20
humility, Pro 29:23
integrity, Pro 25:26
leadership, Pro 30:19-31
loyalty, Pro 19:22
noble wife, Pro 12:4
praiseworthy, Pro 27:21
reflected in thoughts, Pro 27:19
self-control, Pro 17:27; 25:28; 29:11
strength and honor, Pro 20:29
strength in adversity, Pro 24:10
teachable, Pro 15:31

Conduct (negative)
cursing parents, Pro 20:20
disrespect for parents, Pro 30:11
gossip, Pro 26:20
hated by God, Pro 6:16-19
inappropriate, Pro 25:20
malicious, Pro 16:27
meddling, Pro 26:17; 30:10
rejoicing over misfortune, Pro 24:17-18
robbing parents, Pro 28:24
wicked, Pro 17:20

Conduct (positive)
acceptable to God, Pro 15:9
avoiding strife, Pro 20:3
avoid unneighborliness, Pro 3:27-30
beneficial for life, Pro 15:24
brings life or death, Pro 11:19
careful consideration, Pro 14:8
consequence of, Pro 16:25
develop moral skill and mental acumen, Pro 1:2-6
good and evil, Pro 10:11-14; 14:22
hating falsehood or acting shamefully, Pro 13:5
kindness to enemies, Pro 25:21,22
moderation, Pro 26:16,17
obedient versus profligate, Pro 28:7
peaceful, Pro 16:7
pleasing to God, Pro 11:20; 12:2
righteous and wicked, Pro 11:5,6
righteous versus self-sufficiency, Pro 28:26
sinlessness, Pro 20:9
straight course, Pro 15:21
wise and foolish, Pro 10:8-10

in calamity, Pro 10:25; 14:32
of the righteous, Pro 28:1

searching motives, Pro 20:27

healthy benefit of, Pro 14:30
opposite of greed, Pro 15:27

reward for righteous, Pro 13:25

king's, Pro 25:3
needed for victory, Pro 24:5,6

helpful, Pro 27:17

insatiable, Pro 27:20; 30:15,16

warning against, Pro 6:12-15

better than daydreaming, Pro 13:4
lesson in, Pro 6:6-8
motivation of, Pro 16:26
opposite of idleness, Pro 10:5
profitable, Pro 14:23
progress of, Pro 15:19
prospers, Pro 12:11
results of, Pro 28:19; 31:22-24
rewarded, Pro 20:13
rules, Pro 12:24
successful, Pro 12:27

brings favor, Pro 13:15
for living, Pro 2:9-11
moral, Pro 2:9-22
motives, Pro 20:5
opposite of gullibility, Pro 14:15

acceptance of, Pro 12:1; 13:1
affect of, Pro 19:25
benefit of, Pro 10:17; 13:18; 15:32; 19:18
concentration on plans, Pro 17:24
effect of, Pro 21:11; 29:15,17
evidence of love, Pro 13:24
lack of, Pro 29:21
method of, Pro 29:19
necessity of, Pro 15:10; 23:13,14
parental, Pro 22:15
physical, Pro 26:3
rejected, Pro 15:12; 19:27
spiritual value, Pro 20:30
value of to the discerning, Pro 17:10
wisely heeded, Pro 15:5

effects of, Pro 20:17

false witnesses, Pro 24:28

divinely arbitrated, Pro 18:18
their effect, Pro 18:19

Divine omniscience
15:3,11; 16:2; 17:3

effects of, Pro 20:1
excessive, Pro 23:29-35; 31:4-7

affect on health, Pro 17:22
joy and sorrow, Pro 15:13,15
joy when righteousness prevails, Pro 11:10
love/hate, Pro 10:12
mixed, Pro 14:13
of a king, Pro 19:12; 20:2
personal, Pro 14:10

from rulers, Pro 16:15

the wicked, Pro 24:19,20

cautious avoidance, Pro 14:16
disapproval, Pro 24:8,9
protection from, Pro 2:12-19

admonished, Pro 3:5-12; 5:15-17
appreciation of, Pro 25:13
blessing of, Pro 16:10

child training, Pro 22:6
mistreatment of parents, Pro 19:26; 30:17
peaceful relationships, Pro 21:9,19; 25:24
provisions for, Pro 31:19-21
prudent wife, Pro 19:14
ruin of, Pro 19:13

Family relationships
quarrelsome wife, Pro 27:15,16

Fear of the LORD
advised, Pro 23:17,18
beginning of knowledge, Pro 1:7; 9:10,11
God and king, Pro 24:21,22
godly, Pro 28:14
life, Pro 14:27
life giving, Pro 10:27
safety and contentment, Pro 19:23
security, Pro 14:26
uprightness, Pro 14:2
wisdom and honor, Pro 15:33

conditions of indebtedness, Pro 6:1,2
release from indebtedness, Pro 6:3-5
stability, Pro 24:27

a grief to others, Pro 17:21
death its consequence, Pro 9:18
effect of on parents, Pro 17:25
invitation of, Pro 9:13-17
of adultery, Pro 5:20-23
unalterable, Pro 27:22

dangerous, Pro 26:10
dense, Pro 24:7; 26:7
persist in folly, Pro 26:11
provocation of, Pro 27:3
responding to, Pro 26:4-5
useless as messengers, Pro 26:6
use of proverbs, Pro 26:9

helpful, Pro 27:10
loyal in adversity, Pro 17:17

influential, Pro 19:6
loyal, Pro 18:24
marked by truthfulness, Pro 24:26

evidence of righteousness, Pro 21:26
nature of, Pro 22:9
versus indifference, Pro 28:27

their influence, Pro 18:16

effects of, Pro 28:17

approved by leaders, Pro 16:13
better than pretension, Pro 13:7
in business, Pro 11:1; 16:11; 20:10,14,23

inappropriate to fools, Pro 26:1,8
in family relationships, Pro 17:6
parents, Pro 23:22

unpleasant, Pro 23:6-8

Human nature
God's creation, Pro 20:12

better than plunder, Pro 16:19
better than pretension, Pro 12:9
confession of ignorance, Pro 30:2-4
praise from others, Pro 27:2
reward of, Pro 18:12
wisdom of, Pro 25:6,7
wise and honorable, Pro 11:2; 29:23

results of, Pro 7:24-27
warning against, Pro 6:20-35

abuse of position, Pro 30:21-23
bribery, Pro 21:14; 28:21
denounced, Pro 18:5
extortion and bribery, Pro 22:16

acceptance of, Pro 19:20
benefits for life, Pro 13:14
obedience to, Pro 19:16
rejected for opinion, Pro 18:2
reward for heeding, Pro 13:13

a preservation, Pro 11:3
heritage of, Pro 20:7

certainty of, Pro 21:12; 29:16
divine, Pro 22:14
just, Pro 21:18
partiality in, Pro 24:23-25

a king's discernment, Pro 20:8
corrupted, Pro 17:15
corrupt witnesses, Pro 19:28
cross-examination, Pro 18:17
divine, Pro 15:25
effects of, Pro 21:15
for ingratitude, Pro 17:13
for the poor, Pro 29:7
from God, Pro 29:26
perceived, Pro 28:5
perverted by bribes, Pro 17:23
removing wickedness, Pro 20:26

better than cruelty, Pro 11:17
brings respect, Pro 11:16

basis of prudent acts, Pro 13:16
divine, Pro 21:2
evidence of prudence, Pro 14:18
of God, Pro 2:5-8
sought, Pro 18:15
sought by the discerning, Pro 15:14
stored up, Pro 10:13,14

respect for, Pro 28:4

avoidance of, Pro 6:6-11
consequences of, Pro 19:15
effect of, Pro 18:9
excuses of, Pro 22:13; 26:13
nature of, Pro 19:24
outcome of, Pro 21:25
results of, Pro 20:4; 24:30-34
trouble and poverty, Pro 11:29

amazing things in nature, Pro 30:18,19
avoid ruin and regret, Pro 5:7-14
from God, Pro 29:13
preservation of, Pro 24:11,12

shown by discretion, Pro 17:9

finances before, Pro 24:27

of enemy, Pro 24:17,18

avoid unneighborliness, Pro 3:27-30
proper treatment of, Pro 14:21

fulfilled, Pro 20:16; 27:13

honoring, Pro 23:22
obey father's teaching, Pro 4:20-22; 7:1-5

affect of on strife, Pro 15:18
more effective than power, Pro 16:32
nature of, Pro 19:11
opposite of quick temper, Pro 14:29

value of, Pro 17:1

reward of, Pro 22:4

committed to God, Pro 16:3
for evil or peace, Pro 12:20
just and unjust, Pro 12:5
pleasing to God, Pro 15:26
sound advice, Pro 20:18
uncertain future, Pro 27:1

cost of, Pro 21:17
good and evil, Pro 10:23

susceptible to injustice, Pro 13:23
treatment of, Pro 14:31; 22:22,23; 28:3; 29:14; 30:14; 31:8,9,20

better than folly, Pro 19:1
danger of, Pro 6:9-11
effect of, Pro 19:7; 22:7

political, Pro 14:28

God's response to, Pro 15:29
of Agur, Pro 30:7-9
of the lawless unanswered, Pro 28:9

consequences of, Pro 16:18
fall of, Pro 16:5

respect for, Pro 22:28; 23:10,11

Prospect for life
discouraging and encouraging, Pro 13:12
endurance of the righteous, Pro 13:9
fulfilled, Pro 13:19
good or bad, Pro 11:23; 16:22
hopes and fears, Pro 10:24
joy and ruin, Pro 10:28
of the wicked, Pro 11:7
realized desires, Pro 11:27

by fraud, Pro 21:6
ensured, Pro 14:11
for generosity, Pro 11:24,25
for righteous pursuits, Pro 12:12
honest investment, Pro 13:11
in business, Pro 14:4; 31:16-18
in the household, Pro 14:1
patient planning, Pro 21:5
reward of righteous, Pro 13:21
sudden but unsatisfying, Pro 20:21
through words and works, Pro 12:14

from the evil men, Pro 2:12-15
from the evil woman, Pro 2:16-19

divine, Pro 20:24
searched out, Pro 25:2

certain, Pro 22:8
unjust, Pro 17:26

private, Pro 25:9,10

Reparation, Pro 14:9

effectual, Pro 28:13

a part of love, Pro 27:5
preferable to flattery, Pro 28:23
value of, Pro 27:6

good, Pro 10:7; 22:1

by divine intervention, Pro 13:22

certainty of, Pro 11:21,31; 17:11; 19:29; 26:26,27
divine, Pro 16:4
God's work, Pro 20:22
just, Pro 11:8; 21:7
present in deeds, Pro 14:14
vengeance, Pro 24:29

obedience to, Pro 29:18
reliable, Pro 30:5,6

contentment for righteous, Pro 13:25
for charity, Pro 19:17
for righteousness, Pro 15:6
for service, Pro 27:18
just, Pro 28:10
justly earned, Pro 11:18
life or ruin, Pro 10:16
long life, Pro 16:31
satisfaction of needs, Pro 10:3
victory over the wicked, Pro 14:19
words of blessing, Pro 10:6

enablement for living, Pro 2:20-22
treatment of, Pro 24:15,16

affect of on morale, Pro 29:2
better than unjust wealth, Pro 16:8; 28:6
better than wealth, Pro 11:4
brings life, Pro 11:30
brings security, Pro 13:6
brings stability, Pro 12:3
concentration on, Pro 4:23-27
displayed in actions, Pro 20:11
enablement for living, Pro 2:20-22
genuineness of, Pro 21:29
hated by the wicked, Pro 29:10
in government, Pro 28:12
leads to immortality, Pro 12:28
national, Pro 14:34
prevention of evil, Pro 16:17
priority of, Pro 21:3
pursuit of, Pro 4:10-13, Pro 23-27
revealed in works, Pro 21:8
rewards of, Pro 21:21
security, Pro 11:5,6
stability in government, Pro 16:12
value of, Pro 10:2

caution before, Pro 23:1,2
emotions of, Pro 20:2
good versus bad, Pro 28:16
oppressive, Pro 28:3
wicked, Pro 28:15

abandoned, Pro 27:8
based on integrity, Pro 28:18
faith in the Lord, Pro 29:25
knowledge of God and his protection, Pro 2:5-8
object of faith, Pro 11:28
of the righteous, Pro 10:30; 12:7,21; 29:6
the name of the Lord, Pro 18:10
the way of the Lord, Pro 10:29
through justice, Pro 29:4
through wisdom, Pro 22:5
wealth, Pro 18:11

avoided with wisdom, Pro 5:3-6; 7:1-27
deadly results of, Pro 2:24-27
description of, Pro 7:6-23
prevention of, Pro 5:7-14
warning against, Pro 5:1-6; 6:25-35

clever or incompetent, Pro 14:35
lazy, Pro 10:26
wicked or faithful, Pro 13:17

adultery, Pro 30:20
effect of, Pro 18:3
entanglements of, Pro 29:24
freedom from, Pro 16:6

benefits of, Pro 22:29

Sovereignty of God
16:9,33; 19:21; 21:1,30,31; 22:2,12

Speech (general)
effects of, Pro 14:3
helpful or harmful, Pro 11:11; 13:2; 15:4
humble or harsh, Pro 18:23
pleasing or perverse, Pro 10:32
true and false witnesses, Pro 12:17; 14:5,25; 21:28
wise or foolish, Pro 10:13,14; 15:2
wise or perverse, Pro 10:31
wounding and healing, Pro 12:18

Speech (negative)
arrogant and contentious, Pro 17:19
bragging, Pro 25:14
consequences of, Pro 18:7,21
dangerous, Pro 12:13
deceptive, Pro 26:18,19,23,28; 29:5
dishonest, Pro 17:7
divisive, Pro 16:28
false witnesses, Pro 19:5; 24:28; 25:18
foolish, Pro 10:10
gossip, Pro 18:8; 20:19; 26:22
harmful, Pro 15:4
hypocritical, Pro 26:24,25
inappropriate greeting, Pro 27:14
lies, Pro 29:12
lies and slander, Pro 10:18
malicious, Pro 17:4
mocking the poor, Pro 17:5
perjury, Pro 19:9
premature, Pro 18:13
rash vows, Pro 20:25; 22:26,27; 29:20
sly words, Pro 25:23
that invites trouble, Pro 18:6
the scoffer, Pro 9:7,8
undeserved curse, Pro 26:2

Speech (positive)
appropriate, Pro 15:23
avoid pledges, Pro 11:15
beneficial, Pro 16:24
carefully planned, Pro 15:28
cautious testimony, Pro 25:8
competent, Pro 16:21
conciliatory, Pro 15:1
controlled, Pro 10:19; 21:23
discretion, Pro 12:23
divine enablement, Pro 16:1
edifying, Pro 10:21
encouraging, Pro 12:25
good advice, Pro 11:14
good news, Pro 15:30; 25:25
helpful, Pro 15:4
honest and graceful, Pro 22:11
keeping confidence, Pro 11:13
patient and mild, Pro 25:15
productive, Pro 18:20
profound, Pro 18:4; 25:11
rebuke, Pro 9:8,9; 25:12
responsible, Pro 16:10
safety from slander, Pro 11:9
silence rather than derision, Pro 11:12
skillful defense, Pro 12:6
spreading knowledge, Pro 15:7
truth outlasts lies, Pro 12:19
truth pleases God, Pro 12:22
valuable, Pro 10:20
value of advice, Pro 15:22
wisdom of discretion, Pro 13:3
wisdom of silence, Pro 17:28
wise, Pro 16:23
wise and joyful, Pro 23:15,16
wise words, Pro 20:15

financial, Pro 24:27
in government, Pro 20:28; 28:2
righteous government, Pro 28:28
through righteousness, Pro 25:4,5

healthy, Pro 18:14

controlled, Pro 17:14
exacerbated, Pro 29:9
source of, Pro 22:10

vindicated, Pro 27:11

a mark of friendship, Pro 24:26

avoid, Pro 24:29

rash, Pro 22:26,27

a benefit for the wise, Pro 14:24
a blessing, Pro 10:22
avoid easy but unjust, Pro 1:10-19
disadvantages of, Pro 13:8
effect of, Pro 19:4
fleeting, Pro 23:4,5
popularity of, Pro 14:20
security, Pro 10:15
spiritual better than physical, Pro 15:16,17
through diligence, Pro 10:4
transitory, Pro 27:23-27
unjustly gained, Pro 1:10-19; 28:8

avoid, Pro 4:14-19
brazen woman, Pro 30:20
not to be emulated, Pro 3:31-35; 4:14-19

a blessing, Pro 18:22
focus of attention, Pro 5:15-19
noble, Pro 31:10-31
satisfaction with, Pro 5:18,19

accepts discipline, Pro 13:1
accepts rebuke, Pro 9:8,9
acquire traditional, Pro 4:1-4a
admonished, Pro 1:8,9; 2:1-4; 3:1-4; 4:1-4a, Pro 20-22
affect of on others, Pro 10:1; 15:20
affect of on the family, Pro 29:3
appeal of, Pro 8:1-36
appreciation of, Pro 12:8
averting anger, Pro 29:8
avoiding trouble, Pro 22:3
benefits of acquiring, Pro 4:4b-9
benefits of seeking, Pro 2:1-22; 8:32-36
better than wealth, Pro 16:16
consequences of receiving, Pro 2:5-22
description of responses to, Pro 9:7-11
essential to creation, Pro 3:19,20; 8:22-31
estimation of, Pro 23:23-25
exemplified in noble woman, Pro 31:10-31
frugality of, Pro 21:20
future of, Pro 24:13,14
greater than strength, Pro 21:22; 24:5,6
importance of, Pro 21:16
inaccessible to fools, Pro 17:16; 24:7
in appeasing wrath, Pro 16:14
in business, Pro 17:18
invitation of, Pro 8:1-5,10,32-36; 9:1-6
longevity, Pro 3:21-26
most valuable possession, Pro 3:13-18
motivation for, Pro 8:10-21
noble, Pro just, Pro and true, Pro 8:6-9
obedient, Pro 10:8
overlooks insults, Pro 12:16
possessor of, Pro 14:33
practicality of, Pro 24:3,4
profitable, Pro 19:8
response of the scoffer, Pro 9:7,8a
response of the wise man, Pro 9:8b-11
reward of, Pro 9:12
takes advice, Pro 12:15; 13:10
the purpose of Proverbs, Pro 1:2-6
those who acquire it, Pro 14:6
warning against despising, Pro 1:20-33
wary of evil, Pro 27:12
wasted on a fool, Pro 23:9

false, Pro 24:28; 25:18

destruction of, Pro 14:12

acceptable, Pro 15:8a
unacceptable, Pro 15:8b; 21:27

without knowledge, Pro 19:2

Proverbs Parallels

A number of proverbs have very close, and sometimes identical, parallels -- with one another. In several instances, a proverb is very closely parallel to a passage in the Law or the Prophets. The closest of these parallels are tabulated below.


Pro 1:7
Pro 9:10
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge (or wisdom)
Pro 1:8
Pro 6:20
Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching
Pro 1:16
Isa 59:7
For their feet rush into sin, they are swift to shed blood
Pro 2:1
Pro 7:1
My son, keep my words and store up my commands within you
Pro 2:16
Pro 6:24
[Wisdom] will save you also from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words
Pro 3:3
Pro 6:21; 7:3
Bind them [love, faithfulness, commands, teachings] upon your heart, fasten them around your neck [and bind them on your fingers]
Pro 3:15
Pro 8:11
Wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her
Pro 4:20
Pro 5:1
My son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words
Pro 5:7
Pro 7:24
Now then, my sons, listen to me
Pro 6:10,11
Pro 24:33,34
A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest -- and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man
Pro 10:1
Pro 15:20
A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother
Pro 10:2
Pro 11:4
Ill-gotten treasures are of no value [in the day of wrath], but righteousness delivers from death
Pro 10:15
Pro 18:11
The wealth of the rich is their fortified city
Pro 11:1
Pro 20:10,23; Deu 25:13-16
The LORD abhors dishonest scales [and differing weights]
Pro 11:13
Pro 20:19
A gossip betrays a confidence
Pro 11:20
Pro 12:22
The LORD detests men of perverse heart [or lying lips], but he delights in those whose ways are blameless [or men who are truthful]
Pro 11:21
Pro 16:5
Be sure of this: The wicked will not go unpunished
Pro 12:11
Pro 28:19
He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment [or will have his fill of poverty]
Pro 13:14
Pro 14:27
The teaching of the wise [or the fear of the LORD] is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death
Pro 14:12
Pro 16:25
There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death
Pro 15:8
Pro 21:27
The LORD detests the sacrifice of the wicked
Pro 15:13
Pro 17:22
A happy [or cheerful] heart makes the face cheerful [or is good medicine], but heartache crushes the spirit [or a crushed spirit dries up the bones]
Pro 15:16
Pro 16:8
Better a little with the fear of the LORD [or with righteousness] than great wealth with turmoil [or injustice]
Pro 15:33
Pro 18:12
Humility comes before honor.
Pro 16:2
Pro 21:2
All a man's ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD
Pro 16:18
Pro 18:12
Pride goes before destruction
Pro 18:8
Pro 26:22
The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man's inmost parts
Pro 19:1
Pro 28:6
Better a poor man whose walk is blameless than a fool whose lips are perverse [or than a rich man whose ways are perverse]
Pro 19:5
Pro 19:9
A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who pours out lies will not go free
Pro 20:16
Pro 27:13
Take the garment of one who puts up security for a stranger; hold it in pledge if he does it for a wayward woman
Pro 21:9
Pro 25:24
Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife
Pro 22:3
Pro 27:12
A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it
Pro 22:13
Pro 26:13
The sluggard says, "There is a lion outside!" or, "I will be murdered in the streets!"
Pro 22:28
Pro 23:10; Deu 19:14
Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your forefathers

Proverbs: "Better Things"

The Proverbs contains many "Better is... than..." passages. The format of the Proverbs (with their short, concise phrases) seems especially suited to this kind of comparison. Following is a more or less complete table of such comparative statements, with the "better things" in the first column and the "worse things" in the last column.

Pro 8:19
Wisdom's fruit, or yield
Fine gold, and choice silver
Pro 12:9
To be a nobody, and yet have a servant
To pretend to be somebody and have no food
Pro 15:16
A little with the fear of the LORD
Great wealth with turmoil
Pro 15:17
A meal of vegetables where there is love
A fattened calf with hatred
Pro 16:8
A little with righteousness
Much gain with injustice
Pro 16:16
To get wisdom, or understanding
Gold, or silver
Pro 16:19
To be lowly in spirit and among the oppressed
To share plunder with the proud
Pro 16:32
A patient man... a man who controls his temper
A warrior... one who takes a city
Pro 17:1
A dry crust with peace and quiet
A house full of feasting, with strife
Pro 17:12
To meet a bear robbed of her cubs
A fool in his folly
Pro 19:1; 28:6
A poor man whose walk is blameless
A fool whose lips are perverse... a rich man whose ways are perverse
Pro 19:22
To be poor
(To be) a liar
Pro 21:9
To live on a corner of the roof
To share a house with a quarrelsome wife
Pro 21:19; 25:24
To live in a desert
(To live) with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife
Pro 22:1
A good name... to be esteemed
Great riches... silver or gold
Pro 25:7
(The king) to say, "Come up here"
(The king) to humiliate you before a nobleman
Pro 27:5
Open rebuke
Hidden love
Pro 27:10
A neighbor nearby
A brother far away


Better things #1: The "better things" include: understanding, wisdom, the fear of the LORD, love, righteousness, patience, peace, quiet, a blameless walk, and a good reputation.

Better things #2: But -- more surprisingly -- the "better things" ALSO include: poverty, a simple meal, a dry crust, lowliness, oppression, living in the desert, and living in a corner, and an angry mother bear.

Worse things #1: The "worse things" include: pretense, pride, folly, lying, hatred, strife, injustice, and a quarrelsome wife.

Worse things #2: But -- again, surprisingly -- the "worse things" also include: great wealth (gold, silver), and fine food.


  1. All the "Better things" #1 are easily seen to be desirable, while all the "Worse things" #1 are easily seen to be undesirable. Some parts of the lesson are, in fact, very easy to perceive -- and to accept.
  2. But let's be honest: when we look at "Better things" #2 alongside "Worse things" #2, do we really believe that, for example, poverty is better than great wealth, or that a dry crust is better than fine food?
  3. And IS poverty really better than great wealth? Some very great and righteous men and women have been very wealthy, and it didn't do them any harm, did it? As Tevye says in "The Fiddler on the Roof", "Dear God, you made many, many poor people. I realize, of course, that it's no shame to be poor. But it's no great honor either!"
  4. But then we realize that there is no "comparison proverb" that says, simply, "Poverty is better than wealth". Rather, these comparisons occur in combination with other things on the list. For example, take Pro 15:16: there "the fear of the LORD" is better than "turmoil" -- and that's probably easy to accept. But then we add the second part of each comparison: "A little PLUS the fear of the LORD" is better than "great wealth PLUS turmoil." And we see that the point is this: NOT that "poverty" alone is better than "great wealth", but that "the fear of the LORD" is SO MUCH BETTER than "turmoil" that, even when we add "great wealth" to "turmoil", it still doesn't tip the scales in favor of turmoil!
  5. Apply the same logic as above to Pro 15:17.
  6. Other "combination comparison proverbs": Pro 16:8: Plainly "righteousness" is better than "injustice". But the whole proverb tells us that it is SO MUCH BETTER, that even if we add "much gain" on the scale, "righteousness" is still better than "injustice". This is God's reckoning! Do we understand it? Do we accept it?
  7. Plainly again, "peace and quiet" is better than "strife"; in fact, it's SO MUCH BETTER that even if we sweeten the pot with "a house full of feasting", even then... "strife" just isn't worth it! Do we SEE this? Or are we tempted to "sell our souls" (or maybe just a little piece of ourselves) to get the wealth, the feasting, the "good life". Proverbs says, "NO! Don't do it!"
  8. Some "better things" are plainly NOT really better -- eg, an angry bear (Pro 17:12)! They can only seem "better" because that which is set off in the scales against them -- ie, "a fool in his folly" -- is so terribly, terribly "worse".
  9. And if you are tempted, young man, to find a wife at any cost (or young woman, to find a husband at any cost)... then remember these "better things" too: Clearly, to live in a little corner of the roof, or alone in the desert, is far from desirable. But it is still BETTER than living with the wrong spouse. And it still BETTER than living with the wrong spouse, who brings to the marriage great wealth, fine food, and prestige. Because, sadly, the wrong spouse brings -- also -- herself or himself to the bargain! And a bargain it isn't!
  10. One thing, at least, is found on each side of the comparative table. One of the "better things" is "love" (Pro 15:17). And one of the "worse things" is "love" (Pro 27:5). What is the modifying factor? In the second case, it is a "hidden love": a pretense of "love" which says nothing in rebuke or counsel or advice or help, for fear of offending the "object" of that "love". This is no real love at all. And an "open rebuke" from someone who never proclaims great love is so very much better than Christmas presents, and birthday gifts, and hugs and kisses, and empty professions, without any hint of discipline or correction.
  11. What oddities we find in this table! A patient man, a lowly and quiet man, a poor man, a "nobody" living in a desert... is BETTER THAN a great and wealthy and proud warrior, who has conquered a city. How can this be? Because the poor man, the man with nowhere to lay his head (Pro 21:9; cp Mat 8:20; Luk 9:58), lived "in the desert" (Pro 21:19; 25:24) for forty days (Mat 4:1,2; Mar 1:13; Luk 4:1,2), and there he met and conquered an enemy far greater than a walled and armed city. There he conquered himself, and that victory -- in God's sight -- is of infinitely more worth than all the blood-and-"glory" military victories of all the generals that ever marched, and all the navies that ever sailed. In the battle in that desert -- which culminated on a cross -- he earned a treasure of infinitely more worth than all the silver and gold, all the gilt-edged investment portfolios, and all the five-star real estate developments accumulated by every Rockefeller, every Carnegie, and every Bill Gates the world has ever seen.
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