Proverbs is an incredible book in the Bible, but it is unique among them. Out of the 66 books compiling the Old and New Testament, none is exactly like the Book of Proverbs.
#1. Proverbs are more scattered than sequential.
There are some sections that go together, but the majority of the book is one verse detached from the ones before and after it. The majority of the Bible is written in a very logical and sequential format moving through a narrative or a thematic train of thought.
Not so with Proverbs. It is very different than all other books in the Bible. In one chapter of thirty verses, you might cover thirty different topics with the only unifying theme as wisdom expressed in practical areas. In Proverbs 21, the author speaks of God’s control over leaders (21:1), God’s judgment on our motives (21:2), obedience is better than sacrifice (21:3), prideful hearts (21:4), hard work leading to money (21:5), danger of lying (21:6), danger of violence (21:7), description of guilty people (21:8), and a description of quarrelsome wives (21:9) – 9 different topics for the first 9 verses, and the rest of the chapter is just the same! It is all great content but very different in focus.
#2. Proverbs are more guides than guarantees.
These verses guide you to the best path, but they do not guarantee that if they are applied, everything will go according to plan. It focuses on providing the right guide for you, but they do not ensure that others will respond in the right way. They still prove to be the wisest path regardless of the outcome. They are principles more than promises.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). While many parents have applied this verse, not all children have. We have all known people who were trained well but walked away from the faith, and some of them never came back. So, is the verse a failure? Not at all. If you have two options, one to show intentionality regarding their spiritual formation and the other is to show neglect, I know which is the wiser path. If you want your children to walk with the Lord, the wisest path is to teach them how to do so. That formative experience might be what brings some of them back, but if they don’t have anything deposited in them, they will never have anything to build upon in their lives.
#3. Proverbs are more expressive than exhaustive.
Proverbs are poetic and written to be remembered, but they don’t present the entirety of the author’s theology or all the answers to complex situations. These short sayings that display greater poetic cadence in the original language are designed to be memorable and portable. Even in English, their phrasings are very easy to carry with you.
If you take the example in chapter 21, the author includes a very shocking description of some marriages. “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife” (Prov. 21:9). While he could have said, “If your wife fights all the time, it makes your marriage difficult,” it would not nearly be as memorable. The shocking imagery leaves a mark, and that is the point. This verse provides an adequate description but does not provide a convincing strategy to improve a marriage. So while this proverb expresses the state of a marriage vividly, it does not contain a guide to improve it. The verse is more expressive in tone than it is exhaustive in teaching.
The Book of Proverbs is a gift to our souls.
Even though it is unique among other books in the Bible, do not neglect reading it! If you read a chapter a day, you could read through the entire book in 31 days!
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.