Be Careful When You Read Proverbs

I have recently begun a more extensive study of the Old Testament book of Proverbs. Most of my seventy years I have viewed Proverbs as the ultimate “Dear Abby” advice column, certainly written by a very wise king. It contains basic principles for successful living and prudent choices. Sadly, however, it is often misread and misunderstood.

The goal of Proverbs, like every other book in the scriptures, is to help us see that we are sinners. However, we are all adept at coming to the wrong conclusion when we read many of the Proverbs. Our conclusions are based on a shady self-righteousness. We conclude, “I’m thankful I am not like that person described by Solomon!”

An Example of Faulty, Proud Thinking

The Parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

Jesus realized all of us have a prevalent error in our thinking. This is the portion of Luke where it is crystal clear:

“He (Jesus) also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you; this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’” Luke 18:9-14

How We Get Proverbs Wrong

Proverbs 30:11-14, especially Proverbs 30-12-13

Proverbs 30:13 says this in six different English translations:

NIV: “those whose eyes are ever so haughty, whose glances are so disdainful;”

ESV: “There are those—how lofty are their eyes, how high their eyelids lift!”

KJV: “There is a generation, O how lofty are their eyes! and their eyelids are lifted up.”

NASB: “There is a kind—oh how lofty are his eyes! And his eyelids are raised in arrogance.”

NLT: “They look proudly around, casting disdainful glances.”

CSB: “There is a generation–how haughty its eyes and pretentious its looks.”

If you read Proverbs’ description of the really terrible sinners, and think, “That is not me!”, then Jesus would say you don’t understand your sin. The Proverbs reveal our true heart condition.

The Gospel (Jesus) is in Proverbs

Furthermore, Proverbs makes it clear that you and I don’t often see our need for a Savior to set us free from the clutches and the wages (penalty) of sin. As we read the Proverbs, we should conclude that “I am not only foolish, but I am a sinner in desperate need of help and rescue.” Enter the gospel! We should see the gospel in Proverbs. Here is one other example of the gospel in Proverbs:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6 Conclusion: I am a sinner. The best thing I can do with my eyes is humble them and look to Jesus.

Five Minute Friday

This post is part of the weekly Five Minute Friday link-up.

All scripture passages are from the English Standard Version except as otherwise noted.