Interpreting the Book of Proverbs (Part 11)


In the last post of this series on Proverbs, we looked at the first of two parts dealing with the theological framework of Proverbs. With this post, we will examine the second part.

B. The three emphases of Proverbs and its theological framework.

1. Proverbs’ practical orientation

In conformity with other wisdom literature, Proverbs has a practical orientation (Osborne, Hermeneutical Spiral, p. 192). The wisdom of Proverbs is especially addressed to the youths of Israel. As such, they needed to be encouraged about subjects such as acceptable speech and etiquette (Prov 29:20), domestic relationships (10:1), self-control (25:28), material possessions (10:22, 11:4), and the certainty of divine retribution (11:21; 16:4; 20:22; 26:26???27). The practical nature of wisdom literature is reflected by Kidner???s arrangement of the content of Proverbs around these eight subjects: God and man, wisdom, fools, sluggards, friends, words, the family, and life and death (Proverbs, pp. 31-56; for other topical arrangements, see also Ross [???Proverbs,??? in vol. 5 of The Expositor???s Bible Commentary, pp. 897???903], Voorwinde [Wisdom for Today’s Issues: A Topical Arrangement of the Proverbs], and Woodcock [Proverbs: A Topical Study]).

2. Proverbs’ emphasis on one having a complete dependence on God

Proverbs, like other wisdom literature, emphasizes that one must have a complete dependence on God. Since God is a Sovereign who with His absolute control of everything (16:1, 4, 9) permits the godly, wise person to experience suffering and difficulty as a part of His discipline (3:11???12). This teaching in Proverbial theology should force the believer to recognize with a humble and believing spirit his limitations and God???s complete control of life (21:1). This is demonstrated from three theological observations.

a. Proverbs and the Mosaic Covenant

Proverbs sets forth that wisdom is predicated on the Mosaic Covenant. This is demonstrated by the fact that the instruction in places such as Proverbs 3:1-12 and 4:4-5 are predicated upon a father???s teachings being consistent with the Torah (cf. Prov 3:3 with Deut 6:6-8). We should also notice how genuine obedience results in blessing (cf. Deut 6:24 with Prov 3:9-10) and disobedience disgrace and judgment (Prov 10:16, 21; 19:3, 9). Since God is the One bringing the results according to His time schedule (cf. Prov 3:1-10 with vv. 11-12), one must live his life in an environment of faithful obedience to the covenant.

b. Proverbs’ personifying wisdom and God

The book of Proverbs has a tendency to personify wisdom as an attribute and extension of God. This is ???seen in one sense as a ???craftsman??? standing alongside of and aiding the God of creation (Prov 8:29-30), as a female teacher inviting students to learn from her at the gates of the city (Prov 1:20-21; 8:1-36) and as a hostess inviting people to her banquet (9:1-12). Wisdom is contrasted with the adulteress (2:16-19; 7:6-27) and with a foolish hostess (9:13-18)??? (Osborne, Hermeneutical, p. 193). Since this type of wisdom comes from God, we must look to Him for this.

c. Proverbs and the fear of God

Proverbs has a strong emphasis on fearing God. Though the fear of God is not found exclusively in Proverbs, or even wisdom literature (Deut 6:24), it does receive an emphasis in Proverbs (1:7; 3:7; 8:13; 16:6; 31:30). The Hebrew term for fear may be used in contexts that are of a legal nature, religious, or moral (Smith, ???Is There a Place for Job???s Wisdom in Old Testament Theology???? p. 6). The focus of wisdom is in the moral realm. The fear of God denotes a relationship with God resulting in a morally pleasing lifestyle. In Proverbs 2:4-5 fearing God is correlated with knowing God. A result of this is that one hates evil in 8:13. Other practical results include qualities such as confidence (14:24), humility (3:7), and contentment (15:16). The Old Testament concept of the fear of God may be defined as an unconditional, reverential submission to the Sovereign LORD (ibid.).

3. Proverbs and creation theology

As wisdom literature, Proverbs has an emphasis on creation theology. This is seen in Proverbs 8 where God in His wisdom created the world (Prov 3:19-20; see also Job 38:4???7; Ps 104:24). The many references to God???s creative activities in Proverbs 8 set a dominant theme in the book, viz., God???s orderly design is the substance that holds life together. In Proverbs 30, the many comparisons between animals and man suggest that God control both. Proverbs??? creation theology also suggests that there is a connection between divine remuneration and retribution. Furthermore, God???s creative work as used in wisdom material is foundational for enjoying life. Man???s food, drink, work, youth, wife, and other privileges in this life are part of God???s creative design for man in this life (Prov 5:18; 10:1, 28; 12:4, 20; 29:2-3; in other wisdom literature, see Eccl 2:24-25; 3:12-13, 22; 5:18-19; 8:15; 9:7-10; 11:8-9; 12:1; Cant 1:4; 3:11). ???The righteous, though part of the finite, creaturely world, can experience joy as part of God???s design in creation??? (Zuck, ???A Theology of the Wisdom Books and the Song of Songs,??? in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, p. 219).

With my next couple of posts, I will cover the sixth principle for interpreting the book of Proverbs.

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