Proverbs. The book of wisdom. There are so many wise sayings in this book which cover every aspect of life. From moral behavior to life values to correct conduct. The proverbs are instructions to live a godly and wisdom filled life. Many of them we are very familiar with like “spare the rod, spoil the child” (Proverbs 13:24) and “pride goes before the destruction” (Proverbs 16:18). The Hebrew word for proverbs is mashal which translates as a parable with a moral lesson. The proverbs are often written in couplets and constructed in three ways: contrasting, comparison, and complementary.
First, contrasting proverbs use the keyword “but,” to give meaning and an application between the different statements. For examples, Proverbs 12:4 says “A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones.” The word “but” gives distinction to a wife of noble character versus a disgraceful wife. To be noble is to have or show fine personal qualities or high moral principles and ideals. To be virtuous, strong, and diligent is bring honor to her husband. Thus, to be a crown is to be an honor and beautify her husband. The contrast or opposite of a noble wife is a disgraceful wife who essentially poisons his life. She deprives him of his strength, honor and by not being a helpmate, his life. Another example of a contrasting proverb is Proverb 15:28 “The heart of the righteous man weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.” This proverb speaks of the important of thinking about what you want to say before actually saying it. A righteous man will think about the impact of his words while a wicked man would just say them without regard to the damage it may cause.
Second, comparison proverbs express the meaning and application of two similar statements. The keywords to look for here is “as/so” and “better/than.” For example, Proverbs 15:17 states “Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.” Having a meal with meat was a symbol of your wealth and social standing. Here God is saying it is better to eat a simple meal and be surrounded by love than eating a complex meal and be surrounded by not so loving feelings. A meal surrounded by love also sits better in the stomach and digests well. Imagine eating a complex meal surrounded by negative feelings, the body will react and the food doesn’t sit well in the body as it digests. Another example, Proverbs 27:19, “As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.” When I read this proverb, I see it as just like water, a nature’s mirror, reflects, a man’s heart is reflected in his face. So if the heart is loving and caring, you will be able to see it in the face. If the heart is cold and cruel, the face will reflect such a heart.
Third, complementing proverbs is when the meaning and application comes from the way the second statement complements the first. The keyword to look for is “and.” For example, Proverbs 19:20 “Listen to advice and accept instructions, and in the end you will be wise.” This proverb tells us to be willing and open to advice and instruction and the lessons learned will be wisdom for later in life. Even if you don’t follow the advice, being open to listening to advice allows you to hear different aspects and avenues you can take. Of course, when you trust the person giving the advice helps with being open to the advice. Another example, Proverbs 17:27, “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered.” This proverb highlights benefits of keeping quiet. Sometimes it is the best policy to keep quiet when you really don’t have anything to say. Keeping silent allows you to listen and learn. Pausing to listen and learn, before speaking, can lead to something important to say. Pausing before speaking can also help saying words you may regret in the future.
In conclusion, the book of Proverbs is a book filled with wisdom for life. Quick lessons to heed and follow. Once you understand the structure of a particular proverb, you can understand the advice it offers. Remember that contrasting proverbs use the word “but” and contrasts two opposing behaviors. Comparison proverbs use the word combinations of “as/so” and “better/than” and compare two opposing behaviors or situations. And Complementary proverbs use the word “and” and applies two behaviors or situations which are compatible.