Proverbs seems to be filled with good tips on how to succeed in life. But because we live in an anti-God world, and these proverbs come from God’s perspective, Allan Moseley, Senior Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, writes, “When people learn and live according to God’s wisdom they will be swimming upstream in a downstream world” (2). Why?
Because God’s wisdom in the book of Proverbs is immeasurably wiser than what most of the people in the world consider wise. The world says being rich is the way to go! Proverbs says being generous is wise (19:17; 22:9). Western culture encourages us to promote ourselves to get ahead. Proverbs says, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth” (27:2). Many people live by the rule, “Stay out of other people’s business.” God’s book of wisdom says, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love” (27:5). It’s most common for people to think that having lots of money will bring happiness and contentment. Proverbs says, “Whoever trusts in his riches will fall” (11:28). (2)
In the Bible, there are three meanings to the word “wisdom” (or hokma). To be wise is either to have a practical skill (or skills) to help you in life, to live skillfully (such as taught in Proverbs), or to know God (Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes all speak about fearing the Lord and living rightly before him). But to acquire a true relationship with wisdom means beginning with following God (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10) in Christ. It is the Lord who gives wisdom (2:6). Moseley notes, “The book of Proverbs is more than a repository of ‘how to’ principles for successful living. It is part of the grand narrative of God’s past, present, and future work of salvation that is unveiled in Scripture” (4). When we begin with Christ and grow in biblical wisdom, that wisdom “has a thousand practical implications” (4). Proverbs shows us how to live.
Moseley observes, “The proverb teaches by making a comparison; it explains something that may be unclear to students by referring to something else that is perfectly clear” (13). For example, Proverbs 11:22 says, “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.” You might want that gold ring, but it isn’t worth it to try to take it out from the pigs nose. So it is with either a woman or a man without discretion.
The proverbs are principles, not promises. Moseley provides a modern proverb as an example: “Smile, and the world will smile back at you.” Have you found that to be true? Walk the aisles of Wal-Mart and smile to every person you see. Some will smile back, and you can be sure than others will not. Some people are just grumpy. The proverbs are the same way. They “present the typical consequences of correct or incorrect behavior” (13).
Part One looks at how to live in our relationships. These chapters focus on the company we ought to keep, how we use our words, and wisdom for women and men.
We need to be careful about who influences us. We want those who influence us to be wise, and we wasn’t to influence others who are not walking in wisdom because we love them. We need to be careful about whom we select. We do not want a hot-tempered man to be the one who influences us.
To live well with people, we need to learn to control our emotions. We need to be sensitive about what we say, how we say it, and even when we say it. Proverbs 27:14 says, “Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing.” There may be times when husbands and wives need to talk about something important, but the timing isn’t right. One is too tired, or wired, or emotional. Schedule time to talk about it later. Other times we need self-control to speak softly to someone when we certainly do not feel like speaking softly. Or, other times we just need to be silent.
Words can change someone’s life, for good or for ill. Jesus said, “The tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:33-34). Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” In order to give life, we can encourage, teach wisdom, and rebuke bad behavior. Let our words be soft enough to break bones (Prov 25:15). Mosley presents six proper ways of using the tongue as well as six wicked ways.
When it pertains to wisdom for women, Moseley heads to Proverbs 31 to show how wisdom fills this wife and permeates everything she does. Industrious as she is generous, she also prepares for adversity, pushing through it. Wise women are spiritual—even if prayer happens while changing a diaper or while cooking instead of some place quiet—and they are praised by their families. Husbands must take responsibility and care for their families. They train their children in wisdom, even being an example or morality for them. We teach purity and diligence, and we warn against immorality.
Part Two concerns living well in our hearts (which still affects how we live with others). These chapters cover anger, pride, holiness, happiness, and health.
Part Three covers money, work, and sex. Know that sexual sin doesn’t “just happen.” It’s been working in the mind before it gets played out. But to the person struggling with sexual immorality, or the opportunity for it, Moseley offers five affirmations we can remind ourselves of the harm that comes from sexual sin. It harms our prayer life, our purity, our passion for our spouses, it harms important people near you, and it will cause you to experience pain.
I wrote less on parts two and three because they follow the same pattern as part one. Mosley does a very good job explaining the various proverbs and including a story either from his own life or one that he has heard which is in line with the proverbs he is writing about. He fleshes out the text. He gives us snapshots of people who embody either Lady Wisdom or Lady Folly. This is comparable to (and much better than) the Proverbs volume in the Preaching the Word series by Ray Ortlund. Even though it doesn’t move chapter-by-chapter like Ortlund’s volume, the stories fit the Bible verses used, and Moseley skillfully shows how the Bible verses lead us to know and live out God’s wisdom.
If you’re trying to decide between this and Walking in God’s Way, buy this first and pair it with Longman’s How to Read Proverbs.
- Author: Allan Moseley
- Paperback: 208 pages
- Publisher: Lexham Press (September 16, 2017)
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