Most books of the Bible have an obvious internal coherence. It’s easy to understand why an unfolding narrative or the argument of an epistle is presented as a book in our Bibles. But, for many of us, the book of Proverbs evades this sort of analysis.
The book of Proverbs seems to be a collection of miscellaneous sayings, mostly presented in pairs. Some of these are pieces of practical advice that largely cohere with modern, secular sensibilities (e.g. Prov. 11:13 — “A gossip goes about telling secrets, but one who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a confidence.”), but many make explicit reference to God (e.g. Prov. 16:3 — “Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established.”).
The nature of the book means that most of us encounter Proverbs by dipping in and out without looking for an overarching structure or message. According to Benjamin T. Quinn, author of Walking in God’s Wisdom: The Book of Proverbs, this is a mistake.
In this short bible study guide, Quinn orients readers to the book of Proverbs by presenting it as an exhortation to pursue wisdom. Most of the book is focused on Proverbs chapters 1-9, which serve as a lens to understand the rest of Proverbs. The admonition to “get wisdom” (Prov. 4:7), along with the competing invitations of Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly, invite readers to grow in wisdom and apply it to the myriad questions of daily life.
One of the most helpful sections of this book is Quinn’s description of wisdom in his book’s second and third chapters. Unlike a merely biblicist approach that frames every issue as black and white, wisdom is focused on “discerning God’s ways in particular circumstances” (p.13). Wisdom brings biblical insights and knowledge of the order inherent in creation to the practical decisions we all face around things like money, marriage, family, friendships, and work. The wise choice for one person may be frugality with groceries in order to save and give away more money, while the wise choice for another may be spending more on gluten-free groceries due to a spouse’s allergy.
The many challenges that individuals and churches have had to make decisions about in this Covid era have certainly highlighted the need for wisdom. To take the Covid pandemic as just one example, we don’t have direct instruction in the Bible about whether or not to require mask-wearing in church. Instead, we need to learn from Biblical principles as well as a variety of counselors who can help us better understand creation (epidemiologists, virologists, etc). Then, we apply that knowledge as we discern the practical steps to take. What does it look like to love our neighbors as ourselves when my decisions can have a direct impact on the health of others? The book of Proverbs encourages readers to grow in wisdom so that we can live by God’s principles in these sorts of situations.
By focusing on Proverbs 1-9 (along with a chapter on the woman of Proverbs 31) as a way to understand the rest of the book of Proverbs, Quinn presents an approach to Proverbs that may be new to many people. The “essential ingredients of wisdom” gleaned from the early chapters of Proverbs can help to illuminate the rest of the Proverbs:
- wisdom is an attribute of God that is fully revealed in Jesus,
- wisdom is grounded in the fear of the Lord,
- wisdom seeks to live according to the order that God has built into creation,
- wisdom focuses on discerning God’s ways in particular circumstances, and
- wisdom is rooted in tradition.
This book would be great to use for individual or small group study. At the end of each chapter are three reflection questions that could help an individual or group go deeper with the chapter’s content.
For a pastor preparing to preach on Proverbs, this book could serve as a quick introduction to orient you to the major themes. It can easily be read in a day. Then, Quinn’s annotated recommended reading list could serve as a guide to further study with academic commentaries.
I’m sure no one would argue with the claim that our world could use more wisdom. Walking in God’s Wisdom is a great introduction to the pursuit of wisdom through the book of Proverbs.
Ralph Roberts lives with his family in Savannah, GA and produces videos teaching about theology and food at Hungry Theologian (www.hungrytheologian.com). He holds an M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary. In his free time, Ralph enjoys reading long books, running long distances, and sharing good food with friends.