“These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel. Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise.”
– Proverbs 1:1-2 [NLT]
What is the purpose of the proverbs of Solomon, King of Israel? Are they iron-clad promises or probabilities?
Proverbs is a book of wisdom or insights that, if you apply them, you will usually receive the desired results, but not always. When I hear a Proverb taught as a promise, I shudder. Someone is going to be disappointed.
Proverb 22:4 [NLT] suggests that having true humility and fear of the Lord will lead to riches, honor, and long life. Does that mean if we walk in humility and fear of the Lord, we will be wealthy? It means that if you exhibit these characteristics, you will be faithful in what you do, and God will generally bless you, but will it always be financial?
What about the Church in Macedonia, praised by Paul in I Corinthians 8 for their generosity when experiencing deep poverty? Did they not get the memo that they were supposed to be prosperous? There was no memo because the result of humility and the fear of the Lord varies according to the circumstances, or the people involved. It is a probability, not a promise.
What about a long life? Of course, if you look at your body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, you are not going to abuse it, and you will probably live longer, but even with righteous living, longevity is not a given. Most of the Disciples’ lives were all shortened by martyrdom. We often interpret Scripture according to what we humans want it to mean.
The Bible always interprets itself. We compare Scripture with Scripture. Suppose you have two portions of the Bible
that are seemingly contradictory; if this happens, we have misinterpreted at least one of them, and possibly both. For instance, if Proverbs 22:4 means we should all be rich, then how do you reconcile that with the Bible’s description of faithful believers in Macedonia who were very poor?
Sometimes there is an inverse relationship between our material wealth and the health of our souls. We often equate
spiritual blessing with financial provision in the western world; accurate sometimes, but not always. Think about the Church in Smyrna in Revelation 2, which John characterized as having experienced financial hardship but possessing rich spiritual blessings.
Interpret the Proverbs as instructions in wisdom, not absolute promises, or you will end up disappointed and in
contradiction to the whole counsel of God.