Phil Cox

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(Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated)

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Proverbs

I believe in the absolute infallibility of scripture. I believe that every word of the Bible is true. I believe that it is "breathed by God", as Paul says in 2 Timothy 3v16. But it's not mathematics. Not every sentence that God has breathed is a categorical statement of propositional fact. Much of it is poetry, much of it is imagery. It's all true, but it's not all literally true. If this troubles you, consider these examples of biblical passages:

Proverbs 11v29
He who brings trouble on his family will inherit only wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise

This statement is true, but it's not literally true. There are many people who have brought trouble on their family and have inherited money or property, as well as wind.

Proverbs 12v18
Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

I think it's obvious that this is a figure of speech. Reckless words hurt us. But there are differences between how they hurt us and how a sword hurts us. It's a metaphor - saying that reckless words hurt us grievously, but saying it in a poetic way. Poetry is just as true as propositional statements, but it expresses its truth in a different way. The book of Proverbs should be read as proverbs, not as categorical statements. Consider:

Proverbs 14v20
The poor are shunned even by their neighbours, but the rich have many friends.

This proverb has long been accepted. It gained new expression in the early 20th century, in the song "Nobody knows you when you're down and out". But it's not categorically true, and it's not intended to be. I personally know poor people who are not shunned by their neighbours, and you probably do, too. But the proverb is true, nevertheless. It's a concise and poetic way of saying that it's easier to be popular if you've got money to spend, and that some people are so selfish that they will ignore others who are in need.

In other words, every line of the book of Proverbs is true, but you've got to read it with your brain engaged.

And when we allow the wonderful, God-breathed proverbs in this amazing book to speak to us, they change how we think and how we feel. Our understanding becomes more conformed to how God wants us to see things. Proverbs describes itself as being:

Proverbs 1v2-4
for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young

And who doesn't want some of that?

It's good to meditate on proverbs one at a time, and let them change us from the inside out. I'd like to share with you a section of this remarkable book, without comment, and suggest that you take time to meditate on these proverbs:

Proverbs 10v1b-14

A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother.

Ill-gotten treasures are of no value, but righteousness delivers from death.

The LORD does not let the righteous go hungry but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.

Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth.

He who gathers crops in summer is a wise son, but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son.

Blessings crown the head of the righteous, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked.

The memory of the righteous will be a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot.

The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin.

The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out.

He who winks maliciously causes grief, and a chattering fool comes to ruin.

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked.

Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs.

Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning, but a rod is for the back of him who lacks judgment.

Wise men store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin.