"A Wise Man Once Said" - Tips for Studying Proverbs
Recently we posted a blog on using the Psalms for your daily devotions. As a result, a couple of people asked what inductive Bible study techniques would work with a study of Proverbs. So, here is a little direction on using Proverbs as a daily devotional.
A Little Background
The book of Proverbs is very different than Psalms, but basic inductive study techniques still work. In our training (which we highly recommend you sign up for) one of the things we emphasize is watching for repetition in the text. This sounds over simplistic but, repeated ideas or words identify the subjects and the context of the passage. When the author repeats himself it is on purpose. He is making a point. We need to understand the point he is making and why he is making it. Paying attention to repeated key words and ideas helps.
In the book of Proverbs there are several repeated themes or ideas that are woven through the book. Often a positive idea is contrasted with a negative.
- wisdom versus the fool
- generosity versus stinginess
- joy versus anger
- love versus lust
- diligence versus laziness
- real versus false security
- justice versus injustice
- what God loves and what He hates
As you read Proverbs always watch for and mark contrasts. Notice for example, the way "but" and "yet" are marked in the following passage and note what is being contrasted.
The Lord's response to the devious / wicked / scoffers is contrasted with His response to the upright / righteous / afflicted.
Also, there are several repeated ideas or moral themes in the book. These are heart issues, the things we should be or not be. Things such as:
- Immorality, adultery
- Laziness, gluttony, drunkenness
- The wicked and the righteous
- Deceitfulness or dishonesty
And there are several action items or ideas in the book. These are the things we should or should not do:
- The pursuit of wisdom
- How to handle finances
- How to treat others
- Taking care of the poor or championing the under-privileged
- Avoid evil companions
- Trust God
- Words are powerful, so use them carefully
Some of the heart issues can be action ideas, and vice versa. The lines are not always clear. But, this gives you a place to start, and Bible study is a work in progress not an action item to complete.
How do I study the book of Proverbs?
1. Think about how you want to mark some of the key words and their synonyms in Proverbs. We suggest a simple shape or color. It doesn’t need to be fancy or have a special meaning, just keep it simple. The following are just some you will want to note, and there are others.
- God or Lord
- The righteous
- The unrighteous
2. In a journal, list the topics we have already mentioned.
3. As you read keep a running list of what you learn about the subjects or topics. Don’t worry if you find yourself listing the same thing in two places. Remember this is a work in progress, so messiness is ok.
4. Pay attention to the context. Context rules interpretation, even in Proverbs. Sometimes it seems the author of Proverbs is changing subjects quickly and without reason or plan. A chapter of Proverbs may seem like a series of unrelated bullet point style bits of wisdom, but this is not the case. God is not random. As you study look for the connections. Ask yourself why these subjects are laid out in the order they are and what the connection could be. There may not be a clear connection, but a part of the discipline of inductive study is to ask the question.
How many chapters or verses should you cover at a time? Well that depends on your time. There is no rule that you must read Proverbs in a month. How much you study each day is totally up to you and your schedule.
Wrapping it up
Just a little helpful information. There are three Hebrew words translated “fool” and all can have the sense of stubbornness or rebellion. A fool is one whom you cannot reason with. The simple on the other hand are often a neutral group in the Proverbs. They are not wise, but not fools either. A simple person can learn, a fool won’t.
WISDOM IS EASY TO CARRY BUT DIFFICULT TO GATHER Czechoslovakian proverb.
If you would like to purchase a guide to help you walk through Proverbs follow the link below.
has been involved with Precept Ministries since 1981, first as a student, then as a leader, and later as a Trainer. On staff with Precept he has served as Co-Director of Transform Student Ministries, as an author of various Bible studies, a featured teacher on several Precept videos and currently is working in Social Media. David is passionate about helping people learn to study the Word of God for themselves. He firmly believes the Word of God is what the Spirit of God uses more than anything else to mature the children of God.