A 31-Day study of Proverbs
Throughout the book of Proverbs, the reader receives the exhortation to choose godly wisdom instead of folly. In the final verses of the book, the God-fearing woman is praised for her decision to pursue what is eternal rather than what is fleeting. The word for praise is halal in Hebrew, which means to shine. The godly woman chooses to follow God’s ways, not the world’s, for she knows that charm is deceitful and beauty is vain (Proverbs 31:30). In her character, in the way she clothes herself with godly virtues, and in the way she orders her life, this woman shines before others and bears testimony to the joy of following the Lord.
We could study Proverbs 30 for days as it overflows with puzzling verses, prophecy, and nuggets of truth, but today, we’ll simply pause in the second half of the chapter. Here in verses 17-31, we consider the natural world and the Holy One’s incredible creativity. Ten creatures, from the tiny ant to the soaring eagle, are named here.
God made His image bearers to feel a wide range of emotions, and He sent His Son into a world broken by sin to show us the way to respond to joy and sorrow, anger and compassion, empathy and frustration. Jesus lived out today’s highlighted verse and quietly held back His spirit (vs. 11). He demonstrated that a godly life isn’t one lived devoid of emotion but rather one in which we carefully choose our words in response to the emotions we’re feeling. Jesus was never hasty in His words (vs. 20). Yes, He was perfect, and we are not. But we can seek to follow His example, training the flood of our emotions. Creative ways to build dams to prevent the overflow of our words include deep breathing to slow our responses, journaling, and prayer, for God knows all our thoughts and won’t be shocked or scarred by our words.
The lion is often referred to as the king or queen of all beasts because it fears no animal. Throughout secular literature and in the Bible, the lion is depicted as confident and courageous, the mightiest of all beasts and retreating from nothing. In today’s proverb, “the righteous are bold as a lion” (vs. 1). This reminds the woman seeking to live according to God’s ways that she has nothing to fear, not because of her own pull-up-the-boot-straps charisma but because the Lord stands fixed beside her, His Spirit working in and through her.
I coined the phrase “There’s no growth in easy” when I was a young mom and faced refining challenges in my life. I came to see that when God tests my heart and allows challenges to enter my story, He gives me opportunities to grow in Christlikeness (Proverbs 17:3). Challenges are a gift to embrace rather than to hold at arm’s length, even though they are often uncomfortable. Today’s key verse from Proverbs 27 describes one way we are given growth opportunities — through how we respond to praise. Just like precious metals are refined through heat, we experience a refining as we are tested with a seemingly good thing — praise (vs. 21).
Proverbs 26 continues the theme of our words, and I immediately spot in verse 17 the chaos of my life with little ones — and our world. The Message says it this way: “You grab a mad dog by the ears when you butt into a quarrel that’s none of your business.” Oh, how true, and how painful. Engaging in political, social, and religious arguments often accomplishes little more than stirring up a mad dog. In my own home, I’m often heard telling a child who is meddling with a sibling, “Stay out of it! Worry about yourself!” Or, “Mind your own business! Stay in your own lane!”
Proverbs 25 begins a string of proverbs that were first part of Israel’s oral tradition and then copied down under the direction of Judah’s King Hezekiah. He was eager — almost anxious — to have them written down, so future generations wouldn’t miss the wise words first spoken by King Solomon. I Kings 4:32 tells how Solomon spoke 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 psalms. The wisest man was also a prolific author who speaks to us all these years later in 2020 with proverbs about how to run a home and kingdom. Many of the words of wisdom are political in nature, and so many of them tell us how to speak to others. Oh, how we need these words today!
As we continue our march through Proverbs, I’m asking God to put a roadblock in your place here in Proverbs 24 to cause you to slow and to wrestle with a verse or grouping of verses. I’m praying that you’ll be changed by something you read today from God’s Word — and not by my words. When I opened to this proverb, I expected the Lord as usual to quickly give me a prompt for you to study, but I kept getting stuck on two words in one of the verses. My own words wouldn’t flow onto the page, and I came to understand that those two words were a blessed roadblock.
Just hours before wildfire smoke choked our valley, about 100 fluttering, diving, and looping barn swifts near my home caught my eye. Clustered together, the birds seemed frantic, and I now wonder at their innate sense that something stagnant was storming toward them. At the time, I simply marveled at the fleeting dance show, knowing that if I hadn’t slowed, I would have missed the swirl of birds. Proverbs 23:4-5 uses a bird flying toward heaven to describe a person’s overtime efforts to acquire wealth. The stuff of this world can never transfer to life in the next. It will flutter away.
One of my favorite books is The Hedge of Thorns, a short parable published 200 years ago about a boy and his little sister who lived in the English countryside. Each day they walked back and forth to school along a hedge of thorns. Overly curious and suffering from the modern-day FOMO (fear of missing out), the boy convinces his sister that they should find out what is on the other side of the hedge. Acting the gentleman, he invites her to go first, but as he pushes her part way through the hedge, she begins to cry out in pain. Their adventure is cut short as blood drips from her beautiful face.
According to I Kings 4, an incredible peace covered Judah and Israel during the reign of King Solomon, who boasted 12,000 chariot and saddle horses in 4,000 stables spread throughout the country. These beasts of burden, which were first introduced in Israel’s warfare under the reign of Absalom, signified power. A nation with horses was a nation to avoid. When Solomon writes in Proverbs 21:31 of the war horse, he knows what he’s talking about, and yet he declares that the Lord has the ultimate victory. Solomon, in his God-granted wisdom, understands that the animal kingdom and the human race is limited. The Lord alone will claim final victory and grant complete peace in His eternal kingdom.
The world is full of prickly, porcupine-like people who, when irritated, leave painful reminders that they aren’t happy. Throughout Proverbs they are called quarrelers. In the animal kingdom, they are known as quill pigs, the prickliest of rodents with coats of more than 30,000 sharp quills that warn predators they won’t be an easy meal to digest. The porcupine-like person is ever ready to engage in controversy, especially over trivial matters with the very people they call friends. The woman who keeps her tongue in check and lives with her spirit in line with God will avoid quarrels and ultimately establish a good reputation.
In Genesis 3 after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, God pursued them and in love asked, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (3:11). Adam replied, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (3:12). You. With this simple pronoun, Adam leveled so much accusation at God and initiated a terrible cycle of blame. Eve also pointed her finger — at the serpent — and now, generations later, mankind continues to struggle to accept personal responsibility for sin and its consequences. Today’s proverb identifies this ugly reality (vs. 3) and calls us to a life of wisdom (vs. 20) and the fear of the Lord (vs. 23).
If I produced a movie about the year 2020, I think I might call it “The Year of Isolation.” In an attempt to defeat the dreaded coronavirus, we’ve hibernated in our homes. We’ve covered expression-filled faces with masks. And we’ve kept our dearest people at a 6-foot distance. Then, we added a series of devastating wildfires to the list of traumas we’re enduring and shuttered our homes and businesses in an attempt to escape hazardous air. Yes, we were forced into isolation in early 2020, but even when we were given the choice to start emerging from the safe cocoon of our homes this past summer — and even as the smoke began to lift — many of us chose to stay put. Isolation has its benefits. Life lived alone is slower and simpler. But it is lonely and sometimes extremely dangerous, for life lived alone can often bring dark thoughts and poor decisions. Today, in Proverbs 18:1, we see how one who is separated from the input of others can easily turn from wisdom to selfish and foolish pursuits.
The other day a friend made a passing comment about the state of life today that could have easily brought discouragement and a conversation descending into the depths of despair. In response, I voiced a positive that had come from the situation, to which my friend said, “Well, there you go again, finding the good.” She then thanked me for a joyful perspective. The brief exchange reminded me that I haven’t always leaned toward joyfulness.
“Gray hair is a crown of glory.” I’ve heard this part of today’s key verse recited many times by graying elders in my life, often with a chuckle as they blew out their birthday candles. In my youth, I thought this verse described the beautiful, crowning achievement of living to a ripe old age, but today with a bit more maturity and emerging gray hairs, I think I’m finally starting to understand this verse isn’t about simply living another day. No, the crown of glory is “gained in a righteous life” and represents faithfully walking in line with God’s best even when it includes pain and hardship. Remaining in His ways isn’t always easy, but it is good.
Proverbs 15 is full of verses about the tongue and the impact of our words upon the people around us. We’re advised to have a soft answer when confronted with less-than-pleasant words from others, but this is easier said than done, right? While our speech is directly mentioned in eight verses (1, 2, 4, 7, 18, 23, 26, and 28) and indirectly elsewhere, the rest of the chapter gives us a clue how we can consistently give life through our words. Can you see it?
Throwing aside folly to achieve wisdom isn’t a one-time achievement in life but a moment-by-moment choice as we navigate through daily decisions and the actions that follow. We see from Proverbs 14 that when our eyes aren’t fixed on God and His best for us, even the wise woman can easily and quickly become a fool.
We have 25 incredible verses in Proverbs 13 full of nuggets of wisdom, but today we’re just going to look at verse 20 to consider who we are doing life with both in-person and online. Our answers just might help us see whether we are setting ourselves up to be wise or foolish people.
Proverbs 12 reminds us to be diligent as we move through our days. Contrasting the diligent one with the lazy or slothful person (vs. 24 and 27), our wisdom giver says hard work will bring blessing, while the frivolity of the one who lacks sense will bring poverty.
In this chapter, the phrases “remains silent” (vs. 12) and “keeps a thing covered” (vs. 13) jumped out at me. I’m a journalist by training who loves to report a good and sometimes fantastic story for the world to hear, one that clarifies the facts. As a reporter, I worked diligently, especially in local government reporting, to uncover what was hidden, to bring forth the truth. While I am very aware that playing reporter in relationships is damaging, I’m faced with questions today in Proverbs 11 that deserve some thought. Maybe you’re like me and enjoy sharing reports of people and happenings. If so, I hope you’ll join me in today’s reflection.
The emergency alert came to my phone early Monday afternoon that “hot, dry, and potentially historic strong easterly winds” were expected. The warning briefly brought to mind the verse from Proverbs 10 that I had just read that morning about the tempest, a strong storm wind with destructive forces. When the forecasted winds came later in the day, bringing heavy smoke and ash, I returned to verse 25 and then opened to Matthew 7:24-27 for the reminder that no matter what literal or figurative storm comes my way I will be eternally secure because my foundation is Jesus Christ.
Today, as we finish reading Proverbs 9, we come to the end of the first of three sections in this incredible book of wisdom. As Solomon concludes a letter to his son about walking in the way of wisdom, he contrasts the offerings of wisdom and folly. While they sound similar, wisdom loudly proclaims life, while folly’s promise is cloaked in darkness and intriguing because it is forbidden.
I love ah-ha moments when I’m studying God’s Word, and a slow reading of Proverbs 8 gave me one of those pauses. I’m praying you catch it, too, for it moves wisdom from a concept or lofty goal to something far richer. My ah-ha moment came with the two words I, wisdom (vs. 12) as I realized that this personification of wisdom is connected with Wisdom Himself, Jesus Christ, “who became wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (I Corinthians 1:30). In all the chaos of my life, I have Wisdom with me!
In the original language of Proverbs 7, the word treasure from verse 1 is tsaphan, meaning to hide. It is the same Hebrew word that was used to describe what Moses’ mother did for three months to protect her newborn son from Pharaoh’s deadly plan to reduce the Israelite population (Exodus 2:23). It’s also the same word used to describe Rahab’s undercover operation to protect the spies who entered Jericho (Joshua 2:4). To tsaphan is to have one’s heartstrings so attached to something or someone that forgetting it not an option. In fact, this something or someone becomes the bull’s eye target of all your thoughts and actions both day and night.
It’s far too easy to point one’s finger at others who are guilty of the seven sins of Proverbs 6:16-19, but it’s not so comfortable to see that the pointing hand has more fingers pointing back at oneself. This section reminds us that when God hates something we too must hate — and seek to fling away from our lives — any hint of these sins in our own lives.
As Jamie Harms and I dig into the Proverbs and share study prompts with you this month, we’re gaining a new appreciation for the book and the wisdom wrapped within its pages. For me, I’m sitting longer in chapters like this fifth one that I once thought was just for men lusting for what is forbidden. I’m seeing that each one of us is tempted to take her eyes off God’s best and veer toward temporary pleasures that seek to entice her away from the One who loves her perfectly and completely. In this chapter, I’ve been intrigued by the simile “but in the end (the forbidden) is bitter as wormwood.”
In Proverbs 4, a father is talking to his son, urging him to get wisdom (vs. 7), to accept it (vs. 10), and to hold onto it (vs. 13). Then, using imagery we discussed in Psalm 119, he talks about a full-body obedience to wise ways — ear inclined, heart kept, mouth honoring, eyes fixed, feet on track. This world is full of so many voices and vices vying for our attention that it might seem daunting to know whom to believe. This proverb points us back to our heavenly Father, the keeper of all wisdom who whispers to us through the cacophony of this world, “Do not forsake wisdom, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you” (vs. 6).
Proverbs 3 includes the often-quoted trust verses (5-6), which revisit the “path” theme from yesterday, along with other nuggets of truth that we don’t want you to miss. For instance, in verses 11 and 12, a father’s love and delight in his child is displayed through correction. This is the parent who pulls an erring child aside and says, “Because I love you, I’m going to do the hard thing right now and correct you. It’s not going to be pleasant for either one of us, but I so want you to walk on a path of life.”
When our family goes hiking, a little one often skips along in front and is the first to spot a fork in the path. She calls out, “Which way do we go?” and waits for her father’s direction. Today as we approach Proverbs 2, we see that calling out to our trustworthy heavenly Father and listening for His response, often through His Word, will help us know which way to journey on this path of life.
Our Wisdom in Chaos study officially begins today with Proverbs 1. We encourage you to head over to ufcwomen.blog for the full text of Proverbs 1, key verses, a couple questions to ponder, and a prayer. This is a simple study you can do on your own a little bit each day through October 1 when we begin our next study of four Old Testament women who believed God in unwanted circumstances. Registration opens today. Follow the link at ufcwomen.blog to save your spot!
For the month of September, we want to seek wisdom from the source of wisdom — God in His Word — as we read one chapter of Proverbs each day. Each morning you can expect to find at ufcwomen.blog the text of the Proverb, a key verse to Pause and consider, a few questions to Ponder, and a Prayer prompt to guide you through your daily time with our Heavenly Father, who promises to give wisdom to those who ask (James 1:5). Today’s post — “Wisdom in the World of Chaos” — provides background on what we’ll be studying in the next weeks.
What a joy it is to wrap up our Summer in the Psalms study today with a look back and a look ahead. Join us at ufcwomen.blog for more on what’s ahead for UFC Women this fall.