When Christians talk about the inspiration of the Bible, we often neglect to realize that not every book of the Bible should be read and applied exactly the same way. We sometimes assume that since “all Scripture is God-breathed and useful…” it all functions identically.
People who take this approach can pull out any statement from anywhere in the Bible and call it God’s truth. But not every book in the Bible has the same exact aim and audience. Each genre of literature carries its own characteristics that we need to be aware of.
Instead of assuming what inspiration means, I’d suggest that we ought to listen to what the authors of the text of the Bible say and what they’re trying to accomplish with their writing in order to hear what God is saying to us.
One of the mistakes that we can make is in the way we look at the Proverbs.
Instead we should listen to what they claim to be.
for gaining wisdom and instruction;
for understanding words of insight;
for receiving instruction in prudent behavior,
doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to those who are simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young—
et the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance—
for understanding proverbs and parables,
the sayings and riddles of the wise. Proverbs 1:2-6
Another early verse helps us as well:
Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction
and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
They are a garland to grace your head
and a chain to adorn your neck. 1:8-9
These opening verses of the book of Proverbs give us a decent basic idea of what’s these teachings are intended to accomplish.
Notice that there is no claim that they were direct revelation from God. There were no stone tablets of Proverbs.
They are primarily wise teachings, passed down from one generation to the next, of life experiences in being wise, doing good and following God.
The Proverbs are wonderful and extremely useful for us today, and in any generation.
But they do not claim to be immutable promises from God to be ‘claimed’ in spite of current reality that might at times be contrary.
“Those who work their land will have abundant food,
but those who chase fantasies have no sense.” Proverbs 12:11
If you own a farm and choose to chase after fantasies or daydreams instead of working hard on your land, you are not likely to get much of a crop. Wisdom reminds us that we reap what we sow and if we don’t work hard we shouldn’t expect to be rewarded. That’s good, wise, instruction.
But is it always true that those who work the land will have abundant food?
No. It’s not true. There are times of famine and were at various points throughout the generations of the Bible. If it doesn’t rain and you don’t have any irrigation, your crops won’t grow no matter how hard you work.
So either God’s ‘promises’ sometimes do fail or they aren’t promises of God, but rather the wisdom that comes with life experience and faithfulness to God.
Here’s where this comes close to home for many Christians who are familiar with this proverb.
“Start children off on the way they should go,
and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” 22:6
Many of us know of people who were raised in Christian homes who aren’t following God in their adult lives.
If this is a promise of God, then either God has failed us, or, more likely…
We believe or are told that we as parents have somehow failed to do it right.
If we would have somehow done a better job, this would not have happened.
But since we now know that the Proverbs aren’t promises, we can drop the guilt trip.
Almost all of us can probably think of things we wish we would have done better with our kids, but some kids whose parents have no Christian faith end up being passionate followers of Jesus while other kids of parents strong in the faith want nothing to do with it.
But overall, Proverbs teaches us that if we train our children in the way that they should go, there’s a much better chance that they will follow God when they grow up.
Biblical Proverbs are a fantastic, practical source of godly wisdom.
But they are not God’s absolute promises for us.