It’s raining outside. The kids have been locked up all day with no access to digital media, and they have played all the board games again and again until they are bored. They are starting to get antsy, invading each other’s space. We have quelled several uprisings. It is time for an infusion of wisdom—for some attitude adjustments. “Hey, everybody, get your Bibles; Happy, Happy, Happy. It is Proverbs time again at the Pearl’s house!”
It was times like this that we called the family together for a study of the next chapter of Proverbs. We never pulled them away from riding horses or fishing to do a Proverbs study. I too was a kid once. “OK, where were we?” One of the girls prides herself in always keeping up. She has a special bookmarker reserved for this moment. “I know! We are on chapter three,” she blurts out. She looks pleased and I am pleased that she is pleased, and I am happy already. “OK, who wants to start?” “I do, I do,” says our most recent reader.
To the parent:
It is very important—essential—not to let this become a boring experience. The last thing you want is to allow the children to be bored with the Word of God. Don’t expect them to eliminate the boredom in their hearts. You eliminate it by being interesting. It stops being drudgery when they don’t have to listen to you all the time, when they get to contribute their ideas.
Your job is to steer conversation, to jump-start a slow moment with a question or observation that provokes them to express their opinions. Debate is good. Nothing keeps us focused like defending our position and trying to see the holes in big brother’s argument. This is not Sunday school or church; it is a happy free-for-all of ideas and participation. No idea is stupid except one voiced with stupid intent. Don’t be disturbed if a kid chases a rabbit trail that has nothing to do with Proverbs. To have the family together talking, trusting each other with their thoughts and feelings is invaluable. Don’t be a religious school teacher unless you want them to look forward to graduation.
Listen to me parent: Never use family time to air grievances or rebuke the children for stored up offenses. Do not use the text to take a dig at a child’s former behavior. One time, and you can cash it in. After that, when you say “Proverbs time” they will cringe like you did when you were called to the principal’s office, or when the boss schedules a private appointment in his office on Friday afternoon.
It will never be fun for them again. When they are forty years old they will flinch upon hearing the word Proverbs and never want to know what is in the foreboding book. The soul of a child is a delicate bloom that must be handled with care. I know I am being negative, but if you read some of the letters I get from grown kids, you would say, “Hit’em again.” Religion should be tied to a tree in the woods and starved to death.
If you are serious about conducting this study with the family, purchase The Bible Knowledge Commentary by John Walvoord. It is part of my digital Bible program. It is not detailed, but it will give you a spring board to launch your own study further. The commentary should be made available to the kids who can read it. It is great homeschooling for them to pour over it, trying to get a jump on their brothers and sisters. Competition is powerful medicine against disinterest.
It would take thirty pages to give a full commentary on one chapter in Proverbs. Obviously our format is limited, so for our study today, I am going to major on the structure of the text. You can make the application when you understand the text. This is also a lesson on how to study the Bible.
1 My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments:
2 For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee.
This is the first of a series of commandments followed by promises. Keep God’s commandments in your heart and you will have peace and live longer. Medical science has shown that one who is peaceful is in better health than one carrying guilt and anxiety.
3 Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart:
4 So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man.
Here is a second commandment followed by a promise. Always practice mercy and truth and both God and man will like you better. Take note of the structure. It is written so there can be no misunderstanding. Like a passenger jet it is packed with redundancies so it will not crash in misunderstanding. In verse one, to remember the law is to hide it in your heart. In verse two, length of days is long life, and to reinforce it further he states that the days are added to what was otherwise due. Three ways of saying the same thing—redundancies.
The entire book of Proverbs is written in this fashion. For homework, have the children write the Proverbs (writing skills) in an outline fashion (grammar) as an aid to understanding the text (literature).
Note the underlines and mark the synonyms. Not forsake is the negative of bind and write. Always identify the parallel phrases, matching subjects, predicates, and modifiers. At another time, perhaps in preparation for a family discussion, have the children rewrite the entire chapter in poetic form, noting the structure.
5 Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
Again we have a commandment followed by a promise. To trust in the LORD is to lean not to your understanding, and it is to acknowledge Him—three ways of making the one point. The promise follows: He shall direct thy paths.
7 Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil.
8 It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.
This commandment and promise reinforces the one above. To trust in the Lord and lean not to your own understanding is to be not wise in your own eyes.
Health and marrow? A text written 3,000 years ago associates health with the marrow of the bones, where our platelets are made. Compare that to Egyptian or Babylonian understanding of the human body.
9 Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase:
10 So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.
To honor the LORD with our substance is to give Him the firstfruits of our increase. Give God a portion from the first profits (the increase) not the principle and not what is left over after personal expenditures. That is how missionaries are supported and churches build expensive buildings that are used five hours a week.
11 My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction:
12 For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father to the son in whom he delighteth.
This passage is quoted in the book of Hebrews. Here again is a commandment followed by an assurance instead of a promise. To despise not God’s chastisement is to not be weary when corrected. The assurance is, whom (the Son) the LORD (father) loves (delighteth in) He corrects (chastens). If you pay attention to the structure of the text, you will discover that the Bible interprets itself.
13 Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.
This is not a commandment; it is a positive observation that is reinforced with a long list of blessings (14-18) that will ensue if you find wisdom and get understanding.
14 For the merchandise of it [singular—viewing wisdom and understanding as one reality] is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold.
15 She [wisdom] is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her.
16 Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour.
18 Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. 18 She is a tree of life [live forever] to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her.
Wisdom must be retained. It can be washed out by digital media and idleness. He reinforces his deliberations on wisdom by recounting how God himself effectively employed wisdom
19 The LORD by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath He established the heavens.
20 By His knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew..
These two verses deserve some thought. They are touting intelligent design. When scientists perform genetic modification on our seeds, they are assuming they are wiser than God (Revelation 11:18).
21 My son, let not them [wisdom and understanding of verse 19] depart from thine eyes: keep sound wisdom and discretion:
He restates “them” (wisdom and understanding, v. 13) as wisdom and discretion, making discretion and understanding synonyms.
22 So shall they [wisdom and discretion] be life unto thy soul, and grace to thy neck.
23 Then shalt thou walk in thy way safely, and thy foot shall not stumble. [Two ways of saying the same thing so you don’t miss the point.]
24 When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet.
25 Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked, when it cometh.
[And now the promise:]
26 For the LORD shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken [Compare to verse 23].
27 Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.
You are not responsible to be benevolent to everyone who has a need, only those whom you have the power to aid. Verse 28 amplifies verse 27.
28 Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and to morrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee. Shades of the second chapter of James.
29 Devise not evil against thy neighbour, seeing he dwelleth securely by thee.
30 Strive not with a man without cause, if he have done thee no harm. 31 Envy thou not the oppressor, and choose none of his ways.
These are not random thoughts. All three statements have to do with the way you relate to your neighbor. Reading from the bottom up, it is saying if you have an oppressive neighbor, do not strive with him, as he does with you, or devise evil against him since he lives just next door. The negative is stated first. The conjunction introduces the contrasting positive.
32 For the froward is abomination to the LORD: but his secret is with the righteous.
34 Surely he scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly.
Final promise also cast in contrast:
35 The wise shall inherit glory: but shame shall be the promotion of fools.
This brief outline is designed to show you how to study the Bible. The Bible is first studied according to the common rules of literary interpretation—the normal grammatical approach. If you sit around waiting for God to show you something, you might as well go to a mountain top without your Bible. First understand the text through thoughtful, intelligent inquiry, and then you can look for spiritual nuggets. But once you understand the text, your hunger for the spiritual will be satisfied and you will not have a need to get mystical. Proverbs is the handiest book in the Bible. If you memorize it, you will have a quote for every conceivable event. You can correct your own spirit and raise kids on the Book of Proverbs.