Posted in Proverbs, theology

Proverbs: Who Can Understand It?

By Elizabeth Prata

I love the wisdom literature (Job, Proverbs, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon). The purpose of wisdom, Proverbs 1:3 says, is to receive instruction in righteousness.  Its not to boast in how “wise” we are. Wisdom literature makes me think.

Not that the narratives or the historical books etc don’t make me think, the entire Bible does. But the wisdom literature is especially full of metaphors and symbols and cloaked language that I, who takes things literally, finds hard to understand. It’s a challenge, but a happy one.

Here’s a passage I read and loved, but found difficult to unravel. But below the passage, Barnes’ Notes helped:

I passed by the field of a sluggard,
by the vineyard of a man lacking sense,
31and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns;
the ground was covered with nettles,
and its stone wall was broken down.
32Then I saw and considered it;
I looked and received instruction.
33A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
34and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.
(Proverbs 24:30-34)

Barnes’ Notes

The chapter ends with an apologue, which may be taken as a parable of something yet deeper. The field and the vineyard are more than the man’s earthly possessions. His neglect brings barrenness or desolation to the garden of the soul. The “thorns” are evil habits that choke the good seed, and the “nettles” are those that are actually hurtful and offensive to others. The “wall” is the defense which laws and rules give to the inward life, and which the sluggard learns to disregard, and the “poverty” is the loss of the true riches of the soul, tranquility, and peace, and righteousness.

I never, never, never would have gotten that. David Hubbard wrote in The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 15: Proverbs, that the wisdom literature, especially Proverbs is rarely preached on because,

A further reason for their neglect may be the detached nature of the sayings, especially those in 10:1-22:16 where verse-by-verse exposition is difficult and discovery of the context of a given proverb even more so

If you also find the wisdom literature lovely but challenging, here are a few resources:

Books & Commentaries:

W. Robert Godfrey: Learning to Love the Psalms

The Preacher’s Commentary – Vol. 15: Proverbs by David A. Hubbard

Derek Kidner, The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes

David J.A. Clines — Job 1-20; Job 21-37 (Word Biblical Commentary)


Paul Twiss at Grace Community Church, Sermons on Proverbs

Sinclair Ferguson: Ligonier Ministries “Don’t Answer a Fool, Answer a Fool“, Proverbs 26: 4-5. This message is from our 2002 National Conference, War on the Word.



Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.

3 thoughts on “Proverbs: Who Can Understand It?

  1. Fascinating!
    I’ve been reading through Proverbs recently to gain wisdom in a specific situation/aspect of my life, but it has proved even more fruitful than that. 🙂


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