Study Guide: Twisted Scripture: Proverbs

Sunday June 7, 2015 | Shawna Boren

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

In part two of the Twisted Scripture series, Shawna explores the uses and misuses of a couple common Old Testament Proverbs. Often times in the Christian culture of the 21st century we see the book of Proverbs as a collection of nice sayings or one liners to guide our day. When we oversimplify the Proverbs they can often times come across very formulaic. We miss the cultural context they were written in and the oral tradition of wisdom they were meant to pass down to the next generation.

Extended Summary:

We all need wisdom passed on to us to live life well. For the Israelites, part of their collection of wisdom passed down from one generation to the next was captured in the book of Proverbs. Mothers, fathers, & leaders of the community all had a desire to build up the next generation by sharing life’s wisdom. If we’re not careful, in our current day culture, we can oversimplify the Proverbs and turn them in to nice cliché quotes, bumper stickers, or even tweets or Facebook posts. Although some of them make common sense to us, for the trickier ones it’s important to dig in to the context and Israelite culture to understand the significance of what the authors are sharing.

For example, in Proverbs 3:2-6 the author talks of the Lord making our paths straight when we trust in Him and lean not on our own understanding. It’s important to affirm this (and other) scripture as God breathed and Spirit inspired, but also reject it as any kind of magic formula to force God’s hand. We do not live in an “if, then” kingdom. Sometimes we think if I just do these things then I can expect God to do these things in return without taking in to consideration all the other variables that affect what comes to pass. If we’re not careful, when we think we’re keeping up our end of the cosmic contract, we can end up: (1) thinking God is not keeping His promises, (2) thinking the Proverbs aren’t truthful or are promising too much, or (3) blaming ourselves thinking we’re not executing the behavior correctly. In reality God is not a vending machine. In addition to God’s will and ours, there are others’ free will in play, as well as spiritual agents’ wills, and a myriad of other factors that affect our life outcomes.

Similarly in Proverbs 22:6 we hear the author instruct to “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” If we don’t apply the cultural context of God’s relationship with Israel being covenantal, this passage can sound very contractual (if I do this, then my child does that). This understanding completely ignores the free will of the child, as well as other spiritual warfare influences involved. Shawna shared her personal journey of growing up in very less than ideal family structure. Never having had a positive model of parenting she was terrified she would not measure up, or know how to “train up” her child when she became a mother herself. Thankfully God revealed himself to Shawna in a very real covenantal way through her experience as a mother. She was able to lean on God and trust that even in the midst of her learning and sometimes messing up as a parent, He was right there walking alongside helping her train her children in His ways. In reality, being vulnerable as a parent with our children is one of the best ways to teach them humility and reliance upon the Lord in our broken fallen state.

In summary, all of scripture is part of God’s covenant with us. It’s not a contract; it’s about Him inviting us in to a relationship. It’s okay to mess up. He is still with us. The Proverbs are not meant to induce guilt or shame, and they are not absolute guarantees. They are simply spiritual wisdom passed down from generation to generation that should help us stay connected with the one who is the author of our life, and the lives of our children.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What further questions do you have about the scripture discussed? Is there anything unclear about the context?
  2. Did you relate in particular with any portion of Shawna’s story about the challenge of influencing the next generation if we have the wrong perspective about how we’re supposed to go about doing that?
  3. Why is an “if, then” formula an unhealthy way to process the Proverbs?
  4. What other sections of Proverbs or other scripture have you heard people apply this “if, then” interpretation that you could see being dangerous?
  5. Quietly reflect on the people in your life God has called you to train up and influence. In what ways could you rely more on God for guidance? Is there anywhere you’re feeling guilty for not “having all the answers?”