The Subtlety of Sin

Proverbs 23.13-35

Starting with a brief comment on the ‘rod’ in Proverbs, and what it does not mean, here is a remarkable 20-verse topic showing how Satan first makes sin desirable, promotes it through bad company, weakens thirst for regular teaching, then tightens sin’s grip on us.

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Solomon’s Proverbs are a storehouse of compressed wisdom, covering all the issues of life. However, with so many insights and observations pouring forth, it is not always an easy book to read. To read whole chapters (especially once past the ‘wisdom’ chapters) can be daunting – there is so much to assimilate.

There are four things we must know about the scheme and method of Proverbs. The first, and most important, is to know what exactly a proverb is. The second is to know the three sections of the book, and the distinctive purpose of each. The third is to realise that the numerous small proverbs from chapter 10 onwards are arranged in groups, according to subject, and that each proverb is designed to add something to the group-subject. The fourth is to become familiar with the cast of characters that appears in the first seven chapters of the book, because these characters appear repeatedly in the short proverbs of the subsequent chapters.

Firstly, a proverb is a parable or an illustration. In fact the book could be called the Book of Parables. Whether the ‘parable’ is a long one, as in the early chapters, or a short one, the language is almost always richly pictorial, and the full meaning and purpose will only come from identifying the scene pictured, and considering the application in the realm of spiritual attitudes.

Secondly, the book has three distinctive sections: evangelism, the needs of young believers, and then the more advanced needs of mature believers. Solomon himself points out the three sections of the book in the opening chapter – they go far beyond ‘sundry moral virtues’, reaching into the depths of the soul.

The third special feature of the Book of Proverbs is the scheme under which proverbs (from chapter 10 onwards) are arranged in groups according to subject. It is not a library or collection – it is a unified, cohesive whole, designed and structured by God. To recognise this makes an enormous difference to the reader’s understanding and application of them. The vast number of apparently jumbled, random maxims disappears, and we are instead presented with about forty topics, each served by a group of proverbs. Individual proverbs therefore take on richer significance. If a proverb appears in a section where the prevailing subject is ‘foolishness’, then that proverb should be viewed as making a solid contribution to that theme. By this method of interpretation many seemingly mysterious proverbs gain purpose, and the pastoral application is apparent. If we believe that the Book of Proverbs is Spirit-breathed, and not a scrappy human compilation, we shall expect a far nobler explanation for why proverbs are repeated.

The fourth feature of Proverbs essential to the reader is the cast of characters revealed in the first seven chapters. These characters crop up repeatedly in the short proverbs – the son, the father, the district gang, the tender bride, the adulteress, and the dubious district salesman – all with a wealth of gospel application.

The Book of Proverbs is not just a collection of sundry unconnected statements. It is put together to stimulate, train and activate the very parts of our being that will produce wisdom. The whole is a remarkable training course, a piece of divine therapy to bend us and to mould us into the Lord’s people possessed of great wisdom, and everything is arranged and integrated under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit to form one unitary, organised presentation of truth.

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