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Proverbs Under Law

By Justin Johnson

When most people open their Bible, they are looking for divine advice, not to study line upon line. For this reason many make Proverbs their favorite book of the Bible.

Being a book of wisdom, Proverbs is chock full of godly maxims in list form. Its 31 chapters have created the ever fashionable ‘Proverb a day to keep the devil away’ reading plan.

Despite the truth and spiritual profit that can be gained from this book, the unashamed workman must recognize that the book of Proverbs is the wisdom given to Solomon under the law dispensation with Israel.

Solomon did not have the hidden wisdom of God according to the mystery of Christ (1 Cor 2:7). This means Proverbs would be the wrong pattern for the church today.

The Law in Proverbs

Wisdom for Israel was found in obeying the law of God (Prov 28:7). Proverbs instructs to obey the law and keep the commandments given to Israel’s fathers.

“My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments: For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee.” – Proverbs 3:1-2

Like Leviticus 18:5, Proverbs explains that keeping God’s commandments is where life is found (Prov 4:4). Like in Deuteronomy 6:8, Proverbs instructs to bind the law to your hands and eyes (Prov 7:2-4).

In one popular verse used by preachers about vision the verse finishes by describing law-keeping as the content of their vision.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” – Proverbs 29:18

The Land in Proverbs

Any study of Israel’s promises and prophecies will recognize the importance of their land. Proverbs is no different, mentioning many times how the righteous will inherit the land.

“For the upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain in it. But the wicked shall be cut off from the earth, and the transgressors shall be rooted out of it.” – Proverbs 2:21-22

That this land is speaking about Israel’s kingdom should be obvious from the statements that describe the wicked as not inheriting the earth.

“The righteous shall never be removed: but the wicked shall not inhabit the earth. “ – Proverbs 10:30

Israel’s land was important, and walking in wisdom was important for their land to be preserved forever (Prov 22:28; Prov 23:10; Prov 29:14).

Covenant Blessing and Curse in Proverbs

God made a covenant with no other nation like he did with Israel. They had special privileges and provisions based upon their covenant with God. Of course, these covenant blessings under the law were conditioned on their behavior.

For example, they were promised protection (Prov 2:7-8), length of days (Prov 3:16-17), reward (Prov 13:13), health (Prov 4:22), wealth (Prov 10:22; Prov 22:4), and answered prayers (Prov 1024; Prov15:29).

Of course, all of these provisions of physical prosperity and protection were conditioned upon their uprightness, righteousness, and obedience, else curses and wrath would fall upon them.

“Whoso despiseth the word shall be destroyed: but he that feareth the commandment shall be rewarded” – Proverbs 13:13

“The curse of the LORD is in the house of the wicked: but he blesseth the habitation of the just.” – Prov 3:33

Judgment in Proverbs

Like the law, Proverbs is holy, just, and good, but also like the law there is no justifying the ungodly or sinner in Proverbs (Prov 11:5-6). Repeatedly, the judgment given in Proverbs is according to works, and not the grace of God according to Paul’s gospel.

” He that keepeth the commandment keepeth his own soul; but he that despiseth his ways shall die. “ – Prov 19:16

“…shall not he render to every man according to his works?” – Proverbs 24:12

The wise men in Proverbs needed to confess their sins (Prov 28:13), depart from evil (Prov 16:17), be righteous for God to hear their prayers (Prov 15:29), and be humble and fear the Lord in order to receive life (Prov 22:4).

All of these conditions are what we would expect to find in a book operating under the law written to men under God’s conditional covenant.

Proverbs and Paul

There is much useful spiritual wisdom found in Proverbs, just like what is taught in the law, or in the Lord’s earthly ministry. It is profitable for our learning, but must be rightly divided if we are going to stand today in the riches of God’s grace.

When the Lord revealed the mystery of Christ to the apostle Paul, he abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence (Eph 1:8-9). The treasures of wisdom and knowledge are now found in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is wiser than Solomon (Col 2:2).

We have a more excellent wisdom not found anywhere in Proverbs, nor known by Solomon, but revealed in the mystery.

“But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:” – 1 Corinthians 2:7

“To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God” – Ephesians 3:10

Whereas the wisdom in Proverbs loves those that love it (Prov 8:17; John 14:23), according to the wisdom of God today he commends his love by justifying the ungodly by his grace (Rom 4:5; Rom 5:8).

The mystery of Christ remained hidden in God at that time Proverbs was written (Eph 3:9). Proverbs gives wise instruction to sons in Israel under a covenant.

It is not a curriculum for growing the church today in wisdom.

Going back to Proverbs to find instruction for the church is akin to going back under the law. Our pattern is found in Paul’s epistles alone, as the apostle and dispenser of the hidden wisdom of God for the church today (Eph 3:7; 1 Cor 9:17; Col 1:25).

“Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things. “ – 2 Tim 2:7

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Published: April 23, 2016
Last Modified: May 1, 2016
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