Proverbs: Wisdom for Every Aspect of Your Life, in One Short Book
Nothing ever becomes real until it is experienced. Even a proverb is no proverb to you till your life has illustrated it. ~ John Keats, letter to George and Georgiana Keats
Two prostitutes approached the king’s bench. The first had given birth to a baby boy, and three days later, in the same house, the second gave birth to a baby boy. During the night, the second woman rolled over and accidentally smothered her newborn. What did she do? She switched infants. The next morning the first prostitute awoke to a dead child and the other woman claiming her live child.
“She’s lying!” the second prostitute shouted. “Her baby is dead! This baby belongs to me!”
A court hearing circa 900 bce predates DNA testing, and the king had a long docket. He asked to have a sword brought to him, and an aide produced a blade. Gesturing, the king said: “Cut the child in two and give each mother half.” “No!” the first mother cried out, “give the baby to her!”
“Fine!” the second one yelled, “no one gets him!”
“The first woman is the mother,” the king said. “Give her the baby.”
The monarch whose reputation for wisdom was sealed that day was Solomon, son of David, Israel’s first king, and David’s wife Bathsheba. Toward the beginning of his forty-year reign, Solomon collected wise sayings and pored over them. At some point he winnowed the riches into a book in the Bible’s Old Testament under the simple name Proverbs. From nearly a thousand years before Christ, Proverbs is one of the earliest examples of wisdom literature, a priceless guide still widely considered the gold standard of counsel.
Of the Bible’s sixty-six books, to my thinking, Proverbs is the most provocative. Two dozen centuries before Sigmund Freud and psychological profiling, thirty-one short chapters penetrate human nature with insights into sex, anger management, slander, wealth, welfare, business ethics, intoxication, pride, and fissures in character as relevant as tomorrow’s top trending topic.
Proverb is a Hebrew word meaning “to rule or to govern.” Much of it has to do with self-mastery, and the only thing better than reading it is reading it routinely. If you were to take in a chapter a day, in one year you’d have twelve readings of a book that I consider boredom-proof. After nearly four hundred trips through the entire book, I still rely on it for new insights, reminders of timeless truths, and life-guiding principles.
Billy Graham said he read five psalms a day “for getting along with God,” and a chapter of Proverbs a day “for getting along with my fellow man.” In my growing-up years, I saw my father do the same thing. He also read every year through the Old and New Testaments, still another reminder that a mind and character cannot be left to chance.
To sample Proverbs, flip around. Just don’t be deceived by the simplicity. A proverb is an acorn with a tree inside — a puzzle piece to character — and character, in the words of Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Barbara Tuchman, is destiny.
Here’s my sample for you, from the NKJV translation (italics added):
Proverbs 1:33: “But whoever listens to me will dwell safely, and will be secure, without fear of evil.” If we listen to it, wisdom will protect us.
Proverbs 2:11: “Discretion will preserve you; understanding will keep you.” Like an invisible shield, good judgment deflects problems before they can strike and destroy.
Proverbs 4:25: “Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you.” Life’s highway is lined with wrong exits, fake billboards, flashing arrows, and wreckage. A farsighted driving instructor warns us to keep our eyes on the road.
Proverbs 5:21: “For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He ponders all his paths.” We can lie to ourselves. We can lie to the IRS, our spouses, coworkers, neighbors, bosses, personal trainers, and the guy who mows the lawn. God reads us straight through.
Proverbs 6:27–29: “Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one walk on hot coals, and his feet not be seared? So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; whoever touches her shall not be innocent.” Enough said.
Proverbs 8:11: “For wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her.”
- Wisdom is the ace in every play. Nothing comes close.
Proverbs 10:19: “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise.” The difference between speaking words or withholding them can be the difference between sin and wisdom.
Proverbs 12:1: “Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.” Your critics have information that your friends are withholding. If you love the truth and want to grow, the people who correct you have the goods.
Proverbs 15:1: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Most arguments begin with tone of voice. If your first reaction to a tone is anger, wait for your second reaction and soften your tone. Even if you have to fake it, soften it and feel your temperature cool.
Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” A triumphant general entering Rome is said to have paid an attendant to walk alongside and whisper in his ear, “You are but mortal.” When delusions of grandeur threaten your grip on reality, repeat as often as needed: “There is a God, and it’s not me.” The fifth verse of this chapter says, “Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord.” Everyone. And “Though they join forces, none will go unpunished.” None.
Proverbs 19:17: “He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what he has given.”
- Think of it: when we give to the poor we lend to the Lord, and He repays us.
Proverbs 20:18: “Plans are established by counsel; by wise counsel wage war.” The advice on seeking advice is to do it. Before you lay out a project, consult the veterans.
Proverbs 22:1: “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.” A certain celebrity cleaned up from a drug habit and the life that went with it. Years later when he was falsely accused of something else, the court of public opinion knew his record and believed the worst.
- It’s easier to restore a life than a name.
Proverbs 24:17–18: “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles lest the Lord see it, and it displease Him.” Take the high road and let God take care of our enemies.
Proverbs 26:4: “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him.” The next time someone baits you, overreacts, boasts, or is patently outrageous, do nothing. Relax into the silence. Self-restraint won’t get you hits on social media, but it will steer you past senseless exchanges.
Proverbs 28:6: “Better is the poor man who walks in his integrity than one perverse in his ways, though he be rich.” They’re not mutually exclusive, but given a choice between wealth and integrity, choose the latter.
Proverbs 31:10: “Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies.” The image of a rare jewel reminds young men of what to look for in a life mate and older men of the priceless fortunes in wives of noble character.
I hated having to edit this list, by the way. The point is to read the entire textbook.
A single chapter in Proverbs averages thirty verses and five minutes of reading time. I can’t predict how much wiser you’ll be for making it a daily habit. I can guarantee you’ll be wiser for it than using the same minutes to scroll through Instagram, Twitter, or TikTok. “Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors,” Solomon writes of wisdom. “For whoever finds me finds life, and obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 8:34–35 NKJV).
One morning when April was running late, she saw me sit down and open my Bible. “Read me whatever you’re reading,” she said. Turning to that day’s chapter in Proverbs, I saw a subheading. “It’s about ‘The Crafty Harlot,’” I said. “You still want to hear it?”
“No,” she said, “but I want you to hear it. Go ahead!”
I get these flashing warning lights every month, and I welcome them.
I’ll close with an endorsement. My son, Mookie, is in his thirties now. On the morning of his graduation from high school, he left a priceless note on my desk with a final line that still makes my eyes sting: “I’ve been reading a chapter of Proverbs every day since eighth grade because of you.”
I hadn’t known he was doing that. The habit came from his father, who got it from his grandfather, whom he never met. Three millennia after the book’s first publication, Solomon was right again: “A wise son makes a father glad” (Proverbs 15:20 NKJV).
Excerpted with permission from The Little Red Book of Wisdom by Mark DeMoss, copyright Mark DeMoss.
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Let’s start the habit of reading Proverbs daily, or even follow behind Dr. Graham and read five psalms a day “for getting along with God,” and a chapter of Proverbs a day “for getting along with my fellow man”! We’ll all be the wiser for it. Come share your thoughts with us. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily