Healthy and Hearty
Studies in Proverbs

Seeds, Salads, and Summaries

1.) summary outline

1:1-9:18

These PASSIONATE proverbs of Solomon are especially for youth. Moreover, these nine chapters show clear unity in the flow of thought more than most of the rest of the book. God is mentioned often in chapter three, and 3:5-10 is foundational for the entire book. Many commands follow in chapter four. Passionately seeking after divine wisdom instead of lusting after harlots is stressed in chapters five through nine. Solomon's warning against sexual sin was necessary and important, but the greater stress in these chapters seems to be on earnestly seeking after the knowledge and wisdom of God.

10:1-22:16

These are HEALTHY proverbs of Solomon for a more general audience which can often be profitably studied a verse or two at a time. Therefore reading a chapter in this section is like eating a salad with a variety of healthy ingredients. There is much contrast, and there are many analogies. Though commands are rare in chapters ten through 21, the contrast and analogies make it obvious what is wise to do and what is not. -- The Lord and the fear of him is mentioned more than usual in the last part of chapter 15 and the first part of chapter 16. Above all else, THIS is healthy.

22:17-24:34

These are POWERFUL proverbs compiled by Solomon but were probably written by others who lived before him. There are quite a few commands in these chapters, most of which are negative prohibitions. The longest passage here with an obvious common theme is 23:29-35 which is against strong drink.

25:1-29:27

These are ROYAL proverbs of King Solomon which were collected by King Hezekiah. There seems to be a special concern for godly leadership and government in these chapter. (This continues into the final two chapters as well.) In chapter 26, fools are mentioned often. This negative focus is mainly against fools being honored and trusted by rulers / kings. Thus these chapters reflect King Hezekiah's concern for the nation.

30:1-33

These are HUMBLE proverbs from Agur, an otherwise unknown wise man who may have been a Gentile. He probably was a royal advisor, perhaps to Solomon. He was humble, prayerful, theologically wise, and a keen observer. His wisdom is an important part of the conclusion of Proverbs, though it is more negative and pessimistic than chapter 31. He shows what a wise and godly, male advisor to the king should be like.

31:1-31

These are HOPEFUL proverbs from the mother of King Lemuel, who some believe is King Solomon. If so, this wisdom came through Bathsheba, which would be surprising. Yet, for sure, the warnings about women, intoxication, and injustice in 31:1-9 came from a woman who had observed firsthand within the palace what destroys kings. -- The poem about the virtuous wife (31:10-31) ends the book on a positive note. The fear of the Lord is stressed, and this godly woman is the opposite of the foolish and deadly harlots in chapters seven and nine. So in the final chapter, the virtuous wife shows what a wise and godly wife and mother is like. In addition, King Lemuel's mother shows how a wise mother can advise a king or a future king. Agur was probably a royal advisor, but so too was the king's mother.

Thus as a whole, the book of Proverbs is passionate, healthy, powerful, royal, humble, and (thankfully) hopeful.

2.) God in proverbs

One of the most important things in studies in Proverbs is to NOT overlook God. The graph below shows the chapters and verses where various divine names and related phrases or pronouns appear. Though God is mentioned relatively little compared to in other books in the Bible, the usage is still significant and interesting. For instance, notice where the "fear of the Lord" is mentioned and the fact that the general term "God" by itself is rarely used.

God is mentioned more in Proverbs chapter three than in any other single chapter, but he is mentioned even more frequently between 15:25 and 16:11.

This graph also shows that there are major divisions in the book between chapters nine and ten and between chapters 29 and 30. Chapters one through nine and chapter 30-31 all contain long, closely linked passages, whereas other chapters for the most part do not.

God in Proverbs:
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God in Proverbs:
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What about the Messiah?

Many believe that the personification of wisdom in Proverbs 8:22-31 as a reference to Christ. In favor of this view is the fact that Jesus is the Creator as seen in John chapter one. However, Proverbs 8:24-25 speak of wisdom having been created. So false teachers today wrongly use these verses to claim that Jesus is a created being rather than God.

In addition, some view the son in Proverbs 30:4 as a reference to the Messiah. For instance, "Son" is capitalized in 30:4 in the New King James Bible. It is not capitalized in other English translations however. Since Agur, the author of chapter 30, was a humble but wise seeker of divine wisdom, he was, of course, seeking to know more about God. As an Old Testament believer, he did not know about the incarnation, but he wished to know about such things, if that were possible. (Compare Pro. 30:4 with John 3:13.)

How do Proverbs and Ecclesiastes differ?

Solomon is the author of Ecclesiastes and much of the Book of Proverbs. So, of course, there are obvious similarities, such as in the lines against laziness in Ecc. 4:5 and Prov. 26:15. One of the big difference, however, is how God is referred to in the two books. As the chart above shows, God is usually referred to in Proverbs as the Lord, with his covenant name.

In Ecclesiastes, however, God is NEVER referred to by his special covenant name. Rather he is simply called 'God' about 40 times and the Creator once or twice (Ecc. 12:1, 6). Why is this significant? Well, it shows that Ecclesiastes is more for people in general than Proverbs which is primarily for God's chosen people. Therefore Ecclesiastes may be better to use in evangelism. Indeed, the title for the book of Ecclesiastes in our Japanese translation means "the book of the evangelist."

3.) good & evil speaking

About one third of all verses in Proverbs have to do with human speech, much of which is evil. So the summary chart below is an important one. Many verses are about both good and evil speaking. Chapter 26 is particularly interesting, since about two thirds of all verses in the chapter are about human speech.

Thankfully there is only good speaking in the final chapter. Also, it is interesting to note that Agur prayed that his speech would not be evil, in chapter 30. Although prayer is mentioned five other times in Proverbs, only Agur's actual prayer is recorded (30:7-9). In a few translations (ESV), he is also depicted as calling upon God in 30:1. (See the study on Agur at the bottom of the Proverbs page.)

In addition, messengers and being a messenger are mentioned seven times. Three times non-verbal signaling is mentioned (6:13, 10:10, 16:30), but always in a negative sense.

human speaking in Proverbs:
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human speaking in Proverbs:
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4.) computer searches

Thanks to computer search programs, it is now possible to quickly search out various themes and topics throughout the book of Proverbs. This data can be used to help compile summary diagrams like those on this page. However, one of the best ways to use such computer search programs is to look for key passages in Proverbs where a particular theme is most prominent. Then such key passages can become the main focus of topical studies that are not all over the place.

For example, the graph below is a computer generated summary of search results, showing that the "poor" are mentioned more frequently in the first part of chapter 28 than anywhere else in Proverbs. It also shows that chapter 19 has much in it about the poor. Based on this summary, it may be good to study and speak about the poor based on Proverbs 28:6-15. Additional supporting information could be brought in from chapter 19 and elsewhere, but having one key passage will keep the study from becoming too broad.

It is also often helpful to observe where key terms do NOT appear. For instance, the graph above shows that the poor do not seem to be mentioned in the first nine chapters of Proverbs in which Solomon focused on youth. However, the poor are mentioned in chapters which are for people in general or for rulers.

The search on the poor above makes use of just one English term, "poor." However, in most cased several related terms should be searched. For instance, in the study below on various kinds of foolish people in Provers several terms are involved.

CAUTION: though Bible search programs are very helpful, there is no substitute for simply reading through Proverbs repeatedly.

5.) Foolish people in proverbs

The graph below shows where various terms for fools appear in Proverbs, chapter by chapter and verse by verse. Overall, much of the emphasis is on not being a fool, but in 26:1-12 in which fools are mentioned most frequently, the stress is on not hiring, trusting, or honoring a fool because the stability of the kingdom is at stake. Chapter 26 is a fitting place to find this special emphasis since chapters 25 through 29 are proverbs of Solomon which were compiled by King Hezekiah. How to be a wise leader is often the focus.

Foolish people in Proverbs:
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Foolish people in Proverbs:
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6.) commands in proverbs

Commands, especially negative prohibitions, are more frequent in Proverbs than in most other Bible books. Chapters three, four, and 23 stand out in this regard, but even chapters without directly stated commands are full of exhortation. The content almost always makes clear what should be done and what should be avoided. For instance, it is clear in 10:4-5 that we should not be lazy even though no direct commands are found in these verses.

Commands in Proverbs:
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commands in Proverbs:
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7.) FOUR-STEP S.E.E.D. bible studies

PROVERBS, especially chapters 10 through 22, contains a great variety of highly condensed truth with tremendous potential for life and blessing. In other words, it is full of God-given seeds of wisdom and life. The simple, four-step S.E.E.D. process can be used to discover them.

S - Size

Most seeds are small. Likewise the great majority of verses in Proverbs chapters ten through 29 can be studied one by one or in tiny packets of two or three verses. The first step is to look at the context and determine the scope of the study.

E - Earthly things

Proverbs shows that man is sinful and weak. So the second step in the S.E.E.D. study method is to look at earthly factors, the human sin and weakness revealed in the verse(s) being studied. This step is much like focusing on negatives in a given passage as is done in the PLUS+ Bible study method. -- It is usually helpful to think of specific examples of the negative, earthly behavior that is described.

E - Eternal Things

How is the Eternal One involved? God's existence, creative wisdom, and justice uphold everything in Proverbs. So HE is to be found everywhere, even if he is not directly mentioned. For instance, the most basic reason a man should take care of his work animal (Proverbs 12:10) is because God created the animals. This step is much like focusing on positives in a given passage as is done in the PLUS+ Bible study method. The greatest positive is always God himself. -- It is often helpful to think of biblical examples of the positive, God-related activity that is described or implied.

D - Doing

Proverbs is a practical book, showing us the wise and right way to live. Since each proverb is like a seed, we are like farmers who must decide what to do with each seed. The consequences of the sowing of good or evil is often stressed.

Sample four-step S.E.E.D. studies

What about longer passages?

IF several verses can be neatly grouped and outlines together, as the six verses in Proverbs 3:5-10 are below, then they obviously should be studied together. Such passages are like large seeds, including coconuts and so-called seed potatoes.

Larger passages are common in chapter one through nine and in the final two chapters. Also there are several closely linked passages in chapters 22 through 29. Proverbs 23:29-35 which is about wine is a case in point.

The four-step S.E.E.D. method is helpful in longer passages as well as in short ones. For instance, God is not directly mentioned in 23:29-34. So it is important to think about how the wise parental advice against the abuse of alcohol in these verses ultimately came from God. One of the main reason why the Lord is not mentioned directly often in Proverbs is because personified wisdom and wise parents represent him.

The diagram above was made using the "I.Q." (insert questions) method. Click the link below to go to the page about this.

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THE DIAGRAMMING PAGE

S.E.E.D. studies in Ecclesiastes?

The four-steps S.E.E.D. method can be very helpful in Ecclesiastes as well as in Proverbs for the usual reasons. First, it is often difficult but important to determine which verses should be studied together. For instance, the five verses in Ecc. 10:16-20 all seem to about rulers even though the king is not directly mentioned in verses 17 and 18. Second, many of the same sins which are spoken against in Proverbs are also condemned in Ecclesiastes. Laziness, the abuse of wine, and evil speaking, for instance, are all condemned in Ecc. 10:17-20. Third, God is never directly mentioned in many passages, including in Ecc. 10:16-20. Yet, the natural decay of neglected buildings spoken of in verse 18 is part of God's judgment upon a lazy ruler. Fourth, there are two direct commands in verse 20, and the other verses in 10:16-20 also indicate what rulers and those under them should and should not do.

8.) chapters as salads?

If possible, I would love to determine the "flavor" of each chapter in Proverbs, but this is somewhat like adding your personal dressing-of-choice to a green salad. Compared to other Bible books, the emphasis of each chapter in Proverbs is more in the eyes of the beholder. (Some like Italian, but others French.) How then should Proverbs be taught or read? One "bite" or "veggie" at a time, or more as a whole?

Do you eat all the mini-tomatoes first? Probably not. Yet some like study Proverbs one theme at a time. This can be interesting and helpful, but it is probably not the best approach to follow all the time. Likewise, systematic theology, though helpful, does not always work well either. Too many theologians are like picky eaters who take what they like and leave the rest. In recent decades, for instance, the 'radish of repentance' is unpopular with many evangelicals even though there is a lot of it in Proverbs chapter 19. We should "eat" the whole salad that God has provided in such chapters. Chapters 11 through 29 are often like healthy salads since they are rich in variety.

That said, an orderly flow of thought is easy to see in Proverbs 3:5-10. This is not surprising since for the most part chapters one through nine are well organized logically. So let's not overlook the God-given order in these and some other chapters. The Book of Proverbs is better organized than many realize.

One salad per day?

It is popular to read one chapter in Proverbs each day, since there are 31 chapter, one for each day of most months. This works well, especially in chapters one through nine, 30, and 31. However, in chapters ten through 29 it is difficult to 'digest' all the great salad-like variety in each chapter in just one 'meal.' So it may be better to read half of one of these chapters in the morning and the other half in the evening. This allows more time to meditate upon between 12 and 18 verses each time.

The average chapter in Proverbs contains about 32 verses. The shortest chapters are chapter nine (18 verses), chapter two (22 verses) and chapter five (23 verses). It may be significant that all of these are in the first ten chapters, in which there is less salad-like variety.

Caution: as a balanced physical diet requires more than just salads, other Bible portions should also be read each day. The 'meat' of God's word is also needed (Hebrews 5:12-14). The content of the various summary charts of Proverbs is "hearty" material.

9.) Agur and Proverbs 30:1-33

Since God is mentioned directly a number of times in chapter 30 and the chapter holds together well as a single unit, the S.E.E.D. method is not used. The PLUS Bible study method which focuses on both negative and positive aspects of a passage or story is used instead.

There are 16 lines on each of the two worksheet which are to be judged as correct (C), incorrect (X), or partly correct (). Some lines are correct in one way but incorrect in another. Answers and applications are found on the fourth page.

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THE PLUS+ BIBLE STUDY PAGE
Agur & Proverbs 30:1-33 - (English)
Agur & Proverbs 30:1-33 - (Japanese)

Click the buttons above for the full four-page PFD files for the Agur study.

© 2021 Jon F. Mahar, Hakusan City, Japan, Alexander, Maine, U.S.A.