Roaring Lions, Cracking Rocks and Other Gems from Proverbs
Proverbs are short, pithy sayings that arrest our interest and demand our attention. They are catchy and memorable, making them easy to transport to new situations. Proverbs can spark lively conversation or intense debate.
Proverbs are all around us, even in the secular world. "If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again." "A dollar saved is a dollar earned." "The early bird gets the worm." Such witticisms take years of accumulated wisdom and experience and condense them into short, catchy sayings. These sayings can be memorized and applied to future settings that reflect similar elements. Such truisms become the truth and guiding lights of our lives. Thomas Long, author of Preaching and the Literary Forms of the Bible writes, "The question is not, will people live by proverbs, but what kind of proverbs will they cherish?" (p.55)
Like the secular sayings, the biblical proverbs reflect wisdom and experience, but they offer the added ingredient of divine influence and personality. One purpose of Proverbs is to promote a relationship with God. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding." (3:5) The real aim of Proverbs is not to equip us with witty sayings to help us function more professionally in the world; it is to promote godly character so that we can enjoy virtuous relationships with God and people.
Proverbs function by stirring our imagination. "Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses." (27:6) Is this saying true? Our minds rush to situations in life where a friend hurt our feelings by telling us an uncomfortable truth about ourselves. After the pain of the unwelcome comments faded, we were able to assess their truthfulness and possibly conclude, "My friend was right. I was out of line. I need to conduct myself with more discipline and dignity in the future." Then, our minds may rush to compliments and flattery an "enemy" showered upon us, only to realize later their emptiness. They were not intended to encourage us but to secure some selfish aim for the one offering the praise.
A proverb stirs our imagination by drawing our minds backwards to situations that reflect the meaning of the saying. Our own experience in life confirms its truthfulness. Secondly, a proverb pushes our thinking forward to future situations, arming us with insight into appropriate thinking and behavior. (Long, 57)
Here is an example of what I mean. Proverbs 15:17 says, "Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred." This proverb pushes my mind back to the Vermont farmhouse where I grew up. Our kitchen was small and square shaped and wouldn’t accommodate a typical dining room table. So, we used a square-shaped picnic table complete with wooden benches and the occasional splinter. No one minded, not even company. Our home was the gathering spot for family activities and dinner here was the central event of the day. Around the family picnic table my siblings and I learned about history, our family roots, sex and marriage, philosophy of life, and even how to treat a little sister. "Better a meal of vegetables where there is love ..."
This proverb also pushes my mind back to my college days. At a Friday night devotional I saw a young lady I had known casually for several years. I asked her if she’d like to grab something to eat. In Henderson, TN, there wasn’t much available at 10:30 p.m. except a truck stop. Not only were the dining options limited, but my money was as well. We shared an order of Ore Ida Tater Tots and soft drinks. It was simple, relaxing and fun. The young lady seemed happy and accepted what little I was able to provide. I thought, "She is a gem." We have been eating meals together for twenty-seven years now. "Better a meal of Ore Ida Tator Tots where there is love..."
When my family traveled to Cody, WY, to interview with a church, I wanted to eat elk meat. A gentleman and his wife prepared a wonderful meal for us, featuring Wyoming elk. We loved not only the delicious food but also the friendly reception we received and the warm conversation around the table. We moved to Cody and this kind couple prepared many more meals for us. "Better a meal of elk with Marion and Violet where love is ...."
Many more special meals from the past flood my mind. Bill and Shirley shared their table with me when I was interviewing in Ulysses, KS. A river bank was transformed into a kitchen when George, Ruby and their clan invited my family to frequent fish fries in Florida. My future in-laws, Jim and Thelma, treated me as an honored guest at their table when I called on their daughter and loaded me up with leftovers for my return to graduate school. My fellow members at the church in Ulysses make our Wednesday meals of pancakes and sausages or ham and beans a feast of friendship and fellowship. "Better a meal of hot dogs where there is love ..."
Sometimes these meals of the past were sumptuous feasts of fine food. Sometimes they were a simple array of common fare. But always they were celebrations of friendship with conversation that bound our hearts together in love. These meals of the past prepare me for future experiences of sharing the table with treasured family and friends. Proverbs 15:17 is right.
The proverbs stir our imagination. In the following pages I share with you how individual proverbs stirred my thinking, and I hope they do the same for you.
Note: You can read information about ordering Roaring Lions here.