The book of Job shows what happens when a formula is applied rigidly and insensitively to life. According to Job’s friends, he must have been suffering because he had sinned. This was based on the supposed principle that sin always leads to punishment and righteousness to blessing.
But life does not always work according to a fixed formula. In Psalm 73:1-14, the psalmist notes that the rich get away with their sin and pride, while he suffers afflictions despite having kept his heart pure. In Job 42:7, we also see God rebuking Job’s friends for having misrepresented Him.
In the same way, proverbs are not rigid formulas, laws, or iron-clad promises; rather, they are divinely inspired observations and generalisations about life.
Proverbs 22:6 is one such example. It observes that starting a child on good principles with proper instruction and discipline will generally produce adults who continue on the wise path. Responsible parenting should bear fruit in responsible, mature offspring. However, this is not a solid promise; rather, it is an observation that encourages good parenting. It should not be misused and taken to mean that a child who does not turn out well indicates deficient parenting, or that a child who turns out well is entirely the result of good parenting.
Other proverbs in this chapter contain similar general observations about life:
- Walking humbly in reverence to God is generally conducive to gaining an honourable reputation and wealth (v. 4). Of course, it doesn’t mean humble people will always be rich and honoured.
- To guard our soul, we need to keep to the path of wisdom, avoid the company of the wicked, and resist their influence, for they will take us down a path filled with snares and pitfalls (v. 5). This would generally preserve us from such dangers-but it doesn’t mean that we still won’t face difficulties along our way.
- You will reap what you sow (v. 8). Though we may not see evidence of this truth on this earth, it will be ultimately proven in the light of eternity. This is something Asaph, the writer of Psalm 73, discovered after some reflection. After wondering why the wicked seemed to do so well, he saw their ″final destiny″, in which God would ″place them on slippery ground″ and ″cast them down to ruin″ (Psalm 73:17-18).
- Generosity leads to blessing for all involved, including the giver and the recipient (Proverbs 22:9). But this principle should not encourage greed, giving in order to receive!
Verse 15 gives another proverb on child-rearing. The first line gives the diagnosis: folly comes naturally to the child-after all, we are all born sinners. The second line provides the prescription: involved, intentional discipline and instruction will get rid of this folly. Parental guidance is important, for children who are left to themselves will generally not turn out well.
A Christian mother, when asked what she did with her time, replied, ″I am a builder.″ She was then asked, ″What do you build?″ Her answer: ″I build character!″
What is your personal experience with the observations in Proverbs 22 about the results of walking humbly, avoiding bad company, and being generous? How would you interpret these proverbs in the light of today’s insights and your own experience?
Reflect on your own motivations for doing some of these things (e.g. being generous). How are you encouraged by Proverbs 22?