Psalms and Proverbs: Poetry and Wisdom for Today | Book Review


My Bible-reading goals are the same each year. I like to read the Old Testament biannually, the New Testament quarterly, and Psalms and Proverbs monthly. Although I switch up translations from time to time, my go-to translation is the New International Version (NIV).

For some time, I’ve been searching for a pocket-size Psalter with Proverbs that is readable. Pocket-size New Testaments with Psalms and Proverbs are easy to find in multiple translations, but they all are printed in a two-column format with a small font. My aging eyes have a very difficult time reading them.

While browsing in a Christian bookstore, the other day, I picked up the NIV’s Psalms and Proverbs: Poetry and Wisdom for Today. I didn’t even know this product was on the market, but it was exactly what I was looking for! It is printed in a single-column format with a readable font. Plus, being pocket size, it’s easy to carry with me wherever I go.

Everyone’s Bible-reading goals are different, of course, but if yours are like mine, I’d encourage you to get Psalms and Proverbs. Every day I read a chapter from Proverbs and the day’s allotted psalms, following this rubric:

Daily Psalm Reading

Day A.M. P.M.
1 1–5 6–8
2 9–11 12–14
3 15–17 18
4 19–21 22–23
5 24–26 27–29
6 30–31 32–34
7 35–36 37
8 38–40 41–43
9 44–46 47–49
10 50–52 53–55
11 56–58 59–61
12 62–64 65–67
13 68 69–70
14 71–72 73–74
15 75–77 78
16 79–81 82–85
17 86–88 89
18 90–92 93–94
19 95–97 98–101
20 102–103 104
21 105 106
22 107 108–109
23 110–113 114–115
24 116–118 119:1–32
25 119:33–72 119:73–104
26 119:105–144 119:145–176
27 120–125 126–131
28 132–135 136–138
29 139–141 142–143
30 144–146 147–150

 

Book Reviewed

New International Version, Psalms and Proverbs: Poetry and Wisdom for Today(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018).

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Review of ‘Short Sentences Long Remembered’ by Leland Ryken


Leland Ryken, Short Sentences Long Remembered: A Guided Study of Proverbs and Other Wisdom Literature (Wooster, OH: Weaver, 2016).

For the past six months, I have read one chapter of Proverbs every day as part of my daily quiet time. Proverbs is delightful, instructive, and challenging, not to mention occasionally repetitious and boring. Sometimes, it also seems to make promises that real life doesn’t bear out. “The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked” (Proverbs 10:30). In my experience, that’s not always true (even if it is often true or eschatologically certain).

Leland Ryken’s Short Sentences Long Remembered describes itself as “a guided study of Proverbs and other wisdom literature.” Ryken is professor of English emeritus at Wheaton College—my alma mater, and I took classes on English literature and John Milton from him. His focus is on the proverb as a literary genre.

The proverb genre is found most prominently in Proverbs (the book), but it is also present in the Bible’s other books of “wisdom literature,” (e.g., Ecclesiastes, James, etc.). Its core is a simple, epigrammatic sentence. In poetry, the proverb most often appears as a two-line unit, with the second line paralleling the first in some way. Over time, the poetic forms of the proverb become longer and more complex. In prose, the proverb is part of a paragraph that spins out “a series of individual thoughts related to it.”

Short Sentences Long Remembered can be read profitably by an individual or a group. It includes interpretive exercises in each chapter, titled “Learning by Doing.” Most of the examples are drawn from Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and James.

The book does not deal with the theological tension in wisdom literature between the promise of divine blessing for righteousness (Proverbs) and the experience of suffering by the righteous (Job). Indeed, Job doesn’t factor into the book at all. So, if you’re looking for a theological introduction to Proverbs, this is not the book for you.

If you’re trying to understand the proverb literarily, however, this is a good book to start with. I do wish, though, that Ryken had included a “For Further Reading” section in the book, so people could move from his introduction of the topic to more advanced works on the subject.

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No Duh! (Ecclesiastes 10:8–15)


Much of the Bible, and most of its so-called “wisdom literature,” is common sense. Wisdom literature—a few Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, Song of Songs, James—is known for its simplicity and practicality. When you read it, you are more apt to say, “No duh!” than you are to say, “Huh, I never thought of that.” The genius of wisdom literature lies in its ability to remind us of truths that we already know—or should know—and to encourage us to take appropriate action.

Take, for example, the little proverbs the Preacher tells us in Ecclesiastes 10:8–15. The first two concern the risks that are inherent in even the simplest human endeavors: You might fall into a pit you have just dug, or encounter dangerous creatures in a home you have just demolished, or be harmed by quarried stone or flying wood chips. The Preacher’s point is not that we should refrain from all activity, lest we experience harm, but that we should safeguard ourselves from harm, to the degree that we can plan for safety.

Or take the proverb about the blunt iron. One time, while I was out on a date at a really nice restaurant, I began to cut into my filet mignon, but did not make any progress. I thought that either my meat was too tough or my knife too dull until I realized that I was sawing away with the wrong side of the blade. Funny how that works! If you want to cut something efficiently, use the serrated side. The Preacher’s point is simple: Work smart, for if you work dumb, you’ll end up working more. This is also the point about the fool’s toil, which is in vain, because he doesn’t know in which direction he is heading.

Then there’s the Preacher’s little gem about snake charming: “If the serpent bites before it is charmed, there is no advantage to the charmer.” No duh, Preacher Man! But how many times have you and I turned in work that was inadequately researched or poorly thought through or badly presented? A wise person knows when the work is done. Fools, on the other hand, rush in where angels fear to tread.

Speaking of fools, there is nothing that reveals a fool more than speaking. Keep quiet and be thought a fool, runs the adage; open your mouth and remove all doubt. That is the spirit of the Preacher’s proverbs about words. A wise person is known for clear thinking and speaking the right word at the right time. The mouth of a fool is like Denny’s, however; it’s open 24/7. “A fool multiplies words.” A wise person subtracts them.

So, have you learned anything new from the Preacher today? Probably—hopefully—not! But have you been reminded of some common sense ideas that you need to put into practice? I hope so. I certainly have.

 

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Auto Mechanics in Hell (Ecclesiastes 9:11–18)


One of the best books in my library is a little collection of proverbs by Peter Kreeft entitled A Turn of the Clock. Do you want some samples? Under the title, “The New Cosmological Argument for the Existence of God,” Kreeft writes: “If there’s a Big Bang, there must be a Big Banger.” Then there’s this one, under the heading, “The World’s Worst Smell”: “Bodies stink after they die; dead souls, before.” (Think about that!) Or how about this contrast between heaven and hell: “Hell is an unending church service without God. Heaven is God without a church service.”

The first proverb in Kreeft’s book—and the one that ties in to today’s devotional—says this, “All proverbs are half-truths—including this one.” Now, in my opinion, that pretty much sums up the tentative nature of many proverbs. Sometimes—in certain situations—they’re applicable. In others, not so much. After all, which is truer, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” or “Out of sight, out of mind”? The fact is, both are true, depending on the circumstances.

In Ecclesiastes 9:11–18, the Preacher draws some conclusions that seem to contradict other portions of Scripture. He writes, “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.” Obviously, this is all too often true. The best people do not experience the best in life. Sometimes, the wise are poor while fools are wealthy, or the just imprisoned while their unjust wardens roam free. This is a simple variation on the problem of evil, that we do not get what we deserve but are instead the victims of time and chance.

And yet, other Scriptures indicate that a wise man will be rewarded for his wisdom in this life, that he will get the rewards he has worked for: “The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life” (Proverbs 22:4). According to Psalm 1.3, the one who meditates day and night on God’s Law is “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” Jesus himself articulated this principle in Matthew 6.33, when he said, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” In context, “all these things” refer to what we eat, drink, and wear—to our material possessions in other words.

So which principle is truer? That wisdom has no rewards because life is filled with time and chance, or that wisdom has its reward because life is directed by God toward justice? Well, both are equally true, but along different horizons. Over the near horizon, the wise may see time and chance rob them of their just deserts. But over the long horizon, God will reward the wise for their righteous behavior. In the Christian religion, it is an article of faith that justice will be done, whether now or eventually. That is why the Preacher counsels wisdom despite his admission that it does not always pay off in the short term: “wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard.”

One more from Kreeft: “In hell the auto mechanics have to drive the cars they ‘fixed’ on earth.” I cannot imagine a more truthful proverb, viewed over the long horizon, of course.

 

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

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