The book of Proverbs is one of the greatest collections of wisdom ever assembled, applying across all times and cultures. As the Psalms are tied to David, “the sweet singer of Israel” (2 Sam. 23:1), even though he didn’t write all of the psalms, the Proverbs are tied to Solomon, the wisest king of all times (1 Kg. 4:29-24), even though they don’t all come from him.
Those who learn and live by the proverbs are told that following its wisdom will be a “shield” (2:7) and “guard” (2:11) to them, bringing “long life” (3:2), “favor with God and man” (3:4), and many similar blessings.
But it is an error to think that each proverb is a solemn promise of God to provide a particular blessing if we do a particular act. Proverbs are general truths and wisdom, not direct promises.
Sometimes those who think this way will take one proverb in isolation—as though it were the entirely of God’s revelation on a subject. They think that proceeding in the prescribed way will automatically equal some good outcome. If that doesn’t appear to them to come true, they think God has failed. Or when they find that those who acted in the wise way are still beset with difficulty or persecution, they think they’ve found a contradiction in God’s word. But it is not a verse here and there that is God’s truth, but the whole of it is, as the psalms say: “The sum of Your word is truth” (Ps. 119:60).
And we must certainly avoid thinking that following the wisdom of a proverb builds up bargaining chips with God, so that we might think that since “I did this,” therefore “I’m owed that.” This way of thinking is virtually guaranteed to disappoint because we’ll certainly over-estimate our devotion to and performance of the wise course given in the proverbs. And at the same time we’re likely to underestimate how God has blessed us, thinking that we’re due more, or we’ll be impatient and think that God owes us sooner.
No, proverbs are guidance, not promises. So in all things:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the Lord and turn away from evil. — Proverbs 3:5-7
So read, study, learn and live the Proverbs. Trust in God as you do. And when disappointing or bitter days come, seek all the more be a follower of God’s wisdom, and not a judge of it.