Proverbs Lesson 3


Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World

Lesson 3 | June 26, 2016

By Daniel L. Segraves

How the New Testament uses the Book of Proverbs

In our previous lesson, we noted how the NT uses 3:11-12, 3:34, and 24:12. There are three more texts quoted in the NT. We will look at them in this lesson.

Fourth and Fifth Quotations

“If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for so you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the Lord will reward you” (25:21-22).

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head” (Romans 12:20).

Pro 25:11-12 is located in the section of the book comprised of “proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied” (Pro 25:1). Apparently these proverbs were copied by Hezekiah’s scribes for his personal study. The increased emphasis on royal authority and behavior in the remaining chapters of the book support this idea. In the first twenty-four chapters of Proverbs, some form of the word king appears eighteen times. In the last seven chapters, some form of the word king appears fourteen times. The first six verses of this chapter use some form of the word king five times, and the seventh verse uses prince.  Verse 15 refers to a ruler. It seems, then, these proverbs were viewed as offering especially important advice to kings.[1]

From this perspective, Pro 25:11-12 can be seen as an antidote to war. A king who is proactive in treating his enemies with kindness may defuse situations that would have led to international conflict. This principle could have applied, of course, to individual interpersonal relationships, and that is how Paul used this text in Romans.

In their context in Romans, the words of Pro 25:21-22 fit into an extended discussion of relationships between those who are at odds. This discussion flows into Romans 13 with its call for submission to civil government. (See Rom 12:14-21; 13:1-10.)

In our culture, the idea of heaping coals of fire on the head of another person is puzzling. How is this connected with feeding our hungry enemies and giving them something to drink? A common explanation is that this is an allusion to the shame or conviction one’s enemies will feel in response to the kind treatment they receive.

Suggestions offering cultural explanations have included . . . an Egyptian ritual . . . in which a man apparently gave public evidence of his penitence by carrying a pan of burning charcoal on his head when he went to ask forgiveness of the one he had offended . . . .[2]

. . . Solomon might have meant “heap burning coals upon his head” as the enemy’s emotional misery” . . . .[3]

                A more positive view of this analogy has also been suggested:

Sometimes a person’s fire went out and he needed to borrow some live coals to restart his fire. Giving a person coals in a pan to carry home “on his head” was a neighborly, kind act; it made friends, not enemies. Also the kindness shown in giving someone food and water makes him ashamed of being an enemy, and brings God’s blessing on the benefactor.[4]

                Whatever the precise meaning of this “coals of fire” imagery may be, it does not refer to a revengeful act but a helpful one, for the inspired interpretation in Romans speaks of overcoming evil with good.

Sixth Quotation

“As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly” (26:11).

“But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: ‘A dog returns to his own vomit,’ and, ‘a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire’” (II Peter 2:22).

There are eleven references to fools in the immediate context of Pro 26:11. (See Pro 26:1-12.) Dogs were considered unclean during the time of these proverbs, so the idea is that there is similarity between fools and dogs, vomit and folly.

Peter’s use of this proverb compares those who have been false teachers, but who come to know the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and then return to their former error, to fools. He does this by means of analogy to dogs and swine, both of which were considered unclean. (See II Peter 2.)


One verse in Proverbs is paraphrased twice in the NT.

“And so find favor and high esteem in the sight of God and man” (3:4).

“Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men” (Rom 12:17).

“[P]roviding honorable things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men” (II Corinthians 8:21).

In their context in Proverbs, these words mean that a person whose life is characterized by mercy and truth will be highly esteemed and find favor with God and man. (See Pro 3:3-4).

In Romans, to refuse to repay evil with evil, to associate with humble people, and to avoid being “wise in your own opinion” are evidences of mercy and truth. (See Romans 12:14-21).

In II Corinthians, the mercy referred to in Proverbs is demonstrated by the earnest care found in the heart of Titus, and the idea of truth is captured by the integrity of those who delivered gifts to the needy saints in Jerusalem. (See II Cor 8:16-24.)

Coming Lessons: Allusions

There are six allusions to Proverbs in the NT. We will begin to look at them in future lessons.

[1] ASB, 1015.

[2] John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews and Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 568-69.

[3] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 440.

[4] John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament (Wheaton, IL: SP Publications, 1985), 961.


Proverbs Lesson 2


Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World

Lesson 2 | June 12, 2016

By Daniel L. Segraves

How the New Testament uses the Book of Proverbs

One of the most helpful ways to study any book of the OT[1] is to see how it is used in the NT. Proverbs is quoted, paraphrased, or alluded to about a dozen times in the NT. In this lesson, we will look at these references, considering the context of these texts in both testaments. We will first look at quotations, then paraphrases, and then allusions.

First Quotation

“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction; For whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights” (3:11-12).

“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives” (Heb 12:5-6).

Most references to the OT found in the NT follow the reading of the Septuagint, a Greek translation from the Hebrew Scriptures. The Septuagint, often referred to as LXX, dates from the third century B.C. When there are variations between the way an OT text reads and the way it appears in the NT, it is usually due to this. That is the case with this first quotation from Proverbs in the NT.

The context of these verses in Proverbs includes a warning not to forget God’s law (3:1). The Hebrew word translated “law” is Torah. We may think of “law” in terms of rules, and Torah can have that meaning. In that case, we may think the word “law” here in Proverbs refers to the Law of Moses given at Mount Sinai with its Ten Commandments and a total of 613 rules. As with all words, however, the meaning of Torah is determined by the context in which it is used. Torah commonly is used to mean “instruction,” and that is the case here.

The significance of these words in the Book of Hebrews is found in the first audience of this New Testament book and the purpose for which it was written. Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were considering turning away from their New Covenant relationship with God in order to return to the Old Covenant, also known as the Law of Moses. The quotation from Proverbs 3:11-12 is introduced with these words: “And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as sons” (Heb 12:5). The immediate context of this quotation in Hebrews is to warn the book’s readers that even though they had been on the verge of making a terrible mistake, God still considered them His sons and that He would chasten them in an attempt to prevent them from turning away from Christ and back to Moses. (See Heb 12:5-11.)

Second Quotation

“Surely He scorns the scornful, but gives grace to the humble” (3:34).

“But He gives more grace. Therefore He says, ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (James 4:6).

“Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (I Peter 5:5).

Once again, the New Testament follows the reading of the LXX. The immediate context of this verse in Proverbs includes four verses contrasting negative and positive consequences for specific character qualities. These refer to the perverse vs. the upright, the wicked vs. the just, the scornful vs. the humble, and the wise vs. fools. (See 3:32-35.)

James uses these words in the context of “wars and fights” among his readers (James 4:1). His emphasis is on the importance of humility, contextually defined as submission to God. God extends grace to those who submit to Him. (See James 4:1-10.)

Peter uses Pro 3:34 in much the same way as James, but with the added idea of mutual submission. Both James and Peter see humility as important to resisting the devil. (See I Peter 5:1-10.)

Third Quotation

“And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?” (24:12).

“For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works” (Matt 16:27).

In a reference to the judgment that will follow the Second Coming, Jesus used a portion of Pro 24:12 to link that judgment with a person’s deeds (i.e., works). Jesus followed the reading of the LXX.

We must not miss the significance of Jesus’ use of these words from Proverbs to refer to His Second Coming. After His resurrection and just before His ascension, Jesus told His disciples, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:44). These are the three sections of the OT as the books are arranged in the Hebrew Scriptures.[2] The Law of Moses includes the first five books of the OT, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The Prophets include Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve (Hosea-Malachi). The Psalms, also referred to as the Writings, include Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles.[3]

Since Jesus used Pro 24:12 as He did, this indicates that these words are at least part of the Book of Proverbs that concern Him. They testify not only to His Second Coming but also to His deity, for their context in Proverbs  describes actions only God can perform: (1) He weighs the hearts; (2) He keeps the soul; (3) He renders to each man according to his deeds. (See Pro 24:11-12.)

Next Lesson

There are three additional verses in Proverbs that are quoted in the NT. We will look at them in the next lesson.

[1] OT refers to the Old Testament; NT refers to the New Testament.

[2] The order of the OT books in English translations follows the LXX, not the Hebrew arrangement.

[3] The third section is referred to as Psalms because it is the first book in this section.


Proverbs Lesson 1

Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World

Lesson 1

By Daniel L. Segraves

Welcome to the study of the Book of Proverbs! The wisdom in this ancient book is as relevant to life in today’s world as it was when it first began to be written in the tenth century B.C., some 3,000 years ago.

The wisdom of Proverbs is intended primarily to provide an education in life to youth (1:4).[1] The specific audience was apparently Solomon’s son (1:1, 8), for whom the book was prepared as part of this training to assume royal responsibilities. The phrase “my son” appears twenty-three times in the book.[2]

Proverbs sees the world as generally predictable and equitable. The proverbs are, however, generalizations, not hard-and-fast rules, much less guarantees that results are always certain. A proverb condenses wisdom gained by years of experience into short, memorable phrases or discourses. A proverb is often based on a comparison or similarity. It expresses a general principle or gives advice that has general application. Not every verse in this book is a proverb. The Hebrew word translated “proverb” is broader in scope and includes truths expressed in a more lengthy and complex manner.

The first verse of the book identifies the contents as “the proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel.”[3] This may cover the section of the book through chapter 24. Additional proverbs of Solomon begin with 25:2. The first verse of chapter 30, however, introduces the words of Agur, son of Jakeh, spoken to Ithiel and Ucal.  The first words of chapter 31 present the words of Lemuel. If Agur, Jakeh, Ithiel, Ucal and Lemuel are the names of people, we know nothing more for sure about them.

Another explanation is that these words simply refer to Solomon, David, and two of Solomon’s sons. One suggestion is that Agur means “the collector of wise sayings,” Jakeh means “the obedient one,” Ithiel means “God is with me,” and Ucal means “I shall be completed.” Ancient Jewish tradition identifies Agur as Solomon and Jakeh as David. It is not uncommon for persons in Scripture to be called by more than one name, each name having significance. For example, in II Samuel 12:25 Solomon is called Jedidiah, which means “Beloved of the Lord.”[4]

If Lemuel is the name of a king, we have no certain knowledge of his identity. The name Lemuel means something like “for God,” so, as with Agur, it is possible that this name is a term for Solomon. If so, the mother was Bathsheba.

Summary of Proverbs

The principles found in the Book of Proverbs are timeless. They can help guide any person, of any generation, to true success in God’s eyes.

All of the insights in the book begin with the fear of the Lord (1:7). Without this starting point, all else is at best weak human effort.

Those who read this book carefully, thinking deeply about its principles, will discover that they gradually begin to think differently. To be immersed in the proverbs found in this book will tend to have a transforming and renewing effect on one’s mind. Readers will no longer respond hastily and automatically to situations by human reasoning; they will look for cause-and-effect relationships and learn to control their tongues, thoughts, and eyes.

It is a good form of discipline to read the chapter from the Book of Proverbs that corresponds to the day of the month. If a person starts by reading the first chapter on the first day of the month, he or she will read the entire book once each month. When you faithfully practice this habit for some time, the wisdom of the book will begin to sink deep within your mind and heart.

This wonderful book of wisdom, written by a king initially to prepare his son for the throne but inspired by God for every person in every age, addresses almost every area of life. Those who consult this work will spare themselves many bad decisions and actions, and they will tend to prosper in everything they do.


[1] Since these lessons focus on the Book of Proverbs, chapter and verse numbers from Proverbs to which the lessons refer will typically be identified only by chapter and verse numbers, like this: 1:4. In reference to other biblical books, an abbreviation for the name of the book will be used together with chapter and verse numbers, like this: Gen. 1:1.

[2] Some of the notes in this series of lessons are taken from the Apostolic Study Bible, edited by Robin Johnston (General Editor) and Lee Ann Alexander (Managing Editor) and published by World Aflame Press in Hazelwood, MO (2014). The notes on Proverbs in the Apostolic Study Bible were written by Daniel L. Segraves.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all quotations from Scripture in this series of lessons are from the New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1996).

[4] Some of the content of these lessons will be taken from a book I have written titled Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World. This verse-by-verse commentary on Proverbs is published by Word Aflame Press (1990) and is available at The paperback version is $13.99. The e-book download is $9.99.

Back to Blogging!

I have been absent from the blogging scene for a few years, but now I have returned! My previous efforts can be found at That blog includes quite a few papers I have written over the years on a variety of biblical and theological topics. I plan to transfer most, if not all of them, to WordPress, but that is a project for the future. In the meantime, I invite you to go there and explore the available resources.

The idea to resume blogging came to me today as I was preparing a Sunday school lesson to present at The Sanctuary, our home church. (When I say “our,” I refer to my wife, Susan, and myself. We are thankful for The Sanctuary and our spiritual leaders, Bishop Timothy Dugas, Pastor Scott Graham, and Executive Pastor Mitchell Bland.)

I will be teaching a series of twelve lessons on the Book of Proverbs, and I thought it might be a good idea to post them for those who may be interested in reading them for personal interest or even for adapting them for use in their own teaching. The lessons are brief and simple, but they may spark some useful ideas. I plan to post the first lesson right away and the remainder of the lessons as I write them.