Troublesome Topic: Proverbs that Had a Unique Context

One of the primary reasons we find some of the proverbs hard to understand is that we are not given the context of each one. Context is usually very important and here we have no context at all. Each proverb was probably spoken in response to a question, the need for a legal ruling, or a request for advice but we are not told the story behind it, just Solomon’s conclusion. I’m sure they made perfect sense to the original hearers who were all appreciative of having Solomon’s wisdom for their situation encapsulated in a short, memorable package.

To the rest of us these proverbs are kind of like the refrain, “If the shoe fits wear it.” If a certain proverb is helpful to you, then apply it to your life. If it does not fit your situation, don’t sweat it.

Here are some examples of proverbs that most likely had a unique context which would have made them more meaningful than they are to us. I’m sure there are more examples that could be given.

The following proverbs are presented using the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise indicated. I have not translated them myself because, frankly, they have not yet risen to the top of my priority list.

10:31  The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off.

17:2     A servant who deals wisely will rule over a son who acts shamefully and will share the inheritance as one of the brothers.

17:19  The one who loves a quarrel loves transgression; whoever builds his gate high seeks destruction (NET).

18:18  Casting the lot ends quarrels and separates powerful opponents.

19:10 It is not fitting for a fool to live in luxury, much less for a slave to rule over princes.

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24:10  If you fail under pressure, your strength is too small (NLT).

25:20  Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda.

26:18-19  Like a madman who throws flaming darts and deadly arrows, so is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I was only joking!” (HCSB)

27: 10  Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend, and do not go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity. Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away.

27:14 A friend’s loud blessing early in the morning will be thought of as a curse (ISV).

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28:21  To show partiality is not good, but for a piece of bread a man will do wrong.

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The next lesson is: Proverbs that State “That’s the Way Life Is”



This sounds like the rationale for an administrative decision or the ruling of Solomon as a judge.


Here Solomon was taking something that everyone would agree was unacceptable (loudly blessing a neighbor early in the morning), and helping the person who needed to hear it understand that what he was doing was similar.


This one sounds like it is condoning doing wrong. It may be pointing out that in some situations one has to weigh all the options, none of which are good. It is hard to judge such a person unless we have been in that same situation. It seems that a situation was presented to Solomon where a person was accused of wrong doing, and his response was that the person did wrong but should not be punished.