Troublesome Topic: Proverbs that Sound Like Absolute Statements but Are Not

Here are a number of examples of proverbs that sound like absolute statements but were never intended to apply to all situations of life. For the unique context they were intended to address they were true and trustworthy, but they are not absolute statements in the way that we understand an absolute statement, meaning one which applies to all people in all situations.

There are many more proverbs that sound like absolute statements; they are not all given here for reasons of space.

All of these verses are from the English Standard Version (ESV). I have not translated them myself because, frankly, they have not yet risen to the top of my priority list.

10:30   The righteous will never be removed, but the wicked will not dwell in the land.

11:8     The righteous is delivered from trouble, and the wicked walks into it instead.

11:15  Whoever puts up security for a stranger will surely suffer harm, but he who hates striking hands in pledge is secure.

11:25   Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered

12:3     No one is established by wickedness, but the root of the righteous will never be moved.

12:11   Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.

12:21  No ill befalls the righteous, but the wicked are filled with trouble.

12:24   The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor.

13:4     The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied

13:22   A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous

13:25   The righteous has enough to satisfy his appetite, but the belly of the wicked suffers want.

14:4     Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.

14:23   In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.

15:19   The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is a level highway.

16:3     Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established.

16:20   Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the LORD

16:31   Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life

20:13      Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread.

20:20  Whoever curses his father or mother, his lamp will be extinguished in the deepest darkness (ISV).

21:13  Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.

21:17  Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.

22:29  Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.

28:13   Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy

28:19  Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.

28:27   Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.

29:14 If a king faithfully judges the poor, his throne will be established forever.

29:25   The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe

All of these were spoken to specific people in specific situations. They were not intended to be for everyone, because they were not spoken to everyone, but with a specific situation in mind. They are stated in a strong way because he wanted them to have force, and since the individual knew the context, such forceful statements were warranted. Some of them may apply most of the time, but that is not the point. The fact that they are not to be taken as universal statements does not rob them of their power. We can learn something from all these proverbs; that is why they were recorded.

 We must also remember that blessings, prosperity, safety, peace and happiness are not always related to physical things like finances. According to Proverbs 17:1 Solomon’s perspective is that happiness and peace are of greater value than riches. So when various proverbs mention prosperity or fulfillment, we should not assume they are referring to financial gain. God’s blessings can take many forms; just because we envision them in a few narrow ways does not mean that those are the only ways God can bless.

Solomon takes the long view of things. He knows that eventually there will be judgment for the wicked and reward for the righteous. It may not be right away, and it may not even be in this life, but God will reward each one according to how he has lived (compare Prov 13:23 and 22:23). Modern Americans often take the short view of things; we want eternal rewards to be prepared in a microwave.

Finally, the beauty and power of the proverbs is their brevity. There was no room in this form of communication to express disclaimers or enumerate exceptions. They often sound like absolute statements, but they were intended more as principles which, though there are some exceptions, hold true in a majority of cases. And the reason Solomon was considered so wise is that these principles were just what the person receiving them needed for their situation, and the way they were expressed was easy to remember.

The next lesson is: Proverbs that Seem to Contradict Each Other