Webster’s 1828 Dictionary definition of proverb:

PROV’ERB, n. [L. proverbium; pro and verbum, a word.]

1. A short sentence often repeated, expressing a well known truth or common fact, ascertained by experience or observation; a maxim of wisdom.

The proverb is true, that light gains make heavy purses, for light gains come often, great gains now and then.

2. A by-word; a name often repeated; and hence frequently, a reproach or object of contempt. Jeremiah 24.

3. In Scripture, it sometimes signifies a moral sentence or maxim that is enigmatical; a dark saying of the wise that requires interpretation (Proverbs 1).

4. Proverbs, a canonical book of the Old Testament, containing a great variety of wise maxims, rich in practical truths and excellent rules for the conduct of all classes of men.

Strong’s Hebrew 4912

mashal — maw-shawl’ — apparently from 4910 in some original sense of superiority in mental action; properly, a pithy maxim, usually of metaphorical nature; hence, a simile (as an adage, poem, discourse): — byword, like, parable, proverb.

As we can see from the definitions above, proverbs are wise observations about how things work and what we can learn from it.

Considering all of the information in the world, some of it is useless. In contrast, some information is profoundly valuable. Also, there is a great variance in the reliability of some sources of information compared to others. Some information has very little value, whether it is reliable or not, even though it might be somewhat interesting, also known as trivia. Many news reports contain information that is both useless and questionable, also known as tripe. When you find knowledge that is both highly trustworthy and very valuable, that is called wisdom.

Proverbs 8:12 I wisdom dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge of witty inventions.

It is worth noting the fine distinction between wisdom and prudence. While prudence is more like good judgement, wisdom is the sterling knowledge that helps us have good judgement.

Proverbs are wise sayings. They are practical and tactical, based on a proper worldview, and on a foundation of good doctrine. There is good reason the Holy Bible calls them “proverbs.” It is important for us to take care and use the proverbs in the way God intends. They are not promises. They are not commandments.

For example, consider what would happen if I read a proverb and I thought it was a promise. If I then found even just one event where the outcome was not precisely the same as predicted by that verse in Scripture, that “failure” would cast doubt on all Scripture. Because of my own faulty treatment of one verse or passage, I would now conclude that the Holy Bible is not really reliable.

Proverbs are not commands in the same sense as The Ten Commandments. They are not moral imperatives. If you reject this wise counsel, you are a fool, even if you have not blasphemed God or treated your fellow man unjustly.

Proverbs 8:36 But he that sinneth against [wisdom] wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate [wisdom] love death.

This understanding does not cheapen the value of the biblical proverbs. Quite the contrary, they are some of the wisest observations ever made. That is why they are in the Bible. By putting them in Scripture, God did not change them from proverbs into something else. Since they are in the Bible, we know that they are valuable, in contrast to some other proverbs of questionable value. They are like pearls that God has given to us as a gift.

Proverbs 20:15 There is gold, and a multitude of rubies: but the lips of knowledge [are] a precious jewel.

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