Reading Proverbs: Don’t Confuse Principles with Promises

“The godly are rescued from trouble and it falls on the wicked instead.” Proverbs 11:8

I read this verse in my women’s small group yesterday and immediately sensed a tension in the room.  Wait, what did that verse say? 

On first glance, it seems to be saying two things:

  1. God rescues righteous people from trouble.
  2. Wicked people get the trouble instead.

Some of the women in my group had questions about this, and, admittedly, I sometimes get tripped up here as well.

IF this verse is saying that godly people are rescued from trouble and that trouble falls on wicked people, then if I am in trouble or distress, does that mean I am wicked?

And…

How does this verse stand up against other verses in the Bible that talk about how we will face troubles?

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, (James 1:2)

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:10)

Because the Bible is full of God’s promises to us, it is tempting to read Proverbs as a list of promises or conditional statements; If I do this, then God will do that.

The book of Proverbs is not a list of God’s promises for those who live a godly life, it is a collection of principles to guide those who seek to live a godly life.

When we study the book of Proverbs or any book of the Bible for that matter, it’s important to know the context, including the author’s purpose.  This is easy to figure out in this book because Soloman lays it out in the first chapter:


A Manual for Living

These are the wise sayings of Solomon,
    David’s son, Israel’s king—
Written down so we’ll know how to live well and right,
    to understand what life means and where it’s going;
A manual for living,
    for learning what’s right and just and fair;
To teach the inexperienced the ropes
    and give our young people a grasp on reality.
There’s something here also for seasoned men and women,
    still a thing or two for the experienced to learn—
Fresh wisdom to probe and penetrate,
    the rhymes and reasons of wise men and women.  (Prov. 1:2-6 msg paraphrase)


So this isn’t a list of God’s promises, it is an instruction manual, advice from a wise man, to teach, guide, and give examples of how to live a life that pleases God.  It’s the “best practices” or guiding principles, not an oath, a contract, a list of ‘benefits’ for believers.

There are many articles that go into more detail about the purpose, format, writing style, etc. (see below), so let’s move to my final point here.

When reading & interpreting meaning from scripture, pay attention & read carefully.

Proverbs 11:8 doesn’t say that only the wicked see trouble, it says that God rescues the righteous from trouble.  We can’t be taken out of something if we aren’t in it!

I took a little time to do a quick check in my concordance for the Hebrew meanings of the words in this verse.  I have found this is a good practice whenever I am having difficulty understanding the concept of a verse or discerning its meaning.

I won’t go into this too much, but just know that the word ‘delivered’ in addition to meaning rescued, can also mean equipped or strengthened.  The word trouble also has roots in a word meaning ‘tight place’ like being crowded by an opponent.

This verse in Proverbs isn’t promising that God will rescue us from trouble, although there are many verses that refer to God’s protection in times of trouble.  The purpose of this verse is to remind the reader that when one is in a ‘tight place’ in this world, to practice ‘righteousness’ or act justly to glorify God.  Does that automatically remove us from trouble? Perhaps not, but focusing on God and his will, might just give us the ‘space’ we need to not to be pressed down by the trouble.

I’m glad my small group brought this up the other day.  God’s word has the power to bring so much clarity, purpose, joy, and wisdom to help us in our journey of faith, but when we misunderstand it, we can experience so much pain, shame, or confusion.  Because my friend felt comfortable enough to ask, we were able to discuss and come to a deeper understanding of this particular scripture and wisdom about how to read scripture in the future.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17


For more helpful tips & insight on reading Proverbs:
Parents, Beware: Proverbs Are Not Promises by David Mathis

For more on how to study the Bible in general:
For more about God’s Promises:
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