Psalms or Proverbs

Proverbs has lots of nice black and white stuff. If you behave in a certain way, your life will turn out in a certain related way.

Psalms has lots of cries for help and wondering why things didn’t turn out in a certain way even though you behaved in a certain way.

Where do you live, in Psalms or in Proverbs?

If you live a real life, you live in Psalms. Proverbs is full of generalizations. Psalms is full of realities.

Reading the Old Testament

If we are correct in thinking that the Old Testament is God’s revelation of his plans and purposes, and that through that revelation we should be able to come to some basic understanding about God, it is then logical to conclude that the most important message of the Old Testament is found in what it teaches us about God. That teaching does not expire, grow obsolete, or change. It is not the sort of teaching from which we can pick and choose what parts we want to believe and what parts we want to set aside. Its truth about God should comprise our beliefs about God. Furthermore, there is much information about God revealed in the Old Testament that is never addressed in the New Testament. If we only read the Old Testament christologically or from the vantage point of the New Testament, we will miss some of what God has revealed about himself.

John H. Walton, “Old Testament Theology for Christians”

This I believe. It’s a shame we don’t read the OT more.


This morning in church we sang a song that included a line about God the Father laying his wrath on God the Son at the occasion of the crucifixion.

I have searched in vain to find that in the scriptures. What am I missing?

Good Comfort

Any Christian who would like to be a comforter for another Christian simply must not do so until they have done a deep study of the book of Job. If that “comforter” flies by the seat of the pants, reiterating “wisdom” handed down by folk theology, they are in danger of needing to hear Job 16:1-5 back at them:

Then Job answered:
“I have heard many such things;
miserable comforters are you all.
Have windy words no limit?
Or what provokes you that you keep on talking?
I also could talk as you do,
if you were in my place;
I could join words together against you,
and shake my head at you.
I could encourage you with my mouth,
and the solace of my lips would assuage your pain.”

Dirty Racing

I’m not expert on Formula 1 racing. In fact, I’m a newbie. But I would find it difficult to make the argument that Lewis Hamilton was alongside Max Verstappen when Lewis actually executed a perfect PIT (pursuit intervention technique) maneuver on Max and spun him off the track. Max could have been hurt badly, even with today’s safety constructions. Lewis got a relatively minor penalty. If we admit that he deserves a penalty, we have to admit the penalty should be more major than one he can actually come back from after endangering a competitor. Everyone says Lewis is not a dirty racer, but it looked dirty to me. We’ll see how the season progresses, but I’ll remember this as the day I lost respect for Sir Hamilton.


But the mountain falls and crumbles away,
and the rock is removed from its place;
the waters wear away the stones;
the torrents wash away the soil of the earth;
so you destroy the hope of mortals.

Job 14:18–19 (NRSV)

Many Christians are taught to expect blessings in life. Job says no. Hope is washed away like soil in a flood.

If you serve God for the blessings, you probably aren’t truly serving God.

God’s Rod

In Psalm 23, the psalmist says that God’s rod comforts him.

In Job, chapter 9, Job wants God’s rod off his back, because it is causing him enormous amounts of trouble.

Same word in both cases.

The Wisdom of Wisdom Literature

Many Christians enjoy reading Proverbs and other instances of Hebrew wisdom literature. When I was in fifth grade and got my Gideon’s New Testament plus Psalms and Proverbs, I started a personal commentary of Proverbs. Every day, after lunch, I would pull my little KJV out of my desk, read a verse of proverbs, and write down what I thought it meant. I don’t remember how far I got, but that project died somewhere along the way, as do most of my projects.

The Proverbs are nice encapsulations of the wisdom of the ages. And they are definitely part of the Bible.

The problem comes in when people read them as promises and not as wise guidance. Many Christians want the Bible to be a user’s guide for life, leaving no questions unanswered. That might be nice, but it isn’t what the Bible is. Truly, the more we read, the more questions we have.

It is disconcerting to many Christians that their traditional understanding of how the world works is controverted by the Bible. One simply cannot say that God always does this or that in response to this or that. If you don’t get that, you have not read enough of the Bible.

One good example of misreading of Proverbs concerns Proverbs 22:6, here from the NRSV —

Train children in the right way,
and when old, they will not stray.

This is great advice for parents, to train children in the right way. But it is no promise. I can name dozens of cases I know about where this advice has failed to produce the expected result. And dozens more where it has.

If parents who experience a “failure” believe this is a promise, they must put the blame on themselves when their children stray. And we have all seen that, too.

Better to see it as advice. Good advice. It will increase your chances.

Proverbs are like statistics.

If two percent of all people have red hair, that will tell you nothing about the individual. You may or may not have red hair. I do not have red hair. Carol definitely has red hair. But you can’t tell this by looking at the statistics. You must look at the individual.

I’m reading Job and I see this same principle coming into play. Job’s friend Bildad relies on conventional wisdom to analyze Job’s situation. And he is both terribly wrong and terribly hurtful to Job.

I love what John Goldingay says about it. If you don’t read John Goldingay, you are missing some of the very best stuff about the Old Testament.

Bildad has learned well from the tradition. All that he says about God’s nature and God’s way of working with the faithless and the upright is true. His declarations about how the faithful may expect their suffering to be short-lived will be proved true in Job’s life. But he offers no recognition that there are exceptions to the tradition’s teaching. It applies eighty or ninety percent of the time, maybe, but not one hundred percent. There are wicked people who die happily in their beds and faithful people who experience no restoration. This doesn’t make the tradition valueless, but it does make it dangerous. The terrible result of absolutizing the tradition is that one can end up rewriting people’s lives when they do not illustrate it. That is what Bildad does near the beginning of his address when he speaks of Job’s children.

John Goldingay, Job for Everyone, 1st ed., Old Testament for Everyone (Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press; Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2013), 51. [Emphasis mine.]

The Bible is sometimes dangerous. Useful tools often have danger associated with them. Be careful how you use it.

Job’s Friends

I am studying Job these days. Carol says it may not be the best time of my life for a deep reading of Job, but it suits me fine.

I am fascinated by the friends of Job. When disaster strikes their friend, they gather to comfort him, but first they sit (shiva?) in silence with him for a solid week.

Then they begin their “comfort”.

I hate to say it out loud, but they remind me quite a lot of many friends and acquaintances who try to comfort me in my situation. They mean well, and they don’t intend to hurt me or Carol, but, inadvertently they often cause an additional pain on top of those we already experience.

Please allow me to give one pro tip: telling a sick person that God has a purpose in their sickness is one of the worst things you could possibly say.

The main message I see so far in my study of Job is that the well-worn ideas of retribution (good people mostly experience a good life and vice versa) are all wet, soaked to the bone.

Good people get hurt all the time. And bad people end up in roses all the time. Might as well get used to it.

Scripture Into Us – Seedbed

Certainly, meditating on Scripture, even under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, does not guarantee correct knowledge regarding context and meaning. Academic study may prove previous understandings needs revision. If we wait until we have all the right answers, we miss the opportunity of letting Scripture form us. Both approaches are valid and are not in opposition to each other.