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Psalms and Proverbs

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The book of Psalms is one of the best known and most lost loved books of the OT, and we also find this genre in other books of the Bible (2Sam 22, for example).  Psalms are basically musical poems, hymns and prayers.  In order to express the entire range of human emotions, the language of the psalms is very comprehensive. particularly hyperbole and metaphors.  We find psalms of salvation, lament, petition, confession, complaints, praises, distress and deliverance, thanksgiving, history, proverbs, celebration, wisdom, creation, trust and others.  They are subject to the literary rules governing poetry and wisdom.

The primary purpose for the Book of the Psalms is to teach us how to express ourselves to God in prayer and worship.

In understanding the Psalms, one of the most important keys is that these scriptures are not primarily commands or moral instructions from God to us, but are of much benefit when we utilize them for their intended purposes, which is to teach us how to express ourselves to God in prayer and worship.  We should use the Psalms to help express our thoughts and feelings in prayer, then listen for His answer.  Many psalms contain doctrine, but we must always examine our conclusions in light of the whole of Scripture.  This bring us to a second crucial rule for evaluating a psalm, always interpret individual verses within the full context of the entire psalm.  Most psalms are self-contained musical stories whose ideas develop within the flow before being brought to a conclusion.  Taking verses out of context can easily lead to a wrong conclusion of its purpose and message.

The Psalms also reveal that we can honestly and openly express our emotions before God.  David, the author of many of the Psalms, could almost simultaneously express anger and praise within the same thought.  He could quickly move from spiritual despair to confident assurance, from deep sorrow to rejoicing.  I think many of us can identify with the Psalms in that the mood changes reflect our own feelings, particularly during times of struggling with our faith.   Finally, the psalms help us to meditate and reflect on the greatness of God and His Word.

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A proverb is short statement, often utilizing metaphorical language, which expresses a general truth and offers practical advice, usually regarding attitudes, behavior and values.  The best known book containing proverbs is called Proverbs (I'll refrain from wisecracks here), but major sections of Job, Ecclesiastes, and the NT book of James consist of proverbs.  In addition, we find proverbs scattered throughout the Bible, including the teachings of Jesus.  Proverbs are also categorized as wisdom and poetry, so see these sections for additional information.

 In interpreting a proverb, the most important principle that we must understand is that a proverb functions as a general truth.  The statement is true in the majority of cases, but is not an iron-clad guarantee.  From example, Proverbs 22:6 states, Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.   In general, a child of Christian parents has a much better chance of becoming a committed follower of Christ than those from non-Christian families, but we all know exceptions to this rule.  The larger truth is that children, in most cases, tend to follow in their parents footsteps regarding spiritual matters.

Another principle is that proverbs are phrased to be catchy, usually for ease of memory.  Writers of proverbs are more concerned with the reader retaining the message than with being technically precise.  They don't state a truth exhaustively, frequently only pointing toward or suggesting a broader truth, often figuratively.  Thus, proverbs should be balanced with other proverbs and interpreted in context with the rest of Scripture.

Finally, we must be cautious not to use proverbs related to health or wealth to support a "name it and claim it" philosophy or a selfish materialistic lifestyle.  Proverbs, rightly used, are meant to provide practical advise for leading a life pleasing to God.

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