A Book Of Parallelismscoverpic_mj10_sm

[Solomon] spake three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five.
—1 Kings 4:32

Timothy Thomassen

According to Smith’s Bible Dictionary, “the title of this book in Hebrew is .. taken from its first word, mashal, which originally meant ‘a comparison.’ It is sometimes translated parable, sometimes proverb as here. The superscriptions which are affixed to several portions of the book … attribute the authorship of those portions to Solomon, the son of David, king of Israel. With the exception of the last two chapters, which are distinctly assigned to other authors, it is probable that the statement of the superscriptions is in the main correct, and that the majority of the proverbs contained in the book were uttered or collected by Solomon.”

Another observation: “The book of Proverbs is written in Hebrew poetic style, which consists of thought rhythm, employing parallelisms, the ideas of which are either similar (11:25; 16:18; 18:15) or contrasting (10:7,30; 12:25; 13:25; 15:8).” (Aid to Bible Understanding, p. 1353).

Similar Parallelism

The word “parallelism” is sometimes defined as “likeness, correspondence, or similarity in aspect, course, or tendency.” Here is an example: “[A] liberal man will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered” (Proverbs 11:25, RSV). The Hebrew word from which “liberal” is derived is, according to the English Online Bible Hebrew Lexicon, a word most often rendered as “blessing.” In other instances, it refers to “prosperity, praise of God, a gift or present or a treaty of peace.”

Based upon the testimony of God’s word and the personal observation of most of us, when an individual blesses others, he or she receives a corresponding blessing in return. Likewise, the one who waters and contributes to another’s growth and nourishment also benefits as well. It is a matter of “cause and effect.”

A similar thought is expressed by Paul: “He who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6, RSV). Thus we should not be surprised when we become the recipient of blessings as a result of giving blessings to others, praising God, or promoting peace.

The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary says the word bountifully “literally [means] ‘with’ or ‘in blessings.’ The word itself implies a beneficent spirit in the giver.” Johann Albrecht Bengel has suggested that “the reaping shall correspond to the proportions and spirit of the sowing.”

As Ezekiel put it: “I will make them and the places round about my hill a blessing; and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing” (Ezekiel 34:26, RSV). The word “showers” suggests an abundant flow; an outpouring.

God’s children should be generous, not only with material things, but also in opening their hearts, minds, and thoughts; they should be benevolent and kind. This will not cost them anything; on the contrary, they will be enriched.

Consider another parallelism: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18, RSV). The Hebrew word translated “pride” (Strong’s #1347) is also rendered excellency, majesty, pomp, swelling, and arrogancy. It can refer to the exaltation, majesty or excellence of nations, God, or the Jordan. In a person it describes pride and arrogance.

King Uzziah provides an instructive example of the consequences of pride (see 2 Chronicles 26:8-21). He received tribute from the Ammonites, built towers, hewed out cisterns, possessed large herds, had farmers, vinedressers, and an army of soldiers: “In Jerusalem he made engines, invented by skilful men, to be on the towers and the corners, to shoot arrows and great stones. And his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong. But when he was strong he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was false to the LORD his God, and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense” (2 Chronicles 26:15,16, RSV).

Uzziah’s fate is described in verse 21: “And King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper dwelt in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the LORD. And Jotham his son was over the king’s household, governing the people of the land.”

God’s attitude toward the proud and arrogant is reinforced in another proverb: “Every one who is arrogant is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished” (Proverbs 16:5, RSV). Uzziah, and many others before and after him, bear witness to the truth of this statement.

How does pride manifest itself? What does it look like? Pride has been defined as “an inordinate and excessive amount of self-esteem or self-conceit” (Reprints, p. 5704). “Pride is very deceitful and frequently covers itself with humility” (Reprints, p. 5000).

Pride and a haughty spirit are closely related. A haughty spirit suggests a feeling of exaltation as one looks upon others as being on a lower plane. Such a person continually elevates and promotes self.

One of the things the Lord hates is “haughty eyes” (Proverbs 6:17). David provided an example for all of us: “LORD, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me” (Psalm 131:1).

Jesus provided an important lesson along these lines: “When you are invited by any one to a marriage feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest a more eminent man than you be invited by him; and he who invited you both will come and say to you, Give place to this man, and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, Friend, go up higher; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:8-11, RSV).

Our Lord was referring to the custom of seeking the most prominent place at a wedding celebration. He saw an aura of pride and selfishness in those who were privileged to sit at the table with him, so he evidently felt compelled to take advantage of the opportunity to illustrate the lesson of how God will deal with those whom he invites to the future marriage-feast uniting the Lord with his bride. Jesus reiterated a fundamental principle setting forth God’s unchanging law concerning the heavenly kingdom.
Contrasting Parallelism

Here is an example of a contrasting parallelism: “The righteous shall never be removed: but the wicked shall not inhabit the earth” (Proverbs 10:30). Several Scriptures elaborate upon the future for both those who are considered either righteous or wicked. The reward for obedience and righteousness is preservation and peace. Conversely, those who disobey and do not live righteously shall ultimately be eliminated (see Proverbs 12:3 and Psalm 37:9).

Here is how Rotherham translated Proverbs 10:30: “The righteous, to times age-abiding, shall remain unshaken, but the lawless shall not inhabit the earth.” What a wonderful promise this is from God’s word!

In our day when anxiety, fear, and stress are commonplace, the words of this contrasting proverb are appropriate: “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad” (Proverbs 12:25, RSV). Other translations: “Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad” (King James); “An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up” (NIV).

The Hebrew word translated as “anxiety” or “heaviness” is also rendered “fear” or “sorrow,” terms that surely characterize today’s world.

A weakened global economy, record home foreclosures, job losses, health issues, grief, loneliness, depression, corruption, fraud, moral decay, poverty, wars, drought, high crime rates, and so many other social ills account for many heavy hearts and a great deal of anxiety and sorrow. In his inaugural address, U.S. President Barack Obama alluded to many of these points as he said: “These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land, a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.”

It is possible to succumb to the difficulties and challenges that surround us. Sometimes these may seem insurmountable. Jesus taught his disciples to not be anxious about their lives. He told them to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness, assuring them that their material needs would be met (see Matthew 6:25-34).

The apostle Paul gave similar counsel: “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6,7, RSV).

Comforting One Another

Jesus spoke good, kind words throughout his earthly life; his entire ministry was one of comforting others. In so doing, Jesus was like his Father who is described as the “God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3,4, RSV).

Paul stated that “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4, RSV). Sharing that hope with others will bring cheer to their heart, and to ours as well.

The Book of Proverbs contains so many nuggets of truth. Although Solomon wrote most of them, he received his inspiration and wisdom from God. Therefore, these words are “useful for teaching, for convincing, for correction of error, and for instruction in right doing” (2 Timothy 3:16, Weymouth).

Let us thank God for the privilege of having this treasure house of knowledge available to us. May we take advantage of every opportunity to study these gems and apply their lessons to our daily lives. Let us keep our heart with all diligence, knowing that out of it are the issues of life (Proverbs 4:23). We do this by communing with God in prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17)  and being sanctified by his word of truth (John 17:17).