Can you suggest a good way to read and understand the book of Proverbs?

Some parts of the Bible are easier to read than others. Likewise, some parts are more inviting to read than others. Many people find books such as Leviticus and Numbers to be rather daunting and tedious to read. On the other hand, many books in the Wisdom section of the bible are among the most popular. The Book of Proverbs is one such book. Reading it can be likened to opening up a few thousand fortune cookies! And who doesn’t like fortune cookies?

By the same token, reading a thousand or so short, pithy wise sayings might loom as an overwhelming task for anyone. This gives us a clue as to how the Book of Proverbs should be read and understood. It is not something that is intended to be read as we would a novel. In fact, the introduction to this book in the New American Bible tells us that the Book of Proverbs is “an anthology of didactic poetry.” Poetry, of course, is enjoyed by most in small doses. The wisdom compiled in Proverbs is primarily directed at those who are young as well as to anyone who is seeking deeper wisdom in life. This wisdom is grounded in faith that finds its source in “fear of the Lord.” (1:7)

Wisdom literature often stresses the way things “should be” as opposed to giving detailed descriptions of the way things are. The goal, of course, is to change the way things are! Thus, the numerous sayings in the Book of Proverbs are meant to be pondered individually and slowly, reflecting on the wealth of wisdom contained in these brief phrases. Each saying is to be slowly digested and considered so that the individual may be brought to conversion – a change of mind and heart that leads to a new way of life and a new reality. One must approach the Book of Proverbs with the intention of being instructed in the ways of seeing the world as it ought to be, in other words, through the eyes of God. One of the best ways to read Proverbs is to read one saying or one small section at the start of the day in order to reflect on it throughout the day, thinking about how it applies to your real-life situations.

Joe Paprocki, D.Min., has been a catechetical leader and religious educator in the Chicago area for more than 30 years. His books include “Living the Mass,” “The Bible Blueprint,” “The Catechist’s Toolbox,” and “A Well-Built Faith.” He is the National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press in Chicago. Joe blogs about his work as a catechist at Catechist’s Journey.