Kinds of Proverbs

Audience: Adult Youth Individuals Format: Web

The wise sayings found in PROVERBS can be grouped in a number of ways. At a very general level, the sayings can be described as statements of truth—“Kind words are like honey” (16:24); or as instructions—“Accept correction, and you will find life” (10:17). But the sayings can also be described by the form or pattern they take. One common pattern follows the form of Hebrew poetry known as “parallelism.” In parallel statements, the second part either agrees with the first or provides its opposite. This chart gives some of the patterns or forms used in creating the proverbs.


1. Opposite parallel
The same statement or instruction is given twice, but in opposite ways.
Hatred stirs up trouble;
   love overlooks the wrongs that others do. 10:12
Always do the right thing, and you will live;
   keep on doing wrong, and you will die. 11:19
2. Similar parallel
The same statement or instruction is given twice in similar ways. The same idea is restated in different words. Sometimes, the second line makes the point more strongly than the first line did.

God's people avoid evil ways,
   and they protect themselves
   by watching where they go. 16:17

Use wisdom and understanding to establish your home;
   let good sense fill the rooms with priceless treasures. 24:3,4

3. Single statement
Some proverbs are a single statement describing some truth. These are often short, bold statements or simple warnings.

Even fools seem smart when they are quiet. 17.28

You may think you are on the right road
   and still end up dead. 14:12

4. Statement with an explanation
The first line is a concrete image which is then explained by the second line.

Just as iron sharpens iron,
   friends sharpen the minds of each other. 27:17

An angry ruler is like a roaring lion—
   make either one angry, and you are dead. 20:2

5. Comparison
Some proverbs use striking images that compare one thing or person to another. These are called “metaphors.”

A beautiful woman who acts foolishly
   is like a gold ring on the snout of a pig. 11:22

Our inner thoughts are a lamp from the LORD. 20:27

A ruler who mistreats the poor is like a roaring lion
   or a bear hunting for food. 28:15

6. Descriptive list
Usually three or four answers that follow a statement based on an unspoken question.
There are three or four things I cannot understand:
How eagles fly so high or snakes crawl on rocks,
   how ships sail the ocean or people fall in love. 30:18,19

7. “If…then” statement and “or else” instruction
The second part explains the consequences of doing or not doing something. The “or-else” is usually implied but not stated.

If you obey God,
   you will have something to leave your grandchildren. 13:22

Make fun of wisdom, and you will never find it. 14:6

It's better to take hold of a mad dog by the ears
   than to take part in someone else's argument. 26:17

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