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Types of Proverbs

Bible Topics

Types of Proverbs

Bob Yandian

Proverbs 1

vs. 1 “The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel:“

vs. 2 “To know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding,”

vs. 3 “To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity;”

vs. 4 “To give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion -”

vs. 5 “A wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel,”

vs. 6 “To understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles.”

Many proverbs will make natural sense. It’s not difficult to understand them, but to get the wisdom out of them will take the interpretation. So we are going to depend on the Holy Spirit. Natural intellect will tell you these proverbs are true. Yes, it may be a simple proverb, but to get the real wisdom out of it will take the power of the Holy Spirit. So proverbs are more than just simple sayings.

There are six types of proverbs that we will be studying.  We must lay down all the groundwork before we can really get into the themes of the book.


The first type of proverb is called synonymous. We know that word means synonym. Synonymous simply means that both lines are saying the same thing but in a little different way. An example is Proverbs 11:25, “The Generous soul will be made rich, and he who waters will also be watered himself.”  This is a verse on prosperity. It’s saying the one who truly becomes prosperous are givers because giving indicates an attitude.

Look at verse 29. Here is the negative of that thought in another synonymous proverb. “He that troubles his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.”

Anyone that doesn’t know how to manage his own household will lose everything he has. He will end up inheriting the wind which is nothing but vanity and vexation of spirit, and you know who will end up owning all your possessions if you don’t know how to manage your own household?  The wise ones.

I’ve heard it said that communism isn’t so bad because communism simply wants to take the wealth of the world and give it equally to everybody. That sounds good, but if we could really take the wealth of the whole world and evenly distribute it among everybody around the whole world, within two to three years the smart ones would have it all back. There are some people that are just fools and stupid, and other people that are just smart, so he’s saying here that if you don’t know how to manage your own household, you will end up being a servant to the wise in heart. So verses 25 and 29 say the same thing in both parts of the verse. Again, this is called synonymous proverb.


The second type of proverb is called antithetical. A thought is given in the first line, and the negative result is given in the second line. In other words, if you do this you’ll be blessed, but if you don’t, this is what will happen to you. So the negative line really accentuates the positive one.

Let’s take a look at Proverbs 14:30, “A sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones.” You’ll always find a “but’ somewhere in an antithetical proverb because two things are contrasted. We as believers ought to have the healthiest flesh around because our heart is full of the joy of the Lord. But envy is the rottenness of the bones. And so when you get off into strife and discord, you’ve opened up the door for satan to come in and put sickness on you.

Look at Proverbs 17:22, “A merry heart does good like a medicine: but a broken spirit dries the bones.” This is basically saying the same thing. Why did he mention it twice? Why did you find it once in chapter 14 and once in chapter 17? Because wisdom must be pounded in. It must be repeated.

Peter said in 2 Peter 1: 12 “Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth.” In other words, he said, “I don’t care if you’ve heard it 50 times, here it is again. I don’t care if you’ve heard the message of faith 100 times, here it is again.” So, we’re going to be mentioning many things over and over again through the book of Proverbs, reiterating, repeating, so that it will be driven deep into you.


Let’s look at the third type of proverb. This is probably the rarest of all types in the book of Proverbs. It’s called a synthetic proverb. Each line teaches a different thought. At first, it sounds like two lines saying something exactly the opposite, or saying two totally different things, but they do have something in common.

Proverbs 10:18, “Whoever hides hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool.” Did you know there’s a time to open your mouth and a time to keep it shut!? A fool, when he should have his mouth open, keeps it shut, and when he should have it shut, he opens it. He hides hatred by lying. That’s when he should have kept his mouth shut. If you hate somebody, keep your mouth shut. Deal with it inside of you. Don’t let it out. And if you’re ever about to slander somebody, keep your mouth shut. Don’t utter it.


The fourth type of proverb is called an integral proverb. The second line completes the thought of the first line. In other words, it almost sounds like there is only one line: the whole thing flows. There are many of these in Proverbs. Proverbs 13: 14, “The law of the wise is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death.” The second line completes the thought of the first line.

Proverbs 19:20, “Listen to counsel and receive instruction, that you may be wise in your latter days.” Oh, how amazing it would be if children would learn that verse! If you don’t listen now, there will come a time when you wish you would have listened. It’s amazing when children get to be teenagers how they think that their parents don’t know anything. About the time the kids get to 20 or 21, they discover their parents just grew up overnight. And so this is saying for your latter end it is important now that you learn the Word of God and the instructions of your parents.

Look at Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Here’s another integral proverb. Now notice the word “the.”  You know the world says today there are many ways to train up a child. No, there’s only one way to train up a child: in the word of God. When he is old he will not depart from it. Depart from what!? THE WAY.

Look at verse 10, “Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease.” Are you faced with strife and reproach? There is probably someone that’s scorning. If you get rid of the scorner, out goes the contention, strife, and reproach.


The fifth kind of proverb is called parabolic. The first line of the proverb illustrates the second. The second line is the teaching, the first line is an analogy. Many of these that are parabolic seem to make little sense. Look at chapter 11:22, “As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion.” What does a piece of gold in a pig’s nose have to do with a woman without discretion?  Can you think of anything more useless to do with a piece of gold than to put it in a pig’s nose? He’s saying he has found out something else that’s useless: a beautiful woman with no brains. This is a very stern instruction to young people: don’t date a person strictly for their attractiveness. Find out if they’ve got something on the inside that matches what they’ve got on the outside. Did you know that if you date somebody strictly because they are attractive, you’re more interested in you than in them? All you want is some good looking thing to hang on your arm like you wear a pin or a suit of clothes. They are nothing more than an accessory.  You’re just wanting to brag to everybody about this doll you’ve got. You don’t care about her: It’s your own ego that you’re interested in.

Girls, this verse also applies to you. Don’t go out with a guy just because he’s good looking. If he doesn’t have any moral fiber, he doesn’t have anything on the inside of him.

Another parabolic proverb is chapter 25 verse 25, “As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.” Whenever you leave home, the best thing you can get is a call from home. Have you ever been out somewhere and felt awfully lonely? Suddenly you get a phone call or a letter from home and It’s just like a good drink of water to a thirsty soul. Look at chapter 26:9, “Like a thorn that goes into the hand of a drunkard is a proverb in the mouth of fools.” What is this talking about? Have you ever seen somebody drunk and then they hurt themselves somehow? Drunk people can’t feel the pain. Have you ever seen an accident where the car is totally demolished but the drunk driver gets out of it just fine? But when does it start to hurt? When he sobers up. That’s when the pain sets in. What hurts is to see a drunk man hurting himself when he doesn’t know it, but everybody else hurts for him. This proverb is saying “How many times does a fool get up who has something wise to say, but everybody hurts for him because every word that he says is aimed right at himself.  But he can’t see it. Then when he starts to get a little bit of wisdom, it starts to hurt. That’s when he begins to notice ‘All this I’ve been saying is really for me.’ Everybody else knew it but me,”  Verse 20 of chapter 26 says, “Where no wood is, there the fire goes out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceases.” Does that prick you a little bit? If it is starting to hurt, you are starting to get wise.

Look at chapter 27: 15, “A continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentious woman are all alike.”  Have you ever been in a house where the roof leaks on a rainy day? What does that have to do with a contentious woman? Both of them get on your nerves: Drip drip, drip, nag, nag, nag. Women, the way to get to your husband is not by nagging, it’s by loving.


The last type of proverb is comparative, in which the first line expresses something better than the second. The key word in a comparative proverb is the word better. Proverbs 15:16, “Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure with trouble.” The message of prosperity is great, but if you lose your peace and lose all the happiness around the house, what have you gained? Nothing. So it is better to have a little bit and have reverence and the fear of the Lord than to have great treasure and trouble. Chapter 10:22 repeats this thought: the blessings of the Lord makes one rich and adds no sorrow with it. When God gives you blessings and riches he never gives sorrow with it.

There’s another comparative proverb in Proverbs 15. Verse 17 says, “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.” What is this saying? It is better for a man to come home from work to find a whole dinner of vegetables and to find his wife loving him than to come home to find a filet of mignon and hatred in the house. Wives, the way to a husband’s heart is not through his stomach. That’s what the world says. But the way to his heart is with love. The same thing is said in Chapter 17: 1, “Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith than a house full of sacrifices with strife.” Women, when you first got married, the first thing you thought about was whether you could make biscuits like his mother did, whether you could fry the chicken, make the apple pie the same way his mother did. What you should strive for instead is to love him. Be the best lover in the world and he won’t care about the food. In other words, the cooking will take care of itself. Just love him. Have you ever heard anyone say, “I’m divorcing her because of her apple pie?”  No, I haven’t found it yet. But I’ll tell you what, it always does come down to love and strife.

Look at chapter 21:9, “It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house.” You know with all the teachings on prosperity we’re always seeking for bigger homes: you want a three car garage this time. Quit working on the house and work on the home inside. Work on the family and get the love going.  If there is love in the house, you don’t care where you live, but if there’s strife in the home, you’d give up the whole home to get a little bit of love in that house.

Many times, as we’re going through the poetry in the book of Proverbs, we’ll see many types of analogies. So it’s good to keep the different types of proverbs straight and know there are some rhyme and reason to them.


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