Have you ever looked at the Book of Proverbs through the lens of the Ten Commandments? A new Bible study, Provoking Proverbs, guides you through these beautiful, insightful works of the Bible to help bring new light to the Ten Commandments and how they are woven into each part of God’s Word. Elizabeth Pittman, host of the Concordia Publishing House Podcast, sat down with Rev. Dr. David Coe, the author of this new study, to speak about the new book and his favorite Proverbs. Read below to see part of his interview and listen to the entire podcast to hear the full discussion with Coe.
What is a good definition of a proverb?
Proverbs do three things. They either state a general truth or they give good advice that we ought to follow—or they do both of those things. So, for example, a general truth, someone might say, “Tempus Fugit: time flies when you’re having fun,” and good advice: “Take it one day at a time,” or they do both where, “A stitch in time saves nine.” So, any proverb, whether it’s biblical or a popular proverb, packs a lot of wisdom into one little wallop without having to explain itself.
What got you to teach Proverbs as a study?
When I first became a pastor in 2011, . . . I decided that given that I was a pastor at this point in history, I was going to, with my parishioners . . . to say, “What was Martin Luther doing 500 years ago this year?”
And so 2011–2012, my first year as a new pastor, this was the time [500 years earlier] when Martin Luther first came to the University of Wittenberg to teach and earned his doctorate. . . . And the first thing he ever taught there at Wittenberg in those years were Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. And I thought to myself, well, how can I do this in a parish setting that would be valuable, because obviously we’re not going to study just Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics by itself. And so obviously the highlighted book on ethics in the Old Testament is the Book of Proverbs. And so that was our entryway into why that was my very first Bible study at Trinity Lutheran, Fremont, Nebraska.
What was the inspiration behind Provoking Proverbs?
The Book of Proverbs is a book of Law, and the Law is summed up in God’s Ten Commandments. Then every single thing that we do . . . can be summed up under one of the Ten Commandments. And so, this gave me a eureka, an “Aha! Thanks to be to God the Holy Spirit!” to say that the Book of Proverbs can be categorized according to the Ten Commandments. And that way, we could go through the Book of Proverbs in a systematic fashion and start with the First Commandment first: we should fear, love, and trust in God, above all things.
Can you talk about the fear of the Lord and the First Commandment?
I’m a big fan of the fear of the Lord. And my dissertation was on Martin Luther’s doctrine of Anfechtung, how God afflicts His children with discipline because He loves them. . . . So I’m a big fan of God using fear to loosen our grip on our false gods so that we can listen better. . . . God, doesn’t set us up in a world where we may just do as we please without suffering the consequences for it. So the fear of the Lord is that side of the Law, basically the curb and the mirror, the first use and the second use, and because you and I, Elizabeth, thanks be to God, are redeemed and sanctified children of God, Luther is kind enough to tell us that we’re not ethical idealists, either. And we’re not very good at doing everything with the perfect motive every time. . . . And so my sinner side needs that curb of the Law that says, “David, you know, don’t you do it; you know, I promise you, you will pay, you will reap what you sow.” And so my sinner side needs that, that threat, the curb and also the punishment that comes for when I do break the Law and go over the curb and into the ditch. I certainly pay the consequences in this world, but Christ of course, has paid our eternal consequences by forgiving us of our sins on the cross.
Learn more about Proverbs and their relations to the Ten Commandments in Provoking Proverbs by clicking the button below.