Verse of the Day 7.7.17 — Proverbs 21:31
The horse is made ready for the day of battle,
but victory rests with the LORD.1
The book of Proverbs is the product of several authors and compilers over the course of several centuries. Scholars confidently attribute the large majority of the book to Solomon (c. 970 BC – 930 BC).2 However, the book itself mentions several other contributors: Agur, Lemuel, and ‘Wise Men.’ In addition, at least one author — who penned the final section of Proverbs — is anonymous.3
Further complicating the matter, many scholars have discovered similarities between the ‘Thirty Sayings of the Wise’ (Pro 22:17-24:22, esp. Pro 22:17-23:11) and the writings of an Egyptian named Amenemope. Since the writings of Amenemope have been attributed to various dates between the thirteenth and seventh centuries BC., thereby possibly placing the date of the material before the life of Solomon, the majority of scholars seem to believe this section was adapted from Egyptian writings. However, others, including Egyptologists, claim it is actually the writing of Amenemope that is derived from an earlier Hebrew source — based on grammatical considerations.4
Though King Solomon reigned during the 10 century BC, Proverbs itself attests to the fact that at least one edition of the the book was compiled during or around the time of the reign of King Hezekiah (c. 700 BC) (Pro 25:1). Similar to the Book of Psalms, Proverbs was edited over the years before reaching its final form.5 It is probably impossible to postulate a definitive date with a great deal of certainty. However, “there is nothing in the book that demands a date later than the early 7th century [BC].”6
The proverbs in this book do not come from one particular social setting. For instance, the proverbs may provide wisdom for harvesting as a farmer (suggesting an agricultural context), as well as etiquette for dining with a ruler (suggesting a higher-class, if not royal, context).7
Structure: According to Longman and Enns, Proverbs may be outlined as follows:
- 1:1 — Superscription
- 1:2-7 — Preamble (Statement of Purpose)
- 1:8-9:18 — Extended Discourses on Wisdom
- 10:1-22:16 — Proverbs of Solomon
- 22:17-24:34 — Sayings of the Wise
- 25:1-29:27 — More Proverbs of Solomon
- 30 — Sayings of Agur
- 31:1-9 — Sayings of Lemuel
- 31:10-31 — Poem to the Virtuous Woman8
Genre: That being said, it may be most important to recognize the difference in genre between the two major sections in Proverbs — extended discourses (speeches) in the first section (1:1-9:18), and the short, pithy sayings we typically recognize as proverbs in (most of) the second section (10:1-31:31).9
Arrangement: Proverbs 21:31 is towards the end of the first section of proverbs of Solomon. As scholars note, unlike most other biblical writings, proverbs in this section are essentially arranged randomly10— rendering their immediate literary context less critical to their understanding.
The Motto: The motto of Proverbs can be found in its first chapter:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and instruction (Pro 1:7).11
Beginning denotes the primary principle, not merely the initial principle of knowledge. Therefore, fear of the LORD — reverential submission — is the primary principle of all knowledge and wisdom12 (see also Pro 9:10, 15:33; Psa 110:10, etc.). True wisdom is related to our relationship with God.13.
Theological Message: God, or at least God’s wisdom, is personified in the first nine chapters as Woman Wisdom. Thus, Hebrew readers would understand the choice between Woman Wisdom and Woman Folly (e.g., Pro 9:13) as the choice between the LORD and false gods.14
In the New Testament, Jesus, who was known for His wisdom (Mk 1:21-22, 6:2; Lk 2:40-52), is also said to be the actual incarnation of God’s wisdom (1 Cor 1:30; Col 2:3). Thus, Christian readers today can plausibly see the choice between Woman Wisdom and Woman Folly as a choice between a reverential relationship with Christ, and anything else that distracts from such a relationship.15
As Kidner writes, “If [Proverbs 21:30] warns us not to fight against the Lord, 31 warns us not to fight without him.”16 We can prepare our metaphorical horse for battle, but we do not rely on our horse for victory in battle. For victory belongs to the LORD.
Want to memorize Proverbs 21:31? Employing the method first described in the How To Memorize Any Bible Verse in Less Than Five Minutes post, you can memorize this verse in no time. Watch the video tutorial below:
How might we apply Proverbs 21:31 to our lives today? In my view, it seems that the proverb is not advocating against any preparation on our part, rather, we should not overly emphasize a causal relationship between our preparation and our success.
Of course we should study for exams, but it would be foolish to believe that our own study is the primary cause of any potential academic success. Of course we should work hard on the job, but it would be foolish to believe that our hard work is the primary cause of any financial success.
This flies in the face of the myth of meritocracy prevalent in our current society. “If you work hard, your dreams will come true!” “Success or failure: it’s all up to you!” “If you don’t get to where you want in life, you can’t blame anyone but yourself!” “No one can stop you from reaching your goals if you put your mind to it!”
Such aphorisms may be appealing in our often individualistic, if not narcissistic, country. Yet, one quickly realizes that a “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” worldview can be crushing if/when one’s dreams are not realized. Speaking about those of us who make our career our identity — even our life — Tim Keller tweeted, “if you are successful it goes to your head, if you are a failure it goes to your heart.”
Isn’t it heartening to know that our success does not rest solely — if even even primarily — on our own sometimes feeble shoulders? Especially viewing success and victory through a biblical lens, for death has been swallowed up in victory. Thanks be to God, He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! (1 Cor 15:54, 57). If we choose to have a reverential relationship with Christ, we will have an ultimately, eternally successful and victorious life (Jn 3:16, Jn 10:10, etc.).
The earth is LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and they that dwell therein (Psa 24:1). Everything in the world is from, and made possible by, the LORD — including our successes and victories.
Even in ministry, though we should do our best to prepare and present ourselves as one approved to God (2 Tim 2:15), we must always remember that apart from Christ we can do nothing (Jn 15:5). Personally, it does not matter how many classes I’ve taken, how many books I’ve read, or how well (or poorly) posts on this site are written: if any person is moved closer to God through my Spirit-enabled words/actions, it is God’s victory. To him belongs eternal praise (Psa 111:10)!
What do you think of this verse? How would you apply it to your life? Please feel free to leave a comment below. Thank you for visiting CatchForChrist.net, God Bless!
- The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Pr 21:31.
- Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Proverbs, Book Of,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1786.
- Derek Kidner, Proverbs: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 17, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1964), 22.
- Elwell and Beitzel, 1786
- Kidner, 26
- Elwell and Beitzel, 1786
- T. Longman III, “Proverbs 1: Book Of,” ed. Peter Enns, Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings (Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: IVP Academic; Inter-Varsity Press, 2008), 541.
- Longman and Enns, 548
- Longman and Enns, 548-549
- Longman and Enns, 548
- The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Pr 1:7.
- Kidner, 56
- Longman and Enns, 549
- Longman and Enns, 549-51
- Ibid, 550-51
- Kidner, 138