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tl;dr Understanding context is essential when it comes to Proverbs and we must be very careful not to spiritualize away the main message.


Reading the Bible isn’t as simple as it seems.  Let’s look at the following section of Proverbs:

By wisdom a house is built,
And by understanding it is established; (Prov 24:3, NASB)

Unpacking this takes some careful thinking.  First, “wisdom” in Proverbs can have several meanings.  Here, the context is ancient builders, so “wisdom” here means “the craft wisdom of ancient builders.”  All the tricks and methods that ancient builders used.  A lot of the ancient craft knowledge of builders is still used by builders today.  Ancient builders used foundations made of rock and mortar instead of a solid concrete foundation.  The preferred base of builders was solid rock into which the building’s foundation would be set, stone by stone.  Tongue-in-groove and dovetailing methods were used on rock.  Granite and similar hard rocks were used.  It was painstaking, expensive work.  It involved chiseling the base, solid, natural rock in order to provide a place to set each foundation stone and the tolerances were small.

Now let’s talk about what it means for a house to be established.  It’s in the context of building, so we’re talking about natural forces and what they can do to destabilize a house.  A house is established when it has been made impervious to natural forces.  Water is the medium of destructive forces.  Water gets into clay and can exert a tremendous warp on a house’s foundation when opposing sides of a house aren’t equally wet.  You can get shearing horizontal and vertical forces which can crack a foundation and cause walls to lose plumb and crack.


Those forces can mess with doors so that they aren’t plumb and won’t close properly.  Hinges can be ripped from the door frame.  Understanding these natural forces is what is meant by “understanding” in this section.  In this context, a house that is established has been rendered secure from natural forces.  For ancient builders, this required understanding the natural forces that act upon houses.

We can extrapolate our understanding to other contexts.  For example, we could discuss the establishment of a house’s value based on how close it is to elementary schools.  We could discuss whether a home is secure in the context of pioneering days and the threat of raids by Indians.  We can even discuss how a spiritual house can be established once we understand the spiritual forces that might tear it apart. This is speculative work and needs to be approached cautiously and with its speculative nature openly acknowledged.