|Image: Billy Frank Alexander|
I used to make this same mistake. It's a common misunderstanding.
However, when we use Proverbs as promises, we aren't "correctly handling" God's Word (2 Timothy 2:15).
Proverbs is God's Word, and it explains its purpose in verses 1:1-6:
"The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: 2 for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; 3 for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair; 4 for giving prudence to those who are simple, knowledge and discretion to the young— 5 let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance— 6 for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise."
These are wise sayings, recorded by Solomon and preserved by God for our benefit. But they aren't principles and promises of God unless they're confirmed in the New Testament.
Bible.org explains Proverbs this way: "These short, pithy observations on life are generalizations and thus not intended to be taken as divine promises or without exception."
If Proverbs were promises, all godly people would be wealthy and live long, healthy lives and wicked people would die young because Proverbs10:22,27 says: "The blessing of the Lord brings wealth,without painful toil for it...The fear of the Lord adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short."
Wisdom, understanding and knowledge lead to inner peace and joy, riches indeed. But some of the wisest and godliest men in history (the Apostle Paul and many modern missionaries) have lived most of their lives in unpleasant and challenging conditions, sometimes without having their physical needs met on a daily basis.
And many wicked people live long lives with great wealth and health.
Perhaps the most misused Proverb is 22:6: Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it. (NASB)
This is often taught as a promise of God, putting unfair blame on the parents of ungodly children. You can read more about that specific misunderstanding HERE.
For more on this subject:
Richard Pratt of R.C. Sproul Ministries
James W. Mohler of Biola University
Bible Gateway Got Questions Ministry
Focus on the Family
John Piper Ministries
copyright 2013, Gail Burton Purath, BiteSizeBibleStudy.com
All Scripture NIV unless otherwise noted