Pithy Proverbs

“Pithy”?!  “Pithy Proverbs” is what the man said. If I’d read his name, seen his face, written his name, then repeated it back a few times, I could tell you what his name was. But alas, it was just an interview on the radio with an apparently well-studied man and author on the subject of Christian family life, and I can’t remember his name. But his comment caught me off guard. Weren’t Proverbs guidelines for life? Weren’t they promises? Weren’t they meant to define a Christian? For Pete’s sake, there’s a whole industry and list of expectations for what a Christian woman should look and act like based on Proverbs 31. And he’s calling them pithy? Somehow that threatened their importance in my mind.


pithy phrase or statement is brief but full of substance and meaning. Proverbs and sayings are pithy; newspaper columnists givepithy advice.

The root of this word is pith, which refers to the spongy tissue in plant stems, or the white part under the skin of citrus fruits. Pith is also used figuratively to refer to the essential part of something: They finally got to the pith of the discussion. Pith descends from Middle English, from Old English pitha “the pith of plants.” In the adjective pithy, the suffix –y means “characterized by.”

Well, ok, maybe “pithy” carried a negative connotation to me and applying it to the Proverbs really didn’t diminish their worth. However, the speaker gave an example of how those pithy directives in Proverbs can actually contradict each other. I was surprised, once again, to realize these apparently contradictory words of advice directly follow each other in Proverbs 26.

4 When arguing with fools, don’t answer their foolish arguments, or you will become as foolish as they are. 5 When arguing with fools, be sure to answer their foolish arguments, or they will become wise in their own estimation.

So… is it wise to respond to foolish arguments or not? Hmm… I’m not sure. Maybe it’s one of those things that isn’t “right” or “wrong”, “good” or “bad”  – but is one of those situations in this crazy life where there really isn’t a one-way-fits-all answer. There are consequences (and it would appear that neither of them is ideal) for either direction of action we choose.


Perhaps the words of Proverbs are merely heavenly-inspired education. Maybe Proverbs wasn’t written to tell me how I have to live. Maybe they aren’t intended to be cut and dry promises of God’s blessings if I just act right. Maybe it was written to give wise advice on the common consequences of choices in various tough situations. Maybe following it has nothing to do with securing nor maintaining my salvation. But maybe it has a whole lot to do with increasing the odds of living a peaceful, whole-hearted life as I walk through these often less-than-ideal circumstances I find myself in every day.

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