Book Overview – Proverbs
by Arend Remmers & James Coffman
1. Author and Time of Writing
The book of Proverbs bears the inspired title: “Proverbs of Solomon, son of David” (chapter 1:1). Solomon is also mentioned as poet in chap. 10:1 and 25:1.
In chapter 22:17 and 24:23 the proverbs (contained in the sections following these verses) are called “words of the wise”. Finally chapters 30:1 and 31:1 mention Agur and Lemuel as poets of the proverbs. We do not know anything, however, about their identity.
As David was the greatest poet of Psalms so Solomon was the greatest poet of Proverbs. 1 Kings 4:29-34 states: “And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore. And Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country (JND: sons of the east), and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men, than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol: and his fame was in all nations round about. And he spoke three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five. And he spoke of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springs out of the wall: he spoke also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes. And there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom.”
Only around a thousand of Solomon’s proverbs are collected in the book of Proverbs and were maintained by divine inspiration and preservation. King Hezekiah’s men collected some of Solomon’s proverbs only 200 years later (compare Proverbs 25:1). Also Solomon has probably not compiled all proverbs but taken over already known proverbs by the wise (compare chap. 22:17; 24:23). The same implies for the “appendix” in Proverbs 30; Proverbs 31 where the name of Agur and Lemuel appear. Solomon has therefore more likely collected the words of these men than just added them later. Solomon reigned around 970 to 931 BC and Hezekiah (in whose time many ancient things came to honour) around 716 to 687 BC. This fixes the beginning and the end of the book’s origin.
2. Purpose of Writing
Maxims (or aphorisms) played an important part in antiquity. This is still the case in the Orient. In a time when not everybody was able to read or to write, the learning or knowledge of proverbs was a special form of instruction.
One has found a certain similarity between Proverbs 22:17-29; Proverbs 23:1-11 and the Egyptian book of knowledge of Amenemope. This discovery on the one hand confirms the spreading and popularity of collected proverbs in the Orient. At the same time an enormous difference comes to light: The worldly, heathen maxim is a mixture of moral philosophy and thinking by chance whereas the book of Proverbs of Solomon in the Holy Scriptures considers the fear of Jehovah as aim, which is the beginning of wisdom.
The book of Proverbs shows what the god-fearing man in this world shall seek and what he shall avoid. The book also teaches that man irrespective of his spiritual blessings under the government of God will reap what he has sowed. It contains the advice of divine wisdom for daily life of a god-fearing man in all his difficulties, trials, dangers and joys of his way over this earth.
The Proverbs (written by Solomon, the king of peace) also bear certain parallels to the principles of the kingdom of God as the Lord Jesus has set them forth in the so-called Sermon of the Mount in Matthew 5; Matthew 6; Matthew 7. The divine wisdom, which is so often mentioned in Proverbs, and which in chap. 8 and 9 even speaks to the reader in personified manner even finds its perfect expression in the NT in the Person of Christ, the Son of God (1 Corinthians 1:30).
a) The Fear of the Lord
The fear of the Lord is the key word of this book. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (chap. 1:7) and of wisdom (chap. 9:10; 15:33). The fear of the Lord is to hate evil (chap. 8:13; 16:6) and it is a fountain of life (chap. 14:27; 19:23). Besides compare the following references: Proverbs 1:29; Proverbs 2:5; Proverbs 3:7; Proverbs 10:27; Proverbs 14:2; Proverbs 14:26; Proverbs 15:16; Proverbs 22:4; Proverbs 23:17; Proverbs 24:21; Proverbs 31:30.
b) The Name of God
The name of God only appears five times in Proverbs whereas the name of Jehovah (Jahwe) appears around 85 times. Jehovah is the name, which expresses God’s relation to His creatures, that is men, and especially to His people Israel (compare with Overview on Genesis 3. Peculiarities).
c) Poetical Form
The book of Proverbs is written in poetical form also (compare explanations to the Psalms). Chapter 31:10-31 however is written in acrostic form that is the first letter of each verse is identical with the sequence of the Hebrew alphabet.
4. Overview of Contents
I. Proverbs 1-9 : Introduction
1. Chapter 1:1-7 Title and Purpose of Book
Praise of Wisdom
Chapter 1:8 -33 Warning against Sinners and Wisdom’s Cry
Chapter 2 The Path of Wisdom
Chapter 3 The Teachings of Wisdom
Chapter 4 The Striving for Wisdom
Chapter 5 Walking in Purity
Chapter 6 Warning against Divers Sins
Chapter 7 Warning against Prostitution
Chapter 8 Wisdom Personified
Chapter 9 Wisdom and Folly
II. Proverbs 10- 21; Proverbs 22:1-16 : Proverbs of Solomon: Conduct in the Fear of God and in Wisdom
Chapter 10 – 17 Contrary between Conduct of the Just and Conduct of the Fool
Chapter 18 – 19 Relationship towards the Neighbour
Chapter 20:1-22:16 Personal Conduct
III. Proverbs 22:17-29; Proverbs 23-24 : Various Proverbs of the Wise
Chapter 22:17-29 Introduction and Personal Warnings
Chapter 23 Personal Warnings
Chapter 24 Wisdom and Folly
IV. Proverbs 25-29 : Proverbs of Solomon collected during Reign of Hezekiah
Chapter 25 Commendation for Fear of God and Wisdom
Chapter 26 Warning against Folly, Laziness and Malice
Chapter 27 Wise Conduct towards Others
Chapter 28 – 29 Characteristics of the Lawless and of the Righteous
V. Proverbs 30-31 : The Words of Agur and Lemuel
Chapter 30 Agur’s Repentance and Teachings
Chapter 31 Lemuel’s Instructions; the Woman of Worth
by Arend Remmers & James Coffman