Proverbs Introduction

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PROVERBS Introduction

I like the following introduction to Proverbs: “In our society wise men are easily confused with wise guys….If knowledge could save us, we would have more than we could handle. Since 1955 knowledge has doubled every five years; libraries groan with the weight of new books…In fact, our generation possesses more data about the universe and human personality than all previous generations put together…Yet by everyone’s standards, even with all our knowledge, the world is a mess…With all our knowledge, society today is peopled with a bumper crop of brilliant failures. We probably do not have more fools than other nations, but as Jane Addams once said, ‘In America fools are better organized’. Men and women educated to earn a living often don’t know anything about handling life itself. Alumni from noted universities have mastered information about a narrow slice of life but couldn’t make it out of the first grade when it comes to living successfully with family and friends. Let’s face it. Knowledge is not enough to meet life’s problems. We need wisdom” 1

I. Authorship and Date: 1:1 “The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel”. Chapters 1-9; 10:1-22:16 and 25-29 are attributed to Solomon (1:1; 10:1; 25:1). This shouldn’t surprise us, for 1 Kings 4:32 says of Solomon that, “He also spoke 3,000 proverbs”. The total number of proverbs in this book is about 800. Two sections of the book (22:17-24:22; 24:23-34) are called the “sayings of the wise”. Although not explicitly stated, it is entirely possible that these two collections may also have been compiled by Solomon. The title, “The sayings of Agur son of Jakeh” (30:1) describes the collection in Proverbs 30. The title, “The sayings of King Lemuel” (31:1), refers probably to the entire last chapter. Solomon reigned from 971 to 931 B.C. The proverbs found in chapters 25-29 are said to have been originally spoken through Solomon, but compiled by men during the reign of Hezekiah (729-686 B.C.). It appears that the book took its final and complete form about 700 B.C., during the reign of Hezekiah, when God 1

Proverbs: A Commentary On An Ancient Book Of Timeless Advice, Robert L. Alden, p. 7. 1

through the Holy Spirit inspired the final portion to be written (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21).

II. What Is a “Proverb”? The English word “Proverb”, is a translation of the Hebrew word masal, which probably comes from a verb meaning, “to be like, to be compared with”. This book is not only filled with truths expressed in a single verse, but there is a great deal of parallelism. At times a thought in one verse is paralleled with a similar statement in the next verse (1:2; 2:11). At other times, the one line is contrasted with the next line, and two opposites are placed side by side (11:1). Most of the verses in chapters 10-15 are like this. “As brief maxims, the verses in Proverbs are distilled, to-the-point sentences about life. They boil down, crystallize, and condense the experiences and observations of the writers. The brief and concentrated nature of the maxims cause their readers to reflect on their meanings. They tell what life is like and how life should be lived. In a terse, no-words-wasted fashion, some statements in Proverbs relate what is commonly observed in life; others recommend or exhort how life should be lived. And when advise is given, a reason for the counsel usually follows. Many of the proverbial maxims should be recognized as guidelines, not absolute observations; they are not ironclad promises. What is stated is generally and usually true, but exceptions are occasionally noted (compare Proverbs 10:27 with Psalm 73:12)” 2 This doesn’t mean that the proverbs are uninspired or untruthful. But, it does mean that often more than one principle or maxim applies to certain situations in life. One statement, made in one proverb, was never meant to sum up the entire truth on one subject. We readily recognize the same thing in the New Testament. While Mark 16:16 expresses the truth on baptism and salvation, it doesn’t mention everything about salvation (i.e. repentance and confession). About twenty quotations or allusions from Proverbs appear in the New Testament (3:11-12 in Hebrews 12:56; 3:12 in Revelation 3:19; 3:27 in Romans 13:7; and 3:34 in James 4:6 and in 1 Peter 5:5. James 4:6 quotes from Proverbs so directly that it is clear that the New Testament writers viewed it as the Word of God.

III. The Purpose Of This Book: We don’t have to look far, for a fivefold purpose is given in verses 1:2-4: “To know wisdom and instruction, to discern the sayings of understanding, to receive 2

Bible Knowledge Commentary, John F. Walwoord, Roy B. Zuck, p. 904. 2

instruction in wise behavior, righteousness, justice and equity; to give prudence to the naïve, to the youth knowledge and discretion”. Kidner notes, “So the introduction (1:2-6), an extension of the title, makes it clear that this book is no anthology, but a course of education in the life of wisdom” 3 “it is not a portrait-album or a book of manners: it offers a key to life. the samples of behavior which it holds up to view are all assessed by one criterion, which could be summed up in the question, ‘Is this wisdom or folly?’ This is a unifying approach to life, because it suits the most commonplace realms as fully as the most exalted. Wisdom leaves its signature on anything well made or well judged, from an apt remark to the universe itself, from a shrewd policy….to a noble action…In other words, it is equally at home in the realms of nature and art, of ethics and politics, to mention no others, and forms the single basis of judgment for them all” (Kidner p. 13). Hence, this book is a book for everyone! Seeing that regardless of your age or level of maturity, it can make you even wiser (1:4-6). Beyond that, every conceivable realm of life (government, work, marriage, relationships, friendships, money, etc…) is dealt with in this book.

Proverbs 1:2-6 Concerning the words in this section, “these are all to do with education, the discovery of the guiding principles of life, a ‘practical wisdom’ which helps people to find their way…the knowledge of right living in the highest sense; moral and religious intelligence. When people respond to Wisdom, they are obedient, prudent and secure; they have understanding, and find that their lives are satisfying. Discipline includes the tone of correction and reminds us that finding Wisdom is often not without the pain of making mistakes and having to start over again” 4 Or, that wisdom might be found in being corrected or rebuked! Various Hebrew words rendered “wisdom” are found in this book. Archer notes, “Hokmah” (wisdom), the term most frequently used, pertains not so much to the realm of theoretical knowledge or philosophy as to a proper grasp of the basic issues of life….This kind of wisdom involves a proper discernment between good and evil, between virtue and vice, between duty and self-indulgence. It includes prudence in secular matters and a skill in the accomplishment of business affairs as well as in handling people. It implies an ability to apply consistently that which we know to that which we have to do. Binah, understanding, connotes the ability to discern intelligently the difference between sham and reality, between truth and error, between the specious attraction of the moment and the long-range values that govern a truly successful life” 5 3

Proverbs, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Derek Kidner, p. 22. The Message Of Proverbs, David Atkinson, The Bible Speaks Today Series, pp. 24-25. 5 A Survey Of Old Testament Introduction, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., p. 467. 4




Where do we even start? This book deals with about every topic or theme that we will encounter in our daily lives. This book is filled with illustrations from everyday life. We are taken into the home (31:10ff), into the context of friendship (18:24), into the marketplace and the world of business (1:20;11:1), and so on. But the following verse would be about the best overall theme that I can think of:

1:7 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” “The fact that some maxims in the Book of Proverbs are similar to these Egyptian and Mesopotamian writings does not undo the divine inspiration of the Scriptures….Proverb’s emphasis on fearing God is obviously missing from these other works” (Bible Knowledge Comm. p. 906). Chapter 1:7 to me sets the tone for the entire book, and sets this book apart from all other books which deal with practical advice or living wisely. Many people try to live wisely, but the motivation is for their own selfish benefit. Many people are prudent with their finances, and very hard workers, but at the same time, they are very poor stewards in reference to God and those less fortunate. “wisdom as taught here is God-centered, even when it is most down-to-earth it consists in the shrewd and sound handling of one’s affairs in God’s world, in submission to His will” (Kidner pp. 13-14). Kidner further notes, “You have to be good to be wise---though Proverbs is particularly concerned to point out the converse: that you have to be wise to be really good; for goodness and wisdom are not two separable qualities, but two aspects of a single whole. To take it further back, you have to be godly to be wise; and this is not because godliness pays, but because the only wisdom by which you can handle everyday things in conformity with their nature is the wisdom by which they were divinely made and ordered” (pp. 31-32). I like the idea that one of the purposes of the book of Proverbs is to put godliness into working clothes. To demonstrate what godly wisdom and godly attitudes look like in everyday life. The book asserts that the basis for all true learning is respect for Who God is. “Yet while all go to God’s school, few learn wisdom there, for the knowledge which He aims to instill is the knowledge of Himself; and this, too, is the ultimate prize. In submission to His authority and majesty (that is, in the fear of the Lord) we alone start and continue our education” (Kidner p. 35).


While we must from time to time specialize and fence off certain fields of knowledge for special study. This verse reminds us that the overall context must always be remembered. For if God is left out of the equation the professed expert in politics, medicine, economics, law, etc…, will end up knowing less, not more (Romans 1:21,22). I found the following quote interesting, “Proverbs does not subordinate the education of the individual to the needs of the state. This is remarkably different from the later Greek paideia. For the Greeks devotion to the state was a fundamental element of education. Young Athenians were taught to love and defend their city, participate in their democracy, and exult in their culture….In Proverbs, however, such notions scarcely surface at all. Patriotism is not regarded as evil, but no attempt is made to glorify Israelite culture. Instead, everything is subordinated to the Israelite God. If God is honored, all will be well with the state; if he is not, things will not go well” 6 This book also reminds us that godliness or the fear of the Lord applies to every aspect of our lives. We cannot divide our lives in the secular and the sacred, for everything we do has eternal implications. Even though this book was written almost 3000 years ago in an entirely different culture and world than the one in which we live, still the book is fresh and relevant. It is very hard to find something in this book that doesn’t have any application to the world in which we live. In reading the book, I really didn’t find anything to which I might say, “Well, this particular verse is completely useless or meaningless in reference to the world in which I am presently living”. The book cries out that man remains the same!

V. This Book And Modern Society: At a glance reading, the reader will soon discover that the book of Proverbs contains material that is very incorrect in the eyes of the elite and influential in our culture. Here are simply some observations that I noted while reading and reflecting upon what people in our culture tend to believe, and what this book is teaching, often over and over again: 1. Parents and not the government is charged with the primarily responsibility in raising children (1:8).


The New American Commentary, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Duane A. Garrett, p. 57. 5

2. Spanking isn’t child abuse, and instead of arguing that it is teaching the child how to be violent, this book argues that it is intended to do the opposite (23:13-14). 3. A healthy respect or fear of God isn’t a sign of being neurotic or part of a congregation which fits into the category of “churches that abuse” (1:7). 4. All rebellious children don’t make it back (1:29-33). 5. Following your heart will typically get you into trouble and will lead you away from God (3:5; 28:26; 16:25). 6. There is nothing romantic or loving about adultery (5:1ff; 7:1-27). God’s script concerning the illicit affair reads very differently than popular “romantic novels” or some television mini-series. 7. Laziness is a moral problem (6:6). 8. Far from being illusive or hard to find, wisdom is shouting in the streets (1:20; 8:1ff). Secular education isn’t the answer to the problems of this world. People are fools, not because of a lack of educational resources, but because they simply refuse to listen to what is right (1:7). “Wisdom is for anyone who wants it. Fools and simpletons are invited by name to its feast, which is as free as that of folly (9:4,16)” (Kidner p. 37). 9. Far from saying, “I’ve arrived”, the wise man is teachable to the end (9:9). 10. Nice guys don’t finish last (10:2). 11. Overconfidence isn’t a virtue (11:2). 12. The personal morality and spiritually of individual citizens is a great benefit to any city or nation (11:10). Politics and religion will naturally intermingle. Either people with pagan ideas will rule and set policy in any given nation, or people who fear of the Lord (14:34). 13. True beauty includes character (11:22). God isn’t impressed with the “bad girl”. 14. You will become like the people that you associate with (13:20). 15. Love includes rebuke and chastisement (13:24). 16. Only fools ridicule the idea of sin (14:9). 17. The king is not above the law (16:12). 6

18. Far from being trendy, intoxication is for the foolish (20:1). 19. Disrespect to parents isn’t natural and God won’t tolerate it (20:20). 20. God doesn’t believe in a generation gap (20:29). 21. God expects us to get involved (24:11-12). 22. My personal life does effect my relationship with God (28:9). 23. God is not impressed with those who tinker with His word (30:6), which means this book views Scripture as verbally inspired. 24. God’s view of a woman that is worthy of praise.

VI. God Has A Sense Of Humor: Which shouldn’t surprise us, seeing that we were made in His image (Genesis 1:26-27) and we can appreciate observations concerning life that make us laugh. Many of the proverbs do rely on humor. The purpose for this is that often humor can open our minds to a truth, that otherwise we might not have so readily let in. In this book, God often gets us to chuckle at a certain reality of life---and then it dawns on us that we are laughing at ourselves. If we can see how ridiculous we look at times when we hold on to selfishness, arrogance, or some other sin, maybe such can motivate us to change. The quarreling spouse is likened to a constant drip (27:15); the lazy man argues that he can’t go to work because there is a lion in the way! (22:13). And more than being anchored to his bed, the sluggard is hinged to it! (26:14). And my favorite, is the statement, “Like one who takes a dog by the ears is he who passes by and meddles with strife not belonging to him” (26:17).

VII. Outline: Various outlines could be given, but I like to keep it simple and brief: I. Prologue: 1:1-7 II. Warning Against Joining Thieves: 1:8-19 III. The Call of Wisdom: 1:20-33 IV. The Rewards Of Wisdom: 2:1-4:27


V. Warning Against Adultery: 5:1-23 VI. Warnings Against Cosigning, Laziness and Deceit: 6:1-19 VII. Warning Against Adultery Continued: 6:20-7:27 VIII. In Praise of Wisdom: 8:1-36 IX. The Two Choices: Wisdom or Folly: 9:1-18 X. The Proverbs Of Solomon: 10:1-22:16 1. Contrasting Proverbs: 10:1-15:33 2. Synonymous Proverbs: 16:1-22:16 XI. The Sayings Of The Wise: 22:17-24:34 XII. More Proverbs of Solomon Copied By Hezekiah’s Men: 25:1-29:27 XIII. The Words of Agur: 30:1-33 XIV. The Words Of Lemuel: 31:1-9 The Worthy Woman: 31:10-31


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