What is a proverb? A secular proverb seeks to state a general (not absolute) truth, such as “a fool and his money are soon parted.” It is typically pithy, that is, it is brief but rich in meaning: “No pain, no gain.” A proverb is practical; it gives advice that is useful in the real world: “A stitch in time saves nine.” It should be applied; the reader should consider what changes he should make in his own life in light of the proverb: “Charity begins at home.” A proverb is derived from astute observations about how life usually works; the creator of a proverb shows himself very knowledgeable and perceptive, able to see what is generally true and to draw conclusions from it: “The pen is mightier than the sword.”
In addition to all this, the proverbs in the book of Proverbs are also divinely inspired. Since they come from God, we know they are true and we can be certain they are beneficial: “The one who understands a matter finds success, and the one who trusts in the Lord will be happy” (16:20). Biblical proverbs not only offer practical advice for this life but also guide the reader to eternal life: “For the prudent the path of life leads upward, so that he may avoid going down to Sheol” (15:24).
CIRCUMSTANCES OF WRITING
AUTHOR: Solomon is credited with the proverbs in chaps. 1-29 of the book of Proverbs (1:1; 10:1). There is biblical evidence that Solomon was wise and a collector of wise sayings (1Kg 3:5-14; 4:29-34; 5:7,12; 10:2-3,23-24; 11:41). Chapters 1-24 may have been written down during his reign, 970-931 BC. The proverbs in chaps. 25-29 were Solomon’s proverbs collected by King Hezekiah, who reigned 716-687 BC (25:1). The last two chapters are credited to Agur and Lemuel (30:1; 31:1), about whom nothing else is known. An editor was inspired to collect the proverbs of Solomon, Agur, and Lemuel into the book we now have.
BACKGROUND: The reign of Solomon represented the peak of prosperity for the nation of Israel. The period saw the greatest extent of Israel’s territory, and there was peace and international trade (1Kg 4:20-25; 10:21-29). It is likely Solomon knew about the ancient tradition of wisdom in Egypt (1Kg 3:1), but through inspiration and God’s gift he composed even better sayings (1Kg 3:12; 10:6-7,23). Solomon addressed his teaching to his son or sons, but these inspired wise sayings are applicable to all people. The book of Proverbs, like the rest of the Bible, contains stories, teaching, and examples. People should make appropriate application of these truths to their own situations (1Co 10:11).
MESSAGE AND PURPOSE
There is a close connection between God and wisdom. For example, both call for obedience and morality and both promise success and eternal life. They are connected because wisdom presupposes the fear of God; because God is the source of this inspired, godly advice; and because God himself guarantees the blessings that wisdom promises. The benefits of wisdom and of God are the same. What wisdom promises is what God grants (4:4-8).
CONTRIBUTION TO THE BIBLE
In either case, it is important to interpret any single proverb in the context of the book of Proverbs and the Bible as a whole. For example, while 21:14 may seem to encourage bribery, the rest of the book of Proverbs is clearly against it (15:27)—as is the rest of Scripture (Ex 23:8; Ec 7:7).
I.Solomon’s Exhortations and Warnings (1:1-9:18)
A.Contrast between wisdom and riches (1:1-3:20)
B.Praise of wisdom, love, and worthy conduct (3:21-4:27)
C.Warnings against lust, idleness, and deceit (5:1-7:27)
D.A portrayal of wisdom (8:1-9:18)
II.Solomon’s Proverbs (10:1-29:27)
A.Collected proverbs (10:1-22:16)
B.Thirty sayings of the wise (22:17-24:22)
C.More sayings of the wise (24:23-34)
D.Hezekiah’s collection (25:1-29:27)
III.Other Proverbs (30:1-31:31)
A.Words of Agur (30:1-33)
B.Words of Lemuel (31:1-9)
C.Praise of a capable wife (31:10-31)
The Instruction of Prince Hardjedef, Egyptian Old Kingdom 2686-2160
The Instructions Addressed to Kagemni, Egyptian 2600
The Instruction of Ptah-Hotep, Egypt’s Old Kingdom 2575-2134
Collections of proverbs found among the royal archives at Ebla 2450-2250
The Royal Instruction of Khety to Merikare, Egyptian 2160
The Instruction of a Man for His Son, Egyptian Middle Kingdom 2040-1640
The Instruction of King Amenemhet I for His Son Sesostris I, Egyptian 1925
Instructions of Shuruppak, Sumerian Proverb Collection 1900-1700
The Phoenicians develop a 22-letter alphabet that consisted of consonants only. It was read from right to left and became an important step in the development of the modern Western alphabet. This was the world’s first purely phonetic alphabet. It was based on sounds and not symbolic representations of objects. 1600
The Counsels of Wisdom, Akkadian 1500-1200
Events in Judges 1380?-1060?
The Instruction of Amenemope, Egypt 1186-1069
Saul anointed king 1050
David becomes king over all Israel. 1003
Solomon becomes king. 970