Author: Ron Graham
The Book of Proverbs
Although placed in the Old Testament, the book of Proverbs is received by Christians with great love and respect. The book is even attached, with the Psalms, to some editions of the New Testament.
According to the Chambers’s dictionary, a proverb is "any of a body of well-known, neatly expressed sayings that give advice or express a supposed truth."
The sayings in Proverbs are neatly expressed, but not as well-known as they ought to be. Their truths are not "supposed" but are the very word of God to several persons whom he blessed with wisdom.
1 The Prologue
The first seven verses introduce the book, giving its title, purpose, and guiding principle.
- Title. "The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel." (Proverbs 1:1). Solomon was a man of outstanding wisdom (1Kings 3:3-14, 4:29-34). "He uttered 3000 proverbs" (1Kings 4:32-34).
- The Book of Proverbs records many of these sayings, as well as proverbs which Solomon collected that were uttered by other wise men.
- Purpose. "To know wisdom and instruction..." (Proverbs 1:2). Solomon is concerned that people, especially the young, will benefit from the words of the wise and be encouraged to understand "the words of the wise and their riddles" (Proverbs 1:3-6).
- Guiding principle. Solomon has a guiding principle throughout the proverbs, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" and he warns that "fools despise wisdom and instruction" (Proverbs 1:7).
2 A Poem on Wisdom and Folly
Proverbs 1:8 to 9:18
The anthology that takes up the first third of the book, may be regarded as a long poem constructed of many smaller poems.
- Theme. "Wisdom is supreme, so get wisdom" (Proverbs 4:7)
- Content. Warnings against enticement by evil doers (eg Proverbs 1:10-19), alternate with the appeals of Wisdom (eg Proverbs 8:1-21),
3 Collected Proverbs
Proverbs 10:1 to 31:31
The other 21 chapters are the collected proverbs of wise men including another large collection of Solomon's own proverbs.
- Proverbs of Solomon (Proverbs 10:1 to 22:16).
- Sayings of the Wise (Proverbs 22:17 to 24:34).
- Hezekiah's Collection (Proverbs 25:1 to 29:27).
- Sayings of Agur (Proverbs 30:1 to 30:33).
- Sayings of King Lemuel (Proverbs 31:1 to 31:31).
4 A Poem on the Noble Wife
The last chapter of Proverbs is attributed to King Lemuel, but you will observe that it is "the oracle which his mother taught him" (Proverbs 31:1).
The first nine verses give some earthy advice. First she warns him to have nothing to do with prostitutes. Then she warns him off strong drink which she regards as a crutch for the weak. But she does not despise the weak, poor, and needy, and commands Lemuel to treat them justly and to support their cause.
The poem about the virtuous and excellent wife is quite stunning. Lemuel's mother had a very clear idea of the kind of wife she wanted for her son! This poem also celebrates the power and glory of women.
This wife is her husband's equal. She is intelligent, independent, strong and energetic, astute in business, By virtue of her own accomplishments, she is highly spoken of with respect "in the gates" where the male elders sit and discuss business and community issues (Proverbs 31:23,31).
This wife is a model for all women and for all men seeking a companion in life (Proverbs 31:10-31).
5 Main Ideas in the Proverbs
Some of the recurring themes and main ideas in the book of Proverbs are listed below with sample verses...
- Knowing God. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Prov 9:10).
- Guarding your speech. "A word aptly spoken..." (Prov 25:11, Prov 21:23, Prov 29:20).
- Sexual morality and marital faithfulness. "Rejoice with the wife of your youth" (Prov 5:15-20).
- Productiveness in daily work."Go to the ant you sluggard!" (Prov 10:4-5, Prov 6:6-11).
- Abstaining from strong drink. "Wine is a mocker..." (Prov 20:1, Prov 23:31-33).
- Justice and honesty. "A false balance is an abomination to the Lord but a just weight is his delight" (Prov 11:1).
Here's a worthwhile way to study the book of proverbs: read it from start to finish, sorting key verses into topics. The best way to do this is in sweeps, where you read through the book collecting key verses on two or three topics only, then repeat the exercise with another two or three topics, and so forth.
As you make one sweep, new topics will suggest themselves for following sweeps. That would be a most profitable study, and you would finish up with a set of excellent lessons from the Proverbs on important subjects.