Observation Proverbs

I. THE NAME OF THE BOOK

A. In Hebrew the title is the first seven verses, with the theme in v. 7. This is the longest title to any book in the OT.

B. In the Septuagint it is called "proverbs of Solomon."

C. In the Latin Vulgate it is called "book of proverbs."

D. The term "Proverbs" comes from the Hebrew term mashal which meant "to be like." Proverbs were usually short, thought-provoking statements, commonly of two lines, but chapters 1-9 are a sustained literary unit.

 

II. CANONIZATION

A. It is part of the third division of the Hebrew canon called "the Writings" (Kethubhim, Hagiographa).

B. The Talmud, Baba Bathra 14b, says the order of the wisdom books was Psalms, Job, and Proverbs. It attributed authorship of:

1. the book of Job to Moses

2. the Psalms to David

3. Proverbs to Hezekiah

C. The rabbis (Midrash, Shir, Hashirim, Rabbah, sec. 10) asserted that Solomon, who was famous for his wisdom (cf. I Kgs. 4:29-32), wrote three books:

1. Song of Songs when he was young

2. Proverbs when he was middle aged

3. Ecclesiastes when he was old and bitter

This tradition was expressed by the grouping of these three books together in the LXX.

D. The rabbis at Jamnia (a.d. 90) were still discussing the canonicity of Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Proverbs (Shab. 30b). They noted Pro. 26:4-5 as a contradiction.

 

III. GENRE

A. Proverbs are a specialized type of wisdom literature.

B. There are several types of proverbial sayings (cf. Clyde Francisco, Introducing the Old Testament, p. 265).

1. historical proverbs – these are famous and popular sayings of the past which becomes a current truism

2. metaphorical proverbs – these are two line sayings which compare things:

a. using comparisons, "like" or "as"

b. using contrast

3. enigmas – these are riddles or brain teasers

4. parabolic proverbs – these are longer, more developed comparisons or contrasts

5. didactical proverbs – these are truths geared for training young men for government service or leadership

C. Proverbs contain parallelism like the Psalms:

1. synonymous parallel – Pro. 8:1; 19:5 (very common in chapters 16-22)

2. antithetical parallel – Pro. 10:5,7; 14:34; 15:1; 24:16; 28:1 (most of chapters 10-15)

3. synthetic parallel – Pro. 20:1; 26:1,11

 

IV. AUTHORSHIP

A. Proverbs has been traditionally connected to Solomon (Baba Bathra 14b, 15a), as the Psalms have been to David. This was because

1. Solomon was famous for his wisdom (cf. I Kgs. 3:12; 4:29-34; 10:1)

2. he is connected and supportive of Egyptian influence where this kind of wisdom literature flourished

3. because Solomon's name is mentioned in Pro. 1:1; 10:1 and 25:1

B. Proverbs is the result of editorial compilation like the Psalms. There are several authors mentioned:

1. Solomon – 1:1; 10:1; 25:1

2. the wise men (sages) – 22:17; 24:23

3. Agur (non-Israelite) – 30:1 

4. Lemuel (non-Israelite) – 31:1

C. The editorial process in Proverbs can be seen in 25:1, where it states that men of the court of Hezekiah complied Solomon's proverbs. Possibly many were oral before this time.

D. Chapters 30 and 31 are by men from Massa. There is some disagreement among translators about this term. Many modern English versions translate this term by "oracle" or "burden." The Jewish Publication Society of America translates it as a place name. This term MASSA is a reference to an Ishmaelite kingdom in Saudi Arabia (cf. Gen. 25:14 and I Chr. 1:30).

E. There is an obvious similarity between the "Words of the Wise," 22:17-24:22 and "the Instruction of Amenemope," dating from Egypt about 1200 b.c. For a full discussion see John H. Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature in Its Cultural Context, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990. pp. 192-197.

 

V. DATE

A. The date of this book has the same problem as the Psalms. There are two dates to be considered:

1. the date of the individual proverbs

2. the date they were collected into our canonical book

B. Many of the proverbs go back to the days of Solomon, especially 10:1-22:16 and 25:1-29:27.

C. There are many similarities between the words of Agur in chapter 30 and the Ras Shamra texts from Ugarit (as is also true for Psalms). These texts are from the 15th century b.c.

D. The canonical book of Proverbs, chapters 1-29, was compiled during the time of Hezekiah (710-687 b.c.) The last two chapters were added later.

 

VI. HISTORICAL SETTING (connected to date)

 

VII. LITERARY UNITS

A. Title of the book, 1:1-6

B. Theme statement, 1:7

C. Praise of wisdom (personification), 1:8-9:18

D. Proverbs of Solomon (contrasting couplets), 10:1-22:16

E. Words of the wise (similar to Egyptian wisdom, i.e., Wisdom of Amenemope, esp. 23:15-24:22), 22:17-24:22

F. More words of the wise, 24:23-34

G. Proverbs of Solomon (thematic, collected by Hezekiah's wise men, cf. 25:1), 25:1-29:27

H. Words of Agur (response to an agnostic), 30:1-33

I. Words of Lemuel (from his mother), 31:1-9

J. Praise of a godly woman (acrostic), 31:10-31

 

VIII. MAIN TRUTHS

A. Although not stated often, Proverbs is based on the assumption of a monotheistic personal God active in both creation and the lives of individual believers (cf. 1:7; 3:5-6; 9:10; 14:26-27; 19:23). Believers are to respect and obey (cf. 1:7; 2:5; 9:10).

B. This type of literature was a balance to (cf. Jer. 18:18; Ezek. 7:26):

1. "the Law" (priests)

2. "the Prophets" (prophets)

It is not geared to the national history or cultus of Israel but the happiness, morality, and successful living of individual Israelites.

C. Originally it was designed to train wealthy young men for governmental service or community leadership (cf. 1:8-9). The teacher is characterized as "father" (cf. 1:8) and the student as "son" (cf. 1:8; 2:1; 3:1).

D. It is inspired insight for daily, practical, godly living. It could be characterized as "divine horse sense."

E. It must be remembered that Proverbs are general statements of truth. They do not always explain or take into account the problems or circumstances of every individual situation.

 

IX. TERMS AND/OR PHRASES AND PERSONS TO BRIEFLY IDENTIFY:

A. Terms and/or Phrases

1. proverbs (mashal), 1:1 (NASB & NIV)

2. wisdom (hokmah), 1:2 (NASB & NIV)

3. fear of the Lord, 1:7 (NASB & NIV)

4. "wisdom shouts in the street," 1:20 (NIV, "wisdom calls aloud in the street")

5. "naive ones. . .scoffers. . .fools," 1:22 (NIV, "simple ones. . .mockers. . .fools")

6. strange woman, 2:16 (NIV, "adulteress")

7. "she is a tree of life," 3:18 (NASB & NIV)

8. "an abomination to the Lord," 3:32; 17:15 (NIV, "The Lord detests")

9. "drink from your own cistern," 5:15 (NASB & NIV)

10. "a pledge," 6:1 (NIV, "security")

11. worthless person (belial), 6:12 (NIV, "scoundrel")

12. "the Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way," 8:22 (NIV, "The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works")

13. "Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord," 15:11; 27:20 (NIV, "Death and Destruction lie open before the Lord")

14. redeemer (Go'el), 23:11 (NIV, "defender")

15. usury, 28:8 (NIV, "exorbitant interest")

16. oracle (massa), 30:1; 31:1 (NASB & NIV)

B. Persons

1. men of Hezekiah, 25:1

2. Agur, 30:1

3. Ithiel, Ithiell, and Ucal, 30:1

4. Lemuel, 31:1

 

X. MAP LOCATIONS — NONE

 

XI. STUDENT CONTENT DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. What is the difference between the Hebrew words for "wisdom" and "knowledge"?

2. Why is 1:7 so important?

3. Why is wisdom personified as a woman?

4. What was wisdom's part in creation? (cf. 3:19; 8:27)

5. Explain "the two ways" (4:10-19).

6. Explain the prayer of 30:7-9.

7. List the attributes of the godly wife in 31:10-31.