An Introduction to the Book of Proverbs

The pithy sayings in this book of wisdom were chiefly written or collected by King Solomon and were composed either from his own experiences or observations of Hebrew life. They contain concrete, verifiable incidents of Jewish existence in the land of Palestine in the 10th century BC. Granted to Him by God as a result of his request, Solomon’s wisdom was unsurpassed, acclaimed by men of all nations (1 Ki. 3:2-15; 4:29-34).

The sages of Israel were apparently learners in the Solomonic school of wisdom, who subsequently shared their practical views of life. There was no greater influence on Jewish life and morals than these sages who frequently expressed their wisdom in the form of a proverb.

I. Definition of a proverb

A. Content. The proverb was designed to teach truth in a concentrated form. Proverbs are idioms, distinctive in style, that uniquely reflect the heart and life of the Jewish people. Proverbs (comparisons) are written in units (usually of two), the second segment either clarifying or contrasting (the first. They are self-explanatory and self-illustrative.

Like cold water to a weary soul, So is good news from a distant land (25:25).

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding (3:5).

B. Author Objective. Behind each proverb lay a philosophy of life, steeped in pragmatism, giving it powerful influence in Israel. The proverbs were designed to:

1. Arest the reader’s attention [listen]

2. Awaken responsive thought [think]

3. Adhere to the memory [remember]

4. Apply to life [practice]

II. Purpose of the Book of Proverbs

A. Overall objective. Proverbs was Israel’s textbook for the classroom of life. While Psalms stresses a walk before God, the emphasis of Proverbs is on a walk before others. The book of James is the Proverbs of the New Testament. The proverbs were maxims of wisdom, concise and easily memorized containing both moral and ethical teaching. Proverbs is charged with action; warnings and advice are widespread.

B. Antithetical topics. The dynamics of the book are manifest by the author’s selection of oppositional subjects such as life/death, wisdom/foolishness, defining the ideal by decrying its opposite. Key words are “path” or “way.”

C. Behavioral consequences. The correlation of specific behavior to its consequences is a vital teaching technique in the Book of Proverbs. By this cause and effect portrayal, the reader is spurred to action by either the promise of blessing or the warning of imminent peril. The book was written to provide guidance for leading wise, godly lives and avoiding the pitfalls of unwise, ungodly conduct.

D. Observational vantage point. Solomon was king of the proverb, tersely sharing his personal experiences and observations of Hebrew life, while disclosing his reflections (what he saw) and sentiments (what he thought). Proverbs are not promises to be applied to life (e.g. 22:6).

E. Example. In Pro. 24:30-34, Solomon gives us the process in the formation of a proverb: observation, responsive thought, and proverbial application. Wisdom is not for the intellectual, but the teachable.

III. Descriptives of wisdom

A. Objectives of the book. Proverbs 1:1-7 states the goals of the book:

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring wise behavior (a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair); for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young–let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance–for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

B. Aspects of Wisdom. Several nouns are used as expressions of wisdom in this introductory passage:

Wisdom (ability, knowledge of essence of things; reality of existence).

Instruction, training, discipline(moral instruction, self-government)

Understanding, insight (discern between good and evil, common sense)

Wise behavior, dealing (good sense, practical wisdom, [to success])

Prudence, subtlety, shrewdness (clever, sensible)

Knowledge (general term, utilizes senses, knowledge of truth, God)

Discretion (wise planning, scheming, management)

Learning (doctrine that is given, received or grasped)

Guidance (“steerings,” rules of conduct) equipped to deal with life

C. Quality of Wisdom. Wisdom is an attribute of God that is eternally associated with Him, is understood only in relation to Him, and is an extension of His dynamic being to mankind. The word, Jehovah, occurs 86 times in the book.

IV. Fear of the Lord.

A. Cornerstone of wisdom. The foundation of wisdom is the fear of the Lord (a feature distinct from all other wisdom literature). The fear of the Lord is both the prerequisite and the object of wisdom. Proverbs is built upon the fear of Yahweh as the basis for practical holiness and skillful living.

B. Definition. The “fear of the Lord” is described as “loving reverence” (NIV), “a reverence for God expressed in submission to His will” (Ryrie); and “reverential trust with hatred of evil” (Scofield). Webster defines awe as “fear mingled with admiration or reverence.” Kidner defines fear as a “worshipping submission.”

Biblically, the “fear of the Lord” is a complex expression encompassing the antithetical aspects of absolute obedience, i.e. submission to God and rejection of evil (1 Thes. 1:9). It is not limited to the act of worship but is a willful response to the essence of God that incites one to godly living. The expression is frequently linked with obedience (Ecc. 11:13).

As defined in the Scriptures, the fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom (Pro. 1:7; 9:10); requires understanding (Pro. 2:5); involves a choice (Pro. 1:29; Neh. 5:15); demands absolute obedience (Gen. 22:12) and departure from evil (Pro. 3:7; 16:6); and results in a prolonged life (Pro. 10:27). The dread of destruction (Job 31:23) is a motivation to righteous living. The wicked sin because they do not fear the Lord (Gen. 20:11).

2 Responses to Proverbs

  1. Doug Burns says:

    I appreciate this insight to Proverbs and the intentions of the author Solomon. The style of writing is unusual, instructional and quite profound. It convicts and encourages me to live a life pleasing to my Saviour. I am blessed but at some points have been overwhelmed with the verses.
    If only our leaders were wise as Solomon was, but it all starts with the fear of God.

    Thank you for this elaboration of another great book in God’s Word.

    J D

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