Introduction to Proverbs

by Keith Sharp

As the psalms of Israel reached their apex with David, the wisdom literature of the Hebrews ascended to its pinnacle with Solomon, the son of David.

When Solomon ascended the throne, the Lord appeared to him in a dream, telling him to ask what he would, and Solomon humbly requested the wisdom necessary to rule Israel (1 Kings 3:4-9). The Lord was pleased with Solomon’s request, and granted him wisdom, prosperity, and honor (verses 10:13). Solomon’s rule was peaceful and prosperous, giving Solomon and others time to reflect upon the nature of things and the means with which to experiment (1 Kings 4:20-25). King Solomon was the wisest mere mortal who ever lived and the wealthiest person of his day (1 Kings 3:16-28; 4:29-34; 10:1-9,23-24).

One way Solomon demonstrated his wisdom was by writing proverbs (1 Kings 4:32). Most of his proverbs have not been preserved, but the book of Proverbs contains the height of the wisdom of the wisest man.

Proverbs is

the inspired production of Solomon. It is the first book of the Bible prefaced by the name of the author. The New Testament abounds with citations from the Proverbs… (Fausett).

Actually, although Solomon was the preeminent writer of proverbs, as his father was the greatest psalmist, like Psalms, the book of Proverbs was arranged by a later author or authors (cf. Proverbs 25:1) and also contain proverbs from other authors (22:17; 24:23; 30:1; 31:1).

A proverb is a short, easily remembered sentence composed of two or more parallel lines concisely expressing an important principle of living.

The Hebrew word for ‘proverb’ (mashal) means a ‘comparison.’… Most of the proverbs are in couplets or triplets, or some modifications of them the members of which correspond in structure and length, as if arranged to be compared one with another (Ibid).

“Hebrew poetry, like all poetry whatever the culture, tends to be more terse, more concise, than prose…. In Proverbs terseness becomes even more acute; it is the hallmark of its lines. The sage teaches truth through aphorisms (a terse formulation of truth) that are also epigrams (a terse, sage, witty, and often paradoxical sayings). They concentrate or distill truth and so by their nature cannot express the whole truth about a topic…. The book assumes the youth’s responsibility to accept the sage’s teaching (see 1:4) and threatens apostates with death (e.g., 1:20-33; 2:12-15…)” (Waltke. 1:38)

Proverbs in the Bible are wise sayings gained by experience and recorded by inspiration. The Proverbs are the height of human wisdom concerning every day life safe guarded from error by divine inspiration.

The Proverbs have parallels and similarities in other ancient wisdom literature (cf. 1 Kings 4:29-31), especially Egyptian. Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh of Egypt by marrying his daughter (1 Kings 3:1). He imported horses from Egypt (1 Kings 10:28), and patterned his rule after Egyptian rule. There are striking parallels to Proverbs in more ancient Egyptian wisdom literature. Solomon apparently adapted by inspiration (2:6) the wisdom of the ancients (22:17) to the unique thought of Israel.

“… Israel’s wisdom uniquely lays down the fear of the Lord as the foundation for acquiring wisdom (Job 28:28; Prov. 1:7; 9:10; cf. Eccl. 12:13-14), and it is this concept … that represents the central religious principle in the wisdom literature” (Waltke. 1:52).

In Proverbs

God has condescended to become our teacher on the practical affairs belonging to all the relations of life. He has adapted His instruction to the plain and unlettered, and presented, in this striking and impressive method, the great principles of duty to Him and to our fellow men… (Ibid).

The purpose of the book of Proverbs is to teach wisdom (1:1-6). Wisdom is “insight into the
underlying causes and significance or consequences of things, which insight enables one properly to apply to the best end the knowledge which he has” (Hailey). In brief, wisdom is the ability to properly use knowledge. We should pray for wisdom (James 1:5).

The book of Proverbs teaches the practical wisdom or prudence about daily affairs of this life. The principles are moral in nature.

“… it is addressed to gullible youths (1:4) and wise children (1:5,18) to enable them to attain wisdom and be safeguarded against the world-and-life views of the impious and unethical in any age” (Waltke. 1:37)

Since this wisdom came through experience, it is the advice of a father to his son (1:8,10,15; 2:1; 3:1,11,21; 4:10,20; 5:1,20; 6:1,3,20; 7:1; 19:27; 23:15,19,26; 24:13,21; 27:11). Young people should especially study Proverbs to learn practical wisdom to guide them through every day life. Proverbs primarily promises to the wise student, not eternal life, but success, happiness, and length of life.

The introduction to Proverbs (1:1-6) contains ten terms that together describe wisdom. “Ten” symbolized fullness or completeness to the Jews (ten fingers, ten toes). The terms are:

  1. wisdom: the ability to properly apply knowledge,
  2. instruction: “moral training” (Deane),
  3. understanding: “the capability of discerning the true from the false, good from bad” (Ibid),
  4. justice: “that which is in accord with the will and ordinances of God as Supreme Judge” (Ibid),
  5. judgment: “right reason” (Ibid),
  6. equity: “integrity” (Ibid),
  7. subtlety: “the capacity of escaping from the wiles of others” (Ibid),
  8. knowledge: correct information,
  9. discretion: “that which sets a man on his guard and prevents him from being duped by
    others” (Ibid), and
  10. wise counsels: truths that help us live right.


I. Introduction – 1:1-7
A. Purpose and Methods of the Book – 1:1-6
B. Principle of True Wisdom – 1:7

II. Exhortations to Seek Wisdom and Avoid Foolishness – 1:8 – 9:18
This section is a series of ten exhortations addressed by father to son and two by Lady Wisdom to the student.

III. Proverbs of Solomon in Two Line Parallelism – 10:1 – 22:16
This is the heart of the book, a collection of about 400 sayings primarily of two lines each in the Hebrew poetic form of “parallelism.” In “parallelism” the second line is in some way parallel to the first. In this section the second line is either analogous to (like), in contrast with, or completes the first.

IV. A Series of Admonitions by Solomon, Each Generally of Two or More Verses – 22:16 –
This is

a section containing the more continuous teaching, the personal address, of the teacher to his “son” Pro_23:15, Pro_23:19, Pro_23:26; Pro_24:13, Pro_24:21, the same warnings against sins of impurity Pro_23:27-28, the same declaration of the end which the teacher has in view Pro_22:17-21, as are met with in Prov. 1–9… (Barnes).

V. Words of the Wise – 24:23-34
This is

a section with a new title. ‘These things also belong to the wise,’ i. e., are spoken by them, fulfill the promise of the title Pro_1:6 that it would include the ‘words of the wise,’ wherever the compiler found them… (Ibid).

VI. Proverbs of Solomon Copied by the Men of Hezekiah – chapters 25 – 29

VII. The Words of Agur – chapter 30

VIII. The Words of King Lemuel That His Mother Taught Him – chapter 31

Works Cited

Barnes, Albert, Introduction to Proverbs.
Deane, W.J., The Pulpit Commentary (9).
Fausett, A.R., The Book of Proverbs.
Hailey, Homer, “Wisdom Literature: Proverbs – Ecclesiastes – Song of Solomon.”
Waltke, Bruce K, The Book of Proverbs.

This entry was posted in Bible Overview. Bookmark the permalink.