BOOK OF PROVERBS
Solomon, king of Israel, was the son of David and Bathsheba. He was about twenty when he took the throne, and he reigned for forty years from 971-931 A.C. About 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs are attributed to Solomon. That he authored most of the Book of Proverbs is appropriate since he was acclaimed the wisest person in his time (1 Kings 4:29-32). Nothing is known of Agur, to whom Proverbs 30 is ascribed, or of Lemuel, whose words are found in Proverbs 31. Solomon’s strengths were not on the battlefield but in the realm of the mind: meditation, organization, planning, and negotiation. Except for Moses, Solomon wrote more of the Old Testament than any other man. The writing of the Song of Solomon is assigned to his youth, Proverbs to his mature years when he was at the height of his power, and Ecclesiastes to his later years as he reflected on his life and experience.
Most of this collection of proverbs was gathered during the tenth century B.C. and took its final form from 729 to 686 B.C.
The purpose of the Book of Proverbs is to develop in men and women (and especially the young) a wise, skillful way of living (Proverbs 1:7, 9:10). To be wise in the biblical sense means beginning with a right relationship to God. Such wisdom applies practical knowledge about God in order to live skillfully. Proverbs are precepts for practical prudence.
The name of this book expresses its writing style. A “proverb” (Hebrews masha, lit. “to be like” or “to be compared with”) is a statement that makes a comparison, usually in the form of a brief saying instead of many words. These are brief but vivid statements taken from everyday life; they are practical guidelines for successful living. A proverb does not argue; it assumes. Its primary purpose is not to explain a matter but to give pointed expression to the idea. Many of the proverbial maxims should be recognized as guidelines, not necessarily absolutes. What is stated is generally true, although there may be exceptions.
Proverbs refers often to the “path” and the “way,” indicating conduct and lifestyle and providing both a goal and a means to reach that goal. The goal is successful living, and the route to that goal is the way of wisdom. Along the route, almost every facet of important human relationships is mentioned. The Book of Proverbs is as relevant now as when it was written. Wisdom concerning relationships is timeless, just as the nature of sin and foolishness never changes. Running throughout the practical philosophy of these proverbs is an awareness of the perpetual struggle between good and evil in our lives. Powerful contrasts are used to show why wisdom is the answer. Set in vivid contrast are the ideas of wisdom vs. folly, good vs. evil, life vs. death, fidelity vs. adultery, truth vs. falsehood, prudence vs. rashness, prosperity vs. poverty, industry vs. indolence. Truths of eternal importance are set forth:
- Wisdom (godly living) is more valuable than jewels or wealth.
- Wisdom originates with God.
- Wisdom is available to all, but each woman and man must choose the path of wisdom.
- The wise are rewarded for their righteousness.
- The foolish reap the consequences of their evil dees.