Author: Solomon, Agur, Lemuel, The Wise and Others
Date Written: 970-500 BC
The Book of Proverbs is an anthology of short wisdom sayings and exhortations to seek wisdom. Solomon is the stated author of much of the book (1:1; 10:1; 25:1), but Agur (30:1), Lemuel (31:1) and "the wise" (22:17; 24:23) also wrote certain sections. The book was written and compiled over a long period of time. Some scholars suggest that originally Proverbs may have been directed at young men being trained for government offices. The book provides education in moral character in an age when teaching was mainly done in the home rather than in schools.
Proverbs begins with a long poetic introduction (1-9) that exhorts its readers to seek wisdom and shun folly. Next we find an extensive collection of short sayings (10-29) which is concluded by a few longer sayings (30) and a poem about the ideal wife (31).
The introductory section (1-9) orients us to the book. It casts the whole collection in the light of a father giving instruction to his son. Wisdom and folly are contrasted as differing paths alternately leading to life and death (5:5-6). Wisdom is personified as a woman who invites everyone to eat at her banqueting table (8:1-9:6). Folly also appears as a woman inviting people to her banquet of falsehood (9:13-18).
Ch. 10-29 present the bulk of Solomon's proverbs. They give practical advice on holy living. They sum up general principles of life in succinct statements. Each proverb is not a mere truism but a pithy statement which deserves deep consideration. The proverbs contain observations about the way the world works, how human beings act in certain situations and how God's blessing is related to our behavior. They ought to be read slowly, thoughtfully and prayerfully. The central message of Proverbs is simple, yet difficult to live out: Fear the Lord. Work hard. Be honest. Live righteously. Give generously.
Ch. 30-31 are a little different than the chapters of short sayings. The poetic thoughts in Ch. 30 are longer and more challenging to understand. The final poem about the ideal wife contrasts with the rest of the book which gives direct behavioral guidance for young men. Yet it reconnects with the introductory section which describes Wisdom as a woman. Just as a young man ought to seek Wisdom herself, so he should seek a woman of wisdom to be his wife.
Proverbs looks at life from a different angle than the Pentateuch. Rather than stating the Law, Proverbs advises us on how to be like God, how to live in accord with his Law. It presents the practical side of righteousness. In its presentation, some Proverbs directly conflict with each other (e.g. 26:4-5). These conflicts show the multi-faceted approach to life that the book offers. Each saying is true in a certain sense and applicable in a certain way.
The Book of Proverbs is a compilation of many years of wisdom. Wisdom cannot be gained quickly, but only through patience, prayer and God's grace. Proverbs challenges us, confronts us and even shocks us with this truth.
By Mark Giszczak