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by Arno Clemens Gaebelein
THE BOOK OF PROVERBS
The title of this book in the Hebrew Bible is “Mishle,” which is derived from the verb “Mashal,” to rule, hence short sayings which are given to govern life and conduct. It also has the meaning of “resemblance,” that is a parable. Many proverbs are concentrated parables. our English word “proverbs” comes from the word “proverbia” used in the Latin translation. Traditionally the authorship of the whole book is attributed to Solomon, but the book itself does not claim this, nor does it sustain the Solomonic authorship of the entire collection. The major portion of the book is attributed to Solomon and there can be no question that he is the author of it. In 1 Kings 4:32 we read that the great king uttered 3,000 proverbs in which the wisdom given to him is illustrated. But the book does not contain this number of proverbs.
Chapter 25 begins with the statement: “These are also proverbs which the men of Hezekiah, King of Judah, copied out.” This pious king must have had a great interest in compiling and preserving certain portions of the Word of God. According to this statement in Proverbs he must have commissioned certain scribes to add to the previous collection of proverbs by Solomon, other proverbs, which up to that time had remained uncollected. Then in chapter 30 we find the words of Agur the son of Jakeh, and in chapter 31 the words of King Lemuel.
From these facts which appear in the book it is clear that the composition of the entire book of Proverbs cannot be attributed to Solomon. The book begins with “The Proverbs of Solomon the Son of David, King of Israel”. In the beginning of chapter 10 we read again: “The Proverbs of Solomon”. It seems clear then that in chapters 1-24 we have the proverbs of Solomon; chapter 25 to the end contains also proverbs by the king, except the last two chapters. In all probability the scribes of Hezekiah who copied out the proverbs of chapters 25-29 added the last two chapters. What criticism states, that “the later chapters of this book point to the second or third century before Christ,” is only an assertion.
Another feature of this book is, that numerous times a person is addressed as “My son,” and the personal pronoun is often used “thou, thee, thy,” etc. The sections where we find this are chapters 1-9; 19:20--24:34; and 27-29:27. Who then is the person addressed? Does Solomon address some one or is it Solomon himself who is addressed? Dr. J.W. Thirtle in his Old Testament Problems distinguishes between proverbs written by Solomon and those which were written for him. All those which are addressed to “My son,” and in which the personal pronoun is used, it is claimed, are given to Solomon by “wise men or teachers” and that all these sententious sayings were given to young Solomon by these men to fit him for rulership. But this produces other difficulties. The proverbs of Solomon would in this case be very few in comparison with the size of the book, and furthermore we do not know who these wise men or teachers were who instructed the king and wrote such words of wisdom.
It seems to us that there is another way in which these sections containing the personal address, “My son,” may be explained. When the Lord appeared unto Solomon in Gibeon, He said unto him, “Ask what I shall give thee.” Then Solomon asked for an understanding heart, to discern between good and bad. Then the Lord said, “Lo I have given thee a wise and understanding heart” (1 Kings 3:5 , etc.). His prayer was answered. Then the Lord must have spoken to him by His Spirit and given him the instructions he needed as the king over His people Israel. It is more than probable that the sections in which the address “My son” and the personal pronoun is used contain the heavenly instructions given to the young king in the beginning of his reign by the Lord Himself. One cannot be dogmatic about this, but if such was the case the difficulties disappear. There is no need to put these proverbs for Solomon into the mouths of unknown wise men. It was the Lord who spoke to Solomon, addressing him thus and Solomon guided by the Spirit of God penned all these words. But it seems that the beginning of chapter 4 contains a brief autobiography of Solomon relating to his training. If wise men or teachers had spoken these words their names would have been mentioned and their sayings would have appeared in a different setting, without being found in different sections of the book.
As Dr. Thirtle has pointed out, these sayings, instructions given to Solomon, as we take it by the Lord in answer to his prayer for an understanding heart, cover certain commands relating to Israel’s kings, as given in the law of Moses. These commands we find in Deuteronomy 17:14-20 .
“When thou art come unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me; thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother. But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way. Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold. And it shall be when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life; that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them: That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel.”
Now in the sections of Proverbs, pointed out above, in which the personal address is used, some instructions are given which correspond to the commandments relating to the king, as found in the passage from Deuteronomy which we have quoted. Of special interest are the repeated warnings against the “strange woman.” The strange women against which the Spirit of God warned him in his youth, are the women of other nations, Gentiles. The passage in Deuteronomy says, “Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away.” The Spirit of the Lord anticipated the sad end of the great and wise king and therefore warned him against the strange woman, under the picture of the harlot, who ensnares and whose ways end in death. But the heavenly wisdom which had instructed him and warned was not heeded. It is written, “King Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, the Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites; of the nations concerning which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in to you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods. Solomon clave unto these in love” (1 Kings 11:1-43 ). Then followed his downfall. “It came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods.” Then he worshipped Ashtoreth, Milcom and Chemosh and other idol gods. The words of wisdom the Lord gave him, thus giving him understanding, were not heeded and the allurements of the strange woman, of which his inspired pen had warned, became a mournful fact in his own history.
The literary form of these proverbs is mostly in the form of couplets or distichs. The two clauses of the couplet are generally related to each other by what has been termed parallelism, according to Hebrew poetry. Three kinds of parallelism have been pointed out.
1. Synonymous Parallelism. Here the second clause restates what is given in the first clause.
Judgments are prepared for scorners
And stripes for the back of fools.
-- Proverbs 19:29
2. Antithetic Parallelism. Here a truth which is stated in the first clause is made stronger in the second clause by contrast with an opposite truth.
The light of the righteous rejoiceth,
But the lamp of the wicked shall be put out.
-- Proverbs 13:9
3. Synthetic Parallelism. The second clause develops the thought of the first.
The terror of a king is as the roaring of a lion--
He that provoketh him to anger sinneth against his own life.
-- Proverbs 20:2 .
The Teachings of Proverbs
The Proverbs, speaking generally, give moral teachings as to human conduct, often giving the contrast between the righteous and the wicked. But besides this there is much which goes deeper. Many of these short sayings can be applied to the Lord Jesus Christ and to the gospel. There is one portion which speaks definitely of the Son of God, our Lord, who is Wisdom. This is found in Proverbs 8:22-31 . When we read in Proverbs 13:7 , “There is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great wealth,” we can well think of Him who was rich and became poor for our sake that we by His poverty might be rich. Then there are verses which speak of a friend, “There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24 ). “A friend loveth at all times, and is born as a brother for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17 ). Well do we think, in reading such and similar verses in this book, of our Lord, who is the friend of sinners. Proverbs in spiritual instruction and application has an inexhaustible wealth.
The Spirit of God makes use of this book in quoting from it in the New Testament: Proverbs 1:16 is quoted in Romans 3:15 ; Romans 3:11-12 in Hebrews 12:5-6 , also in Revelation 3:19 ; Proverbs 3:34 ; in James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5 ; Proverbs 4:26 in Hebrews 12:13 ; Hebrews 10:12 in 1 Peter 4:8 ; Proverbs 11:31 in 1 Peter 4:18 ;Proverbs 25:21-22 , in Romans 12:20 ; and Proverbs 26:11 in 2 Peter 2:22 .
Proverbs ought to be studied by believers as diligently as any other portion of God’s Holy Word. The prayerful searcher will soon be rewarded by many nuggets of divine truth.
We make another suggestion on the study of this book. Many of the lessons given in these proverbs are illustrated by the lives of the godly and ungodly recorded in the Bible. It will prove a most helpful occupation to fit the experiences of these two classes as found in the Word of God to many of these proverbs.
The Division of Proverbs
As already stated in our introduction the book of Proverbs, as a book, was not in existence in the days of Solomon; it was completed through the interest, no doubt inspired interest, of King Hezekiah. That Solomon wrote the proverbs as attributed to him is beyond question.
The scope of this book is quite simple for it is clearly marked in its contents.
We find seven sections.
I. INSTRUCTIONS OF WISDOM GIVEN TO SOLOMON: Chapters 1--9
II. THE PROVERBS OF SOLOMON: Chapters 10:1--19:19
III. INSTRUCTIONS GIVEN TO SOLOMON: Chapters 19:20--24:34
IV. THE PROVERBS OF SOLOMON COLLECTED BY HEZEKIAH: Chapters 25--26
V. INSTRUCTIONS GIVEN TO SOLOMON: Chapters 27--29
VI. THE WORDS OF AGUR THE SON OF JAKEH: Chapter 30
VII. THE WORDS OF KING LEMUEL TAUGHT HIM BY HIS MOTHER: Chapter 31
It will be seen at a glance that instructions given to Solomon alternate with the proverbs of Solomon, teaching others as he first had been taught. The description of the virtuous woman in the last chapter is in the Hebrew in the form of an acrostic. The twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet are found in these verses, just like in the alphabetic Psalms and in Lamentations.
the Fifth Week after Easter