Lectionary Calendar
Monday, May 27th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

- Proverbs

by Editor - Joseph S. Exell

The Preacher’s Complete Homiletic

By the

Author of the Commentary on Samuel

New York



THE Hebrew word for proverb (mashal) means a comparison. Hence it includes more than we generally understand by the English word, viz., a pithy sentence expressing in a few words a well-known or obvious truth. When books were few it was most natural that observations on life and manners should be compressed into the smallest possible compass: hence proverbial teaching has been employed from the most remote antiquity. It is highly probable that all proverbial sayings were at first literally comparisons, as this would tend to fix them more indelibly upon the memory. But the word by degrees came to express that which we now understand it to signify.

Although a few more lengthy discourses are found in this book, it consists mainly of such short proverbial sentences, often illustrated and enforced by most striking metaphors. It has been almost universally received by both Jewish and Christian writers as the inspired production of Solomon. The most convincing proof of its canonicity is the fact that the New Testament contains many quotations from it. Compare Proverbs 3:11-12, with Hebrews 12:5-6; Proverbs 3:34, with James 4:6; Proverbs 10:12, with 1 Peter 4:8; Proverbs 11:31 (Sept.), with 1 Peter 4:18; Proverbs 22:9 (Sept.), with 2 Corinthians 9:7; Proverbs 25:21-22, with Romans 12:20; Proverbs 26:11, with 2 Peter 2:22; Proverbs 27:1, with James 4:13-14. But, were these wanting, its superiority to every other book of a similar character would constitute a most weighty internal evidence of its Divine inspiration. Moses Stuart says of it: “All the heathen moralists and proverbialists joined together cannot furnish us with one such book as that of the Proverbs.” And Wordsworth remarks: “The Proverbs of Solomon come from above, and they also look upward. They teach that all true wisdom is the gift of God, and is grounded on the fear of the Lord. They dwell with the strongest emphasis on the necessity of careful vigilance over the heart, which is manifest only to God, and on the duty of acting, in all the daily business and social intercourse of life, with habitual reference to the only unerring standard of human practice, His will and Word. In this respect the Book of Proverbs prepared the way for the preaching of the Gospel, and we recognise in it an anticipation of the apostolic precept: ‘Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as unto the Lord.’ ” Dr. Guthrie considered that “the high character which Scotsmen earned in by-gone years was mainly due to their early acquaintance with the Book of Proverbs.” (Sunday Magazine, Oct., 1868, p. 15.)

Although the greater part of the book was doubtless compiled by Solomon during his life, chapters 25–29 were not copied out until the days of Hezekiah, and the last two chapters are assigned in the book itself to other authors, of whom we know nothing. It seems startling at first sight that a man whose character we know from other parts of Holy Scripture to have been marred by so many serious defects, should be the author of an inspired book, but Dr. Arnot remarks on this point that “practical lessons on some subjects come better through the heart of the weary, repentant king than through a man who had tasted fewer pleasures, and led a more even life.… Not a line of Solomon’s writings tends to palliate Solomon’s sins.… The glaring imperfections of the man’s life have been used as a dark ground to set off the lustre of that pure righteousness which the Spirit has spoken by his lips.” It is evident from the most cursory study of its contents that this book is rather ethical than doctrinal. The following Commentary has for its main object the setting forth the great moral lessons contained in it in a homiletic form. It does not pretend to be a critical Commentary, although the latest and best criticisms have been quoted where they seemed to throw any new light upon the text. But the book of Proverbs is not easy to treat homiletically. Prof. Lockler, the author of the expositions on the works of Solomon in Dr. Lange’s Commentary, says,—“A theological and homiletical exposition of the book of Proverbs has difficulties to contend with which exist in an equal degree in but few books of the Old Testament, and in none in quite the same form.… To treat the book homiletically and practically, in so far as regards only brief passages, is rendered more difficult by the obscurity of many single sentences; and in so far as it attempts to embrace large sections, by the unquestionable lack of fixed order and methodical structure.”

The main DIVISIONS of the Book of Proverbs are:—I. A series of discourses on the excellency and advantages of wisdom, and the destructive character of sin (ch. 1–9) II. A collection of unconnected maxims on various subjects (ch. 10–22:16). III. Short discourses on a variety of subjects (ch. Proverbs 22:17; Proverbs 24:22), with a brief appendix of maxims (ch. Proverbs 24:23-24). IV. The collection of Solomon’s proverbs made in the time of Hezekiah (ch. 25–29). V. A supplement containing the words of Agur (ch. 30) and of King Lemuel (ch. 31). [Annotated Paragraph Bible.]

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