the Fourth Week of Lent
Proverbs the Book of
Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
That Solomon was the author of the Book of Proverbs has never been questioned. Some have indeed thought that he composed a part only of the Proverbs included in that book, and collected the others from various sources. It is probable, indeed, that he availed himself of any sayings already current which he regarded as useful and important. Whether he ever made any collection of his proverbs in writing is, however, doubtful. Proverbs 25-31, we are expressly informed, was written out and added to the previous portion, by order of King Hezekiah. The divine authority of the book is sufficiently proved by the quotations made from it in the New Testament (;;; ).
The characteristics of the proverbial style (in the more restricted sense of the word) are, according to Bishop Lowth, 1. Brevity; 2. Obscurity; 3. Elegance. The first of these is, however, the only one that can be considered at all universal. Many of the Proverbs of Solomon can hardly lay claim to elegance, according to the most liberal application of the term, and comparatively few of them are at all obscure as to meaning. The same remark applies with even greater force to the proverbs of everyday life, e.g. Time and tide tarry for no man. Haste makes waste. Make hay while the sun shines. A fool and his money are soon parted. We should be rather inclined to name, as a characteristic of the proverb, a pointed and sometimes antithetical form of expression; and this, in addition to brevity or sententiousness, constitutes perhaps the only universal distinction of this species of composition. Conciseness indeed enters into the very essence of the proverb.
We were about to adduce examples from the book of Proverbs, of these two excellencies—sententiousness and point—but it is impossible to select, where almost every verse is an illustration. Nor should it be forgotten that the structure of the Hebrew language admits of a much higher degree of excellence in this particular than is possible in the English tongue. We give two examples taken at random. 'A man's heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.' Here are twelve words; in the original seven only are employed. 'When a man's ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.'Eighteen words; in the Hebrew eight.
From its brevity, its appositeness, and its epigrammatic point, a proverb once heard remains fixed in the memory. Like an outline sketch which pleases more than a finished drawing, because it leaves more to the imagination, a proverb is peculiarly fitted to impress the mind, because it suggests more than it expresses. The same effect is produced by the obscurity observable in some proverbs; an obscurity consequent in part on their sententiousness, and in part on their figurative dress.
But Solomon must have had other reasons for selecting it, peculiar to the age and country in which he lived. The Hebrews have been called a nation of children. The mode of teaching by aphorisms is especially adapted to men in an early stage of culture, who have not yet learned to arrange and connect their various knowledges into a system. Accordingly we find this mode of writing employed in the most remote ages; and wise sayings, maxims, apophthegms, constitute a large part of the early literature of most nations. Especially is this true of the Oriental nations. The fondness of the people of the East for parables, enigmas, allegories, and pithy sayings, has itself become a proverb.
As an example of the former we may refer to , and of the latter to .
Proverbs 1-9 are remarkably distinguished from the remainder, and form a continuous discourse, written in the highest style of poetry, adorned with apt and beautiful illustrations, and with various and striking figures.
At the tenth chapter a different style commences. From to , is a series of pithy disconnected maxims, on various subjects, and applicable to the most diverse situation. From to a style resembling that of the exordium, though inferior in elegance and sublimity, prevails; and at Proverbs 25 the separate maxims recommence. These compose the remainder of the book, with the exception of Proverbs 30, which is ascribed to Agur, and Proverbs 31, which is said to be the advice given to King Lemuel by his mother. Who these persons are is not known. The supposition that Lemuel is another name of Solomon does not appear to be supported by proof.
Proverbs 30 affords an example of another species of writing, closely allied to the proverb, and equally in favor among the Orientals. It is that of riddles or enigmas, designed to exercise the wit and ingenuity of the hearer, and to impart instruction through the medium of amusement.
Proverbs 31, containing the counsels addressed to King Lemuel by his mother, needs no elucidation. It presents a beautiful picture of female excellence in an age and country where modesty, industry, submission, and the domestic and matronly virtues, were esteemed the only appropriate ornaments of woman.
If we turn our attention to the maxims which compose the greater part of the book of Proverbs, we shall find enough to excite our wonder and admiration. Here are not only the results of the profoundest human sagacity, the counsels and admonitions of the man who excelled in wisdom all who went before, and all who came after him, but of such a man writing under divine inspiration. And how numerous, how various, how profound, how important are his instructions!
These directions are adapted to the wants of every class and rank of men, and to every relation of life. The rich and the poor, the learned and the ignorant, the master and the servant, the monarch and the subject, may here find the counsels they need. 'Apples of gold in baskets of silver' are fit emblems of such prudent and wholesome counsels, clothed in such an attractive garb.
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Proverbs the Book of'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​p/proverbs-the-book-of.html.