Grace Institute: The Writings : Proverbs Part 2

Grace Institute for Biblical Leadership

Proverbs

Survey of the Old Testament: The Writings

Fall 2006

Structure of Proverbs

The structure of Proverbs is indicated by titles telling us who wrote each section.

Introduction

Introduction to Wisdom

Proverbs of Solomon

Sayings of the Wise

Proverbs of Solomon (collected by Hezekiah)

Words of Others

Antithetical Proverbs

Synonymous Proverbs

The 30 Sayings

Other Sayings

Words of Agur

Words of Lemuel

1:1-7

1:8-9:18

10:1-15:33

16:1-22:16

22:17

24:23

25:1-29:27

30

31

Introduction to Wisdom (1:8-9:18)

After a brief introduction to the author, purpose, style and theme, chapters 1 through 9 serve as an introduction to the abstract idea of wisdom. Many scholars believe this section was added at a later time to serve as the introductory passage to the collection of proverbs. This section is more consistent in its themes and sets the tone and philosophical framework that helps us to understand the random proverbs to follow. This section fits the style of a “teaching manual” rather than the folk wisdom found in the latter sections.

This section outlines the value and benefits of wisdom (chapters 2-3) and calls on the reader to seek out wisdom (chapter 4). The writer than makes a comparison between two women who are seeking out a young man: 1) the seductive adulteress (chapters 5-7) and 2) the woman of wisdom (chapters 8-9).

The Proverbs of Solomon (10:1-22:16)

Chapters 10-22 are the heart and soul of the book of Proverbs. This seemingly random list of 375 pithy sayings (or proverbs) of Solomon deal with all matter of topics, but not in any organized fashion. However, there does appear to be two sections to these proverbs. From chapters 10-15, there are 184 proverbs, of which only 19 do not entail some form of contrast. From chapters 16-22 there are 191 proverbs, of which only 18 are antithetical. Instead, these proverbs are more synonymous [1].

Forms of the Proverb

There are at least seven forms of comparison in the book of Proverbs [2]:

1. Things that are the same.

Like a bad tooth and an unsteady foot
Is confidence in a faithless man in time of trouble (25:19)

2. Things that seem the same but are different.

A sated man loathes honey
But to a famished man any bitter thing is sweet (27:7)

3. Things that seem different but are the same.

A ring of gold in a swine's snout
So is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion (11:22)

4. Things that are futile.

He who sows iniquity will reap vanity
And the rod of his fury will perish (22:8)

5. Sayings that classify things.

Four things are small on the earth,
But they are exceedingly wise…. (30:24ff)

6. Sayings that indicate relative value.

Better is a little with righteousness
Than great income with injustice (16:8)

7. Sayings that set forth consequences.

An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips
But the righteous will escape from trouble (12:13)

The Sayings of the Wise (22:17-24:34)

The proverbs of Solomon are interrupted in chapter 22 by what are titled “the sayings of the wise” (22:17, 24:23).

The Thirty Sayings of the Wise (22:17-24:22)

As the sayings of the wise begin, the writer states:

Have I not written for you thirty sayings of counsel and knowledge? (Proverbs 22:20 ESV)

The New American Standard Version translates “thirty sayings” as “excellent things,” revealing to us that there is some controversy as to the proper translation of this term. The number thirty is probably a better translation for two reasons:

  1. The sayings of the following verses are similar to the Wisdom of Amenemope , which is contained in thirty chapters.
  2. The following verses contain thirty different topics.

These sayings are not collected in couplets like the sayings of Solomon, but continue on a single subject for several lines. These sayings are closely related to an Egyptian wisdom piece known as the Wisdom of Amenemope , which was written around the reign of King Solomon.

Other Sayings of the Wise (24:23-24:34)

After the thirty sayings, there is a small collection of additional “sayings of the wise.” These proverbs address the topics of justice followed by a short poem rebuking the sluggard.

The Proverbs of Solomon (collected by Hezekiah) (25:1-29:27)

This section returns to the proverbs of Solomon, and returns to the couplet style of proverb. These couplets, however, seem to contain more analogies than any other style of couplet.

Like snow in summer and like rain in harvest
So honor is not fitting for a fool. (Proverbs 26:1)

Words of Others (30:1-31:31)

The last two chapters contain proverbs from two unknown persons, Agur son of Jakeh and King Lemuel. Both these sections are declared to be “oracles.” However, The words of Agur and Lemuel do not sound like the prophetic oracles in the other parts of the bible. The Hebrew term translated oracle in NASB and NIV is massa . Therefore, some believe that the word is more properly translated as a proper noun, indicating that Agur and Lemuel were from the tribe of Massa, located in northern Arabia (Genesis 25:14, 1 Chronicles 1:30) [3].

Words of Agur (30:1-33)

If the translation of massa is indeed a tribe, then Agur was not an Israelite. This explains why the author acknowledges his lack of knowledge about Yahweh. Agur states that he has “no knowledge of the Holy One” (30:3), but he is nonetheless intrigued by the greatness of God (30:4). But Agur is not just fascinated by theology, but expresses a curiosity at many things.

The words of Agur are uniquely structured in lists:

Two things I asked of You (30:7)
There are three things that will not be satisfied,

Four that will not say enough (30:15ff)

There are three things which are too wonderful for me,
Four which I do not understand (30:18ff)

Under three things the earth quakes,
And under four it cannot bear up (30:21ff)

Four things are small on the earth,
But they are exceedingly wise (30:24ff)

There are three things which are stately in their march (30:29ff)

This is a common way to introduce lists in ancient literature. Solomon lists six, no seven things which the Lord hates in Proverbs 6:16. The prophet Amos lists three transgressions of various nations, and for four (transgressions) (Amos 2).

Words of Lemuel's mother (31:1-31)

As with the words of Agur, Lemuel's words are also called Massa , meaning he too was not an Israelite. These words are actually those of Lemuel's mother, however. Just as the early proverbs were instruction from a father to his son, this final chapter is instruction from a mother to a son.

An Excellent Wife (31:10-31)

It is not entirely clear if the rest of this chapter is included in the wisdom of Lemuel's mother. Nonetheless, this passage seems to be motherly advice to as on who might be looking for a wife. These characteristics are things a young man should be looking for in a future wife.

These verses form an acrostic in Hebrew, with each verse beginning with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

Footnotes

  1. “Proverbs.” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.
  2. Robert Scott. The Way of Wisdom. As quoted in Allen P. Ross, “Proverbs.” Expositor's Bible Commentary .
  3. David Malick. An Introduction to the Book of Proverbs. (Available on-line at http://www.bible.org .)

[Next:The Nature of Wisdom]


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