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Proverbs

The book of Proverbs opens with The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, the king of Israel. However, the structure of this book tells us that this is a compilation from sources other than just Solomon and, in the form we have it, was compiled some three centuries after Solomon’s time. First Kings 4:32 reads, He spake three thousand proverbs. With such a number quoted, there must at some time have been a known collection of Solomon’s proverbs. Clearly, there is only a small proportion here in this book, the remainder of which are lost to us. Theologians don’t all agree on how far this book goes in providing us with teachings of Solomon himself, what portions may be attributed to him and what may be attributed to later writers. Nevertheless, the book can be readily divided into sections, which probably goes some way to answering this. However, we shouldn’t be too concerned about differing opinions of theologians and commentators. It is sufficient to know that All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness [2Tim 3:16]. The only problem, perhaps, is that the way the proverbs read is as if someone threw them all into a hat and then picked them out randomly to record them. For this reason, some have categorised the proverbs by subject matter. This is somewhat subjective as witnessed by the varying number of categories used: Matthew Henry offers seventy-seven; Hugh Buchanan forty-four; Thompson Chain Reference Study Bible twenty-two; and The Lion Handbook to the Bible just sixteen. If the reader likes the idea of reading through the proverbs in this way, and has access to the Internet, then a search will probably find a categorisation that suits. As there are thirty-one chapters, a popular way of reading this book is a chapter a day. This is as good a process as any to familiarise oneself with Proverbs. The random manner of the proverbs makes it almost impossible to provide a summary without commenting on each individual proverb, which isn’t a summary. Consequently, there is a limitation on what can be achieved here. Including the introductory verses in ch1 vs1-7, the book can be divided into eight sections: Prologue [1:1-7] Lessons on wisdom [1:8-9:18] Proverbs of Solomon [10:1-22:16] A collection of thirty sayings of wise men [22:17-24:22] A further collection of sayings of wise men [24:23-34] More of Solomon’s proverbs (Hezekiah’s collection) [chs 25-29] Sayings of Agur [ch 30] Sayings of King Lemuel [ch 31]

Prologue

[1:1-7]

Here we have the purpose of these proverbs: to know wisdom and gain understanding. Primarily intended as instruction for the uneducated and young, but the wise will also benefit. All will grow in understanding and knowledge. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.

Lessons on Wisdom

[1:8-9:18]

The superiority of the way of wisdom

[1:8-33] Before presenting the reader with a selection of proverbs, the writer offers some lessons on wisdom, speaking as a father to his son. He speaks of the superior way of wisdom, beginning with the necessary caution to avoid the company of sinners, and to listen instead to the voice of Wisdom, personified, complaining that she is ignored, even being treated with contempt. She warns those who ignore her counsels that there will be serious consequences.

Commendation of Wisdom

[2-4] Chapter 2 - Benefits of accepting Wisdom's instructions If Wisdom is sought, then she will be found in the fear of the Lord, who is the giver of all wisdom and its consequential knowledge. She will protect you from falling into wrong company, both male and female, and lead you to the path of righteousness. Chapter 3 - Wisdom’s instructions and benefits Wisdom teaches obedience, trust, humility, giving and submission to God’s chastening, the benefits of which riches cannot buy: peace, happiness and security. We are not to hold back from doing good, practising love and forbearance continually. The wicked and their ways are not to be envied, for the humble and wise will be the beneficiaries of God’s grace. Chapter 4 - Challenge to hold on to wisdom Wisdom should be passed from father to son; should be embraced and not forgotten. Wisdom is life and her path is as a shining light, whereas the way of the wicked is as darkness. Keep wisdom in your heart and do not deviate in any way from the path she leads you down.

Warnings against folly

[5-7] Chapter 5 - Warning against adultery The character of a loose woman is described, as are the dire consequences of submitting to her enticing words. Rather than submit, rejoice in the wife of your youth and the pleasures of conjugal love, for to do otherwise is folly and has its cost. Chapter 6:1-19 - Warning against perverse ways There are things the author describes as perverse, which include becoming surety for others, slothfulness and a mischievous person. We are then given seven things that God hates: a proud look; a lying tongue; hands that shed innocent blood; a heart that plans wicked things; feet that are swift to run to mischief; a false witness; one who stirs up trouble amongst friends. Chapter 6:20-35 - Cost of committing adultery The author provides an exhortation to keep the Word of God in our hearts, before returning to the subject of adultery and repeated warnings of whoredom and adultery that can destroy a man’s soul. A warning is given concerning the jealousy of an adulteress’s husband. Chapter 7 - Warning against the incitements of an adulteress Another exhortation to acquire wisdom as armour against the adulteress. This time, an observation of a harlot at work is recorded, enticing a young man who is seemingly unaware of his spiritual fate. It is followed by a solemn warning that Her house is the way to hell.

Appeals addressed to youth

[8,9] Chapter 8 - Wisdom’s appeal Wisdom’s appeal is addressed to all men. The excellence of her instruction and the value of it exceed any earthly riches, and benefit those who submit to her counsel. Wisdom has existed from the beginning, the very first of all creation. Only those who heed her counsels are blessed. Chapter 9 - Invitations of wisdom and folly We are now invited by Christ, under the name of Wisdom, to enter into fellowship and communion with Him. Fear of God is what is required from us, but the choice is ours. For we are also invited by folly, in the name of a foolish woman, to commune with her, but her reward is spiritual death.

Proverbs of Solomon

[10:1-22:16] Other than the introductory words of 10:1 – These are Solomon’s proverbs – this section is devoted entirely to proverbs, many of which are within a single verse, and most of which have no relationship to adjacent proverbs. Consequently, as alluded to earlier, there is no opportunity here to summarise them.

Sayings of the wise

[22:17-24:22] This is reckoned as the beginning of a new section, introduced by the words of verse 17: Bow down thine ear, and hear the words of the wise. Who wrote these words and who ‘the wise’ are appear to be matters of theological debate. What is notable is that following verses 17 to 21, which are an encouragement in the pursuit of wisdom, the proverbs are generally expressed in more than one verse. A change in style to Solomon’s proverbs earlier.

More sayings of the wise

[24:23-34] Verse 23 begins The wise have also said these things: and announces a new group of just a few proverbs.

Proverbs of Solomon - Hezekiah’s collection

[25-29] Hezekiah was one of the great kings of Israel who brought about a reformation. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that he collected some of Solomon’s proverbs, recorded here. As in Solomon’s proverbs in earlier chapters, they are now predominantly one-liners and summarising them is impractical.

Sayings of Agur

[30] Regardless of some speculation or theories, we don’t know who Agur was. The structure of this small collection of proverbs allows the following summary. Agur first professes his faith and offers a short prayer. He then gives a caution against wronging servants before he delivers his proverbs grouped in fours. The first two are reflections on four wicked generations and four things that are never satisfied. A caution then follows against one who despises his parents before following with four things he finds too wonderful for him, four things that disquiet the land, four small but wise animals, then four things that go well. Finally, there is a warning against doing foolish things that will lead to strife.

Sayings of King Lemuel

[31] This final section is The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taugh him (verse 1). This is the only mention of King Lemuel in the Bible, so we don’t know who he is. Some say he is Solomon, but careful consideration of verse two speaks against this view. Lemuel’s mother advises him against debauchery, wine and strong drink, as these things have the potential of adversely affecting both kings and their subjects when administering justice. She then describes at length a virtuous woman whose many qualities will cause her children to call her blessed and her husband to praise her.Such a woman is one who fears God.