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Survey of the Book of Proverbs

Author: The main author of Proverbs is King Solomon. In fact, the Hebrew title Mishle Shelomoh translates as "Proverbs of Solomon." Solomon is mentioned by name in Proverbs 1:1, 10:1, and 25:1. Though he wrote many of the proverbs, there is also reason to believe that Solomon was not the sole author of the collection, but also functioned as an editor and curator of proverbs that he did not originally write. We know this by looking ahead to another book often credited to Solomon, Ecclesiastes, wherein he is called the Preacher (Ecclesiastes 1:1). The narrator of that book states, "Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care" (Ecclesiastes 12:9).

Date of writing: The estimated date of writing is sometime around 900 BC. Under King Solomon's rule, Israel flourished economically and spiritually, serving as a political leader with a powerful reputation. Solomon was known for his wisdom and many leaders from throughout the world would come to seek his wise counsel (1 Kings 4:34). It's no wonder that he is responsible for writing and curating the book of Proverbs.

Purpose: It is relatively easy to grow in knowledge of facts, but growing in wisdom is a deeper journey. The wisdom that comes from God, the wisdom we gain from the proverbs, teaches us how to view people, situations, and the matters of the world from a godly perspective. Wisdom takes the knowledge we have accumulated and enables us to practically apply that knowledge to all the matters of our lives, from the mundane everyday moments to pivotal life decisions. Proverbs provides wisdom on the common matters of life, such as business dealings, politics, sexual relations, raising children, alcohol, wealth, friendship, giving, stewardship, ambition, laziness, and foolishness—to name a few. It teaches us godly wisdom that we can apply to the circumstances and challenges we face.

Key verses:

Proverbs 1:7: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction."

Proverbs 3:5–6: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths."

Proverbs 8:10–11: "Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her."

Proverbs 27:17: "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another."

Proverbs 31:10: "An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels."

Themes: Put quite simply, the theme of the book of Proverbs is wisdom and its many practical applications to our lives. The message is to seek wisdom above all else. Proverbs teaches us to say no to foolish ways and instructs us on how to walk in wisdom.

Brief summary: There is no plotline or characters that need to be summarized in the book of Proverbs, since it is not a narrative. Godly wisdom is personified as a female throughout the book, so if there were a character it would be wisdom (Proverbs 1:20–23; 8:1–3). The entirety of the book is dedicated to teaching this wisdom—godly wisdom that shows us how to navigate our lives well, wisdom that is as true today as it was when Proverbs was written about three thousand years ago.

Application: Proverbs is a manual of how to live well by walking in godly wisdom. Wise men and women can have certainty in their life decisions and journey because they have learned how to live righteously and walk in godly wisdom. The path of the wise becomes clearer while the path of the wicked is treacherous and shrouded in darkness: "But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble…Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure" (Proverbs 4:18–19, 25–26).

It is important to understand that the book of Proverbs, as a literary form, conveys general principles that are usually true; the items contained are not direct promises. That being said, by listening to and obeying the instructions in the book of Proverbs, people can live contented godly lives. "A good man obtains favor from the LORD, but a man of evil devices he condemns. No one is established by wickedness, but the root of the righteous will never be moved" (Proverbs 12:2–3). Of course, true righteousness comes only through Jesus Christ.


Related Truth:

What is a proverb? What makes a saying in the Bible a proverb?

What is wisdom literature?

What is the literary device of antithetical parallelism used in Hebrew poetry?

What is the literary device of synonymous parallelism used in Hebrew poetry?

What principles are used in biblical exegesis?


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