Author: Principally Solomon, but also others
Date: Tenth Century B.C. and later
The Book of Proverbs embodies the collective wisdom of Israel. Usually attributed to Solomon, it is a collection of sayings that reflects Israel’s views about how one was to live life in the presence of God. To live this way was wise; those who taught these epigrams were “sages” or wisemen.
The idea of wisdom is common in the Old Testament. In its fullest and highest sense, wisdom belongs to God alone. He is the originator of all life. He knows everything that occurs or could occur. To him belong the earth, humanity, all other living things, the stars, heavens, and angelic hosts. All are evidence of the wisdom of God. In one place it is even said that wisdom was a mastercraftsman along with God (8:22-31). God’s wisdom guides the affairs of nature and of humankind, and his ways are past knowing. His ways are not our ways. Consequently we should never second-guess God in order to attempt an explanation of things.
God has revealed some of his wisdom to us. When speaking of wisdom in this way, the Bible uses the term in three ways. Sometimes a skill is described as wisdom. A person who has the technical ability to do something like build a ship or a building is called wise. Sometimes the art of making the right decisions is called wisdom, whether moral or nonmoral. Preachers need wisdom to succeed, but so do architects; both are called wise when they make right choices. Finally, wisdom among human beings is the art of right living. It includes all aspects of our lives and begins with “fear” (respect) of the Lord. It is a religious and practical knowledge that unifies our lives in the presence of God.
The Book of Proverbs sums up this idea of wisdom with a collection of aphorisms that cover every aspect of life–relation to parents, growing up, serving God, resisting temptation, practical advice, seeking the truth, the folly of riches, situations to avoid, the knowledge of God, the perfect wife, to name just a few. The table lists the parables in the Bible.
Theological Themes for the Proverbs
The central theological idea of Proverbs is that God is creator and ruler. He made the world to function a certain way, and if we have any sense at all we will look to him as supreme. Life is filled with mysteries, but God understands them all and invites us to turn to him for guidance. A second theme, related to the first, is that all of life can be redeemed. Since God made all of life, all of it may be offered to God. Not a single phase of legitimate human existence is outside God’s concern. A third theme is that serving God makes sense and leads to a full and satisfying life. This stands to reason. If God made life to function best by living a certain way, to live that way produces meaning and fullness in our lives. Finally, only fools choose death. Two roads are open before us: the way of life and the way of death. The wise person chooses life; the fool chooses death. The way we go depends eventually on us.
Outline for the Proverbs
- Introduction Proverbs 1:1-7
- Thirteen lessons on wisdom Proverbs 1:8-9:18
- Book 1 of Solomon’s wisdom Proverbs 10:1-22:16
- Collections of the sages Proverbs 22:17-24:34
- Book 2 of Solomon’s wisdom Proverbs 25:1-29:27
- The wisdom of Agur Proverbs 30:1-33
- The wisdom of Lemuel; the perfect wife Proverbs 31:1-31