· 1-9 – wisdom praised and personified
· 10-22 – the proverbs of Solomon
· 25-29 – the proverbs of Solomon copied by the officials of Hezekiah
· 30 – the words of Agur son of Jakeh, with numerical proverbs
· 31 – the words of King Lemuel, and an acrostic poem about the virtuous wife
The literary form of the proverbs is parallelistic. This includes
· Antithetic parallelism (clauses in opposition), eg ‘a false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but an accurate weight is his delight’ (11:1)
· Synonymous parallelism (clauses repeating essentially the same point in a different way), eg ‘A false witness will not go unpunished, and a liar will not escape’ (19:5). Similes are a subset of this.
· Progressive parallelism (a clause extending what has been said in a previous one), eg ‘the lazy person does not plough in season; harvest comes, and there is nothing to be found’ (20:4)
Stock types in the Proverbs:
· The liar (eg 12:22)
· The whisperer (eg 2:12-15)
· The gossip (eg 11:13)
· The flatterer (eg 26:28)
· The scoffer (eg 21:24)
· The righteous and the wicked (eg 10:11)
· The wise and the fool (eg 29:11)
Characteristics of Wisdom literature:
· Addresses simple questions of living – how to deal with children, how to avoid unnecessary conflict, the nature of power, the need for hard work
· Little interest in history and the minutiae of politics
· Wisdom is not a divinely revealed truth – it does not address the human condition from the divine perspective, but from the perspective of human needs and concerns. There is no ‘thus saith the Lord’ in Proverbs!
· Nonetheless, Wisdom both creates and reflects the divine order of the world. Folly is blind to that order, and has the effect of disrupting it.
· As a personified figure, Wisdom is divine and transcendent – chapter 8 says she was with God from the beginning.
· Wisdom is socially conservative, and grounded in tradition and observation. The fact that the text of Proverbs accreted over time suggests that wisdom is rooted in the past.
· Probably some Assyrian and Egyptian influence. The Egyptian Instruction of Amenemope is analogous. Does the logos-like nature of wisdom in chapter 8 suggest a Hellenistic influence too?
The purpose of the proverbs is for the reader to receive wisdom, justice, judgment and equity. A son is advised against the influence of sinners. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. A personified Wisdom is imagined in the streets, crying out against fools and scorners. She has called out, but been rejected. The will eventually laugh at the inevitable calamities that befall. Those who reject her counsel will eat the fruit of their own way.
Advice to son to seek wisdom. The Lord keepeth the paths of wisdom (see the wisdom language of, eg, psalm 1). The unrighteous walk in the ways of darkness. Their ways are crooked. A shadowy strange woman is invoked, the apparent antithesis of Wisdom, whose house inclineth unto death.
Further advice to seek wisdom, and not be wise in your own eyes. Whom the Lord loveth he correcteth. The blessings of wisdom are long days and prosperity. Do not envy the oppressor, or choose his ways. The wise shall inherit glory: but shame shall be the promotion of fools.
The pedigree of wisdom: the author too was taught by a father. Wisdom shall give to thine head an ornament of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee. Avoid the paths of evil men. They eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence. Be careful in the path you tread.
The lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil: but her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Come not to her house. Do not associate with strangers.
Don’t be surety for thy friend. How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? The six things hated by the Lord are a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness, and he that soweth discord among brethren. Keep the commandment of your parents, which is like a lamp. Keep from the evil woman, and do not lust after her. He who commits adultery destroys his own soul.
Wisdom should be thy sister. A young man is mentioned, who is seduced into committing adultery by a strange woman. Her house is the way to hell.
Wisdom crieth at the gates of the city. She declares the righteousness of her own words, and speaks of the proper hatred of evil. Through her, kings and princes reign. She leads in the way of righteousness. The Lord possessed her in the beginning; she was set up from everlasting. Before the mountains were settled, she was brought forth. Her presence at primordial creation is continually emphasised. He who sinneth against wisdom wrongeth his own soul.
Wisdom hath built and prepared her house. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. A sharp distinction is drawn between the wise, who grow wiser by instruction and who listen to rebukes, and the scorners, who do not. The simple may come, eat of wisdom’s bread and drink of her wine. Wisdom’s house is contrasted with that of a foolish clamorous woman.
Sundry proverbs: the difference between the wise and the foolish, the righteous and the wicked, the diligent and the idle. The difference is often couched in terms of what the wise and foolish say: there is a contrast between the good and the evil tongue, and between the slanderer and the peacemaker.
A parallel of the advantages of the righteous and wise, opposed to the miseries of the wicked and the foolish. True and false riches. Parallelistic verse, using ‘He who…but he who’ or ‘He who…and’ formulae.
Of the benefit of instruction, and the cultivation of piety. The virtuous woman. The different lot of the just and unjust. The humane man. The industrious man. The fool and the wise man. The uncharitable. The excellence of the righteous. The slothful is in want. Righteousness leads to life, and other proverbs.
Various moral sentences; the wise child; continence of speech; ill-gotten wealth; delay of what is hoped for; the bad consequences of refusing instruction; providing for one's children; the necessity of correcting them, etc.
Various moral observations. The antithesis between wisdom and folly, and the different effects of each.
The soft answer. Useful correction. Stability of the righteous. The contented mind. The slothful man. The fool. The covetous. The impious. The wicked opposed to the righteous, to the diligent, and to the man who fears the Lord.
Man prepares, but God governs. God has made all things for himself; he hates pride. The judgments of God. The administration of kings; their justice, anger, and clemency. God has made all in weight, measure, and due proportion. Necessity produces industry. The patient man. The lot is under the direction of the Lord.
Contentment. The wise servant. The Lord tries the heart. Children are a crown to their parents. We should hide our neighbour's faults. The poor should not be despised. Litigations and quarrels are to be avoided. Wealth is useless to a fool. The good friend. A fool may pass for a wise man when he holds his peace.
The man who separates himself and seeks wisdom. The fool and the wicked man. Deep wisdom. Contention of fools. The talebearer and the slothful. The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runneth into it. Pride and presumption because of riches. Hastiness of spirit. The wounded spirit. The influence of gifts. The lot. The offended brother is hard to be won. The influence of the tongue. A wife is a good from God. The true friend.
The worth of a poor upright man. Riches preserve friends. False witnesses. False friends. A king's wrath contrasted to his favour. The foolish son. The prudent wife. Slothfulness. Pity for the poor. The fear of the Lord. The spendthrift son. Obedience to parents.
Against wine and strong drink. We should avoid contentions. The sluggard. The righteous man. Weights and measures. Tale-bearers. The wicked son. The wise king. The glory of young men. The beauty of old men. The benefit of correction.
The king's heart is in the hand of God. We should practise mercy and justice. The lying tongue. The quarrelsome woman. The punishment of the wicked. The uncharitable. The private gift. The happiness of the righteous. The wicked a ransom for the righteous. The treasures of the wise. He who guards his tongue. Desire of the sluggard. The false witness. Salvation is of the Lord.
A good reputation. The rich and the poor. The idle. Good habits formed in infancy. Injustice and its effects. The providence of God. The lewd woman. The necessity of timely correction. Exhortation to wisdom. Rob not the poor. Do not be friends with an angry man. Avoid suretyship. Be honest. The industrious shall be favoured.
Sobriety in eating and drinking, especially at the tables of the great. Have no fellowship with the covetous. Remove not the ancient landmark. Children should receive due correction. Avoid the company of wine-bibbers. Obedience to parents. Avoid lewd connections. The effect of an unfeeling conscience.
Do not be envious. Of the house wisely built. Counsel necessary in war. Save life when thou canst. Of honey and the honey-comb. The just falleth seven times, but rise again. We should not rejoice at the misfortune of others. Ruin of the wicked. Fear God and the king. Prepare thy work. The field of the sluggard and the vineyard of the foolish described.
The proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied out. God’s mysteriousness is glorious. Observations concerning kings. Avoid contentions. Opportune speech. The faithful ambassador. Delicacies to be sparingly used. Avoid familiarity. Amusements not grateful to a distressedmind. Do good to your enemies. The misery of dwelling with a scold. The necessity of moderation and self-government.
Honour is not seemly in a fool. The correction and treatment suitable to such. Of the slothful man. Of him who interferes with matters which do not concern him. Contentions to be avoided. Of the dissembler and the lying tongue.
Tomorrow is uncertain. Self-praise forbidden. Anger and envy. Reproof from a friend. Want makes us feel the value of a supply. A good neighbour. Beware of suretyship. Suspicious priase. The quarrelsome woman. One friend helps another. Man insatiable. The incorrigible fool. Domestic cares. The profit of flocks for food and clothes.
The timidity of the wicked. Quick succession in the government of a country is a punishment to the land. Of the poor who oppress the poor. The upright poor man is preferable to the wicked rich man. The unprofitable conduct of the usurer. The prosperity of the righteous a cause of rejoicing. He is blessed who fears always. A wicked ruler is a curse. The murderer generally execrated. The faithful man. The corrupt judge. The foolishness of trusting in one's own heart. The charitable man. When the wicked are elevated, it is a public evil.
We must not despise correction. The prudent king. The flatterer. The just judge. Contend not with a fool. The prince who opens his ears to reports. The poor and the deceitful. The pious king. The insolent servant. The humiliation of the proud. Of the partner of a thief. The fear of man. The Lord the righteous judge.
The words of Agur the son of Jakeh. Of wicked generations. Things that are never satisfied (the grave, the barren womb, the earth that is not filled with water, and fire). Of him who despises his parents. Four wonderful things (the flight of an eagle, the way of a serpent, the way of a ship, the way of a man with a maid). Three things that disquiet the land (a servant who reigns, a fool filled with meat, an odious woman married, and a handmaid that is heir to her mistress. Four small but resourceful animals (ants, rabbits, locusts, spiders). Four things that go well (a dominant lion, a greyhound, a he-goat and a king against whom there is no rising up). A man should cease from doing foolishly, and from strife.
The words and prophecy of King Lemuel, abut what his mother taught him. Debauchery and much wine to be avoided. Kings should administer justice soberly. The praise of a virtuous woman and good housewife, in her economy, prudence, watchfulness, and assiduity in labour. Her price is above rubies.