Bible Book Number 20—Proverbs
Speakers: Solomon, Agur, Lemuel
Place Written: Jerusalem
Writing Completed: c. 717 B.C.E.
1. What wisdom is to be found in the book of Proverbs?
WHEN Solomon, the son of David, became king of Israel in 1037 B.C.E., he prayed to Jehovah for “wisdom and knowledge” to “judge this great people.” In response, Jehovah gave him ‘knowledge and wisdom and an understanding heart.’ (2 Chron. 1:10-12; 1 Ki. 3:12; 4:30, 31) As a result, Solomon came to “speak three thousand proverbs.” (1 Ki. 4:32) Some of this spoken wisdom was recorded in the Bible book of Proverbs. Since his wisdom was really that which “God had put in his heart,” then in studying Proverbs we are in fact studying the wisdom of Jehovah God. (1 Ki. 10:23, 24) These proverbs sum up eternal truths. They are just as up-to-date now as when they were first uttered.
2. Why was Solomon’s time an appropriate one in which to provide the divine guidance in Proverbs?
2 The reign of Solomon was an appropriate time for providing this divine guidance. Solomon was said to “sit upon Jehovah’s throne.” The theocratic kingdom of Israel was at its height, and Solomon was favored with surpassing “royal dignity.” (1 Chron. 29:23, 25) It was a time of peace and plenty, a time of security. (1 Ki. 4:20-25) However, even under that theocratic rule, the people still had their personal problems and difficulties due to human imperfections. That the people would look to wise King Solomon to help them solve their problems is understandable. (1 Ki. 3:16-28) In the course of pronouncing judgment in these many cases, he uttered proverbial sayings that fitted the many circumstances of life arising from day to day. These brief but impressive sayings were greatly treasured by those who desired to regulate their lives in accordance with the will of God.
3. How did Proverbs come to be compiled?
3 The record does not say that Solomon wrote the Proverbs. However, it says that he ‘spoke’ proverbs, also that “he . . . made a thorough search, that he might arrange many proverbs in order,” thus showing that he had an interest in preserving proverbs for later use. (1 Ki. 4:32; Eccl. 12:9) In the time of David and Solomon, there were official secretaries in the lists of court officials. (2 Sam. 20:25; 2 Ki. 12:10) Whether these scribes in his court wrote and collected his proverbs, we do not know, but the expressions of any ruler of his caliber would be highly regarded and would normally be recorded. It is generally agreed that the book is a collection compiled from other collections.
4. (a) How is the book of Proverbs generally divided? (b) Who originated the bulk of the proverbs?
4 The book of Proverbs may be divided into five sections. These are: (1) Chapters 1-9, opening with the words, “The proverbs of Solomon the son of David”; (2) Chapters 10-24, described as the “Proverbs of Solomon”; (3) Chapters 25-29, which division begins: “These also are the proverbs of Solomon that the men of Hezekiah the king of Judah transcribed”; (4) Chapter 30, introduced as “The words of Agur the son of Jakeh”; and (5) Chapter 31, which comprises “The words of Lemuel the king, the weighty message that his mother gave to him in correction.” Solomon was thus the originator of the bulk of the proverbs. As to Agur and Lemuel, nothing definite is known about their identity. Some commentators suggest that Lemuel may have been another name for Solomon.
5. When was Proverbs written and compiled?
5 When was Proverbs written and compiled? The greater part was no doubt written down during Solomon’s reign (1037-998 B.C.E.) before his deflection. Because of uncertainty as to the identity of Agur and Lemuel, it is not possible to date their material. Since one of the collections was made in the reign of Hezekiah (745-717 B.C.E.), it could not have been before his reign that the final collecting was done. Were the last two divisions also collected under King Hezekiah’s purview? In answer there is an illuminating footnote to Proverbs 31:31 in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures—With References: “Some ed[itions] of the Heb[rew] text display the trigrammaton, or three letters, Chehth, Zaʹyin, Qohph (חזק) that stand as King Hezekiah’s signature to the copy-work done by his scribes to signify that the work had been completed.”
6. What is a proverb, and why is the Hebrew title of the book fitting?
6 In Hebrew Bibles the book was first called by the opening word in the book, mish·lehʹ, meaning “proverbs.” Mish·lehʹ is the plural number, construct state, of the Hebrew noun ma·shalʹ, which noun is generally thought to be derived from a root word meaning “be like” or “be comparable.” These terms nicely describe the contents of the book, for proverbs are pithy sayings that often employ likenesses or comparisons and that are designed to make the hearer think. The brief form of the proverbs makes them easy to follow and interesting, and in this form they are easily taught, learned, and remembered. The idea sticks.
7. What should be noted about the style of Proverbs?
7 The style of expression in the book is also most interesting. It is in Hebrew poetic style. The structure of most of the book is parallel poetry. This does not make the ends of lines or verses rhyme, or sound alike. It consists of making rhythmic lines give parallel thoughts or ideas. Its beauty and power of instruction lie in this thought rhythm. The thoughts may be synonymous or contrasting, but the power of the parallel is there to give extension to the thought, to enlarge upon the idea, and to make sure of conveying the meaning in the thought. Examples of the synonymous parallelism are to be found at Proverbs 11:25; 16:18; and 18:15, and examples of the more abundant contrasting parallelism at Proverbs 10:7, 30; 12:25; 13:25; and 15:8. Another type of structure is found right at the end of the book. (Prov. 31:10-31) The 22 verses there are arranged so that in Hebrew each one begins with the succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet, this being the acrostic style that is used also in a number of the psalms. For beauty this style has no parallel in ancient writings.
8. How does the use made of Proverbs by the early Christians testify to its authenticity?
8 The authenticity of Proverbs is also shown in the wide use made of the book by the early Christians in stating rules of conduct. James was apparently very familiar with Proverbs and used its basic principles in the fine counsel he gave for Christian conduct. (Compare Proverbs 14:29; 17:27 with James 1:19, 20; Proverbs 3:34 with James 4:6; Proverbs 27:1 with James 4:13, 14.) Direct quotations from Proverbs are also to be found in the following passages: Romans 12:20—Proverbs 25:21, 22; Hebrews 12:5, 6—Proverbs 3:11, 12; 2 Peter 2:22—Proverbs 26:11.
9. How does Proverbs harmonize with the rest of the Bible?
9 In addition, Proverbs shows itself to be in harmony with the rest of the Bible, thus proving it to be a part of “all Scripture.” It presents striking unity of thought when compared with the Law of Moses, Jesus’ teaching, and the writings of Jesus’ disciples and apostles. (See Proverbs 10:16—1 Corinthians 15:58 and Galatians 6:8, 9; Proverbs 12:25—Matthew 6:25; Proverbs 20:20—Exodus 20:12 and Matthew 15:4.) Even when touching on such points as the readying of the earth for human habitation, there is oneness of thinking with other Bible writers.—Prov. 3:19, 20; Gen. 1:6, 7; Job 38:4-11; Ps. 104:5-9.
10, 11. What further testifies to the book’s divine inspiration?
10 Also testifying to the book’s divine inspiration is its scientific accuracy, whether the proverb involves chemical, medical, or health principles. Proverbs 25:20 apparently tells of acid-alkali reactions. Proverbs 31:4, 5 agrees with modern scientific findings that alcohol dulls the thinking processes. Many doctors and nutritionists agree that honey is a healthful food, calling to mind the proverb: “My son, eat honey, for it is good.” (Prov. 24:13) Modern observations on psychosomatics are not new to Proverbs. “A heart that is joyful does good as a curer.”—17:22; 15:17.
11 Indeed, so completely does the book of Proverbs cover every human need and situation that one authority stated: “There is no relation in life which has not its appropriate instruction, no good or evil tendency without its proper incentive or correction. The human consciousness is everywhere brought into immediate relation with the Divine, . . . and man walks as in the presence of his Maker and Judge . . . Every type of humanity is found in this ancient book; and though sketched three thousand years ago, is still as true to nature as if now drawn from its living representative.”—Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, 1890, Vol. III, page 2616.
CONTENTS OF PROVERBS
12. (a) What connected poem makes up the first section of Proverbs? (b) What does it teach concerning wisdom and human conduct? (c) How does Proverbs 1:7 set the pattern for the entire book?
12 The First Section (1:1–9:18). This is a connected poem made up of short discourses as though from a father to a son, dealing with the need for wisdom to guide the heart, or the whole inner person, and to direct desire. It teaches the value of wisdom and its blessings: happiness, pleasantness, peace, and life. (1:33; 3:13-18; 8:32-35) It contrasts this with the lack of wisdom and its results: suffering and finally death. (1:28-32; 7:24-27; 8:36) Considering the infinite situations and possibilities of life, it gives one a basic study in human conduct and the present and future consequences of that conduct. The words at Proverbs 1:7 set the pattern for the entire book: “The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of knowledge.” All actions must show that Jehovah is taken into consideration. There is constant repetition of the need not to forget God’s laws, to keep close to his commandments and not to forsake them.
13. Trace the prominent threads that run through the first section of Proverbs.
13 The prominent threads that run through the fabric of this first section are practical wisdom, knowledge, fear of Jehovah, discipline, and discernment. Warnings are given against bad company, rejecting Jehovah’s discipline, and improper relations with strange women. (1:10-19; 3:11, 12; 5:3-14; 7:1-27) Twice, wisdom is described as being in public places, thus obtainable, available. (1:20, 21; 8:1-11) It is personified and speaks appealingly to the inexperienced ones, even throwing some light on the creation of the earth. (1:22-33; 8:4-36) What an amazing book this is! This section closes out on its starting theme, that “the fear of Jehovah is the start of wisdom.” (9:10) Throughout, it argues that recognition of Jehovah in all our ways, together with our adherence to his righteousness, is the way of life and can guard us against so much that is undesirable.
14. What contrasting parallelisms make the practical teachings of Proverbs stand out?
14 The Second Section (10:1–24:34). Here we find many choice, unconnected maxims that apply wisdom to the complex situations of life. By teaching us the proper applications, it aims to promote greater happiness and pleasant living. Contrasts in the parallelisms make these teachings stand out in our minds. Here is a partial list of the subjects that are considered in just chapters 10, 11, and Pr 12:
love vs. hatred
wisdom vs. foolishness
honesty vs. cheating
faithfulness vs. slander
truth vs. falsehood
generosity vs. holding back
diligence vs. slackness
walking in integrity vs. crooked ways
good counsel vs. no skillful direction
capable wife vs. shameful wife
righteousness vs. wickedness
modesty vs. presumptuousness
Considering this list in relation to daily living must convince us that Proverbs really is a practical book!
15. Give some examples of the variety of the human situations dealt with in Proverbs.
15 The rest of this section (13:1–24:34) continues with its reminders of Jehovah’s standards so that we may have insight and discernment. A list of the great variety of human situations dealt with will show what a broad coverage this book gives. It is most beneficial to have this Bible counsel on pretense, presumptuousness, keeping one’s word, shrewdness, associations, child correction and training, man’s view of what is right, being slow to anger, favor to the afflicted, fraud, prayer, ridicule, contentment with life’s necessities, pride, unjust profit, bribery, contention, self-control, isolation, silence, partiality, quarreling, humility, luxury, care of a father and a mother, intoxicating beverages, cheating, qualities of a wife, gifts, borrowing, lending, kindness, confidence, property lines, building up the household, envy, retaliation, vanity, mild answer, meditation, and true companionship. Quite a wealth of counsel to go to for sound guidance on everyday affairs! To some, a number of these items may seem unimportant, but herein we note that the Bible does not neglect our needs even in seemingly small things. In this, Proverbs is of inestimable value.
16. What upbuilding counsel is given in the third section of Proverbs?
16 The Third Section (25:1–29:27). Upbuilding counsel is given on such matters as honor, patience, enemies, dealing with stupid persons, having fun, flattery, jealousy, hurt caused by a friend, hunger, slander, attention to responsibility, interest, confession, results of wicked rule, arrogance, the blessings of righteous rule, child delinquency, treatment of servants, insight, and vision.
17. (a) What “weighty message” does Agur convey? (b) What different sets of four things does he describe?
17 The Fourth Section (30:1-33). This is “the weighty message” attributed to Agur. After a humble admission of his own unimportance, the writer makes reference to the inability of man to create the earth and the things in it. He calls God’s Word refined and a shield. He asks that the lying word be put far away from him and that he be given neither riches nor poverty. He describes an impure, proud, and greedy generation that calls down evil upon its parents. Four things that have not said “Enough!” are identified, along with four things that are too difficult to comprehend. (30:15, 16) An adulterous woman’s brazen self-acquittal is given. Then there are described four things under which the earth cannot endure, four small things instinctively wise, and four things that excel in their moving along. By apt comparisons, the writer warns that “the squeezing out of anger is what brings forth quarreling.”—30:33.
18. What does King Lemuel have to say about (a) a bad woman and (b) a capable wife?
18 The Fifth Section (31:1-31). Here is another “weighty message,” that of Lemuel the king. This is in two styles of writing. The first part discusses the ruin to which one can come through a bad woman, warns how intoxicating liquor can pervert judgment, and calls for righteous judgment. The acrostic in the latter part is devoted to a classic description of a capable wife. In some detail it considers her value, pointing out that she is trusted and rewarding to her owner. Her qualities include being industrious, an early riser, a careful buyer, kind to the poor, as well as exercising foresight and speaking with wisdom. She is also alert, respected by her children, and praised by her husband. Above all, she fears Jehovah.
19. How does Proverbs itself make known its beneficial purpose?
19 The beneficial purpose of Proverbs is stated in the opening verses: “For one to know wisdom and discipline, to discern the sayings of understanding, to receive the discipline that gives insight, righteousness and judgment and uprightness, to give to the inexperienced ones shrewdness, to a young man knowledge and thinking ability.” (1:2-4) In harmony with that stated purpose, the book highlights knowledge, wisdom, and understanding, each of which is beneficial in its particular way.
20. What does Proverbs say about knowledge?
20 (1) Knowledge is man’s great need, for it is not good for man to fall into ignorance. One can never acquire accurate knowledge without the fear of Jehovah, for knowledge starts with that fear. Knowledge is to be preferred rather than choice gold. Why? Through knowledge the righteous are rescued; it holds us back from hastening into sin. How we need to search for it, to take it in! Precious it is. So “incline your ear and hear the words of the wise ones, that you may apply your very heart to my knowledge.”—22:17; 1:7; 8:10; 11:9; 18:15; 19:2; 20:15.
21. What is the divine teaching concerning wisdom?
21 (2) Wisdom, the ability to use knowledge aright to the praise of Jehovah, “is the prime thing.” Acquire it. Its Source is Jehovah. Life-giving wisdom has its start in knowing and fearing Jehovah God—that is the great secret of wisdom. So fear God, not man. Wisdom personified issues a proclamation, urging all to mend their ways. Wisdom cries aloud in the very streets. Jehovah calls out to all those inexperienced ones and those in want of heart to turn aside and feed themselves with wisdom’s bread. Then, with the fear of Jehovah, they will be happy even if they have little. Many are the blessings of wisdom; greatly beneficial are its effects. Wisdom and knowledge—these are preliminary fundamentals for thinking ability, the kind that will safeguard us. As honey is beneficial and pleasant, so is wisdom. It is of more value than gold; it is a tree of life. People perish without wisdom, for wisdom preserves life; it means life.—4:7; 1:7, 20-23; 2:6, 7, 10, 11; 3:13-18, 21-26; 8:1-36; 9:1-6, 10; 10:8; 13:14; 15:16, 24; 16:16, 20-24; 24:13, 14.
22. What safeguard is to be found in understanding?
22 (3) Besides knowledge and wisdom, understanding is vital; hence, “with all that you acquire, acquire understanding.” Understanding is the ability to see a thing in its connected parts; it means discernment, always with God in mind, for man cannot lean upon his own understanding. How utterly impossible to have understanding or discernment if one works in opposition to Jehovah! To make it our own, we must keenly seek understanding as a hidden treasure. To understand, we must have knowledge. The search that the understanding one makes for knowledge is rewarded, and wisdom is in front of him. He is safeguarded from this world’s innumerable pitfalls, such as from the countless bad people who might try to ensnare one to walk with them in the way of darkness. Thanks be to Jehovah God—the Source of life-giving knowledge, wisdom, and understanding!—4:7; 2:3, 4; 3:5; 15:14; 17:24; 19:8; 21:30.
23. What kind of wise counsel will next be discussed?
23 In harmony with the beneficial purpose of Proverbs, the book presents an abundance of wise, inspired counsel to help us acquire understanding and safeguard the heart, “for out of it are the sources of life.” (4:23) Following is a selection of the wise counsel stressed throughout the book.
24. What is stated concerning the wicked and the righteous?
24 The wicked and the righteous contrasted: The wicked one will be caught in his crooked ways, and his treasures will not save him in the day of fury. The righteous one is in line for life and will be rewarded by Jehovah.—2:21, 22; 10:6, 7, 9, 24, 25, 27-32; 11:3-7, 18-21, 23, 30, 31; 12:2, 3, 7, 28; 13:6, 9; 14:2, 11; 15:3, 8, 29; 29:16.
25. How does Proverbs warn against immorality?
25 The need for clean morals: Solomon warns continually against immorality. Adulterous persons will receive a plague as well as dishonor, and their reproach will not be wiped out. “Stolen waters” may seem sweet to a youth, but the prostitute descends to death and takes her inexperienced victims with her. Those who fall into the deep pit of immorality are denounced by Jehovah.—2:16-19; 5:1-23; 6:20-35; 7:4-27; 9:13-18; 22:14; 23:27, 28.
26. What is said concerning self-control?
26 The need for self-control: Drunkenness and gluttony are condemned. All who will have God’s approval must practice moderation in eating and drinking. (20:1; 21:17; 23:21, 29-35; 25:16; 31:4, 5) Those who are slow to anger are abundant in discernment and greater than a mighty man that captures a city. (14:17, 29; 15:1, 18; 16:32; 19:11; 25:15, 28; 29:11, 22) Self-control is also needed to avoid envy and jealousy, which is rottenness in one’s bones.—14:30; 24:1; 27:4; 28:22.
27. (a) What is unwise use of speech? (b) Why is the wise use of our lips and tongue so vital?
27 Wise and unwise use of speech: Crooked speech, the slanderer, the false witness, and the falsifier will be uncovered, for they are detestable to Jehovah. (4:24; 6:16-19; 11:13; 12:17, 22; 14:5, 25; 17:4; 19:5, 9; 20:17; 24:28; 25:18) If one’s mouth speaks good things, it is a source of life; but the mouth of the foolish person precipitates his ruin. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and he that is loving it will eat its fruitage.” (18:21) Slander, deceitful speech, flattery, and hasty words are condemned. It is the course of wisdom to speak truth, to honor God.—10:11, 13, 14; 12:13, 14, 18, 19; 13:3; 14:3; 16:27-30; 17:27, 28; 18:6-8, 20; 26:28; 29:20; 31:26.
28. What harm does pride bring, but what benefits result from humility?
28 The folly of pride and the need for humility: The proud person elevates himself to a height that he really does not have, so that he crashes. The proud in heart are detestable to Jehovah, but he gives humble ones wisdom, glory, riches, and life.—3:7; 11:2; 12:9; 13:10; 15:33; 16:5, 18, 19; 18:12; 21:4; 22:4; 26:12; 28:25, 26; 29:23.
29. How is laziness to be regarded, and of what value is diligence?
29 Diligence, not slothfulness: Many are the descriptions of a lazy person. He should go to the ant for a lesson and become wise. Ah, but the diligent one—he will prosper!—1:32; 6:6-11; 10:4, 5, 26; 12:24; 13:4; 15:19; 18:9; 19:15, 24; 20:4, 13; 21:25, 26; 22:13; 24:30-34; 26:13-16; 31:24, 25.
30. How does Proverbs stress right association?
30 Right association: It is folly to associate with those who do not fear Jehovah, with wicked or stupid ones, with hot-tempered people, with talebearers, or with gluttons. Rather, associate with wise persons, and you will become still wiser.—1:10-19; 4:14-19; 13:20; 14:7; 20:19; 22:24, 25; 28:7.
31. What is the wise counsel concerning reproof?
31 Need for reproof and correction: “The one whom Jehovah loves he reproves,” and those who pay heed to this discipline are on the way to glory and life. He who hates reproof will come to dishonor.—3:11, 12; 10:17; 12:1; 13:18; 15:5, 31-33; 17:10; 19:25; 29:1.
32. What fine admonition is provided on being a good wife?
32 Counsel on being a good wife: Repeatedly the Proverbs warn against a wife’s being contentious and acting shamefully. The discreet, capable God-fearing wife has the law of loving-kindness on her tongue; whoever finds such a wife gets goodwill from Jehovah.—12:4; 18:22; 19:13, 14; 21:9, 19; 27:15, 16; 31:10-31.
33. What beneficial advice is presented on child training?
33 The rearing of children: Teach them God’s commandments regularly so that they “do not forget.” Bring them up from infancy in the instruction of Jehovah. Do not spare the rod when it is needed; as an expression of love, the rod and reproof give a boy wisdom. Those who rear children God’s way will have wise children who will bring rejoicing and much pleasure to father and mother.—4:1-9; 13:24; 17:21; 22:6, 15; 23:13, 14, 22, 24, 25; 29:15, 17.
34. Of what advantage is it to take responsibility in helping others?
34 Responsibility to help others: This is often stressed in the Proverbs. The wise one must spread knowledge about for the benefit of others. A person must also be generous in showing favor to those of little means, and in doing so, he is really lending to Jehovah, who guarantees repayment.—11:24-26; 15:7; 19:17; 24:11, 12; 28:27.
35. Getting to the very heart of our problems, what counsel does Proverbs give?
35 Reliance upon Jehovah: Proverbs gets to the heart of our problems in counseling that we put complete trust in God. We must take notice of Jehovah in all our ways. A man may plan his course, but Jehovah must direct his steps. The name of Jehovah is a strong tower, into which the righteous run and gain protection. Hope in Jehovah and go to his Word for guidance.—3:1, 5, 6; 16:1-9; 18:10; 20:22; 28:25, 26; 30:5, 6.
36. From what viewpoints may Proverbs be described as up-to-date, practical, and beneficial?
36 How beneficial for teaching and disciplining ourselves and others is the book of Proverbs! No phase of human relationship seems to be overlooked. Is there a person who isolates himself from his fellow worshipers of God? (18:1) Is one in a high position coming to conclusions before hearing both sides of a matter? (18:17) Is one a dangerous practical joker? (26:18, 19) Does one tend to be partial? (28:21) The tradesman in his store, the farmer in his field, the husband and wife and child—all receive wholesome instruction. Parents are helped so they can expose the many snares lurking in the path of youth. Wise ones can teach the inexperienced ones. The proverbs are practical wherever we live; the book’s instruction and counsel never go out of date: “The book of Proverbs,” once said American educator William Lyon Phelps, “is more up to date than this morning’s newspaper.”* Up-to-date, practical, and beneficial for teaching is the book of Proverbs because it is inspired of God.
37. How does Proverbs harmonize with the teachings of the Greater Solomon?
37 Being beneficial for setting things straight, the book of Proverbs, spoken largely by Solomon, turns men to Almighty God. So, too, did Jesus Christ, the one referred to at Matthew 12:42 as “something more than Solomon.”
38. How does Proverbs add to our appreciation of God’s Kingdom and its righteous principles?
38 How thankful we can be that this preeminently wise One is Jehovah’s choice as the Kingdom Seed! His throne it is that “will be firmly established by righteousness itself,” for a peaceful reign far more glorious than even that of King Solomon. Concerning that Kingdom rule, it will be said, “Loving-kindness and trueness—they safeguard the king; and by loving-kindness he has sustained his throne.” That will open up an eternity of righteous government for mankind, concerning which the Proverbs also say: “Where a king is judging the lowly ones in trueness, his throne will be firmly established for all time.” Thus, we come to appreciate with joy that the Proverbs not only light our pathway to knowledge, wisdom, and understanding, as well as to everlasting life, but, more important, they magnify Jehovah as the Source of true wisdom, which he dispenses through Christ Jesus, the Kingdom Heir. Proverbs adds much to our appreciation of God’s Kingdom and the righteous principles by which it now governs.—Prov. 25:5; 16:12; 20:28; 29:14.
Treasury of the Christian Faith, 1949, edited by Stuber and Clark, page 48.