PROVERBS, BOOK OF
A book consisting of a compilation of proverbs or wise sayings from a number of other collections. The book itself sets forth its objective: “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.” (Prov. 1:2-4) “The purpose is that you may walk in the way of good people and that the paths of the righteous ones you may keep.”—2:20.
The introductions to three of the book’s sections attribute the proverbs contained in them to Solomon. (Prov. 1:1; 10:1; 25:1) This agrees with the fact that Solomon “could speak three thousand proverbs.” (1 Ki. 4:32) There can be little question that many, if not all, of the proverbs in these sections were recorded during Solomon’s reign. With reference to himself, Solomon stated: “The congregator had become wise, he also taught the people knowledge continually, and he pondered and made a thorough search, that he might arrange many proverbs in order. The congregator sought to find the delightful words and the writing of correct words of truth.”—Eccl. 12:9, 10.
However, various arguments have been advanced against crediting most of the proverbs to Solomon. Certain proverbs (16:14; 19:12; 20:2; 25:3) have been cited as being derogatory to monarchs and therefore not from the time of Solomon. Upon closer examination, though, it is found that, rather than being derogatory, these proverbs exalt kings, showing that they should be accorded due fear because of their power. (Compare Proverbs 24:21.) Those who claim that a polygamist like Solomon would not have spoken of husband-wife relationships in such a way as to imply monogamy (5:15-19; 18:22; 19:13, 14) lose sight of the fact that polygamy was not advocated, but simply tolerated and regulated by the Law. And it may well be that the Jews generally practiced monogamy. Likewise such critics forget that Proverbs is inspired of God and not simply the opinions of Solomon. Nevertheless, from his observations and his own experiences Solomon may very well have come to appreciate the wisdom of God’s original standard for marriage, monogamy.—Compare Ecclesiastes 2:8; 7:27-29.
The claimed presence of Aramaic words has been presented as proof for assigning a late date to the book of Proverbs. If, indeed, there are Aramaisms, it should be noted that Solomon could have learned Aramaic expressions from neighboring peoples or his foreign wives. In fact, Aramaic was the language of Syria, which was a part of Solomon’s dominion.—Compare 1 Kings 4:21, 24.
The proverbs not attributed to Solomon had their origin in the sayings of other wise men and one woman. (Prov. 22:17; 30:1; 31:1; see AGUR; LEMUEL.) Just when all these proverbs were put into final form is not precisely known. The last time indicator appearing in the book itself is a reference to Hezekiah’s reign. (25:1) So there is a basis for believing that the proverbs were compiled in book form before that ruler’s death in 716 B.C.E. The repetition of certain proverbs suggests that the book was compiled from various separate collections.—Compare Proverbs 10:1 and 15:20; 10:2 and 11:4; 14:20 and 19:4; 16:2 and 21:2.
STYLE AND ARRANGEMENT
The book of Proverbs is written in Hebrew poetic style, which consists of thought rhythm, employing parallelisms, the ideas of which are either similar (11:25; 16:18; 18:15) or contrasting. (10:7, 30; 12:25; 13:25; 15:8) Its first section (1:1–9:18) consists of short discourses addressed by a father to a son or sons. This serves as an introduction to the short, pithy sayings found in the remaining sections of the book. The last twenty-two verses of the book are written in acrostic or alphabetic style, a form of composition also employed by David for a number of his psalms.—Pss. 9, 10, 25, 34, 37, 145.
INSPIRED OF GOD
The writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures testify to the fact that the book of Proverbs is part of God’s inspired Word. The apostle Peter (1 Pet. 4:18; 2 Pet. 2:22; Prov. 11:31 [LXX]; 26:11) and the disciple James (4:6; Prov. 3:34, LXX) referred to it, as did the apostle Paul when writing to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 8:21; Prov. 3:4, LXX), the Romans (12:16, 20; Prov. 3:7; 25:21, 22) and the Hebrews. (12:5, 6; Prov. 3:11, 12) Additionally, numerous parallel thoughts may be found in the Christian Greek Scriptures.—Compare Proverbs 3:7 with Romans 12:16; Proverbs 3:12 with Revelation 3:19; Proverbs 24:21 with 1 Peter 2:17; Proverbs 25:6, 7 with Luke 14:7-11.
TO KNOW JEHOVAH IS THE WAY OF LIFE
The book of Proverbs speaks much about knowledge in conjunction with discernment, wisdom, understanding and thinking ability. The knowledge that it strives to impart and encourage is, therefore, more than mere head knowledge, an array of facts or learning. Proverbs points out that any true knowledge has as its starting point an appreciation of one’s relationship to Jehovah. In fact, at chapter one, verse seven, the theme of the book is set forth: “The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of knowledge.”
Of course, the most important knowledge that one can acquire is about God himself. “The knowledge of the Most Holy One is what understanding is,” says Proverbs 9:10. This knowledge goes beyond the mere fact of God’s existence and his creatorship, even beyond the knowledge of many facts about his dealings. To “know” him denotes a deep appreciation of his fine qualities and his great name, and a close relationship with him.
Jesus Christ said to Jews who had knowledge about God: “No one fully knows the Son but the Father, neither does anyone fully know the Father but the Son and anyone to whom the Son is willing to reveal him.” (Matt. 11:27) A knowledge of Jehovah’s qualities will deepen one’s proper fear of God, and will bring the realization that Jehovah is deserving of all worship and service, and that to know and obey him is the way of life. “The fear of Jehovah is a well of life, to turn away from the snares of death,” and, “The fear of Jehovah tends toward life.”—Prov. 14:27; 19:23.
Jehovah the Creator
Jehovah, in matchless wisdom, is the Creator of all things and the Decreer of the laws governing these things; so he deserves the worship of all creatures. (Prov. 3:19, 20) He made the hearing ear and the seeing eye, both literally and in a moral sense. Accordingly, one must look to Him in order to see and hear with true understanding, and must realize one’s accountability to Him who sees and hears all.—20:12.
The book exalts Jehovah as the center of all things and the One in whom all righteous principles find their origin. For example: “The just indicator and scales belong to Jehovah; all the stone weights of the bag are his work.” (Prov. 16:11) His will as the Lawgiver is that honesty and justice rule in all transactions. (11:1; 20:10) By fearing him, one learns to love what He loves and to hate what He hates and thereby make one’s way of life straight, for “the fear of Jehovah means the hating of bad.” (8:13) Proverbs reveals that Jehovah especially hates lofty eyes, a false tongue, hands shedding innocent blood, a heart fabricating hurtful schemes, feet in a hurry to run to badness, a false and lying witness and one causing contentions among brothers. (6:16-19; 12:22; 16:5) One who truly hates these things is well on the road to life.
Additionally, the book of Proverbs illuminates the way of the righteous by showing what Jehovah approves. “The ones blameless in their way are a pleasure to him,” as also are the prayers of such ones. (Prov. 11:20; 15:8, 29) “One that is good gets approval from Jehovah.” (12:2) “The one pursuing righteousness he loves.”—15:9.
Judgment and direction
One knowing Jehovah realizes through knowledge and experience that, as Proverbs 21:30 says, “there is no wisdom, nor any discernment, nor any counsel in opposition to Jehovah.” Therefore, though he may hear other plans or have them in his own heart, the sensible person will direct his way of life in harmony with the counsel of Jehovah, knowing that contrary counsel, no matter how seemingly wise or plausible, cannot stand against the word of Jehovah.—19:21; compare Joshua 23:14; Matthew 5:18.
Inspired King Solomon said: “Trust in Jehovah with all your heart . . . In all your ways take notice of him, and he himself will make your paths straight.” (Prov. 3:5, 6) A man’s heart chooses the way he desires to go, but even when he chooses the correct way, to succeed he must look to Jehovah to direct his steps.—16:3, 9; 20:24; Jer. 10:23.
Having chosen the path of life, the individual should recognize Jehovah’s keen interest in him. Proverbs reminds us that Jehovah’s eyes “are in every place, keeping watch upon the bad ones and the good ones.” (Prov. 15:3) “For the ways of man are in front of the eyes of Jehovah, and he is contemplating all his tracks.” (5:21) Not only what he appears to be outwardly, but also his heart is examined by Jehovah. (17:3) “Jehovah is making an estimate of hearts” (21:2), and he weighs the true value of the motivation and inmost desires of the person.
The judgments of Jehovah are shown to be altogether, in every respect, right and for the good of those who seek uprightness. In due time God will clear the wicked out of the land, their death being the price of freedom for the righteous ones. Accordingly, the proverb states: “The wicked is a ransom for the righteous one; and the one dealing treacherously takes the place of the upright ones.” (Prov. 21:18) Among such wicked ones are the proud, who are detestable to Jehovah. They “will not be free from punishment.” (16:5) “The house of the self-exalted ones Jehovah will tear down.” (15:25) He will “rob of soul” those robbing the lowly.—22:22, 23.
By observing these dealings of Jehovah the right-minded man makes his paths straight. (Compare Proverbs 4:26.) He sees that allowing partiality through bribery (17:23) or influence of personality (18:5) causes one to pervert judgment. ‘Pronouncing the wicked righteous and the righteous wicked’ would make him detestable in Jehovah’s eyes. (17:15) He also learns not to be prejudiced, but to hear fully both sides of a matter before judging it.—18:13.
Security with happiness
To the one who guards practical wisdom and thinking ability that he receives from Jehovah, the book of Proverbs says: “Jehovah himself will prove to be, in effect, your confidence, and he will certainly keep your foot against capture.” (Prov. 3:21, 26; 10:29; 14:26) If one fears Jehovah, “in that case there will exist a future.” (23:17, 18) Moreover, not only is there a future hope, but there is also happiness and security for the present time. (3:25, 26) “When Jehovah takes pleasure in the ways of a man he causes even his enemies themselves to be at peace with him.” (16:7) God will not let the righteous one go hungry. (10:3) If one honors God with the valuable things he possesses, his “stores of supply will be filled with plenty.” (3:9, 10) He adds days to such a man’s life.—10:27.
One ‘taking refuge’ in Jehovah’s name (understanding and acknowledging that name for all that it represents) will find it to be like a strong tower to which, in ancient times, people fled for safety from the enemy.—Prov. 18:10; 29:25.
Humility before Jehovah brings “riches and glory and life.” (Prov. 22:4) Mercy and truth are what he desires; these are more valuable than sacrifice. Those who turn from bad, fear Jehovah and serve him in this manner will not receive his adverse judgment. (16:6; compare 1 Samuel 15:22.) By knowing Jehovah’s ways, one can follow “the entire course of what is good.”—2:9.
AIMED AT THE HEART
To achieve its purpose, the book of Proverbs aims at the heart. More than seventy-five times it refers to the heart as receiving knowledge, understanding, wisdom, discernment, and as being responsible for words and actions, or as being affected by circumstances and conditions. The heart is to be applied to discernment (Prov. 2:2); the heart is to observe right commandments (3:1); these are to be written “upon the tablet of [the] heart.” (3:3) “More than all else” the heart is to be safeguarded. (Prov. 4:23) It is not only with mental thinking processes but with all the heart that one is to trust in Jehovah.—3:5.
Discipline and the heart
Proverbs puts a high valuation on discipline in various forms. (Prov. 3:11, 12) It says: “Anyone shunning discipline is rejecting his own soul, but the one listening to reproof is acquiring heart.” (15:32) So reproof reaches to and adjusts the heart, which is what really affects one’s life, his whole being, in the sight of God. “For want of heart the foolish themselves keep dying.” (10:21) Because it is the heart that must be reached in training children, we are informed: “Foolishness is tied up with the heart of a boy; the rod of discipline is what will remove it far from him.”—22:15.
THE SPIRIT AND THE SOUL
Proverbs is not a book of statements of mere men’s wisdom, of how to please or influence men. Rather, Proverbs goes deep, into the heart as affecting motivation, into the spirit or mental inclination, and into the soul as comprising every fiber of one’s being and personality. (Compare Hebrews 4:l2.) Even though a man may think he is right, or may justify himself in his actions, ‘all the ways of a man being pure in his own eyes,’ Proverbs 16:2 reminds us that “Jehovah is making an estimate of spirits,” and so knows what one’s disposition is. Might or power is highly prized in the world, but “he that is slow to anger is better than a mighty man, and he that is controlling his spirit than the one capturing a city.”—Prov. 16:32.
Getting the knowledge and wisdom of this divinely provided book will greatly help one to find happiness in this present life, and will put him on the pathway to everlasting life. Since “he that is acquiring heart is loving his own soul,” the inspired counsel and discipline therein, if followed, will add “length of days and years of life” and “will prove to be life to your soul.” (Prov. 3:2; 19:8; 3:13-18, 21-26) “Jehovah will not cause the soul of the righteous one to go hungry.” (10:3) “He that is keeping the commandment is keeping his soul,” Solomon admonishes.—19:16.
RELATIONS WITH OTHERS
Proverbs describes the true servant of God as one who uses his tongue for good (Prov. 10:20, 21, 31, 32), not speaking falsely nor even hurting others by thoughtless words. (12:6, 8, 17-19; 18:6-8, 21) If provoked, he turns away the rage of his opponent by a mild answer. (15:1; 25:15) He does not enjoy disputes or quarrels, and exercises self-control against outbursts of anger, knowing that he might commit irreparable foolishness. (14:17, 29; 15:18; compare Colossians 3:8.) In fact, he will avoid companionship with those letting anger control them and who display fits of rage, for he knows that they would bring him into a snare.—Prov. 22:24, 25; compare 13:20; 14:7; 1 Corinthians 15:33.
Render good, not evil
The inspired Proverbs urge one to take the initiative to do good toward others. Not only is he to act with good toward those ‘dwelling in security’ with him, who have rendered no bad to him (Prov. 3:27-30), but he is also urged to return good for bad. (25:21, 22) He is to watch his heart closely, that he does not have inner rejoicing at calamity that comes to one he despises, or who hates him.—17:5; 24:17, 18.
Gossip and slander
Much is said in the book of Proverbs about the trouble, grief and damage brought by gossiping, and the gravity of the guilt resting on the talebearer. The ‘choice morsel’ of a slanderer is “swallowed greedily” by its hearer and is not taken lightly but makes a lasting impression, going down “into the innermost parts of the belly.” Therefore it causes trouble and the speaker cannot ‘wash his hands’ of guilt. Though such one may appear very gracious and may disguise his true heart condition, God will see to it that the hate and badness that is actually within him is “uncovered in the congregation.” He will fall into the pit he has dug for someone else.—Prov. 26:22-28.
Marital fidelity is strictly counseled in the Proverbs. One should find delight in ‘the wife of his youth’ and not be seeking satisfaction elsewhere. (Prov. 5:15-23) Adultery will bring ruin and death to its practicers. (5:3-14; 6:23-35) A good wife is a “crown” and a blessing to her husband. But if a wife acts shamefully, she is “as rottenness in [her husband’s] bones.” (12:4) And it is a misery to a man even to live with a wife that is contentious. (25:24; 19:13; 21:19; 27:15, 16) Outwardly pretty and charming though she may be, she is like “a gold nose ring in the snout of a pig.” (11:22; 31:30) A foolish woman actually tears down her own house. (14:1) The fine value of the good wife—her industriousness, trustworthiness and management of the household in faithfulness and submission to her husband—is fully described in Proverbs chapter 31.
Parents are shown to be fully responsible for their children, and discipline is emphasized as essential. (Prov. 19:18; 22:6, 15; 23:13, 14; 29:15, 17) The father’s responsibility is highlighted, but the child must respect both father and mother if he wants life from Jehovah.—19:26; 20:20; 23:22; 30:17.
Even concern for domestic animals is considered in the Proverbs. “The righteous one is caring for the soul of his domestic animal.” (12:10) “You ought to know positively the appearance of your flock.”—27:23.
Government stability and fidelity
The proverbs express principles of good government. Men of high station, such as kings, should search matters through (25:2), manifest loving-kindness and trueness (20:28) and deal justly with their subjects (29:4; 31:9), including the lowly ones. (29:14) Their counselors cannot be wicked men if the rulership is to be firmly established by righteousness. (25:4, 5) A leader must be a man of discernment and a hater of unjust profit.—28:16.
Whereas ‘righteousness exalts a nation’ (14:34), transgression results in unstable government. (28:2) Revolution also brings great instability, and is counseled against at Proverbs 24:21, 22: “My son, fear Jehovah and the king. With those who are for a change, do not intermeddle. For their disaster will arise so suddenly, that who is aware of the extinction of those who are for a change?”
USEFUL FOR COUNSEL
Since the proverbs cover a wide range of human endeavor, they can provide a basis for giving much practical counsel and admonition, as was done by the writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures. “The heart of the righteous one meditates so as to answer.” (15:28) However, it is not wise to counsel ridiculers. “He that is correcting the ridiculer is taking to himself dishonor, and he that is giving a reproof to someone wicked—a defect in him. Do not reprove a ridiculer, that he may not hate you. Give a reproof to a wise person and he will love you.” (9:7, 8; 15:12; compare Matthew 7:6.) Not all persons are ridiculers and hence those in a position to counsel others should do so, as is highlighted by the words: “The very lips of the righteous one keep pasturing many.”—Prov. 10:21.