Book Summaries

A poetical book consisting of short essays and pithy statements on matters of practical piety. The title "Proverbs" is a translation of the first word of the book in Hebrew, meshalim, the singular of which is mashal, meaning "simile," "comparison," "proverbial saying," from the root mashal, "to be like," "to compare." In a broad sense a proverb is any popular, terse saying. That Solomon was the author of at least the major portion of the book (see chs 25:1; 30:1; 31:1) appears evident from chs 1:1; 10:1; 25:1. But whether he was the original writer of the entire section unequivocally assigned to him, or whether certain portions represent his work as an inspired editor or collector of the wise and true sayings of others, is not stated, nor is this consideration important to the inspiration of the book. According to 1 Ki 4:32, Solomon "spake three thousand proverbs." In view of his great wisdom, given to him as a special blessing from God (see 1 Ki 4:31 ­34; 10:1 ­13), he was better qualified than any other known person of OT times to write such a treatise on wisdom.

That Solomon wrote the book of Proverbs during the early years of his reign appears from the fact that it differs markedly from the book of Ecclesiastes, which he wrote toward the close of his reign, after years of apostasy. The sound and positive principles set forth in the former, contrast sharply with the expressions of disillusionment so often reflected in the latter. The declared purpose of the book of Proverbs is "to know wisdom and instruction" (see ch 1:1 ­6). Its theme is the exaltation of true wisdom, which Solomon describes as "the fear of the Lord" (chs 1:7; 9:10). Although, as in the author's own case, true wisdom results from a right relationship with God, the book of Proverbs is not so much a religious treatise as it is a compendium of ethical and moral instruction applied to many practical situations in life. The first 9 chapters constitute a didactic poem in which a father seeks to help his son (see chs 1:8, 15; 2:1; 3:1; 5:1; 6:1; etc.). A new section begins with ch 10, entitled "The proverbs of Solomon" (v 1). This section continues through ch 24. Chapters 22:17 to 24:34 contain a series of moral maxims. Chapters 25 through 29 consist of "proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied out." These would seem to be perhaps proverbs transmitted orally for a time after Solomon's death before being put in writing and later transcribed. A 4th section, ch 30, consists of "the words of Agur the son of Jakeh" (v 1), and the last section, ch 31, is attributed to "king Lemuel." Chapter 31 is an acrostic poem addressed to the ideal, virtuous woman.

Some sections of the book of Proverbs are duplicated in an Egyptian wisdom book, called "The Instruction of Amen-em-Opet," which probably originated in the 7th or 6th cent. b.c. (ANET 421 ­425). Many scholars hold that Amen-em-Opet's work forms the basis of Proverbs, and consider this assumption an argument in favour of assigning a late date to Proverbs. However, the opposite view is more reasonable. Because of his fame for wisdom, Solomon attracted from distant lands important visitors who came to his court to become better acquainted with him. His wisdom literature may have found its way to Egypt, and have become the basis of Amen-em-Opet's work probably 2 cent. after Solomon's death.

Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.