|Proverbs, The Book of |
mishlee, plural of maashaal, "comparison" or "likeness." The Christian fathers (Clement, Ep. Cor. 1:57; Hegesippus, Irenaeus in Eusebius H. E. 4:22) entitle it "Wisdom, the sum of all virtues" (Panareros sophia). Pithy sayings (compare David's quotation, 1 Samuel 24:13), like similes or with a figure. The comparison is either expressed or left for the hearer to supply. So Balaam's "parable" is prophecy in figurative language (Numbers 23:7-10; 1 Samuel 10:12; Ezekiel 12:22-23; Ezekiel 17:2-3; Ezekiel 18:2; Ezekiel 20:49; Ezekiel 24:3; Luke 4:23). In Job 27:1 "parable" (Job 29:1) means a figurative, sententious, weighty embodiment of wisdom, not in this case short, but containing Job's whole argument (Psalm 49:4, maashaal).
In Proverbs 1:6 "dark sayings" (chidah) are another form of proverbs, the enigmatical obscurity being designed to stimulate reflection (Habakkuk 2:6; Judges 14; 1 Kings 10:1; 2 Chronicles 9:1; Ezekiel 17:2; Psalm 78:2); the melitsah (Proverbs 1:6), "interpretation" (so Chald. and Vulgate versions), for which Gesenius translated "a saying that needs an interpreter," i.e. enigmatical (Habakkuk 2:6). For instance (Proverbs 12:27), "the slothful man roasteth not that which he took in hunting" requires discernment to see the point of comparison and the application; the slothful man is too lazy to hunt, and therefore has nothing to roast (compare 2 Thessalonians 3:10). "Proverb" is with Jesus' disciples equivalent to an obscure saying (John 16:29).
Canonicity. The Book of Proverbs is found in all Jewish lists among the ketubim, "writings" (hagiographa), the third division of Scripture. The Talmud (Baba Bathra, 14 b.) gives the order, Ruth, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations, Daniel, Esther, Ezra (including Nehemiah), Chronicles. The New Testament quotes and so canonizes (Proverbs 1:16; Romans 3:10; Romans 3:15. Proverbs 3:7; Romans 12:16. Proverbs 3:11-12; Hebrews 12:5-6; Revelation 3:19. Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6. Proverbs 10:12; 1 Peter 4:8. Proverbs 11:31; 1 Peter 4:17-18. Proverbs 17:13; Romans 12:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Peter 3:9. Proverbs 17:27; James 1:19. Proverbs 20:9; 1 John 1:8. Proverbs 20:20; Matthew 15:4. Proverbs 22:8; 2 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 6:7; Galatians 6:9. Proverbs 25:21-22; Romans 12:20. Proverbs 26:11; 2 Peter 2:22. Proverbs 27:1; James 4:13).
Divisions and authorship. The same heading, "the proverbs of Solomon the son of David king of Israel" (Proverbs 1:1; Proverbs 10:1; Proverbs 25:1), marks the three divisions. Solomon spoke 3,000 proverbs (1 Kings 4:32) and "set in order" the present selection (Proverbs 1-24; Ecclesiastes 12:9). "Hezekiah" directed his pious "men" (perhaps Isaiah, Micah, Shebna, and Joah: 2 Kings 18:18) to supplement the collection with a series of proverbs of Solomon, not included in the collection by the royal author (Proverbs 25:1; compare Sirach 47:14; Sirach 47:17). The Holy Spirit did not appoint all Solomon's proverbs indiscriminately to be put into the canon for all ages, but a selection suited for the ends of revelation. The bringing forth of God's word from obscurity fitly accompanied the reformation by pious Hezekiah, as in the case of Josiah's reformation (2 Chronicles 31:21; 2 Chronicles 31:29-30). The Jews assign the composition of the Song of Solomon to Solomon's youth, Proverbs to his manhood, and Ecclesiastes to his old age.
(1) Proverbs 1-9 are one connected whole, in which wisdom is recommended to youths; an introduction states the aim.
(2) Proverbs 10-22 are single detached proverbs; from Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 22:16; Proverbs 22:17 to Proverbs 24:21, form a more connected whole on righteousness and prudence, with an introduction; Proverbs 24:23-34, "these also belong to the wise," are an appendix of unconnected maxims.
(3) Proverbs 25-29, consisting of single sentences, are the selection of Hezekiah's men..
(4) Proverbs 30 is Agur's proverbs and enigmatical sayings..
(5) Proverbs 31 consists of king Lemuel's words (Proverbs 31:1-6), and an alphabetical acrostic in praise of a virtuous woman.
The repetition of many proverbs in a similar form in the middle division is due, not to their emanating from different authors, but to their having been selected out of different collections oral or written, of the same author Solomon, in which the same proverb appeared in a different connection; just as Jesus' sayings repeated in different connections (Proverbs 14:12; Proverbs 16:25; Proverbs 21:2; Proverbs 21:9; Proverbs 21:19; Proverbs 10:1; Proverbs 15:20; Proverbs 10:2; Proverbs 11:4; Proverbs 10:15; Proverbs 18:11; Proverbs 15:33; Proverbs 18:12; Proverbs 11:21; Proverbs 16:5; Proverbs 14:31; Proverbs 17:5; Proverbs 19:12; Proverbs 20:2). The Proverbs apply the truths of religion to practical life in sentences weighty and easily remembered by their terse point. (See POETRY.)
Gnomic poetry is peculiarly Semitic. Instead of philosophical reasonings and argument, the results of observation are embodied in terse proverbial similitudes and maxims. A proverb is defined as" the wit of one, the wisdom of many." When the nation's experiences had become matured Solomon in a time of national peace embodied them in gnomic proverbs. Internal tranquillity favored the growth of a contemplative spirit which suits such a work. Favorite phrases characterize the middle division, the style of which is simple and antique. The Proverbs are in antithetic parallelism, the second clause standing in contrast to the first. Here are the phrases "fountain of life," "tree of life," "snares of death," "healing," "health;" "destruction" (mechittah), Proverbs 10:14-15; Proverbs 10:29, nowhere else in Proverbs; (ad argiah) "but for a moment"; (yad leyad) "hand to hand," Proverbs 11:21; (nirgan) "a whisperer," "talebearer" )Proverbs 18:18, etc.), are characteristic of the middle division. The third division, namely, of Hezekiah's men, is marked by the interrogation "seest thou?" (Proverbs 26:12; Proverbs 29:20.)
Things are compared by being placed side by side, connected simply by "and" (Proverbs 25:3; Proverbs 25:20). The antithesis is not so marked. The verses are not of two equal members; one is often shorter than the other; sometimes there are even three members in the verse. A cautious and mournful tone is thought to mark the language as to rulers, instead of the joy and reverence of the middle and older division; the, state of the nation under Hezekiah at the close of the eighth century B.C. accords with his selection of these proverbs of Solomon. The first division, with the closing part of the middle (Proverbs 10:1-22:16 being the germ of the book), Proverbs 1-9; Proverbs 22:17 - Proverbs 25:1, is characterized by favorite words and constructions: as chokmot, "wisdoms"; zarah, "the strange woman"; nokriah, "the foreigner," the adulteress who seduces youth, the opposite of true wisdom, found once in the middle division (Proverbs 22:14). Shephathaim, dual feminine, is constructed with the verb masculine plural.
Warning against envy at the sinner's seeming prosperity appears (Proverbs 3:31; Proverbs 23:17; Proverbs 24:1; Proverbs 24:19) as in Job. The disciplinary design of chastisement ("instruction," musar, Greek paideia, correction by discipline), Proverbs 3:11-13; so Job (Job 33:17-30; Job 5:17); wisdom (Proverbs 2:4; Proverbs 3:14; Proverbs 3:8; Job 28; Proverbs 3:23; Job 5:22; Proverbs 8:25; Job 15:7-8). The similarity is probably due to Solomon's having become imbued with the spirit of the book of Job, through study of it. The language of the first division rises from a general exhortation, and then a particular one to youth to follow wisdom, to the sublimest and most universal strain at the close (Proverbs 6:20-9:18). This first division is continuous description and elucidation of truth, instead of the single proverb which characterizes the middle collection; the poetic parallelism is synonymous, not antithetic or synthetic, as in the middle division.
Keil truly says, after all these distinctions of parts, "one historical background is shown throughout, the contents corresponding only to the relations, culture, and experiences of life acquired by the political development of Israel under Solomon." The first part forms a connected mashal or parabolic commendation of wisdom. It is the porch, leading into the interior, the Proverbs proper, loosely connected. The ornamental, flowing style suits the young, to whom the first division is addressed. The second, addressed to men, is in brief, business like style, compressing much in brief compass for the right conduct of life.
The two sentences in each distich mutually complement each other, and the ellipsis in one is to be supplied from the antithesis in the other, e.g. (Proverbs 12:3), "a man shall not be established by wickedness (but shall be rooted out); but the root of the righteous shall (be established and) not be moved"; Proverbs 11:12, "he that is void of understanding despiseth his neighbour (and therefore withholds not contemptuous words); but a man of understanding (despiseth not his neighbour and therefore) holdeth his speech" (from contemptuous words). So in very many verses. From Proverbs 22:17 to Proverbs 24:16 the continuous style is resumed from Proverbs 1-9. It forms the epilogue of the middle division, with a few closing disconnected maxims (Proverbs 24:23-34). (On the closing Proverbs 30; 31, see AGUR; LEMUEL; JAKEH; MASSA; ITHIEL; UCAL.) Lemuel's mother suggested the model of the closing acrostic in praise of a virtuous woman, "a looking glass for ladies" (M. Henry); the 22 verses begin with the consecutive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The introduction of a foreigner's (Lemuel) words into the inspired canon of Israel is paralleled by Balaam's and Job's words being part of Scripture.