The Book of Proverbs is one of the five wisdom literature books in the bible along with Psalms, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. The primary significance of the book is to teach wisdom to the young and the old. It characterizes wisdom as an idealistic woman, and offers wise insights on how to lead a peaceful and happy life while respecting God as the sole powerful and good creator. All five wisdom literature books essentially exemplify the value of wisdom in human life. Wisdom enables one to make virtuous and wholesome choices in every circumstance of life, regardless of complexity. For the follower of God, wisdom is considered a necessary part of a godly life.
The nomenclature of the book of Proverbs reflects its contextual nature. The book is a collection of short expressions of wisdom from various figures in the ancient world compiled by King Solomon who ruled between 971 and 931 B.C. The story of Solomon is narrated in 1 Kings 4:29-34 (New International Version). The passage describes him as a wise king who received the gift of wisdom from God. It also mentions how this ancient king collected a library of 3000 proverbs and a thousand songs. Biblical scholars have segmented the book of proverbs in accordance with the background of the sayings, including the period in which they were compiled and the authors of the sayings (Robertson, 1986; “The Book of Proverbs,” n.d.). Chapter 1 to chapter 9 symbolize the value of seeking wisdom; chapter 10 to chapter 22 are categorized as the proverbs of Solomon; chapter 25 to 29 are a collection of sayings by Solomon; while chapter 30 and 31 contain the sayings of Agur, Lemuel, and a wise woman.
Specifically, chapter 1 to 9 persuades people about the important nature of wisdom in life. It instructs the youth to heed to the words of their parents and elders, as well as to cease from hardheadedness. The chapters also highlight the value of imparting wisdom to the young by way of proverbs. The proverbs of Solomon (chapter 10 – 22) are shorter sayings that cover a multitude of topics. Nevertheless, proverbs 22:17 – 24:22 (New International Version) are not necessarily sayings by Solomon but a compilation of 30 adages from ancient wise people.
The succeeding section (Chapter 25 – 29) documents another set of sayings by Solomon. It begins with the following phrase “These also are proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied.” Hezekiah was a king who ruled from 715 to 686 B.C. He played a critical role in renewing the spiritual practices and faith of the people of Judah after a rebellious era. It is during this period of renewal that additional sayings by King Solomon were recorded. The final two chapters present proverbs by rather obscure people. Agur son of Jakeh, who is not documented elsewhere in the bible is ascribed as the original author of the content presented in Chapter 30. Another unknown person referred as Lemuel is attributed with the sayings in chapter 31. Lemuel’s sayings are said to have originated from his wise mother.
The book of proverbs can also be analyzed through a lens of various characters as portrayed by the sayings included therein. These characters personify common human behavior and actions. They include the fool, the wise, the simple, the wicked, and the righteous (“The Book of Proverbs,” n.d.). The book contrasts these characters with their opposites to paint a clear picture of the choices that people ought to take. The positive figures act as ideals for the Godly to shape and reform their conduct and character while the negative figures serve as exaggerated portraits of the ungodly (Stewart, 2016). The fool is depicted as a person who lacks wisdom and discretion, and a character that makes foolish choices. He or she speaks too much without thought input, lies regularly, hates wisdom and knowledge, thinks sin is plainly funny, and ends in ruin. On the contrary, the wise take the path which God has ordained. Their words are wise and their advice is used for instruction, healing, and preservation. The wicked and the righteous are also contrasted in the same manner (Keller, 2017). The wicked reject the ways of God and instead choose ways that are in opposition to God which eventually lead them to destruction while the righteous or the diligent, upright, and prudent cultivate a close relationship with God by following his covenant and righteous ways.
In conclusion, the book of Proverbs offers wise insights on how to lead a peaceful and happy life while respecting God as the sole powerful and good creator. Compiled by the wise King Solomon and ancient figures like Hezekiah, the sayings in the book of proverbs guide, advice, warn, and impart knowledge concerning how people ought to make choices as well as what characters they should strive to emulate.
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