THE BOOK OF PROVERBS.
WE have now before us a new author, or penman rather, made use of by the Holy Ghost, for making known the mind of God to us, and a new way of writing. Solomon, the penman of this book, was endued with an uncommon share of wisdom, and was a great author. He spake three thousand proverbs, and his songs were a thousand and five; and he spake of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon, even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beasts, and of fowls, and of creeping things, and of fishes. But, of all his works, only three are taken into the sacred canon, namely, this, Ecclesiastes, and his Song. The way of writing used in this book, to teach us divine wisdom, is by proverbs, or short sentences, each of which contains its whole design within itself, and has little or no connection with the sentences which precede or follow. We have had divine laws, histories, and songs, and now we have divine proverbs; such various methods has the wisdom of God used for our instruction, that no means being left untried to do us good, we may be inexcusable if we perish in our folly. Teaching by proverbs was an ancient way of instruction: indeed, it was the most ancient, especially among the Greeks; the seven wise men of which country had each of them some one saying that he valued himself upon, and which made him famous. These sentences were inscribed on pillars, and had in great veneration. It was a plain and easy way of teaching, which neither cost the teachers nor the learners much pains. Long periods, and arguments far-fetched, must be laboured, both by him that frames them, and by him that receives them; while a proverb, that carries both its sense and its evidence in a little compass, is presently apprehended and subscribed to, and is easily retained. It was also a very useful way of teaching, and most admirably calculated to answer the end intended. The word משׁל, mashal, here used for a proverb, is derived from a word that signifies to rule, or have dominion, because of the commanding power and influence which wise and weighty sayings have upon mankind: he that teaches by them, dominatur in concionibus, bears the sway in assemblies. Much of the wisdom of the ancients has been handed down to posterity by proverbs; and some think we may judge of the temper and character of a nation by the complexion of its vulgar proverbs. Proverbs in conversation are like axioms in philosophy, maxims in law, and postulata in the mathematics, which nobody disputes, but every body endeavours to expound, so as to have them on their side. Yet there are many corrupt proverbs, which tend to debauch men’s minds, and harden them in sin. The devil has his proverbs, and the world and the flesh have their proverbs, which reflect reproach on God and religion, as Ezekiel 12:22; Ezekiel 18:2; to guard us against the corrupt influences of which, God has his proverbs, which are all wise and good, and tend to make us so. These proverbs of Solomon were not merely a collection of the wise sayings that had been formerly delivered, as some have imagined, but were the dictates of the Spirit of God in Solomon. The very first of them, Proverbs 1:7, agrees with what God said to man in the beginning, Job 28:28, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom;” so that, although Solomon was great, and his name might serve, as much as any man’s, to recommend his writings; yet, behold, “a greater than Solomon is here.” It is God, by Solomon, that here speaks to us; I say, to us; for these proverbs were written for our learning; and, when Solomon speaketh to his son, the exhortation is said to “speak to us as unto children,” Hebrews 12:5. And, as we have no book so useful to us in our devotions as David’s Psalms, so we have none so serviceable to us, for the right ordering of our conversations, as Solomon’s Proverbs, which, as David saith of the commandments, are exceeding broad; containing, in a little compass, a complete body of divine ethics, politics, and economics; exposing every vice, recommending every virtue, and suggesting rules for the government of ourselves in every relation and condition, and every turn of conversation.
This book may be divided into five parts. In the first part, the tutor gives his pupil admonitions, directions, cautions, and excitements to the study of wisdom, chap. 1.-10. The second part contains the Proverbs of Solomon, properly so called; delivered in distinct, independent, general sentences, chap. 10.-22., ver. 17. In the third part, the tutor again addresses himself to his pupil, and gives him fresh admonitions to the diligent study of wisdom; which is followed by a set of instructions, delivered in the imperative mood, to the pupil, who is supposed, all the while, to be standing before him, chap. 22:17, to chap. 25. The fourth part is distinguished by its being a collection of Solomon’s proverbs, selected, we may suppose, out of a much greater number, by the men of Hezekiah; perhaps by the Prophets Isaiah, Hosea, and Micah, who all flourished in the days of Hezekiah, and, not improbably, assisted him in his pious endeavours to restore true religion, 2 Chronicles 31:20-21. This part, as the second, consists chiefly of distinct, unconnected sentences, and reaches from chap. 25. to chap. 30. The fifth part contains a set of wise observations and instructions, which Agur, the son of Jakeh, delivered to his pupils Ithiel and Ucal, chap. 30.; and the thirty-first chapter contains the precepts which his mother delivered to Lemuel, her son; being passionately desirous to guard him against vice, to establish him in the principles of justice, and to have him married to a wife of the best qualities. These two chapters are a kind of appendix to the book of Proverbs. — See Taylor’s Scripture Divinity.