Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
General Editor for the Old Testament:—












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by the


The present General Editor for the Old Testament in the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges desires to say that, in accordance with the policy of his predecessor the Bishop of Worcester, he does not hold himself responsible for the particular interpretations adopted or for the opinions expressed by the editors of the several Books, nor has he endeavoured to bring them into agreement with one another. It is inevitable that there should be differences of opinion in regard to many questions of criticism and interpretation, and it seems best that these differences should find free expression in different volumes. He has endeavoured to secure, as far as possible, that the general scope and character of the series should be observed, and that views which have a reasonable claim to consideration should not be ignored, but he has felt it best that the final responsibility should, in general, rest with the individual contributors



  I.  Introduction

Chapter  I.  The Wisdom of the Hebrews

Chapter  II.  The Book of Proverbs. Literary Character

Chapter  III.  The Book of Proverbs. Authorship

Chapter  IV.  Moral and Religious Teaching

Chapter  V.  Analysis of Contents

  II.  Notes

  III.  Index

*** The Text adopted in this Edition is that of Dr Scrivener’s Cambridge Paragraph Bible. A few variations from the ordinary Text, chiefly in the spelling of certain words, and in the use of italics, will be noticed. For the principles adopted by Dr Scrivener as regards the printing of the Text see his Introduction to the Paragraph Bible, published by the Cambridge University Press.

“Whatsoever either men on earth or the angels of heaven do know, it is as a drop of that unemptiable fountain of Wisdom; which Wisdom hath diversely imparted her treasures unto the world. As her ways are of sundry kinds, so her manner of teaching is not merely one and the same. Some things she openeth by the sacred books of Scripture; some things by the glorious works of Nature; with some things she inspireth them from above by spiritual influence; in some things she leadeth and traineth them only by worldly experience and practice. We may not so in any one special kind admire her, that we disgrace her in any other; but let all her ways be according unto their place and degree adored.”




The Wisdom of the Hebrews

The Book of Proverbs belongs to that branch of Hebrew literature which has for its subject Wisdom, or, as we should say, Philosophy. We learn from the opening sentences of the Book (Proverbs 1:2-6) that its avowed object is to impart Wisdom. A variety of terms, wisdom, knowledge, understanding, discretion, subtlety, are indeed employed, to set forth under different aspects the nature of the instruction to be given; but the one comprehensive word which includes them all is Wisdom. The only other Jewish writings of the same class which have come down to us, unless indeed we include some didactic Psalms, are the Canonical Books Job and Ecclesiastes, and the Apocryphal Books of The Wisdom of Solomon and The Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus. These writings, however, are amply sufficient to give us a clear insight into the idea of Wisdom, as it presented itself to the Hebrew mind; and they contain indications that the study and teaching of such Wisdom was a recognised pursuit among the Jews, and that there existed among them a class or school of persons who devoted themselves to it, and to whom the title of “The Wise” was accordingly given[1].

[1] Proverbs 1:6; Proverbs 24:23; Job 15:18. Comp. “They that love learning must be able to profit them which are without, both by speaking and writing” (Prologue to Ecclus., R.V.). “ ‘Wise men’ are alluded to in the O.T. in terms which appear to shew that they must have formed, if not a school, yet a tolerably prominent class in ancient Israel.” Driver, Introd. to Literature of Old Test., pp. 368 f., 4th edit.

When we proceed to enquire what the Jewish conception of Wisdom is, as it is presented to us in these Books, we find at the outset that it differs widely and fundamentally from the ideas and methods of Western Philosophy. The Hebrew wise man does not propose to himself the abstract question, What is truth? and then pursue his independent search for an answer through all accessible regions of human thought and knowledge. His starting-point is not a question, but a creed, or an axiom. Given that there is a Supreme Being, Creator, Sustainer, Ruler, Judge of all; then Wisdom is to understand, so far as it is permitted to man’s finite intelligence, the manifold adaptation and harmony, the beauty and utility, of His works and ways, and to turn our knowledge of them to practical account. Wisdom is, in all the complex relations of human life and conduct, to know and do His will. In the calm tones of her academic teaching; in her voice of command, rising clear above the busy turmoil of human activity and achievement; in the tenderer accents in which she points the moral of the dark chapter of bodily suffering and mental perplexity and distress; in the judicial sentence by which she closes authoritatively the questionings and surmisings of an inquisitive and restless mind; in all these alike Wisdom is at unity in herself, telling ever the same unfailing truth, returning ever to the same unvarying refrain. In the Book of Proverbs the wise Teacher of the young, propounding to his children as they sit around his feet maxims of guidance and warning in the untried path of life before them, gives them this as the key-note, the root, the motto of all his teaching, “The Fear of Jehovah is the beginning of Knowledge[2].” In the Book of Job, in a magnificent episode describing man’s great achievements in wresting from nature her secrets and turning to his own account her hidden treasures, the truth is emphatically proclaimed, that notwithstanding his ability to discover and to acquire, “Wisdom can nowhere be found by man; God alone is in possession of it; the wisdom of man is to fear the Lord.” “Unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding[3].” In the wider scope of the same Book as a whole, the mysterious problem of the moral government of the world, for which a solution has been vainly sought by argument and dispute, is solved at last in the confession that God is the All-wise, and that the wisdom of man is to trust and to submit[4]. In the Book of Ecclesiastes, the “conclusion of the whole matter,” of all the endeavour to “seek and to search out by Wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven[5],” is reached in this: “This is the end of the matter; all hath been heard: fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgement, with every hidden thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil[6].”

[2] Proverbs 1:7 and note.

[3] Job 28:28, and heading of the chapter in this Series.

[4] Job 42:1-6.

[5] Ecclesiastes 1:13.

[6] Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, R.V.

“The essential character of the Hebrew philosophy,” as has been said, “is far more practical than speculative; it is as little inclined to pursue or to prompt genuine speculation, as it is to identify itself with secular philosophy in general, and with unaided human reason to investigate the final causes of things. It is essentially a divine philosophy, planting its feet upon the basis of the divine revelation, and staying itself upon the eternal principles of the divine law; and it is this determinate and positive character of its method of conceiving and teaching, that chiefly distinguishes it from the philosophy of other nations and of other times[7].”

[7] Lange, Comm. on Proverbs, Introd. p. 5.

In accordance with this view, true Wisdom is always represented as being beyond the reach of man’s unaided powers. He must search diligently for it. He must make full and honest use of his natural abilities. But in doing so he must not fail to recognise that Wisdom is the gift of God.

“If thou seek her as silver,

And search for her as for hid treasures;

Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord,

And find the knowledge of God.

For the Lord giveth wisdom;

Out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding[8].”

[8] Proverbs 2:4-6.

In the beautiful prayer for Wisdom which is elsewhere put into the mouth of Solomon, he pleads with the Lord and beseeches Him, and with his whole heart says,

“O God of the fathers, and Lord who keepest thy mercy,

Who madest all things by thy word,

And by thy wisdom thou formedst man,

That he should have dominion over the creatures that were made by thee,

And rule the world in holiness and righteousness,

And execute judgement in uprightness of soul;

Give me wisdom, her that sitteth by thee on thy throne.

Send her forth out of the holy heavens,

And from the throne of thy glory bid her come,

That being present with me she may toil with me,

And that I may learn what is well pleasing before thee[9].”

[9] Wisd. of Sol. Wis 9:1-4; Wis 9:10, R.V.

While, however, the Hebrew idea of Wisdom is thus restricted to the conception of a Cosmos, a moral and material order and harmony ordained and maintained by God, which it is man’s wisdom, by God’s aid, so to comprehend as in it to understand and occupy his appointed place; while as has been truly said the “Hebrew sages never (in pre-Talmudic times) attempted logic and metaphysics, but contentedly remained within the sphere of practical ethics[10]”; yet it is by no means a narrow and cramped idea, within the limits of its proper sphere. In two respects the range of Wisdom is practically unbounded.

[10] Cheyne, Job and Solomon, p. 119.

(1) It knows no distinction of race or country. It is not national but human. Cradled in the stronghold of exclusiveness, it overleaps the barriers that would restrain it, and reaches forth to the whole family of man. It knows no “middle wall of partition,” no “outer court of the Gentiles,” in the Temple of truth which it rears. These three Books of the Canon, Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, stand out in striking contrast to the Old Testament Scriptures generally in their freedom from what is distinctively Jewish in their tone and character. There is a marked absence in them of Jewish phraseology. They seldom make reference to the Mosaic law or ritual. If from time to time they repeat and enforce enactments of the Law, they are moral and worldwide, not ceremonial and Jewish enactments which they inculcate (e.g. Proverbs 11:1; comp. Proverbs 13:13, Proverbs 16:20). “I am a man,” each writer seems to say, “and all that is human is the common property of all men.” Contemporary in Palestine in its rise, or at any rate in its marked development, with the birth of commercial enterprise in the days of Solomon, and with the consequent contact of the Hebrews with other nations[11], this Wisdom is in no small degree cosmopolitan. Its great master is classed among, though he excels, the Wise men of other lands[12]. The fame of his wisdom cast its attractive spell over “the uttermost parts of the earth[13],” though everywhere it was known to be “concerning the name of Jehovah his God.”

[11] 1 Kings 9:26-28.

[12] 1 Kings 4:30-31; 1 Kings 10:23.

[13] 1 Kings 10:1; 1 Kings 10:24, with Matthew 12:42.

(2) And, as the whole human race, so also the whole range of human life and action falls within the purview of Hebrew Wisdom. This is the second particular in which its breadth of spirit arrests our attention. In this respect the familiar words of our own Hooker describe it accurately: “The ways of well-doing are in number as many as are the kinds of voluntary action; so that whatever we do in this world and may do it ill, we shew ourselves therein by well-doing to be wise[14].” Its precepts follow man into all the details of his daily occupation, and into all the relations of his common life. Wisdom is the friend and counsellor alike of the monarch on the throne, of the artisan in the workshop, and of the husbandman in the field. By wisdom “kings reign, and princes decree justice[15].” Bezaleel and his fellows are “filled with the spirit of God, in wisdom, … in all manner of workmanship” for the construction of the Tabernacle in the wilderness[16]. If the husbandman knows how to vary his methods to suit the properties of the various products of the earth, it is because “his God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him[17].”

[14] Eccl. Pol., Book ii. c. 1, § 4.

[15] Proverbs 8:15.

[16] Exodus 31:1-6.

[17] Isaiah 28:26.

Trade and commerce, not only in those vast mercantile and monetary transactions in which princely fortunes are lost and won, but in the petty traffic and huckstering of common life, fall within the sphere of true Wisdom, because of the moral principles which they involve and the consequent attitude of Jehovah towards them. “A false balance is abomination to the Lord; but a just weight is his delight” His eye detects the two measures, the “stone and the stone” in the bag, the “ephah and the ephah” on the counter (Proverbs 11:1; Proverbs 16:11; Proverbs 20:10; Proverbs 20:23)—one exact weight, to be used when there is fear of detection, the other a little short, or, the larger for buying, the smaller for selling, to gain a miserable advantage of the unwary; and He observes too the careful use of the “just weight,” and His indignation or His satisfaction is aroused accordingly. Therefore Wisdom, which is evermore the “fear of the Lord,” teaches us “to be true and just in all our dealing.”

Such Wisdom, while it is in the highest degree religious, consecrating man and all creation to God, is also in the truest sense free, claiming for man’s intelligence and advantage all that proceeds from God. “The cedar tree that is in Lebanon and the hyssop that springeth out of the wall” are alike within its cognisance. “Beasts and fowl and creeping things and fishes” are not beneath its notice, for they are all the works of God[18]. And thus it is akin to and the precursor of that Wisdom which Christ both is and teaches: the Wisdom which gathers up all things through Himself in God, and which by Himself gives all things back again to man from God, the Wisdom that is at once the offspring of Christian faith and the parent of Christian science.

[18] 1 Kings 4:33.


The Book of Proverbs. Literary Character

From this general idea of Hebrew Wisdom we pass to consider the particular form under which Wisdom is presented to us in the Book of Proverbs. What, we ask ourselves, is meant by the word “proverb,” as it is used in the Title of this Book?

In entering on this enquiry we are at once confronted with the fact that the character of the Book is composite. It does not consist solely, as its Title might seem to imply, of a collection of those short, pithy sayings or apothegms which are commonly described by the name of proverbs. The bulk of the Book is indeed composed of such a collection, or collections, but these collections of proverbs are interspersed from time to time with passages of a non-proverbial character, and are prefaced by a lengthy Introduction, extending over nearly one-third of the whole work, of which the literary form is almost entirely different.

We are led then to ask whether any wider and more comprehensive meaning can without violence be given to the word proverb as it is used in this Title? It might perhaps be thought sufficient to say, that as the greater part of the Book is made up of what are commonly understood by proverbs, the Title is not improperly chosen to describe the bulk of its contents, all besides being regarded as introductory or subsidiary matter.

But a careful examination of the Hebrew word for proverb (mâshâl), as it is used not only in this Book but elsewhere in the Old Testament, furnishes us with a more intelligent and satisfactory explanation. The root-meaning of the word would seem to be likeness, or resemblance. In that sense the verb occurs in such expressions as “he is like unto the beasts that perish[19],” “Art thou become like unto us[20]?” Examples of proverbs based on likeness or resemblance, in which force and brightness are given to a statement by the aid of a figurative or metaphorical comparison, are to be found in this Book. Such, for instance, as these:—

[19] Psalm 49:12; Psalm 49:20 [Heb. 13, 21].

[20] Isaiah 14:10.

“As vinegar to the teeth and as smoke to the eyes,

So is the sluggard to them that send him[21].”

[21] Proverbs 10:26.

“As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout,

So is a fair woman which is without discretion[22].”

[22] Proverbs 11:22. It is observable that these appear to be the only two proverbs of this type in the main collection, 10–22:16. In the other collections they occur more frequently, e.g. Proverbs 23:5; Proverbs 23:27, Proverbs 25:11-14, Proverbs 26:1-3; Proverbs 26:7-9; Proverbs 26:11; Proverbs 26:14, Proverbs 28:3.

The idea of resemblance, however, may lie deeper than it does in this merely poetical or imaginative type of proverb. It may grasp a common truth or principle, by virtue of which, as underlying them all, a group or class of very varying facts or phenomena resemble one another. In this aspect the proverb becomes a representative statement, “i.e. a statement not relating solely to a single fact, but standing for, or representing, other similar facts[23].” And this representative character may belong to a proverb either because it is a type of, or because it is an induction from, the group of facts which lies within its range.

[23] Driver, Introd. to Literature of Old Test., ch. 8. p. 372, 4th ed.

“The slothful man roasteth not that which he took in hunting[24]”

[24] Proverbs 12:27. “Is Saul also among the prophets?” is a proverb of the same kind, though arising out of an historical incident, 1 Samuel 10:12.

is a typical proverb; it is a particular example of a general law. You may read for “hunting” and “roasting” any other occupation and its fruit, and your proverb will hold good.

“The precious substance of man is to the diligent[25]”

[25] Proverbs 12:27.

is an inductive proverb; it is a conclusion drawn from a general observation of human life and conduct.

Similarly, in our own language we have proverbs of the former kind, as for example,

“It is too late to shut the stable door when the horse is stolen”;

and of the latter, such as,

“It is never too late to mend.”

It will be observed that in this latter class of proverbs the idea of comparison or resemblance, though it has regulated the mental process by which the conclusion has been reached, is no longer immediately apparent. Such proverbs abound in the principal Collection of this Book[26]. In many of them the law of resemblance, on which all general statements depend for their truth, is easily discernible. Thus in the first proverb of the Collection,

[26] cc. Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 22:16.

“A wise son maketh a glad father:

But a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother[27],”

[27] Proverbs 10:1.

two groups of facts, which under whatever varieties of attendant circumstances are substantially alike, are reduced to laws of human life and experience. But in proverbs of this kind the idea of comparison retires into the background, and thus the way is opened for a wider application of the word proverb to short, sententious sayings in general, in which the Wisdom of the Wise is gathered up and communicated.

The scope, however, of the mâshâl or proverb is still further extended in Hebrew literature. By the expansion and evolution of pregnant thoughts and pithy sentences, as of the seed into the plant or the bud into the flower, the proverb comes to embrace all the literary forms, under which the Wisdom or philosophy of the Jews is presented to us in this Book.

The expansion of the proverb into the parable of which, as its name implies[28], the essence is comparison or resemblance, is obvious and easy. Indeed, as Archbishop Trench remarks[29], “The proverb is often a concentrated parable; as, for instance, ‘If the blind lead the blind both shall fall into the ditch[30]’ ”; which as he truly says, “might evidently be extended with ease into a parable.” It would be no less true to say that a proverb is often the epitome of a parable. And this essential relation between the two things may account perhaps for the fact that the two Greek words for parable and proverb are used, though not it would seem indifferently, in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, to represent the same Hebrew word mâshâl. Thus in the Title of this Book we have “The proverbs of Solomon[31],” while in the 6th verse of the same chapter it is, “to understand a parable[32],” the Hebrew word being in both cases the same. The former of these two Greek words (παροιμία), however, occurs nowhere else certainly in the Old Testament, except in another Title in this Book (Proverbs 25:1), whereas the latter (παραβολὴ) is in general use as the equivalent for the Hebrew word. And in the New Testament, the Synoptic Evangelists, though they use only one of the two words (parable), use it indiscriminately for the two forms of composition, while St John, though he uses only the other word (proverb), uses it in one case at least to describe what we should regard rather as a parable or allegory, than a proverb[33].

[28] παραβολή, a placing beside, or together, and so, a comparison.

[29] Parables, Introd. p. 8. He quotes Quintilian: “παροιμία fabella brevior … Parabola longius res quae comparentur repetere solet.”

[30] St Matthew 15:14.

[31] מִשִׁלֵי שְׁלמֹה, παροιμίαι Σαλωμῶντος.

[32] לְהָבִין מָשָׁל, νοήσει τε παραβολήν.

[33] St John 10:6 : ταύτην τὴν παροιμίαν, the reference being to the parable or allegory of the Fold, which has just been given. “Paroimia means something beside the way; hence, according to some, a trite, way-side saying; according to others, a figurative, out-of-the-way saying,” Dr Plummer, note in this Series. “A mysterious saying full of compressed thought,” Westcott, ad loc.

Of the expansion of the proverb into the parable or allegory we have only a single example, that of The Sluggard’s Vineyard[34], in this Book. But of expansion in the other direction, in which the process of comparison is latent, it has many instances. “The moral proverb,” as Ewald observes, “is spun out into works of grand design and the most artistic execution, such as the introduction to the Book of Proverbs. On the other hand it passes into elegant little delineations, often of a mysterious and surprising character, such as the strange proverbs of Agur the son of Jakeh[35].”

[34] Proverbs 24:30-34. The name mashal is given to the allegories, or similitudes, in Ezekiel 17:2-10; Ezekiel 24:3-14.

[35] Hist. of Isr., iv. 283, Eng. Transl.

In this wide and comprehensive sense then, as including the sayings of the Wise, whether compressed in shape into seeds of thought, or expanded into varied and elaborate forms of literary composition, we are at liberty, it would seem, to interpret the word proverb, as it is used in the Title to describe the contents of this Book.

In form the proverbs of this Book are for the most part distichs or couplets, the two numbers or clauses of the couplet being related to each other by what is called parallelism, after the manner of Hebrew poetry. All three of the chief recognised varieties of parallelism[36] are met with, though the prevalence of one or other variety is generally a distinguishing characteristic of the several Collections. Thus we have, for example,

[36] Driver, Introd. to Literature of Old Test., pp. 340 ff. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms, vol. i. Introd. chap. vi. in this Series.

1. Synonymous parallelism, in which the second clause repeats in a varied form, or is synonymous with, the first,

“A fool’s mouth is his destruction,

And his lips are the snare of his soul.” Proverbs 18:7.

“Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me;

I will render to the man according to his work.” Proverbs 24:29.

2. Antithetic parallelism, in which a truth is enforced in the second member by contrast with an opposite truth in the first member, as,

“The light of the righteous rejoiceth,

But the lamp of the wicked shall be put out.” Proverbs 13:9.

“A merry heart is a good medicine,

But a broken spirit drieth up the bones.” Proverbs 17:12.

3. Synthetic parallelism, in which the second member carries on and completes the first:

“As vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes,

So is the sluggard to them that send him.” Proverbs 10:26.

“A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass,

And a rod for the back of fools.” Proverbs 26:3.


The Book of Proverbs. Authorship

The title of this Book as it now stands in our Bibles professes not only to describe its contents, but to make known its author: The Proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel.

It is obvious, however, that this title does not necessarily imply either that the work was put into its present shape by Solomon, or that the whole of its contents were written or compiled by him. It is clear that he was not the editor of it in the form in which it has reached us; because (apart from other reasons) we have a section of it which claims his authorship, but purports to have been added to an already existing volume by a later hand. “These also,” says the introductory note of that section, “are proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied out[37].” And it is no less clear from internal evidence that he was not the sole author of this composite work. “These also are sayings of the wise[38];” “The words of Agur, the son of Jakeh[39];” “The words of king Lemuel[40],” are the titles of minor sections of the Book, either anonymous, or expressly assigned to other authors than Solomon. And we are thus led to the conclusion that so far as authorship is concerned, the name of Solomon is used in this Title in much the same way as that of David is in connection with the Book of Psalms. No one now supposes that in speaking of the Psalter as The Psalms of David we mean to affirm that David composed every poem in the Book, but only that he was “the father” of the lyric poetry of the Hebrews as it is there collected. In like manner the title, The Proverbs of Solomon, aptly describes the authorship of a Book which, proceeding primarily from the great master of Hebrew Wisdom, contains also the wise sayings of others who wrought in the same field.

[37] Proverbs 25:1.

[38] Proverbs 24:23.

[39] Proverbs 30:1.

[40] Proverbs 31:1.

When however, in accordance with this general conclusion, we endeavour to assign the several portions of the Book to their respective authors, we are met by considerable divergence of opinion. In accepting Solomon as the author of the main Collection of proverbs proper, which constitutes the central portion of the Book[41], we of course admit that some proverbs may be included in this Collection which were not written by him. Ewald thinks that they were “mostly composed by himself, but are in part to be ascribed to the poets of his period.” And he instances “the beautiful maxims on the majesty and awe of a true king, between Proverbs 10:1; Proverbs 22:17,” as being “unquestionably from Solomon’s time, but hardly directly from his own pen.” This kind of criticism, however, is confessedly precarious[42]; though, as here exercised, it in no way impugns the broad position that the proverbs contained in this central portion of our Book are proverbs of Solomon in the strict sense of the expression. Their common authorship is rendered probable by the recurrence of favourite words and phrases[43]; and by the fact that throughout the entire Collection they are not only in complete accord in their style and teaching, but are also couched, with but one doubtful exception[44], in the same literary form of couplets or distichs. Jewish history informs us that Solomon “spake three thousand proverbs[45],” and it would have been surprising if out of so great a number none had been preserved to us. We may indeed well believe with Ewald, that as the knowledge of that time, fresh and simple, but profound and elevated, dealing with “God and the relations of God and man, required an elevated style of language, and consequently the dignity and charm of verse,” “a mind that was at once so poetical and so profoundly immersed in the Wisdom of his time as Solomon’s was, was most fitted to create such a verse, and to sanction it by its authority[46].”

[41] Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 22:16.

[42] It would be difficult, for example, to find a more “beautiful” or “majestic” description of a “true king” than that in 2 Samuel 23:3-4; and yet it is avowedly the utterance of David himself.

[43] For a list of these see Smith’s Dict. of Bible, Art. “Book of Proverbs,” ii:947. The recurrence of such phrases cannot be relied upon as a proof of common authorship, because, as has been suggested, they may be the phrases of a school, rather than of an individual, but it comes in confirmation of a conclusion based upon other considerations.

[44] Proverbs 19:7, where see note.

[45] 1 Kings 4:32.

[46] Hist. of Isr. iii. 280.

It should be borne in mind that the circumstances of Solomon’s times, at all events in the earlier and happier years of his reign, were peculiarly favourable to the study and cultivation of Wisdom or Philosophy. If the eventful periods of a nation’s history give scope and stimulus to the genius of the poet, the calmer atmosphere of national peace and prosperity is more congenial to the temper of the philosopher. The relations, both of recognition and of intercourse, which Solomon established and maintained for himself and his kingdom with other nations of the world, conduced largely to that interchange of thought and intellectual rivalry which give the highest impulse to the pursuit of Wisdom. The visit of the Queen of Sheba[47] and the comparison of Solomon with the greatest sages of his day[48] are intimations, as has already been observed, afforded us in the history of such interchange and rivalry.

[47] 1 Kings 10:1-10.

[48] 1 Kings 4:30-31.

Regarding then this section of the Book as a Collection, made either by Solomon himself or under his direction, of some 400 proverbs, chosen chiefly out of the 3,000 proverbs which he “spake,” we have next to consider under the head of authorship the sections which precede and follow it in our present Bibles.

It is obvious at a glance that the opening chapters, which precede the central section[49], though in harmony with its ethical teaching, differ widely from it in style and literary character. They are not proverbs in the sense of short, sententious sayings, however satisfactorily they may make good their claim to be regarded as proverbs in the wider acceptation we have given to the term. After the Title and a brief preface, the writer of this section launches into continuous addresses, fervid and impressive, and containing passages remarkable for their beauty and dignity of poetic imagery and diction. There seems, however, to be no valid reason to doubt that two styles of composition, avowedly so different, may have fallen easily within the compass of mind and range of pen of a man who was, as Dean Stanley says, “not only the Augustine of his age but its Aristotle,” and of whom it is recorded, that “God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore[50].” If “a mind that was at once so poetical and so profoundly immersed in the wisdom of his time as Solomon’s was” could “create” a new kind of philosophical poetry, why is it too much to suppose that it could excel in two different kinds of composition?

[49] 1–9 inclusive.

[50] 1 Kings 4:29.

It is worthy of notice, as bearing upon this relation of style to authorship, that in the midst of this Introduction, and as it were imbedded in it, we have one passage at least (Proverbs 6:16-19) which resembles much more closely in style the later chapters of the Book than the opening chapters in which it is found, and to which notwithstanding it appears properly to belong. (See note there.)

Without therefore presuming to dogmatize on a question which lies almost exclusively within the inexact domain of “the critical faculty,” and the decision of which in no way affects the claim of this Book to retain its place among “the oracles of God,” we think that, speaking generally, the authorship of the main Collection of proverbs proper and of the Introduction which precedes it (in other words of the present Book as far as Proverbs 22:16) may reasonably be ascribed to Solomon. Objections to this view, based on supposed internal evidence to the contrary, are dealt with in the notes on the passages where they are raised. (See for example Proverbs 4:3, note.)

The next division[51] consists of two Collections of proverbs, introduced by a short hortatory passage, not dissimilar in character to the longer Introduction in the opening chapters of this Book, and made up of several shorter Collections, each of which is distinguished by special characteristics suggestive of different authors, together with a brief appendix.[52] This division may be regarded, as has been suggested[53], as fulfilling the promise which had been made at the outset that the Book should contain “the words of the Wise[54].”

[51] Proverbs 22:17 to Proverbs 24:34.

[52] For enumeration of these see Analysis of Contents, p. 35.

[53] Speaker’s Comm., Introd. to Book of Proverbs, p. 517.

[54] Proverbs 1:6.

This then we may suppose to have been the original form of the Book of Proverbs, as edited not improbably by Solomon himself, or under his immediate direction. “It might seem a natural hypothesis that the writer, who made, or caused to be made, the selection which forms the central portion of the Book, wrote the prologue and subjoined the epilogue to it, and that this, with the short section, Proverbs 24:23-34, was the form in which the Book was current until it received its last addition in the reign of Hezekiah[55].”

[55] Speaker’s Comm., Introd. to Book of Proverbs, p. 517.

This “last addition” is introduced by a notice which accords with this hypothesis: “these also are proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied out[56].” Apart from its historical interest (c. Proverbs 25:1, note) this notice bears distinct testimony to the then prevalent belief as to the authorship of a very considerable portion of this Book. The words, “These also are proverbs of Solomon,” while they shew that the Collection, extending over five chapters[57], which they introduce, was ascribed to Solomon as its author, shew also that he was regarded as the author of the preceding work to which it is affixed. Nor here again is there any valid objection to be urged against this view. A large number of the proverbs in this section are cast in the same mould and marked by the same characteristics as those in the principal foregoing section. Differences of style may sufficiently be accounted for by the scope and the play of so versatile a mind as Solomon’s, and by the possibility of some passages which are not his being included in the section. The argument from the supposed conditions of society indicated by some of the maxims as deciding their date is of little worth. An able modern expositor writes, for example, “There is one proverb” (in this section) “which particularly recalls the age of Hezekiah, when the doom of the exile was already being proclaimed by the prophets: ‘As a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place’ (Proverbs 27:8)[58].” But, not to say that “the doom of the exile,” meaning thereby the forcible deportation of prisoners of war into their enemies’ land, is not very happily described by their wandering from home, like a bird from her nest, might not the proverb be just as well relegated, on such grounds, to the age of Cain, the first and most notorious wanderer from his home[59]? The Wisdom of Solomon was gathered from other times and lands beside his own. It is brought, as we have seen, into contrast and comparison with that of the great sages of his day[60]. It is of the very nature of proverbial philosophy to belong rather to mankind than to any particular time or people. In every land and in every age it is true that the homeless wanderer is like a bird that forsakes its nest. The great Teacher Himself knew no more touching form in which to present to us the picture of His own homelessness, than by contrasting it with the happier lot of the bird which had not wandered, but had still its “nest” to shelter in[61].

[56] Proverbs 25:1.

[57] 25–29 inclusive.

[58] Horton, The Book of Proverbs, Introd. p. 5

[59] Genesis 4:12; Genesis 4:14; where the same Heb. word is used.

[60] 1 Kings 4:30-31.

[61] St Luke 9:58.

We conclude then that as regards its authorship this Book may appropriately be described as The Proverbs of Solomon, inasmuch as the Collection of proverbs proper which forms the bulk of it is for the most part his, as are also the later but smaller Collection which bears his name, and the hortatory preface or address which extends over the first nine chapters. The remainder of the Book consists of shorter Collections of proverbs, of the nature of appendices, added, some of them at least, by the later hand which last edited the Book and left it for us in its present shape. Of such appendices, drawn as it would seem from foreign sources, the last two chapters of the Book consist[62].

[62] See Analysis of Contents, ch. 5. p. 35 below.


Moral and Religious Teaching

1. It is conducive to a right conception of the organic unity of the Old Testament to recognise the truth, that the moral element which pervades it is in reality an essential part of its prophetic character. The function of the inspired teachers of the earlier dispensation was at once to predict and to prepare for the appointed Future. While they foretold with ever clearer and louder note the advent of “The Coming One,” they laboured with unwearying zeal and diligence to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” The writings of the prophets, properly so called, abound in stern rebukes of the sins and vices of the people, and in earnest exhortations to amendment. And these are not irrelevant or subsidiary additions, but integral parts of the prophecies themselves. The moral preparation must be effectual, or else He who is foretold will come, not as “the Sun of righteousness with healing in His wings,” but to “smite the earth with a curse[63].” In like manner, Books of the Old Testament which are professedly didactic are at the same time truly prophetical, both because they commonly present ideals, which by failing to be realised in the present awaken and justify the expectation of a better future; and because they are direct and necessary precursors of that future. The crooked must be made straight and the rough places plain by the pioneers of moral reformation, before the glory of the Lord can appear[64]. The “divine library,” which we call the Old Testament, is in this respect therefore an organic whole. It is the record of God’s education of man; and the two necessary conditions of education, an end clearly discerned by the Teacher, and gradually and sufficiently unfolded to the scholar, and a method well and wisely adapted to secure that end, are everywhere, though in different degrees and proportions, conspicuous in its pages.

[63] Malachi 4:2-6.

[64] Isaiah 40:4-5.

If this view be accepted, the claim of the Book of Proverbs to a place in the inspired history of the Kingdom of God will at once be conceded. Alike in its faithful adherence to its avowed purpose of imparting instruction and providing wise counsels for the conduct of life, and in its delineation of prophetic ideals which, in one case at least, assume the definiteness of personal prediction, this Book is instinct with what, in the wider sense of the term, may truly be called the spirit of prophecy. If Hebrew history and Hebrew poetry are always prophetical, because alike undaunted by failure and unsatiated by attainment, they preserve an unvarying attitude of “earnest expectation[65]” of One, for whom the failure cries to remedy it and the attainment to perfect it, Hebrew philosophy claims kindred with them, because in the midst of prevailing degeneracy and corruption, which it unflinchingly exposes and rebukes, it rears steadily aloft the pure and unsullied image of moral perfection, as the object not only of human aim but also of human attainment. It may be true that “the tone of the religious proverb falls far short of enthusiasm”; but it is no less true, as the same writer admits, that “the wise men happily supplemented the more spiritual teaching of psalmists and prophets[66].”

[65] ἀποκαραδοκία (Romans 8:19); a word which as vividly describes the attitude of the Church before Christ with reference to the Incarnation, as it does the attitude of Creation with reference to the Regeneration.

[66] Cheyne, Job and Solomon, p. 121.

2. In accordance with this view are some characteristics of the Book of Proverbs which have already been noticed. If as a manual of wholesome morality it can claim affinity with the “sound,” or, “healthy words” of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself[67], the relationship is rendered closer by the fact that while a considerable number of directly religious proverbs and instructions are scattered throughout these Collections[68], religion is, as we have seen, the basis even of what may be called their secular counsels; and that therefore this “sound” teaching is also “teaching which is according to godliness[69].” In another particular, to which also attention has already been directed, the teachers of Hebrew proverbial philosophy prepare the way for the Great Teacher of the New Testament. Their teaching is not Jewish but human, or rather perhaps we should say, it is at once Jewish and human. Their voices are lifted up in Israel, but their words go out unto the ends of the world. All that is eternal and immutable in the Law of Moses they acknowledge and build upon; all that is transitory and evanescent they ignore. The substance is retained; the accidents are dispensed with. It is Jehovah, the covenant God of Israel, from Whom all wisdom proceeds, in fear of Whom it consists, and of Whom it must be sought. “The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom”; “Jehovah giveth wisdom”; “Trust in Jehovah with all thine heart, and lean not upon thine own understanding[70].” But though the perennial fount of wisdom wells up from the Hill of Sion, its streams not only make glad the city of God, but the wilderness and solitary place may also be glad thereof, and the wilderness rejoice and blossom as the rose. In like manner the Divine Author of the Sermon on the Mount, while He declares emphatically that He has “not come to destroy but to fulfil the law and the prophets,” and that “whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven[71],” yet makes it plain in all His teaching that it is the substance, the spiritual, the eternal, the universal, and not the clothing, the material, the local, the transitory, of which He speaks. He too strips off the garment which conceals and cripples that the form beneath it may come to view and expand. He too plucks away the sheath that the bud enshrouded in it may burst forth into the flower.

[67] ὑγιαίνοντες λόγοι. 1 Timothy 6:3; comp. 1 Timothy 1:10; 2 Timothy 1:13; 2 Timothy 4:3; Titus 1:9.

[68] e.g. Proverbs 2:5-7, Proverbs 3:5-12, Proverbs 5:21, Proverbs 8:13-31, Proverbs 10:27; Proverbs 10:29, Proverbs 12:2, Proverbs 14:2, Proverbs 15:3, Proverbs 20:12; Proverbs 20:24, and many others.

[69] 1 Timothy 6:3.

[70] Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 2:6; Proverbs 3:5.

[71] St Matthew 5:17-19.

In another respect also the Hebrew moralist is the precursor of the Christian. Laying hold as he does of the whole man, following him into all the actions and all the relations of his daily life, claiming all without exception and without reserve for Wisdom and for God, he anticipates as it were the uncompromising demand of the Gospel, “whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God[72].” “Ye are not your own; for ye were bought with a price; glorify God therefore in your body[73].”

[72] 1 Corinthians 10:31.

[73] 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, R.V.

With this wideness of reach we mark the thoroughness, with which moral questions are treated in the Book of Proverbs. Proverbial teaching is in its nature fragmentary. A proverb is, as we have seen, comprehensive and inclusive; the sum of a large induction, or the germ of a broad evolution. But a proverb is also definite and precise. It deals with a single point rather than with the whole of a complicated moral question. True singly to their character in this respect, the proverbs of this Book, when grouped together according to their subjects, each kind of gem being picked out, as it were, from the heap and strung on a separate string, present a full and exhaustive treatise on almost every branch of practical morality[74].

[74] See, for example, Mr Horton’s Book (in The Expositor’s Bible), in which this grouping of proverbs is adopted.

3. Prophecy by ideals is also, as has been said, a feature of this Book. One example of this has been worked out in detail by a recent writer on the Book of Proverbs. Calling attention to the two historical accounts, “different, and to all appearance irreconcilable,” of the Hebrew monarchy, its origin on the one hand in the divine appointment and its consequent ideal perfection, and its institution on the other hand as “a rebellion against the sovereignty of the Lord,” issuing accordingly in incompetence and oppression, this writer adds:

“The contrast just pointed out in the historic books appears with equal distinctness in this book of Wisdom; the proverbial sayings about the king exhibit the two-fold thought; and the reconciliation is only found when we have realized the Kingship of Christ, and can bring that idea to explain the ancient forecast. Thus the study of the things concerning the king is to the thoughtful reader of the Proverbs a study of the things concerning Christ. The ideal elements speak of Him; the actual shortcomings cry out for Him[75].”

[75] Horton, The Book of Proverbs, p. 327.

Even Solomon in all his wisdom and glory “made his people’s yoke grievous[76],” and accordingly the ideal of a king, whose “favour is as dew upon the grass,” and who sitting on the throne of judgement “scattereth away all evil with his eyes[77],” must for the present find its foil in the fact of “the wicked ruler over a poor people,” who is “as a roaring lion and a ranging bear,” or of “the prince that lacketh understanding” and is “a great oppressor[78].”

[76] 1 Kings 12:4.

[77] Proverbs 19:12; Proverbs 20:8.

[78] Proverbs 28:15-16.

Proverbs too there are in this Book, which while they find ample illustration, yet fail of complete fulfilment in the histories of the noblest among men. The love of Jonathan for David was “wonderful, passing the love of women[79],” yet it needed a yet greater love than his to exhaust the meaning of the proverbs,

[79] 2 Samuel 1:26.

“A friend loveth at all times,

And is born as a brother for adversity;”

“There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother[80].”

[80] Proverbs 17:17; Proverbs 18:24; comp. John 15:13-14; Ephesians 3:18-19.

Of none other could it be so said, as of Him who “though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty might be rich,”

“There is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great wealth[81].”

[81] Proverbs 13:7; 2 Corinthians 8:9.

None ever knew so well that

“He who hateth suretiship is sure,”

as He who having counted the cost became for us “the surety of a better covenant[82].”

[82] Proverbs 11:15; Hebrews 7:22.

It is, however, in the familiar passage in the eighth chapter that the characteristic of the Book which we are now considering is specially conspicuous. Moved by the greatness of his theme, the Teacher quits the sober paths of counsel and instruction, and rises to the nobler heights of poetry and prophecy. The wisdom which he is seeking to commend to his scholars takes shape of grace and dignity before his mental vision, and pleads in human form with the children of men. In the chief places of concourse she gathers them round her, and tells in accents grave and winning of all she has in store for them, if they will hear her voice and seek her company. Ample are the credentials by which she supports her promise and makes good her claim. Not the possession only, but the offspring and companion of God Himself has she been from all eternity. Taking intelligent and joyful part in all the works of the Creator, her special delight has ever been with the sons of men[83].

[83] Proverbs 8:22-31, R.V.

And the vivid and august personification falters not on its way, till it presents to us rather than predicts Him, Who is “the Wisdom of God,” “the Only Begotten of the Father,” and “the Son of His love”; Who “in the beginning was with God, and was God”; Who “became flesh” and “dwelt among us,” because from all eternity His delights had been with the sons of men. To such a personification of Wisdom our Lord Himself lends countenance. Whether in a general paraphrase of the tenor of several O.T. passages[84]; or with a direct reference to this passage and to the appeal in the first chapter of the Book of Proverbs[85], He speaks of Himself, in words which though mysterious were intelligible to those who heard Him, as ἡ σοφία τοῦ Θεοῦ, that sent its prophets and apostles into the world and sent them in vain[86].

[84] Luke 11:49, and note there in this Series.

[85] vv. 20–33.

[86] Speaker’s Comm., Introd. to Book of Proverbs, p. 524, where also “the influence of the vivid portraiture of the personified Sophia of the Proverbs” both on N.T. and on early Christian phraseology is noticed.

4. Quotations of the Book of Proverbs in the New Testament may properly be regarded as proofs of its canonicity. But they are also recognitions of the moral and religious teaching of the Book, and as such they may be briefly noticed here. Of direct quotations the number is not great, but they are plain and unmistakeable. Such are the following[87]:—

[87] The R.V. is followed.

My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord;

  My son, regard not lightly the chastening of the Lord,

Neither be weary of his reproof:

  Nor faint when thou art reproved of him;

For whom the Lord loveth he reproveth;

  For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth,

Even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.

  And scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.

Proverbs 3:11-12.

  Hebrews 12:5-6.

Surely he scorneth the scorners,

But he giveth grace unto the lowly.

  God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.

Proverbs 3:34.

  James 4:6.

Behold the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth:

How much more the wicked and the sinner!

  And if the righteous is scarcely saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?

Proverbs 11:31.  1 Peter 4:18.

If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat;

And if he be thirsty, give him water to drink;

  But if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink:

For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head.

  For in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head.

Proverbs 25:21-22.  Romans 12:20.

In all these cases the Greek text of the N. T. scarcely differs by a word from the Septuagint, or Greek version of the O. T. passage.

In several other cases N. T. writers make use of words or phrases or turns of thought, which appear clearly to indicate their familiarity with the Book of Proverbs. Thus we have “Make straight paths for your feet” (Hebrews 12:13), identical in the Greek with “Make level the path of thy feet” (Proverbs 4:26); “Love covereth all transgressions” (Proverbs 10:12), and “Love covereth a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8); “a man who is cheerful and a giver God blesseth” (Proverbs 22:9, LXX.), and “God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7); “Better is it that it be said unto thee, Come up higher” &c. (Proverbs 25:6-7), and “Friend, go up higher” (Luke 14:10); “As a dog that returneth to his vomit” (Proverbs 26:11), and “The dog turning to his own vomit again” (2 Peter 2:22)[88].

[88] Further examples are given in Speaker’s Comm., Introd. to Book of Proverbs, Proverbs 3:6; Proverbs 3:11; Smith’s Dict. of Bible, Art. “Proverbs, Book of,”§ 2. Under the former of these references will be found also an interesting article by Dean Plumptre on the familiarity of the N.T. writers with the LXX. version of the Book of Proverbs.

5. It has been said that “the morality inculcated (in the Book of Proverbs) is of no very lofty type; the motives for right conduct are mainly prudential … ‘Be good and you will prosper; be wicked and you will suffer’ is the sum of the whole[89].”

[89] Horton, The Book of Proverbs, p. 3.

We need not stop to discuss the accuracy of this statement. If we believe with Bishop Butler in “the Government of God by rewards and punishments,” and with Archbishop Leighton, that “this at least is beyond all doubt and indisputable, that all men wish well to themselves; nor can the mind divest itself of this propensity, without divesting itself of its being,” it follows of necessity that what are called prudential considerations must influence our moral conduct. What place such considerations should hold with us, and what influence they may legitimately exert over us, cannot better, perhaps, be defined than by Coleridge’s familiar description of the three steps, “the prudential,” “the moral” and “the spiritual,” by which the whole ascent to “godlikeness” is made, and by his clear enunciation of the “four very distinct species” into which Prudence may be divided. There is, he reminds us, “a prudence, that stands in opposition to a higher moral life, and tends to preclude it,” and this, he adds, “is an evil prudence.” There is also “a neutral prudence, not incompatible with spiritual growth: and to this we may with especial propriety apply the words of our Lord, what is not against us is for us. It is therefore an innocent, and (being such) a proper and commendable prudence. Or there may be a prudence, which “may lead and be subservient to a higher principle than itself, like the crutches, which the enfeebled convalescent thankfully makes use of,” because they help him to exercise and so to regain the full play of his limbs. And “lastly there is a prudence that co-exists with morality, as morality co-exists with the spiritual life, a prudence that is the organ of both … a holy prudence, the steward faithful and discreet (Luke 12:42), ‘the eldest servant’ in the family of faith, born in the house, and ‘made the ruler over his lord’s household’.”

We may well then acquiesce in the great thinker’s conclusion, that to “distinguish virtue from prudence” is not to “divide the one from the other”; and that “true morality is hostile to that prudence only, which is preclusive of true morality.” And we may be helped by his illustration: “Morality may be compared to the consonant, prudence to the vowel. The former cannot be uttered (reduced to practice), but by means of the latter[90].”

[90] Coleridge, Aids to Reflection, Introd. Aphor. xxix.

If it be objected that the moral code of this Book concerns itself with this world only, and derives its sanctions exclusively from the consequences of action in the present life, the answer to the objection is to be found, not so much in isolated proverbs, however clear and forcible their testimony to a belief in a future state, such as

“The righteous hath hope in his death[91],”

[91] Proverbs 14:32, note.

as in the general scope and tenor of the entire teaching. It is the Church in her childhood that is here being educated. It is incident to that stage of developement, that character should be formed by sanctions which are immediately felt. To have learned by experience that “godliness hath promise of this life” is to have solid ground for believing that it hath promise also “of that which is to come[92].” He who has been trained to look for happiness and prosperity only in the favour of Almighty God and in obedience to His commandments, lives already the life that is eternal, and is in character, and therefore in expectation, an heir of the kingdom of which perfect happiness in perfect obedience is the law of perfect freedom: “His servants shall serve Him[93].”

[92] 1 Timothy 4:8.

[93] Revelation 22:3.

A thoughtful study, therefore, of the moral teaching of this Book leads us with reverent admiration to conclude, that here too, “Wisdom is justified by her works[94].”

[94] Matthew 11:19, R.V.


Analysis of Contents

The contents of the Book of Proverbs may conveniently be arranged under eight principal divisions. Differing widely, as has been said already (Introd. c. iii.), in bulk and style and authorship, these divisions find unity and coherence in having Wisdom for their common theme and subject-matter.

I. The Appeal of Wisdom , 1-9

  1.  General Introduction to the Book, Proverbs 1:1-7. Title: v. 1. Subject: vv. 2–6. Motto, or fundamental principle of Wisdom: v. 7.

  2.  Addresses Proverbs 1:8 to Proverbs 7:27, fifteen in number, by a father or teacher to his son or pupil, each of them introduced, as a rule, by the direct appeal, “My son.” These addresses are arranged in separate sections in the following commentary, and are printed in separate paragraphs in the Revised Version; but the transition from one to another is generally easy and is marked sometimes only by the recurrence of the phrase “My son.” Some of them treat throughout of a single topic; others urge generally the pursuit of wisdom by various considerations of her intrinsic worth, or of the gain and loss which accrue from securing or rejecting her.

Address (1) Proverbs 1:8-19. Warning against the pursuit of gain by violence. (2) Proverbs 1:20-33. The ruin that follows on refusing the appeal of Wisdom. (3) Proverbs 2:1-22. The diligent search for Wisdom commended. (4) Proverbs 3:1-10. The happiness and prosperity which Wisdom confers. (5) Proverbs 3:11-20. Chastening and discipline conduce to the attainment of Wisdom. (6) Proverbs 3:21-35. Wisdom when found must be kept, by calm trust in God and righteous dealing towards men. (7) Proverbs 4:1-9. The Teacher’s own training and experience adduced in support of his teaching. (8) Proverbs 4:10-19. Warning to avoid the path of the wicked. (9) Proverbs 4:20-27. General exhortations to the pursuit of wisdom. (10) Proverbs 5:1-23. Warning against impurity. (11) Proverbs 6:1-5. Against suretiship. (12) Proverbs 6:6-11. Against sloth. (13) Proverbs 6:12-19. Against special sins. (14) Proverbs 6:20-35. Against adultery. (15) Proverbs 7:1-27. The same.

  3.  Two general Addresses, 8, 9.

  i.  The invitation of Wisdom personified, Proverbs 8:1-36.

  ii.  The contrasted calls of Wisdom and Folly, both also personified, Proverbs 9:1-12 and Proverbs 9:13-18.

II. First Collection of Proverbs, Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 22:16The largest Collection of proverbs (376, it is said) in the Book, introduced by the Title, “The Proverbs of Solomon,” and largely composed by him.

With one exception (Proverbs 19:7, where probably a line has fallen out; see note there) each of these proverbs is a distich, or consists of two lines. The characteristic of the Collection is antithetic parallelism (see p. 19 above), a form of parallelism which is specially adapted to gnomic poetry. This is varied, however, by the occasional introduction of synonymous (e.g. Proverbs 11:7; Proverbs 16:13) or synthetic (e.g. Proverbs 10:2 : and each verse in 20) parallels.

No general principle of classification is apparent in this Collection, though a few groups of proverbs occur, e.g. on the use of the tongue, Proverbs 10:18-21, and perhaps the group Proverbs 15:33 to Proverbs 16:7, in each verse of which the name Jehovah occurs, though the law of classification is not strictly observed, as appears from the proverbs in Proverbs 16:9; Proverbs 16:11, being separated from the group by verses in which the name does not occur.

III. Second Collection of Proverbs, Proverbs 22:17 to Proverbs 24:22  1.  Introduction, Proverbs 22:17-21, forming a connection between the foregoing Collection and this and the next following Collections, which are here brought together and introduced between the two Collections of Solomon’s Proverbs, as “Words of the Wise,” in fulfilment of the promise, Proverbs 1:6.

  2.  The Collection itself, c. Proverbs 22:22—c. Proverbs 24:22.

The proverbs in this Collection are contained sometimes in one, sometimes in two or three verses (c. Proverbs 22:22-23, Proverbs 23:1-3), sometimes they lapse into a continuous discourse (c. Proverbs 23:29-35), after the manner of the first nine chapters.

IV. Third Collection of Proverbs, Proverbs 24:23-34A short Collection, similar in style to the second Collection, and in the nature of an appendix to it; introduced by the Title, “These also are sayings of the wise.”

V. Fourth Collection of Proverbs, Proverbs 25-29

ascribed, like the first Collection, to Solomon as their author; and with the very interesting intimation that “the men of Hezekiah, king of Judah, copied them out” (Proverbs 25:1; see note there in this commentary, and Introd. Chap. iii. p. 24).

The maxims in this Section generally teach a truth by comparison with some familiar object. They are free from the abstruseness which sometimes meets us in other Sections of the Book and are of the nature of popular proverbial sayings.

VI. The words of Agur the son of Jakeh, 30

A short Collection of proverbs, probably of foreign origin, with an enigmatical preface (vv. 2–4), and having for a characteristic what have been called “numerical” proverbs (vv. 11–31; comp. Proverbs 6:16-19).

VII. The words of King Lemuel, Proverbs 31:1-9Another short Collection of homely proverbs, very different in style, but also as it would seem from a foreign source.

VIII. The Virtuous Woman, Proverbs 31:10-31This Section is anonymous, and is arranged alphabetically, each verse beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It is a continuous treatment of a single topic.

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