Introduction to the Book of Proverbs

“Introduction to the Book of Proverbs,” Old Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2014)


Why study this book?

The book of Proverbs contains many brief but wise statements about how to live a godly life. Although the book was written in ancient Israel, its messages remain applicable in the modern world. As students study this book, they can learn wisdom that will help them draw closer to the Lord.

Who wrote this book?

Some of the book of Proverbs is attributed to “Solomon the son of David, the king of Israel” (see Proverbs 1:1; 10:1; 25:1; see also 1 Kings 4:32; Guide to the Scriptures, “Proverb—the book of Proverbs”; scriptures.lds.org). However, while Solomon is considered an author of many of the proverbs, it is best to think of the book of Proverbs as a library of the wisdom of the Israelites. Some of its content is deeply spiritual, while some “does not rise above the plane of worldly wisdom, but throughout it is taken for granted that ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (1:7; 9:10)” (Bible Dictionary, “Proverbs, book of”).

When and where was it written?

We do not know exactly when or where the book of Proverbs was written, but the initial compilation of Proverbs is traditionally thought to have taken place during the reign of King Solomon in Jerusalem, between 1015 and 975 B.C. It is likely that many of the proverbs came from oral traditions that existed before Solomon’s time. Also, some proverbs were added after Solomon’s time: chapters 25–29 were added in the days of King Hezekiah of Judah (see Proverbs 25:1). It is unknown when the book reached its final form.

What are some distinctive features of this book?

The book of Proverbs was written as poetry, and it employs many of the techniques common to Hebraic poetry—vivid imagery, parallelism, and other literary techniques—to guide the reader in the quest for wisdom. The introductory verses of the book express this central theme: “A wise man will hear, and will increase in learning … but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:5, 7).

The wisdom contained within the book of Proverbs covers nearly every aspect of life. The proverbs focus as much on the quirks of human nature as they do on the basic behavior of a righteous person and on man’s proper relationship to God. Because the proverbs address such varied topics, a verse in Proverbs often has no connection to the verses before or after it. However, readers can find within Proverbs many passages that are simple, humorous, profound, and beautiful. One well-known passage tenderly describes the attributes of a righteous woman and declares that she is far more precious than rubies (see Proverbs 31:10–31).

Outline

Proverbs 1–9 These proverbs contain a poetic invitation for the reader to seek after and acquire true wisdom. They expound on the nature of knowledge, the meaning of life, and the path to success.

Proverbs 10–24 These proverbs comprise many short sayings about right and wrong ways of living. They offer practical advice about family life, controlling anger, the dangers of pride, and a number of other topics.

Proverbs 25–29 These proverbs speak about righteous leadership, the duty of the people to help the poor, and the value of wisdom in daily life.

Proverbs 30–31 The words of Agur and King Lemuel conclude the book. Agur admonishes the reader that “every word of God is pure” (Proverbs 30:5) and speaks of the dangers of hypocrisy. King Lemuel recites the words of his mother that warn against strong drink. A virtuous woman is more valuable than the riches of this world; she reveres the Lord and is diligent, generous, wise, and kind.