How to Interpret Wisdom Literature (Proverbs) PART 1

Wisdom Literature is a genre of the Bible which concerns wise words and statements made by Jewish sages. This genre can be readily found in Job, Proverbs & Ecclesiastes. This article would focus on Proverbs, which is the commonest form of wisdom literature found in the Tanakh.


                    What is a Proverb?

A proverb is a short witty saying. It usually conveys some moral or divine truth. Solomon describes it this way, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).

A proverb is a word fitly spoken, a sound or good word. Proverbs were used in ancient times as a teaching method. They were widely used by the Eastern people.

Proverbs are still very much present in today’s world. Our Westernized culture has certain proverbial expressions. For example, “a bird in hand is worth nine in the bush” or “make hay while the sun shines” etc.

The book of Proverbs was written PRIMARILY by King Solomon. Its introduction bears this out, “The proverbs OF SOLOMON the son of David, king of Israel” (Proverbs 1:1).

So Solomon was responsible for the most part of Proverbs. The Book of Proverbs also contains wise sayings from other individuals.

Chapter 30 contains statements made by Agur, “The words of Agur the son of Jakeh, his utterance. This man declared to Ithiel—to Ithiel and Ucal” (Proverbs 30:1).

Whilst chapter 31 contains instructions which King Lemuel’s mother taught him, “The words of King Lemuel, the utterance which his mother taught him” (Proverbs 31:1).

While these made contributions to the book, King Solomon wrote MOST of the proverbs present therein.

King Solomon had been blessed by God with wisdom.

1 Kings 4:29-34 (NKJV)

29 And God gave Solomon WISDOM and exceedingly great UNDERSTANDING, and largeness of heart like the sand on the seashore. 30 Thus Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the men of the East and all the wisdom of Egypt. 31 For he was wiser than all men—than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol; and his fame was in all the surrounding nations. 32 He spoke THREE THOUSAND PROVERBS, and his songs were one thousand and five. 33 Also he spoke of trees, from the cedar tree of Lebanon even to the hyssop that springs out of the wall; he spoke also of animals, of birds, of creeping things, and of fish. 34 And men of all nations, from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom, came to hear the wisdom of Solomon. 

Vv. 32-33 intimate that King Solomon spoke 3000 proverbs, on various subjects.

Of these 3000, only 800 were preserved and are available today, most of which may be found in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.


       Divisions in the Book of Proverbs.

The Book of Proverbs has four main divisions:


First Division.

This is made up of the first nine chapters in Proverbs. These first nine chapters are moral lessons given by King Solomon to his son.


Second Division.

This comprises of chapters 10-29. Chapters 10-29 contain miscellaneous advice to all who want to live godly lives.


Third Division.

The third division comprises of chapter 30 only. Chapter 30 is a short collection of proverbs by a man named Agur.


Fourth Division.

The fourth division comprises of chapter 31 alone. Chapter 31 describes a virtuous woman, by King Lemuel’s mother.


© Josh Banks Ministries. 2022.


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