Some classify the Books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon as “Poetical Books” or “Wisdom Literature.”
It is, perhaps more precise to classify Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes as Wisdom Literature.
At the most basic level, Proverbs is a book of wisdom. In a way, it’s a book of wit.
Much of the collection is in couplets and, as we noticed in the Psalms, parallelism is very easy to see.
Beyond parallelism, the literary style is referred to as māšāl or something like a byword, or to be compared to, or we could simplify it to a simile:
Proverbs 6:23 – the commandment is a lamp, the teaching is a light.
“Proverbs is perhaps the most practical book in the Old Testament because it teaches wisdom (lit., “skillful living”) in the multiple aspects of everyday life. In short pithy statements, maxims, and stories, Solomon and other contributors set forth about nine hundred proverbs—inspired precepts dealing with wisdom and folly, pride and humility, justice and vengeance, laziness and work, poverty and wealth, friends and neighbors, love and lust, anger and strife, masters and servants, life and death.
These maxims are not theoretical but practical; they are easily memorized, timeless truths that touch on every facet of human relationships. Reading a proverb takes only a few seconds; applying a proverb can take a lifetime.” (1)
We have several options regarding the organization (not an outline) of the book. One option:
- Preface, purpose, and theme 1:1-7
- Solomon’s Wisdom 1:8-9:18
- Solomon’s Proverbs 10:1-22:16
- Wise Men’s Sayings 22:17-24:22
- Hezekiah’s Sayings (variousProverbs of Solomon) 25-29
- The Words of Agur 30
- The Words of Lemuel 31:1-9
- The Worthy Woman 31:10-31
Wisdom as a term occurs 145 times in Proverbs.
Wise 47 times.
Knowledge 82 times.
Notable: Wisdom is personified as a she (for reference: Proverbs 8 & 9): her, she, she cries out, she has prepared her food, she says — this is juxtaposed to the adulteress who is cunning of heart, boisterous, rebellious – she lurks, entices, seduces. These “women” stand in stark contrast.
So, what is Proverbs 31 really about? The perfect wife? There is no Biblical-Christian-Wonder-Woman.
Wisdom has been personified as a woman; Proverbs 31 is what wisdom looks like when put into practice.
Other key terms which apply frequently: wise, understanding, instruction, admonition, discipline and similar forms depending on your English version of the Bible.
Proverbs also uses parallelism in comparison/contrast, or positive v. negative subjects:
- The Way of the Righteous v. The Way of the Wicked.
- The Wise v. The Fool
- Life v. Death
- Knowledge v. Ignorance
- Work/Diligence v. Laziness
Once you start looking for these, you won’t miss them.
Proverbs is an encyclopedia of wisdom principles.
Five purposes can be seen in the first six verses (Proverbs 1:1-6):
- To know wisdom
- To discern the sayings
- To receive instruction
- To give prudence
- To understand
What is wisdom?
- Commenting on חָכְמָה (Hb. wisdom, “Chokmah”) and its forms, Dr. Louis Goldberg, former professor at Moody, “When you distill the verb forms and its derivatives, which occur some 312 times in the Hebrew OT. About 3/5…are found in Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes…most frequently noting intelligence.” (2)
How is it used?
חָכְמָה has a wide field of meaning (3):
- Technical Skill (1 Kings 7:14, Exodus 28:3). There is an industrious aspect to wisdom; one who works hard at his skills.
- In administration: governing or leading (2 Samuel 2:20, 1 Kings 3:28). Those with wisdom can speak and decide wisely.
- Keeps from sin – repeatedly in wisdom literature, wisdom is pitted against the fool, the evil, the sinful.
- Shrewdness of magicians or prophets.
- Ethical Wisdom belonging to God, as He has founded the earth, made all things – He alone possess things beyond human grasp.
Taken together, these terms can be distilled to a definition:
Wisdom = understanding and applying knowledge.
Wisdom is of inestimable worth; beyond the reach of scorners and fools, but God gives it to the simple, the student, one willing to learn.
Happy is the one who finds her.
- Instruction (Proverbs 1:2, Proverbs 3:11, etc.)
- Understanding (Proverbs 1:2, Proverbs 2:3, Proverbs 3:5.
“Understanding is more than having knowledge, it is the ability to discern between. Proverbs 7:7 The essential idea of *understanding* (חָכְמָה, Chokmah, “khok-maw”) represents a manner of thinking and attitude concerning lie’s experiences, including matters of general interest and basic morality. These concerns relate to prudence in secular affairs, skills in the arts, moral sensitivity, and experience in the ways of the Lord.” (2)
How do we acquire wisdom?
- Recognize God is the source of Wisdom
- Anyone can pursue wisdom, it is a matter of choice (Proverbs 8)
- Intrinsic in obtaining wisdom is the process of discerning, perceiving, learning, and applying skills.
- The audience or reader is depicted in a “father to son” relationship. The older/wiser person is teaching, instructing, and helping the naive, the youth, who: 1. wants to learn, and 2. is willing to learn.
- The simple and fool are variously addressed. In context, sometimes “the simple” are just that – they simply have not learned life’s lessons. The fool has opportunity to learn but is often unwilling or stubborn, bent on doing his own thing.
We have three crucial sources of wisdom:
- God’s Word – the very mind of God in print.
- God’s Spirit – the very person of God in us, sanctifying us.
- God’s people – the very body of Christ helping us.
As we stay close to these, we will do well.
We must know basic knowledge – then, we have to understand how to apply it. Together, this is wisdom.
Ask God to give you His wisdom to change.
- Bruce Wilkinson and Kenneth Boa, Talk Thru the Bible(Nashville: T. Nelson, 1983), 161
- Louis Goldberg, “חָכַם“ , Harris, R. L., Harris, R. L., Archer, G. L., & Waltke,B. K. (1999, c1980). Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament(electronic ed.) (282). Chicago: Moody Press
- Cp. Whitaker, R., Brown, F., Driver, S. (. R., & Briggs, C. A. (. A. (1997, c1906). The Abridged Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon of the Old Testament : From A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament by Francis Brown, S.R. Driver and Charles Briggs, based on the lexicon of Wilhelm Gesenius. Edited by Richard Whitaker (Princeton Theological Seminary). Text provided by Princeton Theological Seminary. (315.2). Oak Harbor WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.Also Holladay, W. L., Köhler, L.,& Köhler, L. (1971).A concise Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament.(104). Leiden: Brill.