1. Title. The title, Proverbs, is taken from the first words of the book. The Hebrew word translated “proverbs” comes from the root mashal, meaning “to be like,” “to compare.” The noun has acquired several meanings:(1) a parable (see Eze. 17:2; 20:49; 24:3–5)—the parables by which the Saviour taught the people are properly meshalim in this sense; (2) a proverbial saying, a brief, terse folk saying (1 Sam. 10:12; 24:13; Eze. 12:22, 23; Eze. 18:2, 3); (3) a byword (Deut. 28:37; 1 Kings 9:7; Ps. 44:14); (4) a prophetic figurative discourse (Num. 23:7, 18; 24:3, 15); (5) a poem of various types: (a) an ode (Num. 21:27–30); (b) a didactic poem (Ps. 49:3, 4; Ps. 78:2); (c) a poem consisting of short sentences of ethical wisdom, for example, many of the proverbs of Solomon. The idea of comparison, resident in the verb root mashal, runs through many of these definitions.

2. Authorship. That Solomon was the author of the book seems evident from chs. 1:1; 10:1; 25:1. See, however, on chs. 30:1; 31:1. It is also known that Solomon “spake three thousand proverbs” (1 Kings 4:32). Until recently the authorship or divine authority was scarcely disputed in either the Jewish or Christian church. Modern scholarship tends to assign a postexilic date to the book and denies the Solomonic authorship of the book.

Solomon wrote the Proverbs in the early years of his reign, when he was still obedient to the Spirit of God within his heart. “It was the wide dissemination of these principles, and the recognition of God as the one to whom all praise and honor belong, that made Solomon’s early reign a time of moral uplift as well as of material prosperity” (PK 34).

3. Historical Setting. Solomon was the third king of Israel. The people had rejected the rulership of God when they turned from Samuel, a wise and God-fearing judge, and requested a king (1 Sam. 8:4–7). The reason for this decision was the desire of the people to have a visible king to lead them to battle against the growing power of the nations around them, and the Sea Peoples who had established themselves in Palestine (1 Sam. 8:20; see on Gen. 10:14; 21:32; see also Vol. II, p. 27).

Early in his reign Saul successfully subdued the enemies of Israel. His prosperity might have continued had not the same spirit of self-aggrandizement that had led the people to call for a king, rendered him intolerant of the rebukes of God (see 1 Sam. 15:22, 23).

David began his reign with good prospects of success. Later the childlike trust in God that had marked his early career was marred by compromises. The king copied some of the ways of other monarchs and fell into grievous sin. His early faith, his fall, and his sincere repentance all had their influence upon Solomon. In the last years of his life David sought to arm Solomon against the sins that had brought such tragic consequences upon himself and his people (see PP 753; 1 Kings 2:1–4). Solomon began his reign in a spirit of humility and consecration which enabled the Lord to bless him with unmatched prosperity (1 Kings 3:5–15). This era was, indeed, the golden age of the Hebrew monarchy. His fame had spread abroad throughout much of the world, and many sought his wisdom (1 Kings 4:31–34; 10:1–13). One of the great errors of his life was his multiplication of wives, many of whom were idolatrous (1 Kings 11:1–4). The influence of these women was to turn his heart from God. See pp. 1059, 1060.

4. Theme. The theme of the book of Proverbs is to exalt wisdom, which is described as “the fear of the Lord” (chs. 1:1–7; 9:10). Although wisdom has its basis in the maintenance of a right relationship with God, the book is not really a religious treatise. Much of the instruction is ethical and moral rather than spiritual. “Its principles of diligence, honesty, thrift, temperance, and purity are the secret of true success. These principles, as set forth in the book of Proverbs, constitute a treasury of practical wisdom” (Ed 135).

5. Outline. The brevity of the individual proverbs and the diversity of teachings prevent the book from having much unity and progression.

I.      Introduction, 1:1–7.

A.     Title, 1:1.

B.     The purpose, 1:2–6.

C.     The basis of knowledge, 1:7.

II.     The Wisdom Section, 1:8 to 9:18.

A.     Warning against the enticement of sinners, 1:8–19.

B.     The call of wisdom, 1:20–33.

C.     A series of admonitions, 2:1 to 7:27.

D.     The call and work of wisdom, 8:1–36.

E.     Wisdom and folly, 9:1–18.

III.    A Collection of Proverbs, 10:1 to 22:16.

IV.    A Series of Maxims, 22:17 to 24:34.

V.     Proverbs Collected for Hezekiah, 25:1 to 29:27.

VI.   The Words of Agur, 30:1–33.

VII.  The Words of Lemuel, 31:1–31.

A.     The instruction of a mother, 31:1–9.

B.        Acrostic poem to the virtuous woman, 31:10–31.