Proverbs in a Nutshell
Remember that the chapter divisions in our English Bibles are not original. They were added in the mid-16th century by a printer named Robert Estienne (also known as Stephanus). The original divisions of the book of Proverbs are as follows:
- Proverbs of Solomon, Son of David (1-9)
- Proverbs of Solomon (10-24)
- Proverbs of Solomon Collected by Hezekiah’s men (25-29)
- The Oracle of Agur son of Jakeh (30)
- The Oracle of King Lemuel (31)
This kind of multi-tiered compendium is not uncommon in ancient wisdom literature. As literature was found to be useful, it was used regularly. If something became common enough, it was added. The core of the book is Solomon’s (1 Kgs 4:32) and so compiled around 950 BC. The next definite stage is Hezekiah’s reign, which ended around 700 BC.
The Nature of a Proverb Collection
All ancient peoples in the Middle East had traditions of oral proverb compilations. Even the Hittites and Assyrians had them in their royal library. These sayings were collected for use by kings and rulers, not the common people.
- Collections are not organized in any particular order. They’re not topical or thematic or chronological.
- Proverbs were considered DIVINE, passed from the god(s) to the king directly, even when they were borrowed
- They are LEGAL in nature. These were appealed to as trope declarations of judgment and discernment, expected of a king when deciding legal cases brought before him.
- All the proverbs focus on a person’s place within COMMUNITY. They are not individualized wisdom, but rather values for living within the complex relationships of society.
You cannot take proverbs to be UNIVERSAL TRUTHS. They are primarily situational. If a “truth” is not repeated or reinforced elsewhere in Scripture as being universal, it cannot be applied universally.
Proverbs do not necessarily present exclusively CHRISTIAN TRUTH. A lot of times, they are just pithy ways of stating common sense.