Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5, 6
The Book of Proverbs is a collection of advice and counsel intended to guide the reader’s practical and moral choices. While the general principles captured in the proverbs have universal application, their significance in Scripture is defined by the Bible’s unique view of God. The God of the Old Testament is a living, active Person, who as the moral Judge of the universe supervises the consequences of human moral choices. Thus the individual who does what is right and good can expect to be blessed, and the individual who does what is wrong or evil can expect disappointment and disaster. An individual who truly fears God, in the sense of holding Him in awe, will make prudent choices and can expect disappointment and disaster. An individual who truly fears God, in the sense of holding Him in awe, will make prudent choices and can expect to live a secure and happy life. While specific proverbs and bits of practical wisdom have parallels in other ancient societies, the underling view of God and of wisdom as a faith-rooted righteousness sets biblical wisdom literature apart.
One thing must be kept in mind when studying and applying the book of Proverbs. The proverbs state general principles, which have universal application to all men in all societies. Thus the proverbs describe patterns God has built into humanity and into providence.
Date and Authorship Most of the proverbs are attributed to Solomon (970-930 B.C.). While Solomon wrote most of the proverbs, others were added to his basic collection at various times. It’s probable the book took its present form in the days of Hezekiah (715-686 B.C.), as suggested by 25:1.
Learning the Universal Principles Everyone knows the value of good advice. Listening to those who are wiser than we are gives us the benefit of their hard-won experience. Growing up, getting along with others, and holding a job all would be impossible without guidance from folks who have been there before. The Book of Proverbs gives that kind of help.
But the book is more than a collection of “tips and tricks.” It passes on a core of knowledge and experience that God says we must have if we are to live successfully. These proverbs are not merely old sayings that concern people in far-off lands, but universal principles that apply to all people of all times. They speak to modern problems as much as to ancient ones because they concern human nature and God’s ways. Human nature has not changed since Solomon’s time; neither has God’s. Only the landscape around us has changed.
Purpose and Theme The prologue states the book’s purpose and theme (1:1-7): it is to give a course of instruction in wisdom, preparation for life, and the ways of life in God’s world. Many topics, such as riches, success, and social relations, appear in other collections of wisdom literature that have survived from the ancient Middle East, but they are treated differently. Israel’s contribution to wisdom literature was to place all wisdom in the context of faith in the Lord. The words “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (1:7) set the record straight. This is the foundation on which all other wise sayings stand. It is the Book of Proverbs’ central idea: Fear of the Lord motivates us to obey God’s commandments, and obedience to them constitutes true wisdom.
Christ in the Scriptures Although Jesus is not identified by name in 8:22-31, it is clear that the writer is describing Him. Wisdom, godlike and perfect, is personified: “I have been established from everlasting from the beginning, before there was ever an earth… When He prepared the heavens. I was there… I was beside Him as a master craftsman; and I was with God, and the Word was God… All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” This divine wisdom is also the source of biological and spiritual life (3:18; 8:35). It is right and moral (8:8,9), and it is available to all who will receive it.