Book of the Week 20: Proverbs

Hebrew Name: Mashali

Human Authors: King Solomon, Agur, and King Lemuel

OT or NT: Old Testament

Number of Chapters: 31

Basic Facts

  1. Proverbs is the twentieth book of the Bible.
  2. In terms of literary genre, Proverbs is classified as wisdom literature.

  3. Proverbs contains the wisdom of king Solomon (Chapters 1-24), some of which was later recorded by king Hezekiah (Chapters 25-29).

  4. Proverbs chapter 30 is attributed to the “sayings of Agur,” and chapter 31 is attributed to “the sayings of king Lemuel.”

  5. The Hebrew name for Proverbs is Mashali, meaning “my rule” or “wisdom.”

Story of the Book

Proverbs is a collection of proverbs and wise sayings of king Solomon, the son of king David. The book is addressed by Solomon to his son and includes his instructions to his son (unnamed in the book) concerning the wisdom Solomon had received from the Lord that he seeks to pass along to the next generation. The book includes the sayings of Agur and king Lemuel at the end of the book. The book clearly attributes wisdom to the Lord God.

Proverbs is a rare example in the Bible of a book where the individual verses do not necessarily form a flowing narrative. Though the chapter and verse divisions were added later (like all books of the Bible), the verse divisions in Proverbs do often separate individual proverbs or sayings. Proverbs offers wisdom on a wide range of topics, but the entirety of the work can be aptly summed up from the opening chapter: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7). Similarly, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10).

Jesus Foreshadowed in Proverbs

It is important to be careful when attempting to see Jesus foreshadowed in Proverbs. Proverbs gives wisdom that is often highly bound to a given context rather than giving universally applicable truths to the reader. With that said, Solomon often personifies wisdom as a virtue, and more specifically as one of God’s first creations in Proverbs 8:22 as he writes, “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.” Wisdom personified in Proverbs 8:22-31 is similar to (though not identical to) the way Jesus is later described in the New Testament. John 1:1-14 describes Jesus as the eternal, uncreated Word of God who became flesh. This "Word" in John likely represented the prophetic Word of God personified and may even be related to the Greek philosophical ideal of the rational order behind the way the world works. What was personified in Proverbs 8 as wisdom is later revealed to come from the uncreated Word, who is Jesus—the Word of God made flesh. Jesus Christ is described by Paul in Colossians 2:2-3 as “the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” This does not mean that Proverbs directly foreshadows Christ, but it does hint at a truth that is later fully revealed in the New Testament.