Author and Date
Although the book begins with a title ascribing the proverbs to Solomon, it is clear from later chapters that he was not the only author of the book. refers to the "sayings of the wise,"
and mentions additional "sayings of the wise." The presence of an introduction in further indicates that these sections stem from a circle of wise men, not from Solomon himself. Ch. Prov 30 is attributed to Agur son of Jakeh and to King Lemuel,neither of whom is mentioned elsewhere. Lemuel's sayings contain several Aramaic spellings that may point to a non-Israelite background.
Most of the book, however, is closely linked with Solomon. The headings in again include his name, though
states that these proverbs were "copied by the men of Hezekiah king of Judah." This indicates that a group of wise men or scribes compiled
these proverbs as editors and added chs. Prov 25-Prov 29 to the earlier collections. Solomon's ability to produce proverbs is specified in
where 3,000 proverbs are attributed to him. Coupled with statements about his unparalleled wisdom , it is quite likely that he was
the source of most of Proverbs. The book contains a short prologue and a longer epilogue
, which may have been added to the other materials.
It is possible that the discourses in the large opening section () were the work of a compiler or editor, but the similarities of ch. Prov 6 in this section with other chapters (compare with with compare () fit a Solomonic origin equally well. The emphasis on the "fear of the Lord" () throughout the book ties the various segments together.
If Solomon is granted a prominent role in the book, most of Proverbs would stem from the tenth century b.c. during the time of Israel's united kingdom. The peace and prosperity that characterized that era accord well with the development of reflective wisdom and the production of literary works. Moreover, several interpreters have noted that the 30 sayings of the wise in (especially the first ten) contain similarities to the 30 sections of the Egyptian "Wisdom of Amenemope," an instructional piece that is roughly contemporary with the time of Solomon. Likewise, the personification of wisdom so prominent in chs. Prov 1 - Prov 9 (see ) can be compared with the personification of abstract ideas in both Mesopotamian and Egyptian writings of the second millennium b.c.
The role of Hezekiah's men (see ) indicates that important sections of Proverbs were compiled and edited
from 715 to 686 b.c.
This was a time of spiritual renewal led by the king, who also showed great interest in the writings of David and Asaph (see ). Perhaps it was also at this time that the sayings of Agur (ch. ) and Lemuel () and the other "sayings of the wise" () were added to the Solomonic collections, though it is possible that the task of compilation was not completed until after the reign of Hezekiah.
Purpose and Teaching
According to the prologue ( ), Proverbs was written to give "prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young" (), and to make the wise even wiser ( ). The frequent references to "my son(s)" () emphasize instructing the young and guiding them in a way of life that yields rewarding ends. Acquiring wisdom and knowing how to avoid the pitfalls of folly lead to personal well-being, happy family relationships, fruitful labors and good standing in the community. Although Proverbs is a practical book dealing with the art of living, it bases its practical wisdom solidly on the fear of the Lord ( see ). Throughout the book reverence for God and reliance on him are set forth as the path to life, prosperity and security (cf. ). Such godly wisdom is a virtual "tree of life" () that yields the happy life that God fashioned the creation to produce.
In the initial cycle of instruction () the writer urges the young man to choose the way of wisdom (that leads to life) and shun the ways of folly (that, however tempting they may be, lead to death). The author chooses two prime exemplifications of folly to give concreteness to his exhortations:
Temptation to the one comes from the young man's male peers ( ); temptation to the other comes from the adulterous woman (ch. ). Together, these two temptations illustrate the pervasiveness and power of the allurements to folly that the young man will face in life and must be prepared to resist (see also Literary Structure below).
The major collections of proverbs that follow range widely across the broad spectrum of human situations, relationships and responsibilities offering insights, warnings, instructions and counsels along with frequent motivations to heed them. The range and variety of these defy summation. However, an illustrative section can convey the general character, moral tone and scope of the collections. In a variety of situations and relationships the reader is exhorted to honesty,integrity, diligence, kindness, generosity, readiness to forgive, truthfulness, patience, humility, cheerfulness, loyalty, temperance, self-control and the prudent consideration of consequences that flow from attitudes, choices and/or actions. Anger should be held in check, violence and quarrelsomeness shunned,gossip avoided, arrogance repudiated. Drunkenness, gluttony, envy and greed should all be renounced. The poor are not to be exploited, the courts are not to be unjustly manipulated, legitimate authorities are to be honored. Parents should care for the proper instruction and discipline of their children, and children should duly honor their parents and bring no disgrace on them. Human observation and experience have taught the wise that a certain order is in place in God's creation. To honor it leads to known positive effects; to defy it leads only to unhappy consequences. All of life should be lived in conscious awareness of the unfailing scrutiny of the Lord of creation and in reliance on his generous providence.
Although Proverbs is more practical than theological, God's work as Creator is especially highlighted. The role of wisdom in creation is the subject of ( ), where wisdom as an attribute of God is personified. God is called the Maker of the poor (). He sovereignly directs the steps of people (cf. ) -- even the actions of kings ( ) -- and his eyes observe all that humans do (cf. ). All history moves forward under his control (see ).
In summary, Proverbs provides instruction on how to live wisely and successfully in the "fear of the Lord" ( ) within the theocratic arrangement. The fear of the Lord includes reverence for, trust in and commitment to the Lord and his will as disclosed in his creation and as revealed in his word. Wisdom in this context, then, is basically following the benevolent King's design for human happiness within the creation order -- resulting in quality of mind () and quality of life ().