While much of the book of Proverbs came directly from the pen of Solomon, the finished work actually combines the wisdom of several sages, which a final editor compiled and arranged as we have it today.
While much of the book of Proverbs came directly from the pen of Solomon, the finished work actually combines the wisdom of several sages, which a final editor compiled and arranged as we have it today. Ultimately, this is the work of the Holy Spirit. Like the sixty-six books of the Bible, Proverbs combines the writings of many human authors working under God’s direct inspiration. Providence brought all the written material together through the efforts of an inspired compiler. This book of divine wisdom cannot be said to come from one individual; it truly is the mind of God expressed in writing.
After a brief preface (1:1–7), Proverbs can be divided into seven sections or collections:
The Words of Solomon on the Value of Wisdom (1:8–9:18)
The Proverbs of Solomon (10:1–22:16)
The Proverbs of Wise Men (22:17–24:34)
The Proverbs of Solomon Collected by Hezekiah’s Men (25:1–29:27)
The Wisdom of Agur (30:1–33)
The Wisdom of Lemuel (31:1–31)
Unlike other books of the Bible, Proverbs contains no direct information about the people to whom it was originally written. It doesn’t mention the Hebrew nation, its culture, customs, laws, or history. The Old Testament books of law and history require us to draw timeless principles from words written to people living far away and long ago; the book of Proverbs, however, is timeless and universal. The wisdom of Solomon and the other sages requires no translation; the truths apply to all people living everywhere at any time. Even so, we must consciously exchange our twenty-first-century Western filter for the worldview of the Hebrew God.
Western thinkers, for example, make a distinction between theoretical and practical wisdom; the Hebrew sages did not. In other words, Greek or Western philosophy teaches that a person can be filled with knowledge yet behave foolishly. Consequently, Western thinkers believe that our challenge is to live out what we say we believe to be true. Western philosophers call us to live up to our potential by putting into practice what we know to be true.
The Hebrew sages considered this nonsense. For a person to know truth and then behave contrary to that truth is the very definition of stupid! For example, if people accept the law of gravity as a fact and truly understand how it operates, we don’t dance on the ledge of a skyscraper. If we do, our theoretical knowledge of gravity only makes us greater fools. Wise people stand clear of dangerous places and usually live longer as a result. In the Hebrew mind, to “know wisdom and instruction” necessarily means to put it into practice. Wisdom occurs when knowledge produces obedience.
As we read the wisdom of these Hebrew sages, we are wise to challenge many of the notions we take for granted. Rather than subject Proverbs to our preexisting opinions of what is right or wrong, good or bad, we must give this book the benefit of divine authority. That is to say, if we read these words with an open heart, we will find ourselves agreeing with what we read much of the time—and occasionally offended. When these words of divine wisdom cause inner turmoil, I urge you to pause. Don’t dismiss it too quickly. This is your opportunity to allow the Holy Spirit to straighten out some faulty thinking and to set you on a corrected course. If you allow the Word of God and the Spirit of God complete access to your mind, then your life at home, at work, with friends, and in the world at large will be transformed. After all, the core message of the book of Proverbs is this: “Do things God’s way, and you’ll be more successful in every sphere of life. Ignore divine wisdom, and you will fail.”