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The Blue Letter Bible

Dr. J. Vernon McGee :: Notes for Proverbs

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WRITER: Solomon is the writer of the next 3 books of the Bible: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. Proverbs is the book on wisdom; Ecclesiastes is the book on folly; Song of Solomon is the book on love. Love is the happy medium between wisdom and folly. Solomon is an authority on all 3 subjects (1 Kings 4:32-34).


The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7)

DEFINITIONS: “A proverb is a saying that conveys a specific truth in a pointed, pithy way.” “Proverbs are short sentences, drawn from long experience.” A truth couched in a form that is easy to remember, a philosophy based on experience, and a rule for conduct. A proverb is a sententious sentence, a maxim, an old saying, an old saw, a bromide, and an epigram.

FEATURES: The Orient and ancient East are the home of proverbs. Evidently Solomon gathered together many from other sources. He was the editor of all and the author of some. Dr. Thirtle and other scholars noted that there is a change of pronoun in the book from the second person to the third person. Their conclusions are that the proverbs in the second person were taught to Solomon by his teachers, and the proverbs in the third person were composed by Solomon.
There is a difference between the Book of Proverbs and proverbs in other writings (the Greeks were great at making proverbs, especially the gnostic poets):

1. Proverbs bear no unscientific statement or inaccurate observation; e.g., “Out of the heart proceed the issues of life” (see Proverbs 4:23); about 2700 years later, William Harvey found that the blood circulates. In contrast, in the Epistle of Barnabas (an apocryphal book) mention is made of the mythical phoenix, a bird that consumes itself by fire and then rises in resurrection. A fable such as this does not appear in the Book of Proverbs, nor anywhere else in the Bible.

2. The Proverbs are on a high moral plane. The immoral sayings that occur in other writings are not present. Justin Martyr said that Socrates was a Christian before Christ. Although, according to his admirers, Socrates portrays a high conception of morals, he also gives instructions to harlots on how to conduct themselves. The best that can be said of him is that he was unmoral.

3. The Proverbs do not contradict, while man’s proverbs are often in opposition to each other. For example: “Look before you leap” vs. “He who hesitates is lost.” “A man gets no more than he pays for” vs. “The best things in life are free.” “Leave well enough alone” vs. “Progress never stands still.” “A rolling stone gathers no moss” vs. “A setting hen does not get fat.”

Although the Book of Proverbs seems to be a collection of sayings without any particular regard for orderly arrangement, the contrary is true. It is not a hodgepodge of unrelated statements, nor is it a discourse of cabbages and kings (Ecclesiastes 12:9). The book tells a story. It is a picture of a young man starting out in life. His first lesson is given in 1:7. Two schools bid for him and both send their literature. One is the school of Wisdom, the other is the school for fools. Wisdom is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 1:30). In chapter 8, the young man goes to the academy of Wisdom where he is taught in proverbs. From chapters 10 through 24, the young man is in the classroom of Wisdom. This book is especially helpful to young men. (A very prominent jeweler in Dallas, Texas, had the Book of Proverbs bound attractively and copies given by the hundreds to young men.) The advice herein transcends all dispensations.
In a brief examination of the book, we can highlight only certain proverbs — not necessarily the most important or the most popular.
There is a proverb that is a thumbnail sketch of every character in the Bible (we can suggest only a few). Likewise, there is a proverb that will fit all your friends and acquaintances, which adds interest to the reading of the book (but may not increase your popularity if you identify them publicly).
Solomon wrote 3000 proverbs (1 Kings 4:32); we have fewer than 1000 of them in this book.


The literary form of these proverbs is mostly in the form of couplets. The two clauses of the couplet are generally related to each other by what has been termed parallelism, according to Hebrew poetry. Three kinds of parallelism have been pointed out:

1. Synonymous Parallelism. Here the second clause restates what is given in the first clause.

Judgments are prepared for scoffers, and stripes for the back of fools. (Proverbs 19:29)

2. Antithetic (Contrast) Parallelism. Here a truth is stated in the first clause and made stronger in the second clause by contrast with an opposite truth.

The light of the righteous rejoiceth, but the lamp of the wicked shall be put out. (Proverbs 13:9)

3. Synthetic Parallelism. The second clause develops the thought of the first.

The fear of a king is like the roaring of a lion; whoso provoketh him to anger sinneth against his own soul. (Proverbs 20:2)

Outline for Psalms ← Prior Section
Outline for Proverbs Next Section →
Notes for Psalms ← Prior Book
Notes for Ecclesiastes Next Book →
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