The book of Proverbs is one type of literature. It has a special name. It is called ‘Wisdom Literature’. There are two other books like this in the Old Testament. There is Ecclesiastes. And there is the Song of Solomon.

[Note: A saying is something that people often say. It is a sentence that is easy to remember. When it is in common use, it can become a proverb. So, a saying is another word for a proverb.]

There were three special types of people in Hebrew (Jewish) religious life. There was the priest and there was the prophet. Then there was the wise man. And he was just as important. Jeremiah 18:18 mentions all three of them. The wise man had a special job. It was about important sayings.

The sayings were about God and about life. The wise men kept them safe. And they made sure that people did not forget them. The wise men have another name. It is ‘the interpreters of Jewish religion’. This means that they explained the meanings of the sayings.

At first, people only spoke the sayings. This was in the early period of Jewish history.

Later, there were men who were called ‘scribes’. Scribes were wise men who wrote down the sayings. (Compare Jeremiah 8:8.)

The Hebrew word for ‘proverb’ is ‘mashal’.

[Note: Hebrew is the language of the Jews.]

The exact meaning of the word is ‘to be like’ or ‘to be equal to’. So, they became popular sayings. (English has the same kind of sayings too. And this is probably true about all languages.)

Jewish proverbs are practical. Many of them deal with ordinary things about life. This is very important. The Bible saves us from a certain type of belief. This is a belief that does not result in better behaviour. We can learn from Bible proverbs. They teach us about human behaviour. They teach us about social action. And they teach spiritual values. The proverbs’ words are easy to learn too.

The book of Proverbs is a collection of sayings. There is a variety of subjects. And the book repeats them many times. The book's editors selected them. Each one had his own special interests and principles. And the editors thought that certain types of people were very unpleasant. Here are some examples. There is a woman who complains (19:13; 21:9; 25:24; 27:15). There is a lazy man (6:6-11; 13:4; 20:4). There are dangerous people who gossip (6:12-14; 11:9). And there is the trader who is not honest (16:8-11; 20:10, 23).

The first nine chapters teach us in sections. Each passage deals with one idea. But the later chapters are different. They usually have short sayings. They are about a variety of subjects. But the arrangement of each saying is similar. And this helps people to remember them. Here is an example. ‘A wise son brings joy to his father. But a foolish man brings shame to his mother’ (15:20).

We can divide the book in this way:

Search for True Wisdom

Look at the introduction. The subject of wisdom is there. Chapter 1:7 is a vital saying. It also comes in 9:10 and 15:33. And it is in Job 28:28 too. ‘Wisdom’ is essential (3:13). Compare Ecclesiastes 9:13-18. There is a story that gives an example of wisdom. And it shows the great importance of wisdom. (Remember that Ecclesiastes is another ‘wisdom’ book.) Proverbs shows the importance of searching for wisdom. (Read 1:1-7; 2:1-9; 3:1-12; 4:1-13; 18:15; 22:17-21; 28:4-9.)

Sometimes, the wise men thought about wisdom as if it was a person. It was someone who was attractive. Everyone should want this person. Everyone should search for this person. ‘Wisdom’ offers many benefits (1:10-33; 3:13-26; 8:1-9:6).

In the New Testament, wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:8). It is ours in Christ (Colossians 2:3). God gives wisdom freely to those who ask for it in faith (James 1:5).

Receive Good Advice

The wise man recognizes something. It is this. True wisdom comes only from God. But he should value the good advice of right friends. They must be people that the wise man can trust. They should be people who follow God. The wise man should ignore bad advice. This advice would come from those who did not really care about him. They would not want his best spiritual good or his best moral good.

This is a favourite subject in the book of Proverbs. Here is an example. Children should obey the advice of their parents (1:8-9; 6:20-22). The book explains this subject in various ways. Read 9:7-12; 10:8,17; 12:1; 13:1,18; 15:32-33; 19:20; 21:11; 23:12-25; 28:23; 29:17,18. We can notice something in these passages. The wise man has a particular dislike. He dislikes people who will not listen to advice when they are wrong. And they will not listen when they are in danger.

Refuse Bad Friends

We can see something very clearly. Bad friends lead to bad behaviour.

Read chapters 1:10-19; 2:12-22; 4:14-19; 5:1-23; 6:23-29; 7:1-27; 9:13-18.

The passages are like the advice of a father who loves his son. He advises his son before he goes to the wicked city. There are other similar subjects about the ‘bad friends’ idea. Chapters 13:20; 22:24; 23:6-8, 26-35; 28:10-18; and 29:3 explain them.

Paul knew how much bad friends could hurt his church members. (Read 1 Corinthians 15:33.) Here, Paul was repeating some words of Menander. He was a Greek writer of plays in 320 BC.

[Note: BC means Before the time of Christ].

Help People in Need

Life is not just about protection of oneself. Humans have a responsibility. They must care for those in the local community who need help. Passages about this subject are: 3:27-35; 14:21-22, 31; 19:17; 21:13; 22:9; 28:27; 29:7. Notice that all this comes from God's Law. We can read about it in Deuteronomy 15:7-8 and 11. This appeal continues in the New Testament. An example is in Galatians 6:10.

Avoid Unpleasant Speech

Proverbs deals with personal life. But it deals with social life too. Careless talk makes people unhappy. Speech is a subject that comes often. Gossip and evil talk cause trouble. Proverbs shows this. It is a very practical book. Here are some examples: 4:20-27; 6:1-5,12-19; 10:11-14,18-21,31-32; 11:9-14; 12:17-23; 13:3; 14:3-7,25;

15:1-7,23,26; 16:10,13,21,27-33; 17:7,20,27-28; 18:1-8; 19:1,5,27-29; 20:15-20; 21:6,9,19,23-24; 22:10-11; 24:28-29; 25:8-28 (good and bad speech); 26:17-28; 27:1-6; 29:5.

Enjoy Hard Work

The wise man knows the great value of good workers. Every community needs them. They are people who work hard. Other people can trust them too. The editors do not like the lazy man or the lazy woman (6:6-11).

The book of Proverbs says much about a good standard of work. We can see how important it is. We should bring our best abilities to our daily work. Read 10:4-5,16, 26; 13:4,11; 18:9; 19:24; 20:4,13; 21:17, 25-26; 22:13; 24:27, 30-34; 26:13-16. These are important sayings. But there might be times when there is no work for many people. And we need to consider how to apply the sayings then.

A Final Thought

The book of Proverbs is just right for today. Read 30:11-14. This describes our own times. And 31:10-31 is important too. Today, very many married couples divorce. And this passage describes a good wife. The book of Proverbs ends with this excellent description.