Introduction
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

I don't know how familiar you are with the book of Proverbs. I daresay you have read in it, perhaps more than you have in some other books because it is the kind of book that lends itself to short reading when you don't have time to do a deeper study of the Word. Regardless of how familiar you are with the book of Proverbs, I might remind you that there are very few commentaries on it and very few expositions of it. I haven't been able to understand why because some of the most precious truths in all of God's Word are found right here.

At this time, all I would like for us to do is to become familiar with the book of Proverbs. I would like to offer you an analysis of the book. Every book that is of any real value has what we might term a preface as does the book of Proverbs. A preface, you know, gives you some information about the background of the book, the reason for the writing of the book, what might be accomplished, and the excuses the author might have in regard to the writing of the book. Sometimes the preface of the book is written by the author, but sometimes it it written by someone else.

Turn to the book of Ecclesiastes because, as strange as it may seem to you, we are going to find the preface for the book of Proverbs in chapter 12 of the book of Ecclesiastes. The book of Ecclesiastes was written by a man by the name of Solomon. Oh, his name isn't mentioned in the book of Ecclesiastes. He is referred to as the preacher . The preacher, in the Old Testament, was not a man who stood behind the pulpit, as I am doing now; he was a man who made any kind of pronouncement of any description. The preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes is making his statements as he said, “unto the sun”—that is, as he looked at things, not from a heavenly standpoint, but from an earthly standpoint. The book of Ecclesiastes is actually an autobiography of King Solomon. He records all of the experiences that he had, and then he tells us here in the last part of the book what he is going to do with his experiences.

Notice Ecclesiastes, chapter 12, verse 8:

Ecclesiastes 12:

8 Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.

What he means here is that everything is empty. There isn't any real foundation to anything. Everything is disappointing. Then he said in verse 9:

Ecclesiastes 12:

9 And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs.
10 The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth.
11 The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.
12 And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.

You may wonder why the book of Ecclesiastes would contain the preface to the book of Proverbs when it comes after the book of Proverbs in our Bible, but will you keep in mind that the arrangement of the books in our King James version is not the original arrangement of the books. The reason we say to you that this is a preface to the book of Proverbs should be evident, but if it isn't, notice in verse 9:

Ecclesiastes 12:

9 And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs.

Solomon was simply saying, “I have lived. I have lived to the heights; I have lived to the depths. I know everything there is to know, and I don't want individuals to suffer everything that I have suffered. Therefore, I am going to set down a series of proverbs that will enable individuals to miss the heartache and the sin and the sorrow that I myself have faced.”

If you will look at verse 11, you may wonder exactly what the meaning of it is because it isn't a happy translation. Notice verse 11:

Ecclesiastes 12:

11 The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.

If I were to ask you to tell me exactly what that means, I wonder how many of you could. I suppose that you would all have an expression, but because our time is somewhat limited, let me offer to you a translation of The New English Bible that I think catches the significance of the words. It reads: “The sayings of the wise are sharp as goads.” Goads were instruments which were used to prod the oxen along the way if they were not moving as fast as was desired. “The words of the wise are as sharp as goads.” As we study the book of Proverbs, we should be pricked; we should be moved. We should be stirred at the things that we will find there—the words of the wise.

The words of the wise are not only goads, but as The New English Bible continues, “they are like nails driven home. They lead the assembled people.” The words of the wise are like nails driven home. That is an expression that we use often, isn't it? “Let me drive this truth home. Let me nail it down.” We want you to get it. This preface to the book of Proverbs reminds us that truths are going to be nailed down by the very nature of the book, and The New English Bible continues with verse 11: “For they come from one shepherd.”

What you are going to find in the book of Proverbs, practically speaking, comes from one shepherd of Israel by the name of Solomon ; but spiritually speaking, it comes from the Great Shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus Christ. In verse 12, you read:

Ecclesiastes 12:

12 And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

This too, is not as happy a translation as it might be. It would be better to read the verse: “Now, let me give you another word of warning. There is too much reading of too many books, and much study is a weariness to the flesh.”

You know, that is a good warning to heed. Oh, this is not to discourage you from studying, and it is not to discourage you from reading, but it is to remind you that the most important information you are ever going to find is found in the one Book, the Word of God, the Book in which the words are nailed down and driven home in a way that will enable you to remember them. That is why in verse 13, still talking about the preface to the book of Proverbs, we hear Solomon saying:

Ecclesiastes 12:

13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.

Thank God that for those of us who have placed our faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ there is therefore now no judgment, but Solomon is saying, “After everything else is said and done, reverence God. Give Him a place in your heart and your life. Obey Him because God is someday going to hold man accountable for the knowledge that he has and for the knowledge that he doesn't have that he ought to have.”

Introduction to the Book

Go back with me to the book of Proverbs. Now that we have looked at the preface to the book, I would suggest that we look at the introduction of the book which will be found in various verses within the first paragraph. Notice with me, chapter 1, verse 1:

Proverbs 1:

1 The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel;
2 To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding;
3 To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity;
4 To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.
5 A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:
6 To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.
7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

We will stop our reading right there, because those verses constitute what we can call the introduction to the book of Proverbs.

First, a word as to the title of the book. You find it in verse 1: “The proverbs of Solomon the son of David.” This ties in exactly with what we said was true in regard to the book of Ecclesiastes when Solomon said that he was going to gather together a number of proverbs with which he was going to instruct his people.

Purpose of the Book of Proverbs

What is the purpose of the book of Proverbs? You will find it in verses 2-4:

Proverbs 1:

2 To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding;
3 To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity;
4 To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.

This is the purpose of the book of Proverbs. It is always good to know the purpose before you start the actual reading of the book because if you do not know the purpose of the book, then you will not be able to understand the content of the book. I have read to you from the King James version, but I would like to read this to you from what is known as The Paraphrased Translation of the Scriptures , which I think catches very well the meaning when it says, “He wrote them to teach his people how to live, how to act in every circumstance.” That is the reason for the book of Proverbs, and if you really absorb everything that is in it, then you will really know how to live and how to act in every circumstance.

The Paraphrased Translation continues with the words, “…for he wanted them to be understanding, just and fair in everything that they did.” That is what God wants for you. He wants you to be understanding. He wants you to be just. He wants you to be fair in everything that you do. Then it continues, “I want to make the simple minded wise (how badly we need that wisdom) and I want to warn the young man about some problems he will face.”

Value of the Book

If you expect to be blessed by the book of Proverbs, recognize what the Spirit of God intended for it to do and find its purpose as you read—what is its real value. We have emphasized to you again and again that the mere study of any book in the Bible is of no real value if all you are going to do is to catch a glimpse of some knowledge and be able to go off and say, “You know, I have studied every verse in the book of Proverbs.” What good did you get out of it? That is the thought.

The value of the book of Proverbs is found in verses 5-6:

Proverbs 1:

5 A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:
6 To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.

Again, the Paraphrased translation of the verse: “I want those already wise to become wiser.” You see, if you have studied much of the Word of God and feel like maybe you don't need to know anything else, then you study the book of Proverbs. “I want those already wise to become wiser and to become leaders by exploring the depths of the meaning of these nuggets of truth.”

What is the purpose of your study of Proverbs? To enable you to become wiser and to enable you to become a leader as you explore the depth of meaning that is in these nuggets of truth. I want to emphasize that because if you are familiar with the book of Proverbs, you know that it is a series of what someone has termed short, pithy sayings , and you can read them in a hurry and not explore the depths of them. That is what I am hoping we will be able to do—explore the depths of the book of Proverbs.

Theme of the Book of Proverbs

One other word related to the introduction. For want of a better way of expressing it, I have called it the motto of the book of Proverbs. You might want to call it the theme of the book of Proverbs. It is in verse 7:

Proverbs 1:

7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

There is nothing the matter with the way it is written there:

Proverbs 1:

7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

The paraphrase does present the thought that is interesting: “The fear of the Lord is the chief part of knowledge, but fools scorn wisdom and discipline.” Knowledge is a word that sometimes is used interchangeably with the word doctrine, and here is a good verse to keep you levelheaded when you are studying doctrine. Doctrine can become a cool, empty system of ethics that will enable you to give all the right answers at the right time, but will not necessarily change your life unless you get the chief part of doctrine. What is the chief part of doctrine? The fear of the Lord, a reverence for God, something that will enable you to live the way that God wants you to live.

I would like to say that if your life doesn't measure up to the knowledge that you have, then there is something wrong with your knowledge. If your life doesn't measure up to the doctrine that you have been taught, then there is something wrong with your reception of the doctrine.

Divisions of Proverbs

Now that we have looked at the introduction to the book, I would like to suggest the divisions of the book of Proverbs. This may come as a surprise to some of you, because you may say, “Well, I thought it was just a collection of short, pithy sayings, one not related to the other; so I thought you could just pick up one of these sayings anywhere, read it and get something from it.”

You may, but you also may be misled if you don't know something about the divisions of the book. In my Bible studies I have always insisted that there is an outline of the book placed there by the Holy Spirit. That is, the book falls into natural divisions if you look for the divisions. You can make as many outlines of any one given book as you might like, and they will be helpful; but if you seek the outline in the book that the Holy Spirit has placed there, you will never go astray in your interpretation of the book. All that we are going to be able to do in this lesson is to mention the divisions.

Solomon's Advice to His Son

The first division of the book we have labeled Solomon's Advice to His Son. It begins with verse 8 of chapter 1 and continues through verse 18 of chapter 9. The reason we say that this division is Solomon's advice to his son is because of what you find in chapter 1, verse 8:

Proverbs 1:

8 My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother:

If you glance down at verse 10, you will see the words my son again. If you look down at verse 15, you will find the words my son. If you look over at chapter 2, verse 1, you will find the words my son, and if you follow through this paragraph that I have suggested to you, you will find the words my son mentioned thirteen times. After each mention, you will find a lesson on wisdom that a father should give to his son—thirteen lessons on wisdom in this first division of the book that we have labeled, Solomon's advice to his son.

If you want to make this more definitely a spiritual message from God to you, as it is because it is inspired by the Holy Spirit of God, you could look upon the one speaking as God, because God oftentimes says to us, “My son,” and then gives the message that needs to be given.

Proverbs of Solomon

The second division of the book is what we are going to term The Proverbs of Solomon , and it begins with chapter 10, verse 1 and goes through chapter 22, verse 16. You may say, “Now, wait a minute, didn't you say that the title of the whole book was The Proverbs of Solomon, Son of David ?” Yes, I did, but this particular section we refer to as The Proverbs of Solomon because the opinion of Bible scholars is that what we find in the book up to this point was collected by a number of scribes and put together in the manner in which we find it. That doesn't harm the idea of inspiration. God gave the Word, and these men collected it, but this particular section begins with the words, “The proverbs of Solomon.” Notice this verse:

Proverbs 10:

1 The proverbs of Solomon. A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother.

These proverbs of Solomon have a special, personal note that is of real interest.

Proverbs of the Wise

The third division of Proverbs is what we have labeled The Proverbs of the Wise . If you are thinking, you are saying, “I am getting a bit confused because you said when you started that Solomon was the author of the book of Proverbs. That is what it says.”

We are getting into details now—not contradictions, but details. We remind you that Solomon was not the only author of Proverbs. There was a group of men known as the wise men , who wrote some of these proverbs. Some of the proverbs that are presented in the Word of God written by these men are few indeed. For example, if you will notice in chapter 22, verse 17, you will read:

Proverbs 22:

17 Bow down thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply thine heart unto my knowledge.

So in chapter 22, verse 17, through chapter 24, verse 22, you have The Proverbs of the Wise . You may say, “Well, I just thought that was talking about people who are wise.” No, we are going to show you that there were a group of people who were designated in this fashion in the Word of God.

The fourth division in the book is The Proverbs of the Wise , but a different selection. You will find these in chapter 24, verses 23-24, and they are dealing with a different subject.

Gleanings of Hezekiah's Men

The fifth division of the book we have described as The Gleanings of Hezekiah's Men , and the reason that we refer to it in that fashion is found in chapter 25, verse 1, where you read:

Proverbs 25:

1 These are also proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied out.

That is an interesting verse. If you are familiar with the history of Israel, you will know that Israel subsided into a very low spiritual, moral state. Hezekiah came to the throne, and when he came to the throne, he said, “I am going to make some very definite changes here. I am going to cause some things to be revived,” and he did. One of the things that he did was to set some of his scribes to copying out some of the proverbs of Solomon and making them available once again to the people of Israel. So, you find that fifth division of the book of Proverbs represented by the proverbs which Hezekiah's scribes actually copied out and made available to the people of Hezekiah's day.

Words of Agur

The sixth division of the book, we refer to as The Words of Agur , and they are what is found in chapter 30 of the book of Proverbs.

Words of Lemuel

The seventh division of the book is what is found in chapter 31, verses 1-9, and they are described as The Words of Lemuel .

An Appendix

The eighth and the last portion of the book is what we might refer to as an appendix, because apparently it has nothing to do with the subject matter just preceding. In chapter 31, verses 10-31, it describes the perfect wife.

These are the divisions of the book of Proverbs and if you were to mark your Bibles accordingly, you would find as you read that you would understand the book of Proverbs much more easily, because you would relate what you are reading to the proper division which the Holy Spirit Himself has placed within the book itself.

Title of the Book

I would like to take a few moments now to think with you about the title of the book of Proverbs, for there are some things that I think you need to know about the title of the book itself. It is called Proverbs , but the word proverbs comes from the Hebrew word mashal , which means “to be like.” It describes a comparison or a simile. That is the reason you are going to find so many comparisons, so many similes in this book. The use of proverbs in this book is described in I Kings, chapter 4, and I think it would be a good idea for us to turn there and notice exactly what Solomon had to say about the reason that he wrote this book in the manner in which he did. Perhaps you didn't know that there was so much information about the book of Proverbs outside the book, but that is the reason you need to know your Bible, so you will be able to compare Scripture with Scripture. Notice verse 29:

I Kings 4:

29 And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore.
30 And Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt.
31 For he was wiser than all men; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol: and his fame was in all nations round about.
32 And he spake three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five.
33 [Notice this verse particularly] And he spake of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes.
34 And there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom.

I asked you to turn to this portion of the Word of God because the Holy Spirit tells you exactly how Solomon was going to write the book of Proverbs. In verse 33, he was going to speak of cedar trees, hyssop trees that spring out of the wall. He was going to speak of beasts and fowls and creeping things and of fishes, but he was going to speak of them in a comparative fashion using them for illustrations.

Go back to the book of Proverbs, chapter 10, and notice verse 25:

Proverbs 10:

25 As the whirlwind passeth, so is the wicked no more: but the righteous is an everlasting foundation.
26 As vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to them that send him.

We have chosen this as an illustration because these particular things were not mentioned in the list that was given in the first book of Kings, speaking of the title of the book of Proverbs—why it is called the Book of Proverbs. We would remind you that in Ezekiel, chapter 17, verse 2, this word mashal is translated by the word “parable.” That brings to mind the method of teaching which the Lord Jesus Christ Himself used when He was on the earth. He used the parabolic method of teaching.

A parable is something that is laid down alongside of something else for the purposes of illustrating truth. It is an interesting thing to notice that in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament—that is, the Old Testament translated from Hebrew to Greek by seventy Greek scholars—those Greek scholars called the Book of Proverbs, Sayings heard by the wayside. This should help you to understand why the book of Proverbs is entitled as it is. In the book of Proverbs you are going to find common, everyday illustrations of truth that is vital and interesting and necessary for our full lives.

This is a re-emphasis, but I would like to get fixed in your minds that there is more than one author to the book of Proverbs. Yes, Solomon is the more familiar of all the authors of the book. Then there are those who were known as the wise men. I suggested to you when we were looking at the divisions of the book that were written by these men, you might think that the word wise simply referred to people who were wise, but I said I would show you from the Word of God that that is simply not so.

In Jeremiah, chapter 18, verse 18, and Isaiah, chapter 29, verse 14, wise men are equated with prophets as being leaders in the nation of Israel, instructing and encouraging those whom they were to lead. We have already noticed Hezekiah's men were some of the authors of the book of Proverbs—at least the scribes who copied down the words which Solomon had quoted. Of course, the historic revival in which that occurred is found in II Chronicles, chapter 19. Agur was another author of the book of Proverbs. We don't know a whole lot about him except that he was an Arab. That may seem a little bit strange, but he was an Arab. He was a descendent of Abraham through Ishmael, and God used him to write down these truths that we need to know.

Perhaps, the last individual that we would think about is King Lemuel. King Lemuel is just another name for King Solomon. I suppose all of you have names for your children that are on their birth records. When they fill out their driver's license, that is the name they use, and then you have a name that is yours for them. It is not the legal name, but it is the one that you use all of the time. Well, that is the way it was with Lemuel. His official name was Solomon, but his mother, Bathsheba, called him Lemuel. I wouldn't be surprised if from time-to-time she called him Lem, but the interesting thing, to my mind, is the words that his mother spoke to him. It is one of the finest illustrations of the grace of God that you can find anywhere in the Word of God. Lemuel's mother was Bathsheba, a woman whose life was marked and marred by sin, and yet when the grace of God laid hold on her life, she was able to write down what is found here in chapter 31 of the book of Proverbs, even including a description of a woman whose price is far above rubies.

Conclusion

I am glad that God's redeeming grace not only saves, but God's redeeming grace blots out that which is against us. I hope you are familiar with the book of Proverbs in a structural way. We will get into some of the better things the next time we meet together.


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