Understanding the book of Proverbs

The book of Proverbs is classified as a book of poetry in the Bible. Its companions are Job, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon (in some translations Song of Songs). Among these books, Solomon is the author of three: Proverbs, the book on wisdom; Ecclesiastes, the book on foolishness; and Song of Solomon, the book on love.

A proverb is a short and meaningful expression that contains a specific truth [1]. And despite there being different types of proverbs (Chinese, Native American, Irish proverbs etcetera), the Bible’s proverbs prevail them all for two reasons:

  1. Morality: Unlike books and other proverbs, the ones told in the Bible do not contain any immoral sayings. Its words are positive, uplifting, and righteous.
  2. Pure: None of the proverbs in the Bible contradict one another. Outside of the Bible, many proverbs do.

 Examples:

  • You are never too old to learn. / You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
  • Birds of a feather flock together. / Opposites attract.
  • The pen is mightier than the sword. / Actions speak louder than words.

Proverbs is a book on poetry—Hebrew poetry. For us, this is essential to know. Unlike English poetry, Hebrew poetry is composed of two clauses that form one couplet. The two couplets often relate, or parallel one another.

Examples:

Synthetic Parallelism: The second half (or second clause) expands upon the first.

“Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed” (Proverbs 16:3 NIV).

Synonymous Parallelism: The two clauses share the same meaning, but tell it in a different way.

“Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18 KJV).

Contrast Parallelism: The second clause contrasts the first, but shares the same meaning and truth.

“Wealth maketh many friends; but the poor is separated from his neighbor” (Proverbs 19:4 KJV).

When studying Proverbs, keep these parallelisms in mind.


[1] Merriam-Webster Dictionary

 

We’ll continue learning about Proverbs on Wednesday, beginning with an “Introduction to Wisdom.”