The first word of this book, MISHLE, has provided the title by which it is generally designated in Jewish and Christian circles. The name “Proverbs,” while not an exact equivalent of MISHLE, describes the main contents satisfactorily, even though it is hardly an adequate designation for such parts as ⇒ Proverb 1:1-⇒ 9:18 or ⇒ Proverb 31:10-31. Among some early Christian writers the book was also known by the name of “Wisdom,” and in the Roman Missal it was referred to as a “Book of Wisdom.”
The Book of Proverbs is an anthology of didactic poetry forming part of the sapiential literature of the Old Testament. Its primary purpose, indicated in the first sentence (⇒ Proverb 1:2, 3), is to teach wisdom. It is thus directed particularly to the young and inexperienced (⇒ Proverb 1:4); but also to those who desire advanced training in wisdom (⇒ Proverb 1:5, 6). The wisdom which the book teaches, covers a wide field of human and divine activity, ranging from matters purely secular to most lofty moral and religious truths, such as God’s omniscience (⇒ Proverb 5:21; ⇒ 15:3-11), power (⇒ Proverb 19:21; ⇒ 21:30), providence (⇒ Proverb 20:1-24), goodness (⇒ Proverb 15:29), and the joy and strength resulting from abandonment to him (⇒ Proverb 3:5; ⇒ 16:20; ⇒ 18:10). The teaching of the entire book is placed on a firm religious foundation by the principle that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (⇒ Proverb 1:7; cf ⇒ Proverb 9:10).
To Solomon are explicitly ascribed parts II and V of the book; he is the patron of Hebrew wisdom. Of Agur (part VI) and Lemuel (part VIII), nothing further is known. Parts III and IV are attributed to “the wise.” The remaining parts are anonymous.
The manner of compilation is conjectural. Parts II and V may have circulated first as independent collections, compiled before the fall of Jerusalem, as the references to Solomon (⇒ Proverb 10:1) and Hezekiah (⇒Proverb 25:1) suggest. Parts III, IV and VII would seem to belong together as a third collection of a similar kind. The author of the first nine chapters, a religious sage familiar with the earlier sacred books, was the editor of the whole as we have it, probably in the early part of the fifth century B.C.
Christ and the Apostles often expressly quoted the Proverbs (⇒ John 7:38; ⇒ Romans 12:20; ⇒ James 4:6) or repeated their teaching; compare ⇒ Luke 10:14, and ⇒ Proverb 25:7; ⇒ 1 Peter 4:8; ⇒ James 5:20 and ⇒ Proverb 10:12. The book has an important place in the Latin and Greek liturgies.
On the basis of titles, subject matter, and poetic structure the Book of Proverbs may be divided as follows:
Other Sayings of the Wise (⇒ Proverb 24:23-34)
The Words of Agur (⇒ Proverb 30:1-6)
Numerical Proverbs (⇒ Proverb 30:7-33)
The Words of Lemuel (⇒ Proverb 31:1-9)
The Ideal Wife (⇒ Proverb 31:10-31)
1 The Proverbs of Solomon, the son of David, king of Israel:
2 That men may appreciate wisdom and discipline, may understand words of intelligence;
May receive training in wise conduct, in what is right, just and honest;
3 That resourcefulness may be imparted to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.
A wise man by hearing them will advance in learning, an intelligent man will gain sound guidance,
That he may comprehend proverb and parable, the words of the wise and their riddles.
4 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; wisdom and instruction fools despise.
5 Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and reject not your mother’s teaching;
A graceful diadem will they be for your head; a torque for your neck.
My son, should sinners entice you,
and say, “Come along with us! Let us lie in wait for the honest man, let us, unprovoked, set a trap for the innocent;
Let us swallow them up, as the nether world does, alive, in the prime of life, like those who go down to the pit!
All kinds of precious wealth shall we gain, we shall fill our houses with booty;
Cast in your lot with us, we shall all have one purse!” –
My son, walk not in the way with them, hold back your foot from their path!
(For their feet run to evil, they hasten to shed blood.)
6 It is in vain that a net is spread before the eyes of any bird –
These men lie in wait for their own blood, they set a trap for their own lives.
This is the fate of everyone greedy of loot: unlawful gain takes away the life of him who acquires it.
7 Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the open squares she raises her voice;
Down the crowded ways she calls out, at the city gates she utters her words:
“How long, you simple ones, will you love inanity,
how long will you turn away at my reproof? Lo! I will pour out to you my spirit, I will acquaint you with my words.
“Because I called and you refused, I extended my hand and no one took notice;
Because you disdained all my counsel, and my reproof you ignored –
I, in my turn, will laugh at your doom; I will mock when terror overtakes you;
When terror comes upon you like a storm, and your doom approaches like a whirlwind; when distress and anguish befall you.
8 “Then they call me, but I answer not; they seek me, but find me not;
Because they hated knowledge, and chose not the fear of the LORD;
They ignored my counsel, they spurned all my reproof; And in their arrogance they preferred arrogance, and like fools they hated knowledge:
9 “Now they must eat the fruit of their own way, and with their own devices be glutted.
For the self-will of the simple kills them, the smugness of fools destroys them.
But he who obeys me dwells in security, in peace, without fear of harm.”
1 [1-6] This prologue explains the purpose of the book: to educate the inexperienced in knowledge and right conduct, and to increase the learning of the wise man by proverbs, parables and riddles.
2  Discipline: education or formation which dispels ignorance and corrects vice.
3  Simple: immature and inexperienced, hence easily influenced for good or evil.
4  Fear of the LORD: reverential fear and respect for God on account of his sovereignty, goodness and justice toward men. This is the foundation of religion.
5 [8-19] A warning against association with the greedy and the violent who seek to destroy the honest man and to steal his possessions (⇒ Proverb 1:11-14). The trap which the wicked set for the innocent (⇒ Proverb 1:11), in the end (⇒ Proverb 1:19) takes away the life of the wicked themselves.
6  Instructed by the wise man, the youth (of ⇒ Proverb 1:4) will recognize the invitation of the wicked (⇒ Proverb 1:11-14) as a net spread before him, and he will thus, like the bird, be protected against falling into it.
7 [20-33] Wisdom is here personified; with divine authority she sets forth and proclaims the moral order, instructing and threatening (⇒ Proverb 1:24-33) the multitudes in the streets and places of assembly.
8  Overtaken by doom, the foolish seek wisdom, but in vain because they do so too late. Cf ⇒ John 7:34; ⇒ 8:21.
9  Sinners are punished by the bad fruits which their sins produce. Cf ⇒ Wisdom 11:16.