Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel;
THE BOOK OF PROVERBS. Commentary by A. R. Faussett
I. The Nature and Use of Proverbs.—A proverb is a pithy sentence, concisely expressing some well-established truth susceptible of various illustrations and applications. The word is of Latin derivation, literally meaning for a word, speech, or discourse; that is, one expression for many. The Hebrew word for "proverb" (mashal) means a "comparison." Many suppose it was used, because the form or matter of the proverb, or both, involved the idea of comparison. Most of the proverbs are in couplets or triplets, or some modifications of them, the members of which correspond in structure and length, as if arranged to be compared one with another. They illustrate the varieties of parallelism, a distinguishing feature of Hebrew poetry. Compare Introduction to Poetical Books. Many also clearly involve the idea of comparison in the sentiments expressed (compare Pr 12:1-10; 25:10-15; 26:1-9). Sometimes, however, the designed omission of one member of the comparison, exercising the reader's sagacity or study for its supply, presents the proverb as a "riddle" or "dark saying" (compare Pr 30:15-33; 1:6; Ps 49:4). The sententious form of expression, which thus became a marked feature of the proverbial style, was also adopted for continuous discourse, even when not always preserving traces of comparison, either in form or matter (compare Pr 1:1-9:18). In Eze 17:1; 24:3, we find the same word properly translated "parable," to designate an illustrative discourse. Then the Greek translators have used a word, parabola ("parable"), which the gospel writers (except John) employ for our Lord's discourses of the same character, and which also seems to involve the idea of comparison, though that may not be its primary meaning. It might seem, therefore, that the proverbial and parabolic styles of writing were originally and essentially the same. The proverb is a "concentrated parable, and the parable an extension of the proverb by a full illustration." The proverb is thus the moral or theme of a parable, which sometimes precedes it, as in Mt 19:30 (compare Pr 20:1); or succeeds it, as in Mt 22:1-16; Lu 15:1-10. The style being poetical, and adapted to the expression of a high order of poetical sentiment, such as prophecy, we find the same term used to designate such compositions (compare Nu 23:7; Mic 2:4; Hab 2:6).
Though the Hebrews used the same term for proverb and parable, the Greek employs two, though the sacred writers have not always appeared to recognize a distinction. The term for proverb is, paroimia, which the Greek translators employ for the title of this book, evidently with special reference to the later definition of a proverb, as a trite, sententious form of speech, which appears to be the best meaning of the term. John uses the same term to designate our Saviour's instructions, in view of their characteristic obscurity (compare Pr 16:25-29, Greek), and even for his illustrative discourses (Pr 10:6), whose sense was not at once obvious to all his hearers. This form of instruction was well adapted to aid the learner. The parallel structure of sentences, the repetition, contrast, or comparison of thought, were all calculated to facilitate the efforts of memory; and precepts of practical wisdom which, extended into logical discourses, might have failed to make abiding impressions by reason of their length or complicated character, were thus compressed into pithy, and, for the most part, very plain statements. Such a mode of instruction has distinguished the written or traditional literature of all nations, and was, and still is, peculiarly current in the East.
In this book, however, we are supplied with a proverbial wisdom commended by the seal of divine inspiration. God has condescended to become our teacher on the practical affairs belonging to all the relations of life. He has adapted His instruction to the plain and unlettered, and presented, in this striking and impressive method, the great principles of duty to Him and to our fellow men. To the prime motive of all right conduct, the fear of God, are added all lawful and subordinate incentives, such as honor, interest, love, fear, and natural affection. Besides the terror excited by an apprehension of God's justly provoked judgments, we are warned against evil-doing by the exhibition of the inevitable temporal results of impiety, injustice, profligacy, idleness, laziness, indolence, drunkenness, and debauchery. To the rewards of true piety which follow in eternity, are promised the peace, security, love, and approbation of the good, and the comforts of a clear conscience, which render this life truly happy.
II. Inspiration and Authorship.—With no important exception, Jewish and Christian writers have received this book as the inspired production of Solomon. It is the first book of the Bible prefaced by the name of the author. The New Testament abounds with citations from the Proverbs. Its intrinsic excellence commends it to us as the production of a higher authority than the apocryphal writings, such as Wisdom or Ecclesiasticus. Solomon lived five hundred years before the "seven wise men" of Greece, and seven hundred before the age of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. It is thus very evident, whatever theory of his sources of knowledge be adopted, that he did not draw upon any heathen repositories with which we are acquainted. It is far more probable, that by the various migrations, captivities, and dispersions of the Jews, heathen philosophers drew from this inspired fountain many of those streams which continue to refresh mankind amid the otherwise barren and parched deserts of profane literature.
As, however, the Psalms are ascribed to David, because he was the leading author, so the ascription of this book to Solomon is entirely consistent with the titles of the thirtieth and thirty-first chapters, which assign those chapters to Agur and Lemuel respectively. Of these persons we know nothing. This is not the place for discussing the various speculations respecting them. By a slight change of reading some propose to translate Pr 30:1: "The words of Agur, the son of her who was obeyed Massa," that is, "the queen of Massa"; and Pr 31:1: "The words of Lemuel, king of Massa"; but to this the earliest versions are contradictory, and nothing other than the strongest exegetical necessity ought to be allowed to justify a departure from a well-established reading and version when nothing useful to our knowledge is gained. It is better to confess ignorance than indulge in useless conjectures.
It is probable that out of the "three thousand proverbs" (1Ki 4:32) which Solomon spoke, he selected and edited Pr 1:1-24:34 during his life. Pr 25:1-29:27 were also of his production, and copied out in the days of Hezekiah, by his "men," perhaps the prophets Isaiah, Hosea, and Micah. Such a work was evidently in the spirit of this pious monarch, who set his heart so fully on a reformation of God's worship. Learned men have endeavored to establish the theory that Solomon himself was only a collector; or that the other parts of the book, as these chapters, were also selections by later hands; but the reasons adduced to maintain these views have never appeared so satisfactory as to change the usual opinions on the subject, which have the sanction of the most ancient and reliable authorities.
III. Divisions of the Book.—Such a work is, of course, not susceptible of any logical analysis. There are, however, some well-defined marks of division, so that very generally the book is divided into five or six parts.
1. The first contains nine chapters, in which are discussed and enforced by illustration, admonition, and encouragement the principles and blessings of wisdom, and the pernicious schemes and practices of sinful persons. These chapters are introductory. With few specimens of the proper proverb, they are distinguished by its conciseness and terseness. The sentences follow very strictly the form of parallelism, and generally of the synonymous species, only forty of the synthetic and four (Pr 3:32-35) of the antithetic appearing. The style is ornate, the figures bolder and fuller, and the illustrations more striking and extended.
2. The antithetic and synthetic parallelism to the exclusion of the synonymous distinguish Pr 10:1-22:16, and the verses are entirely unconnected, each containing a complete sense in itself.
3. Pr 22:16-24:34 present a series of admonitions as if addressed to a pupil, and generally each topic occupies two or more verses.
4. Pr 25:1-29:27 are entitled to be regarded as a distinct portion, for the reason given above as to its origin. The style is very much mixed; of the peculiarities, compare parts two and three.
5. Pr 30:1-33 is peculiar not only for its authorship, but as a specimen of the kind of proverb which has been described as "dark sayings" or "riddles."
6. To a few pregnant but concise admonitions, suitable for a king, is added a most inimitable portraiture of female character. In both parts five and six the distinctive peculiarity of the original proverbial style gives place to the modifications already mentioned as marking a later composition, though both retain the concise and nervous method of stating truth, equally valuable for its deep impression and permanent retention by the memory.
Pr 1:1-33. After the title the writer defines the design and nature of the instructions of the book. He paternally invites attention to those instructions and warns his readers against the enticements of the wicked. In a beautiful personification, wisdom is then introduced in a most solemn and impressive manner, publicly inviting men to receive its teachings, warning those who reject, and encouraging those who accept, the proffered instructions.
1-4. (See Introduction, Part I).
To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding;
2. To know … instruction—literally, "for knowing," that is, such is the design of these writings.
wisdom—or the use of the best means for the best ends, is generally employed in this book for true piety.
instruction—discipline, by which men are trained.
to perceive—literally, "for perceiving," the design (as above)
understanding—that is, words which enable one to discern good and evil.
To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity;
3. To receive … of wisdom—For receiving that discipline which discretion imparts. The Hebrew for "wisdom" differs from that of Pr 1:2, and denotes rather discreet counsel. Compare the opposite traits of the fool (Pr 16:22).
justice … equity—all the attributes of one upright in all his relations to God and man.
To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.
4. simple—one easily led to good or evil; so the parallel.
young man—one inexperienced.
subtilty—or prudence (Pr 3:21; 5:21).
discretion—literally, "device," both qualities, either good or bad, according to their use. Here good, as they imply wariness by which to escape evil and find good.
A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:
5, 6. Such writings the wise, who pursue right ends by right means, will value.
learning—not the act, but matter of it.
wise counsels—or the art and principles of governing.
To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.
6. To understand—so as to … such will be the result.
words of the wise—(Compare Pr 1:2).
dark sayings—(Compare Ps 49:4; Joh 16:25; and see Introduction, Part I).
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
7. The fear of the Lord—the principle of true piety (compare Pr 2:5; 14:26, 27; Job 28:28; Ps 34:11; 111:10; Ac 9:31).
beginning—first part, foundation.
fools—the stupid and indifferent to God's character and government; hence the wicked.
My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother:
8. My son—This paternal form denotes a tender regard for the reader. Filial sentiments rank next to piety towards God, and ensure most distinguished rewards (compare Pr 6:20; Eph 6:2, 3).
For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.
9. On the figures of Pr 1:9, compare Ge 41:42; So 1:10; 4:9.
My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.
10-19. A solemn warning against temptation.
entice—literally, "open the way."
consent … not—Sin is in consenting or yielding to temptation, not in being tempted.
If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause:
11-14. Murder and robbery are given as specific illustrations.
lay wait … lurk privily—express an effort and hope for successful concealment.
swallow … grave—utterly destroy the victim and traces of the crime (Nu 16:33; Ps 55:15). Abundant rewards of villainy are promised as the fruits of this easy and safe course.
Let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit:
We shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil:
Cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse:
My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path:
15, 16. The society of the wicked (way or path) is dangerous. Avoid the beginnings of sin (Pr 4:14; Ps 1:1; 119:101).
For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood.
Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird.
17-19. Men warned ought to escape danger as birds instinctively avoid visibly spread nets. But stupid sinners rush to their own ruin (Ps 9:16), and, greedy of gain, succeed in the very schemes which destroy them (1Ti 6:10), not only failing to catch others, but procuring their own destruction.
And they lay wait for their own blood; they lurk privily for their own lives.
So are the ways of every one that is greedy of gain; which taketh away the life of the owners thereof.
Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets:
20-33. Some interpreters regard this address as the language of the Son of God under the name of Wisdom (compare Lu 11:49). Others think that wisdom, as the divine attribute specially employed in acts of counsel and admonition, is here personified, and represents God. In either case the address is a most solemn and divine admonition, whose matter and spirit are eminently evangelical and impressive (see on Pr 8:1).
Wisdom—literally, "Wisdoms," the plural used either because of the unusual sense, or as indicative of the great excellency of wisdom (compare Pr 9:1).
streets—or most public places, not secretly.
She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying,
21. The publicity further indicated by terms designating places of most common resort.
How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge?
22. simple ones—(Compare Pr 1:4).
scorners—(Ps 1:1)—who despise, as well as reject, truth.
fools—Though a different word is used from that of Pr 1:7, yet it is of the same meaning.
Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.
23. reproof—implying conviction deserving it (compare Joh 16:8, Margin).
pour out—abundantly impart.
my spirit—whether of wisdom personified, or of Christ, a divine agent.
Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded;
24. stretched … hand—Earnestness, especially in beseeching, is denoted by the figure (compare Job 11:13; Ps 68:31; 88:9).
But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof:
25. set at naught—rejected as of no value.
would none of—literally, "were not willing or inclined to it."
I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh;
26, 27. In their extreme distress He will not only refuse help, but aggravate it by derision.
When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you.
27. fear—the object of it.
desolation—literally, "a tumultuous noise," denoting their utter confusion.
destruction—or calamity (Pr 1:26) compared to a whirlwind, as to fatal rapidity.
distress—(Ps 4:1; 44:11).
anguish—a state of inextricable oppression, the deepest despair.
Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me:
28. Now no prayers or most diligent seeking will avail (Pr 8:17).
For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD:
29, 30. The sinner's infatuated rejection brings his ruin.
They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof.
Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.
31. fruit … way—result of conduct (Isa 3:10; Eze 11:21; Ro 6:21; Ga 6:7, 8).
be filled—even to repletion (Ps 123:4).
For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them.
32. turning away—that is, from the call of Pr 1:23.
simple—as in Pr 1:22.
prosperity—quiet, implying indifference.
But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.
33. dwell safely—literally, "in confidence" (De 12:10).
be quiet—or at ease, in real prosperity.
from fear—without fear.