Monday, July 21, 2008

On Proverbs

The Book of Proverbs outlines quite nicely as follows:
I. Introductory discussions, chs 1-9
II. Proverbs of Solomon, 10:1-22:16
III. The Words of the Wise, 22:17-24:35
IV. Proverbs of Solomon copied out by men of Hezekiah, chs 25-29
V. The Words of Agur, ch 30
VI. The Words of Lemuel, ch 31

This makes clear a number of things. First, the majority of the book is from Solomon. Second, the book reached its final form no earlier than the time of Hezekiah (roughly 700 BC). The origins of "the words of the wise" are uncertain, though there is a certain consensus on the matter that I will call into question. As to who Agur and Lemuel are, the older commentators generally took the view that they were pseudonyms of Solomon. Modern commentators generally take them to be otherwise unknown wise men.

Purpose of Proverbs: The purpose is concisely, and poetically, stated in the first six verses of the book. It is a book of instruction, intended to exercise the mind of the reader. Thus, a number of key words for the book show up in those opening verses: wisdom, instruction, understanding, insight, prudence, simple, knowledge, discretion, etc.

Theology of Proverbs: It should be remembered first of all that the proverbs are not guarantees. They are divinely inspired observations on the ordinary course of God's providence in a fallen world. It should also be remembered that they are part of the Old Testament, when the nation of Israel primarily defined the people of God as a theocratic nation. Thus the Christian reader should expect that some of the things that would have been the ordinary course of providence in the Old Testament period, are somewhat different in the New Testament period. For example, the Book of Proverbs says nothing about the persecution of the saints, but the New Testament tells us that "all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tim 3:12).

Commentaries and such: That by Derek Kidner in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series is invaluable. Of course, in the brief span of that commentary he does not deal with each verse. He does, however, have an exceptionally helpful section in the Introduction that deals with several different themes in the book. The older commentary by Charles Bridges (kept in print by Banner of Truth) is also useful. The modern technical commentary that I would recommend for pastors or those who would be pastors is that by Bruce Waltke in the New International Commentary series. It is a masterful treatment even if I don't agree with all his conclusions.

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