Old Testament Survey - Lesson 38


In your exploration of this lesson, you'll discover layers of Proverbs, with diverse literary forms such as instructional discourses and aphoristic statements. You will learn that Proverbs isn't prophecy or promises yet it is practical wisdom. The thematic organization, from instructional discourses to the words of the wise and appendices, highlights its relevance in shaping individuals for responsible adulthood and community leadership. Through personified wisdom and practical guidance, Proverbs serves as a timeless handbook for moral and intellectual development, urging readers to embrace godly fear and righteous living.

Daniel Block
Old Testament Survey
Lesson 38
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I. Title and Nature of the Book of Proverbs

A. Definition of "Proverbs" in Hebrew Literature

B. Dual Usage in the Book of Proverbs

II. Interpretative Considerations for Proverbs

A. Understanding Proverbs as Instructional Discourses

B. Analyzing Proverbs as Aphoristic Statements

III. Authorship and Composition of Proverbs

A. Attribution to Solomon

B. Potential Involvement of Solomon in Compilation

C. Literary Structure and Composition

IV. Overview of the Content of Proverbs

A. Section One: Introduction and Thesis (1:1-2:7)

B. Section Two: Lectures on Wisdom (1:8-9:18)

C. Section Three: Solomonic Collection (10:1-22:16)

D. Section Four: Words of the Wise (22:17-24:22)

E. Section Five: Additional Words of the Wise (24:23-34)

F. Section Six: Hezekiah's Collection (25:1-29:27)

G. Section Seven: Appendices (30-31)

  • Learning about the First Testament's language, geographical, and cultural contexts, and how these factors contribute to its frequent misinterpretation and underappreciation in modern times.
  • Gain insights into the literary and cosmic foundations of grace and glory in the Torah, understanding its role as more than law.
  • Learn that to be made in God's image entails embodying divine qualities and functioning as His representative on Earth, which extends a universal dignity upon all humans and shapes a theological ethic that influences how you treat others.
  • Genesis 1-3 frames human response to divine creation, emphasizing human dignity, work's moral role, free will's consequences, and the persistent grace amid sin.
  • This lesson reviews the Israelite covenant, understanding its stages, implications, and its role in God's redemptive plan.
  • Gain insights into Abraham's covenant with God, exploring his faith and God's promises.
  • Learn how the Exodus from Egypt marked Israel's transformation from a family to a nation under Yahweh.
  • Understand how the covenant at Sinai transforms Israel from slaves into a treasured nation destined for a divine mission, fulfilling God's ancient promises.
  • This lesson covers the covenantal expectations at Sinai. The covenantal agreement provided a constitutional and ethical framework for societal living, focusing on community rights and responsibilities.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into how the tabernacle was both a physical manifestation of God's presence and a profound symbol of His grace, emphasizing the holiness and detailed guidance He provided to the Israelites for worship and daily life.
  • Gain insights into Deuteronomy, recognizing its focus on teaching rather than legislation, and understanding Moses' role as an instructor of Yahweh's will.
  • In this lesson, you explore how to interpret the First Testament's historiographic writings, emphasizing the divine inspiration and literary artistry that guide the selective storytelling and theological themes.
  • Learn how the books of Joshua and Judges illustrate the fulfillment and failure of Israel's covenant with Yahweh, highlighting divine promise, cultural assimilation, and the cyclical nature of faith and apostasy.
  • The Book of Ruth, highlights divine providence, social justice, and personal righteousness while exploring the role of Boaz as a pivotal figure in maintaining the lineage of King David.
  • Samuel had a significant yet complex role in Israel's history; judge, priest, prophet, and crucial figure in establishing monarchy.
  • Learn of David's central role in the Bible, understanding his unique portrayal and the extensive attention he receives compared to other figures.
  • Learn about the Davidic covenant's role in shaping biblical history and theology, emphasizing its eternal impact on Israel and beyond.
  • The books of Kings and Chronicles use historical events to underline theological themes, highlighting the role of scribes in documenting Israel’s history.
  • In this lesson on 1 and 2 Kings, review the downfall of Israel through kings' forgetfulness of God's covenants.
  • Learn about Solomon's temple's historical and theological significance, its divine design and purpose, and its role in Israelite worship and communal life.
  • Gain insights into the transformation and resilience of the Judean people during their exile in Babylon from 586-539 BC, exploring their struggles and adaptations in a new socio-political and religious context.
  • Learn about Daniel's exemplary life in Babylon, his integrity, and his prophetic visions, which highlight divine sovereignty and the vindication of the faithful amidst calamities.
  • Review the Persian period's impact on the Jewish diaspora, analyze the Book of Esther's literary and theological significance, and reflect on divine providence and cultural identity.
  • Explore the crucial roles of Ezra and Nehemiah in reconstructing the Jewish community and faith post-exile, understanding their historical significance, source materials, and theological insights.
  • Gain insight into the roles and significance of prophets in ancient Israel, learning about their historical context, and their critical function in guiding and correcting the nation through direct communication from Yahweh.
  • Learn about the lives and ministries of prophets Amos and Hosea, their calls for justice and return to divine covenant amidst Israel's political and spiritual turmoil, through prophetic books that blend personal biography with national prophecy.
  • This lesson reviews Jonah's struggle with divine grace and Micah's advocacy for justice and the messianic hope.
  • In this lesson, you learn how Isaiah's vision portrays the Messiah as king, servant, and conqueror, emphasizing his divine roles and global mission.
  • Learn of the political and social contexts of Jeremiah and Ezekiel's exile, including Babylon's rise, Jerusalem's fall, and the crisis of faith portrayed in Lamentations, emphasizing hope amid despair through God's faithfulness.
  • Learn about Jeremiah's life and prophetic ministry, navigating challenges with kings, themes in the Book of Jeremiah, and profound passages on true religion and a future covenant, offering lessons on prophetic burdens, God's faithfulness, and spiritual transformation.
  • Explore Ezekiel's life as a priest in exile, his bizarre actions, and profound messages revealing Yahweh's passion and eternal promises of judgment and restoration.
  • Learn about Nahum and Joel's prophecies on judgment, hope, and Yahweh's character. Explore the day of the Lord and the expansion of the covenant community.
  • Explore Obadiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah's prophecies. Discover themes of judgment, faith, and restoration in God's plan.
  • Gain insight into Haggai's role in motivating temple rebuilding during the Persian rule. His brief yet impactful ministry fosters hope and action amid community disillusionment, recoginizing God's presence and reign.
  • Gain deep insight into Hebrew poetry: its forms, parallelism, acrostics, and emotional depth. Explore its celebration and lamentation of Yahweh's glory.
  • Gain insight into Psalms which reflect diverse emotions and experiences. Structured into five divisions, attributed to various authors, their interpretation involves understanding Torah context, literary devices, and applying timeless principles to life.
  • Explore biblical wisdom's depth: from practical skill to moral insight, rooted in the fear of Yahweh. It contrasts with secular knowledge, emphasizing God's order and universal application.
  • Engage with Proverbs to unravel its diverse wisdom, from aphorisms to discourses. Understand its practical guidance for righteous living and leadership.
  • Discover the Song of Songs, a rich exploration of love's nature. From its allegorical interpretations to its celebration of covenantal love, it examines human relationships with wisdom and depth.
  • The book of Job offers insights into faith and suffering, exploring theological themes and character dynamics. It emphasizes trust in God amid life's most difficult trials.
  • Uncover Ecclesiastes' profound journey from despair to hope. Koheleth's existential ponderings contrast with the narrator's faith, urging a shift from worldly pursuits to finding fulfillment in God's sovereignty.

This Old Testament Survey course offers a deep exploration of the Old Testament's literary structure, divine covenants, and historical context. Lessons cover the Pentateuch, emphasizing its narrative over legalistic interpretations, and extend through key biblical figures like Abraham and Moses. Topics such as the covenant at Sinai, the concept of imago Dei, and the tabernacle rituals highlight the continuity of God's grace and the ethical implications of divine laws. The course critically addresses common misconceptions, the role of the Torah as instruction, and the portrayal of God’s plan, underscoring the relevance and complexity of these ancient texts.

Dr. Daniel Block 
Old Testament Survey
Lesson Transcript


Responding personally to the grace and glory of God with godly fear and righteous living, now we'll focus on the book of Proverbs. First of all, we need to talk about the title and the nature of the book. Proverbs, the Hebrew word mishalim, has a wide range of applications in the first testament.

It's used of folk sayings, 1 Samuel 10:12, Ezekiel 18:2, enigmatic sayings, Ezekiel 21:5, taunting speech, Isaiah 14:4, visionary or apocalyptic discourse, Numbers 23:7, or didactic discourse, Psalm 49:78, and argumentation, Job 29:1. In the book of Proverbs, the word is used in two senses. One, instructional discourses, that is lectures, presentations. Proverbs 1:7-9, 18 has 10 of these discourses, and at the end we have 31:10-31, a longer discourse.

And then you have aphoristic statements, short, pithy statements of simple truth learned. Many of them simply learned from life itself in Proverbs 10:1 to 19:27. The designation Proverbs has an important bearing on how we interpret this book.

Proverbs are not prophecies received directly from God, nor unconditional promises that we apply to our own lives. We might reflect on how this affects our interpretation of a verse like Proverbs 22:6, train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Well, first, the word for child does not mean infant or toddler or small boy.

In the context of the book, it refers to a youth who is preparing for adulthood as a responsible member of the community. Second, the way he should go does not mean in accordance with his aptitudes, temperament, or gifts, or even his stage of development, but it is future responsible conduct as an adult. Third, when he is old refers less to a stage in life than to a status within the community, that is, when he functions as an elder.

And fourth, he will not depart from it. This is not an unconditional promise, but a statement of principle. The point of the proverb is that if you want your son to function as a responsible and moral member of the community, you must train him for that office.

It will not happen automatically. As a general rule, good elders have been properly prepared for the office in their youth. What can we say about the credits given in the first verse of Proverbs 1:1? The Proverbs of Solomon.

Many people interpret the Proverbs of Solomon to mean that Solomon was the author of the entire work. Well, not so fast. 25:1 indicates that he cannot have been.

The expression, the Proverbs of Solomon, could mean several other things. It could mean Solomon was the principal author, Solomon was the collector, Solomon was the promoter, the sponsor of the collection, Solomon was the man of renown associated with Proverbs. The connection with Solomon is based on what we know of his own wisdom, 1 Kings 11:23, and his interest in wisdom enterprises 4:29, that is, 1 Kings 4:29-31.

Solomon may well have had a hand in writing and gathering of proverbial material. He may have been the author of many of the Proverbs found in chapters 1 to 24. We know from 1 Kings 4:29-34 that he wrote many Proverbs.

How many of these made it into the book of Proverbs, we cannot tell. So even if he was not responsible for the final form of chapters 1 to 24, he may have been the author of many of them, but how many, we don't know. On the other hand, even if he was not the author of these specific Proverbs, they may have been gathered and compiled, many of them, under his royal patronage.

The lectures in Proverbs 1 to 9 look like deliberate literary creations, perhaps by a court sage. Chapters 10:1 to 22:16 have the appearance of randomly recorded proverbial sayings gathered from throughout the nation. They represent the wisdom of the people.

22:17 to 24:22 appear to have been patterned after the sayings of Amenemope, an Egyptian work. Originally, these three, plus 24:23-24, may well have existed as independent literary units being brought together by a later editor. By these three, I mean chapters 1 to 9 as a section, 10:1-22:16 as a section, and then 22:17-24:22. These may have been three separate compositions circulating, perhaps like the books of the Psalter.

Or, originally, they may have been independent literary units being brought together by a later editor. In chapter 25:1-29:27, we have what are called the Hezekiah Collection. It represents a late 8th or early 7th century supplement.

Hezekiah's imitation of Solomon as a patron of Israelite wisdom represented just one aspect of a broader campaign to restore the glories of the old United Kingdom during his reign. Then in chapters 30 to 31, we have a series of appendices, additional supplements to the growing handbook of Hebrew proverbial wisdom. The dates when they were incorporated into the collection, all of this is impossible to determine.

But let's begin with the preamble. 1:1, after the title, 1:1-2:7. This section functions as the thesis statement for what I call the present course on Wisdom 101. That's using contemporary academic language for an ancient concept.

Wisdom 101. If you don't start this program of studies at the bottom, at the beginning, you'll land up a failure and a fool. The words used to describe the goal of the book in verses 2-7 represent the total of human accomplishments, both moral and intellectual.

This is a description of the diploma that awaits the diligent student. Knowledge, understanding, insight, perception, discipline, prudence, righteousness, justice, integrity, appreciation for ideas well expressed. Even the aesthetic is in there.

As for the student, he is a young man, fundamentally the naive, easily influenced, and foolish. And I say young man deliberately. This is a patricentric world.

In the lectures that follow, they're always addressed to my son, not my daughter. This is a patricentric world in which males are leading at almost every level of the society under normal circumstances, and this is about preparing a young man to take his role responsibly as an elder in the community when this educational program is done. This thesis statement, verses 2-7, lays down the fundamental premise, the prerequisite for this course on Wisdom 101.

The fear of Yahweh is the beginning chief principle of wisdom. But what does wisdom involve? And when you read this section, you discover it's not just being bright, being smart, having a high IQ. It does mean intellectual development, yes, but also moral perception, discriminating skill, thirst for learning, and literary appreciation.

Anyone who rejects these is a fool. Well, this opening thesis statement is followed by 10 lectures on wisdom, 1.8 to 9.18. This section sets the tone for the rest of the book after chapter 10. The contents actually consist of three types of materials.

First, we have 10 extended discourses, 1:8-19, 2:1-22, 3:1-12, 3:21-35, 4:1-9, 4:10-19, 4:20-27, 5:1-23, 6:20-35, and 7:1-27. You can tell where they begin. They all begin with, my son.

So identified, this may be a literal son of the teacher, or an ordinary pupil, or it may be a prince. In this instance, the teacher is a guardian who loves his student. It could be the parent teaching a child, or it could be some other adult operating in the place of a parent as the teacher.

These 10 speeches emphasize the great value of the teacher's word, which, if heeded, confer long life, serve as a guide, beautify the student, offer wisdom, and are to be kept as a treasure. Wisdom is a treasure. The tone is often that of stern moral admonition, appealing to ethical obedience, rather than intellectual development.

It's what kind of person you are that's more important than how bright you show yourself to be. The wisdom that matters is that which teaches us how to live well. Such wisdom arises out of a deep religious feeling.

The book of Proverbs as a whole represents a collection of various forms of Proverbs whose purpose is to serve as a handbook for a young adult male preparing for adulthood. This aim is especially evident in these 10 discourses. Interrupting these 10 discourses, we have four parenthetical poems in praise of wisdom.

Earlier, we talked about the personification of wisdom in the wisdom text, and here you have it. 1:20-33, 3:13-20, 8:1-36, and 9:1-18. In each case, wisdom is personified as a woman who stands at the busiest intersections inviting the young and the naive to stop and listen.

But in several of these cases, you have another woman also standing there trying to seduce this young, vulnerable, and naive young person and go her way. That is the way of folly. And then thirdly, in one instance in these first nine chapters, you have a short collection of Proverbs 6:1-19.

This section opens like the discourses, My Son, but it lacks a formal introduction, and its contents consist of a series of maxims. Let's move then to the second main part of the book of Proverbs 10:1-22:16. This is the Solomonic collection of wise sayings.

They are linked to Solomon. This long section consists of a series of short one- and two-liners. Each is independent, each without a context, and each without a definite observation on a particular topic.

There is no direct address of the young person, nor exhortation to the reader. For the most part, they are cast in the third person. Although it's difficult to organize this material on the basis of content, stylistic consideration suggests at least the following general groupings.

In 10:1 to 15:32, you have a whole bunch of antithetical statements, sayings, on the one hand, but on the other. These are examples of antithetical parallelism. In 15:33 to 16:7, this is a mixed collection, but in this collection, we find the theological basis of wisdom.

Chapter 16:4 particularly, marks the midpoint of the collection. This section is distinguished by its God language. God is in the picture of many of these Proverbs.

Then we have in chapter 16:8-22:16, a sort of catch-all. This is a miscellaneous collection. It's extraordinarily diverse in its shape and content, for the most part apparently randomly arranged.

In studying these, well, before I go there, I should say sometimes I feel like somebody commissioned the people to go to the villages and listen to the people on the streets and at the well, and listen for Proverbs that they are using, write them down on a little piece of pottery, and put it in your bag, and then bring it home, and we'll put them all together. This looks like that kind of thing. I'm just imagining this, but it gives the appearance of collections from everywhere put together in one bag.

In studying these, it may be helpful to rearrange them topically or according to some general categories like Proverbs concerned with the education of the individual for a successful and harmonious life. Well, on that topic, we've got 16:8, 13, 14, 15, 19, 22, 26, and a whole bunch of others. Second, that's for the individual.

Proverbs concerned with the community rather than the individual. These frequently describe the harmful effects of various kinds of antisocial behavior. For example, 16:28, 29, 20:28, 21:10. This is what happens when you misbehave in public. 

And third, we have Proverbs concerned or involving Yahwistic language. They're recognizable by the involvement of God in the Proverbs. 16:2, 3, 6, 7, 9, 16, 20:27, 21:2, and we can find many more. So these are some categories, some ways of studying these. 

Five, in 22:17, to 24:22, we have the words of the wise. Now the material becomes instructional again, being addressed to my son. You have it in 23:15, 19, 26, 24:13. But these are framed by imperatives, punctuated by frequent clauses, and consist of multi-line Proverbs, strophes really. This section displays many connections with the Egyptian text, the Wisdom of Amenemope, suggesting that it was patterned after an Egyptian version of Israelite wisdom.

Six, additional words of the wise, 24:23-34. This small section functions as a kind of appendix to what came before, but we notice especially the picturesque speech of 24:30-34.

Number seven, Hezekiah's collection, 25:1-29:27. The men of Hezekiah. This expression may have been a group of professional servants, specially commissioned to gather wise sayings circulating in the nation, perhaps in honor of or imitation of Solomon.

Stylistic considerations suggest a broad structure. The introduction, 25:1, emblematic sayings. Remember, that involves a metaphor in line one, and then the application, the lesson in line two.

This is 25:2-26:28. Then miscellaneous forms, chapter 27, and 28 and 29, antithetical collection, on the one hand, on the other. Line two is often the opposite of line one. The fragmented content resembles the earlier Solomonic collection, 10:1-26, though here we observe more grouping, fewer sentence statements, a marked increase in imagery, and even less religious interest. 

Then the eighth grouping here are another series of appendices, chapters 30 and 31. It begins with the words of Agur. Who is that? This difficult section represents extra-Israelite wisdom. Whoever put this book together must have discovered it somewhere. The pessimistic tone of these nine verses, chapter 30:1-9, resemble Ecclesiastes.

Then we have, in 30:10, we have an isolated proverb. This is followed by a couple of numerical proverbs. There are three things, “yea, for” on a given topic, we read one of these earlier, involving the climactic gecko in the king's palace. 

Chapter 31 opens with a fourth section, the words of King Lemuel. This is another illustration of extra-Israelite wisdom. It seems to come from outside Israel itself. He's a king, but we don't know from where, and we know nothing about him other than this. As in 30:1-9, the identities of the individuals are unknown.

And then we come finally to an alphabet of wifely excellence or nobility, 31:10-31. Now the book of Proverbs, which has for the most part been addressed to my son, concludes with a word for my son concerning my daughter. Some people suggest this text may have served as a kind of homemaker's catechism taught by mothers to their daughters in preparation for adulthood and marriage.

While the acrostic nature of the poem results in considerable disorganization – I mean, they're arranged according to the alphabet, not according to topic – the emphasis throughout is on the benefits a wife brings to her husband, her children, the community, by her industry, resourcefulness, and reliability. In the standard Ben Asher arrangement of the Hebrew canon, the book of Ruth follows immediately after Proverbs, suggesting that those responsible for that order of scrolls viewed Ruth as an illustration of the model woman presented here. Like this woman, Ruth, a Moabite, is called a noble woman.

It's the same expression, Proverbs 31:10 and Ruth 3:10-11. She's the only woman in the entire Bible who is given that title. It is a noble expression indeed.

She is a wise person because she fears God. She says, your people will be my people. She says to Naomi, your God is my God. And you can see by her life, her devotion, her hesed to the people in her family that that's actually what she was. She was a model, noble woman. This is the book of Proverbs.