Restoring the Original Bible
Appendix Two 

The Book of Proverbs:
Its Structure, Design and Teaching

Most people are not aware that the proverbial statements in the Book of Proverbs are really parables. They are sayings that use natural and normal illustrations to show comparisons to moral, social or religious principles. In other words, the use of the proverbs (parables) is intended to portray spiritual truths through the ordinary usage of words and explanations. The intended result, however, may involve the revelation of many “dark sayings” that the ordinary person may be unaware of. Or, to put it simply, there is often more to the proverb than at first meets the eye.

The introduction to the Book of Proverbs in the Holy Bible tells us this very fact. The first six verses are the superscription to the whole book. It says the proverbs have been given in order to show wisdom, instruction, understanding, justice, judgment, subtlety to the simple, knowledge, discretion, learning, counsel, and — “to understand a proverb [parable], and the interpretation; the words of the wise [the word “wise” is plural: “wise ones”], and their dark sayings” (Proverbs 1:6).

This means that the Book of Proverbs does not only contain the proverbs originated by King Solomon, but it represents a compilation of wise and dark sayings which were associated with “wise men” who lived before Solomon. Of those mentioned in the Bible there were the sons of Zerah (who was the son of Judah): Ethan, Heman, Chalcol, and Darda (1 Kings 4:31). These four “wise men” (or ancient philosophers) lived in Egypt at the time Joseph was in power (Genesis 41). And let us not forget the patriarch Joseph himself.

When Joseph was able to interpret Pharaoh’s dream that a famine of seven years was to grip the Middle Eastern world, Pharaoh admitted that “there is none so discreet and wise as you [Joseph] are” (Gen. 41:39). 1 Other “wise men” were those “of the east country” (1 Kings 4:30) — the people in the land of Edom (Obadiah 8), where the “wise man” Job had his residence (Job 1:1). The land of Uz (Job 1:1) was located east of the Jordan River.

These indications in tire Bible show that there were many people of the ancient past who were considered “wise men.” And what is the Book of Proverbs? It is basically a compilation of proverbs (parables) uttered by many “wise men” of the past, but brought together by King Solomon or later editors, in order that the people of God could be instructed in the “dark sayings” and words of wisdom which have been uttered by people who learned the principles that governed life. They represent the “cream of the crop” of ancient philosophical teaching. When really understood, the “sayings” in the Book of Proverbs are no doubt some of the oldest literary statements known to man. It will pay us to understand just what the proverbs are all about, and especially why they have been placed in the order that they have. There is significant instruction awaiting us if we do.

We are told in the Bible that the proverbs accumulated (or written) by Solomon were “set in order” (Ecclesiastes 12:9) — indeed, the proverbs had been “sought out” by Solomon for the express purpose of teaching the people of Israel essential knowledge. They were the words of the “wise ones” (Ecclesiastes 12:11 — the word “wise” is, again, plural, and signifies many wise people of the past who were known by Solomon). The proverbs were “acceptable words” and “words of truth” which were “upright” of full of righteous teaching (Ecclesiastes 12:10).

Since Solomon “set them in order,” this shows that the proverbs were not arranged haphazardly. They also must be a selection of some of the better sayings of the wise ones. Actually, Solomon himself “spoke three thousand proverbs” (1 Kings 4:32). Since the Book of Proverbs contains only 915 verses (and some proverbs take up several verses), it can be seen that Solomon was selective even of his own proverbial creations in order that the whole book could be streamlined to contain the best of many “wise men.”

The main ingredient to understanding a proverb, according to the superscription itself, is “the interpretation” behind the words (Proverbs 1:6). They may well be “dark sayings” (Proverbs 1:6), but they are designed to give enlightenment to those who read. Since this is the case, it will pay us first to recognize the divisions of the Book of Proverbs and to understand the context in which the various proverbs are placed. This will help us to comprehend what the individual messages are all about. There are seven divisions in the Book of Proverbs.

DIVISION I  = Proverbs 1:7 to 9:18.
DIVISION II = “The Proverbs of Solomon” Proverbs 10:1 to 22;16.
DIVISION III = “The words of the wise [ones] Proverbs 22:22 to 24:22.
DIVISION IV = “These also belong to the wise [ones] Proverbs 24:23 to 24:34,
DIVISION V = “These are also proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied” Proverbs 25:1 to 29:27.

There are yet two remaining divisions to the Proverbs. These final two sections seem to represent individual compositions about two men of whom we have no further information as to their identities in the Bible.

DIVISION VI  = “The words of Agar the son of Jakeh” Proverbs 30 (the whole chapter).
DIVISION VII = “The words of king Lemuel” Proverbs 31 (the whole chapter).

There is a general “story flow” which pervades the proverbs in each of the designated divisions. When this is realized, it helps us to better identify the author of most of the individual proverbs in the various sections and to see why the proverbs were placed in the manner they were. It also gives us the over — all teaching of the theme.

DIVISION ONE

The first six verses of the book are an introduction to the whole of the Book of Proverbs. The very first “proverb,” in itself, is found in verse seven.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

This sets the theme of the first division, and also to all of Proverbs. “The fear of the Lord,” which is the Old Testament way of saying: “Have faith and trust in God,” is the very start of wisdom. All else, according to the author of this section, is subsidiary to this main principle. And what is the next step to wisdom?

“My son, hear the instruction of your father, and forsake not the law of your mother: for they shall be an ornament of grace unto your head, and chains about your neck.”

Paying attention to the teachings of one’s parents is the next step to gaining wisdom. Who was the author of this first division? We are not told precisely, but there are some hints. Who was it that respected his father so much that he finally had a “chain of authority” put around his neck? Such a person was Joseph (Gen. 41:42). This first division speaks very much about the “strange woman” (Proverbs 2:16–18; 5:3–6; 5:15–20; 6:24–35; 7:5–23; 9:13–18), and of all the early “wise men” of Israel, Joseph was noted for his refraining from an adulterous union with the king’s wife (Gen. 39:7–23). Since Joseph was described as being “discreet and wise” (Gen. 41:39) — and lived at the same time as the sons of Zerah in Egypt (1 Kings 4:31) — it could well be that he was the main author of the first division (or helped to compose it with the sons of Zerah).

Joseph was also able to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams for him in a very judicious way (Gen. 41:25–36) and he recognized that the Sun, Moon, and Eleven Stars represented his father, his mother, and his eleven brothers (Gen. 37:5–11). And what are the proverbs in Division One really about? They are “dark sayings” which need “interpretation” (Proverbs 1:6). As said before, they are statements that mean more than at first meets the eye. One must dig beneath the surface to understand the real meaning.

Division One is filled with such “secret” teachings. Note that the main textual subject of this division is Wisdom (1:20; 2:2, 6–7, 10; 3:13, 19, 21; 4:5, 7; 5:1; 7:4; 8:1, 12, 14; 9:1). “Wisdom” is personified as a woman and rendered in the plural (Proverbs 1:20ff). Other than the simple use for the meaning of “wisdom,” the word no doubt refers to something far more — especially since it is put in the feminine gender. The Old Testament was a man’s world, but “Wisdom” and other virtuous attributes are feminine. The holy name for Jerusalem was Zion and it is called a “she” in Psalm 46:5. Israel and Judah are called daughters (Ezekiel 23:1). The New Testament body of believers to the Book of Revelation is called “the wife” of Christ (Revelation 19:7). The virtue of “understanding” is also feminine (Proverbs 7:4–5), and the chief attitude of all — “love” — is as well placed in the feminine gender (1 Corinthians 13:5).

But we also find that Babylon, Nineveh, and the evil system condemned in the Book of Revelation are also called “women” (Revelation 17:5; Nahum 2:10; 3:4; Zephaniah 2:13–15; Micah 5:6 margin). The subject to whom the proverbs of Division One is directed is “My Son.” He is told to have his affection set on Wisdom and Understanding (both expressed in the feminine). Yet he is equally advised to stay away from “the strange woman.”

Since the proverbs are parables which are “dark sayings” requiring interpretation to understand them, the significance could be intended to show the people of Israel to stay away from the alluring environments of the false “women” of Babylon, Nineveh, and the great woman of the Book of Revelation. But the “true women” are Wisdom and Understanding. “Wisdom” is also personified as being with the creator of nature. “The Lord possessed me [Wisdom] in the beginning of his way, before his works of old” (Proverbs 8:22–36). It is almost as though “she” were a creator herself (Proverbs 9:1) — almost like Christ in relation to the Father (Col. 1:16–18 along with Proverbs 8:22–36).

There may be far more “dark sayings” to comprehend in this section of Proverbs than many people imagine. Perhaps Joseph (or those associated with him before the Exodus) understood even some of the “secret” things mentioned in the New Testament, though in a veiled way. At any rate, the first nine chapters of Proverbs represent the sayings of ancient “wise ones” — the ones who lived long before Solomon.

DIVISION TWO

The next thirteen chapters of the book are short proverbial statements made exclusively by King Solomon. The simple title to the section is: “The proverbs of Solomon” (Proverbs 10:1). And what is its primary emphasis? Look at the first proverb of this division: “A wise son makes a glad father: but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother.”

Whereas in the first division the thrust is mainly upon spiritual things: Wisdom, Understanding, Faithfulness and Duty to God, in this second section it is foremostly the relationships between humans. Of course, the most important association is that of children and parents, and that is emphasized first. There is nothing especially esoteric about these short and to-the-point statements, yet the order in which they occur could be significant. Since we are told by Paul that a “root of all evil” is the desire for riches (1 Timothy 6:10), it is interesting that the second proverb of Solomon’s personal section shows that the “treasures of wickedness profit nothing” (Proverbs 10:2).

DIVISION THREE

This is one of the most interesting sections in the whole of Proverbs. One who reads the King James Version would hardly realize that a new division was being introduced — but it is clearly evident in the original text. Division Three actually begins in the middle of chapter 22. The title to it is found from Proverbs 22:17 to 21. Let us look at it. Understand that the verses that now follow are not individual proverbs in themselves. They represent an introduction to Division Three.

“Bow down your ear, and hear the words of the wise [plural:”wise ones”], and apply your heart unto my knowledge. For it is a pleasant thing if you keep them [the following proverbs of Division Three] within you; they [these particular proverbs] shall withal be fitted in your lips. That your trust may be in the Lord, I have made known to you this day, even to you. Have not I written to your excellent things [or, as the Revised Standard Version has it: “thirty sayings”] in counsels and knowledge, that I might make you know the certainty of the words of truth; that you might answer the words of truth to them that send unto you?”

After this long introduction, we then find the first proverb of Division Three. It is Proverbs 22:22–23:

“Rob not the poor, because he is poor: neither oppress the afflicted in the gate: for the Lord will plead their cause, and spoil the soul of those that spoil them.”

There are actually thirty sections to this Third Division (Proverbs 22:22 to 24:22). The Revised Standard Version, the New English Bible, and most modern translations realize that this is the meaning of the key words in Proverbs 22:20. Why do they know this? The Hebrew of Proverbs 22:20 could be stretched to mean “thirty” from the use of the word “excellent.” But there is even a greater assurance that “thirty sayings” is the correct rendering because this section of Proverbs has been found to have existed even among the Egyptians.

There is an ancient document in the British Museum (a writing of the early Egyptian priests) which is a parallel to the Third Division of the Book of Proverbs. A portion of the text is also found on a writing tablet now in Turin, Italy. It is called “The Instruction of Amen-em-opet” (or, Amenophis). The date when the original Egyptian work was written has been disputed — some say before the time of Solomon, others afterwards. 2 The Egyptian version differs in some respects from that in the Book of Proverbs, but there can be no question that the two documents are really the same. And interestingly, the Egyptian version says there are thirty parts to it.

If the Egyptian text is earlier than that of Solomon, it could well be that it was a product of the time when Joseph and the sons of Zerah were in Egypt and writing many of the wise sayings of the past. It is well within reason that many of these early philosophical works of the Israelites (while they were in Egypt) or of other wise Egyptians could have been maintained for long periods among the Egyptians.

There is another Egyptian proverbial text called “The Instruction of the Vizier (the chief minister) Ptah-Hotep” that sounds so much like the writing of Joseph — both in its teaching and the subjects of the text — and a historical identification may in some manner be possible. We are told that the time of Joseph and the sons of Zerah was that of much literary activity in Egypt. And since “The Instruction of Amen-em-opet” has found inclusion within the biblical Book of Proverbs (22:22 to 24:22), it may well be that this section of Proverbs may date back to the time of Joseph — as well as Division One (Proverbs 1:7 to 9.18). This would mean that the Book of Proverbs is truly an international collection of many wise sayings from a number of ancient philosophers and sages of the past.

It could be interesting to compare some of the statements in our Book of Proverbs with those found in the Egyptian version. 3 In the introduction of Division Three in the Book of Proverbs there is the statement (in the King James Version) concerning “excellent things” (verse 20). There is a vague connection with the word “three” or possibly “thirty” associated with the original Hebrew word. But in the Egyptian version it is clearly “thirty sayings.” This agreement has even helped scholars to know what the biblical book means. There are other parallels.

The Book of Proverbs

“Rob not the poor, because he is poor: neither oppress the afflicted in the gate.”

· Proverbs 22:22

The Instuction of Amen-em-opet

“Guard yourself against robbing the oppressed and against overhearing the disabled.”

· ANET, p.421a

“Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man you shall not go.”

· Proverbs 22:24

“Do not associate to yourself the heated man, nor visit him for conversation.”

· ANET, p. 423a

“See you a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings.”

· Proverbs 22:29

“As for the scribe who is experienced in his office, he will find himself worthy to be a courtier.”

· ANET, p. 424b

“When you sit to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before you.”

· Proverbs 23:1

“Do not eat bread before a noble, nor lay on your mouth [be not gluttonous] at first.”

· ANET, p. 424a

“Labor not to be rich: cease from your own wisdom.”

· Proverbs 23:4

“Cast not your heart in pursuit of riches, for there is no ignoring Fate and Fortune.”

· ANET, p. 422b

These are just a few of the parallels that can be found between the biblical Book of Proverbs and this papyrus document found in Egypt. These remarkable points are valuable in showing that there was much interchange of proverbial material among those of the Middle Eastern countries. Indeed, there is an Aramaic work (in the language of the Syrians) which dates to the 5th century before Christ which has a section very similar to that of Division Three of our Book of Proverbs. It is from “The Words of Abiqar.”

The Book of Proverbs

“Withhold not correction from the child: for if you beat him with the rod, he shall not die. You shall beat him with the rod, and shall deliver his soul from hell [from the grave].”

· Proverbs 23:13–14.

The Words of Abiqar

“Withhold not your son from the rod, else you will not be able to save him from wickedness. If I smite you, my son, you will not die, but if I leave you to your own heart you will not live.”

· ANET, p. 428b

It is not known whether Solomon got his proverbial statements (besides the ones he composed himself) from The Instruction of Amen-em-opet, but it is clear — from what the Book of Proverbs says itself — that he gathered together many of the wise sayings of ancient wise men. It could well be that Solomon, and later editors of the Bible, simply garnered together the most valuable of what they considered to be the divine wisdom of the ancients. One thing is for certain. The whole of Division Three has been found in the literary collections of the early Egyptians. This shows that the Bible is far more in line with the philosophical teachings of many ancient wise men than we may have imagined.

DIVISION FOUR

One would hardly realize that a new section of proverbs was being introduced if only the King James Version were relied on. Still, however, look at Proverbs 24:23. It says: “These things also belong to the wise [the wise ones].” The first proverb of this short division is: “It is not good to have respect of persons in judgment.” The whole of the division occupies only twelve verses, but they were thought important enough to include them in the biblical book. The main theme is: do not be lazy, and hold your neighbor in esteem. It is really very good advice to anyone, and this section was deemed necessary for the righteous Israelite to hold in importance.

DIVISION FIVE

This section is a very significant one and was designed to muster together various proverbs of Solomon (of the many that he wrote) that would show a king how to act. One person who was intent in learning the wisdom of Solomon on rulership was righteous king Hezekiah in the 8th century before Christ. It was he who ordered his scribes to collect some of the most important proverbs of Solomon which pertained to rulership. And that is what we have in this fifth division (Proverbs 25:1 to 29:27).

“These are also proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied out.”

Now notice that the subject matters of these proverbs are those designed for rulership.

Proverbs 25:2 mentions “kings.”

The intervening verses show how to make judgments between people, how to be wise and honest. Then there are:

The division finally ends with a warning for all rulers who have to render judgment — and how to be careful in doing it. “Many seek the ruler’s favor; but every man’s judgment comes from the Lord” (Proverbs 29:26).

DIVISION SIX

This section is one chapter (30). It is the literary work of an unknown person called Agur, “The words of Agur the son of Jakeh.” He was an agnostic! He had great difficulty in believing that a loving and wise God existed (even though he admitted he did). See Proverbs 30:2–6. Though it was difficult for him to believe that God truly had an interest in human life, he was compelled to admit it because of the marvels of creation. The rest of the chapter involves the orderliness of animals: birds, fish, insects, carnivores. To Agur, these all seemed to act according to a definite order, but mankind did not. Humans were haughty, they stole, were full of vanity, sensuous and foolish. And who did Agur consider the most stupid of all? It was himself “Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of man” (Proverbs 30:2). His anguish was so acute that he was asking: “Where is God in all this?” (this is a paraphrase of verse 4). This chapter (and division) ends without Agur finding the answer to his quest. His agnosticism was not cured, though he knew there was a God.

DIVISION SEVEN

The last division was that written by an unknown king called Lemuel. “The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him.” Ferrar Fenton tried to identify this “Lemuel” with King Solomon himself. This was done by stretching the meaning of “Lemuel” to signify “The One Who Forgot God.” This is a rather fanciful interpretation and little weight should be attached to it. However, we know of no king in the Bible (or in secular history) with such a name. It may well be a cipher for Solomon himself, but no one can be sure of this.

This Lemuel became so distraught with life in the end of his days that he was driven to drink (Proverbs 31:2–9). This could well describe Solomon near his final years (Ecclesiastes 12:1–7). Solomon blamed his downfall on the many foreign women that he had in his harem (Ecclesiastes 7:26–29). The main problem was that they were the wrong kind of women for a righteous ruler of Israel. If “Lemuel” is a cipher for Solomon, it might help to explain why the last part of division seven (22 verses in length) describes the perfect and honest woman — the type Solomon never found (Proverbs 31:10–31). He could have discovered such a person if he would have looked in the right places. The trouble with Solomon, he did not!

An Overview of Proverbs

The prime reason for compiling these selected proverbs and putting them in the Bible was to show how one can and should “rule” his life. They were placed in order by a ruler himself, by king Solomon. If Joseph was the author of Division One (and perhaps instrumental in composing Division Three), he did so as a ruler in Egypt (Gen. 41:40–44). Also, it was king Hezekiah who copied out proverbs to help him show justice to his people. Agur appears to have been someone in authority, and finally there was king Lemuel. And recall that in the main body of the book we have shown that all the eleven books found within the Third Division of the Old Testament have a theme of royalty associated with them. And the Book of Proverbs is no exception. It was a book designed for those who rule — either those who rule other humans or, more importantly, those who wish to rule their own lives.


1 We will soon see that some of the proverbs found within the biblical book are certainly those that originated with Joseph long before the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.

2 See Ancient Near Eastern Texts, pages 421–424 for more information and the recording of the complete Egyptian text.

3 Recall that there is not exact agreement in every detail. This shows that editing of material was done on a wide scale so that the messages within the Proverbs could be maintained in a particular context.

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