The Book of Proverbs

I had an epiphany moment over the weekend and it was to do with the Book of Proverbs in the Bible.

I am regularly seeing quotes from Proverbs and these seem strangely relevant for today and also uplifting in the light of all sorts of things that might make me depressed and despondent. Solomon, its author, supposedly spoke three thousand proverbs (1Kings 4:31) although not all were his but a good number found themselves included in the Book of Proverbs. It is said that he was the wisest man who ever lived and it was because God gave him wisdom because Solomon asked him for this more than riches, in order to be a better king, and threw in riches. A lot of the Book of Proverbs is pretty down to earth and, as my friend said, “downright obvious”. It covers all sorts of subjects and is good sound common-sense advice to help us on our way. It can be seen as advice parents would want their sons to heed. The irony is that Solomon’s son was not wise and, toward the end, Solomon strayed from the brilliant teaching he set out in his Proverbs. Relevant, but not popular in today’s culture fixated on the equality of the sexes, is Proverbs was directed at men more than women, because men were meant to take a lead.  

Some eighteen months ago I wrote a small book that contained a month’s worth (31 days) of daily meditations from the Book of Song of Solomon. I did this because I have been intrigued with the Song from my youth and wanted to encourage people to meditate – and where better to begin. The authorship of the Song, together with that of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, has been attributed to King Solomon, who ruled Israel 970 – 931 BC. Interestingly, Proverbs comprises 31 chapters and the epiphany moment was realising just how important Proverbs is and instead of just upgrading my Song of Solomon book with a view that people can order it online, why not include a month’s worth of meditations from Proverbs (a chapter a day – although I will need to be selective since each chapter is packed with all sorts of salient wisdom to ponder) and while I am at it, throw in Ecclesiastes too. Some bright sparks have said that Song of Solomon was written in his youth – when full of ardent passion; Proverbs in middle age, as he became wised up in the ways of an often crooked world and Ecclesiastes when in old age he had experienced so much (seen it, done it etc.) life can throw at us and realisingso much of it was vanity. Moreover, I can identify with this thought. Interestingly, sayings from the Proverbs are not just often quoted in the NT but many find themselves being referred to in everyday life. Work is already underway on this writing project, along with others, and it is a matter: watch this space!

The Jewish Bible divides itself into three main sections: Law, Prophets and Writings. My basic understanding is that the Law is the set of rules God’s special people were expected to live by; the Prophets is a lot to do with what happens when God people don’t live by those rules and the Writings, which comprise the three books Solomon wrote, Psalms and Job, to which may be added Ruth, Lamentations and Esther, is about wisdom and a lot else beside. Wisdom was highly prized in OT times and was a lot more than knowing a lot about many subjects. In fact, there are some that can tick all those boxes, who the Bible would call fools, and some who don’t and may lack formal learning, who may be regarded as wise. Wisdom involves skill and action; it has a spiritual and moral dimension and is a lot to do with making good choices according to the situation one finds oneself. There are 53 references to wisdom in Proverbs alone and I set out here six of my favourites.

I believe it is a good thing to regularly read the Bible. While one can go direct to the Bible, and with a choice from umpteen different versions, there are many helps to be had. One suggestion, and here it is a good idea to start young (although it is never too late), is to aim to complete the whole Bible in a year and then do the same every year following, until one’s time is up. Along with reading the Bible is cultivating a prayer life and while I am not the best example: incorporate Bible study and prayer as part of your daily discipline. I would refine Bible reading to also include going systematically through the Psalms and Proverbs (no need more than a chapter each day). This to be a good thing to include in one’s daily schedule as it will bring one closer to God and make one more useful.

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