Collection I.Though chs 1–9
serve as an introduction to the book, the section was probably written later as a guide to interpreting the old sayings in
chs 10–29. After the prologue (1.1–7), there are two distinct series of poems, the ten “Lectures” (I–X) and the five “Interludes”
(A–E). The Lectures are formulated as fathertoson instruction, and each develops a single topic in a threepart structure:
(1) A Call to Attention, in which the speaker exhorts his son to hear his wisdom and remember it, because thus he will receive
great rewards; e.g., 1.8–9. (2) A Lesson, which is the main body of the teaching; e.g., 1.10–18. (3) A Conclusion, which is
a statement of the general principle underlying the Lesson; e.g., 1.19. Sometimes the conclusion is missing. Of the five Interludes,
C is a collection of four epigrams that stands apart from the rest of the unit, while A, B, D, and E are interpretive additions
in praise of wisdom, which portray wisdom as a nearly divine woman who represents a power transcending the individual teachings
(see 1.20–33 n.
The prologue, added at a late stage in the book's growth, explains the use of the book and commends it to readers.
The title ascribes the book to King Solomon, the archetypal wise man. See 1 Kings 3.4–28; 5.10–14
. On the historical veracity of this inscription, see intro.
The statement of purpose defines the twofold purpose of the book: to inculcate the basic virtues of wisdom and ethical behavior in the young, and
to enable the mature wise man to increase his wisdom and hone his skills in interpreting literary wisdom. In both cases, the
assumed audience is male.
Fear of the LORD
is the ground for wisdom to grow in; it is essentially conscience. In its most basic form, in the untutored child, it is
unreflective fear of consequences. As wisdom develops, fear of God becomes a cognitive awareness of what God wants and does,
and this type of fear is equivalent to knowledge of the LORD (2.5). Fear of God is effective in keeping one from evil even in secret deeds and even in spheres of behavior where the law
does not apply. Beginning of knowledge: The commentators debated whether “re'shit” (here translated “beginning”) means first in time or first in quality, that is,
the best part. The variant of this verse in 9.10 uses a word that definitely means “beginning.”
Lecture I: Avoid gangs. In vv. 8–9
, the father, who speaks throughout the Lectures in chs 1–9, identifies the instruction he is about to deliver as both his
own and his wife's (similarly 6.20), even though the specific words are his. Elsewhere in wisdom literature there is occasional
allusion to mothers as teachers. For example, the Egyptian Duachety concludes his instruction with the words, “Praise God
for your father and your mother, who set you on the way of life!” (AEL 2.191
). Also, 31.1–9 is spoken by a woman.
My son, many scholars understand the “son” to be a student in a school and “father” to be a schoolteacher, but there is no evidence
for this. Egyptian instructions are consistently presented as a father's words to his actual son, and the mention of the mother
in 1.8; 4.3; 6.20 points to a family context, at least as the fictional setting of wisdom instruction. The texts could secondarily
be used in schools, as they were in Egypt. In the following annotations, “pupil” means the youth to whom the teaching is directed,
without presumption of a school setting. Come with us, the invitation a gang of thugs might use to entice a young man to join them in plotting a murderous mugging. They have grandiose
notions of their power. They think that they are as powerful as Sheol the netherworld. They hold out promises of comradeship and a share of the wealth.
Even a bird has enough sense to avoid a trap laid out in plain sight, but the criminals are too stupid for that. They hurry to shed blood, not realizing that it is their own.
Conclusion: Evildoers destroy themselves by means of the evil that they themselves create. Cf. 5.21–23
Interlude A: Lady Wisdom chastises the foolish. In Interludes A, D, and E, wisdom is described as if she were a woman. (In Heb, the word for wisdom, “ḥokhmah,” is a feminine
abstract noun.) Such personification is briefly suggested in
2.3; 3.13–20; 4.8–9; 7.4
. There are various theories to account for the origins of the wisdom personification. Some commentators believe that it derives
from a goddess, such as a Canaanite wisdom goddess (though no such deity is known) or the Egyptian Ma'at, goddess of truth
and justice, or the Egyptian Isis, goddess of wisdom. Lady Wisdom does bear some similarities to ancient Near Eastern goddesses,
but in Proverbs she is a literary figure created as a vivid and memorable way of speaking about human wisdom.
Wisdom is by no means secret or esoteric. She is public, frequenting the busiest parts of the town (the gates of a city were the location of much public and private business) and calling to all to accept her. Cf. 8.1
Wisdom castigates fools. They spurned her warning, in other words, ignored the teachings and warnings of their elders. In return, Wisdom will scorn
the fools when they most need her, when they find themselves in trouble and are in desperate need of clear and effective thinking.
The punishment threatened here, as so often in Proverbs, is the natural consequence of the evil action.
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