The Book of Proverbs
The Book of Proverbs is divided into four main sections, with three additional sections, or appendices, included at the end. The first third of Proverbs is an extended lecture spoken by the personified voice of “Wisdom.” This section is the most conversational, narrative, and thematic portion of the book. Wisdom speaks in the first person and refers to the reader as “my child,” instructing the reader on various topics for wise living. The voice of Wisdom assumes different forms. On the one hand, Wisdom refers to itself in feminine terms, using the pronouns “she” and “her.” Wisdom describes itself as a woman standing on the city streets, crying out her warnings to the people. However, Wisdom also identifies itself with God. Pursuing Wisdom, it says, is the same thing as obeying God, and Wisdom claims to have been God’s partner in creating the world.
The next three sections of Proverbs contain the proverbs of Solomon and the sayings of the wise. The list of Solomon’s proverbs is made up of two lengthy sections, and the proverbs are very loosely organized by theme. The speaker usually assumes the voice and authority of a king. Many of the proverbs follow the formula of antithetical parallelism, a convention in which the proverb is stated in two poetic lines, and one line describes a type of good or wise behavior while the other describes its evil or foolish opposite. The “sayings of the wise” make up one small section and are less rhetorical, issuing more direct commands and advice to the reader.
The final three sections in Proverbs include the brief oracles of Agur and King Lemuel and a closing lesson on how to select a good wife. Agur and Lemuel’s historical existence is unknown, but their cryptic sayings continue the demand for wisdom and the themes of temperance and justice that are common to the rest of Proverbs. The final passage praises all the traits of the good and “capable” wife (31:10). She is industrious, independent, strong, generous to the poor, and, most importantly, she “fears,” or obeys, God (31:30). Proverbs closes by calling for her family and the community to praise her.