A trite maxim; a similitude; a parable. The Hebrew word thus rendered (mashal) has a wide signification. It comes from a root meaning "to be like," "parable." Rendered "proverb" in Isaiah 14:4; Habakkuk 2:6; "dark saying" in Psalms 49:4, Numbers 12:8. Ahab's defiant words in answer to the insolent demands of Benhadad, "Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off," is a well known instance of a proverbial saying (1 Kings 20:11).
Proverbs, the book of [EBD]
As to the origin of this book, "it is probable that Solomon gathered and recast many proverbs which sprang from human experience in preceeding ages and were floating past him on the tide of time, and that he also elaborated many new ones from the material of his own experience. Towards the close of the book, indeed, are preserved some of Solomon's own sayings that seem to have fallen from his lips in later life and been gathered by other hands' (Arnot's Laws from Heaven, etc.)
This book is usually divided into three parts:
# Consisting of ch. 1-9, which contain an exhibition of wisdom as the highest good.
# Consisting of ch. 10-24.
# Containing proverbs of Solomon "which the men of Hezekiah, the king of Judah, collected" (ch. 25-29).
These are followed by two supplements,
(1) "The words of Agur" (ch. 30); and
(2) "The words of king Lemuel" (ch. 31).
Solomon is said to have written three thousand proverbs, and those contained in this book may be a selection from these (1 Kings 4:32).
In the New Testament there are thirty-five direct quotations from this book or allusions to it.
The title of this book in Hebrew is taken from its first word, mashal, which originally meant "a comparison." It is sometimes translated parable, sometimes proverb as here. The superscriptions which are affixed to several portions of the book, in chs. (Proverbs 1:1; 10:1; 25:1) attribute the authorship of those portions to Solomon the son of David, king of Israel. With the exception of the last two chapters, which are distinctly assigned to other author it is probable that the statement of the superscriptions is in the main correct, and that the majority of the proverbs contained in the book were uttered or collected by Solomon. Speaking roughly, the book consists of three main divisions, with two appendices:--
1. Chs. 1-9 form a connected didactic Wisdom is praised and the youth exhorted to devote himself to her. This portion is preceded by an introduction and title describing the character and general aim of the book.
2. Chs. 10-24 with the title "The Proverbs of Solomon," consist of three parts: (Proverbs 10:1-22; Proverbs 10:16) a collection of single proverbs and detached sentences out of the region of moral teaching and worldly prudence; (Proverbs 22:17-24; Proverbs 22:21) a more connected didactic poem, with an introduction, (Proverbs 22:17-22) which contains precepts of righteousness and prudence; (Proverbs 24:23-34) with the inscription "These also belong to the wise," a collection of unconnected maxims, which serve as an appendix to the preceding.
Then follows the third division chs. 25-29, which, according to the superscription, professes to be collection of Solomonís proverbs, consisting of single sentences, which the men of the court of Hezekiah copied out.
The first appendix, ch. 30, "The words of Agur the son of Jakeh," is a collection of partly proverbial and partly enigmatical sayings; the second, ch. 31, is divided into two parts, "The words of King Lemuel," vs. 1-6, and an alphabetical acrostic in praise of a virtuous woman, which occupies the rest of the chapter.
Who was Agur and who was Jakeh, are questions which have been often asked and never satisfactorily answered. All that can be said of the first is that he was an unknown Hebrew sage, the son of an equally unknown Jakeh, and that he lived after the time of Hezekiah. Lemuel, like Agur, is unknown. It is even uncertain whether he is to be regarded as a real personage, or whether the name is merely symbolical.
The Proverbs are frequently quoted or alluded to in the New Testament and the canonicity of the book thereby confirmed. The following is a list of the principal passages:--
(Proverbs 1:16) compare Roma 3:10,15
(Proverbs 3:7) compare Roma 12:16
(Proverbs 3:11,12) compare Hebr 12:5,6, see also Reve 3:19
(Proverbs 3:34) compare Jame 4:6
(Proverbs 10:12) compare 1Pet 4:8
(Proverbs 11:31) compare 1Pet 4:18
(Proverbs 17:13) compare Roma 12:17; 1The 5:15; 1Pet 3:9