The book of Proverbs is wisdom literature. It is a collection of proverbs, sayings and advice about all areas of life, teaching us how to live in a way that honors God.
The first verse of the book introduces “the proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel” (Proverbs 1:1). This King Solomon was known for his wisdom, which was given to him by God: “Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you” (1 Kings 3:3-14, compare 1 Kings 4:29-34). King Solomon spoke 3,000 proverbs and wrote over a thousand songs (1 Kings 4:32). He became the “father of Jewish wisdom literature”. So, even though not the whole book of Proverbs is written by Solomon personally (e.g. Proverbs 30:1; 31:1), the book is devoted to him.
Goal of the book
The introduction to the book of Proverbs says what this book is written for:
“Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
and the one who understands obtain guidance,
to understand a proverb and a saying,
the words of the wise and their riddles.” (Proverbs 1:5-6)
It also makes clear what the ultimate source of wisdom is on which this book is based:
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7).
“For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
he is a shield to those who walk in integrity” (Proverbs 2:6-7).
This “knowledge” is not only about facts, but includes the skill to put this knowledge into practice. It should guide our daily lives.
The book of Proverbs is especially aimed at young people, who can profit from the wisdom of elder persons who have more life experience.
Genres within the book
The book of Proverbs does contain what we commonly refer to by the word “proverb”: short, wise sayings about all areas of life. But it also contains speeches of a father to his son, giving him advice, and poems by “Lady Wisdom”, the personification of wisdom. At the end of the book, there is an oracle by Agur (Proverbs 30) and an oracle about the ideal wife, taught to King Lemuel by his mother (Proverbs 31).
Proverbs by nature are wise sayings, not divine promises or prophecies. These short sayings can’t cover all exceptions to the “general rules” but express the overall pattern, e.g. “A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished” (Proverbs 28:20). In general, this is how God’s good world works and this is the framework we should base our behavior on. It shows us the boundary lines we should not cross. But we all know that in some cases, the wicked prosper while the faithful are suffering. The Bible does not deny this; in fact, Psalm 73 and the book of Job are all about this theme. But it’s not within the scope of the book of Proverbs to deal with these deviations. The aim of this book is to teach you wisdom to live a honorable, God-pleasing life.