“Well done is better than well said.”
“God helps those who help themselves.”
“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
These are but a few of our “American proverbs,” all of which came, at least through, if not from, Benjamin Franklin.
Every culture has its proverbs. From Babylon during the days of Abraham we have the following: “Build like a Lord, live like a slave. Build like a slave, live like a Lord.” From Egypt we have this one: “A petitioner likes attention to his words better than the fulfilling of that for which he came . . . a good hearing is a soothing of the heart.”
The culture of Israel in the Old Testament was no different. Solomon himself was said to have spoken three thousand proverbs, and over 300 of them are specifically to be found in the book of Proverbs, part of what is called the “wisdom literature” of the Old Testament. The book of Proverbs has more parallels with ancient literature than any other book in the Bible.
Proverbs has little organizational structure, but may be outlined as follows:
I) Title and aim of the book. 1:1-7
II) The importance of wisdom. 1:8 – 9:18
III) Proverbs of Solomon (374 two liners) 10:1 – 22:16
IV) Sayings of other wise men 22:17 – 24:22
V) Hezekiah’s collection of Solomon’s proverbs chapters 25 – 29
VI) Wisdom from the wise man Agur – chapter 30
VII) Wisdom from King Lemuel 31:1-9
VIII) The Woman of Noble character 31:10-31
Wisdom has to do with “how” we live our lives in order to be successful. Proverbs are wise rules of conduct. They are not “guarantees.” Our proverb, “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” is a good rule to follow, but not a guarantee. Some labor from dawn to dusk, destroy their health, and never become “wealthy.” But on the other hand, “go to bed late, get up late,” is a prescription for disaster.
Since they are not guarantees, they should not be read or treated as laws. Thus the parent who “trains up his child in the way he should go” can expect that his child will live accordingly. But that is not a guarantee. If a child turns from the wise path later in life, it should not serve as an indictment against his parents. On the other hand, of course, the parent who offers no guidance for his child can fairly well expect him to turn out poorly.
Proverbs offers direction for daily manners, work, sex, family life, friendship, and our relationship with God. These particular proverbs are important because they come to us by the approval of God and as such, provide us not with earthly wisdom, but heavenly.