- The introduction: authorship, purpose, and theme (1:1-6)
- Wisdom and folly contrasted and compared (1:7 - 9:18)
- Ethical observations (10:1 - 22:16)
- The words of the wise (22:17 - 24:34)
- Solomon's proverbs collected by Hezekiah's aides (25:1 - 29:27)
- The messages of Agur (30:1-33)
- The sayings of King Lemuel (31:1-31)
Authorship, date, and background Proverbs is an anthology of wise sayings. Many, if not most of them, were written by Solomon, who was widely known for having composed three thousand proverbs and one thousand and five songs. The sayings of Solomon which are included in this book are a sample of the many he wrote. In addition, some of the sayings came from other ancient sources. Moreover, scribes in Hezekiah's day copied down some of the ancient sayings for inclusion in this book. Many of these were from the lips of Solomon. The last two chapters of Proverbs were written by Agur and Lemuel, about whom we have little or no knowledge. Proverbs is called "wisdom literature," a genre of writing which was common to the ancient Near East. Some have thought there is a relationship between the Egyptian "Wisdom of Amenemope" and Proverbs. There are many parallels with 22:17 - 24:22.
Rationalistic critics have concluded that nothing in Proverbs can be dared earlier than 350 B.C., and later material was added in the second century. There is no solid evidence for this. W.F. Albright wrote: "We may freely admit that the book pf Proverbs was not edited in its present form until about the fifth century B.C. without assuming that any material of post-exilic date is included in the book. But the contents of Proverbs is considerably older, and it is entirely possible that aphorisms and even longer sections go back into the Bronze Age in substantially their present form".
Characteristics and content At the heart of Proverbs lies the dictum that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (1:7). The book is theological, stressing the sovereignty of God, his omniscience, his creative activity, his rulership over the moral order, and the certainty that he will judge men's actions.
Proverbs ranges over the activities of men, leaving virtually no area of human life untouched. Social relationships are grappled with: social evils, concern for the poor, laziness, poverty, and wealth are discussed. Family relationships are covered: children and parents, and the importance of friendship are dealt with. The tongue, personal habits, attitudes, and the concept of life itself are examined. Wisdom is contrasted with foolishness and distinctions drawn about simple fools, hardened fools, arrogant fools, and brutish ones.
King Lemuel of Massa ends the book with his observations about the ideal wife. It is one of the most tasteful descriptions of how such a woman conducts herself in a fitting manner. Such a wife is an example to all brides. At the heart of this wife's life and thinking lies the true reason for her greatness: "a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised" (31:30).