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Relationship to Old Testament. The relationship of Proverbs to the Old Testament as a whole is discussed at Old Testament: Organization.
Story. The book of Proverbs does not have much structure or organization. To the extent that it does, it falls into five collections:
- Proverbs 1-9: First Solomon collection. A varied collection of proverbs attributed to Solomon. Some are only a verse or two in length. Others run ten or more verses in length, especially those extolling the value of wisdom.
- Proverbs 10-24: Second Solomon collection. A second collection of proverbs also attributed to Solomon. These proverbs are typically only a verse in length and consist of only two lines each. Many share close resemblance to other proverbs.
- Proverbs 25-29: Third Solomon collection. A third collection of proverbs attributed to Solomon much like the second.
- Proverbs 30: Agur collection. A short collection of proverbs attributed to Agur. Many of these proverbs read like lists of most's — four things that are never satisfied, four things that are wonderful, four things that are insufferable, and so on.
- Proverbs 31: Lemuel collection. A final short collection of two proverbs attributed to king Lemuel. The first proverb is advice to rulers to avoid the attractions of women and drink. The other is the well-known personification of wisdom as a virtuous woman.
Message. Proverbs is known as wisdom literature. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Proverbs include:
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This heading is for more detailed discussions of all or part of a passage. Discussion may include the meaning of a particular word, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout the passage, insights to be developed in the future, and other items. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →
- Wisdom personified. Wisdom is personified as a woman to be highly prized in many passages, including:
- Prov 3:1. Where it says "my son," the Lord is addressing David. The phrase "my son" reminds us that we have a parent-child relationship with our Heavenly Father. Interestingly, this means that Exodus 20:12--both the commandment and the promise--applies. If we honor our father (by keeping the commandments?), our days may be long upon the land. That idea is repeated here at the beginning of the third chapter of Proverbs. " . . let thine heart keep my commandments; for length of days, and long life . . . shall they add to thee." So, is it commandment-keeping that prolongs life or parent-honoring? Commandment-keeping seems the more convincing answer. Of course, parent-honoring is a species of commandment-keeping.
- Prov 3:3. The word translated as "tables" is the Hebrew noun luwach--which is a board, slab, tablet, or plank of stone, wood, or metal. It is used 43 times in the Old Testament. This is the word used for the stone tablets upon which the law was written in Exodus (see Ex 24:12; Ex 31:18; Ex 32:15-16).
- Prov 3:11-12. Benjamin teaches that the "natural man" is an "enemy to God" unless he "becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him..." (Mosiah 3:19). This proverb takes this concept and frames it in the context of avoiding allowing correction to challenge our identity: we should not fear correction from God, but rather seek it and willingly submit to it. We can be confident that the love of God is unchanging, and his interest in correcting us is only to help us and make us happy. In fact, it would be well to actually seek His correction and help in improving ourselves. This is a part of repentance: that we not only seek to repent of our obvious sins, but also to sincerely improve ourselves in every way with his help through faith. This ancient advice is too rarely followed.
- A similar and related concept (with some changes--others will not be as benevolent as God) can apply to any conflict: if we have confidence in our own value as people we will be more willing to accept and appreciate other's opinions. One common response to criticism is to connect it to our image of ourselves as good, meaningful, intelligent, attractive, worth loving, or whatever else and thus become offended (the natural man). Thus, the natural man in this case may in fact mean well--he wishes any number of good things--but he loses sight of the help which could help him progress due to fear. His concept of self cannot help but be altered when the idea that he may not be perfect is presented. For the faithful, acceptance of imperfection is simply a part of working for perfection. (For an interesting discussion of this issue, see the book "Difficult Conversations" by the Harvard Negotiation Project. Some material was taken from this source.)
- Prov 10-24. The collection of proverbs, attributed to Solomon, that begins here and continue for the next several chapters nearly all follow a them of contrasting the righteous and the wicked. The format used in nearly all these verses is along the lines of "the righteous this but the wicked that" (or in reverse). The righteous are seen as being ambitious, honest, blessed, discreet and a delight to their families, while the wicked are seen as just the opposite. Although this theme and format are continual throughout these chapters, the proverbs use an incredible variety of images to get across the point, drawing on the experiences of everyday life at the time. Very few of the proverbs are subtle; the contrast between the righteous and the wicked is always clear.
- Prov 23:7: As a man thinketh: KJV vs. other translations. The NET footnotes explain some of the difficulties in translating this verse. The NASB is somewhat similar to the KJV in translating the first phrase "For as he thinks within himself, so he is." However, the NRSV takes a very different (though quite common).
Complete outline and page map
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Points to ponder
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I have a question
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- Prov 3:2. This verse tells us that keeping the commandments gives us peace and long-life. How does it give us long-life?
- Prov 3:3. How can "mercy and truth" be written on our hearts in a way similar to the way the law was engraved on stone tablets for Moses?
- Prov 8:9. What does it mean to say that all of the words of the Lord are plain "to him that understandeth?" Is this simply a tautology? --if you understand then you understand. If so, what is the point of saying it? If not, what does it mean to be one that understandeth? In our effort to have the scriptures made plain to us, how do we become one that understandeth?
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- Amplified • The Amplified Bible, 1987 update
- NASB • New American Standard Bible, 1995 update
- NIV • New International Version
- RSV • Revised Standard Version
Joseph Smith Translation
The Joseph Smith Translation made changes to only three verses in Proverbs:
- Proverbs 16:29
- Proverbs 18:22
- Proverbs 22:12
- Wayment, Thomas A., ed. The Complete Joseph Smith Translation of the Old Testament, p. 175. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2009. (ISBN 1606411314) BX8630.A2 2009
- Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "Proverbs & Ecclesiastes: Wisdom Is the Principal Thing; Therefore Get Wisdom." In Old Testament: First Kings to Malachi (Institute Manual), vol. 2, third ed. (PDF version), ch. 2, p. 13-21. Salt Lake City, Utah: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2003.
- Prov 12:2. Richard C. Edgley, "Three Towels and a 25-Cent Newspaper," Ensign, Nov 2006, pp. 72–74. Elder Edgley states: "Honesty is the basis of a true Christian life... Honesty should be among the most fundamental values that govern our everyday living."
Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves, such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word. In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources are preferable to footnotes.
- Wayment, The Complete Joseph Smith Translation of the Old Testament, p. 175.
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