Setting and Major Themes
THE BOOK OF PROVERBS opens a window to a realm of ancient Israelite experience little seen elsewhere in the Bible: everyday life. Proverbs guides individuals (not the nation) in how to do what is wise in their day‐to‐day lives. It teaches the attitudes and courses of actions that are right, just, and pious, and the ways of behavior that facilitate and strengthen personal relationships, the forms of communication and commerce that make the life of the community congenial and secure, and the types of prudence and industry that help one achieve financial security.
The English title of the book, Proverbs, is a misnomer, since the book contains more than proverbs. The Hebrew word mashal of which mishlei proverbs, is a form of the plural, can also mean a comparison. The book, however, contains a variety of genres beyond the short proverb and comparison, incorporating a diversity of material that reflects on daily life.
Proverbs is a paean to the power of the human mind. Its authors are convinced that everyone who attends to the wisdom of the past and employs his powers of rational thinking has the ability to know what to do and what to avoid. These powers and the knowledge that goes with them are called wisdom. Wisdom—Heb ḥokhmah—is the great virtue that, for Proverbs, entails all others. No divine revelation is necessary, for God gave humanity the faculty of wisdom, and people need only listen to her call (ch 8 ). Thus, there is a certain tension between Proverbs and Torah books, which insist on the significance of revealed law.