This Biblical collection of hundreds of moral sayings is ascribed to King Solomon, with Chapter 25 referring to a copy of Solomon’s proverbs by “the men of Hezekiah king of Judah”, who ruled from 715-687 BCE.
The central theme of the Book is the idea of wisdom and understanding as the highest human values:
Happy is the man who finds wisdom,
and the man who gets understanding,
for the gain from it is better than gain from silver
and its profit better than gold… (3:13-14)
Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called happy. (3:16-18)
In the hundreds of proverbs there is a multiplicity of themes, and the few extracts here are necessarily inadequate as a summary.
Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;
reprove a wise man, and he will love you. (9.8)
A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger. (15.1)
Better is a dinner of herbs where love is
than a fatted ox and hatred with it. (15.17)
Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall. (16.18)
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
but only in expressing his opinion. (18.2)
Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man,
but afterward his mouth will be full of gravel. (20.17)
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
and favor is better than silver or gold. (22:1)
Make no friendship with a man given to anger,
nor go with a wrathful man,
lest you learn his ways
and entangle yourself in a snare. (22:22-24)
Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,
and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles;
lest the LORD see it, and be displeased. (24.17)
A word fitly spoken
is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. (25.11)
Iron sharpens iron,
and one man sharpens another. (27.17)
Much is made of the devastating effects of sexual immorality. Here the Proverbs follow themes which appear throughout the Hebrew Bible, extolling sexual love, while fiercely denouncing promiscuity and adultery. (Compare the Song of Songs and Isaiah 16:3-24):
Let your fountain be blessed,
And rejoice in the wife of your youth,
A lovely hind, a graceful doe.
Let her affection fill you at all times with delight,
Be infatuated always with her love.
Why should you be infatuated,
My son, with a loose woman
And embrace the bosom of an adventuress? (5:18-20)
The Book of Proverbs ends with a chapter of praise for the virtues of the “good wife”, as translated from the Hebrew “woman of valour”. It is a passage which observant Jewish husbands recite on every Sabbath eve when returning from the Synagogue. The good wife is “like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from afar”. She actively engages in trade and agriculture, considering and buying a field, and planting a vineyard, while her husband sits at a place of honour at the city gate – and sings her praises.
Thus a book which begins with temptresses luring young men to their doom ends with praise for the “woman of valour” as an active participant in economic life.