Proverbs and Ecclesiastes
The sages of the ancient Near East realized the superiority of wisdom over knowledge, for wisdom encompasses knowledge and includes understanding and moral conduct. “Like all Hebrew intellectual virtues, wisdom . . . is intensely practical, not theoretical. Basically, wisdom is the art of being successful, of forming the correct plan to gain the desired results. Its seat is the heart, the centre of moral and intellectual decision [see 1 Kings 3:9, 12 ].” (J. D. Douglas, ed., The New Bible Dictionary, s.v. “wisdom.”)
“As to Solomon’s authorship of proverbs, he is said in I Kings 4:33 to have spoken thousands of them, covering all facets of the relationships of nature, man and God. Whether the extant proverbs in the Bible include all of them, and whether all that are attributed to him are really his would be difficult to tell now. In any case, Proverbs, chapters 1–9 are entitled ‘Proverbs of Solomon.’”
The Book of Proverbs includes advice from a father to a son, long poems about wisdom, little poetic couplets that are the familiar form of the proverbs, and some longer maxims on morality and social behavior. Some proverbs can be analogies, but most are pithy sayings. “But the proverbs in this book are not so much popular sayings as the distillation of the wisdom of teachers who knew the law of God and were applying its principles to the whole of life.” (D. Guthrie and J. A. Motyer, eds., The New Bible Commentary: Revised, p. 549.)
“According to the scriptural record, Solomon spoke or compiled three thousand proverbs and wrote 1,005 songs (see 1 Kings 4:32 ). Some of his wisdom was undoubtedly preserved by later writers and editors of the Old Testament and is now found in the wisdom literature.”
The Proverbs of Solomon the Son of David includes some “dark sayings,” which is a Hebrew idiom for riddles or puzzles. The tone and meaning of the proverbs begin with man’s relationship to God, that the fear (or honor) of God is the foundation for man’s good and wise behavior. Some themes of the proverbs are,
- Obeying parental counsel (Proverbs 1:8-9)
- Wisdom comes from God (Proverbs 2)
- The deceitfulness of the wicked (Proverbs 2:14)
- Unchaste women (Proverbs 2:16)
- Trust in the Lord ( Proverbs 3:5–7)
- Accepting the chastening of the Lord (Proverbs 3:11)
- Get Wisdom ( Proverbs 4:7)
- Replacing darkness with light (Proverbs 4:18-19)
- The things that the Lord hates ( Proverbs 6:16–19 )
- Wisdom personified (Proverbs 8)
- Avoiding slander (Proverbs 10)
- Beauty is worthless without inner beauty (Proverbs 11:22)
- Pride brings contention (Proverbs 13)
- Soft answers in the home (Proverbs 15)
- Wealth and righteousness (Proverbs 16)
- Love and humor (Proverbs 17)
- Finding a good wife (Proverbs 18)
- Walking in integrity (Proverbs 20)
- Practical application of one’s religion (Proverbs 21)
- The best way to train children (Proverbs 22)
- One’s actions follow one’s thoughts (Proverbs 23)
- The value of adversity (Proverbs 24)
“Ecclesiastes is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Koheleth, a word meaning ‘one who convenes an assembly,’ sometimes rendered Preacher. The book of Ecclesiastes consists of reflections on some of the deepest problems of life, as they present themselves to the thoughtful observer. The epilogue ( Eccl. 12:9–14 ) sets forth the main conclusions at which the writer has arrived. The author describes himself as ‘son of David, king in Jerusalem’” ( 1:1 ).
“The book of Ecclesiastes seems permeated with a pessimistic flavor, but must be read in the light of one of its key phrases: ‘under the sun’ ( 1:9 ), meaning ‘from a worldly point of view.’ The term vanity also needs clarification, since as used in Ecclesiastes it means transitory, or fleeting. Thus the Preacher laments that as things appear from the point of view of the world, everything is temporary and soon gone—nothing is permanent. It is in this light also that the reader must understand 9:5 and 9:10 , which declare that the dead ‘know not any thing,’ and there is no knowledge ‘in the grave.’ These should not be construed as theological pronouncements on the condition of the soul after death; rather, they are observations by the Preacher about how things appear to men on the earth ‘under the sun.’ The most spiritual part of the book appears in chapters 11 and 12 , where it is concluded that the only activity of lasting and permanent value comes from obedience to God’s commandments, since all things will be examined in the judgment that God will render on man.” ( Bible Dictionary, s.v. “Ecclesiastes.” )
The verses of Ecclesiastes 3:1–11 are some of the most famous in the book (“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…”). This is good advice for the multi-tasking person of today, and also those who always wish they were in another time and place doing something else. Our lives have seasons. It’s important to enjoy the aspects of each season as they happen.
Other important messages include appreciating growth ( Ecclesiastes 4:13 ), enjoying work ( Ecclesiastes 5:12 ), accepting what one cannot change ( Ecclesiastes 7:13–29 , Ecclesiastes 11), enduring to the end in righteousness ( Ecclesiastes 9:11 ), we reap what we sow (Ecclesiastes 11:1), life does have meaning (Ecclesiastes 12), fear God and keep His commandments ( Ecclesiastes 12:13 ).
*This article was adapted from the LDS Institute Old Testament Manual.