By Archie England, NOBTS Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament
Question: What happened to the rest of Solomon’s 3,000 proverbs (cf. 1 Kings 4:32)?
Archie England responds: Added together, there are 1,015 verses in the Book of Proverbs. Assuming that each verse (and that’s not the best assumption) equals a proverb would leave nearly 2,000 proverbial sayings unaccounted.
More interestingly, the current form of the Book of Proverbs reflects a three part structure: (1) chapters 1-9 are a single literary unit that compare and contrast Wisdom and Folly; (2) chapters 10-24, entitled as “the proverbs of Solomon,” consist of mostly short, proverbial sayings; and (3) a final three sections attributed to a) proverbs of Solomon preserved (or transmitted) by Hezekiah’s men, chapters 25-29; b) the words of Agur, chp. 30; and c) the words of King Lemuel, chapter 31.
Such structure exposes us to a wealth of differently styled proverbial sayings, and it further indicates that some three hundred years after Solomon, his sayings were still being preserved, copied, and arranged (25:1).
So, is this a problem? Not at all. Consider for instance that 1 Kings 4:32 informs us that Solomon wrote 1,005 love songs.
How many of those are included in the Old Testament? Answer: only one – the Song of Songs.
Moreover, Solomon penned another deeply reflective wisdom work – Ecclesiastes. Its quality and caliber of cynical thought, as well as the apparent advanced philosophical contemplations of life and death, etc., frustrate many. Why? They question how a 10th century Israelite king could express such advanced thoughts IF the “golden age” of philosophy didn’t occur until the 5th century BC in Greece. What the Books of Kings and Chronicles recount settles the matter for me: wisdom literature, of which proverbial sayings are a part, reached an epical point under the reign of Solomon.
From his exposure to the world’s best wisdom literature, Solomon advanced his own material to the point that the Queen of Sheba declared him “to exceed in wisdom and prosperity” twice as much as she had expected (1 Kings 10). The three biblical books that reflect the wisdom of Solomon – Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes – demonstrate several different “styles” of wisdom literature.
Apparently, it was the intent of God to preserve this wisdom sampling rather than to preserve every line, precept, and idea that Solomon had uttered. In the end, Solomon declared what was most wise: “Fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Archie England Ph.D. is director of the Baptist College Partnership and professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, occupying the J. Wash Watts Chair of Old Testament and Hebrew at NOBTS.