What does it say?
Following the 15 discourses of Proverbs 1-9, a new section begins (Pro 10). From here through Proverbs 22:16 is a collection of some 375 individual proverbs.
Proverbs 10:1 identifies these proverbs as Solomon’s, part of the 3,000 he is said to have written (1Ki 4:32). In modern literary terms, most would call these short, pithy sayings maxims, expressing a proven truth, rule, principle, guideline, etc. This section is a classic example of Hebrew parallelism whereby ideas are compared, contrasted or completed by appearing next (parallel) to each other in the form of couplets. Most are a single verse of these simple couplets.
Chapters 10-15 overwhelmingly contain antithetic proverbs – ideas, people or things that contrast with each other. The key word in antithetic proverbs is but, as in “this abc is …. , BUT, xyz is … .” Chapters 16-22 will be mostly synthetic and synonymous proverbs, where the second line completes or finishes the first. Synthetic proverbs are identified by the key word and. Synonymous proverbs say the same thing is different ways and are also connected by the word and.
What does it mean?
Western minds reading this section of Proverbs will work overtime trying to find order, organization, and meaning in the material presented, looking for reason and logic in how they are ordered and struggling to find some connection between them. Westerners can’t wait to rip these individual maxims out of their places and arrange them by common themes and make numbered lists.
The Eastern mind makes no such attempt, clearly understanding that they appear as they do in real life – randomly, with no particular order or reason. There’s nothing wrong, of course, in forming your own order as it makes sense to you, but don’t waste your time looking for a secret arrangement that is simply not there.
Read these maxims as though they were expensive appetizers – slowly, savoring each bite, pausing to identify the various flavors, textures and presentation. Each stands by itself.
How will I respond?
As I read this portion of Proverbs today, I will immediately write down those maxims that speak into my life in a very practical way. When I finish, I will read the ones I’ve marked several more times and reflect (meditate) on them and formulate at least one action step for application to my daily life.