By Randy Dillon
Proverbs Chapters 10-24
As we traverse the book of Proverbs, we come to a portion of the book which rightly earns the title of “Proverbs.” Specifically, these are attributed to Solomon although they were likely complied by scholars after Solomon’s death.
The first 9 chapters of Proverbs are directed to the young men who will become the leaders of the nation of Israel. More in-depth attention is given in these 9 chapters to the wisdom that Solomon is imparting to these young men.
When we reach chapter 10-24 we turn to a set of more general proverbs which are meant not only for future leaders, but also for citizens of the nation in general. These proverbs are for everyone. It is not unusual that many of the proverbs in these chapters are somewhat repetitious of those found in chapters 1-9.
They are also much shorter with less attention to enriching the proverb with additional comments or understanding. The brevity of the proverb reveals all that is necessary for understanding. Generally speaking, the proverbs are based on an understanding of human nature almost as much as they are on theological principles. However, one cannot divorce the underlying Godly principles from the human behavior on which they are based. These proverbs are actually a revelation of God’s orderly plan for the universe and man’s conduct in that universe. In reading these proverbs it is useful to know how the proverb is grammatically structured.
Many writers observe three distinct methods by which these proverbs are stated. The terms often used are 1) antithetical, 2) synonymous, and 3) synthetic. First, most of the proverbs are antithetical. This means that in the first part of the proverb there is a statement about how something should or should not happen, then the second part of the proverb makes a statement in direct contrast to the first statement. Often the two statements are separated by the word “but” to emphasize the difference between the two phrases. For example, in Proverbs 10:1 we find “A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son, heartache to his mother.” And in Proverbs 10:5, “The son who gathers during summer is prudent; the son who sleeps during harvest is disgraceful.” Notice the antithesis (direct opposite) of the words. Wise versus foolish; joy versus heartache; prudent versus disgraceful; gathers versus sleeps; summer versus harvest. There is a clear distinction between the first statement and the contrasting second one. Yet it is easy to understand the wisdom being imparted.
A second grammatical construct is called a synonymous structure. In this type of proverb the first statement is followed by a second statement that is similar to the first but stated in a different way. For example, Proverbs 1:26, “Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so the slacker is to the one who sends him on an errand.” Vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes strike an image of something that is not to be desired. So is a lazy person who wants someone to do an errand for them because they are slothful. Notice the words “like” and “so.” Like one thing is, so is another thing similar to it. Same idea but different ways to get the message across.
The third grammatical method used is known as a synthetic form. In this construct, the first statement is made then in the following statement something is added which continues the first idea. Consider Proverbs 1:18, “The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool.” Notice that hatred is concealed by lying lips and then an additional continuation says that a fool spreads slander. Slander is lying about a person. And lying hides a heart which bears hate. These are not different ideas like an antithetical proverb, nor are they synonymous since the idea is not actually restated in different words. The second statement gives a new idea which is rooted in the first statement. One clue to this kind of proverb is often the word “and” which connects the two phrases.
Since there is so much wisdom imparted over these 15 chapters it is difficult to really take it all in at one time. Trying to consider too many of these proverbs at one time might decrease a deeper understanding of the wisdom contained therein. It might be better to read a few then meditate on theirmeaning before taking on additional ones. There are certainly enough wise sayings that it might even be good to look at one a day and spend the day thinking about it in a deep way. You may even see the wisdom playing out in your experience during the routine of your day.