Proverbs in the Hebrew bible is entitled Mishleh which is the first word in this book. It comes from the Hebrew word “mashal” which conveys a sense of superiority in thought as well as being the root word for governing or ruling. The first two words of chapter 1 are “mishleh shlomo” or “the best part of Solomon.” What was the best part of Solomon? His wisdom, his superiority in thought.
The book got its English name from the Latin proverbium, “a common saying,” from the parts pro “forth” and verbum “word”—putting words forth—I should have figured that out on my own. We’ve come to understand proverbs as concise, to the point sayings that hold the wisdom of Solomon. The word wisdom, in fact, appears 53 times in this book, more than twice as many times as any of the other Bible books considered wisdom books.
Proverbs has six main sections:Solomon’s wise lessons (chapters 1 – 9), Solomon’s wise words (chapters 10 – 22), 30 wise lessons (chapters 22 – 24), more wise words of Solomon (chapters 25 - 29), the puzzles of Agur and Lemuel (chapters 30 – 31) and a poem about a perfect wife (chapter 31).
Let’s start at the beginning and read the first 7 verses of chapter 1. I’ll use the KJV because it’s closer to the Hebrew:
1The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel;
2To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding;
3To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity;
4To give subtlety to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.
5A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:
6To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.
7The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Did you notice the reasons we should read these proverbs? 1) to know wisdom and instruction (primarily through the father or a father figure teacher, usually orally, but it can be by the rod); 2) to perceive words of understanding (that understanding is knowledge of the Holy One); 3) to receive instruction in four areas: wisdom, justice (righteousness), judgment (verdict) and equity (uprightness); 4) to give subtlety to the simple (that is, teaching prudence/wisdom to the simple); 5) giving knowledge and discretion (advisement) to the young.
Now let’s look at the very first warning in verses 8 and 9 (Young’s Literal Translation):
8Hear, my son, the instruction of thy father, And leave not the law of thy mother,
9For a graceful wreath [are] they to thy head, And chains to thy neck.
Sounds like listening to your parents will be a reward (wreaths were winners’ crowns in contests), but feel like chains (yeah, groan like a teenager).