The Book of Proverbs
When the wisest of all people shares his wisdom, one would expect his teachings to have more than one layer of meaning. Although they can be understood in their simplest, literal sense, they may also allude to much deeper ideas. So it is with King Solomon’s Book of Proverbs. However, it should be noted that Solomon was not the only author of the wisdom sayings recorded over time in this book.
Few books in Scripture are as widely quoted as Proverbs, for its wise and pithy aphorisms are so readily applicable to many areas of life. Nevertheless, both the sages of the Talmud and the classic commentators say that the true meaning of these proverbs is allegorical, and that when the reader plumbs their depths they allude to much more than their simple meaning.
The last twenty two verses of Proverbs, the ‘Ode to a Capable Wife’, are surely its most familiar portion. There, too, although the simple meaning of the words is undoubtedly true, the passage is also interpreted as a song of praise to the Torah, to the Sabbath, and to the matriarch Sarah, among others.
It is to be expected that Solomon would praise Torah, wisdom and understanding throughout the book. However, there is another constant to be found in them: fear of God. And not merely because Solomon was himself pious and demanded piety in others. He states very clearly at the outset that: <<The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge>> (1:7a). Wisdom itself loses its meaning without fear of God, a lesson that is all too clear from the dismal achievements of some of history’s brightest intellectuals.
Even a superficial reading of Proverbs yields countless nuggets of wisdom. Over and over, Solomon suggests, as everyone knows, that wealth brings popularity, but he goes on to insist that ill-gotten gains have no value. In other words, it is the quality of a bank account that matters, i.e. what one chooses to do with wealth, not its size. Solomon urges that with wealth comes responsibility to the poor and the obligation to heed their cries. Thus Proverbs is a collection of lessons for life, and it contains formulas that give life the only meaning that truly matters.