You will find an introduction and outline to the book of Proverbs, here.
A prayer of John Calvin to use before reading.
May the Lord grant that we may engage in the heavenly contemplation of the mysteries of God’s heavenly wisdom with ever increasing devotion to God’s glory and our edification. Amen.
Outline of Proverbs ( after Fontaine)
1:1-9:18 wisdom poems and instructions
10:1-22:16 “The Proverbs of Solomon”
22:17-24:22 “The Words of the Wise”
25:1-29:27 “Further ‘Proverbs of Solomon’ Copied by the Men of Hezekiah, King of Judah”
Hezekiah was king of Judah from 715-687 BCE. This is an unusual note that gives this section some historical context.
This section can be divided into two smaller groupings, 25-27 and 28-29. Each has wordplay, catchwords and topics. Chapters 25-27 has comparisons, prohibitions and uses topics of nature and trade. These chapters also contain less than typical antithetic parallelism. Chapters 28-29 contain antithetic parallelism and is concerned about the poor, the king, and justice.
26:1-12 a section on “fools” Notice the contrasts in v 4-5. Proverbs are not rules but depend on context, situation, and wisdom to know which proverb to follow.
26:13-16 a section on lazy people
26:17-28 the consequences of speech
27:1-27 a collection of proverb pairs. V 1-2 “boast” and “praise” are the same word in Hebrew. Verse 10 is a tripartate proverb with the main point in the past line. Verses 23-27 contain practical advise concerning flocks.
Chapters 28 to 29:7 are a distinct unit and return to the antithetic parallelism of earlier proverbs. Notice how these topics would be important to a king.
28:1-28 Verse 3 a beating rain that leaves no food refers to rain that destroys a harvest. “Law” our translation of “Torah” can, in Proverbs, mean law in a general sense or it can mean the Torah, Israel’s legal tradition.
29:1-27 This last chapter of this section revisits themes and proverbs from earlier in the section. (Just like chapter 10 dis for chapters 1-9).
30:1-14 “The Words of Agur, Son of Jakeh” We do not know who Agur, son of Jakeh was. “Massa” can mean “an oracle” but could also mean “from Massa” an area in north Arabia. Verse 4 is a riddle or rhetorical question. Verses 7-10 are a prayer and the only prayer in the book of Proverbs. Verses 11-14 describe the four types of sinners
30:15-33 mostly numerical sayings Verses 18-19 use the catchword “way”. Verses 24-28 four small creatures we can learn from. Verses 29-31 four examples of stateliness.
31:1-9 “The Words of Lemuel, King of Massa, Which His Mother Taught Him” Lemuel is an unknown king. Again, “Massa” may mean oracle or may refer to a place.
31:10-31 acrostic poem on the Strong (Wise) Woman: This phrase “strong woman” has also been translated as “a capable wife”. “a perfect wife”, “woman of worth” In Hebrew, “wife” and “woman” are the same word. This poem is an acrostic, meaning that each line begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This structure can affect the logical development of a theme or thought.
“Capable” can be translated as ” good”, “perfect”, “virtuous”, “noble”, “worthy”, or “valiant”. This poem seems to be from a male viewpoint.
Crimson and purple denote luxury items. The city gates were places where legal and commercial business took place.
Does this poem empower women? Or does it set an impossible standard.
Notice that Proverbs begins and ends with a discussion about women. Is this surprising, considering the patriarchal society of the time?
Here are several good sources to aid your reading of the Book of Proverbs
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Dell, Katharine, “Proverbs” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version.Coogan, Michael D.; Brettler, Marc Z.; Perkins, Pheme; Newsom, Carol A. (2010-01-20) Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
Fontaine, Carole R. “Proverbs” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.
Van Leeuwen, Raymond C “Proverbs”,in The New Interpreter’s Bible Vol 5, Keck, Leander E. ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press) 1996.