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Literature / Book of Proverbs

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"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; but fools despise wisdom and instruction."
Proverbs 1:7

The Book of Proverbs is a book in the third section of the Ketuvim of the Hebrew Bible and a book of the Christian Old Testament. It is exactly what the name implies. It is a rich collection of sayings gathered from various places and is produced over lengthy periods. Generally, this book focuses on how wisdom is gained from God.

Structure of the book:

  • Introduction (Proverbs 1:1-7)
  • Several "listen, my son" admonitions (Proverbs 1:8-9:18)
  • The proverbs of Solomon (Proverbs 10:1-22:16)
  • The Words of the Wise (Proverbs 22:17-24:22)
  • More Sayings of the Wise (Proverbs 24:23-34)
  • The proverbs of Solomon, copied by men of King Hezekiah (Proverbs chapters 25 to 29)
  • The words of Agur (Proverbs chapter 30)
  • The words of King Lemuel (Proverbs chapter 31)

This book of wisdom provides examples of:

  • Accomplice by Inaction: Proverbs 24:10-12 comments about this:
    If you fail to act in the day of trouble,
    your strength is too little.
    Rescue captives condemned to death,
    and spare those staggering toward slaughter.
    If you say, "We did not know about this",
    won't the one who weighs motives notice?
    Won't the one who guards your life know about it,
    and won't he repay people according to what each one has done?
    (Evangelical Heritage Version)
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Proverbs 24:17-18 seeks to enforce this trope:
    "If your enemy falls, do not exult; if he trips, let your heart not rejoice, lest the LORD see it and be displeased, and avert His wrath from him."
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: Proverbs 20:1: "Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise."
  • All Women Are Lustful: Some of the verses give out some warnings about "strange women".
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: "When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy." (Proverbs 11:10)
  • Antagonistic Offspring: The "foolish" child is presented as this in some of the passages. Here's Proverbs 15:20 for example:
    "A wise son brings joy to his father: but a foolish man despises his mother."
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: Folly, personified as a seductive female prostitute, is contrasted with Wisdom, personified as a woman preaching in the streets.
  • Apology Gift: Proverbs 6:35 says that a husband who is wronged by another man committing adultery with his wife will not be appeased even if the other man gives many gifts.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Of the four things in Proverbs chapter 30 that the world cannot bear, "an odious woman when she is married" seems to suggest this is going to happen.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: "The righteous care for the needs of their animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel." (Proverbs 12:10)
  • Behind Every Great Man: That's what the Woman Of Valor verses describe; a woman who keeps the household running while her husband is busy with state matters (some interpreters take that to mean "the woman behind King David himself").
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Proverbs 30:20 (paraphrased): "A whore has sex with a man, then eats, wipes her mouth, and says, 'What did I do?'"
  • Cannot Keep a Secret: "He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets; therefore do not meddle with him who flatters with his lips." (Proverbs 20:19)
  • Can't Take Criticism: There are many verses such as Proverbs 15:5 that people are regarded as fools who hate correction and reproof and that wise people avoid this trope.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Proverbs 21:10 describes a truly wicked man who desires only to do evil For the Evulz and has a complete Lack of Empathy even for his neighbors. The verse following encourages us to punish such a scorner, so that even the simpleminded will learn how NOT to behave like him.
  • Cheaters Never Prosper: "It may seem to be a good thing to get something by cheating, but in the end, it will be worth nothing." (Proverbs 20:17, Easy-To-Read Version)
  • Chronic Villainy: "As a dog returns to its vomit, so does a fool repeat his folly." (Proverbs 26:11)
  • Composite Character: The Wife of Noble Character is an amalgam of all the roles a "respectable" woman of that time and place could play. Unfortunately, some take this to mean that a "worthy" woman must do it all, or that if she's infertile/Hollywood Homely/not a shrewd businessperson/whatever, she's unworthy or not a "real" woman, or that she must be a mother first and foremost even if she doesn't want to be a mom, or that a woman's place is in the home (despite her very clearly not remaining solely in the private sphere). She was created not to tell women what they should be doing, but to encourage men to appreciate the work done by the women in their lives, the way her husband does.
  • Confound Them with Kindness: Proverbs 25:21, 22 says "If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the Lord will reward you." A common interpretation of this passage is that kindness is the best revenge, because it makes your enemy uncomfortable without you having to do anything immoral.
  • Cruel Mercy: "If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you." (Proverbs 25:21-22)
  • Cruel to Be Kind: Proverbs 27:5-6 shows the difference between those who are upright and trustworthy and those who are anything but:
  • Cub Cues Protective Parent: Proverbs 17:12:
    "It is better for a person to meet a mother bear being robbed of her cubs, than to encounter a fool in his folly. "
  • Death by Materialism: "The wicked get buried alive by their loot because they refuse to use it to help others." (Proverbs 21:7, The Message)
  • Dirty Coward: Proverbs 28:1:
    "The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion."
  • Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off!: There are various passages which deal with a parent beating a child with a rod in order for him to gain wisdom and understanding. Proverbs 23:13-14 is a prominent example:
    "Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you beat him with a rod he will not die. Beat him with a rod and you will save him from the grave."
  • Driven by Envy: According to Proverbs 27:4, envy is seen as worse than anger.
  • Early Personality Signs: As shown in Proverbs 20:11, which states:
    Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work is pure and whether it is right.
  • Elder Abuse: "A son who assaults his father and who drives away his mother brings shame and disgrace." (Proverbs 19:26, God's Word translation)
  • Every Man Has His Price:
    • "A bribe seems magical in the eyes of those who give it, granting success to all who use it." (Proverbs 17:8, Common English Bible)
    • "To show partiality is not good — yet a man will do wrong for a piece of bread." (Proverbs 28:21)
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Proverbs 28:5 shows how evil, blinded by its own ego, is truly incapable of understanding the goodness of people.
    Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it fully.
  • Evil Smells Bad:
    • "A good and honest life is a blessed memorial; a wicked life leaves a rotten stench." (Proverbs 10:7, The Message)
    • "The righteous hate what is false, but the wicked make themselves a stench and bring shame on themselves." (Proverbs 13:5, NIV 2011 edition)
  • Evil Tastes Good: This is utilized as An Aesop in Proverbs 9:13-18 in regards to the foolish woman.
  • Extreme Doormat: "If you let people treat you like a doormat, you'll be quite forgotten in the end." (Proverbs 29:21, The Message)
  • Eyeball-Plucking Birds: From Proverbs 30:17:
    The eye that mocks at his father,
    and despises to obey his mother,
    the ravens of the valley will pick it out,
    and the young eagles will eat it.
  • The Farmer and the Viper: Proverbs 17:13:
    '''Whoso rewardeth evil for good, evil shall not depart from his house."
  • Fire Purifies: "A crucible is for silver and a furnace for gold, but the LORD tests the heart." (Proverbs 17:3, Common English Bible)
  • A Fool and His New Money Are Soon Parted: "An inheritance gained hastily in the beginning will not be blessed in the end." (Proverbs 20:21)
  • The Fool: His character is analyzed in great detail throughout many proverbs in the book, as the opposite of the wise person we should want to emulate instead.
  • God of Evil: In regards of evil, Proverbs states that anything can be good in the proper context and that God allows it to exist to show that without moral value, people are no better than the animals they share this life with. Though Solomon said this after years of experimenting with "evil" and suffering the consequences for it.
  • Good Running Evil: "The LORD works out everything for his own ends — even the wicked for a day of disaster." (Proverbs 16:4)
  • Gossipy Hens: "Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down." (Proverbs 26:20)
  • Greed: "A greedy man brings trouble to his family, but he who hates bribes will live." (Proverbs 15:27)
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Proverbs 27:4:
    "Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?"
  • Hair-Trigger Temper:
    • "An impatient man commits folly; a man of intrigues will be hated." (Proverbs 14:17)
    • "Patience results in much understanding; impatience gets folly as its portion." (Proverbs 14:29)
    • "A hot-tempered man provokes a quarrel; a patient man calms strife." (Proverbs 15:18)
    • "Do not associate with an irascible man, or go about with one who is hot-tempered, lest you learn his ways and find yourself ensnared." (Proverbs 22:24-25)
    • "A dullard vents all his rage, but a wise man calms it down." (Proverbs 29:11)
  • Heads or Tails?: "Flipping a coin ends quarrels and settles issues between powerful people." (Proverbs 18:18, God's Word translation)
  • Heel–Face Turn: "He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy." (Proverbs 28:13)
  • Henpecked Husband: Proverbs like "Better to live on the corner of a roof than to share a house with a nagging wife" seem to be speaking toward these types of people to garner some level of sympathy, although they can alternately be interpreted as instructions for husbands to not give their wives any reason to be nagging.
  • Heroic Second Wind: Proverbs 24:16 - "For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again."
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Proverbs 18:24 states that a person with many friends will be harmed, but one true friend sticks closer than a brother.
  • Hoist by Their Own Petard:
    • "The righteousness of the blameless makes a straight way for them, but the wicked are brought down by their own wickedness." (Proverbs 11:5)
    • "A wicked person is brought down by his own evil, but a righteous person finds refuge even at his death." (Proverbs 14:32, Evangelical Heritage Version)
  • Hookers and Blow: The first several verses of Proverbs chapter 31 are King Lemuel's mother's warnings to her son not to spend his strength on women and not to give himself over to wine.
  • I Am the Noun: The personification of Wisdom says, "Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom; I am understanding, I have strength." (Proverbs 8:14)
  • Individuality Is Illegal: Proverbs 3:5-6 urges the readers to trust and obey God and not rely on their own understanding.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Proverbs 31:4-7 are the words from King Lemuel's mother to her son:
    Wine is not for kings, O Lemuel;
    Not for kings to drink,
    Nor any strong drink for princes,
    Lest they drink and forget what has been ordained,
    And infringe on the rights of the poor.
    Give strong drink to the hapless
    And wine to the embittered.
    Let them drink and forget their poverty,
    And put their troubles out of mind.
  • "Just Joking" Justification: Proverbs 26:18-19 is an Ur-Example.
    "Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor and says, 'I was only joking!'"
  • Lazy Bum: The "sluggard" is a recurring character whose purpose is to warn against slothfulness. In the example below, this guy is so lazy that he won't even eat food.
    The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth (26:15).
  • Loners Are Freaks: Stated in Proverbs 18:1.
    "An unfriendly person pursues selfish ends and against all sound judgment starts quarrels."
  • Madonna-Whore Complex: The "strange" women mentioned above contrasted to the likes of the Wife of Noble Character, and to a personification of wisdom.
  • Malicious Slander: "The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool." (Proverbs 10:18)
  • Meat Versus Veggies: Proverbs 15:17 in the New Living Translation says "A bowl of vegetables with someone you love is better than steak with someone you hate." This not stating a preference for one food over another, but the situation in which it is eaten. note 
  • Mediation Backfire: Proverbs 26:17 says "Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own."
  • Misery Builds Character: Proverbs 20:30 says, "The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil: so do stripes the inward parts of the belly."
  • Mock Millionaire: That and Secretly Wealthy are both addressed in Proverbs 13:7.
    One person pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth. (New International Version)
  • Money Is Not Power:
    • "Riches don't help in the day of wrath, but righteousness rescues from death." (Proverbs 11:4, Common English Bible)
    • Averted in Proverbs 13:8: "A person's riches may ransom their life, but the poor cannot respond to threatening rebukes." (NIV 2011 edition)
  • Moral Myopia: Discussed in Proverbs 21:2.
    "Every man's way is right in his own eyes, But the Lord weighs the hearts." (Proverbs 21:2)
  • Motor Mouth:
    • "He who winks maliciously causes grief, and a chattering fool comes to ruin." (Proverbs 10:10)
    • "When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise." (Proverbs 10:19)
    • "A fool utters all his mind: but a wise man keeps it in until afterwards." (Proverbs 29:11)
  • No Accounting for Taste: Averted by Proverbs 21:19 which assures that it's better to be in a wilderness than to be around an angry woman.
  • No Sympathy: Proverbs 19:18 in the King James Version advises that parents should not stop chastising their children when they're crying.
    "Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying."
  • Obvious Trap: Proverbs 1:17 says "surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird" in regard to those seeking to rob people through violence.
  • Offing the Mouth: Proverbs 13:3:
    "He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life: but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction."
  • Pay Evil unto Evil:
    • Proverbs 20:22 averts this.
      "Do not take vengeance against evil, but wait for the Lord and He will avenge you."
    • Proverbs 24:28-29 also warns against this.
      Do not testify against your neighbor without cause — would you use your lips to mislead? Do not say, "I'll do to them as they have done to me; I'll pay them back for what they did." (NIV 2011 edition)
  • The Power of Love: "Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses." (Proverbs 10:12)
  • Pride Before a Fall:
    • Proverbs 16:18: "Pride goeth before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall."
    • Proverbs 18:12: "Before his downfall a man's heart is proud, but humility comes before honor."
  • Property Line: Proverbs 22:28 prohibits moving your neighbor's boundary stone or other property marker, presumably to prevent just such a quarrel taking place.
  • Pushover Parents: Proverbs 13:24 states that parents who don't discipline their children are the ones who don't love them.
    "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes."
  • Rash Promise: "It is a trap for a man to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider his vows." (Proverbs 20:25)
  • Rhymes on a Dime:
    • "One person gives freely, yet gains more; another withholds what is right, only to become poor." (Proverbs 11:24, Christian Standard Bible)
    • "A fool's way is right in his own eyes, but whoever listens to counsel is wise." (Proverbs 12:15, Christian Standard Bible)
  • Right Way/Wrong Way Pair: The first 29 chapters are all about the contrast of the wise man and The Fool.
  • Rule of Seven:
  • Sad Clown: "The heart may ache even in laughter, and joy may end in grief." (14:13)
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: "Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways." (Proverbs 28:6, English Standard Version)
  • The Scrounger: The ideal of a Virtuous Woman is described. Among the qualities described are that she is tireless, self-disciplined, good at business, keeps a tight ship at home, faithful to her husband, knows her way about the Bazaar, and is very good at being this trope.
  • Sex Is Interesting: In Proverbs 30:18-19, Agur the son of Jakeh says:
    There be three things which are too wonderful for me,
    yea, four which I know not:
    The way of an eagle in the air;
    the way of a serpent upon a rock;
    the way of a ship in the midst of the sea;
    and the way of a man with a maid.
  • Showing Up Chauvinists: The book ends with a poem called "The Wife of Noble Character", which paints a word-picture of the ideal woman. Some traits it praises are ones you'd expect, like kindness, caring for her family, and generosity, but other traits include being business-savvy and making piles of money.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Gender-inverted in Proverbs 18:22:
    "Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD."
  • Slashed Throat: Proverbs 23:1-3 suggests putting a knife to your own throat if you're a man given to appetite when you sit down to eat with a ruler, and to not desire his delicacies because they are deceptive food. Much like Jesus' command to "cut off your hand" or "gouge out your eye" so as to not let them lead you into sin, this proverb is most likely hyperbole in regard to social dining etiquette.
  • Stepford Smiler: Proverbs 14:13 speaks about such a person:
    Even in laughter the heart may ache, and rejoicing may end in grief. (NIV 2011 edition)
  • Tarnishing Their Own Beauty: Proverbs 11:22 says that "like a gold ring in a pig's snout is a beautiful woman that shows no discretion."
  • Textile Work Is Feminine: The Wife of Noble Character runs a successful textile business, as well as staying on top of the mending to be done at home.
  • The Thing That Would Not Leave: "Seldom set foot in your neighbor's house — too much of you, and he will hate you." (Proverbs 25:17)
  • Tongue Trauma: "The mouth of the righteous produces wisdom, but a perverse tongue will be cut out." (Proverbs 10:31)
  • Too Desperate to Be Picky: "A person who is full tramples on a honeycomb, but to a hungry person, any bitter thing is sweet." (Proverbs 27:7)
  • The Tooth Hurts: Proverbs 25:19 says that "like a loose tooth and an unsteady leg, is a treacherous support in time of trouble."
  • Turn the Other Cheek: "If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you." Proverbs 25:21-22.
  • Twinkle in the Eye: "A twinkle in the eye delights the heart. Good news refreshes the body." (Proverbs 15:30, God's Word translation)
  • Undying Loyalty: "One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." (Proverbs 18:24, NIV 2011 edition)
  • The Unfettered: Proverbs 25:28 warns about being such:
    He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls. (King James Version)
  • The Vamp: Chapter 7 is all about the adulterous woman who seeks after a young man to have sex with, and entices him with such promises that he goes in unto her, unaware that it's going to cost him his life, and from that comes the Aesop of not falling for such women.
  • Very Punchable Man: Proverbs 18:6 "The lips of fools bring them strife, and their mouths invite a beating."
  • Violence Is Disturbing: Proverbs 16:29 "A man of violence entices his neighbor and leads him in a way that is not good."
  • Violence is the Only Option: Proverbs 29:19 implies that a servant cannot be corrected by words alone, and while he understands, he will not respond.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Of the four things in Proverbs chapter 30 that the world cannot bear, "a servant who becomes king" gives the implications that this is going to happen.
  • Women Are Wiser: Proverbs 31:10-31 provides the details for the Virtuous Woman.
  • Words Can Break My Bones:
    • "A healing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue shatters the spirit." (Proverbs 15:4, Evangelical Heritage Version)
    • "Through forbearance a ruler may be won over; a gentle tongue can break bones." (Proverbs 25:15)
    • A popular one among Word of Faith and "prosperity gospel" preachers is Proverbs 18:21: "Death and life are in the power of the tongue; those who love it will eat its fruit."
  • You Fool!: "Fool" is the author's favorite epithet for the person who is refusing to be wise.
  • You Talk Too Much!:
    • "The wise accumulate knowledge—a true treasure; know-it-alls talk too much—a sheer waste." (Proverbs 10:14, The Message)
    • "A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much." (Proverbs 20:19, NIV 2011 edition)