What makes something sacred? As we read through the book of Proverbs, we might think that God seems strangely absent. Proverbs doesn’t seem to acknowledge God’s covenant history with Israel, which is part of the larger narrative of the Old Testament—the Prophets and the Pentateuch (Genesis–Deuteronomy). Instead, it focuses on behavior, morality and ethics. Some might even venture to say it seems secular.
But viewing Proverbs this way misses out on the bigger picture of God as the source of truth and the foundation of our choices. A standard for morality must have an external, objective point to determine what is and is not moral. Most of the Bible shows this standard through God’s covenant relationship with Israel, in which God’s promises are reciprocated with obedience from His people. Where does Proverbs fit in?
Proverbs echoes this same understanding of God. The book appeals to the God who will hold people responsible for how well their behavior conforms to His ideal. for Proverbs, the concept of a God who upholds a moral standard derives from the covenant between God and Israel. Covenant-oriented biblical books, like the Pentateuch, and people-oriented Wisdom books, like Proverbs, present two perspectives of this relationship.
Proverbs emphasizes the need for executing justice against the wicked and granting protection to the righteous. The themes of justice, divine blessing and protection in Proverbs reveal a moral code—the same moral code we find in covenant-oriented books.
This moral framework is embodied by the Law or Torah. We find that many passages in Deuteronomy have thematic parallels in Proverbs.
“That you may fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long” (6:2).
The innocent person (25:1) is blessed by God (28:1–14) and is also a righteous, moral individual (6:2).
The guilty person (25:1–3) is cursed by God (28:14–68) and is a wicked, immoral individual (21:18–21).
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (1:7).
“A good man obtains favor from the LORD” (12:2).
The LORD condemns “a man of evil devices” (12:2) and his “curse is on the house of the wicked” (3:33).
Yahweh in Proverbs
Proverbs is different from other Israelite Wisdom books because it regularly uses the divine name, “Yahweh,” when referring to God. The writers of Proverbs use wisdom to translate the covenant-oriented teaching into people-oriented moral teaching.
The lack of references to the “God of Israel” or to figures from Israel’s covenant history is expected in Wisdom literature because it is not concerned with showing God in historical or national terms. Rather, when God is presented in Proverbs it is often in the context of creation, justice, blessing or morality. He is the source of morality and the creator who guides the world according to His plan. He dispenses justice on earth and rewards and protects the faithful.
Although there are no specific appeals to the Torah or the covenant in Proverbs, the book is a practical application of the Torah. The same picture of God presented by the rest of the Bible shines through.
Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).