From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [1]


1. Meaning . In the Bible there is no essential difference between the proverb and the parable (wh. see). The Heb. mâshâl and the Gr. parabolç , meaning ‘resemblance,’ were applied indiscriminately to both. The value arising from this likeness was twofold. In the first place, as the moral truth seemed to emerge from the observed habits of animals, objects in nature, familiar utensils, or occurrences in daily life, such juxtaposition gave to the ethical precept or fact of conduct the surprise and challenge of a discovery. Thus the whole influence of example and environment is compressed into the proverb, ‘As is the mother, so is her daughter’ (  Ezekiel 16:44 ). The surprise was intensified when the parable product contradicted ordinary experience, as in the statement, ‘One soweth and another reapeth’ (  John 4:37 ). Definite labour deserves a definite reward, yet the unexpected happens, and, while man proposes, there remains an area in which God disposes. Out of such corroboration grew the second value of the proverb, namely, authority. The truth became a rule entitled to general acceptance. The proverb usually has the advantage of putting the concrete for the abstract. Among the modern inhabitants of Palestine, when a letter of recommendation is asked, it is customary to quote the proverb, ‘You cannot clap with one hand.’ Of a dull workman without interest or resource in his work it is said, ‘He is like a sleve, he can do only one thing.’

2. Literary form . (1) Next to the fact of resemblance was the essential feature of brevily . Such a combination at once secured currency to the unpremeditated exclamation, ‘Is Saul also among the prophets?’ (  1 Samuel 10:11-12 ). When the proverb consisted of two parts, rhetorical emphasis was secured either by repeating the same thought in different words (  Proverbs 3:17 ) or by the introduction of contrasting particulars (  Proverbs 3:33 ). (2) Rhythmic measure was also studied, and there was often an untranslatable felicity of balance and repeated sound. The final mark of literary publicity was conferred by a rhetorical touch of picturesque hyperbole, as in the reference to a camel passing through the eye of a needle (  Matthew 19:24 ). (3) The fact that a wise saying was meant for the wise encouraged the use of elliptical form . This carried the complimentary suggestion that the hearer was able to understand a reference that was confessedly obscure. On this account proverbs were called ‘the words of the wise’ (  Proverbs 22:17 ). Hence the note of surprise and unexpectedness in Christ’s words, when He said that the mysteries of the Kingdom had been hidden from the wise and understanding and revealed unto babes (  Matthew 11:25 ,   Luke 10:21 ). (4) The obscurity referred to was sometimes made the leading feature and motive of the proverb, and it was then called an ‘enigma’ or ‘ dark saying ’ (  Psalms 49:4 ,   Proverbs 1:6;   Proverbs 30:15-31 ). Its solution then became a challenge to the ingenuity of the interpreter. Both the prophets and Christ Himself were charged with speaking in this problematical manner (  Ezekiel 20:49 ,   John 16:29 ). Riddles were introduced at festive gatherings as contributing an element of competitive acuteness and facetious exhilaration. Instances resembling   Proverbs 30:15-31 are common among the modern Arabs and Jews in Syria, as when it is said: ‘There are three chief voices in the world, that of running water, of the Torah, and of money.’ An enigma for the study of books is: ‘Black seeds on white ground, and he who eats of the fruit becomes wise.’

3. Subject-matter . This is summarized in   Proverbs 1:1-8 . The reference is generally to types of character, the emotions and the desires of the heart, and the joys and sorrows, the losses and gains, the duties and the relationships of human life. Amid these the proverb casts a searching light upon different classes of men, and points out the path of wisdom. Henos the name ‘words of truth’ (  Proverbs 22:21 ).

4. Authority . Proverbial literature is more highly esteemed in the East than in the West. While the popularity of proverbs is partly due to literary charm and intellectual force, and the distinction conferred by the power of quoting and understanding them, the principal cause of their acceptance lies in their harmony with Oriental life. The proverb is patriarchal government in the region of ethics. It is an order from the governing class that admits of no discussion. The proverb is not the pleading of the lawyer in favour of a certain view and claim, but the decision of a judge who has heard both sides and adjudicates on behalf of general citizenship. Such authority is at its maximum when it not only is generally current but has been handed down from previous generations. It is then ‘a parable of the ancients’ (  1 Samuel 24:13 ). The quotation of an appropriate proverb in a controversy always carries weight, unless the opponent can quote another in support of his claims. Thus, to the careless and inattentive man in business who says ‘Prosperity is from God,’ it may be retorted ‘He that seeketh findeth.’ Beneath some commendable social qualities belonging to this attitude there is a mental passivity that seeks to attain to results without the trouble of personal inquiry, and prefers the benefits conferred by truth to any sacrifice or service that might be rendered to it.

G. M. Mackie.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [2]

The word chidah is once translated 'proverb,'  Habakkuk 2:6 but is often translated 'riddle.' It signifies 'problem,' a hidden mode of speaking, which conceals the sense under figurative expressions. The parable of the great eagle in   Ezekiel 17:2,3 , is also called a 'riddle.' The word commonly translated 'proverb,' and used for the Book of Proverbs is mashal, signifying 'comparison, similitude.' Proverbs are short sentences calculated to arrest attention and be retained in the memory.  Deuteronomy 28:37;  1 Samuel 24:13;  Psalm 69:11;  Proverbs 1:1;  Ecclesiastes 12:9;  Isaiah 14:4;  Jeremiah 24:9;  Ezekiel 12:22,23;  Ezekiel 18:2,3; etc. In the N.T. are the words

1, παραβολή, 'a similitude, comparison.' In the A.V. this is only once translated 'proverb,'   Luke 4:23; but is often translated 'parable.'

2, παροιμία: this is more an obscure saying,   John 16:25,29;  2 Peter 2:22; it is translated 'parable' in  John 10:6 , but 'allegory' would be a better rendering.

King James Dictionary [3]

PROV'ERB, n. L. proverbium pro and verbum, a word.

1. A short sentence often repeated, expressing a well known truth or common fact, ascertained by experience or observation a maxim of wisdom.

The proverb is true, that light gains make heavy purses, for light gains come often, great gains now and then.

2. A by-word a name often repeated and hence frequently, a reproach or object of contempt.  Jeremiah 24 3. In Scripture, it sometimes signifies a moral sentence or maxim that is enigmatical a dark saying of the wise that requires interpretation.  Proverbs 1 4. Proverbs, a canonical book of the Old Testament, containing a great variety of wise maxims, rich in practical truths and excellent rules for the conduct of all classes of men.

PROV'ERB, To mention in a proverb. Not in use.

1. To provide with a proverb. Not in use.

Webster's Dictionary [4]

(1): ( v. i.) To write or utter proverbs.

(2): ( n.) An old and common saying; a phrase which is often repeated; especially, a sentence which briefly and forcibly expresses some practical truth, or the result of experience and observation; a maxim; a saw; an adage.

(3): ( v. t.) To provide with a proverb.

(4): ( n.) A familiar illustration; a subject of contemptuous reference.

(5): ( n.) A striking or paradoxical assertion; an obscure saying; an enigma; a parable.

(6): ( n.) A drama exemplifying a proverb.

(7): ( v. t.) To name in, or as, a proverb.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [5]

 Isaiah 14:4 Habakkuk 2:6 Psalm 49:4 Numbers 12:8 1 Kings 20:11

Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words [6]


International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [7]

prov´ẽrb ( משׁל , māshāl , חידה , ḥı̄dhāh  ; παραβολή , parabolḗ (  Luke 4:23 ), παροιμία , paroimı́a ( John 16:25 ,  John 16:29 )):

I. Folk Meaning And Use

1. The Primitive Sense

2. The Communal Origin

3. Animus of Proverbs

II. Literary Development Of The Proverb

1. Discovery of Literary Value

2. The Differentiation

III. As Unit Of A Strain Of Literature

1. From Detachment to Continuity

2. The Conception of Wisdom

3. In Later Times

By this term mainly, but sometimes by the term "parable" (e.g.  Numbers 23:7 ,  Numbers 23:18;  Numbers 24:3 ,  Numbers 24:15;  Job 27:1;  Job 29:1 ), is translated the Hebrew word (משׁל , māshāl ), which designates the formal unit or vehicle of didactic discourse. The māshāl was an enunciation of truth, self-evident and self-illustrative, in some pointed or concentrated form adapted to arrest attention, awaken responsive thought, and remain fixed in memory. Its scope was broader than that of our word "proverb," taking in subject matter as well as form. The māshāl broadened indeed in the course of its history, until it became the characteristic idiom of Hebrew philosophy, as distinguished from the dialectic method of the Greeks. The Hebrew mind was not inductive but intuitive; it saw and asserted; and the word māshāl is the generic term for the form in which its assertion was embodied.

I. Folk Meaning and Use.

1. The Primitive Sense:

The māshāl , nearly in our sense of proverb, traces back to the heart and life of the common folk; it is a native form reflecting in a peculiarly intimate way the distinctive genius of the Hebrew people. As to the primitive sense of the word, it is usually traced to a root meaning "likeness," or "comparison," as if the first sense of it were of the principle of analogy underlying it; but this derivation is a guess. The word is just as likely to be connected with the verb māshāl , "to rule" or "master"; so by a natural secondary meaning to denote that statement which gives the decisive or final verdict, says the master word. The idea of how the thing is said, or by what phrasing, would be a later differentiation, coming in with literary refinement.

2. The Communal Origin:

The earliest cited proverb ( 1 Samuel 10:12 , repeated with varied occasion,  1 Samuel 19:24 ) seems to have risen spontaneously from the people's observation. That Saul, the son of Kish, whose very different temperament everybody knew, should be susceptible to the wild ecstasy of strolling prophets was an astonishing thing, as it were a discovery in psychology; "Therefore it became a proverb, Is Saul also among the prophets?" A few years later David, explaining his clemency in sparing the life of the king who has become his deadly foe, quotes from a folk fund of proverbs:  1 Samuel 24:13 , "As saith the proverb of the ancients, Out of the wicked cometh forth wickedness; but my hand shall not be upon thee." The prophet Ezekiel quotes a proverb which evidently embodies a popular belief: "The days are prolonged, and every vision faileth"; which he corrects to, "The days are at hand, and the fulfillment of every vision" ( Ezekiel 12:22 ,  Ezekiel 12:23 ). Both Ezekiel and Jeremiah ( Ezekiel 18:2;  Jeremiah 31:29 ) quote the same current proverb, "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge," in order to announce that the time has come for its discontinuance. These last two examples are very instructive. They show how the body of the people put the inwardness of their history into proverb form, as it were a portable lesson for the times; they show also how the prophets availed themselves of these floating sayings to point their own message. Ezekiel seems indeed to recognize the facility with which a situation may bring forth a proverb:  Ezekiel 16:44 , "Every one that useth proverbs shall use this proverb against thee (literally every one that mashals shall māshāl against thee), saying, As is the mother, so is her daughter."

3. Animus of Proverbs:

One element of the proverb, which a wide-awake people like the Hebrews would soon discover, was its adaptability for personal portrayal or satire, like a home thrust. Hence, the popular use of the name māshāl came to connote its animus, generally of sarcasm or scorn. The taunting verse raised against Heshbon,   Numbers 21:27-30 , is attributed to them "that speak in proverbs" ( meshālı̄m ); and Isaiah's taunt in his burden of Babylon (Isa 14:4-20) is composed in the proverb measure: "Thou shalt take up this parable ( māshāl , the King James Version "proverb") against the king of Babylon." Answering to this prevailing animus of proverbs was a corresponding susceptibility to their sting and rankle; they were the kind of utterance that most surely found the national and individual self-consciousness. To be a proverb - to be in everybody's mouth as a subject of laughter, or as a synonym for some awful atrocity - was about the most dreadful thing that could befall them. To be "a reproach and a proverb, a taunt and a curse" ( Jeremiah 24:9 ) was all one. That this should be the nation's fate was held as a threat over them by lawgiver and prophet ( Deuteronomy 28:37;  1 Kings 9:7 ); and in adversities of experience, both individual and collective, the thing that was most keenly felt was to have become a byword ( māshāl ) ( Psalm 44:14;  Psalm 69:11 ).

II. Literary Development of the Proverb.

1. Discovery of Literary Value:

The rank of proverb was by no means attributed to every popular saying, however the people might set store by it. If its application was merely local (e.g.  2 Samuel 20:18;  Genesis 22:14 ) or temporary (note how Jeremiah and Ezekiel announce popular sayings as obsolete), it remained in its place and time. About the proverb, on the other hand, there was the sense of a value universal and permanent, fitting it for literary immortality. Nor was the proverb itself a run-wild thing, at the shaping of the crowd; from the beginning it was in the hands of "those who speak in meshālı̄m ," whose business it was to put it into skillful wording. The popular proverb, however, and the literary proverb were and continued two different things. There came a time, in the literary development of Israel, when the value of the māshāl as a vehicle of instruction came to be recognized; from which time a systematic cultivation of this type of discourse began. That time, as seems most probable, was the reign of King Solomon, when in a special degree the people awoke to the life and industry and intercourse and wealth of the world around them. The king himself was 'large hearted' ( 1 Kings 4:29 ), versatile, with literary tastes; "spake three thousand proverbs; and his songs were a thousand and five"; and his whole generation, both in Israel and surrounding nations, was engaged in a vigorous movement of thought and "wisdom" (see the whole passage,  1 Kings 4:29-34 ). For the unit and vehicle of this new thought the old native form of the māshāl or proverb was chosen; it became the recognized medium of popular education and counsel, especially of the young; and the māshāl itself was molded to the classic form, condensed, pointed, aphoristic, which we see best exemplified in the Book of Proverbs 10 through 22:16 - probably the earliest collection of this kind of literature. In this body of proverbs we see also that instead of retaining the unbalanced single assertion of the popular proverb, as it appears in  1 Samuel 10:12;  1 Samuel 24:13 , these composers of literary proverbs borrowed the poetic parallelism, or couplet, which in two lines sets two statements over against each other by antithesis or repetition, and cultivated this to its most condensed and epigrammatic construction. Thus the māshāl took to itself a literary self-consciousness and became a work of art.

2. The Differentiation:

Up to the time of this literary development a proverb was recognized simply as a proverb, with little sense of its various phases, except that there was a strong popular tendency to identify it with satire, and with less thought of the elements of its life and power. With the refinement of form, however, came a recognition of its inwardness. Under the generic term māshāl , certain elements were differentiated; not, however, as we are wont to distinguish - parable, fable, apologue, allegory - these remained undifferentiated. The most fundamental distinction of classes, perhaps, is given in   Proverbs 1:6 : "To understand a proverb, and a figure, the words of the wise, and their dark sayings." Here it seems the word "proverb" ( māshāl ) and "words of the wise," paired off with each other, are the generic terms; the other two, the differentiating terms, name respectively the two fundamental directions of the māshāl , toward the clear and toward the enigmatic. Both are essential elements. The word translated "figure" (מליצה , melı̄cāh ) is rather "interpretation," and seems to refer to the illuminative element of the māshāl , and this was mainly analogy. Natural objects, phases of experience, contrasts were drawn into the māshāl to furnish analogies for life; Solomon's use of plants and animals in his discourses ( 1 Kings 4:33 ) was not by way of natural history, but as analogies to illustrate his meshālı̄m . The word translated "dark sayings" (חידות , ḥı̄dhōth ) is the word elsewhere translated "riddle" (Samson's riddle, for instance, was a ḥı̄dhah ,  Judges 14:13 ,  Judges 14:14 ), and refers to that quality of the proverb which, by challenging the hearer's acumen, gives it zest; it is due to an association of things so indirectly related that one must supply intermediate thoughts to resolve them. All of this of course. goes to justify the proverb as a capital vehicle for instruction and counsel; it has the elements that appeal to attention, responsive thought, and memory, while on the other hand its basis of analogy makes it illuminative.

III. As Unit of a Strain of Literature.

1. From Detachment to Continuity:

Until it reached its classic perfection of phrasing, say during the time from Solomon to Hezekiah, the formal development of the proverb was concentrative; the single utterance disposed of its whole subject, as in a capsule. But the development of the māshāl form from the antithetic to the synonymous couplet gave rise to a proverb in which the explanatory member did not fully close the case; the subject craved further elucidation, and so a group of several couplets was sometimes necessary to present a case (compare e.g. about the sluggard,   Proverbs 26:13-16 ). From this group of proverbs the transition was easy to a continuous passage, in which the snappy parallelism of the proverb yields to the flow of poetry; see e.g.  Proverbs 27:23-27 . This is due evidently to a more penetrative and analytic mode of thinking, which can no longer satisfy its statement of truth in a single illustration or maxim.

2. The Conception of Wisdom:

As the store of detached utterances on various phases of practical life accumulated and the task of collecting them was undertaken, it was seen that they had a common suffusion and bearing, that in fact they constituted a distinctive strain of literature. The field of this literature was broad, and recognized (see  Proverbs 1:1-5 ) as promotive of many intellectual virtues; but the inclusive name under which it was gathered was Wisdom (חכמה , ḥokhmāh ). Wisdom, deduced thus from a fund of maxims and analogies, became the Hebrew equivalent for philosophy. With the further history of it this article is not concerned, except to note that the māshāl or proverb form held itself free to expand into a continuous and extended discourse, or to hold itself in to the couplet form. As to illustrative quality, too, its scope was liberal enough to include a fully developed parable; see for instance  Ezekiel 17:1-10 , where the prophet is bidden to "put forth a riddle, and speak a parable (literally, māshāl a māshāl ) unto the house of Israel."

3. In Later Time:

The existence of so considerable a body of proverbs is a testimony to the Hebrew genius for sententious and weighty expression, a virtue of speech which was held in special esteem. From the uses of practical wisdom the māshāl form was borrowed by the later scribes and doctors of the law; we see it for instance in loose and artificial use in such books as Pirḳe 'Ābhōth , which gives the impression that the utterance so grandly represented in the Solomonic proverbs had become decadent. It is in another direction rather that the virtues of the māshāl reach their culmination. In the phrasal felicity and illustrative lucidity of our Lord's discourses, and not less in His parables, employed that the multitude "may see and yet not see" (  Mark 4:12 ), we have the values of the ancient māshāl in their perfection, in a literary form so true to its object that we do not think of its artistry at all. See also Games , I, 6.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [8]

מָשָׁל , Nmashal, rendered in the A.V. "byword," "parable," "proverb" ( Παραβολή , Παροιμία ), expresses all and even more than is conveyed by these its English representatives. It is derived from a root מָשִׁל , Mashdl, "to be like" (Arab. mathala, to "resemble"), and the primary idea involved in it is that of' likeness, comparison. This form of comparison would very naturally be taken by the short, pithy' sentences which passed into use as popular sayings and proverbs, especially when employed in mockery and sarcasm, as in  Micah 2:4;  Habakkuk 2:6, and even in the more developed taunting song of triumph for the fall of Babylon in  Isaiah 14:4. Probably all proverbial savings were at first of the nature of similes, but the term mashal soon acquired a more extended significance. It was applied to denote such short, pointed sayings as do not involve a comparison directly, but still convey their meaning by the help of a figure, as in  1 Samuel 10:12;  Ezekiel 12:22-23;  Ezekiel 17:2-3 (comp. Παραβολή ,  Luke 4:23). From this stage of its application it passed to that of sententious maxims generally, as in  Proverbs 1:1;  Proverbs 10:1;  Proverbs 25:1;  Proverbs 26:7;  Proverbs 26:9;  Ecclesiastes 12:9;  Job 13:12, many of which, however, still involve a comparison ( Proverbs 25:3;  Proverbs 25:11-14, etc.;  Proverbs 26:1-3, etc.). Such comparisons are either expressed, or the things compared are placed side by side, and the comparison left for the hearer or reader to supply. Next we find it used of those larger pieces in which a single idea is no longer exhausted in a sentence, but forms the germ of the whole, and is worked out into a didactic poem. Many instances of this kind occur in the first section of the book of Proverbs; others are found in Job 27, 29, in both which chapters Job takes up his mashal, or "parable," as it is rendered in the A.V. The "parable" of Balaam. in  Numbers 23:7-10;  Numbers 24:3-9;  Numbers 24:15-24, are prophecies conveyed in figrmes; but mashal also denotes the "parable" proper, as in  Ezekiel 17:2;  Ezekiel 20:49 ( Ezekiel 21:5);  Ezekiel 24:3. Lowth, in lis notes on  Isaiah 14:4, speaking of Mashal, says: "I take this to be the general name for poetic style among the Hebrews, including every sort of it, as ranging under one, or other, or all of the characters, sententious, figurative, and sublime; which are all contained in the original notion, or in the use and application of the word mashal. Parables or proverbs, such as those of Solomon, are always expressed in short, pointed sentences; frequently figurative, being formed on some comparison, both in the matter and the form. Such, in general, is the style of the Hebrew poetry. Balaam's first prophecy ( Numbers 23:7-10) is called his Mashal, although it has hardly anything figurative in it; but it is beautifully sententious, and, from the very form and manner of it, has great spirit, force, and energy. Thus Job's last speeches, in answer to the three friends (ch. 27-31), are called mashals, from no one particular character which discriminates them from the rest of the poem, but from the sublime the figurative, the sententious manner which equally prevails through the whole poem, and makes it one of the first and most eminent examples extant of the truly great and beautiful in poetic style." Sir W. Jones says, "The moralists of the East have in general chosen to deliver their precepts in short, sententious maxims, to illustrate them by sprightly comparisons, or to inculcate them in the very ancient forms of agreeable apologues: there are, indeed, both in Arabic and Persian, philosophical tracts on ethics written with sound ratiocination and elegant perspicuity. But in every part of the Eastern world, from Pekin to Damascus, the popular teachers of moral wisdom have immemorially been poets, and there would be no end of enumerating their works, which are still extant in the five principal languages of Asia." (See Parable).

Our Lord frequently employed proverbs in his public instructions; and the illustration of these proverbs as occupied many learned men, who proceed partly by the aid of similar passages from the Old Test., and partly from the ancient writings of the Jews, especially from the Talmud,. whence it appears how much they were in use among that people, and that they were applied by Christ and his apostles agreeably to common usage. The proverbs contained in the Old and New Tests. are collected and illustrated by Drusius and Anireas Schottus, whose works are comprised in the ninth volume of the Critici Sacri, and also by Joachim Zehner, who elucidated them by parallel passages from the fathers, as well as from heathen writers, in a treatise published at Leipsic in 1601. The proverbs which are found in the New Test. have been illustrated by Vorstius and Visir. as well as by Lightfoot and Schottgen in their Horoe Hebraioe Et Talmudicoe, and by Buxtorf in his Lexicon Chaldicumn Talmudicum Et Rabbinicum, from which last- mentioned works Rosenmuller, Kuinol, Dr. Whitby, Dr. Adam Clarke, and other commentators, have derived their illustrations of the Jewish parables and proverbs. See Kelly, Proverbs of all Nations (Lond. 1859, 8vo); Sterling, Literature of Proverbs (ibid. 1860, 8vo); Bohn, Book of Proverbs. (See Book Of Proverbs).