“The proverbs of Solomon.” Proverbs 1:1 serves as the title for the collection of Proverbs spanning from 1:1-9:17. It is not to be misunderstood as if it was functioning as the heading for the entire book of Proverbs (and thus ascribing authorship of all the proverbs to King Solomon). Other sections are attributed to other authors, such as “the wise” (Prov. 22:17; 24:23), Agur (Prov. 30:1), and the mother of King Lemuel (Prov. 31:1).
No one is completely sure when the proverbs in Proverbs were finished being collected and then put in the order in which they appear in our modern Bibles. When the Septuagint was written, which started around 250 BC and took a number of years, some of the proverbs in it are not in the same order as the order we find in the Hebrew Bible. The way the proverbs appear in Proverbs, it is possible, but not certain, that they were put in some basic form of chronological order. In any case, the proverbs written by Solomon or his scribes (Solomon reigned c. 980-940 BC) were put first (Prov. 1:1-9:16). Then came proverbs spoken by Solomon that other scribes wrote down (Prov. 10:1-22:16).
After those proverbs came the “words of the wise” (Prov. 22:17-24:22 and Prov. 24:23-34). Although these proverbs may have been spoken by wise people who lived after Solomon, there are scholars who believe that “the words of the wise” are proverbs that were spoken before Solomon lived that Solomon collected and had written down. That may be true, because the next section, Proverbs 25:1-29:27 were proverbs spoken by Solomon that the men of King Hezekiah wrote down (Prov. 25:1), and Hezekiah reigned about 725-700 BC.
Then Proverbs records the proverbs of Agur son of Jakeh, a person we know nothing about (Prov. 30:1-33). The last chapter of Proverbs, Proverbs 31, was written by “King Lemuel,” who was not a king of Israel or Judah; in fact, there is no known king by that name. Many scholars believe Lemuel may have been a wise foreign king who believed in Yahweh. His name means “Devoted to God,” and he certainly believed in Yahweh (cp. Prov. 31:30). Although many scholars dispute his existence or say his name is likely fictional, there is no evidence for that except that neither Lemuel or his kingdom appear in history; but millions of people and places have not been preserved in the secular historical records, and Lemuel would simply be one of them.
If Lemuel is a foreign king converted to Judaism (cp. Dan. 4:37), and especially if he lived after the time of Hezekiah, that speaks volumes about God’s desire to bring every human to salvation. During the time that Hezekiah was king of Judah and Isaiah was prophesying, God divorced the nation of Israel and sent her away into Exile (Isa. 50:1; Jer. 3:8), and He said He would bring light to the Gentiles, the “nations” (Isa. 42:6; 49:6). If Lemuel was a Gentile believer in Yahweh whose wisdom appears in the Word of God, then he certainly was an early harbinger of that prophecy coming true.
Proverbs is one of the books that shows us that God transcends human limitations. Just as He chose four different people from different backgrounds to write the Four Gospels, so He chose different people from different backgrounds and different times to write Proverbs, but Proverbs becomes part of the Word of God, which is indeed, “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). We can trust its guidance in our quest for wisdom.