« FöregåendeFortsätt »
with in the new, more especially in the condescending and colloquial intercourses of our Saviour with those around him.
“ The book we are now entering upon is made up entirely of such detached and sententious passages of moral wisdom, or short rules of life. And whether we regard the force of its diction, the variety of its manner, or the extent of its subject, it is by far the most valuable of the kind that has ever been offered to the world; and is well worthy of a place in the sacred treasury of the scriptures.
“ The Hebrew title of the work ascribes its whole contents to Solomon: and it is hence most probable that the entire composition was furnished by his own hands or mouth : the latter part of it, from the beginning of the twenty-fifth chapter, forming evidently an appendix, was collected after his death, and added to what appears to have been more immediately arranged by himself. The materials of the first five chapters of this appendix we are distinctly told were copied out of comments left by Solomon at his death, apparently in the archives of the royal library; the copyists being the scribes or other confidential officers of Hezekiah's court, supposed by Grotius, from 2 Kings xviii. 18., to have been Eliakim, Shebnah, and Joah, acting under the king's commands; but who seem more probably, from Prov. xxx. 1., to have been Ithiel and Ucal. The thirtieth chapter consists of words furnished by Agur, the son of Jakeh, and hence called 'the words of Agur,' as the matter or words furnished by Lemuel, are shortly afterwards called the words of Lemuel,' although we are at the same time told that they were composed by his mother, and only committed by him
to memory. Of Agur, sacred history makes no further mention; but he was probably a confidential friend of Solomon, and drew up what he has contributed, either from recollection, or from some private record, at the solicitation of Ithiel and Ucal, who seem to have been commissioned for this purpose, and were probably, as just noticed, the men of Hezekiah, the king of Judah,' referred to in the opening of the thirtieth chapter. The appendix closes with the words of Lemuel,' supposed to be Solomon, and expressly declared to have been taught him by his mother, who, in this case, must have been Bathsheba ; and who seems to have composed them for the use of her son when in the bloom of youth, and about the time when he was formally declared by his father, successor to the Jewish throne. As the person, however, who furnished this parabolic address is called king Lemuel, he is conjectured by some writers to have been a different individual from king Solomon : but as we have no other account of any such personage as king Lemuel; as the title of the book assigns the whole of its contents to Solomon alone, as its writer or speaker; and as the subject matter expressly applies to himself, and to no other person we are acquainted with, there can be little doubt that the word LEMUEL is a mere familiar substitute for that of SOLOMON, or rather of SE-LEM-EH, which is the Hebrew orthography, varied by a liberty very generally taken on such occasions, in all languages, of uniting the beginning, and altering the termination of the name, so as from Se-lem-eh to produce first Se-lem-uel, and then Lemuel.
“Solomon, who seems to have subjected all the known sciences of the time to his use, and to have done
so by a special endowment, seems also to have turned his attention peculiarly to the popular method of teaching morality by short striking descriptions and sententious precepts. We are told by the author of the 1st book of Kings, iv. 32., that he spake not less than three thousand proverbs; and he himself tells us, Eccles. xii. 9., that, in order to teach the people knowledge, he sought out or selected—and set in order or arranged--a considerable number of these with great attention or good heed : and there can be little doubt that the substance of the following work is the result of this elaborate assortment; which may hence, in the judgment of Solomon himself, be supposed to contain the flower and choice of his productions.
“It is, in truth, by far the most valuable book with which he has favoured the world, and the most striking monument of the wisdom with which he was specially endowed: critically and captivatingly curious in the variety of its style and method, and of universal comprehension in the subjects it embraces; laying down rules of conduct for all possible conditions of life, for kings and courtiers and men of the world; for masters and servants; for fathers, mothers, and children; for the favourites of prosperity and the sons of affliction : so that it is difficult to say in what way the wisdom that was bestowed upon him could have been applied to a better purpose.
“ This valuable production is, in the original, entitled MESLIM, for which we have no term of exactly equivalent power in our own, nor perhaps in any other language: for it imports not merely brief axiomatic sentences of practical morality, but brief authoritative illustrations of moral duties, delivered in strong and
elevated language, under any other form, whether of personification, similitude, or personal address and embellished description. And hence, Meslim imports PARABLES as well as PROVERBS, strictly so called : the mapaßolas, as well as the mapopiat, of the Greeks: on which account the Greek term papoipiai and the Latin PROVERBIA, and our own derivation PROVERBS, are, in a broad sense, employed to express PARABLES, or high authoritative moral similitudes or allegories, as well as sententious maxims; which last, however, for the most part, have some touch of comparison belonging to them, as constituting the hinge on which they turn. And hence, parables and proverbs, Tapasodai, and papapiai, are used as convertible terms in the Gospels; or rather what the three first evangelists call παραβολαί, , or parables; St. John calls mapoulai, or proverbs, as in chapter xvi. 25. “These things have I spoken to you in proverbs"-- Ev Trapo piaus; and even in chapter x. 6. “this parable” as it is rendered in our established version, is still “this proverb"-TAUTĖV TV apoplavin the Greek.
“In denominating, therefore, the book of MESLIM the book of PROVERBS, the latter term must be understood in its utmost latitude, as importing allegorical or other figurative illustrations of moral duties, as well as moral and sententious axioms, for the MESLIM OF Solomon contain both; and this, too, not loosely and irregularly intermixed, but in a nice progressive order, admirably adapted to their respective purposes. The whole work, indeed, as it has descended to our own hands, is evidently comprised of four distinct books or parts, each of which is distinguished both by an obvious introduction, and a change of style and
manner, though its real method and arrangement seem, hitherto, to have escaped the attention of our commentators and interpreters.
“ PART I. extends from the opening of the work to the close of the ninth chapter; and it is chiefly confined to the conduct of juvenescence or early life, before a permanent condition is made choice of. The exordium, comprising the first six verses, is in the truest style of eastern grandiloquence; and it is principally to this first part of the work that the royal moralist has devoted his descriptive or parabolical talents; in the course of which he proves them to be of the highest order, and, in especial reference to the period of age to which he limits himself, he commences each of his parables or addresses with the endearing term of “my Son!" or,“O ye children !” a phraseology rarely to be met with afterwards, and only with the exception of a single instance,* where the same kind of address is incidentally renewed to persons of the same age in the third part, and once in the fourth part, where it occurs in the address of Lemuel's mother to himself.
“ All the most formidable dangers to which this season of life is exposed, and the sins which most easily beset it, are painted with the hand of a master. And whilst the progress and issues of vice are exhibited under a variety of the most striking delineations and metaphors in their utmost deformity and horror, all the beauties of language, and all the force of eloquence, are poured forth in the diversified form of earnest expostulation, insinuating tenderness, cap
* Chap. xix. 27.