Who Was King Lemuel?

Recently, a reader asked me to explain who King Lemuel was. Lemuel is an enigmatic figure that appears twice in the Old Testament. His name appears in Proverbs 31:1 and 31:4. However, in Proverbs 31:4 his name appears as Lemoel in Hebrew.

Because King Lemuel is not listed among the kings of Judah and Israel, several theories have been developed to explain the presence of Lemuel in Proverbs 31. In this post, I will review some of the proposals developed by scholars in order to identify Lemuel.

1. The Name of the King was Muel

Some scholars believe that the lamed at the beginning of the name Lemuel is a preposition meaning “to” or “for.” Under this view the name of the king was not Lemuel but Muel. Thus, Proverbs 31:1 would be translated “Words for Muel.” This is the view adopted by Justo J. Serrano in his commentary “Proverbios,” La Sagrada Escritura (Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1969), p. 524.

Although the name Muel does not appear in the Bible, the name is related to Nemuel, a descendant of Simeon (Numbers 26:12; 1 Chronicles 4:24). Nemuel’s name appears as Jemuel in Genesis 46:10.

This explanation of the name of Lemuel is questionable because it does not resolve the problem of identification, that is, it does not explain who king Muel was, if such a king ever existed. This view has not been accepted by many scholars.

2. Lemuel was another name for Solomon

The ancient Rabbinical commentators identified Lemuel with Solomon. The Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Aboth, Chapter 5) says that six names were given to Solomon: Solomon, Jedidiah, Qoheleth, Ben Iokoh, Agur, and Lemuel. According to A. Cohen, Proverbs (Hindhead, Surrey: The Soncino Press, 1945), p. 209, Lemuel is another name for Solomon that when translated means “towards (lemo) God (el).”

In his book Solomon and Solomonic Literature (Charleston, SC: BiblioBazaar, 2008), p. 67, Moncure Daniel Conway tells a rabbinical story that relates Proverbs 31 to Solomon and Bathsheba. He wrote:

The Ancient Rabbins identified Lemuel with Solomon, and relate than when, on the day of the dedication of the temple, he married Pharaoh’s daughter, he drank too much at the wedding feast, and slept until the fourth hour of the next day, with the keys of the temple under his pillow. Whereupon his mother, Bathsheba, entered and reproved him with this oracle. Bathsheba’s own amour with Solomon’s father does not appear to have excited any rabbinical suspicion that the description of the virtuous wife with which the Book of Proverbs closes is hardly characteristic of the woman.

The theory that Lemuel was Solomon is an attempt at defending the traditional view that Solomon wrote the book of Proverbs. It is clear from Proverbs 25:1 that Solomon did not write the book of Proverbs. Rather, the book was probably edited by the Hezekiah’s scribes or by a later editor.

3. Lemuel was not the name of a person

Although the Bible does not identify King Lemuel, Jewish tradition holds that Lemuel was a poetic name for Solomon. In Hebrew, the name Lemuel means “for God.” The name Lemuel may be related to Lael, a person mentioned in Numbers 3:24, a name which means a man dedicated “to God.” Under this view, Proverbs 31:1 may be translated as follows: “The words of a King for God, the utterance which his mother taught him.”

The translators of the Septuagint (LXX) also did not recognize Lemuel as the name of an individual. The Septuagint translated Proverbs 31:1 as follows: “My words have been spoken by God.”

The view that Lemuel was not the name of an individual is an attempt at discrediting the possibility that a non-Israelite wrote a section of the book of Proverbs. Although Proverbs 31:1 is difficult to translate into English, it is clear that Lemuel is the name of an individual.

4. Lemuel was the king of Massa

Many scholars believe that Lemuel was the king of Massa. Massa was one of the descendants of Ishmael and the leader of one of the Ishmaelite clans (Genesis 25:14). This is the view adopted by several versions in their translation of Proverbs 31:1. For instance, the New Jerusalem Bible translates Proverbs 31:1 as follows: “The sayings of Lemuel king of Massa.”

Andrew Hill, in his book A Survey of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), p. 381, said that if Massa was the name of a North Arabian nation, then the words of Lemuel in Proverbs 31 “may reflect the influence of Arabian wisdom on the developing Hebrew wisdom tradition. Massa has been identified with the tribes settled in northwestern Arabia near Teman (cf. Gen. 25:14; 1 Chron. 1:30).”

However, this translation is problematic because it requires that the athnah under the Hebrew word melek (“king”) not be considered in the translation of the text. The athnah is a major accent in Hebrew which divides a verse into two sections. If the athnah was taken into consideration, the translation of 31:1 would be: “The words of Lemuel, a king.”

Those who take the athnah into consideration in the translation of the text also believe that the Hebrew word “massa” is a common noun, meaning “burden” or “oracle,” rather than a place name. This is the reading some versions have adopted in their translation of verse 1. For example, the New Revised Standard Version translates Proverbs 31:1 as follows: “ The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him.”

I believe that the best explanation for the name of Lemuel in Proverbs 31:1 is to identify him as the king of Massa. Wisdom literature was widely known in the Ancient Near East and Israel did not develop its wisdom tradition in a cultural vacuum. It is evident that Israel borrowed some of its wisdom traditions from neighboring countries. One good example is the inclusion of Egyptian proverbs found in the “Instructions of Amen-em-Opet” into Proverbs 22:17-24:34.

As Donald K. Berry said in his book An Introduction to Wisdom and Poetry of the Old Testament (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1995), p.30, “Israel made little attempt to cover the alien origins of wisdom literature. For instance, a portion of Proverbs (31:1) opens with the name of a non-Israelite king.”

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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44 Responses to Who Was King Lemuel?

  1. >Thank you. This is thought-provoking and helpful. Please keep up the good work. Peace.

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  2. >Hi Milton,Thank you for your nice words. Long time since I have heard from you. How are things going? I hope all is well.Claude Mariottini

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  3. tempusmaster says:

    >Thank you very much! I've often wondered about the origin of my name "Lemuel". In my case it was passed down through three previous generations.

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  4. >tempusmaster,I am glad you found my post on king Lemuel. Know you know why three previous generations used this name.Welcome to my blog.Claude Mariottini

    Like

  5. Mark says:

    >Dr. Mariottini,Thank you for posting this information on King Lemuel. I just finished reading Proverbs again and needed to know more about King Lemuel.You referenced The Babylonian Talmud stating that six names were given to Solomon: Solomon, Jedidiah, Qoheleth, Ben Iokoh, Agur, and Lemuel. The Bible does many things in sevens. Is it possible there a seventh name attributed to Solomon?Thanks,Mark Trethewey

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    • Jon Jager says:

      Solomon, unfortunately, unlike David, did many things in six (like the number of steps leading to his throne, the amount of gold he was receiving yearly), as a sign of his lack of spirituality maybe. Therefore, it might be were, also as a sign of his shortcomings, he only received six names.

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      • Jon,

        Thank you for your comment. The idea that Solomon had six names is pure folklore. It is better to stay with the Bible. Anyone who thinks that Lemuel was Solomon’s name is just deceiving himself.

        Claude Mariottini

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  6. >Mark,Good question, but I do not have an answer for you. It is possible that a seventh name exists, but I have never seen it. If I find out about a seventh name, I will update the post.Thank you for your comment.Claude Mariottini

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  8. Ronald says:

    Dr Claude, thanks for the references… am wondering why at the end of Proverbs chapter Lemuel name comes in, Biblical scholars refers Proverbs was wrote by Solomon,

    Here is what my findings… from Wikipedia..

    Proverbs 1–9: “Proverbs of Solomon, Son of David, King of Israel”
    Proverbs 10–22:16: “Proverbs of Solomon”
    Proverbs 22:17–24:22: “The Sayings of the Wise”
    Proverbs 24:23–34: “These Also are Sayings of the Wise”
    Proverbs 25–29: “These are Other Proverbs of Solomon that the Officials of King Hezekiah of Judah Copied”
    Proverbs 30: “The Words of Agur”
    Proverbs 31:1–9: “The Words of King Lemuel of Massa, Which his Mother Taught Him”
    Proverbs 31:10–31: the ideal wise woman (elsewhere called the “woman of substance”).[6]

    I could see three names are already in…. Solomon, Agur & Lemuel…. which is still confusing. Even i dont admit it,, barely on Wiki information. Well,

    Lets look at the jewish book Mishlei….(solomon’s Proverbs ),, http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16402
    Please go through the commentary, personally i feel the samething,, it was between him and his mother Bathsheba..
    And more over jews will not buy someone else words,, how they can take non jews words ??? sounds logical ?

    Regards,
    Ronald

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    • Ronald,

      Solomon wrote many proverbs. Agur and Lemuel were different persons. They were not Israelites. If you read Genesis 25:14 you will discover that Massa was an Ishmaelite tribe. In the New Testament, in the book of Acts, Paul quotes from a Greek philosopher. When it comes to wisdom, wisdom can be found anywhere, even outside of Israel.

      Claude Mariottini

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  9. Regina Muse says:

    Thanks for the information on Lemuel, ith help me to understand more.

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    • Regina,

      You are welcome. Many people think that Lemuel was Solomon. This is not true, but they refuse to accept the truth.

      Welcome to my blog. Subscribe to my blog and you will receive all my posts by email. Also, you can go to Archive and there you will find many other posts that you will enjoy reading.

      Claude Mariottini

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  10. Ebenezer Allwin Maben says:

    Respected Dr. Claude Mariottini,
    I was so much blessed by this post !!
    May God use u more n more for the extension of His Kingdom !!
    I am a missionary in a state called Orissa in India. Please pray the God would use me here according to His will. Also pray that I should do everything in my life only as per His will, which I should know thru His Word !!
    Remember u are a blessing for me !!

    In His Service,
    Ebenezer Allwin Maben

    Like

  11. Mike Conner says:

    I am not a Bible scholar by any stretch of the imagination, but I like your explanation & discussion of this subject of LEMUEL. Yours seems the most plausible. His name showed up in Proverbs & I googled the name & title.

    Thanks!
    Mike Conner, Secy for Adult Bible Class, First Baptist Church, Grand Prairie, Tx

    Like

  12. Matt. says:

    Dear Dr. Mariottini,
    Thank you for this post and the references. The question of who King Lemuel was came up during Bible Study and I gained good information here to further my research. I suspect this will not be my last visit to your blog, you’ve gained a follower.

    Blessings

    Like

    • Matt,

      Welcome to my blog. I am happy to know that you enjoyed reading my post on Lemuel. If you look at the Archive page of my blog, you will probably find other posts that you may also enjoy reading.

      Again, thank you for visiting my blog.

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

  13. Pr.David Ganesh says:

    I would like to know who is Lemuel’s mother? can u?

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  14. Jann Kleist says:

    Thank you for the information about Lemuel. It is helpful to be able to quickly find info although it took you sometime to gather. I appreciate your blog.

    Like

  15. Dorothy says:

    Thank you for the information about Lemuel. Although, I’m still confused about who he was. Again, thank you!

    Like

    • Dorothy,

      Thank you for your comment on Lemuel. There are two things we know about Lemuel. First, we know that Lemuel was not Solomon. Many people refuse to give up on the idea that Lemuel was another name for Solomon. Second, we know that Lemuel was not an Israelite king. The writer of Proverbs saw that the advice Lemuel received from his mother taught him many truths, so he decided to incorporate those words in his writings.

      Thank you for visiting my blog.

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

  16. Timothy Nyarango says:

    Instructive Commentary on the name Lemuel.Will contact on more Biblical Topics.
    Timothy Nyarango.

    Like

    • Timothy,

      I am glad to know you enjoyed reading my post on Lemuel. If you visit the Archive page of my blog, you will find many other topics that you can read and enjoy.

      Thank you for visiting my blog.

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

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  18. I really like the article on who is king Lemuel. It would be impossible to figure out who wrote proverbs 31 without God himself tell us who wrote it if wasn’t made clear from the beginning. When things of this nature come about it the bible. The only thing I do is remember what God said in his word. 1. We only know half of the story. In this case we only need to read the Word of God for what it is. Proverbs 31 tell those who God chose to lead his people not to indulge in drugs and alcohol so they can lead God’s flock with a clear mind, and to watch out for those things that look sweet but tastes bitter. In some cases it could be the opposite sex. Which is a lot of men down fall.

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    • Saquan,

      I am glad to know you enjoyed reading my post on Lemuel. What we find in Proverbs 31 is an important lesson that people need to learn.

      Thank you for your comment.

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

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  20. John Forgard says:

    Dear Dr. Mariottini,

    In reading about King Lemuel, it is interesting to note your claim that Proverbs 25:1 proves that Solomon did not write the book of Proverbs. I’m not sure what your claim is here. Clearly Solomon complied the bulk of the proverbs from chapter 1-24. It seems clear to me that other, later proverbs were authored/collected by Solomon and were merely added to his earlier work by Hezekiah’s scholars/scribes. After all, are not scholars and authors likely to continue to write after completing one or more works? And even die in the midst of their work? And what if Solomon, Moses, and the other biblical writers incorporated early extent works into their own, and also had editors/secretaries adding their own commentary and material here and there? What if an author’s work are compiled into one book such as Pascal’s Pensees and his Provincial Letters in “Mind On Fire” by Guiness and Houston? It would incredulous to assert Pascal did not author the material simply because the cover sites these men as authors. That others were involved in a work does not argue against authorship, rather it strongly argues for it; for which of us do not quote from others in our research, and yet we say “I wrote it”? Even with inspired authors God does not merely turn on an information spigot from heaven directly to their pens. Although God anointed certain individuals to speak for him, he still loves to use regular human interactions and relationships in the process of inspiration and inscripturation. Surely I am mistaken in understanding your assertion. Please correct me at your convenience.

    Sincerely,
    John Forgard.

    Like

    • John,

      Proverbs 25:1 clearly says that the men of Hezekiah put together Solomon’s proverbs. Then, there are the proverbs of Agur (Prov. 30:1), the proverbs of Lemuel (Prov. 31:1), and the sayings of the wise (Prov. 24:23).

      It is clear that Solomon wrote many proverbs, but somebody else collected these proverbs and put them together in the form of a book. Thus, Solomon did not write the book of Proverbs. Rather, he wrote many proverbs in the book of Proverbs.

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

  21. John Forgard says:

    Dear Dr. Amriottini,
    I have an additional question, that being about Amen-em-apt and Proverbs 22:17 – 24:22. It seems interesting to me that most scholars seems to always assume that if there are any parallels between scripture and extra-biblical writings that it is assumed that it is the Hebrews scholars that have borrowed the material, and not the reverse. Do you have any comment about this? I have read some scholars shifting the Egyptian chronologies by +/- 300 years If so, then the Amen-em-apt could have been a contemporary of Solomon, or even lived later, making Amen-em-apt the one that has borrowed Solomon’s material (1292 – 1075 BCE +/-300 years). How plausible is this?

    Like

    • John,

      The date for Amen-em-apt is generally accepted to be 1292 – 1075 BCE. Solomon reigned from 962-922 BCE. Thus, Amen-em-apt could not have borrowed from Solomon. The changes in Egyptian chronology that you have proposed is rejected by most Egyptologists.

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

  22. fabiana says:

    Dear Dr Claude Mariottini,
    I am studying the Virtuous Woman and I have the curiosity to find out if it was written by Lemuel’s mother or it was by somebody else and added to the book, because of the way it was written, in form of poetry.
    Tks very much!

    Like

    • Fabiana,

      The section on the virtuous woman probably was taught to Lemuel by his mother. We are not sure about who wrote those beautiful words, but they describe the character of a noble woman.

      Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope you have subscribed to my blog so that you can receive future posts by email.

      Claude Mariottini

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      • Elijah A. O. says:

        Good day, Dr Claude Mariottini.
        Thanks for your exposition about this NOBLE Name; Lemuel.
        hope there’s nothing bad in bearing Lemuel as name, because i have passion for the name. But please i need nothing but the truth about it. Thanks

        Like

      • Elijah,

        There is nothing wrong with the name Lemuel. It is a good name.

        Claude Mariottini

        Like

  23. Uche Richard Nmeregini says:

    VERY INTERESTING ABOUT KING LEMUEL. I THOUGHT, HE WAS AN ARABIAN KING AND A CHRISTIAN FOR THAT MATTER. KEEP IT UP, SIR

    Like

  24. Elijah A. O. says:

    Please my Dr., i will be glad if i can have the reply as soon as possible.
    Thanks
    More Grace to you sir.

    Like

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