Monday, December 16, 2013

Proverbs 1:1-3:35


The book of Proverbs is, in the main, just what it sounds like: a collection of aphorisms--short, pithy sayings--that convey the wisdom of ancient Israel. Granted, there is other material, all wisdom related, in the book, but the name is descriptive.

The People's Companion to the Bible is a textbook that looks at the Christian Scriptures from the perspectives of various marginalized peoples: native Americans, African-Americans, women, Latina/os, etc. There is a lot of good material in this book. (The same material is also available, with the text of the Bible in the New Revised Standard Version, as The People's Bible). On page 142 of The People's Companion, Joseph F. Scrivener defines biblical wisdom as "the ability to navigate human relationships and realities."

The Gideon's Society, which places Bibles in hotel rooms, also distributes pocket-sized books containing the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs. An old preacher once told me, "That's all you need. The Psalms teach you to worship and pray. The Proverbs teach you how to live in this world and the New Testament gets you ready for the next." I think that old preacher overstated his case. He discounted the rest of the Hebrew Bible and overestimated the value of the Proverbs. The fact is, the Proverbs were collected and written primarily for the benefit of young men in ancient Israel who wanted to advance themselves in the royal court. Granted, some of the material in this book is of a more general nature and I think we'll see that some of it is quite timeless. To the old preacher's credit I will also concede the wisdom of the Proverbs is quite worldly. Still, the book's intended audience was other than he suggested.

Two sections of the book of Proverbs are attributed to Solomon. Though it is debatable whether Solomon wrote any of the book of  Proverbs, the attribution is unsurprising. Solomon was to wisdom what Moses was to the Law or David to music. 1 Kings 4:32 credits Solomon with writing 3,000 proverbs.

The opening verses of Proverbs (verses 1:1-7) are a prologue describing the purpose of the collection. In verse 8 there is an unusual reference to the reader's mother as an instructor:

Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction
   and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
       (Proverbs 1:8 NIV)

Verses 9-19 warn about the dangers of keeping bad company. In verses 20-33 wisdom, personified as a woman, rebukes fools and says that she will abandon the wayward to their fate.

See the woman under God's left arm in Michaelangelo's painting of the creation of Adam?
That's Wisdom, God's consort and partner in creation.

Chapter 2 begins (verses 1-26) with a description of the many benefits of having wisdom. Among them: success, YHWH's protection, knowledge of what is right and just, prosperity, freedom from fear, and untroubled sleep. Verses 27-30 instruct readers to be kind to their neighbors. Verses 31-35 tell us that God detests the wicked and blesses the wise.

Chapter 3 encourages the reader to get wisdom at any cost. There's a bit more about the benefits of wisdom, too.

Next: Proverbs 4-6

No comments:

Post a Comment