Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Proverbs 4:1-6:35


Proverbs 4 continues in much the same vein as the previous chapters. It is couched as advice passed from father to son. Like the much of the Hebrew Bible, Proverbs is written by, for, and about men. That's not to say that women can glean nothing from it. It's just that this is a man's book.

The advice passed down through the generations is simply to pursue the acquisition of wisdom.

Verse 7 tells us that the beginning of wisdom is: Get wisdom. Elsewhere, of course, the fear of YHWH is the beginning of wisdom (e.g. Proverbs 9:10). Perhaps there is a hint here that we shouldn't take such statements as absolutes. Wisdom keeps one on a path of righteousness and success.

In chapter 5, the father warns his sons against the wiles and guiles of an adulterous woman. This wanton is a contrast to Lady Wisdom, who we met in the first chapter and who we will meet again.

Verse 11, according to the Jewish Study Bible "seems to refer to venereal disease."

At the end of your life you will groan,
   when your flesh and body are spent.

The patriarchal assumptions underlying the description of the adulterous woman should be clear. At any rate, the advice to stick to one's own spouse is sound. Avoiding STDs is just one benefit.

Chapter 6 begins the pity advice. "Neither a borrower nor a lender be (verses 1-5)." "Be industrious like the ant (verses 6-8)." "A stitch in time saves nine (verses 9-11)." "Beware of false friends (verses 12-15)."

Okay, those aren't precise paraphrases. But they are close.

Verse 16 uses "step parallelism." It states a number and then increases it:

There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are destestable to him:

And what are those six or seven things?

haughty eyes,
   a lying tongue,
   hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
   feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies
   and a person who stirs up conflict
   in the community. (verses 17-19)

This is a handy verse for biblicists to quote against anyone who disagrees with them.  "Quit stirring up conflict in the community." It's much easier than actually engaging in reasoned debate.

Verses 20-35 return to the theme of adultery. Don't mess with another man's wife. Hiring a prostitute is cheaper. Another man's wife "preys on your very life." And you don't want to face an angry husband. Adultery in biblical times was a crime one man committed against another man.

Did I mention that Proverbs was written by, for, and about men?

Yeah, I thought so.

Still, adultery is a bad idea. For men or women.

Scripture quotes in this blog post are from the New International Version. The picture of the ants and the grasshopper came from the Library of Congress website.

Next: Proverbs 7-9

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