Transcript: Proverbs - Part 4
Fred Putnam, Proverbs, Lecture 4
Last time in our third lecture I mentioned the stories that
proverbs compressed and one of the ways that the proverbs do this in the biblical
book and just in proverbs in general is by using pictures or images. Images are
a great way to save space, which is one reason they are so popular in proverbs,
because a picture is worth one thousand words after all, which is a proverb of
its own. But also because interpreting an image is what helps us understand
what the author is getting at and actually helps us understand his view of the
world and how he’s understanding some aspect of life itself.
For example, if we looked at chapter 19 verse 1 says “Better a poor man who walks in his integrity (or uprightness) than one who is perverse in his lips and is a fool.” So, as we looked at last time, there is a contrast between the two and this is a specific kind of proverb that some people have called “Better-than” proverbs, sayings you find in the book of Psalms, a whole bunch in Proverbs, a few in Ecclesiastes, and actually Jesus uses this form a fair amount in his teaching in the Gospels. In a better-than proverb two things are compared where one thing seems to be better than another, and it seems like it’s backward to us. What this actually says is that it is better to be poor and we think, “Well, poverty is better than riches?” Or if we were to go back a few chapters “Better is a meal of herbs with love than a fattened ox with hatred in it.” So vegetables are better than meat. Is Solomon advocating a vegetarian diet? Not exactly, but there in the previous verse, this is in Proverbs 15:16, “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and turmoil with it.” So it’s better to be poor? Is Solomon actually advocating poverty? Well remember one of the benefits of achieving wisdom in chapters 1-9 is that you get rich, that you become a leader, or that you become powerful. So he’s not against wealth at all, as we can tell from his life in the book of Kings. No, the point is not that poverty is better than wealth, but in the better-than proverbs it’s always that both things are qualified. So, in this case, it is better to be poor but to have integrity than it is to be a fool in this case. This is again like the example we looked at very briefly, an asymmetrical parallelism because the two things are not really opposite each other, so instead of saying “better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man perverse in his speech or a rich man who is a fool.” It substitutes perverse in speech or fool for rich man and expects us to know that he is talking about a rich man who is both perverse, or crooked, and a fool versus a poor man who has integrity. So, in this case, the point really isn’t poverty or wealth, the point really is integrity versus deceitfulness or crookedness. And again, remember, when we try to think about a proverb we’re thinking about “Okay well what’s really the point; why is he telling us this information?” Think about this; if you were a leader in ancient Israel, wealth and power tend to occur to those that have wealth and power, so at some point it is pretty likely that you are going to be faced with a choice; do you choose to become wealthy even though you have to bend, break, or violate the law to do it, or do you choose to stay in the circumstance you find yourself in even though it probably means you probably are going to stay there. You’re going to be stuck in poverty at least as far as you can see. Solomon is saying to these youths who are going to be reading his book that no you are better off choosing integrity every time and that’s because there are lots of other verses that talk about integrity and talk about it’s value and it’s benefit and actually a few that say that you’re safe if you have integrity.
But in this verse he
says something very interesting; he doesn’t just say “Better is a poor man who
has integrity” he says, “who walks in his integrity” and there’s the image in
this book. Now, in fact, there is another image in the second line that says “who
is crooked in his lips.” So does that
mean he has a bent up mouth? Well, no because lips stand for the words that
come out of his mouth and so we could talk about that for a long time. But I
would like to look at the image in the first line because this is such a
fundamental image to the whole book of Proverbs and this says a poor man who
walks in his integrity. When we read an image, well we know that we are reading
an image again kind of like we know it is a proverb because we just know it is.
We know it when we see it. But we can also say is it possible to actually walk
in integrity, that is, is integrity a thing, a physical thing like mud that you
can walk in or sand or dirt or something else? The answer, of course, is “no.” You can’t walk in integrity like you can walk
in Pennsylvania, but what if walk stands for life and what if integrity is
being used. So “walk” is a metaphor, and integrity is another metaphor and in
this case we have lying underneath these two metaphors two really pretty cool ideas.
The first one is that integrity is physical stuff, I know that’s kind of weak
but I don’t know what better word to use. It’s because it’s something you can
walk in. Now, that sounds pretty strange, but what it actually suggests is that
we have a choice of where we walk, because you can choose to walk in mud or you
can walk in the road or you can walk on stones or you can walk on gravel. In
this case integrity is a ground surface or even perhaps a road. So it’s a path
that you choose and so his use of walk is actually the thing that makes
integrity into a metaphor. If he said, “better a poor man who lives a life of
integrity” the metaphor is gone. If you really want to extend it, we can always
dig deeper when we’re talking about metaphors, so we could say well that is a
person whose life is characterized by choices that we would characterize as
having integrity and we could begin to back it up and push it back farther and
But, what’s actually going on though is he’s using a foundational or conceptual metaphor that underlies this, that is found throughout the book of Proverbs, which is that life is a journey. Remember I mentioned in the first lecture that said that Proverbs says here’s the road and this is the right road and whether you turn aside to the right or to the left it doesn’t matter you’re off the road. It’s not really a choice of having a road that’s wise and a road that’s foolish with nothing in between although there’s some validity to that because there are a few proverbs that talk that way. But, the overall picture is one road and if you’re off the road you’re lost it doesn’t matter how you got off of the road or where you are, or where you’re going.
Well, this picture of life as a journey, the reason for
foundational metaphor, is that they give us a way of understanding and
organizing our thinking about some aspect of reality that we have no way of
experiencing directly. Now you say, “Wait a second I’m alive, I’m experiencing
my life.” Yes, you’re experiencing your life, well, not really. What you’re
actually experiencing, what I’m actually experiencing is this moment, this
little piece. I can recall former
moments, former pieces, some of them and I get older not as many. I can anticipate some moments or pieces that
may be coming up, but I can’t really envision or understand my whole life even
if I could watch, at a very high speed a video tape of my whole life from the
time I was born up to this moment. Let’s say my brain could take all that
information in at the rate that it would have to be played in order for me not
have to sit here for another half of my life. What would be half of my life at
that point. This is beginning to sound like a Ray Bradbury short story; sorry,
I’ll back off that. Even if I were to do
that I still couldn’t comprehend everything that had happened as though it were
happening to me.
And so instead of trying to talk about life simply as life as an abstract thing, human beings have developed a metaphor that says “life is a journey,” and that’s possible because life begins when we’re born, a journey begins in a place. Life ends when we die and there comes a time when every journey ends. I’m not talking about life as a journey; I’m talking about a specific journey to the store or to visit grandparents, or to go to the vacation, or something like that. And along the way all the things that happen to us in our lives, well maybe not all, but most of them have analogs with the kind of things that happen on journeys. We get into accidents, you can have an accident, or your car can break down, and in the same way we can run into problems in our lives. So that we even say things about people like “his life took a real detour, didn’t it?” or “her job hit a speed bump” or “they’re going through a rocky patch right now” or “things are kind of rough and tumble in my life.” And we don’t even realize these come out of or grow out of, this root metaphor. They grow out of this root metaphor that life is a journey.
So we can use all these root metaphors without even realizing that the big metaphor is there under the ground. Just like looking at a tree, it’s very hard to conceive of the root structure that underlies it, but it’s the root structure that makes the tree possible. No roots no tree, no root metaphor, no foundation. No root metaphor, no little metaphors, no foundational metaphor. You can’t build anything on it; you have to have a foundation to have a building.
When we start to think that way, we realize that all the Proverbs that talk about a man’s steps being ordained by the Lord. The man plans his way, a journey, a path, the high way. It’s a pretty bad translation, don’t think of an interstate or anything like that, we’re not quite even sure exactly what type of road it was, but some sort of road of the wicked is a path of thorns, a thicket of thorns. All those metaphors and many more, are built around this idea that life is a journey, they’re built on the foundational metaphor. If we start reading an individual Proverb and come to a metaphor like “walks in integrity” we say “what’s the foundation, what’s lying underneath that, what’s the root?” Now I can look at all the metaphors that talk about life as a journey seeing that they’re actually talking about the same thing. Whatever the English word may be, whether it is “runs” or “walks” or “falls” or “trips” or “stumble” or “path” or “road” or anything, it doesn’t matter. They all grow out of this common understanding, which to switch metaphors, gives us a framework within which to understand them.
Let me show you another example of a picture, well to back up just to Proverbs 19:1 we can think of that, again we can take a story we can make up a story about it, perhaps you even know someone to whom that’s happened. People who have lost a job because they refuse to lie; I know someone to whom that happened and yet would say today that they’re happier and better off for it. They’re not richer, actually they‘re making less money and things are a little tighter, but they would say they’re happier for it. They would agree with that right away and I could go into a lot of detail about their story, which I won’t. In the same way somebody who becomes wealthy though wickedness, whether it’s fraud or some other form, I can think of examples of people in that situation as well. I don’t know if they would say they wouldn’t do it again, but they are certainly are not as happy as the others. So we can take the picture and we can unpack the picture into a story.
We can ask ourselves what is the proverb encouraging us to do, how is it encouraging us to think about life, to think about the choices that we face and what is it encouraging us towards. If you just turn over a page to chapter 20 there are two very interesting Proverbs. Every Proverb is interesting; I have never found one that wasn’t fascinating once I started to really study it. But there are two that I find fascinating in this chapter, especially as I was getting ready for this lecture. Verse 8 says, “A king who sits on the throne of justice winnows all evil with his eyes.” And then the next page is verse 26 “A wise king winnows the wicked and turns the wheel over them.” Well, there’s a lot in there. The two of them have a couple of things in common. Notice they both talk about kings, they both talk about the wicked or perhaps the guilty I think is probably a better translation in this case, and they both talk about winnowing. Verse 8 says that “he winnows all the guilty with his eyes,” verse 26 simply says that “he winnows the guilty and rolls the wheel over them.”
What is being portrayed? Well, Solomon uses a pretty nice foundational image, metaphor: that says that judgment is winnowing. Now just as we can look at life as a journey and ask “how is it that life is a journey?” We can look at judgment as winnowing and asking, “how is it that judgment is winnowing?” First of all what is winnowing? That’s the first question, that’s why we like that Bible dictionary or even a regular dictionary will give you this information. Winnowing is a process where in the ancient Near East they would gather all the grain after they’d cut it and they’d beaten it with sticks, called threshing. We call threshing, actually the word thrash, to hit something. Or maybe they’d walk the animals over it or done something else because that breaks apart the kernel that is in the middle from the hull, the dry hull that’s around the grain. And then they take it to a place, actually usually do this all in one place so they don’t have to carry it far, but to a place where there’s a nice breeze, a steady breeze, and they get a bunch of it in a basket or even in a piece of cloth and fling it up in the air. Then the chaff, the light outer stuff, blows away in the wind and the heavy grain drops down. When they do that long enough and after a while they’ll just have grain, all the chaff will be gone. Well, I doubt they ever got to 100%, but you get the idea. So this says that “the king winnows the wicked” or “winnows the guilty,” both verses say that. When a court of law opens, the judge faces at least two people. One of whom presumably is guilty and the other one is presumably innocent. At the beginning the judge doesn’t know which is which, he doesn’t know where the truth lies, he has no real basis even for making that decision, at least the first time he encounters these people.
So what is the process of
justice? It is the same as the process of throwing the wheat and the chaff
mixed together up in the air so that the chaff can blow away. Now the metaphor
works if we know what winnowing is because we can see that to separate the
innocent from the guilty is like separating wheat from chaff. And in fact this
metaphor runs throughout scripture. I mean you read it in the prophets, you
read it in the teachings of Jesus. It’s in the psalm one right. “The wicked are
like chaff, which the winds drive away.” It’s all over the place. It’s actually in
another metaphor that is people are plants because chaff and grain are plant
parts. So people are plants and one of
the things that the king does, switching the metaphor, is he winnows the plant
products the wheat and the chaff, and so that justice which is the act of the
king in the long run is the process of separating the innocent and guilty.
Actually the perfect illustration of that in Scripture is what Solomon did with the two women, the thing we talked about in our first lecture. So the two women come. Solomon doesn’t know which woman the baby the living baby belongs to. He has never, as far as we know he has never met either of them he doesn’t know anything about it. So he gets his sword or sends for a sword that the baby can be cut in half and that separates the wheat from the chaff right there, immediately.
Well what’s most interesting about Proverbs 20 verse 6 is that Solomon says “a king that sits on the throne of justice winnows all guilty with his eyes.” Well, I guess you might be able to put a few grains of wheat on your eye lids and flutter them real hard and maybe the chaff will blow away if it was a very windy day, but I don’t think that you can really winnow anything very effectively with your eyes. Maybe this is another metaphor. What is going on? Well the eyes are also part of the body that we use for seeing, and understanding, another foundational metaphor, is sight. Think of the difference, think of the difference between these two statements. Somebody is telling you the story of how they’ve been ill treated at work, let’s say. And you say “I see what you mean.” Or you say “I hear you.” There’s a difference there, isn’t there? There’s a difference between seeing and hearing that is actually pretty broad. Now the Bible talks more about hearing than about seeing because that’s related to its role as an instructor not simply someone who’s eliciting a response. There’s a difference. So what’s here is that the king is given the ability to discern just and what is right. He has to discern what is right is captured by simply saying with his eyes. Or Solomon’s prayer back in 1 Kings 3 when he asked for the gift of being able to judge, that is for the ability to understand. He actually says give your servant a “hearing heart,” a listening heart to judge your people to discern between good and evil or between innocence and guilt. The same image that is listening versus seeing, you see understand that, but he’s taking the same idea of a sensation, of a sense, there we go of seeing and said this is what it means to judge correctly means to see rightly. Or to see rightly enables one to judge correctly which goes back remember to our discussion of prudence that we had a couple of lectures ago, that is, the ability to see and understand the situation accurately. Solomon says, so this ability to winnow out the guilty is actually an ability that comes from the kind of insight that the book of Proverbs is itself designed to give to its readers. Sort of a self-commending verse, if you will. But it also says, implicitly, and this is the kind of judge you should want to be.
Now in the second reference, in verse 26 a wise king winnows the wicked and rolls the wheel over them, there’s a little difference. This time the king is called wise. He winnows the wicked. We’re not told how. It doesn’t say with his eyes or anything else, and again we assume that he doesn’t throw them up in the air and see which one blows in the air and which one drops up straight back down. That would be perhaps closer to some of Hammurabi’s laws where someone accused of a crime is thrown into a river and if the god wants them, the river being the god, if the gods wants them he takes them, sort of like some of the trials for being a witch. If you drown you’re innocent, and if you’re guilty you can swim so you come back and so you can be punished, or purged actually. Well here the wise king winnows the wicked and rolls the wheel over them.
Well, again there is some debate over what that means. Is this the threshing wheel? Some translations put in the “threshing wheel.” We don’t know if the they actually thresh with a wheel the pictures the drawings, there are some drawings from Egypt some of the tombs from Egypt that show cattle tied to a turn-style walking around in a circle and it’s just the weight of their hooves and the turn style isn’t doing anything except keeping the cows in place so they’re walking around in a circle and just the weight of their feet is separating the chaff from the grain, and that could be what we’re talking about here. So that the word wheel is actually a metonymy for the wheel in the middle. So when you drive the wheel you drive the cattle cows that are turning the wheel that are turning the wheel or controlled by the wheel and the oxen or whatever else they might be.
Or it could be that he’s actually rolling some sort of wheel. We know that from some Iron Age olive presses, for example, that in olive press they would carve a groove, a round groove and a flat, relatively flat stone and apparently fill the grove with olives and roll another stone was round around on top so that it’d roll around the groove and the olive oil would run out through a hole in the bottom. Perhaps that’s what he means. So he’s really mixing up his metaphors, talking about crushing olives with one and talking about winnowing grain with the other and talking about justice, and the whole thing is to talk about justice. That’s perhaps that’s what it means.
But you see what underlies it is this idea that justice entails or justice is winnowing which really is a way of saying justice involves separating what is right from what is wrong. Justice is not, and there are many other verses that discuss this, Justice is not a matter of making sure that the poor always get their way or that the rich always get theirs. Justice is not a matter of looking out for the king’s best interest or looking out for the best interest of any one person. It’s the attempt to be well as the classics, the Greeks and Romans would have had it is the attempt for justice to be blind. To have the evidence for both sides put in the scales and justice is not distorting the scales because she can’t see. She’s just standing there holding them, whichever way they go, that determines who’s right and who’s wrong. And that really is the picture here in the book of Proverbs.
This also shows us, suggests, that looking at these verses suggests that another thing that is very hopeful when we’re thinking about individual verses in Proverbs and that is since there are many verses on each, or on many, not every topic has a lot of verses that refer to it, but there are quite a few. There may be a few hundred verses that talk about the way we use our words and our mouths. And there are a few verses that talk about things like winnowing. Actually, these may be the only two. But in reading through the book of Proverbs, as you read through it I strongly encourage you to have a notebook or, today, use a computer, and just keep track of all the verses that relate to a particular topic, and read through the book maybe, I don’t know, a few hundred times or, perhaps ten or twenty times, and each time look for a different topic. And that way you’ll create your own concordance of topics and you’ll find that some verses refer to, can fit in, two or three places. Both of these verses can fit under kingship, and they could fit under justice.
I guess they could fit under winnowing although that’s really just an image, it’s not the point. They’re not about farming. They assume the world of farming, and so that when you read the next verse that has to do with justice, we’re not reading that verse in a vacuum. So, what I mean, I guess, what I’m trying to say is that when we read Proverbs 10, beginning with chapter 10, it’s very tempting to see them as having no context at all and just being free-floating individual little amoeba in this proverbial soup. But instead we can think of it, perhaps we can think that the context of an individual Proverb is all the other Proverbs that are related to it, to the same topic so that when we read this Proverb it may be very clear. This may be a very clear Proverb about justice, there may be some others that aren’t quite so clear. Or we may find that there are 15 verses that deal with justice, actually about 45 that deal with justice, and that some of them talk about the nature of the judge, some of them talk about taking bribes, some of them talk about the character of the witness, some of them talk about the need for justice without really talking about how it comes about. So we find there’s like a constellation of sub-subjects. The big subject being justice, and there’s a whole constellation of other verses that have to do with that topic. And we can see how those verses all play off the same idea and play off each other to give us a complete picture of what the book of Proverbs says about justice.
This goes back to what I said earlier about not absolutizing any individual verse because, the person who only knows, who only ever says, “Look before you leap,” will never do anything because he will spend his or her whole life looking. He needs to understand and know, “he who hesitates is lost” or some other proverb that says there are some sayings that do and some that don’t. That is, that’s an old Latin proverb, which I can’t remember the Latin for but basically some people say things and things happen, other people just talk and never do anything. Well, here we find out that there are some verses on, looking at verses on justice we find these two verses emphasize the need for the king as the supreme court, kind of the court of final appeal to use his discernment and decide where right and wrong lie.
If you’re perhaps thinking well I’m not going to be a leader or a judge or a senator or a president or a king or anything else well that may be true. Most of us probably aren’t. In fact, most Israelites weren’t either, but every person makes decisions. Every parent of more than one child, or even one child, is faced at times with discerning, “Is this the truth or not?” “Who’s at fault?” Everyone in a position of authority has to make judgments. That’s part of what it means to have responsibility. So the Proverb applies by saying to you, to me, be careful because what you’re separating is wheat and chaff and once the chaff blows away it’s gone. So be sure that it’s the chaff that blows away and the wheat that drops down because these decisions that you’re making will affect the lives of the people that you’re dealing with.
Another aspect of context, to return to that very briefly, is that when you are making your topical index, remember that it doesn’t have to be the same word to be talking about the same idea. What you’re really looking for are Proverbs that talk about a concept such as justice or marriage or speech or something else on parenting. They don’t have to, they don’t have to have the word “discipline” in them to be talking about discipline. They don’t have to have the word “king” in them to be talking about leadership. They don’t have to have the word “wife” to be talking about marriage. So that you can see probably pretty quickly that even beginning to compile an index like this is to begin to think about what the Proverbs mean.
It’s not just an automatic thing. I mean you could do it this way; you could just ask, if you have a computer program, just say “Look for all the Proverbs with the word ‘eye’ in them; I want to put them in one place; they have to do with the eye.” Well, you need to understand that’s a metaphor for seeing and then the question becomes: What are you seeing? Or all the Proverbs with the word “money.” But what if the Proverb has the word “gold” but not money or “wealth” but not money or something else? You see, so you begin, you need to read through, it’s sort of like the difference between using an electronic card catalogue in a library which will take you to exactly what you want and being able to browse the shelves where you can see the books next to it and you think, “Oh I never knew that book was here; that looks pretty interesting.” And you find out that that’s really the book you wanted but you wouldn’t have found it using the computer because the computer didn’t know, really know, what you were interested in. Well, the same way in Proverbs. But there’s one other aspect of context that may sound a little funny and that is the Proverbs around the verse that you’re reading. When we read through we find that there are many cases where the verses right adjacent to, or maybe two verses away, or three verses away, or three or four verses in a row all deal with the same, or with a related, topic even though they may not sound too much like it. So we read something like this at the beginning of chapter 16: “The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. All a man’s ways are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives, or thoughts. Commit your works, roll your works to the Lord so that your plans will be established.” And then it says, “The Lord has made everything for his own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil.” Wait a second, what’s the point of all those verses? I know I went through them very quickly. You can look them up on your own. But it goes on to verse 5, “Everyone who is proud of heart is an abomination to the Lord surely will not be unpunished.” Wait a second, verse 6, “by love and kindness.” We start to read chapter 16 and think through what each verse means, and suddenly we realize, you know, almost this whole chapter has to do with authority. Sometimes it’s the Lord’s authority, sometimes it’s the king’s authority, sometimes it’s our responsibility, which is actually our authority for our own lives. And so we begin, we see that, there’s a collection here of verses that are all linked to each other, sometimes very subtly.
So that one might talk about judgment, but who has the right to judge? You have to have authority to judge. Not everyone has the right to simply call into judgment. So that when we read a verse in Proverbs, and I think I said the same thing when we talked about the book of Psalms, we can’t just read a Psalm, we need to read the Psalm before it and the Psalm after it, because sometimes, I think most of the time actually, there’s a good reason that those three psalms come in a row in the order that they were placed next to each other. And the same thing is very often true, in the book of Proverbs. So we look for context. We look at the verses around it and sometimes we will say I don’t see any connection and sometimes there may be no connection. Sometimes it may be simply that the connection is one that would’ve been transparent 3,000 years ago but because of the difference in our cultures and our way of understanding things, or frankly even in our translations, the connection just isn’t obvious at all to us. But sometimes it will be very clear and its always worth pondering and thinking about. Better to assume that there is a connection until you have to conclude that there isn’t one than to just say, “Well this proverb stands on it’s own, and I can ignore everything else around it.” So we talk about context as part of understanding. As part of our trying to understand that we don’t just look at the parallelism or the imagery or unpack the story but we look at the other verses around, see if they give us any help. And we look at all the other verses on the same topic to see how they might help us.
Let me mention that, I want to look at one Proverb in particular, I said at the end, of this talk. But before I do that, there is one other question, all this conversation has probably sounded pretty non-theological. Like we really are just reading secular wisdom and all we have to do is run it through the right interpretive process, and we’ll come out with the right answer. We do have to do that as we said, as verse, chapter one verse seven says and as reiterated the end of chapter nine, in the fear of the Lord or else we may come away with some intellectual understanding of the proverb’s meaning. But our ability to actually use it and appropriate it for it to become part of our lives would be very seriously hampered if not eliminated, unless we have an attitude of obedience and submission and really of trust.
But there’s another question I think it relates to reading Proverbs and that is if Proverbs are part of Scripture, which they are, then what is the role of the book of Proverbs in the role of scripture, in the function of Scripture? That is, if Scripture is a revelation of God, what is the revelatory role of the book of Proverbs as a whole, and of an individual proverb? Sometimes it’s pretty obvious, so, “dishonest ways, dishonest measures, the Lord detests them both.” Okay so, the Lord likes honesty, I mean we don’t need the book of Proverbs to tell us that, we don’t even need that proverb to tell us that. We have lots of other places where we find the same theme. But it’s said in a pretty memorable way there, and some Proverbs are very clear as to how they’re related to who God is, so we have verses that talk about “the rich and the poor meet together, the Lord is the maker of them both.” Well, the whole function of the Proverb hangs on the Lord’s role as our creator, as the creator of all human beings regardless of their station in life. So we have verses that we could say are explicitly theological. “The hand of the King is like a channel of water, and the hand of the Lord turns it wherever he wishes.” So just like an irrigation ditch, which is the image being used there, the farmer can make the water go wherever he wants it to, so the Lord can do the same thing with the King’s heart. There’s an image there that people are water, and there’s not much ice in Israel, so natural ice that is, so we’re talking about liquid water. People are just changeable. They can be steered wherever you want them to go. That’s how the Lord views the King and there’s another image there by the way, and a metaphor underneath that, which is, that the Lord is a farmer. That is, that he is the farmer who practices irrigation, digs ditches, and steers the water where he wants it go. Well that’s pretty clear, I think that’s a verse that says the Lord is sovereign, he controls and there’s not a whole lot that any human being can do about it.
But there are other verses that are not nearly as clear, and for this I want to go back, because of time, to a verse we’ve already talked about and that’s chapter ten, verse one and ask this question: Does the verse that says, “A wise son makes his father glad, but a foolish son is his mother’s grief,” does that actually add anything to our understanding of who God is? If we think about the picture of a web that I suggested and that human beings are related so that what happens to one effects others and the closer they are the more deeply their affected. That suggests something else I think, and I want to say right up front, I don’t think this comes just out of the Proverb itself, okay? It’s the kind of conclusion that comes from probably reading as widely as we can, rather than as narrowly as we can get away with. But here’s an idea, what if the verse is talking about the importance of relationship and using this image of wise and foolish son and the effect on parents to cause us to stop and think about how our actions affect those around us and especially those near to us. We could say, “Well God is our heavenly father and our actions grieve him or please him.” Okay, I know there are places in Scripture that suggest that. I’m not sure that’s what this verse is really talking about.
Maybe it’s more looking at giving us a new way to think about the nature of our existence. You know, we quote II Timothy 3 about all Scripture is God breathed and given for these purposes, for correcting us and reproving us, training us in righteousness etcetera, but perhaps we could think about that not just in terms of moral correction, maybe part of the purpose of scripture is to correct the way we think and the way we understand reality. So that a verse like Proverbs 10:1 then is saying to us, that none of us exist of and unto ourselves, that we have responsibilities to other people, that whether or not we can understand, or appreciate, or want those responsibilities, or whether we appreciate the relationship that gives us that responsibility that is, in this case, whether we appreciate the fact that I’m the son of a certain father and a certain mother is immaterial. That in thinking through this verse and its implications, not just for our behavior but for our way of thinking, our manner of thinking. What God is showing us is that the universe is actually a relational universe.
Then that ought in turn suggest to us that we think, “Well if the universe is created by God, and we have that, all that great statement in Proverbs chapter eight talks about, not just the creation of the universe by God but by wisdom as well.” Then, the creation that takes on the character of its creator is itself showing us that God is relational. I’m not saying that this verse reveals that God is a trinity, okay? I’m not trying to smuggle that in to a proverb. I’m just raising this because I think that we can think far more broadly about Proverbs than simply their behavioral issues. A proverb is a compressed story; no, it’s not even a compressed novel. It’s more like a compressed epic. Like, the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion all rolled into eight words. That then is like to use another metaphor like a duel metaphor that invites us to step into a world, a world in which we will live a certain way because we understand and see in a new way. I hope that you enjoy reading the book of Proverbs as much as I do and studying them and being blessed by them. Thanks for listening.
by: Rylee Rainwater, Katie Madison,
Jessica Rengulbai, Jacquelyn Perreault,
Emily Rossetti and edited by Rianna Bazzinotti
Edited by Ted Hildebrandt