Thursday, May 04, 2017

Reading Through the Proverbs #1 (Chapters 1-9)

ProberbsNow we move on to another wisdom book, the Book of Proverbs, accompanied by the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes & Song of Songs, The College Press NIV Commentary, by Dave Bland. Proverbs is probably the only book of the Bible that can be read “verse-by-verse,” but even here the sayings are organized and grouped so that context is still important. I am posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

Wisdom literature provides instruction about how a person can live life skillfully in this confusing world. It provides general principles for living successfully within God's creation. Proverbs focuses on the way things usually work, while Job and Ecclesiastes focus more on the exceptions. In general wise people do what is appropriate because they have trained their minds through observation, advice and paying close attention to what is going on around them. They have a balanced view of life and know how to discern and take the best from the cultures around them. This is all based on a God-centered focus on life.

In the Wisdom Literature of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes the term wisdom refers to developing the expertise to negotiate the complexities of life. Wisdom occupies itself with discovering God’s order in life and then learning to fit into that order successfully, all the while keeping in mind the boundaries and limits of humanity. 29

Proverbs 1-9 is a series of 15 instructional poems from parents to a son. In 5 of the poems wisdom is personified as a woman. The parents warn of the three great dangers to a wise successful life that their child will face: greed for money, peer pressure, and sexual temptation. A bad decision here could ruin a young person for the rest of their life or, at the least, cause unnecessary problems.

The wisdom poems serve as powerful metaphors of two lifestyles: wisdom and life on the one hand, folly and death on the other. These contrasting metaphors depict the moral boundaries or limits in which humans are to operate. To venture outside the boundaries is folly and death. To stay within the bounds is wisdom and life. Proverbs 1-9, 50

The first chapter introduces the good and bad influences, with the good ones framing the bad one. The introduction (1-9) urges the youth to listen to godly parents who will instruct them in the "fear of the LORD." The last section of the chapter (20-33) urges the youth to live a life seeking wisdom because she will save them from a world of trouble. In between, the youth is warned about the peer pressure of the "gang" that promises easy money, fun and companionship, but really leads only to self-destruction.

In the book of Proverbs, the fear of the LORD does not primarily refer to the reverent worship of Yahweh. The subject of worship is seldom addressed in the book. Rather it refers to the total life commitment of a person to God...This text defines the fear of God as the dedication of one’s whole life to the devotion of the LORD. It is not simply the display of awe and reverence in public worship. Instead, it is the demonstration of daily response to God’s will in one’s decisions and actions. Proverbs 1.1-7, 54

The parents exhort the son to stay away from the gang for two reasons. For one, their actions are evil (v. 16). For another, their vision is shortsighted (vv. 17–19). They only desire instant gratification. However, the primary basis upon which the father appeals to the son is not on rational arguments but on the basis of the father’s credibility with the son. The father describes the enticement of the gang’s lifestyle and responds by saying, my son do not go along with them (v. 15). It is an appeal to the relationship the father has with the son. Proverbs 1.9-19, 59

In 1:20–33, Wisdom assumes the role of a teacher. She is concerned with a class of students who lack motivation. She has lost patience with her inattentive students (1:24–27). She pulls out all stops to convince them of the seriousness of the subject matter. Her instruction deals with matters of life and death. Proverbs 1:20–33, 63

Chapter 2 is an acrostic poem urging the student to work hard and patiently to acquire wisdom. It is not easy to get, but the benefits of the hard work are worth it. Wisdom leads to godly character which will protect students from the destruction evil brings and make them productive members of the community. Chapter 3 urges the young to honor YHWH by trusting Him above all, listening to godly parents, submitting one's possessions to God and accepting His discipline. Wisdom is pictured as a faithful wife who brings blessing and wealth to her husband (13-20). The chapter closes with a description of how the wise person behaves in community (21-35) and the blessings this provides.

As youths begin to seek wisdom, they will find the pursuit wearisome. Wisdom is a quality that humans do not necessarily have a natural inclination to possess. They must acquire a taste for it. If youths can work through the initial struggles and maintain openness and patience, they will find it. Proverbs 2.1-11, 65

Fundamental to the goal of education is instilling in the heart of the student an intense desire to learn. Wisdom involves more than understanding; it includes an attitude...The primary focus of this instruction is on the formation of godly character. This concern for character focuses on internal qualities, which in turn manifest themselves in the way in which the learner activates righteousness, justice, and fairness in the community. Proverbs 2, 67

To trust in the LORD with all your heart refers to the total surrender of self. The admonition is the theological foundation upon which all the proverbs rest...When the disciple learns to trust completely in Yahweh, then the promise is that he will make straight your paths. This does not mean that Yahweh promises a life free from difficulties. Rather it means that one’s life has clear direction and purpose. Proverbs 3.5-6, 70

Chapter 4 continues the instruction from father to son with three more speeches. He urges his son to make the sacrifices necessary to gain wisdom (1-9). This will keep him away from the wrong life path of the wicked and on the right one (10-19). The student must discipline his body to make the right and wise choice. Wisdom is gained by self-denial, discipline and, sometimes, suffering. Chapter 5 is a warning to avoid the adulteress. There is nothing that can destroy a young person's life as quickly and as thoroughly as bad decisions in relationships. But a good marriage relationship is a tremendous blessing and a major factor in a successful life.

The disciple is to exert every ounce of “body” strength to the task of staying on the right path. When each part of the body is properly functioning, the whole body is morally healthy. In addition, when every part of a person’s body is under control, he or she incarnates the principles of wisdom. Proverbs 4, 79

The wife is also a source of protection from the adulteress. The best way for the husband to resist sexual temptation is to have a loving relationship with his wife. Proverbs 5, 84

In chapters 6-7 the sage offers practical advice about how to live life successfully and wisely. He advises the young man to avoid several pitfalls including offering collateral for the loans of others, laziness, being a "scoundrel" who lives by deception and violence, and adultery. Chapter 7 pictures the adulterous woman as a huntress who kills the soul of the young man.

The ant, which has no overseer or ruler, is self-motivated (v. 7). She acts autonomously, without the need for supervision or direction from others. She manifests self-discipline, an important quality in sapiential wisdom. She fulfills her responsibilities because she sees the larger picture of life (v. 8). The point is, if the little does this, then how much more should humans take the initiative to fulfill responsibilities? Proverbs 6.6-11, 88

Adultery is representative of how sin destroys human relationships. It also symbolizes living outside the boundaries of wisdom. Because of the enticing and destructive consequences of adolescent lust, the sage uses powerful rhetorical images and even scare tactics to discourage youth from acting out their sexual drives in adultery. Proverbs 6.20-35, 91

Many have been the victims of the adulteress. To follow in her steps leads the youth to an early grave. This instruction calls on youth to be constantly alert to temptation. The adulteress is ever present, lurking at every corner (vv. 11–12). No man can avoid her. For youth to resist her requires constant vigilance. Proverbs 7, 97

In 8-9 wisdom is personified calling out to the young man and inviting him to pursue the wise life. This is contrasted with "woman folly" who invites the young man to cast off all restraint and be "free." The way of folly is the way of death while the way of wisdom provides life, real joy and a stable, happy life.

Wisdom’s father is God; he raised and trained her (v. 30). So her instruction is trustworthy. Whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the LORD (v. 35). Wisdom is described not simply as an intellectual component but as an attitude, a desire. Wisdom’s function is to generate a passion for doing good and for building a wall of protection from temptation. Proverbs 8, 102

The bottom line is that wisdom grows only in the context of a relationship with God (v. 10; cf. 1:7). True education begins with the affirmation of God’s active work in the daily affairs of life. Proverbs 9.7-12, Bland, 104

The two women depicted in chapter 9 represent the two choices set before youth: life and death. If one chooses the banquet of Wisdom, then one follows the path of learning and growing and moral development. It is a nutritious meal that leads to a healthy life. If one chooses Folly’s banquet then one has chosen a feast that by all appearances looks good. However, it is a meal loaded with sweets and containing little nutrition. In fact, the meal is toxic. Proverbs 9, 105

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