Monday 17 June 2019

Proverbs #1: A Wisdom That Fears

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
for gaining wisdom and instruction;
for understanding words of insight;
for receiving instruction in prudent behaviour,
doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to those who are simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young –
let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance –
for understanding proverbs and parables,
the sayings and riddles of the wise.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 1:1-7

The book of Proverbs divides into three major parts – chapters 1-9, 10-29, and 30-31.

After the opening (1:1-7) comes a collection of poems in Proverbs 1-9 in which a son is called on to follow the advice of his parents. Drawing on the metaphors of two ways, two houses and two women, the young man is required to choose – as he sets out on the journey of life – between wisdom and folly.

Representing two ways to live, wisdom and folly are portrayed as women calling out to all who will listen (men and women alike) to walk in their paths. It is perhaps significant that they call out in public places, where the hustle and bustle of life takes place, reminding us that biblical wisdom embraces not just private concerns but social activities connected with family, work, and community. In this way, Proverbs 1-9 instructs its readers about the nature of God’s wisdom, providing a lens through which later chapters are to be understood.

Proverbs 10-29 is largely a collection of individual proverbial sayings of the sort we most often associate with the book. It is sometimes tempting to reorder these, to gather them into distinct themes (such as how we work or how we speak or how we relate to people). This, however, could miss the point that it is their very randomness which makes them especially suitable for reflecting on the way we are often required to work out what it means to live wisely in the realities of daily life.

The final section of the book, Proverbs 30-31, moves from short individual sayings to a couple of longer poems which conclude the book.

Crucially, the notion of the ‘fear of the LORD’ (introduced in 1:7) recurs in all three major sections of the book (1:29; 2:5; 8:13; 9:10; 10:27; 14:27; 15:16, 33; 16:6; 19:23; 22:4; 23:17; 31:30).

Proverbs is concerned with living wisely in God’s world, and fear of the Lord is the first principle of such a life, where being wise finds its foundation in a relationship with, and a deep reverence of, the covenant Lord God, rather than being wise in one’s own eyes. Fear the Lord: those who want to be wise will start here.

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