Monday 1 July 2019

Proverbs #3: A Wisdom That Observes

Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!
It has no commander, no overseer or ruler,
yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.
How long will you lie there, you sluggard?
When will you get up from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest –
and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.
Proverbs 6:6-11

Four things on earth are small,
yet they are extremely wise:
Ants are creatures of little strength,
yet they store up their food in the summer...
Proverbs 30:24-25

Solomon, internationally famed for his wisdom, composer of thousands of proverbs and songs, was also a student of the natural sciences. In line with the original mandate the creator God gave to the human race, Solomon’s wisdom incorporated an accumulation of insights from the natural world, his proverbs speaking about ‘plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls’, and ‘about animals and birds, reptiles and fish’ (1 Kings 4:33).

This grounding in creation is seen in the book of Proverbs itself, where acquiring wisdom involves not just the careful observation of daily life, consideration of personal experience, rumination on the know-how of others passed down through the ages, but also reflection on the created world.

Within this wider perspective, on two occasions, the wise teacher draws attention to the industriousness of one of the smallest creatures on the face of the earth – the ant.

In this case, the lesson is for the lazy person who is called to ‘go... consider... and be wise’. The sequence is important: go (shake off your inactivity), consider (observe, reflect on, and learn from the ant’s diligence), and be wise (internalise the lesson and make it habitual in your own life). Parents and teachers might like to note that the description of the ant’s commendable behaviour and the three commands are combined with rhetorical questions – ‘How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep?’ – along with warning – ‘poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man’. Description, commands, questions, and warning – with some gentle mocking! – are all artfully blended together in a concern for the welfare of the community as a whole.

Centuries later, one greater than Solomon called on his listeners to ‘look at the birds of the air’ and ‘see how the lilies of the field grow’ (Matthew 6:26-30). Such wisdom, far from being a special source of knowledge for the select few, is still available – to all who have eyes to see.

No comments: