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Proverbs 2:1-22

January 12, 2015

In the first chapter we saw the first mention of the “fear of the Lord” as the beginning of wisdom; in other words, a transcendent ethical commitment is at the heart of a wise life.  The first several verses of chapter two develop this theme by arguing that the earnest pursuit of wisdom will lead to the fear of the Lord and a commitment to justice, equity, prudence, personal integrity and knowing God.

But is this still true?  Today we pursue wisdom in a very different way:  not through religion or even through philosophy, but through science.  Science has become the final arbiter of what is true and wise.  So human behavior is studied scientifically and sometimes gets boiled down to evolutionary biology.  In other words, there is no such thing as good or bad, there is just survival.  The elaborate laws and mores of society are human constructs which, at base, are unwittingly motivated by our “selfish genes” for the survival of our clan.

It is true that the ancient Jews knew nothing about genes, evolutionary biology, or the scientific method.  But they knew human nature–perhaps better than we do.  And they knew that human nature is profoundly selfish and always prone to wanting to live “above the law” or beyond the confines of morality.  They knew that we humans have an endless capacity for self-justification for whatever we do or want, and that we quite often delude ourselves.  Our use of science to justify the ejection of morality and the reality of good and evil is simply the most recent manifestation of this persistent human trait which is so self-destructive.

Personally, I love science and I believe in science.  But I do not think science is well-suited for determining ethics and how to live.  Science is wise about “things” but not about relationships.

The Book of Proverbs, and indeed the Bible as a whole, is an argument that our highest wellbeing comes from submission to that which is transcendent, and that wisdom and justice are written into the fabric of all existence.  These are not mere human constructs; they are the ground of existence.  We will not find atoms of justice and wisdom as we scientifically pull apart the material of the universe; but if we contemplate the nature of existence and what it means to be human, and submit to transcendent mystery, we will discover grace that binds all things together.

Verses 16-19 unintentionally reveal the male bias (and phobias) of the Book of Proverbs.  Watch out for strange women who lure you into adultery!  But isn’t it men who initiate most adultery?  Isn’t this a shameless shifting of blame, an unwarranted fear of the female?  Once again (as in Eden) it is the female who is blamed for snaring the male and pulling him down into death.  But in reality, it is men in patriarchal societies who are prone to abusing women.  It is women–even in our society today–who must watch out for devious men.

On the positive side, this passage is remarkable for what it implies about the institution of marriage.  Verse 17 alludes to the “sacred covenant” of marriage.  We know very little about biblical marriage practices, and some passages in the Bible might lead us to conclude that–for men–fidelity and lifelong monogamy was not necessarily expected.  And yet this passage seems to imply that marriage–for both the man and the woman–is a sacred monogamous bond that needs to be honored.  Not to do so is destructive of the self.

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From → Proverbs

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