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Proverbs 6:1-35

February 9, 2015

The problem envisioned in the first five verses is the problem of making a financial pledge or commitment to another person which may lead to one’s own ruin.  The father is telling the son to avoid all such commitments; or, when made, do not rest until you have extricated yourself from the dangers of the agreement.

Getting into financial trouble continues to be a common and disastrous problem in our own society today.  Banks make risky loans, investors make risky investments, and people make risky purchases on credit.  As a result, banks collapse, investors lose their money, and the average American is deep in debt.  One small unforeseen problem–losing one’s job or getting sick or having an accident–creates a ripple effect leading to financial ruin.

There is nothing particularly religious in the advice being given in these verses.  It’s common sense.  Invest only what you can afford to lose.  Purchase only what you can afford to pay for.  Make agreements that do not put you on the hook for things that are out of your control.  But such common sense advice is frequently ignored because of the human tendency to bite off more than we can chew, to want more than what we can actually afford.

Which is why such “secular” advice is in a book of the Bible–because it addresses the common human condition and a common human problem.  Biblical faith boils down to addressing real human problems so as to foster a happier world.

Verses 6-11 use the ant as an illustration of hard work, self-motivation, and preparing ahead of time for the future’s needs.  It is the essence of maturity to learn to work first and play later, to deal with the pain first so as to enjoy relief later.  Unfortunately, human nature has a tendency to want to play first and avoid all pain and discomfort.  The result is immaturity, poverty, and ongoing and unresolved problems.  In fact, the more problems are put off, generally the worse they become.

But does giving advice and admonishment actually change and improve human behavior?  This is the question I wonder about as I read the Book of Proverbs.  In my experience, it does not seem like giving advice is of much use.  And yet, that is what this book is based on.  On the other hand, there is a difference between giving unsolicited advice and giving advice to one who is seeking it.  The fact that we are reading the Book of Proverbs already indicates our desire to learn, investigate, and grow.  In such circumstances, when we are seeking advice, advice may actually help us.  In fact, if we read these proverbs with a critical eye–discerning whether we think they make sense and accord with our own experience–we are exercising our own muscles of wisdom.

It is interesting which behaviors the author thinks are the seven “worst”–the seven which offend God the most.  Which seven behaviors would you pick as the worst?  The author chooses these:  a prideful or haughty attitude, lying, murder, planning evil, doing evil, false testimony, and creating discord in the family.  We perhaps would not have thought of placing pride and family discord in the top seven.  But the author recognizes–as does much of the Bible–that pride is often at the root humanity’s problems.  Pride is the opposite of humility.  Pride puts one’s value above others:  I am more needed, or more important, or more talented, or more right, or more wise than those around me; therefore, all ought to do what I want.  It’s not just “bad” people who fall into this attitude; in fact, it’s the biggest pitfall of the truly good or wise or talented.  It creates–often unintentionally–resentment and social disruption.  It makes us into a kind of god, which is why it is the opposite of true spirituality and a healing relationship with God (and others).

Verses 20-35 again take up the theme of warning against adultery.  To think one can engage in adultery without getting burned is foolishness.  Our sexuality and sexual desires are an integral part of who we are.  It’s like eating:  Needed and pleasurable, but there are ways to do it that make us healthy and strong and there are ways to do it that make us sick and obese.  Sex can be expressed in ways that bring greater joy and maturity to ourselves and others, or ways that demean, abuse, and destroy healthy relationships.  Of all the ways that sex can bring harm, adultery is one of the more dangerous and disrespectful.  But we humans will often try to find a way to justify it.

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From → Proverbs

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