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Proverbs 10:1-32

March 9, 2015

This chapter begins a new section in the Book of Proverbs.  Instead of extended metaphors and lines of thought that carry over several verses, now each verse is a self-contained proverb.  Each proverb consists of two lines:  the first line gives an example of wise behavior, and the second presents the opposite.  A few times this form is reversed, with the bad example first, followed by the good example (verses 4, 10, 19, 23, 24, 25).  In three instances the second line extends the thought of the first line instead of presenting an opposite (verses 18, 22, 26).

This is bite-sized wisdom, the kind of advice one might see on a bumper sticker.  But how helpful are these proverbs?  For instance, consider verse 1:  “A wise child makes a glad father, but a foolish child is a mother’s grief.”  This statement is generally true, but so obvious as to be unhelpful.  It’s like saying, “The morning brings daylight, but the evening brings darkness.”  How does this guide us in any way?

Or consider verse 4:  “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.”  Again this is generally true–hard work usually results in having more whereas laziness results in having less, but doesn’t everyone already know this?  Perhaps this is advice we would like to give to certain unmotivated persons we know, but it’s not going to change their behavior.  They have chosen “a slack hand” along with its accompanying poverty.  Only when they no longer wish to be impoverished will they perhaps be motivated to become more diligent.

Or consider verse 15:  “The wealth of the rich is their fortress; the poverty of the poor is their ruin.”  This is another example of “the morning brings light and the evening brings darkness” type of wisdom.  It’s stating an everyday observance we all know is true.  Not only is this not helpful, it gives me the impression that the poor are perhaps to blame for their poverty.  Poverty, of course, is much more complicated than that, and most poor people would get out of poverty if there were a readily available way to do so.

Most of the proverbs in this chapter strike me as being obvious and of limited helpfulness.

One proverb I question as to whether it is actually true.  Verse 3 says:  “The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.”  If that were true, the world would be a paradise.  Since the world is not paradise, this proverb does not reflect reality.  I assume the author knew this was not always true, so why did he say it?  It sounds like he is wanting to give us hope that justice will ultimately prevail.  I can respect that, but I do not think this proverb is sufficiently honest about life now.

Another proverb would today be considered a criminal act.  Verse 13 says: “a rod is for the back of one who lacks sense.”  Here’s an instance where our culture’s wisdom has moved beyond the wisdom of ancient Israelite culture.

On the other hand, I find a few proverbs in this chapter very uplifting.  Consider verse 12:  “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.”  This may sound like obvious, unhelpful wisdom, but I think it is giving us a word of needed encouragement.  Sure, we all know love is a better response than hatred, but we too often hold on to hatred anyway.  This simple proverb gives us a little bit of strength to try love again.  It also challenges us with the provocative thought that love “covers all offenses.”  What does that mean?  Does that mean that love ultimately forgives?  Surely it means, at least, that forgiveness and repair of transgressions are not possible so long as there are feelings of hatred; only love can provide healing ground.

Verse 19 is also very helpful and wise:  “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but the prudent are restrained in speech.”  This statement is an exaggeration–not all verbosity is a cover for wrong!  But, there is important truth here.  When we become defensive and want to minimize our fault or responsibility, we have a tendency to talk more.  Or if we are frustrated that we are not convincing someone else of our position, we have a tendency to say even more–which usually results in feelings of intimidation.  An excess of words can undermine honest and open communication.  Jesus cautioned against swearing oaths in order to intensify one’s promises or testimony.  All those extra words actually undermine the truthfulness of our speech.  Keep it simple, and always be honest.

Finally, consider verse 25:  “When the tempest passes, the wicked are no more, but the righteous are established forever.”  This is another example of a proverb that is not true in many instances.  It is a blanket statement of what the author hopes for and believes ultimately to be true.  But such a statement can only be true if there is some sort of life beyond this life.  I think it is statements such as this one that led the Jewish people to conclude that if God is God, and God is loving and just, then there must be a future beyond this life.  This conviction has formed the core of our faith, laying the ground work for the Christian message that God has raised Jesus.

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From → Proverbs

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