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Proverbs 29:1-27

August 24, 2015

This chapter seems to be a mix of advice for rulers and for those running a household.  Much of it is common sense; some of it sounds harsh.  A few proverbs caught my attention:

One who is often reproved, yet remains stubborn, will suddenly be broken beyond healing (v. 1).

I suppose the intent of this proverb is to warn those who remain stubborn in the face of correction that at some point they will face disaster–a disaster beyond repair.  But as I read this proverb, a sadder meaning comes across to me.  I see a person, stubborn by nature or by circumstances, who is constantly berated until he or she becomes a broken person beyond repair.  I want to say to the author of this proverb:  If someone is not responding to “correction,” change your tactics!  If all you’re getting is resistance, then take a surprising and opposite approach.  It does no good to keep pushing someone who isn’t budging; all you’re doing is creating more resentment and resistance.  This is how we damage people.

If the wise go to law with fools, there is ranting and ridicule without relief (v. 9).

A lawyer once told me, “The law courts are a great thing if you really need them, but avoid them if at all possible.”  Going to court is perhaps never a pleasant experience; usually it is quite painful.  The Bible has high respect for law, but at the same time it recognizes the limitations and drawbacks of law courts.  Jesus frequently advises people to work out their problems directly rather than going to court.  Paul considers it a defeat of the church if fellow believers take each other to court.  Reconciliation is far more possible if we resolve conflicts privately.

A fool gives full vent to anger, but the wise quietly holds it back (v. 11).

Venting anger almost always provokes an angry response; so the trick is to express our feelings without venting our feelings–yelling and blaming.  Quietly holding back the full expression of our emotion is wise; on the other hand, stuffing our true feelings isn’t healthy either–it’ll simply come out in some sneaky, unhelpful way.  So I think true wisdom is to express our anger honestly, so others know how we genuinely feel, but without causing intimidation or blaming or shutting off mutual sharing and listening.

Where there is no prophecy, the people cast off restraint, but happy are those who keep the law (v. 18).

The Old Testament is comprised of three main parts:  the law (torah), which includes the story of God creating Israel and the giving of a law code to Moses; the prophets, which includes the story of Israel’s prophets who confronted Israel’s kings; and “the writings,” which includes the psalms and proverbs and philosophical/theological meditations in the Bible.  This proverb appears to be commending the first two sections of the Old Testament for the wellbeing of God’s people.  The faith community needs both “the law” and “the prophets”; it needs timeless divine regulation as well as contemporary spiritual guidance.  Those who grew up with the King James Version of the Bible know the first half of this proverb as:  “Without a vision, the people perish.”  That is certainly true.

Do you see someone who is hasty is speech?  There is more hope for a fool than for anyone like that (v. 20).

Smart people with good things to say are often the first to speak in a discussion.  And yet, by jumping in right away they tend to stifle the sharing of others who need more time to explore and form their thoughts.  They also look too certain, a little arrogant, and too anxious.  They also sometimes speak before all of the information has been made available, and so are prone to making mistakes and misjudgments.  Thus, many smart, vocal people ironically turn out to be worse than fools.

I’m particularly disturbed by one proverb in this chapter:

By mere words servants are not disciplined, for though they understand, they will not give heed (v. 19).

“Servants,” I assume, refers to slaves.  This proverb seems to be advising that slaves need to be kept in line with more than words.  I can picture American slaveholders of the past using this proverb to justify the regular use of whippings and beatings.

But there is another way of looking at this proverb which is true.  I sometimes see parents telling their children not to do something and the children do it anyway.  I see the parents repeat their verbal admonishments, and the children repeating their disobedience.  The dance goes on and on, making the parents look foolish and powerless.  Some parents have not learned that verbal instructions need to be backed up by immediate action if they want their verbal instructions to have any usefulness.  This doesn’t mean having to spank the disobedient child; the parent can use time-out, removal of a toy, removal of parental attention, or some sort of re-direction.  The point is:  it is unlikely a child will ever learn proper and safe behavior through verbal instruction alone.

Though this is true for children, we assume it should not be true for adults.  Adults ought to be able to be corrected or guided simply through the use of wise words.  Unfortunately this is not always the case.  Not all employees, for instance, will take verbal instructions or guidance seriously–until there are consequences.  This proverb is pointing out that simple, if unfortunate, truth.

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From → Proverbs

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