Sunday, March 9
Proverbs 5: Except for consecrated celibates like the prophet Jeremiah and the apostle Paul, the godly and productive life of a man normally requires the proper governance of his home. It is the teaching of Holy Scripture, however, that a man cannot govern his home unless he can govern himself. Self-control and discipline, therefore, are among the primary requisites of a good husband and father, and these are qualities to be developed from an early age. Consequently the Book of Proverbs is emphatic on the prohibition of sexual activity outside of marriage. Sex outside of marriage is also outside of GodÕs will.
A manÕs marriage, in fact, can be damaged long before the marriage takes place. Sex outside of marriage often involves exploitation and disrespect, and it always involves irresponsibility, selfishness, and rebellion. These are bad habits to learn, not qualities in a man that will make him a good husband and father.
The present chapter of Proverbs, accordingly, warns a young man against the wiles of the adventurous woman. With a keep psychological perception the Sacred Text indicates that the attraction of such a woman most often has as much to do with vanity as with lust. The young man feels flattered by the womanÕs attention (verse 3); it causes him to "feel good about himself," and it is a simple fact of experience that most of us are disposed to befriend, like, and cultivate those who make us feel good about ourselves. It is one of our great and abiding weaknesses.
Hence, the young man is chiefly warned against the deceptive nature of flattery (verses 4-5). The flattering, adventurous woman has no idea where she is going, so it is very unsafe to follow her (verse 6). Indeed, a sensible man will put as much distance as possible between himself and such a woman (verse 8), for she is Big Trouble (verses 9-14).
In very figurative and flowery language, reminiscent of the Song of Solomon, the young man is exhorted to find joy in his wife (verses 15-20).
Monday, March 10
Proverbs 6: This chapter begins with four short poems that depict the qualities of folly. The first poem (verses 1-5) warns against financial irresponsibility in the form of unwise generosity towards oneÕs friends. Many a friendship has been spoiled by financial entanglements, and exhortations on this matter appear rather often in the Book of Proverbs (11:15; 17:18; 20:16; 22:26-27).
The second poem (verses 6-11) is directed against laziness. Like Aesop, the author sends us to the animal world for moral lessons (24:30-34). The Septuagint version adds a consideration of the bee here to that of the ant.
The third poem (verses 12-15) depicts the neÕer-do-well schemer, full of plans for his own quick profit and the disadvantage of his fellow men. Avoid him, is the counsel.
The fourth poem (verses 16-19) is the first of the "numerical proverbs" in this book. These are found in all parts of the Old Testament (cf. Deuteronomy 32:30; Amos 1Ñ2; Micah 5:4; Job 5:19; 40:5; Sirach 25:7; 26:5,19), and Proverbs will later give a series of them (30:15-31).
In verses 20-23 wisdom is described very much the way that Deuteronomy describes the Law. Indeed, the two things are nearly identified here (cf. especially verse 23, which may remind readers of Psalms 19 and 119).
The last part of the chapter (verses 24-35) returns to the theme of the adventurous woman, who would lure the young man to an early destruction. She is more dangerous than a thief (verses 30-35). Although the earlier penalty for adultery in Israel was stoning to death (Deuteronomy 22:22), the punishment envisaged here seems to be the humiliation of a flogging (verse 33).
Tuesday, March 11
Proverbs 7: The Book of ProverbsÕ sustained warnings against sexual aberration, especially adultery, which directly attacks the institution of the family, argue that one of manÕs chief areas of stewardship is sex.
Moreover, the bookÕs several warnings about adulteresses should be viewed as integral to the image of wisdom as Lady Wisdom, which a wise man is said to take as a bride. And just as Lady Wisdom becomes personified in a manÕs own wife, Dame Folly is personified in the adulteress. The entire present chapter is devoted to this theme.
Mockery and sarcasm, rhetorical forms used in both the prophetic and sapiential literature of the Bible with some frequency, enjoy the advantage that comes of not taking someone or something as worthy of serious consideration. This chapter illustrates the advantage. The adventurous woman is held up to considerable ridicule, and so is the young fool who falls for her. Indeed, the young man is here given the very words and gestures that she will employ to seduce him. She commences with flattery (verses 5,21); that is to say, she gives the young man "a positive self-image." (A man who builds his self-confidence on a womanÕs approval already demonstrates his immaturity. Prior to the present age it was taken as axiomatic that a young man should not even seek a womanÕs approval, and had no right to expect it, until he had proven himself among men in manly pursuits.)
We see the young man walking down the street, dripping with inexperience, a virtual lamb ambling toward the slaughter (verses 6-7). The very fool, he is strolling aimlessly after dark (verse 6-7; Sirach 9:7), unaware that, even if he is not looking for trouble, trouble is looking for him (verses 10-12). The restless lady comes along and promises him a rollicking good time (verses 13-18), mentioning that her husband will be out of town for a while (verses 19-20). (One thinks of Mrs. Potiphar approaching Joseph in Genesis 39.) Thus is the young fellow suckered into sin (verses 21-23). The chapter ends with the exhortation to be on guard, especially keeping custody of the heart (verse 25). What is to be eschewed is the path to death (verse 27), the other of the Two Ways.
Wednesday, March 12
Proverbs 8: In this chapter personified Lady Wisdom herself speaks. Like the adulteress woman in the previous chapter, she too goes seeking the young man in the streets of the city (verse 2). She too appeals to the heart (verse 5). We observe, however, that she does not use flattery. The young man really needs her, and he has nothing to commend him without her.
In the biblical view, God has first loved us, not we God. Man can seek for wisdom, only inasmuch as wisdom seeks for man. And it is all men that she seeks (verse 4), not merely the Jews.
Wisdom teaches truth, the opposite of which is not merely error, but wickedness (verse 7), and truth is identified with righteousness (verse 8). Wisdom is the highest good, the treasure buried in the field, for the sake of which a man will sell all that he has to purchase that field (verses 10-11). Wisdom is the source of order and justice (verses 12-16). Hence, it is exactly what is required for a man to bring his life into a just order. What a man must have in his heart is the "love of wisdom" (verse 17), an expression called philosophia in Greek. All other gifts come from wisdom (verse 18-19).
Wisdom is the creating companion of God (verses 22-29; Sirach 1:4,8; Colossians 1:15). As such, wisdom is older and more substantial than the physical world (Sirach 24:1-21; Wisdom of Solomon 7:22-28). Indeed, wisdom was the CreatorÕs architect (verses 27-30).
Such is the wisdom concerned in the chapterÕs final exhortation (verses 32-36), which is best read as the verso of the exhortation that closed the previous chapter (7:24-27).
Thursday, March 13
Proverbs 9: This chapter illustrates a contrast between two vastly different meals. From the "highest places of the city" (verses 3,14), both wisdom and folly invite "whoever is simple," the man who "lacks understanding," to "turn in here" (verses 4,16), which is to say, to their respective "houses" (verses 1,14). Their respective meals are quite different; the meat and wine of wisdom (verse 2) are contrasted with the bread and water of folly (verse 17). The former brings nourishment, whereas the latter is lethal (verse 18). (The contrast between the two women, wisdom and folly, in this chapter may be compared with the contrast between the two women, Babylon and Jerusalem, the Whore and the Bride, in the closing chapters of the Book of Revelation.)
If the young man thus admonished is a "scorner," wisdomÕs warning will go unheeded (verse 6), because wisdom is wasted on a fool (cf. Matthew 7:6). Once again, the beginning of wisdom is reverence (verse 10).
The "seven pillars" of the house of wisdom (verse 1) became the trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and quadrivium (arithmetic, music, geometry, astronomy) of the medieval university. Seven, as the number of fullness, was important to the very concept of a university, or house of universal knowledge.
Friday, March 14
Proverbs 10: We now come to the central core of this book (Chapters 10-22), the 375 aphorisms gathered by Solomon (verse 1). In this respect, it is surely significant that 375 is exactly the numerical value of the Hebrew letters that make up the name "Solomon."
This central core of Proverbs is divided into two parts, a division based on both literary style and philosophical outlook.
In the first section, Chapters 10 through 15, most of the aphorisms (10:19, for instance, is an exception to this rule) are structured on an antithetical couplet, in which there is a contrast between components in the first and second lines: just/wicked, prudent/fool, wealth/poverty, accept/refuse, and so forth. In this first section the outlook of the aphorisms is not openly religious, as a rule, but simply "true to life."
In the second section, Chapters 16 through 22, the couplets are synthetic and complementary, not antithetical, as a rule. In each couplet, rather, the second line completes or extends some component in the first line: the refinement of silver/the testing of souls, loving friend/constant brother, and so on. In this second section, likewise, the outlook or tone is "preachy," or exhortatory, and more explicitly religious.
Within each section, smaller groups sometimes bind the aphorisms together by either theme or by some rhetorical device. These latter include, for instance, simple expressions common to each maxim, even though the maxims themselves deal with different subjects. An example is 10:16-17.
Considerable stress is lay throughout on the control of the tongue (for instance, verses 19-21,31-32), in terms that will remind us of James 1:9 and 3:2-12.
All through this central core we observe that wisdom is identified with righteousness, suggesting that Solomon would have no trouble with SocratesÕ identification of knowledge with virtue. The knowledge itself is moral, the wisdom derived from acting wisely. Folly, likewise, is not a lack of IQ, but a moral failing.
Saturday, March 15
Proverbs 11: In the midst of this practical, somewhat secular wisdom, we find some maxims of a religious nature (verse 20; cf. also 10:3,22; 12:2; 15:3,8,33; 16:1-7,9). Because the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, even secular prudence in the Bible has a religious basis (verse 1). Biblical practicality, however, is not the same thing as modern pragmatism, which is intrinsically skeptical and essentially selfish. Skepticism and selfishness are really not very practical.
The wisdom of the Book of Proverbs comes from outside this world, but it is not other-worldly. It is this-worldly, in the sense that God formed the structures in this world, according to which man must live. The divine law is written into the composition of this world, so that those who live in accord with the divine law are the ones who are most in touch with the reality of this world itself. Since the whole world is founded on the wisdom of God, those who live in accord with this wisdom will be the worldÕs most practical people.
Among the themes touched on in this chapter are commercial honesty (verse 1; cf. 16:11; 20:10; Leviticus 19:35-36; Deuteronomy 25:13-16; Amos 8:5-6; 12:8; Micah 6:10-11), the dangers of pride (verse 2), integrity as a guide (verse 3), the salvific fruit of righteousness (verses 4-9,18-19), control of the tongue (verses 12-13), the importance of a breadth of views (verse 14)and a generous spirit (verses 24-26).