Tag Archives: Proverbs

Reading Proverbs Afresh: Proverbs in Light of Christ

Wisdom is often described as having the know-how of living out knowledge practically. This is a rather weak definition, especially if one is looking to biblical wisdom using books such as the Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. One need only to read through the Proverbs to find that the answer lies within the text itself. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight,” (Prov. 9:10, ESV). The writer here used parallelism to explain what wisdom is: the fear of God, the knowledge of the Holy One. Something similar is stated in 1:7 (The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge), though Proverbs 9:10 was chosen for its explicit use of wisdom/insight (synonymous terms) rather than knowledge (as one may tend to still see the two as separate entities as the weak definition above portrays). Thus, wisdom is the fear of the LORD and this use of “the fear of the LORD” (YHWH) is a purposeful use of covenantal language within the Wisdom books. Grant correctly wrote:

How is it that the “fear of Yahweh” indicates the presence of covenant theology within the Wisdom books? There are two answers to this question: (1) Proverbs’ focus on the fear of Yahweh points us specifically to relationships with Israel’s covenant God as being key to true wisdom; (2) fear of Yahweh takes the reader deep into Israel’s covenant theology because of its intertextual links with the book of Deuteronomy.[1]

Where in Deuteronomy? Deuteronomy 10:12-13 (one of the major chapters in all the book) brings out what one needs to know about this type of fear. “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good,” (ESV; italics added).

Grant explains, “The main question (“What does the LORD your God require of you?”) is answered by the initial central statement (“fear the LORD your God”), and each of the following statements explains what it actually means in reality to fear Yahweh (“walk in his ways, love him, serve him and keep his commandments”).[2] This would mean that the Proverbs are not simply a bunch of sayings unrelated to the rest of the Old Testament (and definitely not of the New Testament), but are intricately linked to both. Though it may not have all the echoes of laws and rites and prophetic remarks of the Laws and Prophets, as Trevor Longman III wrote on Proverbs: “[T]he whole book is theological to the core,”[3] and that theology is in total agreement with the rest of Scripture. “The concept of wisdom is not simply practical skill but is a theological idea.”[4]

That theology is not only shown in “fear of the LORD” language, but in Lady Wisdom (aka Woman Wisdom). Lady Wisdom is wisdom personified as a woman who calls out to young men to come to her, learn from her, and follow as they have been taught. Her archenemy is Lady Folly (aka Woman Folly). This personified foolishness also calls out to the young men to come to her, learn, and so live. As there are two women, there are two paths in which the women point: one being the path of wisdom and the other the path of folly. “The dark path represents one’s behavior in this life, but it culminates not in life but in death. On the other hand, there is the right path, the path that leads to life. This path is straight and well lit. The person who stays on this path will not stumble.”[5]

As one reads the Proverbs and encounters the many times Lady/Woman Wisdom speaks, he/she cannot help but begin to notice that as she speaks, so God has spoken or demonstrated elsewhere within the Bible. “[I]t is clear that Woman Wisdom is a personification of Yahweh’s wisdom and ultimately of Yahweh himself.”[6] Yet where does that leave Lady/Woman Folly? Longman argues that she is the false gods and goddesses of the world. Ultimately, “[T]he choice between Woman Wisdom and Woman Folly is no less than a fundamental religious choice between the true God and false gods.”[7]

Does this not dramatically change the way one reads the Proverbs? It must! As one encounters the many foolish ways (whether directly or indirectly stated), he/she must see that this is the way of this world. It is the way of idolatry, not simply a dumb move that may be regretted later in life. This brings new life and light to Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths,” (ESV). These verses are not simply about trusting God when one doesn’t understand what it is He is doing. These verses are calling upon the reader not to go down the paths of idolatry and live in folly, but to trust the God-given proverbs (law and prophets) and live by them so that one does not go down the dark way that seems right unto man but ends in death (Cf. Prov 14:12), but goes down the path of light leading to life. Thus, the writers of the Proverbs want what Moses and the Prophets wanted: for their readers to find God in all His glory and splendor. “Both sets of literature [Proverbs and Law] come to the conclusion that it is impossible to do so apart from real, and therefore inevitably covenant, relationship with God.”[8]

Yet, how does one build that covenant relationship? Longman answers: “[I]f one wants to know how the world works and thus to successfully navigate life, one had better know the woman, Yahweh’s wisdom—that is Yahweh himself.”[9] But this begs the question as to how then is one to know her. The answer comes as one reads and notices aspects of Lady Wisdom, such as her being described as being before creation (Prov. 8:28), being co-creator with God (Prov. 8:27-30), God’s delight—being well-pleased with Wisdom (Prov 8:30), and other aspects as well such as the fact that with her are abundant riches (Prov 8:18-21). Anyone who has a clear understanding of the New Testament can see that Lady Wisdom and Jesus Christ are one and the same (cf. Col 1:15-19; 2:3, John 1:1-3; Matt 3:17). “The message is clear: Jesus is Wisdom herself. . . Thus to understand the invitation of Woman Wisdom as the invitation of Christ to relationship with God makes the book contemporary to Christian readers.”[10] What an understatement! If wisdom is the Word of God (not only the recorded Word, but the Living Word) it is not only contemporary but massively important. To reject Christ is to reject wisdom and to reject wisdom is to reject Christ. To live a life in folly is to go after false gods, whether they be tangible or intangible and be utterly ruined, never to be in covenantal relationship with God. That very thought ought to keep the believer holding tight to the Proverbs. Without Christ there is no wisdom, there is no covenant relationship, there is no pleasure from or in God.

[1] J. D. Grant, “Wisdom and Covenant” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry, and Writings, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008) 860-861.

[2] Ibid., 861.

[3] Trevor Longman III, “Proverbs, Book of,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry, and Writings, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008) 550.

[4] Ibid., 549.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 550.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Grant, “Wisdom and Covenant” in DOT: Wisdom, 861.

[9] Longman III, “Proverbs, Book of,” in DOT: Wisdom, 550.

[10] Ibid., 551.

Progress is Messy (and Costly)

I have a small garden in our back yard.  It’s about 30′ by 12′ (give or take).  Every spring we work on getting the soil ready. We have a small tiller that we use to get the manure and nutrients ground into the soil.  We could do it with a hoe and garden rake but that would take too much time and too much energy; something neither of us have. Now imagine a real farmer who has acres and acres of land. He doesn’t use a hoe and garden rake to break up his ground. He doesn’t even use a tiller. He has tractors that he and others use to break up the ground, make rows, plant seeds, and so forth.

Those farmers would be fools if they did not take care of their tractors. It’s their livelihood.  They have to keep them gassed, change the oils, lubricate and grease the axles, along with who knows what else. Farmhands need to be paid, fed, and hydrated. If there are animals, they need to be fed, cleaned, and the eggs need to be fetched from the hen-house.  All in all, its hard work running or working on a farm.

Back in the day, before John Deere and Masey Ferguson, mules and oxen were used. They too had to be taken care of as they were the life-blood of the farm.  They had to be fed, tended, and watered. Then of course, their stables had to be cleaned out.  No one likes cleaning out a messy stable. It’s smelly. It’s gross. It’s heavy. But, it’s necessary. Without those oxen the land doesn’t get plowed. Without the plowing, seeds don’t get planted. Without planting there is no crop. Without crops, there is no farm. Without a farm, there is no farmer (or farmer’s family).

How horrible would it be for the farmer to say to himself, “Self, I can plow this field without any mules and oxen. Just give me a hoe and a garden rake and I’ll get the job done lickety-split. Then, I don’t have to clean up that smelly mess in the stable.” Anyone and everyone would try to knock some sense into that man. He’s cutting off his nose to spite his face.

Many of those sense-knockers would be hypocritical in their arguments. Many of us would be also. You see, often we just want to do the work ourselves.  Dealing with people is messy (and sometimes smelly). In our minds, we think that life and work and projects and goals would all go better if we were able to do it by ourselves. In reality, it tends to not be the case. Progress is messy. We must deal with the mess of other people and the mess we make ourselves.  We’re all mess-makers; it’s better if we understand that early on in life. Cleaning up a mess is never fun; no one likes cleaning messes, but it is a necessity in order to make progress in life, in families, in jobs, in every aspect of living.

Solomon wrote, “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox,” (Proverbs 14:4, ESV). The abundant crop does not come by the strength of the farmer, but the oxen–the very ones making the mess in the stable.  If we want the crop, we need the oxen, and we must accept the messiness.  Yes, cleaning up the mess will cost us time; in fact, it might cost us money (troughs broken, food eaten or wasted, gates cracked). It’s all part of progress.  Unless we are willing to starve in our lives, families, jobs, churches, goals, et cetera, then we had better learn to accept the messiness of cooperation.