If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.
Introduction to the Proverbs
In common usage, the English word “Proverb” usually means any kind of popular saying or idiom, such as “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight”. In the Bible the meaning is a bit different. It refers to a short teaching in the “Wisdom” tradition.
“Wisdom” also has a different meaning. Whereas in everyday English it means having a lot of practical or intellectual knowledge, in the Bible it is something more like the contemporary concepts of “life skills” or “emotional intelligence” – how to succeed in dealing with other people, rather than how to pass an exam. The prologue to the Proverbs in chapter 1 lists some of the qualities of a “wise” person: “wise dealing, righteousness, justice, equity, shrewdness, knowledge and prudence”.
Wisdom – written with a capital W – is in these teachings a personification of the “life skills” or “emotional intelligence” that I mentioned above. Such qualities are often associated more with women than men, so it is not surprising that Wisdom is a female figure. Some Christians associate her with either the Holy Spirit, or the Word of God that later became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. But that’s not a fundamental doctrine, so feel free to disagree.
Even more than the Psalms, the Proverbs are so diverse and rich in meaning that it is going to be difficult to write just a few paragraphs about each batch of them. Some days I may write a summary of a whole chapter, other days pick one or two short verses to explore. If I have missed your favourite, do let me know why you like it!
With that in mind, let’s get started.
26 July. Proverbs chapters 1-3
The first section after the Prologue warns young men (who are the target audience of many of these sayings) not to get involved in gangs or criminal activities. The advice may be obvious, but sadly all too many youngsters do still get led astray in this way, especially if they lack a strong parent or if they are from deprived backgrounds with little prospect of employment. By contrast to these feckless youths lacking parental guidance, we are then introduced to the feminine figure of Wisdom who is seen as calling out her wise words to those who will listen, but with a warning that those who fail to follow her advice will not find a welcome when they reap the results of their folly. This is true to life: the further someone strays from the path of wise living, the harder it is for them to get back. Criminals go to prison and come out ready to commit worse crimes; those who turn to drugs get hooked and drawn further into self-damaging lifestyles and turn to crime to pay for their habit.
Chapters 2 and 3 expand on some of the themes of the Prologue, but we are also introduced briefly to the characters of the “loose woman” (2:16-19) and the idea that Wisdom is better than riches (3:13-18). There will be a lot more to come on those topics.