Lecture 3: Preamble (Proverbs 1:1-2)
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Lecture: Preamble Part 1
I. The Collections of Teachings
A. The Prologue
You have the superscript that introduces the book as the Proverbs of Solomon, son of David, King of Israel. We have already said that the idea of the son of David is not natural theology. He looks at creation in a very distinct way. The prologue of the book is basically the preamble which tells us the purpose of the book and the key to interpreting the book, its own hermeneutics which is verse 7. This book will give us the skill of living.
B. The First Collection
The lectures of the parents follow the prologue. The first nine chapters hold seventeen specific ‘lessons’, each beginning with either ‘my son,’ or ‘hear ye children’ emphasizing the importance of heeding the words of the teachings. These are collections of poems calling to embrace wisdom. Their aim is to prepare the heart. Verse 1:8 ‘my son, hear the instruction of your father, and forsake not the law of your mother.’ It is both the father and the mother who is involved in the teaching process. There are two major addresses with this prologue of women’s wisdom to the people. Wisdom in 1:20 is personified as a woman who calls aloud raising her voice in the public square. She makes a speech at the city gate. She addresses the simpletons. The parent addresses the child in the home but wisdom is out at the gate, the entrance to the city, she is addressing the simpletons. So we have the lectures and the addresses and at the end of the prologue there are two invitations, calling upon the simpletons to make up their mind to accept this wisdom or to accept folly.
C. Wisdom and Folly
In chapter 9 we have the consequences of accepting wisdom or folly. It shows that wisdom has built her house; she has carved out its seven pillars. There in 9:4 she is addressing the simpletons, ‘whoever is naïve, let him turn in here.’ Not only is Woman Wisdom inviting them but also Woman Folly is inviting them. This is the tension of two world views. 9:13 describes the Woman Folly as a loud and seductive and knows nothing. She is also addressing the simpletons in verse 16, ‘whoever is simple, let him turn in here! To those who have no sense. These two world views of wisdom and folly being portrayed as women and both are appealing to the uncommitted youth to make a commitment. This is the prologue, a collection of poems to embrace wisdom. This is similar to Paul in the first three chapters of Ephesians that give you the doctrine and then the talk of how you live. In Deuteronomy 6-11, love the Lord you God with all your heart and do not depend upon yourself. In chapter 12, it begins with the six hundred and thirteen commandments of the Law. In Deuteronomy, you first prepare the heart and then you receive the instructions. The first nine chapters of Proverbs are critical. They prepare the heart for the proverbs that will follow.
D. The Second & Third Collection
In 10:1-22:16 the second set of collections begins with the title, ‘The Proverbs of Solomon.’ For this second set, they represent a typical kind of Egyptian instruction. First you have the Proverbs of Solomon, the King of Israel and now you get the Proverbs of Solomon. This is not unusual for the form of instructional literature. This was developed by Kenneth Kitchen. They are praises of wisdom preparing the heart. He has the literary women’s fiction as shown at the calling at the gate inviting simpletons to embrace wisdom. The third collection starts in chapter 22:17. It doesn’t have an editorial introduction but form critically introduces the new collection. Notice how it begins: ‘pay attention and listen to the words of the wise, and apply your heart to what I teach.’ These sayings of the wise where not coined by Solomon, but instead by someone else, perhaps an Egyptian Sage by the name of Amen-emope who lived in Egypt at about the same time as Solomon. It is very similar to that of Proverbs 22:17-24:22 which includes an introduction and 30 sections or chapters as the Egyptian called them of teaching on wise behavior. Solomon is adopting and adapting somebody else’s material, but Solomon is the overall writer of Proverbs. He is adapting this material to Israel’s theology from this sage. This has its own introduction; 22:18,’for it is pleasing if you keep these sayings within you, and they are ready on your lips so that your trust may be in the LORD, I am making them known to you today – even you. Have I not written thirty sayings for you, sayings of counsel and knowledge, to show you true and reliable words, so that you may give accurate answers to those who sent you?’ So Collection three is made up of thirty different sayings that he has collected and adapted for his own purposes.
E. The Fourth, Fifth, Sixth & Seventh Collection
Then in 24:23 we have collection four and these also are sayings of the wise. We have six more sayings to the end of chapter 24. The fifth collection starts with chapter 25 with more proverbs of Solomon that were compiled by the men of King Hezekiah of Judah. So these were collected by King Hezekiah. So Solomon was around 1000 BC while Hezekiah was about 750 BC. So this was collected about two hundred and fifty years after Solomon. So Solomon could not have written the book as such as we have in hand. He is responsible for collections one, two, three, and four with the fifth collection belonging to Solomon but collected by Hezekiah. Then the next collection, six, is in chapter 30 in the saying of Agur, the son of Jaketh; an oracle. We don’t know who Agur really is but I think he is both a prophet and a sage. This is probably after Hezekiah. The seventh collection starts in chapter 31. It has its own editorial introduction of King Lemuel, an oracle that his mother taught him. So these are the seven collections in the book. In summary, we have Solomon, you have the men of Hezekiah and Agur, the son of Jaketh and then you have King Lemuel. What we don’t know is the author that put these seven collections together.
Note that the sayings of the wise are never called proverbs; only Solomon is called proverbs. The consonants for Solomon are shlmh. The word ‘proverb’ is Mashal. This is probably an anagram, part of the riddle like nature of this material. For collection two, altogether there are 375 proverbs. This number represents the numerical value of Solomon’s name. Shin is equal to 300 and the L is equal to 30 and the M is equal to 40 and the last H for hay is equal to 5. So this is the authorship. (please note that in Hebrew, numbering is done by Hebrew letters and thus Hebrew letters have an assigned numerical value)
II. The Preamble
The purpose of the book is to know wisdom and instruction. To understand words of insight and to receive instruction in prudence, in righteousness, justice and equity. To give prudence to the non-committed who are the simpletons. Interestingly, we are so geared to IQ but not spirituality. You can have a genius IQ but be a simpleton in Proverbs. Proverbs looks at the human nature, spiritually, but not in the way the natural man looks at it. The history of Israel is a biography or photograph of the Soul. We know what the characters of the Bible were like inside. Man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart and that is what we get in the Bible, a picture of the heart and its spiritual condition.
A. Verse 4
The book is ‘to give instruction to the non-committed, to give to the young man knowledge and discretion.’ The book is really written to the youth. In verse 5, ‘to the wise,’ but the wise is not necessarily older. The youth is to listen, so that they can become wise. In becoming part of the wise, he or she is no longer a simpleton as seen in verse 3. This adds to their learning so that the discerning gets guidance. To understand proverbs and their parables, the sayings of the wise and their riddles, the Proverbs of Solomon are parabolic as we saw in the field of the sluggard. We had to interpret those verses for its spiritual value. The key of the book is verse 7, ‘the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; but fools despise wisdom and instruction.’ So this is the Preamble to the Book of Proverbs.
B. Verse 2
This is a summary statement: it is to know wisdom and instruction and to understand the expression of wisdom and instruction, the words of insight. Verses 3-5 are to know wisdom and instruction. First this is from the student’s viewpoint to receive instruction and from the teacher’s viewpoint, from the parent’s viewpoint and from the sage’s viewpoint to give prudence to the non-committed and why you should listen. But then you notice that 2a deals with moral acumen and 2b deals with mental acumen (acumen is keenness and depth of perception, discernment) as that you can understand it. Then you can see that verses 3 to 5 un-package the verse set 2a. And verse 6 un-packages 2b to understand but notice how the escalation of words increases into proverbs and sayings of the wise. Try to understand here the ways or lenses by which you have to read this material. You will see relationships. So we begin with moral acumen and then we deal with mental acumen. The moral is going to be developed and introduced to the audience and then the mental will be developed into verse 6. That leaves verse 7 which again is the key to the book. It is the key to all wisdom literature as shown in Job 28, ‘the sum essence of everything is the fear of the Lord.’
III. Moral Acumen
A. To Know and Understand
We will look at the word ‘to know as in personal knowledge.’ This comes from Proverbs 1:2a.This is a difficult word, for example we can know a person, but we don’t usually say, ‘I know wisdom.’ I know about it but we don’t really know it. If I wanted to say I know about it in Hebrew it would be, ‘I know that.’ Cyrus knew that Israel’s God was the Lord, ‘but he does not know me.’ He has no personal relationship with me. The RSV misses this because we don’t have this kind of idiom, ‘to know wisdom,’ which mean person knowledge, to internalize it. We know a person but then to personalize an abstraction like wisdom in order to emotionally engage in it is a different story. The NIV because of that confusion of knowing, it translated it, ‘to gain,’ because that comes as close as you can get in English idiomatic language. Thus the NIV is less accurate because the word is, ‘to know.’ But the average person reading this is, see that it is to know about it. But to know about it is ineffectual knowledge. You must know it personally; you must enter into it personally. So to know is personal knowledge and the basic idea of wisdom is ‘skill.’ Wisdom can mean understanding, skill and or expertise. This can be used of wisdom; it can be used of technology or art. For example in Exodus 28:3, ‘we should tell all the skilled men.’ The word skilled in Hebrew is all the wise men but if you say wise men, this doesn’t necessarily communicate properly. We immediately think of intellectual tradition, but it doesn’t mean that. They have a certain type of skill so the NIV translates it as skill, but it is the word for wisdom. Here, they have the wisdom of telling. Tell all the skilled men whom I have given this wisdom in such matters, that they are to make garments for Aaron for his consecration so that he may serve me as priest. In other words, their technical skill is that of a tailor. They will collect flax and boil it to soften it and then separate it in the drying process and then spin it into thread and using a loom to make cloth and clothes using dyes to change the colors of this cloth. This is all technological skill.
B. Wisdom in Terms of Skills, Governance, and Overcoming Limitations
Wisdom by itself is a neutral term but here it is related to masterful understanding or skill or expertise. You can also have skills that are bad; you can be skillful in a detrimental way. There are skills that include the arts of magic as seen in Exodus 7:11, ‘Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts.’ This is an example of bad wisdom but skill in itself is a neutral term also. That is why wisdom in the book will normally have a co-referential term which is righteousness. It is a skill that will produce a whole new life. A co-referential term is two or more words that refer to the same object, but they belong in different semantic domains. For example, wisdom is a word that we associate with mental acumen and we associate righteousness with morality and ethics. They belong in different semantic domains. One is intellectual and one is moral. So they are not synonyms but they are instead co-referential. If you are wise, you are righteous and if you are righteous you are wise. This is according to Proverbs. These terms will be used back and forth and they will be used in terms of producing righteousness, a holy way of life. Wisdom and righteousness are inseparable and that is why it is referred to as a co-referential term.
Wisdom in terms of governing; as shown by Exodus 7:11, wisdom by itself is not necessarily holly. The serpent, the devil is also said to be crafty. In translation; if we think a person is good then we say he is shrewd and if he is bad, we say that he is crafty. In Hebrew you can’t distinguish between an eagle and a vulture, but Hebrew has seventeen words of owls thus really knowing the birds on the ground, but for the high flying birds, they only have one word. So if it is good, it is an eagle but if it is bad it is a vulture. We see governance and judgement as shown in Deuteronomy 1:13 where Moses tells the people to choose wise and understanding men that can ruler over them. So he took the leading men wise and respected and appointed them to have authority over them to provide justice and hear disputes. It is used for administrative judicial skills. This is what Solomon prayed for in 1 Kings 3; he needed the wisdom to govern this people. The king was more than the chief justice. So here is the Kingdom of God to teach righteousness and establish God rule. The key to the Bible is your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Here is Solomon who is over this kingdom to bring God’s will on the earth. But instead he says, ‘I’m not but a boy.’ The Hebrew word na’ah means inexperienced. God gave a gift of governance to decide what is right to Solomon. This is in Isaiah 11, Jesus who has this kind of wisdom. A shoot will come forth from the root of Jesse and from his roots a branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him; the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of council and of power, of knowledge and fear of the Lord and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. With righteousness, he will judge the needy and with justice he will make decisions. Jesus can go beyond in what he saw and heard. His heart was so pure that he could discern error in someone else. How can Christians do some of the things they do? I realize that this is something one must spiritually discern.
Wisdom in terms of overcoming limitations; Agur says that there are four things of the earth (Proverbs 30:24-28) that are small yet they are extremely wise. They can overcome their limitation. This is an instruction for his son. These creatures (he is referring to people) store up their food in the summer. There are rock badgers, locusts, a lizard and ants. Agur is not a zoologist, but he is a moral teacher and these are parables where ants and these others represent people of little strength, yet they can prepare for them food and survive the cold and dark of the winter. So how does the person overcome their limitations of going through a period of starvation? To me, it means, you store up God’s word so that we going through a difficult time with temptation, the Word of God will be there to feed you, and carry you through and sustain you. This proverb must be allegorical since he is not just talking about ants. It could also mean, accepting Christ now instead of in the hour of death if we look at it on a canonical level. There are the rock badgers that live in the crags; they are creatures of little power. They can’t defend themselves. So they have to find their defense elsewhere. The crags are narrow places where other things can’t get to them. I am defenseless, yet I will be defended by God’s Word and this wisdom literature will protect me. As a Christian, I know that God is my refuse. He is my rock, my protection and my fortress. We need to try to understand that in light of what Agur is saying and also in light of the whole of revelation. The locusts have no king so how do they survive? They survive by working together. They cooperate and you can’t stop them, but for the church, we are divided and aren’t working together. We fight against ourselves. But we have a king, a Messiah so how much more should we be united and overcome our opposition. The last one simply makes an observation that the lizard or spider is so weak that it can be caught with the hands, but look where it lives; it lives in the kings palace. It is saying, ‘look at me, I’m nobody and where do I live? In heaven with Christ; I’m in a royal palace.
C. Wisdom is Based on Knowledge
This is assumed in the book; to understand words of insight. The connection between wisdom and knowledge; knowledge gives you the skill. For example, Henry Ford wanted to reconstruct the evolution of American Architecture. He took a house that was left in Plymouth, England and brought it to the states and then he used a home of famous inventors, such as the Wright Brothers. You could see the wind tunnel that had been constructed along with planes. It showed the laws of aero dynamics and of course the result was flying. They had the knowledge that gave them that skill. The Proverbs are to give us the knowledge to live the supernatural life. So you can’t have wisdom with knowledge. In Proverbs, wisdom is the religion and ethical quality and state of knowing of what can form along with reality of truth and wisdom. It is because the natural man cannot have this; it is not known. It has to be given to us by God. Morals act accordingly enabling one to cope with enigma and adversity which in turn helps us to enter into a full life with God. But in this book, people are shown to be clinically alive but they lack real life. Wisdom is a word begotten from God and it gives us the morals to act accordingly, thereby enabling one to cope with life. It gives us the knowledge to do the impossible. Unless you have comprehensive knowledge, you have no idea of what is good or bad. We have to have a revelation to know what is right and what is wrong. This requires a foundation in God.
The Hebrew word for instruction is Musar. It is a chastening lesson to correct a moral fault. Musar instruction enables a person to correct any flaw in teaching. It denotes authority, one which we must submit ourselves to and this entails shaping our character. Musar can be both verbal correction and corporal correction. Thus, verbal correction is to prevent acts of folly, corporal correct is to prevent the repetition of the acts of folly. There is a place for corporal correction in this book. In regards to the translation of the Book of Proverbs, if we thought something refereed to verbal correction, we used instruction for Musar. If we thought it meant corporal correction we used discipline instead. Musar means verbal correction and corporal correction, thus showing that you only have one word for correction in Hebrew, not so in English.