Lecture 2: Hermeneutica Sacra

Course: Proverbs

Lecture: Hermeneutica Sacra

I. Scared Hermeneutics

A. Biblical Christian World View

Scared Hermeneutics involve reading the Bible in the correct way. It is a Spiro that as you learn the words and meanings, it affects your total understanding. As you understand the text and as you read it again, you see it more richly and this causes a constant Spiro of learning. Each time you read it, you see how the parts fit together. I want you to understand the appropriate pre-understandings that are needed in this book? It is the total framework by we know and think. It is a certain world view of what we need to know ahead of time to prepare our mind to enter into this book? Note that the Christian’s view on life is or rather should be different than the world’s view. We confess that we believe in God, the creator of heaven and earth and even more boldly, I believe that God made me. Our world view is different than the non-Christian’s world view. We believe that we originate with God and ultimately we return to the presence of God giving an account for the life he has granted us. This is fundamental and it causes a change in everything. We see a life as a gift of God for which we give him praise and a God who sets a standard for the way we live and he will hold us accountable for it and reward us appropriately. J. Hopkins says that our inscape determines the way we see our landscape. As a Christian, you look at life very differently and I see that as the Providence of God whereas the world sees it as chance or an accident. William Brat expressed the same idea when he said, ‘we do not see with the eye but through the eye.’ So we look at the world through the eye. Jesus says that if the eye is dark your heart is dark and thus you can see the reality. So the basic inscape that we need to bring to Proverbs is the Fear of the Lord and this is a realization that God has revealed himself in Sacred Literature and we humbly respond to it recognizing that he is the author to whom we have responsibility. We fear the Lord because his promises are real and his threats are not empty but are also real.

B. Biblical Preunderstanding

Every object has its own logic to it. You have to stand under the object before you understand the object. There is logic to an orange that differs from the logic of an apple. If you cut an orange like you cut an apple, the results will be different; you will get lots of dripping juice and stickiness with the orange. And if you approach an apple like you would an orange, you will see that the peal is different and there are no segments within it. You have to have a certain understanding to handle the orange. The same as an apple, you have to have a basic understanding of it first. Of course, this applies to anything. The apple has a certain kind of structure, a skin, a core with seeds and the pulp around it. As with an apple or an orange you need to correct tool. If you want to study the stars, for example, you need to have some idea of distance and astronomy along with a certain type of telescope. If you come to a star with a microscope, you will see nothing and you might conclude that there are not stars. The same applies for a microorganism in using telescope. This is the problem with people trying to study God, especially those who are trying to study God using a scientific method. The scientific method is great for material things as it can tell you how and when but it can’t tell you why or who. These are questions that it can’t answer. So if you come to the world solely using the scientific method, you will conclude that there is no God because you are using the wrong lens. You have to have the correct lens, the only way to see God is in a spiritual way with love and faith and hope. We live in such a material world; we don’t understand that you are looking at it with the wrong instrument, through material instruments rather than through spiritual instruments. We need to correct tool to study the Bible and the same thing with Proverbs, we have to have a pre-understanding of the nature of the book and its logic in order to design the tool to read the book intelligently. So this is what we need in order to read and understand the Book of Proverbs.

II. The Holy Scriptures:

A. God Breathed

So, what is the logic and nature of the Bible? In 2nd Timothy 3:16, it says ‘all scripture is inspired by God or God breathed and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.’ This tells me three things about the Bible. It tells me that it has a divine author, it is God breathed and therefore I have to design an instrument that will relate me to God. Secondly, all Scripture is God breathed which includes a human author; inspiration says that he communicated to somebody and therefore I have to design the right tool to relate to the human author. If that involves skepticism, doubt or hostility, I’m not going to understand. When we say that I don’t understand the person, to a large extent we probably don’t love that person. When you love a person, then you begin to understand the person. So for the Biblical writer, you can’t come with hostility or animosity, you will misinterpret him. Then finally, all Scripture is text, it is material, it is words which can be dealt with scientifically. This demands phonology and exegesis. What we can teach is the exegesis but more difficult is relating to God, and the student comes for knowledge to a large extent. The student wants the scientific method, but the truth is you don’t communicate or understand how I should bring all three of these together. So I’m going to design a tool that I might encounter God, know the human person and then exegesis, understanding the text according to the way the author intended when he wrote the text and that demands the grammatical historical method.

The primary author is God, the mediating author is Solomon. And note that every author has a different psychology. Moses’ psychology is different from the prophets and the prophets are different from the sage and the sage is different from the Psalmist. So we also have to understand the psychologies through which God is working to give us his word. The text as already mentioned has to be approached scientifically. So how do we put the spiritual life together with the exegesis, of which we will answer later?

B. Wisdom of God

The Job 28:12 passages provides us with one of the most brilliant poems in the whole of the Old Testament. Job is asking the question, where can wisdom be found? He has decided that true wisdom doesn’t come from humanity. They don’t know it and when they hear it, they don’t even value it. ‘But where can wisdom be found?’ Note that in Hebrew poetry, you hear it stereo phonically. You say something and then you add to it, you emphasize it so the second line becomes a more power line, a line that will intensify the first line. ‘So where can wisdom be found? Where does understanding dwell? No mortal comprehends its worth.’ What we are reading here is not found in the newspapers or in the media. It’s just not there because people don’t know it and they don’t value it. It cannot be found in the land of the living. So where is it coming from? The deep that represents chaos and death says that it isn’t in the deep. In the Old Testament, the ocean is the deep and thus it is chaos. It is death whereas the land is good and is life. ‘The deep says, it is not in me and the sea says it is not in me.’ It is not in the realm of the dead. It cannot be bought with the finished gold nor can its price be weighed out in sliver.’ It is not something that you pay for as in the material realm. You can’t buy it; ‘neither gold nor crystal can be compared with it, nor can a vase of gold match its worth. Of coral and jasper no mention will be made; the price of wisdom is more than pearls. The topaz of Cush cannot be compared with it; it cannot be purchased with pure gold. But wisdom – where does it come from? Where is the place of understanding? For it has been hidden from the eyes of every living creature, and from the birds of the sky it has been concealed.’ The reason he wants to add the birds of the sky is because they can see much further than we can see on our limited horizon. ‘Destruction and Death say, only a rumor of it has reached our ears. But God understands the way to it, and he alone knows where it dwells. For he views the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.’

C. The Fear of God

Without comprehensive knowledge you have no absolute knowledge unless you can see the whole, you have nothing for certain. We used to think that forest fires were bad but we have learned that forest fires have their place. We used to think that damming up rivers were good but now know that it can destroy the ecology. So unless you know comprehensively, you never know with certainty. ‘God understands the way to it, and he alone knows its place. He views the ends of the earth and observes everything under the heavens.’ He was there in the very beginning; he existed before anything else existed. Unless you know comprehensively, you really can’t speak authoritative of what is good and bad. But the modern notion is that everything is relative and there are no absolute good and no absolute bad with revelation. It is more consequential of what you call good and whether it is beneficial or not. ‘When he established the force of the Wind and measured out the waters.’ Water is what sustains life, he is not only the creator, he is the sustainer.’ When he made a decree for the rain and a path for the thunderstorm, then he looked at wisdom and assessed its value; he confirmed it and tested it.’ And here is the revelation, ‘the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is what we call understanding.’ We say evil is in the eyes of God because the depraved heart may call evil good which is what is going on now in this world.

In other words, wisdom has to come from God and in order to enter into that wisdom; it will take a spiritual response, a welcoming response. In 1st Corinthians where Paul makes the argument that it has to be spiritually discerned, we have to come with spiritual tools to read the Bible. This is Paul’s argument in 1st Corinthians 2:11-14. ‘Who knows a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit within him? In the way no one knows the thoughts of God except the spirit of God and we have not received the spirit of the world, which is the spirit of unbelief and weakness. But the spirit who is from God, the Holy Spirit, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the spirit explaining spiritual reality with spirit taught words. The person without the spirit does not accept the things that come from God; for the spirit of God considers them foolishness and cannot under them because they are discerned only through the spirit. And the proof that we belong to God is the fact that we are here welcoming the Word of God. A natural person is not open to this.’

III. God Speaks

A. Human Inspiration

The human author is aspired. That is to say, it is this concussive theory of Revelation that God has spoken but he spoke within the personality of the human author. For example, in regards to Jeramiah, how did he think about himself, who was he? The same can be said about Solomon; who was he and was his pre-understanding? What kind of person was he? This raises real problems for us as the wisest man died a fool. Read the following: ‘My son, if you accept my words, store up my teachings within you, turn you ear to it and pray for it, study it. Then you will understand the fear of the Lord. For the Lord gives wisdom from his mouth and then comes knowledge and understanding.’ If you accept my words, obey my commands, you will know God, for the Lord gives wisdom from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding. Agur claims to be a prophet. He is not only a sage, he is a prophet. The sayings of Agur, the son of Jaketh; an oracle; the Hebrew word is Massa. As much as I admire Ken Kitchens a great Egyptologist and wonderful Godly man, he misses out on this word. The Word Massa figuratively means an inspired utterance. This man’s utterance to Israel, the Hebrew word is naum for inspire. He is claiming spiritual inspiration. So the human author is inspired. We have to understand this person Solomon and then we have exegesis. And the steps in exegesis are: sounds and syllables. Now a translator can translate words and thoughts but he can’t translate sounds.

B. The Dichotomy of Hebrew Poetry

The principle of Hebrew poetry is the principle of continuous dichotomy; everything is broken into halves and in the Hebrew text. Wisdom is the abstract thought but you have to understand the words that will give you insight into that wisdom. So you get this parallelism, this second line that is going to expand. You can’t get to the message without the skill of reading the words or understanding the words. The Hebrew verse is also called verse sets which mean these half verses in Hebrew poetry. And then we have to whole line that makes a full thought. In Hebrew a word is not one word, it is a full thought, the Ten Commandments are also called the ten words. The only word that we have with a full thought in English is yes and no. Also Proverbs normally occur in pairs and a larger unit we call a stanza. And they fall into groups and we will see that there are seven collections of proverbs in the book and they are clearly marked out. Then the book has its own unity and then we look at the literary context of wisdom literature and then we look at the canonical context. So up to verse 5 that is micro-grammar and then 6-9 is form criticism and then we begin to enter into Biblical theology.

(Note that Parallelism is the foundation of Hebrew poetry and registers most obviously as a balanced repetition. And Poetry is concentrated language; it compresses a maximum of thought into a minimum of words. Content and form are essential in poetry. A significant amount of Israel’s literature is poetic in form. A single line of biblical poetry, sometimes called a stich, might or might not be a complete sentence, if not a complete sentence, it is completed by the second line. Alliteration is the repetition of a consonantal sound in two or more words of a line. It is a sound device that can be perceived only in the original Hebrew version. It can extend across multiple lines. Paronomasia is a play on words, a verbal pun that makes specialized use of alliteration. The basic building block of Hebrew poetry is the couplet which is also called a distich or bi-colon. Hebrew poetry does not have rhythm and meter in the same sense. Rather, it seems to be governed by a basic balance between the lines of a couplet whereby each line has the same number of word units. In formal parallelism, the two lines have a formal relationship defined by rhythm or line length. A stanza, sometimes call strophe, is a group of couplets that constitute a sense unit within a poem.)

B. Lectio Diniva

I am going to conclude this section with the Lectio Divina. The focus of Lectio Diniva is not a theological analysis of biblical passages but viewing them with Christ as the key to their meaning. That is to say, how do you read the Bible spiritually or reading it in an inspired way, the way God intended it to be read. It has been likened to ‘feasting’ on the word. The four parts include the Lectio, the meditatio for meditation, Oratio, and Contemplatio. Lectio in Latin means to read while meditatio means to meditate. Oratio means to pray and contempletio means to feel. So this Lectio Divina of these four modes has been called feasting on the word. It is taking a bit and then chewing on it and saver the essence of it in prayer and finally it is digested and made a part of the body. So Lectio is reading the Scriptures slowly and attentively several times. Part of the problem is to understand the units that you have to begin with. In chapter 4 of Proverbs, you have three distinct poems and we know this by form criticism. You have verses 1-9, 10-19 and then 20-27, three very distinct poems in the same chapter. If you try to read and understand these all together, it is not going to work very well. In Proverbs, they are not clearly marked out and we have to do that to get the discrete sections. We will learn how to divide the book up into appropriate thoughts. A commentary is helpful for this. The meditation is both the exegesis of it and ruminating on it. You enter into it in prayer, understanding that it is dialogue with God who has invited us into his embrace. It has the idea of an offering to God of ourselves. In prayer, we allow the Word that has been taken in and on which we are pondering to touch and change our deepest selves. We pray that God will do that and not turn us away. God invites us into Lectio Diniva to change our deepest selves, expressing our most painful and difficult experiences to him. This Oratio, this concentration of prayer, we allow our real selves to be touched and changed by the Word of God. The Contemplation is sort of like; you become porous allowing the Spirit of God to fill you with the truth that you have learned. This is characterized by a simple, loving focus on God.

IV. The Superscript

A. Poetry

The superscript as in the Psalms, this is history. The rest of the Book is poetry. Poetry is more elevating leading you more into the abstract and universal truth. The superscript is historically particular, a Psalm of David on this particular occasion. That puts you into history and particularity, a point of anchor in the superscript that pins us down to the royalty of Solomon. It introduces us to the form of literature by which we are to interpret it. So it talks about the Proverbs of Solomon, Son of David, and King of Israel. There is nothing wasted here. We will see what kind of literature this is and the broad concept of the form, a broad category which is its poetry or the prose. You read poetry differently than prose. Prose is like watching a movie which keeps unfolding or like a slide show whereby you study each picture. But poetry is like an individual picture, a slide with its own meaning. This is a board explanation.

B. Proverbs and Wisdom Literature

In regards to Wisdom literature, broadly speaking is with the particular form. Wisdom literature of the Bible includes at least three whole books, all being part of wisdom literature: Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. There is some wisdom literature in the Psalms, such as Psalm 49. The criteria in making that judgement will be made clearer. What makes this wisdom literature verses the history of the Torah or that of the Prophets. Well, wisdom literature is read differently than other kinds of literature. In 1973 Orin Library wrote on the intellectual tradition of Israel and concluded that it had a distinctive vocabulary. He used such words as wisdom, knowledge, discretion, prudence; words that characterized wisdom literature. These words occur more frequently than in any other book and the vocabulary is almost exhausted in the preamble of Proverbs 1-6 which gives us all our basic vocabulary for the entire book. Rollin Murphy says that it is not historical; it stands apart from Israel’s covenant with God. There is no mention of Abraham, Israel’s history, Moses, and hardly any mention of David except from the superscript. It also stands apart from salvation history which is the spine of the Old Testament. Some say the book is humanistic, emphasizing human dignity which I think is wrong. This is in a sense of reasoning and knowing, not by revelation, almost like a secular book which I think cannot be understood apart from revelation. You cannot understand without the Fear of the Lord. This is not human wisdom. In Proverbs 3:5-7, we have, ‘trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge God, and he will direct your paths.’ Van Rod believes that wisdom is the search for order. One of the characteristics of wisdom is the connection between cause and consequences. Do this and you get that. Do that and you get this. Van Rod’s idea does not demand faith, however. But it will take faith to enter into the Book of Proverbs and believe it. McCain thinks it is u-doministic which means you do good in order to get good. This is much too simplistic. The book is well aware that you can do well and suffer but this is not the emphasis of the book.

What is a proverb? Webster defines it as a brief popular saying that gives advice on how people should live or that express belief that is generally thought to be true. Landies and McCain struggle hard on how to define it. Mashal is the Hebrew word for comparison and so they understand it as being a short saying which they compare your life. This is inadequate because all Scripture is literary model by which you want to compare his life. So I conclude that it is a poetic apothem (something that is laid down as being apart or separate short pithy saying) which is currency of those who believe in God.

Some say Proverbs promises too much. God promises reward but not necessarily immediately, nor does he punish us immediately. If God rewarded us immediately, it would destroy us spiritually. We would use God and he would become a charm by which we got whatever we wanted. There is always a gap between virtue and rewards and often suffering in between. In this way God saves us from our selfishness and from using him. This suffering and tribulation establishes character and by this delay, it is to our good because if he didn’t put us through sufferings before the reward, it would also destroy us spiritually. On the other hand, he doesn’t punish us immediately; otherwise there would be no opportunity for salvation. So God is long suffering in this sense.

V. Inspiration

A. The Phycology of Inspiration

Chapter 1:20, ‘wisdom calls out in the street, she cries in the public square and at the city gate she makes a speech.’ She is crying out like a lion. She wants to be heard. This is a different kind of inspiration and the difference is its nature, it is the phycology of the inspiration. And it is helpful to understand that this phycology is different from other forms of inspiration. For example, the phycology of Moses is theophany (a visible manifestation of a deity). He sees and talks to God face to face. As a child, I used to wonder how Moses spoke to God face to face and no one could see God and live. To me, that was a contradiction; Moses sees God but you can’t see God. Then I realized that he saw a form of God; an example of seeing a person on television verses seeing that person in real life. For Moses, he didn’t talk to an actual person. Now the prophets have a different phycology; it is known as hazah or vision. He is conscience of the world around him but he entered into the supernatural world or world of the spirit. He sees an angel; he hears the Word of God. He doesn’t see the form of God in a vision. He is in a different spiritual state than Moses. David is in prayer, pouring out his heart in praise or petition. It is written down. What were David’s words in the Bible now become God’s words to us. The prayer becomes the Word of God, thus a different psychology. Now the psychology of the sage sees the same world you and I see, but he has a spiritual insight into that world. Sort of like how Jesus could see the lilies of the field. He looks at creation or human behavior and gets insight of spiritual truth into what he is observing. We have a difficult time in thinking of this as inspiration because we do the same thing, but his is canonical and more perceptive.

B. The Theophany of Moses and the Visions of the Prophets

I said that inspiration for Moses was a theophany, for prophets it was visions. Let’s look at an example of this theophany from Moses in numbers 12:1, ‘Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman he had married (for he had married an Ethiopian woman). Has the LORD only spoken through Moses? Has he not also spoken through us? And the LORD heard it.’ We call this an ah-mosaic because we don’t think Moses wrote this. ‘Now Moses was a very humble man’, the most humble in the earth. Note that all strife is due to pride as seen in Proverbs; it is where our ego is threatened and we fight back. ‘The LORD said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam: the three of you come to the tent of meeting. So the three of them went and the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent; he then called Aaron and Miriam, and the both came forward. The Lord said hear now my words: if there is a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known to him in a vision; I will speak with him in a dream. My servant Moses is not like this; he is faithful in all my house. With him I will speak face to face, openly, and not in riddles; and he will see the form of the Lord. Why then were you afraid to speak against my servant Moses? Dreams and visions need interpretation. You don’t read prophets the same way you read Paul’s Epistles or literature nor do you read the apocalyptic the same as you read Paul’s Epistles or the Gospels. ‘With Moses, I speak face to face, clearly.’ In the Law, there are no riddles or puns. It is very clear that there are different hermeneutics at work. Moses sees the form of the Lord. Moses has priority in regards to interpretation because he has a better form of revelation being face to face verses visions and dreams.

A vision within Proverbs 24:30, ‘I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyards of one who lacks wisdom.’ It takes six years to prepare a vineyard. They had to clear the rocks and thorns and weeds and then put a watch tower in. In the first sentence, it was a field and then in the second sentence he intensifies it to a vineyard. So the field becomes the vineyard and a sluggard is a person who has no sense, a person who can’t survive. The field had belonged to a sluggard who let the thorns grow up in it with weeds covering the ground. The stone wall was now is ruins. If you leave a valuable field to itself, it will destroy itself. So he is saying to the young that you have received a great inheritance from your parents and community. But if you are a sluggard, all of the investment is gone. The field will be destroyed. Within physics there is the law of entropy that is a law of breaking down, of death and destruction and so in depravity, it is the law of spirit death. This is a sort of a parable; he is not just interested in the field. There is chaos here; order doesn’t just happen, you have to create it. Notice the phycology here, ‘I applied my heart to what I observe,’ and the Hebrew word for observe is the same for vision (chazah). It is an insight and the same for the sage; it is mediated through the creation. This is what I observed. And he goes on, ‘a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to relax.’ By doing so, you are giving away life little by little. ‘And poverty will come on you like a bandit, and your need like an armed robber.’ The spiritual side to this; if you do not discipline yourself in the Word of God, then the spiritual law of the devil will destroy you; thus you cannot be uncommitted, you cannot be a sluggard. Note that the spirit that is in you is greater than the spirit that is in the world, but God gives us the grace that we might have the diligence to walk and cultivate the Spirit.

This is not natural theology. Solomon is not simply looking at the creation without any preunderstanding. Because if I look at the creation from the viewpoint of biological evolution, I don’t see order, I only see chaos; I see the law of the fang and claw. But he is not looking at it from the viewpoint of atheistic evolution; he is looking at it through the lens of the covenant community. This is why it is not natural theology. Of course he already has a preunderstanding of that creation. He is not neutral here; he has covenant values already in place. This is the same viewpoint with which Jesus looks at the lilies of the field and how they don’t work but yet are arrayed with beauty. So his world view is that of Israel’s covenant theology.

C. I Am What I Am

He says to fear the Lord and note that LORD here is Yahweh, he is who he is or rather he says, ‘I am who I am’ and what it means is, ‘I am’. He is something that is eternal and we can narrow the word down further to, ‘is’, he is. What is the ultimate reality? Matter is eternal or God is eternal, they could not have originated. And the materialists think that matter is eternal; just is and always will be and they praise that matter. To me that is in-comprehendible because matter has its own laws written within it. It shows tremendous intelligent design. This was Einstein’s viewpoint; he knew that everything had logic about it and that’s how he made his discoveries. Where did that logic come from? By itself, it tells us that there is intelligence before matter itself. Something had to design it. So his name is, ‘I am’, the eternal one. This is ultimate truth and ultimate wisdom. ‘I am what I am’; he means that you cannot compare God to anything; there are no images and you could have no images because he is no one like God. He is what he is and furthermore has to make himself known. God makes himself known in the creation and in salvation history. In the history of redemption, he is making himself known as a God who is faithful to his covenant promises while teaching us to live by faith in the mitts of it. When Solomon took the throne, he had a copy of the Law of Moses written out, taken from that of the Levitical priests. This is the provision for kingship as shown in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. It is to be with him and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this Law and these decrees and not to consider themselves better. He had the Book of the Law written for himself and thus this is his preunderstanding of creation.

Interestingly in Hebrew 3, it says that Christ is greater than Moses because Moses was a faithful servant in the house, but Christ is a Son over the house. The Son is greater than the slave. Over the house is greater than in the house, therefore if there is any conflict in my interpretation between Moses and Christ, I go with Christ. I begin with the New Testament. This is hermeneutically profoundly important. The way I read the Old Testament will be determined by the way I read the New Testament. If there is any tension, I’m going with Jesus. It is all the Word of God and the Word is the expression of the reality of who God is and what truth is and what wisdom is, but Christ is the perfect incarnation expression of God and if you have seen Christ, then you have seen God. He is the Word as said in John 1:1; he is the perfect expression of God.