Proverbs 10

“The righteous leave a lasting name – a blessing to recall; the wicked just a name that rots – expunged by one and all.”  (Proverbs 10:7)

This is the tenth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 10, preceded by a brief reflection.

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The book of Proverbs is organized according to style and author.

1)  Proverbs 1 – 9  (Extended Wisdom Poem of Solomon)
2)  Proverbs 10 – 22:16  (Proverbs of Solomon)
3)  Proverbs 22:17-24  (Sayings of the Wise & Further Sayings of the Wise)
4)  Proverbs 25 – 29  (Proverbs of Solomon collected by Hezekiah)
5)  Proverbs 30  (The Words of Agur)
6)  Proverbs 31:1-9  (The Words of Lemuel)
7)  Proverbs 31:10-31  (The Wife of Noble Character by Lemuel)

Proverbs 10 marks an abrupt change in style from the preceding chapters.  For whereas the extended wisdom poem of Proverbs 1-9 hangs together in its topical and narrative form, much of what comes after is stylistically and organizationally disparate.  The verses in Proverbs 10, like those that follow, are styled as two-line couplets, with no obvious organization between and among the verses.  A few translations, such as the Message, provide sub-headings in an attempt to impose some structure.  I have found it best to simply accept the fact that the verses are only loosely organized by theme, rather than search for coherent patterns. However, as a general aid in reading them, I use three stars *** to separate groupings of verses that seem to go together.

Proverbs 10 may be lacking in formal structure, yet it includes a verse that helps to contextualize the other verses in chapter 10, as well as many of the others throughout Proverbs.  This is verse seven.  “The righteous leave a lasting name – a blessing to recall; the wicked just a name that rots – expunged by one and all.”  (Proverbs 10:7)  Is there anyone among us who does not want to leave a lasting name, a legacy if you will, that is a blessing to recall?  Surely there is an urging in all of us to want to be remembered with affection, and not with a name that rots and is slowly forgotten.  No doubt all of us remember someone who is a blessing to recall.  As no doubt there are some who we remember (if at all) with indifference, and even perhaps some whose names we would expunge from our minds.

Proverbs 10:7 contextualizes Proverbs by providing a reason to pursue the life of virtue that is described throughout Proverbs.  Of course, the primary reason for pursuing a life of virtue is to reflect our love for God.  “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.”  (John 14:21)  Furthermore, this pursuit leads us into a full and better life.  “The righteous have a just reward – a life that’s full and true; the wicked earn what they deserve – the judgment that they’re due.”  (Proverbs 10:16)  According to Proverbs 10:7, righteous living is our legacy to future generations – it is how we will be remembered because it is how our lives impact those who come after us.

God describes this generational blessing in the Ten Commandments, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”  (Exodus 20:5-6)  These words show that God’s love endures forever, but also that our life impacts future generations.  Or in the words of the translators of the NET, the beneficial consequences of a life of goodness extend indefinitely further than the retribution that is the penalty for persisting in sin.”  The focus of generational blessing is not principally about us – we are not seeking to leave our image carved in stone, but to imprint a certain goodness on the souls of those who will come after us.

But what is the essence of a person’s life that makes it a blessing?  To answer, I would mention my father whose name is a blessing for me to recall.

Every year on the first of September, I mark his birth month by rereading Northern Farm by Henry Beston.  It is a gentle series of reflections of life on a small freehold in rural Maine in the late 1940s.  I love Beston’s writing style and the recollections it stirs up of the five years I lived on a farm in Maine.  But mostly I read one short chapter each day because it was a favorite of my father who lived in Maine for the final 35 years of his life.  I read from his copy – the one that he gave me a few years before he died in 2013.  As I hold his book and read about snowstorms, wood fires, muddy roads, and starry nights, I have a wonderful sense of his presence.  Yet the blessing that his memory holds for me is not just the book or the other things we shared in common, but how he lived his life in relation to me and others.

I have struggled to put my finger on what it was about his character that makes his name a blessing.  I don’t feel that way about everyone I have known, even some in my own family.  What was it about him that is different?  Proverbs 10:7 says that the difference is between those who are righteous and those who are wicked.  But this is not entirely helpful because although Proverbs is filled with a description of the righteous and wicked, my dad did not always live up to the descriptions of one who is righteous.  Indeed, there are few of us who consistently measure up to the standards of righteousness identified throughout Proverbs.

My memory of my father is of a kind and gentle man.  He had his faults, as we all do, but they are not what I recall.  Rather, it was his kind and gentle spirit.  He spoke softly and with compassion.  His words were life-giving.  They exemplified, “The speech that comes from righteous mouths is like a spring of life.” (Proverbs 10:11a)  He believed in fairness and justice, but never allowed his fight for these to embitter his heart and poison his tongue.  Still, it wasn’t just his words, but his humility and humanity.  He had a tender heart for the disadvantaged, and ran a rural food pantry for a number of years.  The pantry served all comers, and the only thing that got my dad mad was when people donated food that was obviously spoiled.  He valued the poor, as he did all life.   He would have appalled to see the present age where many have drifted away from decency and kindness, at times even from our shared humanity.

How will you be remembered?  Will your name be a blessing to recall?  Will the memory of you bring a joyful recollection?  Will your example encourage someone to live a better life?  The questions are easy, the answers less so.  But the answers lie somewhere within the quality of our compassion and love for others. For God tells us that there is a type of love that we can embody that can cover over even a multitude of wrongs.  Or in the words of another verse in Proverbs 10, “For hatred and hostility, stirs conflict and discord; but love will cover every wrong, and all that is untoward.”  (Proverbs 10:12)

S

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1  These proverbs are from Solomon,
who writes about a child –
A wise one brings its parents joy,
A fool just gets them riled.

***

2  Ill-gotten treasure does not last,
no profit’s found in it;
But righteousness delivers life,
and keeps one from the pit.

3  The Lord won’t let the righteous starve –
He keeps his people fed;
But everything the wicked crave,
the Lord denies instead.

***

4  A slacker does not have success,
and ends in poverty;
But one forever diligent,
brings wealth that all can see.

5  The one who reaps in summertime
has prudence for a name;
But one who sleeps at harvesttime
brings disrepute and shame.

***

6  The righteous wear a noble crown
of blessings on their head;
The wicked hide a violent will
behind their mouth instead.

7  The righteous leave a lasting name –
a blessing to recall;
The wicked just a name that rots –
expunged by one and all.

***

8  The wise in heart accept commands
when wisdom they are taught;
But ruin clings to babbling fools,
and they will come to naught.

9  Whoever walks with honesty,
will walk secure and steeled;
But those who take a crooked path,
will have their way revealed.

10  Whoever winks maliciously
will cause a lot of grief;
While ruin comes to babbling fools,
with no chance for relief.

11  The speech that comes from righteous mouths
is like a spring of life;
But that from wicked tongues conceals
both violence and strife.

12  For hatred and hostility,
stirs conflict and discord;
But love will cover every wrong,
and all that is untoward.

13  While wisdom’s found on lips of those
with knowledge to dispense;
A rod is destined for the backs
of those who have no sense.

14  The wise will store up knowledge gained,
like treasure stashed away;
But fools with rash and reckless tongues,
bring ruin and decay.

15  The rich have wealth that’s like a fort –
a city strong and safe;
The poor are crushed by poverty –
a lost and needy waif.

16  The righteous have a just reward –
a life that’s full and true;
The wicked earn what they deserve –
the judgment that they’re due.

***

17  Whoever heeds what they are taught
discovers life that way;
But one who disregards reproof
will surely go astray.

18  Whoever hides their hating heart
is one whose lips tell lies;
And one who slanders and defames
is certainly unwise.

19  Whoever speaks too many words
is guaranteed to sin;
But one who knows to hold their tongue
has prudence deep within.

20  The righteous have a tongue that’s like
the finest silver known;
The wicked have an evil heart
with small worth of its own.

21  A righteous person’s words give life,
so many souls are fed;
But fools who don’t have commonsense,
are sure to end up dead.

***

22  The blessings of the Lord bring wealth –
a treasure to behold;
They come without the pain of work,
and sorrow of the soul.

23  A fool enjoys a wicked scheme,
and thinks that it’s okay;
While those of understanding find
delight in wisdom’s way.

24  The wicked will be overrun
by fears they can’t ignore;
The righteous though will be supplied
with all they’re hoping for.

25  The wicked will be swept away
by tempest, wind and squall;
The righteous though will not be moved,
whatever may befall.

***

26  Now sluggards are a pain to those
on whom their work relies –
Like vinegar upon the teeth
or smoke that fills the eyes.

***

27  The righteous have their life prolonged,
because they fear the Lord;
The wicked though will have their years
cut short as their reward.

28  The righteous have a certain hope –
a joy that is profound;
The wicked though will see their hopes
be buried in the ground.

29  The righteous know that God’s way is
a refuge safe and strong;
The wicked will be wrecked by it,
because their way is wrong.

30  The righteous have a solid root –
an anchor where they stand;
The wicked though will not remain,
or live within the land.

31  The righteous speak and bear the fruit,
of all that’s good and wise;
The wicked have a perverse tongue
that’s silenced for its lies.

32  The righteous know that what they speak
gives pleasure and delight;
The wicked only utter words
perverse and dark as night.

Proverbs 9

Instruct the wise and they’ll improve, increasing what they know; and teach the righteous carefully, and they will surely grow.”  (Proverbs 9:9)

This is the ninth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 9, preceded by a brief reflection.

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Proverbs 9 is the final chapter in the extended wisdom poem of Proverbs 1-9, which collectively serves as an introduction to Proverbs.  In this chapter Wisdom (verses 1-6) and Folly (verses 13-18) each makes her final appeal.  The appeals themselves are so wrapped in metaphor that it is hard to extract much practical advice for the spiritual life, except to hear once again that the way of Wisdom leads to life, and the way of Folly leads to death.

Sandwiched between these two appeals are three verses that speak deeply and practically to our human condition.  “Correct a mocker and it’s sure that you will be maligned; rebuke the wicked and you’ll find abuse is close behind.  For if you chide the ones who mock, it’s you that they will hate; but if you chide those who are wise, their love for you is great.  Instruct the wise and they’ll improve, increasing what they know; and teach the righteous carefully, and they will surely grow.”  (Proverbs 9:7-9)  In short, a wicked person will not accept correction and will attack the one correcting them; whereas a wise person will welcome correction and grow as a result.  And in this, Solomon gives us one of the most critical components of spiritual growth, namely, the importance of being able to receive correction well.

I wonder whether Solomon was thinking about the prophet Nathan who confronted Solomon’s father King David after his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah.  You remember the rebuke – Nathan tells David the story of a rich man who killed the only ewe of a poor man.  David was outraged, and then Nathan says to him, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7)   David did not get mad at Nathan, rather, he said, “I have sinned against the Lord.”  (2 Samuel 12:13)   Because Bathsheba was Solomon’s mother, it seems likely that Solomon would have known about this story.  Indeed, David himself wrote of his remorse, Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.  Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.”  (Psalm 51:1-4)

All of us make mistakes, no one is perfect.  But the essential posture of the wise person when confronted is to repent, to change.  The fool, on the other hand, becomes defensive.  This is a hard teaching because who among us likes to be corrected?  Or rebuked?  Or chided?  These words of Solomon are words of confrontation and challenge.  They are words that we hear as “you are wrong,” “you made a mistake,” or perhaps even “you are stupid.”  When I hear words like these my defense shields are fully engaged and I am ready to fight.

Defensiveness though, comes at a dear cost, because it silences the truth.  “Correct a mocker and it’s sure that you will be maligned; rebuke the wicked and you’ll find abuse is close behind.”  (Proverbs 9:7)   Who among us when confronting another person will continue to speak the truth in the face of being maligned and abused?  Certainly this can be a big problem in a marriage, where defensiveness effectively silences the one offering correction.  I wonder sometimes at how my marriage survived in the face of my defensiveness over the years.  I recognize today that my pride and insecurity would rarely allow me to be corrected.  It must be extremely challenging to live with someone who cannot receive correction.  Solomon tells us that the righteous grow as a result of correction.  The implied opposite being that those who are unwise will never grow.

Beyond relational damage though, there is the potential for deeper spiritual harm when a person no longer recognizes their need for correction.  The risk is that of losing sight of one’s sin.  The inability for us to recognize when we have sinned is a uniquely dangerous spiritual disease.  Ronald Rolheiser writes,

“This proclivity to rationalize and not admit weakness and sin is, singularly, the most deadly temptation facing each of us.  Failure to admit weakness and acknowledge our sin as sin is infinitely more damaging than weakness and sin themselves.  Failure in self-honesty is the start of the sin against the Holy Spirit, the only sin that can never be forgiven”  …
“Simply put, it is the sin of lying to oneself until one becomes so warped that one believes one’s own lie. Falsehood becomes truth.  The reason this sin cannot be forgiven is not that God does not want to forgive it, but rather that the person no longer sees the need for forgiveness.  Living in darkness is seen as living in light; sin is seen as grace; perversion as virtue.” (Forgotten Among the Lilies, 105-106)

Near the end of his life, Solomon himself became like the fool he wrote about in Proverbs.  God told him not to marry foreign women or worship their gods.  Whether this correction came through a prophet or directly from God, we do not know.  But we do know that Solomon did not repent and obey God.  Rather Solomon married those outside his nation and worshipped their disgusting gods (1 Kings 11:5,7)  Indeed, He sinned against the Lord and was not true to him as his father David had been.”  (1 Kings 11:6)  As punishment, God split the kingdom apart.

The irony should not be lost on us.  Here we have Solomon, whose “wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt.  He was wiser than anyone else.”  (1 Kings 4:30-31)  And yet he who wrote with such great insight about correction, was himself unable to receive it himself.

Nonetheless, Solomon’s advice is sound.  And it is achievable if our hope is in the Lord.  Or as we read, “Trust in the Lord … and he will make your pathways straight.”  (Proverbs 3:5-6)

S

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1  It’s Wisdom who has built her house
where all can gather round;
She’s carved out seven pillars strong
to firmly set it down.

2  She’s skillfully prepared her meat,
she’s mixed her finest wine;
She’s laid her table carefully,
so everything is fine.

3  She’s had her servants lead the way,
as she sets out to go;
She calls from high above the town
to everyone below.

“Let anyone who is naïve,
   and has no commonsense;
Come now and enter where I live,
   come now and listen hence.

Come, have your fill of what I’ve made,
   come freely eat my bread;
Come drink the wine that I have mixed,
   partake of what I’ve spread.

Forsake and leave your simple ways,
   and life will come to you;
Seek understanding for your walk,
   and insight that is true.”

***

7  Correct a mocker and it’s sure
that you will be maligned;
Rebuke the wicked and you’ll find
abuse is close behind.

8  For if you chide the ones who mock,
it’s you that they will hate;
But if you chide those who are wise,
their love for you is great.

9  Instruct the wise and they’ll improve,
increasing what they know;
And teach the righteous carefully,
and they will surely grow.

***

10  To fear the Lord is wisdom’s door –
the start of what is true;
While knowledge of the Holy One
is understanding too.

11  For wisdom will extend your days
by giving many more;
Your years will surely multiply,
increasing by the score.

12  If wise, you’ll gain a just reward,
and keep it for your own;
But if you mock, you’ll suffer much,
and bear it all alone.

***

13  Now Folly is tumultuous,
unruly and naïve;
She’s gullible and ignorant,
and eager to deceive.

14  She’s at the doorway of her house,
the place where she sits down;
Her vantage is the highest point,
that’s far above the town.

15  She calls to everyone she sees –
whoever’s passing near;
Those walking straight along their path
without concern or fear.

16  “Let anyone who is naïve,
   and has no commonsense;
Come now and enter where I live,
   come now and listen hence.

17  Now stolen water’s sweeter than
   whatever else you drink;
And food that’s gathered secretly,
   tastes better than you think.”

18  But simpletons are unaware,
it’s there the dead reside;
For those who enter Folly’s house,
become like those who’ve died.

Proverbs 8

The Lord created me to be His first work to behold; He made me at the very dawn, before his deeds of old.” (Proverbs 8:22)

This is the eighth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 8, preceded by a brief reflection.

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In Reflection On The Psalms, C.S. Lewis wrote of Psalm 19:  “I take this to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.”  High praise indeed from the preeminent Christian apologist of the 20th Century.  Lewis starts his reflection by reminding us of the structure of Psalm 19 – six verses about Nature, five about the Law, and the remainder about personal prayer.

The verses about nature are summed up by verse 1 –
The heavens show the work of God, His glory they proclaim;
The skies disclose His handiwork through starry host aflame.

The verses about the law by verse 7 –
The Lord reveals His perfect law so every soul can grow;
His words are worthy of our trust, with wisdom all can know.

And the verses about prayer by verse 14 –
May every word that’s in my mouth and thought within my soul,
Be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock who makes me whole.

What fascinated Lewis was how the psalmist so seamlessly moved from the beauty of nature to the beauty of God’s law.  Lewis wrote of the psalmist, “I think he felt, effortlessly and without reflecting on it, so close a connection, indeed (for his imagination) such an identity, between his first theme [nature] and his second [law] that he passed from the one to the other without realizing that he had made any transition.”  Lewis understood this connection between nature and God’s law through a simile – as the sun penetrates all of the natural world, so too God’s law penetrates all of a person’s soul.  Lewis wrote of the psalmist, “As he has felt the sun, perhaps in the desert, searching him out in every nook of shade where he attempted to hide from it, so he feels the Law searching out all of the hiding-places of his soul.”

I don’t think we need to get too hung-up about the meaning of God’s “law,” because in this context it is clear that the psalmist is referring to God’s moral law (as opposed to the ceremonial law).  For example, the psalmist says that the law is absolutely ‘just’ (v 9), and provides ‘moral guidance’ (v 11) – both of which describe moral law.  Lewis himself understood God’s ‘law’ in Psalm 19 as referring to Christian ethics.

C.S. Lewis gives us a wonderful handle on how the psalmist connects the beauty of nature and Christian ethics.  Proverbs 8 suggests another.

Proverbs 8 is the penultimate chapter in the extended wisdom poem of Proverbs 1-9.  Here Solomon returns to a number of themes from earlier chapters:  the universal call of wisdom (v 1-3); the moral underpinnings and value of wisdom (v 4-21); and the blessings for those who find wisdom (v 32-36).  I previously commented on the moral underpinnings of wisdom (see reflection on Proverbs 4).  This is supported by a number of verses in Proverbs 8 that relate wisdom to virtue.  For example, we find that Wisdom: only utters truth (v 7); only speaks righteous words (v 8); hates pride, evil ways and falsehoods (v 13); and walks the way of righteousness (v 20).

But in addition to restating some of his earlier themes, Solomon also provides a new insight in Proverbs 8, namely, that Wisdom was the first of God’s creations.  Before God created anything else, he created Wisdom. (v 22-31)  “The Lord created me to be His first work to behold; He made me at the very dawn, before his deeds of old.” (v22)

Many Christians think about creation in terms of the intelligent design of nature.  We reason that life is far more likely to be the result of an intelligent being, than the result of random actions.  But how often do we think about creation in terms of its moral underpinnings?  Proverbs 8 tells us that Wisdom and its inherent ethical attributes are part and parcel of the created world.  As noted, Wisdom was the first of God’s creations (v 22).  This was no mere passive presence, but an active relationship with God.  In the words of Wisdom:  “I constantly was at His side, and I was his delight, Rejoicing in His presence while forever in His sight.” (v 30)  And so, our world has more than just an intelligent physical design, but an ethical design as well.  Christian ethics and virtue are not post facto overlays to the created world, but are in its very warp and woof.

This, I believe, is why Psalm 19 so easily flows from nature to law – from the physical to the spiritual.  It is also why so much of what we call Christian virtue is intuitively obvious to us.  Does anyone not know that lying is immoral?  Or that assaulting another person is evil?  Or that stealing is wrong?  What about the fruit of the Spirit that we Christians so desire?  “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  (Galatians 5:22-23)  Are these not virtues that resonate with the vast majority of people on our planet?  They are familiar to us Christians, but even those of other religions or no religion recognize them as somehow fundamental to our common humanity.  Not that we achieve them or even mostly achieve them, but at least most of us would agree that they are desirable virtues – ones that at the very least we would like others to exhibit towards us.

It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  But when it comes to the natural world and the moral world, I am not so sure that it is quite that subjective.  It is the rare person who isn’t moved by the physical beauty of a sunrise, a rainbow after a storm, or the birth of a new life.  It is not the idea of creation that is perceived as beauty, but its physical manifestation in nature.  Similarly, most of us, regardless of our faith beliefs, recognize the moral beauty of another person who is truly kind, loving, and self-giving.  It is not God’s law per se that is perceived as beautiful, but its embodiment in the lives of others.  We really don’t need to be trained to appreciate these because both are woven into the very fabric of creation.  This I think is why the psalmist in Psalm 19 writes so seamlessly about nature and God’s law.  We have a vestigial recollection of something that God did at the dawn of time.  Something about beauty and goodness that has been imprinted upon our souls and which we ignore to our poverty.

S

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1  Is that not wisdom speaking now?
Is she not calling out?
Is that not understanding that
is coming with a shout?

2  On hilltops near the thoroughfare,
and far above the land –
Close by to where the pathways meet
is where she takes her stand.

3  Besides the city portal gates,
positioned near the crowd;
Close by the entrance passageway
is where she cries aloud.

***

“To you, O people, I call out –
   to all both far and near;
I, wisdom, elevate my voice
   so everyone can hear.

For those of you with simple minds,
   gain prudence for your way;
And those who act most foolishly,
   learn commonsense today.

O listen very carefully
   to what I say to you;
For what is coming from my lips,
   is excellent and true.

My mouth will only utter truth,
   it’s all that it will state;
My lips detest all wickedness,
   while loathsome things they hate.

8  For only righteous words I speak,
   each one of them is just;
Not one is crooked or perverse,
   not one you cannot trust.

To those who are discerning souls,
   my words are always clear;
To those who find what knowledge is,
   they’re upright and sincere.

10  Choose my instruction over all
   the silver you can hold;
Take knowledge every chance you get
   instead of bars of gold.

11  For I’m more precious than a jewel –
   no ruby is so rare;
There’s no desire that you have,
   that ever can compare.”

12  I, wisdom, live with commonsense
   with prudence do I dwell;
It’s knowledge and discretion’s way,
   that I cling to as well.

13  To reverence and fear the Lord,
   means hating what is vile;
O I hate pride and evil ways,
   and falsehoods that defile.

14  I, wisdom, offer sound ideas,
   I put forth good advice;
For I have power, I have strength,
   I’ve insight that’s precise.

15  A king’s empowered for his reign
   by following my lead;
By me, a righteous ruler knows
   what’s just must be decreed.

16  By me, a prince will govern well –
   like one of noble birth;
By me, an overlord will rule
   with justice on the earth.

17  I show my love to everyone
   who shows their love for me;
For they will surely find me when
   they seek me earnestly.

18  I’ve many riches to dispense –
   high honors and success,
Prosperity that long endures,
   great wealth and righteousness.

19  My fruit is far more valuable
   than gold of any kind;
My yield surpasses silver ore
   that’s perfectly refined.

20  I walk the path of righteousness –
   the way that all can trust,
Along the course of what is fair,
   commendable, and just.

21  I grant a rich inheritance
   to all those loving me;
I generously overflow,
   each store and treasury.”

***

22  “The Lord created me to be
   His first work to behold;
He made me at the very dawn,
   before his deeds of old.

23  Yes, I was formed long years ago –
   so many ages past;
Before God even made the earth
   and anything was cast.

24  Before there were great ocean depths,
   is when I had my birth;
Indeed, I came before the springs
   spewed water from the earth.

25  I came before the mountain peaks
   were settled purposely;
Yes, long before the rolling hills
   is when I came to be.

26  I came before God made the world
   before it would begin,
Before the Lord created fields,
   or even dust therein.

27  O, I was there when God set out
   the heavens in their keep;
And when He drew a circle on
   the face above the deep.

28  I watched when He established clouds
   above where they would show;
I saw Him fix the ocean depths
   and fountains deep below.

29  I looked when He gave sea a place
   where it would be confined;
And when He marked the boundaries
   where earth would be assigned.

30  I constantly was at His side,
   and I was his delight,
Rejoicing in His presence while
   forever in His sight.

31  Indeed, I constantly rejoiced
   in everything He made –
The world and people living there,
   and all that I surveyed.”

***

32  “Now then, my children, hear me well –
   my every word and phrase;
For all are blessed who follow me,
   and ever keep my ways.

33  O hear instruction that I give,
   and in this way be wise;
Don’t disregard these things I say,
   or what they teach despise.

34  For they are blessed who listen well
   to every word I state,
Those watching daily at my doors,
   those waiting at my gate.

35  Yes, everyone who finds me now,
   finds life as their reward;
And they are certain to receive
   the favor of the Lord.

36  But others bring themselves to harm
   and suffer endlessly;
For they must be in love with death,
   who harbor hate for me.”

Proverbs 7

Tell wisdom with sincerity – “You are my sister dear;”  (Proverbs 7:4)

This is the seventh in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 7, preceded by a brief reflection.

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I am guessing that not many sermons have been preached on Proverbs 7.  I can think of at least three reasons for this.  For one, Proverbs was written for a patriarchal society that can seem impenetrable to many modern minds.  Like Proverbs 2, 5, and 6, this chapter once again reveals Solomon’s one-sided view of adultery, which is that of a married woman seeking to seduce an unsuspecting man.  The problem of adultery and lust is, of course, very serious and in some ways the great scourge of the ages.  But the matter is far more complex than what appears on the surface of this teaching.

Another reason is that many in our culture have rejected God’s voice on matters of sex.  Even within the church itself many have decided to go their own way sexuality.  A pastor friend recently lamented that is rare anymore to have a couple in pre-marital counselling who are not co-habiting.  Sermons on adultery will not go down easily with this crowd.

The third reason is, ironically, that on its face this chapter is way too simple for anyone who believes in the Biblical teaching on sex and marriage.  Any such person would have to be either remarkably dumb or incredibly naïve to find Solomon’s teaching edifying.  Who doesn’t know that having an affair with a married person is a really bad idea?  Not that it doesn’t happen.  Indeed, marriage boundaries are probably looser today than ever.  But the problem isn’t that we don’t know that it causes harm to so many people.  Rather, the struggle is how to control the relentless pressure of our sexuality.

Still, it would be unwise to dismiss Proverbs 7 too quickly, because there is a deeper wisdom in these verses, which is how to relate to those of the opposite sex.  On the surface it seems principally directed to cautioning men to avoid an adulterous woman.  But looking closer we see that Solomon describes not one, but two women – one an adulterer, and the other a sister.

In verses 1-4, Solomon commends us to possess wisdom, and gives us a number of images to ponder.  We are to store wisdom internally, keep it close, guard it like the apple of our eye, bind it on our fingers, and write it on the tablet of our heart.  He caps this off in verse 4 by personifying wisdom as a sister or a close relative.  This, he says, is how we are to treat it – say to it “you are my sister.”  It’s an insightful image in this context because we would never dream of possessing a sister sexually; although we would certainly hold her close so as to protect and keep her safe from harm.

The remaining verses in Proverbs 7 are about possessing a person sexually.  The image Solomon provides here is that of an adulterous woman.  It might seem that the young man is simply an unsuspecting pawn, but this is not the case – he is an adulterous man.  Verse 8 is a key,  In the New English Translation (NET):  “He was passing by the street near her corner, making his way along the road to her house.”  The critical translated word is “way,” which according to the footnote means that he was going there intentionally.  The verb צָעַד (tsaʿad) means ‘to step; to march.’  It suggests that the youth was intentionally making his way to her house.”  (NET)  This was not a situation where a young man was unaware of the direction he was heading.  He knew very well that he was on the road to her house.

Although Solomon writes this as warning against being seduced by a married woman, the deeper issue is the lust that the young man has in his heart.  Jesus addresses this in the Sermon on the Mount, where he says, You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  (Matthew 5:27-28)  We men recognize lust as the desire to possess the other.  It goes beyond simple sexual attraction towards a woman, and moves us (at least in our heart) to want to claim her as our own.

While we men don’t always treat our sisters or other close female relatives as we should, we understand the barrier that exists when it comes to sex.  Whatever our relationship with a sister, we don’t think of possessing her the way we might with other women.  Perhaps if we paused when we find ourselves attracted to someone other than our wife, and think about her as a sister, how might we treat her differently?  And even if we never had a sister or daughter or other close female relative it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to recognize that every woman is someone’s sister and/or daughter.

We would be remiss if we allowed any aversion we feel towards Solomon’s misogynistic language to ignore the actions of the adulterous woman.  She too clearly desires to possess the young man sexually.  Perhaps if she looked upon other men as a brother, son, or close relative, she too would have a change in heart.

Jesus spoke pointedly about seeing others in the same light as close family.  “While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him.  Someone told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’  He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’  Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers.  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”  (Matthew 12:46-50)

S

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Proverbs – Chapter 7

1  My child, attend to what I say,
give all my words their due;
Store my commandments in your heart,
so they are close to you.

2  Keep my commands and you will live –
don’t let them pass you by;
Make what I teach a precious thing –
the apple of your eye.

3  O bind them on your fingers tight,
so they will never part;
And write them down where they won’t fade –
the tablet of your heart.

4  Tell wisdom with sincerity –
   “You are my sister dear;”
Tell insight, “You’re my relative,
a friend who’s ever near.

5  These things will surely keep you safe
from those who would seduce –
Adulterers with wayward tongues,
who morally are loose.

***

6  One day when I was at my house
with windows on the town;
While peering through the latticework,
I happened to look down.

7  And there I saw a simpleton –
a young man who was dense;
I noticed him among a group –
a youth who had no sense.

8  He made his way along the street,
and headed down the road –
The road to where a temptress dwells,
and lives in her abode.

9  It was about the end of day,
with fading of the light;
As evening slowly yields itself
to darkness of the night.

10  The woman suddenly appears
to meet him where he stands;
Attired like a prostitute,
she has her secret plans.

11  Her way is bold and unashamed,
perverse and wayward too;
Her feet don’t ever stay at home,
but always go askew.

12  Look now, and she is in the street,
look now, and in the square;
At every corner she lies low
to catch him unaware.

13  She seizes and she kisses him
upon his lips and cheeks;
And then in brazen fearlessness,
the following she speaks:

14  “Today I have fulfilled my vows,
   and made my sacrifice;
At home I have remaining food
   that surely will suffice.

15  So now you see I’ve ventured out,
   and happened on this way;
I’ve looked for you most eagerly,
   and found you here today.

16  For I have opened up anew
   and spread across my bed –
Egyptian dyed material
   of finest linen thread.

17  I’ve scented and perfumed the bed
   with every kind of spice;
Like aloes, myrrh, and cinnamon
   to make the fragrance nice.

18  So come let us enjoy ourselves
   and take our fill of love;
O let us go till morning comes
   and have the best thereof.

19  Because, you see, my husband’s gone,
   he’s traveled far away –
A journey distant from his house –
   he won’t be here today.

20  He put his money in a bag,
   and tied the purse strings tight;
He will not be returning home
   until the full moon light.”

21  By way of her persuasive words,
she turned him from his walk;
Seducing and compelling him
with smooth and pleasing talk.

22  Then all at once he followed her,
like one that’s unaware –
An ox led to the slaughterhouse,
a deer that springs a snare.

23  For when an arrow strikes the heart
one knows that life is lost;
It’s only when a bird is caught,
that it perceives the cost.

***

24  So now, my children, listen well
to what I say to you;
Give your attention to my words,
so you will hear me through.

25  Don’t let your heart be turned aside
by one who’d have you stray;
Don’t follow on the path that’s laid,
or walk along that way.

26  For many victims have been slain
of those who’ve come along;
Yes, those struck down are numerous –
indeed a mighty throng.

27  Beware, her house leads to the grave –
a way that all should dread;
A highway leading to the crypt –
the chambers of the dead.

Proverbs 6

“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven things that are detestable to him …”  (Proverbs 6:16)

This is the sixth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 6, preceded by a brief reflection.

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Today I mark two anniversaries.  Seventy years since my birth and twenty years since professing faith in Jesus Christ.  I count myself blessed to be in a season of life where I have the space to reflect and write about my life and faith.  I do not take this for granted.  Nor do I take for granted those who have influenced and shaped my faith journey.  “No man is an island,” John Donne wrote, and no spiritual journey is untethered to others.  I am forever thankful for the people I know who are living authentic Christian lives.  For me, there is nothing more powerful than the witness of a life well-lived.  It is inspiring and encouraging to watch ordinary people living extraordinary lives.

One of the most intriguing aspects of watching others live out their faith, is how much unity there is despite the diversity in spiritual focus.  As followers of my blog know, I believe the pursuit of virtue is how I make sense of faith and life in the kingdom of God.  It is the primary lens through which I understand how to live an ordinary Christian life.  Not everyone around me has the same perspective.  Indeed, many of those who have inspired and shaped my faith journey frame their understanding of the Christian life differently.  For some, their faith journey is from the perspective of serving the poor, the oppressed, and the alien.  For others, it is from the perspective of sharing the good news through evangelism.  For still others, it is from the perspective of recovery.

There is a common thread that runs through all of these perspectives, which is that ours is an ethical faith.  The pursuit of virtue is understood as building our house on the rock of Jesus’ teachings (Matthew 7).  Serving the vulnerable is understood as caring for the least of these (Matthew 25).  Evangelism is understood as teaching obedience to Jesus’ commands (Matthew 28).  Recovery is understood as living out the Beatitudes (Matthew 5).  There is, of course, much more to all of these, but at their core is God’s call for us to live a moral life.  This call is found throughout Scripture.  It is revealed from God’s first command to Adam and Eve to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis), to Christ’s final triumph over the forces of evil and his final victory for all that is true, good, and beautiful (Revelation).

At almost every turn in the Bible, we read about an ethical God whose ways are based on love and respect for one another.  We read too about the righteous who intend to live a moral life by following his ways, and the ungodly who do not.  Certainly, this is the case in Proverbs, which is filled with ethical teachings.  The prevailing view about Proverbs seems to be that they are guidelines for godly living, but not necessarily commands.  For example, John MacArthur writes, “Proverbs are divine guidelines and wise observations, i.e. teaching underlying principles which are not always inflexible laws or absolute promises. These expressions of general truth generally do have ‘exceptions,’ due to the uncertainty of life and unpredictable behavior of fallen men. God does not guarantee uniform outcome or application for each proverb, but in studying them and applying them, one comes to contemplate the mind of God, His character, His attributes, His works, and His blessings.”

In a sense, it really doesn’t matter whether or not you consider Proverbs to be commands or simply guidelines, because either way they reveal the ethical nature of our faith.  Moreover, they instruct us in how to live a life that is pleasing to God – a fundamentally decent human existence that pursues what is right and rejects what is not.  For example, in Proverbs 6 there are teachings on money (1-5), sloth (6-11), wickedness (12-15), and adultery (20-35).

But Proverbs 6 contains an even more explicit teaching about God and the ethical nature of our faith.  Tucked away in the middle of the chapter are four iconic verses on conduct that the Lord hates.  “There are six things that the Lord hates, even seven things that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift to run to evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a person who spreads discord among family members.”  Proverbs 6:16-19) (New English Translation)

In short, the Lord hates:  the arrogant; liars; murderers; planners of evil; doers of evil; perjurers; and those who spread discord.  God not only hates them, but according to literal translations of verse 16, he also considers them to be an abomination.  “Abomination” in Hebrew means “a disgusting thing.”   The NIV renders the word as “detestable.”  Any way you slice it, these seven things God finds abhorrent.  Solomon’s father King David put it this way in Psalm 5.  “For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness; with you, evil people are not welcome.  The arrogant cannot stand in your presence.  You hate all who do wrong; you destroy those who tell lies.  The bloodthirsty and deceitful you, Lord, detest.”  (Psalm 5:4-6)

Jesus also addresses these in his teachings.  For example, in the Beatitudes, he presents virtues that are the positive opposites of many of these evils:  “Poor in spirit” is the opposite of pride.  “Hungering and thirsting after righteousness” is the opposite of planning and doing evil.  “Peacemaking” is the opposite of spreading discord.

Proverbs 6:16-19 is the clear teaching of Scripture on God’s view towards the wicked.  Regardless of how one frames the Christian life, this much is sure – all virtue, all healing, all justice, and all evangelism, if authentic, is rooted in moral living.  Jesus tells us quite simply that we will be known by our fruits.  “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.  Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn bushes, or grapes from briers.  A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.  For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”  (Luke 6:43-45)

This in no way diminishes the role of grace in our lives.  To the contrary, anyone who intentionally pursues a life of faith knows about weakness and failure, and the need for forgiveness and grace.  God is always extending his grace to those who will turn to receive it.  His grace keeps us humble and enables us to continue to do the good things he wants us to do (Ephesians 2:8-10).  Faith without obedience will keep us out of the kingdom of God (Matthew 7:21).  Indeed, faith without moral effort is dead (James 2:14-20).

In an increasingly troubled world, I am grateful to be surrounded by believers who are passionate about living an authentic faith.  To the extent that there is diversity in our perspectives on the Christian life, it is not the kind of diversity that divides us.  Rather, it the kind of diversity expressed in “E pluribus unum” (out of many one) that unites us as the body of Christ.  I am forever thankful for their witness.

S

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Proverbs – Chapter 6

1  My child, beware of promising
to back a neighbor’s loan –
By shaking hands to make a pledge
of something that you own.

2  Be careful with the things you say,
and promises you make;
For every word that you express
can snare you in its wake.

3  But once you’re in a neighbor’s hands,
appeal for clemency;
Make haste and plead to be released,
don’t rest until you’re free.

4  Don’t give your eyelids any sleep,
or settle in repose;
Allow no slumber for your eyes,
or even gently doze.

5  O free yourself like deer that run
beyond the hunter’s sight;
Or birds that flee the fowler’s net
by taking off to flight.

***

6  O sluggard, think about the ant,
don’t let it pass your gaze;
Learn wisdom and sagacity
by studying its ways.

7  The ant has no commanding chief
to tell it when to move;
Nor does it have an overlord
to help it to improve.

8  And yet, when summer time is here,
it finds what it can store;
And when the winds of harvest blow,
it piles up even more.

9  How long, O sluggard, will you sleep,
how long just lie around?
When will you ever rouse yourself,
and get up off the ground?

10  You take a little too much sleep,
you grab too long a nap;
You drop your hands to take a rest,
and fold them in your lap.

11  Because of so much lethargy,
you’re sure to wind up poor;
Like one who’s robbed of all they have,
and left with nothing more.

***

12  The wicked walk a twisted path –
a vile and worthless way;
A way that’s marked by crooked speech,
and perverse things they say.

13  The wicked wink maliciously
with eyes that denigrate;
Their feet send signals to beware,
their fingers instigate.

14  The wicked plot perversities
with evil in their heart;
They’re always stirring conflict up,
so peace will fall apart.

15  The wicked though will surely face
a swift calamity –
As instantly they’ll be destroyed
without a remedy.

***

16  The Lord has seven things he loathes,
and passionately hates;
These things he simply won’t abide,
and never tolerates.

17  The Lord hates eyes of haughty pride,
The Lord hates tongues that lie;
The Lord hates hands exacting blood
so guiltless people die.

18  The Lord hates hearts that plot and scheme
to wrongfully oppress;
The Lord hates feet that quickly run
to follow wickedness.

19  The Lord hates all false witnesses,
whose lies are not abjured;
The Lord hates those who stir up strife,
and bring about discord.

***

20  My child, embrace your father’s words,
give his commands their due;
And don’t forsake the many things
your mother teaches you.

21  Keep their instructions ever close,
and bind them on your heart;
O fasten them around your neck,
and don’t let them depart.

22  When walking they will guide your steps,
when sleeping guard your rest;
When waking they will speak to you,
like one who is addressed.

23  For these commandments are a lamp,
their teaching is a light;
Rebukes that come from discipline
give life that’s surely right.

24  They keep you from your neighbor’s spouse –
from one who’d have you sin;
And from a smooth and wayward tongue
that seeks to pull you in.

25  O do not lust within your heart
for beauty that you spy;
Or let yourself be mesmerized
by eyes that draw you nigh.

26  While whoring lowers what you’re worth
to just a loaf of bread;
Yet sleeping with another’s spouse
is worth your life instead.

27  Can anyone scoop fire up,
and hold it to their chest –
Without their clothing being burned
wherever it is pressed?

28  Can anyone remove their shoes,
and walk on burning coals –
Without the scorching of their heels,
and searing of their soles?

29  And so it is with those who sleep
with one who’s not their own;
For punishment will surely come,
because of what they’ve sown.

30  The world does not despise a thief
for stealing when in need;
For when one’s starving for some food,
it’s more than simple greed.

31  But even then, the penalty
is seven times the cost;
The payment will be satisfied,
though house and goods are lost.

32  But those who choose adultery
lack any common sense;
For surely they destroy themselves
because of their offense.

33  It’s certain they’ll be beaten up,
dishonored and disgraced;
The blot upon their character
will never be erased.

34  For spouses stirred by jealousy
will overflow with hate;
They will not spare the culpable
when they retaliate.

35  No compensation will suffice,
no bribe will reach their hand;
There is no gift acceptable,
despite it being grand.

Proverbs 5

“May you rejoice and love the one you married long ago.”  (Proverbs 5:18)

This is the fifth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  Today’s blog contains my rendering of Proverbs 5, preceded by a brief reflection.

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It was love at first sight when I stepped onto fifty acres of abandoned farmland in Palmyra, Maine, in June of 1973.  My search for rural property was over.  Situated at the end of an old town road, it opened up into roughly 15 acres of once cultivated fields surrounded by an encroaching forest.  There was no potable water, and the nearest power was about a half mile away.  But these seemed trivial matters compared to the promise of a bucolic life in such remote and beautiful country.  Love, it seems, sometimes blinds the eyes to reality.

And so, the purchase was made, and a year later in May of 1974, I moved to the property with plans to build a stone house and grow my own food.  I had more energy than time, more enthusiasm than plans, and more dreams than money.  Conditions were primitive – sleeping in a tent, hauling in water, and working with hand tools.  None of this deterred me and I pushed ahead – clearing brush and trees, putting in a garden, and hand digging a foundation.   I was encouraged to have a friend living on an adjoining property.  Still, as the weeks wore on, I felt increasingly lonely and unsure whether I could sustain this life on my own.  At the time, Pat, whom I had been dating for four years, was working at a summer camp in southern Maine.  One day in mid-July, we took a break from work and drove to the coast.  Sitting above the rocky shore with waves of the Atlantic crashing below, I marshalled all my courage and asked her to marry me.  For a moment, future lives held their breath as even the angels waited to hear her answer.  But, oh the joy when she said yes.  Little did either of us know the amazing adventure that lay ahead.

The first reality to hit me was that we would need more than a tent to live in.  My priorities quickly shifted, and I decided to build a simple one-room 16×20 foot cabin.  Making all haste, the structure was framed and closed in before autumn winds began to blow.  In the meantime, Pat and I started corresponding about plans for a wedding the following July.

I don’t remember exactly when Pat mentioned it, but at some point she made it very clear that power and running water were prerequisites to her living in the cabin – non-negotiables as it were.  The only problem was that I had no money for such “extras.”  Fortunately, power turned out to be fairly easy because the utility company did not charge to install poles and run an electric line.  Water was more challenging because drilling a well was the only real option, and that wasn’t cheap.  But once again fortune seemed to smile as my parents stepped in and gave us $1000 as a wedding gift for a well (a biblicalesque gesture to be sure).  At a cost of $10 per foot to drill, it seemed like we were home free.  However, all of this changed when the driller hit the hundred-foot mark and there was no water.  I was crushed, and for a couple of days I felt as if my entire future lay in the balance.  But then, in an act of grace, the driller continued on his own initiative (either because of pride in his work, or pity on an impecunious young man), and after another 40 feet on his own nickel, hit water at 140 feet.  Joy does not describe what I felt when the first rush of water exploded from the ground.  Water is life.  And for me, water also meant a married life together on the land.

Unless you have ever had to find your own water supply (or lived in an arid climate), you may not understand the religious fervor surrounding water.  They certainly know of this in the middle east, where water has shaped the culture for millennia.  It has always been the most precious of commodities.  The simple principle is “no water, no life.”  From the earliest days, the Israelites have been masters of water supplies:  digging wells, developing springs, building cisterns, and even knowing the value of dew.  And so, it should be no surprise that water is a powerful metaphor in Scripture, which Solomon uses to great effect in Proverbs 5.

On quick reading, Proverbs 5 seems all about avoiding adultery, which it is.  But almost hidden in the middle of the chapter are verses 15-18 in which we find water as a metaphor for the marriage union.

Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well.
Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares?
Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers.
May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth
.

These metaphors lose some of their punch for those who have not had to drill for their own water or live with the knowledge of how precious and essential it is for life.  But for those who have, the verses speak volumes.  I believe the water metaphor represents the sexual union between a man and woman.  Verse 15 is clear enough – “your own cistern and well” is husband and wife.  Verse 16 – “overflow into the public squares” is any tryst outside of marriage.  Verse 17 – “yours alone” is husband and wife.  Verse 18 – “fountain” is husband and wife.

The poetry of these metaphors is inspirational, but there is more.  At the conclusion of verse 18, Solomon tells us to “rejoice in the wife of your youth.”  Although written to his son, it is fairly applied to a daughter – “rejoice in the husband of your youth.”  What Solomon is saying here and in verse 19 (“may you ever be intoxicated by her love”) is to be grateful for your spouse.  Remember the way you have been served and loved, the kindnesses small and large, the sacrifices, all that you have received and be grateful.   Ronald Rolheiser writes, “Gratitude is the true reason for love, and when we try to root our love in anything else … it will invariably be more self-serving than life giving.”  (Sacred Fire, 248).  The opposite of gratitude is taking something for granted.  Whether it is water or a spouse, true love is grounded in gratitude.

The winter of 1974/75 was very hard.  Water and electricity were still months away, and a wood stove was my only source of heat.  A transformative moment occurred one bright and bitterly cold Saturday morning when I was washing dishes with water I had hauled in from a neighbor’s house and then heated on a camp stove.  Something in my mind snapped and I thought, “If I ever have hot running water again, I will never mind washing dishes.”  This has stayed with me to this day.  Not only am I the chief dishwasher in the family, but I still remember what it was like to be without hot running water.  My actions are indeed grounded in gratitude.

Increasingly, I try to do the same thing in my marriage with Pat.  I take the advice of Solomon and remember her as the “wife of my youth.”  I also remember her for all the in-between years – for her love of our children and extended family.  But mostly I remember her for her love and concern for me.  Even when we have a tiff, I try to remember and be grateful.  This is where my love takes root.

S

**********

1  My child, attend to every word
of wisdom I convey;
Incline your ear to understand
my insight for your way.

2  By this, discernment you’ll preserve,
discretion you’ll maintain;
Your lips will only speak the truth
of knowledge that you gain.

3  But lips of all adulterers,
drip honey oh so sweet;
Their words like olive oil flow
as smooth as they are fleet.

4  But underneath and in the end,
there’s bitterness untoward;
And danger that is far more sharp
than any two-edged sword.

5  Their feet pursue a deadly path
that go the way of death;
Their steps lead straight unto the grave,
where there is no more breath

6  Adulterers don’t ponder life,
or where their path may go;
Their ways are ever wandering,
but they don’t seem to know.

***

7  So now, my children, hear me well,
pay heed to what I stress;
Don’t turn aside from what I say,
or from my way digress.

8  Keep far away from those who tempt,
and from this path don’t veer;
Do not approach their dwelling place,
or ever venture near.

9  Beware, or your integrity
will surely slip away;
Your years will go to one who’s cruel,
and hates you more each day.

10  Mere strangers will consume the wealth
that once was held by you;
And all the labors of your hands
will go to someone new.

11  And when your life has reached the end,
what’s left of you will groan;
Your flesh and body fully spent –
consumed unto the bone.

12  Remorsefully, you’ll say these words –
   “I hated discipline;
O how my heart despised reproof
   at my recurring sin.”

13  “I would not listen to the voice
   of those instructing me;
Nor try obeying what they said,
   or heeding their decree.”

14  “And now I teeter on the brink
   from troubles that I face;
Within the congregation hall,
   there’s ruin and disgrace.”

***

15   Drink water from your private store,
the cistern that’s your own –
A flow of water from your well,
that no one else has known

16  Why should your springs be scattered wide,
without a thought or care;
Your streams of water left to flow
within the public square?

17  But let them be for just yourself,
retain them close to you;
Don’t give to strangers even once –
make sharing them taboo.

18  May blessings from your fountain spring,
and goodness from it flow;
May you rejoice and love the one
you married long ago.

19  My son, your wife’s a graceful doe
with breasts that satisfy;
May you be raptured by her charms,
and love her till you die.

20  Why find elation and delight
with one who’s not your own?
Why fall into a wayward tryst
with one you’ve scarcely known?

***

21  The Lord sees everything you do,
His eyes are on your ways;
He watches all the paths you take,
they’re all within his gaze.

22  For evil deeds of wicked souls
will catch them like a snare;
The cords of their iniquities
will tightly hold them there.

23  Because they have no discipline,
the wicked die away;
Because of their own foolishness,
their lives are led astray.

Proverbs 4

“I teach you wisdom and her ways in all that I profess; instructing as I’m leading you in paths of righteousness.”  (Proverbs 4:11)

This is the fourth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  Today’s blog contains my rendering of Proverbs 4, preceded by a brief reflection.

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Steve Jobs was one of the great entrepreneurs of our time.  From humble roots and a love of tinkering, he co-founded Apple Computer.  Combining a practical knowledge of electronics with marketing and design and later leadership and finance, he gave the world iMacs, iPhones, iPads, and iTunes.  He had the ability to call on knowledge from disparate fields and apply it in new and innovative ways.  Incidentally, he was worth over $10B when he died in 2011.  By almost any measure, Steve Jobs had wisdom.

Wisdom is highly esteemed in the Bible.  And Proverbs, of course, is the quintessential Biblical book about wisdom.  But is the wisdom that Solomon writes about in Proverbs of the same kind that was exemplified by Steve Jobs in his professional life?  Or for that matter, when any of us shows good judgment in the give and take of daily life, is this Biblical wisdom?  Or is the wisdom written about in Proverbs and elsewhere in the Bible something different?

We all desire wisdom – particularly when the alternative is foolishness.  We all want to be known as wise; no one wants to be seen a fool.  I remember the winter of 1977/78 when Pat and I were living in a tiny cabin in rural Maine while building a larger house on the property.  One day as I was in the cabin making window frames for the house, I decided to use the kitchen table to support strips of wood as I cut them with my power circular saw.  Predictably, I went too deep on one piece and cut a deep slash in our table.  This was not wise, nay, it was pure and simply dumb.  Pat was too kind to call me a fool, but that’s what I was.  Still, did this make me a Biblical fool?  Did my action reflect a lack of Biblical wisdom?

Proverbs doesn’t provide a definition of “Biblical wisdom,” per se, so we are left to figure it out more or less on our own.  A good starting place comes from Charles Spurgeon, the so-named “Prince of Preachers,” who almost 150 years ago wrote, “Wisdom is the right use of knowledge.  To know is not to be wise.  Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it.  There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool.  But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.”  As a general definition of wisdom, this is pretty good.  Still, the question remains as to whether this captures the meaning of wisdom as used in Scripture and specifically Proverbs.  And frankly, I’m not sure it does.

John Piper formulates a definition of Biblical or Godly Wisdom by starting with Jesus’ concluding words in the Sermon on the Mount, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon a rock.”  (Matthew 7:24)  From this, Piper proposes the following definition for Godly Wisdom: “hearing and doing God’s Word.”  But because not every circumstance is covered by God’s Word, Piper is compelled to add, “Wisdom must include a sensitive, mature judgment or discernment of how the fear of the Lord should work itself out in all the circumstances not specifically dealt with in the Bible.”

I find a somewhat different picture of Biblical wisdom emerging in Proverbs.  Generally speaking, verses in Proverbs are related to wisdom either in a generic sense, or by way of specific examples.  In chapter 4, generic verses are 1-10, 12-13, and 20-22, which involve listening to wisdom, seeking it out, and following it (1-7, 13, 20-21); and the rewards of doing so (8-10, 12, 22).  Specific examples are verses 11, 14-19, and 23-27.  In these, wisdom is depicted solely in moral terms.  Verse 11 is a key verse because in it Solomon specifically equates wisdom and righteousness.  “I teach you wisdom and her ways in all that I profess; instructing as I’m leading you in paths of righteousness.”  This conflation of wisdom and righteousness is found throughout.  In simple terms, wisdom is following the way of the righteous (18, 23, 25-27); and avoiding the way of the wicked (14-17, 19, 24).  For Solomon, wisdom and righteousness are one and the same (as are foolishness and wickedness).

Proverbs 4 is illustrative, but consistent with the two principal messages about wisdom found throughout all of Proverbs, namely, 1) Wisdom is important; and 2) Wisdom is demonstrated by righteousness or virtue.  This seems to be precisely what we read in the book of James, which probably has the best description of Biblical wisdom.  Who is wise and understanding among you?  Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.  But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.  Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.  For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.  But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  (James 3:13-17)

What James is saying is that those who harbor wickedness such as envy or pride in their hearts do not have Biblical wisdom. Whereas those who exhibit virtues that are pure, peace-loving, considerate, etc. have Biblical wisdom.  From this I conclude that Biblical wisdom is the same as Christian virtue, which means that the pursuit of Biblical wisdom is the pursuit of virtue.

Wisdom in all matters is a good thing.  No doubt what Steve Jobs accomplished in his life was the result of great wisdom.  But all wisdom is not Biblical wisdom.  Biblical wisdom is first and foremost a matter of whether we are living lives of virtue, and secondarily how we decide problems of an ethical and moral nature.

That said, I don’t want to put too fine a point on defining “Biblical wisdom” as virtue for several reasons.  1) For one thing, “Biblical” wisdom itself is merely a construct based on what is revealed in Proverbs.  Nowhere does Proverbs refer to “Biblical” wisdom or “Godly” wisdom, it is always just wisdom.  2) Moreover, even if the wisdom in Proverbs is a matter of virtue, which I believe it is, that doesn’t mean that the kind of secular wisdom demonstrated by Steve Jobs is unimportant.  Indeed, Jesus sent out his disciples with the caution to, “Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”  (Matthew 10:16)  Other translations say “as wise as serpents.”  It does us no credit to be foolish in our finances, health, work, or any of a myriad of non-moral matters we face daily.  3)  Finally, there are many matters of an ethical nature that do not involve a choice between good and evil, but between two matters more or less equally virtuous.  These are some of the hardest decisions we must make, and require great wisdom indeed.

S

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Proverbs 5

1  O listen, children, to the words
a father speaks to you;
Attend so insight you will gain,
and understanding too.

2  The precepts that I have are good,
the learning in them sound;
So don’t forsake these things I teach,
or what my words expound.

3  For I was once a child like you –
I was my father’s son;
My mother also cherished me –
her most beloved one.

4  My father said, “Cling to my words,
   and don’t let them depart;
Keep my commands and you will live
   if they are in your heart.”

“Get understanding for your path,
   get wisdom for your way;
Do not forget my words to you,
   or turn from what I say.”

6  “Do not abandon wisdom, child,
   and she will keep you whole;
Just always love and cherish her,
   and she will guard your soul.”

“The way of wisdom is supreme,
   so hold it close to you;
Get understanding for your way,
   whatever else you do.”

“Love wisdom like a special prize,
   and she will lift your name;
If you embrace and cherish her,
   she’ll honor you the same.”

“She’ll place a garland on your head –
   a wreath beyond compare;
She’ll give to you a noble crown –
   a diadem to wear.”

***

10  O hear, my child, these words I speak,
accept what they bestow;
For if you do, then many years
of life you’ll surely know.

11  I teach you wisdom and her ways
in all that I profess;
Instructing as I’m leading you
in paths of righteousness.

12  Now wisdom helps you when you walk,
so nothing holds you back;
You will not stumble when you run,
or trip upon your track.

13  Hold to instruction all you can,
don’t let it get away;
For it is surely life to you,
so guard it well today.

14  Don’t set your foot upon the path
where wicked people stalk;
Or ever follow in the way
where evildoers walk.

15  Avoid the pathway of the vile,
and on it do not tread;
Just turn your eyes and pass it by,
and go your way instead.

16  The wicked cannot find their rest
till evil they have done;
They find themselves deprived of sleep
until they’ve hurt someone.

17  They eat the bread of wickedness
until their gut is filled;
They drink the wine of violence,
and not a drop is spilled.

***

18  The pathway of the righteous soul
is like the morning the sun;
That shines more brilliant with the day
than when it’s just begun.

19  But wicked people walk a path
that’s darker than a tomb;
They do not know what causes them
to stumble in the gloom.

***

20  My child, please listen to my words,
attend to what I say;
O turn your ear to what I speak
to help you on your way.

21  Don’t let my words escape your sight,
or from your mind depart;
But keep them always close at hand,
forever in your heart.

22  These words are life for everyone
who finds them out at last;
They’re health for body and the flesh –
a healing unsurpassed.

23  O guard your heart above all else,
with all that you hold true;
For from it flows the springs of life,
and everything you do.

24  Avoid perverse and wayward speech,
and all that is a lie;
Eschew deceit and scheming talk,
don’t let it tarry nigh.

25  Look only forward with your eyes,
don’t let them deviate;
Direct your sight on what’s ahead,
and let your gaze be straight.

26  O ponder where your feet will go –
the paths that are secure;
Be steadfast and dependable,
so all your ways are sure.

27  Don’t ever turn this way or that,
not either left or right;
But keep your foot from evil ways,
and all that is not light.

 

Proverbs 3

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your pathways straight.”  (Proverbs 3:5-6)

This is the third in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  Today’s blog contains my rendering of Proverbs 3, preceded by a brief reflection.

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The bad news about the Covid-19 pandemic just keeps coming.  The daily statistics on the virus are, frankly, more than most of us can process.  Healthwise, there are the number of people infected, the number on respirators, and the number who have died.  Financially, there are falling stock prices, business failures, and shrinking retirement savings.  All this along with job losses, empty grocery shelves, and closed stores.  Never in our lifetime has anything so impacted the entire world as this virus.  No nation, no people group, no ideology, no religion is exempt.  While the virus itself is particularly harmful to the elderly and those with underlying health issues, even the young can succumb to it.  And regardless of the state of our health and finances, all of us are impacted by quarantine orders and social distancing.  Against this backdrop, Proverbs 3 has much to ponder.

The Wisdom of Proverbs Is Not Our Hope
The wisdom of Proverbs is not our hope, although there are many verses that seem to suggest the opposite.  I am referring to verses that say that the way of wisdom leads to well-being.  For example, Proverbs 3 promises:  long life, peace, and prosperity (verse 2); health and nourishment (verse 8); barns and vats that overflow (verse 10); and long life, riches and honor (verse16).  Those of us who follow Christ and seek the wisdom found in Scripture might be excused if we are confused by these verses.  Particularly if for years we have lived wisely in terms of our health, investments, and work ethic – but now are facing illness, dwindling savings, and/or job loss.

It is certain that these verses contain practical truths for good living, namely, that there is a correlation between following the way of wisdom and a better life.  It is similar to the correlation between following the best medical wisdom and avoiding infection from the Covid-19 virus.  If we are vigilant in our hand-washing, social distancing, wearing facemasks, etc., we will likely remain healthy.  But it is not a guarantee – some people who do all these things will still contract the virus; and some who foolishly do nothing will remain healthy.  But overall, if we do these things it is more likely than not that we will be safe.  If you are skeptical of this interpretation and believe that the way of wisdom in Proverbs guarantees prosperity, you need look no further than Psalm 73, which indicates that the righteous do sometimes suffer while the wicked do indeed sometimes prosper.  “This is what the wicked are like – always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.  Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence.  All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments.”  (Psalm 73:12-14)  Jesus himself affirmed this principle when he declared to his disciples, “in this world you will have trouble.”  (John 16:33)

The Lord Is Our Hope
However, not all Proverbs are premised on following the way of wisdom per se.  Consider Proverbs 3:5-6, which are premised on trusting the Lord, with the concomitant promise that that our pathways will be straight. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your pathways straight.” We might well ask whether these verses are also correlative as are the verses that promise health and wealth?  In other words, will the Lord sometimes, but not always, make our pathways straight if we trust him?  Or is “trusting the Lord with all your heart,” deeper than simply following the way of wisdom?  Is it possible that these two verses contain something closer to a guarantee?

2013 was a difficult year for me – much more than what I am experiencing during the Covid-19 pandemic.  In August of that year I lost my father to prostate cancer.  In his final months I traveled frequently to his home in Maine to be with him and my mother, and to help with his final affairs.  When he finally died, I didn’t have a lot of time to mourn his passing because I was also dealing with my own medical problem.  Despite a lifetime of vigorous physical exercise, I had developed a faulty aortic valve and aneurysm on my ascending aorta.  In October, I underwent open-heart surgery to replace these.  The surgery itself went well; and by God’s grace, the surgeon’s skill, and great care, I came home four days later.  Throughout the experience, I remember very little physical pain.  In fact, the pain was so well controlled at the hospital that by the time I got home, I did not need pain medication.  The emotional and spiritual battle though was just beginning.

Nighttime was the hardest.  I was “sleeping” on the living room couch so that I would not disturb Pat.  Although I did not have a lot of physical pain, I often felt my heart beating, which caused great distress.  When this happened, I would sit up in a panic and start to pray.  And what did I pray?  Well, many things, but first and foremost was Proverbs 3:5-6.  With apologies to my present translation, the NIV version will forever be imprinted on my soul.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your pathways straight.”  I prayed this hundreds of times in the weeks following the surgery.  Occasionally, I would alternate it with Psalm 23, but always I returned to Proverbs. And the more I prayed, the more I realized that more than physical healing, I also desperately needed emotional healing from the awful fear that struck in the darkness of the night.  There is something about fear in the night that is a lonely place, where pride and self-sufficiency are stripped away and all that remains is despair.  At such times the only hope is to trust in the Lord, and like the Psalmist to cry out to him – When in distress I begged the Lord to listen to my plea; and he responded to my cry and set my spirit free.” (Psalm 118:5)

One night, several weeks into my recovery, something unexpected happened.  As I prayed, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of goodwill and love towards everyone I had ever known – friend and foe alike.  It was like a wave washed over me, and for the first time in weeks I felt at peace.  Scripture tells us that, “perfect love drives out fear.”  (1 John 4:18)  Perhaps it was the perfect love of God that came over me as I prayed, perhaps not.  Nonetheless, it was an inflection point in my recovery.  From then on, while at times I still experienced fear, it had lost its death grip on my soul.

When Proverbs 3:5-6 speaks of straight pathways, it does so as metaphor.  A metaphor that does not represent so much a life of health and wealth; as one marked by freedom from anxiety and fear.  This life is captured well by the Psalmist, God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”  (Psalm 46:1-3)  Things around us may be giving way, our world may be turned upside down by Covid-19, but if the Lord is our hope, we need not fear.

In these trying and uncertain times, these are words to live by – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your pathways straight.”

S

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Proverbs 3

1  My child, do not forget my words –
the teaching that I share;
But fill your heart with my commands,
and keep them always there.

2  By holding on to all these things,
you’ll find your years increase;
And they will bring prosperity,
well-being, health, and peace.

3  Cling tight to love and faithfulness,
and don’t let them depart;
O bind them firm around your neck,
and write them on your heart.

4  If you will do these things I say,
then you will win acclaim,
As God and people everywhere
speak highly of your name.

5  O trust upon the Lord your God
with all your heart and mind;
On understanding of your own,
don’t lean or be inclined.

6  Acknowledge God in all your ways,
forever let it show;
And he will make your path more straight
than you could ever know.

7  Do not be wise in your own eyes,
and think that you’re okay;
But reverence and fear the Lord,
from evil turn away.

8  These things will surely bring you health,
and make your body whole;
The nourishment that you receive
will satisfy your soul.

9  O honor God with what you have –
your wealth and all it yields;
Give him the best of what you grow –
the firstfruits of your fields.

10  For then your barns will nearly burst
with everything you grow;
And wine will surely fill your vats
until they overflow.

***

11  My child, when God reproaches you,
don’t treat it with disdain;
Do not despise his discipline,
no matter what the pain.

12  The Lord reproaches those he loves –
those cherished in his sight;
Just as the parents discipline
the child of their delight.

***

13  How blessed are the ones who find
the way that makes them wise;
For understanding rightly gained
brings joy that’s like a prize.

14  For wisdom is more valuable
than silver goods untold;
She yields a gain far better than
a treasure trove of gold.

15  Yes, wisdom is a precious jewel –
no ruby is so rare;
There’s no desire of the heart
that ever can compare.

16  For wisdom holds in her right hand,
a life of many years;
While in her left she offers wealth
with accolades and cheers.

17  Now wisdom is a pleasant way,
where all good things increase;
Her pathways are in harmony
with gentleness and peace.

18  For wisdom is a tree of life
to those who hold her best;
And everyone who clings to her
will certainly be blessed.

***

19  By wisdom God created earth,
and put it in its place;
By understanding formed the sky,
and set it into space.

20  By wisdom God split land from sea,
and caused the streams to flow;
He made the clouds to give forth dew,
that falls on all below.

***

21  My child, keep wisdom ever close,
hold understanding tight;
Don’t let discernment get away,
or judgment slip your sight.

22  For they will surely give you life,
and animate your soul;
And like a garland for your neck,
they’ll make your spirit whole.

23  Then you will safely walk along
with no concern at all;
There’s nothing that can trip your foot,
or ever make you fall.

24  When lying down you’ll not be scared,
your slumber will be deep –
A time of sweet serenity,
while drifting into sleep.

25  You’ll never fear calamities
will strike you unaware;
Like storms that blow the wicked down,
and leave them in despair.

26  Indeed, the Lord will keep you safe,
he’ll never leave your side;
He’ll keep your foot from being caught,
no mishap will betide.

***

27  Do not refrain from doing good
to those whose needs are great;
But help in any way you can,
and do not hesitate.

28  Do not tell neighbors in their need,
“Come back another day”;
For when their need is in your hand,
it’s no time to delay.

29  Do not cause neighbors any pain,
or plot to do them harm;
For those who live in trust near you,
have no grounds for alarm.

30  Do not accuse just anyone
when you do not have cause;
When they have done no harm to you,
or broken any laws.

31  Do not be envious of those
who act with cruelty;
Don’t match the violence of their ways,
or copy what you see.

32  The Lord detests perversity,
and those who go astray;
But those who walk in righteousness,
he counsels everyday.

33  The Lord puts curses on the homes
of those who live in sin;
But blesses those of righteous souls,
and all who dwell within.

34  The Lord mocks everyone who scoffs,
he’s scornful of the proud;
But shows his favor to the meek,
the beaten and the cowed.

35  The wise inherit accolades
with honor and acclaim;
But fools get only high contempt,
embarrassment and shame.

Proverbs 2

“My child, receive these words I speak, accept the things I say; Hold tight and treasure my commands so they don’t slip away.”  (Proverbs 2:1)

This is the second in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  Today’s blog contains my translation of Proverbs 2, preceded by a brief comment.

Comment On Proverbs 2
Proverbs 2 continues the extended wisdom poem of Proverbs 1-9.  In Proverbs 1, Solomon introduces these proverbs as being profitable for the young and inexperienced, as well as increasing the knowledge and understanding of those who already have some wisdom (see Proverbs 1:4-5).  There is no gender mentioned, and certainly these proverbs have always been understood as applying to all people – male and female alike.  However, immediately after the introduction Solomon specifically addresses them to his “son.”  For example, Proverbs 1:8 (NIV) starts, Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction … .”  This reference to his “son” appears throughout Proverbs.  For example, the present Chapter 2 starts with the words, “My son, if you accept my words …”  (Proverbs 2:1)

On one level this can be understood as Solomon writing the proverbs for a son, while offering their wisdom to others (men and women) as well.  According to the translators of the New English Translation (NET), Solomon apparently wrote many of the Proverbs for a young prince in the royal court.  “It is likely that collections of proverbs grew up in the royal courts and were designed for the training of the youthful prince.  But once the collection was included in the canon, the term ‘son’ would be expanded to mean a disciple, for all the people were to learn wisdom when young.  It would not be limited to sons alone but would include daughters.”  The various translations of Proverbs are split over whether to use “son” or “child.” For example, the NIV and ESV use “son,” whereas the NET and GNT use “child.”

I raise this because in Proverbs 2, Solomon briefly introduces a new theme (that he fleshes out in much greater detail in chapters 5-7).  This is his warning against adultery that appears in verses 16-19.  For example, verses 16-17 (NIV)
     Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman,
from the wayward woman with her seductive words,
     who has left the partner of her youth
and ignored the covenant she made before God.

Obviously, this is a very one-sided warning that Solomon gives about adultery – beware of the adulterous woman.  If this warning is only for a young man, then I suppose it is reasonable to warn him to be wary of a married woman who would attempt to seduce him.  But if Solomon’s homily on wisdom is also to be profitable to a daughter, then this must be understood as a caution to her to be wary of a married man who would attempt to seduce her.  [A greater and in many ways more troubling concern, to my way of thinking.]  Now I don’t want to get myself entangled in a hermeneutical web, but I raise the issue because most of chapters 5, 6, and 7 is concerned with the adulterous and “wayward woman.”  In fact more than 25% of Proverbs 1-9 relate to this single point – the dangers of an adulterous woman!

For the relevant verses (16-19) in Proverbs 2, I have chosen to translate them in a way that could apply to both men and women.  So rather than cautioning only a son against an “adulterous woman,” I interpret the verses by cautioning everyone against “those who would seduce.”  For example, I have rendered verse 16:
     It’s wisdom too that keeps you safe from those who would seduce,
From those with words that draw you in, but morally are loose.

[I haven’t decided as yet how I will handle the 66 verses about adulterous women in Proverbs 5-7.  But I’ll not worry about that now, this day has trouble enough.]

The real rub for me comes with the life Solomon was leading – 700 wives and 300 concubines (see 1 Kings 11:3).  Who was he to write about seductive, adulterous women who break their wedding vow made before God?  Talk about chutzpah!  Was Solomon really so blind to his adultery?  Hubris it would seem has no limits.  And talk about irony – it was Solomon’s father David who committed adultery with Solomon’s mother Bathsheba!  Perhaps it would have been well if Nathan had been around to confront Solomon like he had to David.

Still, to throw out Solomon’s wisdom on adultery because of his roots and lifestyle, would be to make a classic genetic fallacy.  We live in a time where infidelity and sexual sin is rampant and we need much wisdom – not only in avoiding sexual sin ourselves but engaging with the culture over the dangers of such.  Indeed, Solomon makes a key point in Proverbs 1-9, namely, the dangers of adultery and the critical importance of sexual control in our lives.  I may quibble about Solomon’s myopic focus on adulterous women, but nonetheless he is right that we need great wisdom in how we handle our sexuality.

Ronald Rolheiser writes elegantly about our need for deep wisdom in regard to our sexuality.  “One of the fundamental tasks of spirituality, therefore, is to help us to understand and channel our sexuality correctly.  This, however, is no easy task.  Sexuality is such a powerful fire that it is not always easy to channel it in life-giving ways.  Its very power, and it is the most powerful force on the planet, makes it a force not just for formidable love, life, and blessing but also for the worst hate, death, and destruction imaginable.  Sex is responsible for most of the ecstasies that occur on the planet, but it is also responsible for lots of murders and suicides.  It is the most powerful of all fires, the best of all fires, the most dangerous of all fires, and the fire which, ultimately, lies at the base of everything, including the spiritual life.”  (The Holy Longing, 193)

S

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Proverbs 2

1  My child, receive these words I speak,
accept the things I say;
Hold tight and treasure my commands
so they don’t slip away.

2  Attune your ear attentively,
and open up your eyes;
Seek understanding in your heart
of all things that are wise.

3  To know discernment call aloud,
for understanding shout;
For insight take a mighty breath,
and let your voice cry out.

4  Make wisdom be your highest search –
a quest to which you’re bound;
Like seeking hidden silver coins
long buried in the ground.

5  By doing this you’ll understand
the way to fear the Lord;
And certain knowledge of our God
will be your just reward.

6  For wisdom issues from the Lord,
and understanding too;
He opens up his mouth and speaks,
and knowledge rushes through.

7  To those who live in righteousness,
he promises success;
To those whose lives are virtuous,
he shelters from distress.

8  Our God protects the just from harm,
and guards them on their way;
He watches those who walk in faith
and do not go astray.

***

9  If you take heed of what I say,
then you will be aware –
Of every good and righteous path,
and what is just and fair.

10  For wisdom will invade your heart,
and make your spirit right;
And knowledge will seem wonderful,
and bring your soul delight.

11  Discretion will watch over you,
and keep your life secure;
While understanding will protect
and guard you evermore.

***

12  Yes wisdom will deliver you,
and keep you far away,
From those whose words pervert the truth,
and from their evil way.

13  For wicked people turn aside
from righteousness and light;
They choose instead the way of sin,
that’s darker than the night.

14  They find delight in doing wrong,
while evil they embrace;
They cling to their depravity
without a bit of grace.

15  They do not walk the narrow path,
their ways are never straight;
They always act immorally,
from truth they deviate.

***

16  It’s wisdom too that keeps you safe
from those who would seduce,
From those with words that draw you in,
but morally are loose.

17  For they have left the one they loved –
the partner of their youth;
They broke their promise made to God,
and sacrificed the truth.

18  Beware of the adulterer
whose house is like a cave;
The path for all who head that way
leads surely to the grave.

19  For no one going to that house,
and passing through the door,
Will ever turn around and find
the path of life once more.

***

20  Now if you heed the things I’ve said,
you’ll walk upon the way,
That good and righteous people take
and follow everyday.

21  The righteous will forever stay,
and live upon the land;
The blameless too will dwell secure,
where solidly they stand.

22  But those of evil temperament
will soon be rooted out;
The faithless forcefully removed,
like dead plants in a drought.

Proverbs 1

To reverence and fear the Lord will start to make one wise  (Proverbs 1:7a)

Background
About ten years ago I translated the book of Psalms into poetic meter.  This is known as a metrical psalter because the plain text of Psalms has been put into rhyme.  Metrical psalters go back at least to the Protestant Reformation where many Christians saw the Psalms as the exclusive form of worship text.  The primary purpose in converting the Psalms into meter is so that they can be easily set to music and sung.  For example, “The Scottish Metrical Psalter,” which was approved by the Church of Scotland in 1650, is in use to this day.

Meter is a way to make plain text more accessible and more memorable.  Although any text can be memorized, it requires an intentional and concentrated effort.  However, when a text is put to music it can be memorized almost without thought.  Just think about how many songs you know simply because you have heard them repeated.  Metered verse is also easier to recall than plain text, even when it is not sung.  Again, think about how many childhood poems you still remember today.

Proverbs, like Psalms, is a poetical book, which means that a translation into meter would be consistent with its form.  However, there are obvious challenges in doing so.  For one, Proverbs is not a collection of sacred songs or prayers like Psalms, but is a form of wisdom literature.  Furthermore, there are two very distinct types of poetry in Proverbs.  Proverbs 1-9 comprise an extended “wisdom” poem.  Proverbs 10-29 include primarily two-line poetic couplets that are generally disconnected one from the next with the subject constantly changing.  Proverbs 30 and the beginning of 31 include longer poems.  The remainder of Proverbs 31 is a poem to celebrate a virtuous women/wife.

Despite its stylistic variations, I have decided to make a verse-by-verse translation of Proverbs into common meter.  I have no grand expectations in doing so.  Although metered verses could be easier to memorize, it is certain that Proverbs would never by sung as some do with metrical Psalms.  Mostly this is a private discipline for study.  But it is also challenging and fun, and in these troubled times that is not such a bad thing.  My hope is that in the reading others may benefit as well.

Starting with this post, I am going to share chapters as I translate them.  Along the way, I intend to comment on anything I find noteworthy.

Comment On Proverbs 1

1)  The fear of the Lord is the foundation of all wisdom.

The sure foundation of wisdom is not to be found in “how to” books, or YouTube videos, or the media, or politicians, or our feelings; but only in the fear of the Lord!  The key is verse 7:

“To reverence and fear the Lord will start to make one wise;
but fools detest intelligence, instruction they despise.”

“Fear” is also translated as “reverence,” which gives a fuller meaning to the verse because “fear” suggests that we are to be in dread or terror of God.  “Reverence,” on the other hand, means to stand in awe of God and regard him with deep respect.  Unless we truly revere God, we will not take his word seriously.  This is why the fear of the Lord is the start of being wise – the reverence we have for him is reflected in the reverence and value we put on his word.

There is much involved in whether or not we follow the wisdom of Proverbs, but at its root is whether or not we truly revere the Lord.  If we do, then we will desire the knowledge and insights in Proverbs.  If we do not, then we are unlikely to have much interest in their teaching.

2)  Proverbs is both wisdom literature and poetry.

This means that we must read it from both perspectives.  As wisdom literature it provides truths about how we are to live our lives.  Paramount among these is the importance of wisdom itself in guiding our actions.  However, if we think about Proverbs only as wisdom literature conveying unembellished, literal truths, then much will be missed.  Remember, this is also poetry with all of the metaphors, imagery and hyperbole that entails.  Poetry engages our imaginations in order to reveal deeper truths.  For example, consider verses 10 and 11:

My child, if wicked people call, enticing you to sin;
Do not capitulate to them, beware and don’t give in. 
(10)

For they may say, “Come join with us, let’s find someone to kill –
O let’s attack the innocent,
just simply for the thrill.” (11)

If we read verse 11 solely as wisdom literature, we might well pass it over because it’s pretty certain no one has ever asked us to kill someone.  But when read as poetry we may want to consder that “killing” someone is hyperbole for any harm done to others.  Jesus made this exact point when he said, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.”  (Matthew 5:21-22)

Similarly, if we read verse 10 literally, its application may elude us.  For where has a wicked person ever enticed us to sin?  No doubt this is remote from most of our experiences.  Perhaps someone has asked us to lie or cheat for them, but certainly not to rob and kill someone.  But there is a deeper truth here because there is much subtlety in wickedness, as is revealed throughout Proverbs.  For wherever there is slander, lying, and unforgiveness, we recognize the hand of wickedness.  It is not so much that a wicked person asks us to follow them.  Rather, the enticement is a psychological permission to emulate their behavior.  This we must resist.  Proverbs is unequivocal on this point.

Ronald Rolheiser writes that we must always live, “in respect, graciousness, and love.  These are nonnegotiable essentials within Christian charity.  They are also part and parcel of all that is noble within humanity.  Whenever we step outside of these, as we often do in our discourse with those who are not of our political or ecclesial mind-set, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that the high cause we think we are serving justifies this fundamental lapse in our humanity and charity.  … The perennial temptation, especially when the issue at stake is a critical one, is to bracket the essentials (respect, graciousness, and love) on the basis of cause and, in essence, fall into a way of thinking that says:  This issue is so important that I need not be respectful, gracious, and loving in this instance.  I may demonize an opponent, assassinate character, name-call, and use everything in my power, perhaps even violence, to have my truth win out.  Because I am right, and this is so important, I can bracket basic respect.”  (Sacred Fire 265-266)

Proverbs tells us that this is not only wrong, but it will end up badly for us.  This is a theme that runs throughout Proverbs 1 – if we follow the path of sin, we will reap what we have sown.  In the words of verse 31:

“And thus, you’ll eat what you have grown – the fruit of your own way;
You’ll doubtless get what you deserve, as one who’s gone astray.”

S

**********

Proverbs 1

1  These proverbs are from Solomon,
whose wisdom was renowned;
As David’s son and Israel’s king,
he royally was crowned.

2  He wrote these down so we may know
and learn to recognize,
Insightful words and good advice,
and sayings that are wise.

3  They teach us wisdom we can use,
instruction we can trust –
To live in truth and honesty
and do what’s right and just.

4  For those who lack experience,
they demonstrate what’s true;
For those still young and immature,
they help them think things through.

5  And even those already wise,
they help their knowledge grow;
For those who are intelligent,
they guide in what to know.

6  To those who understand in part,
they usefully explain –
The words and riddles of the wise,
and knowledge they contain.

***

7  To reverence and fear the Lord
will start to make one wise;
But fools detest intelligence,
instruction they despise.

***

8  O hear, my child, your father’s words
and what he teaches you;
And everything your mother says –
take heed and don’t eschew.

9  For all their words are like a crown,
a garland for your head,
A necklace of the highest grade,
that’s spun from silver thread.

10 My child, if wicked people call,
enticing you to sin;
Do not capitulate to them,
beware and don’t give in.

11  For they may say, “Come join with us,
   let’s find someone to kill –
O let’s attack the innocent,
   just simply for the thrill.”

12  “Alive and whole we’ll swallow them,
   like those dropped in a grave;
We’ll overwhelm and bury them,
   entombed within a cave.”

13  “And we shall plunder all they have –
   their precious goods and gold;
With these we’ll fill our houses up
   to more than they can hold.”

14  “So join now our conspiracy
   to capture all this loot;
And all the riches taken in,
   we’ll share without dispute.”

***

15  O no, my child, do not give in,
don’t ever walk their way;
Don’t set your foot upon their path,
or do the things they say.

16  For evil is their way of life,
it’s there they fix their eyes;
They always act upon their hate,
ensuring someone dies.

17  It’s said that birds have eyes to see
wherever nets are spread;
They know enough to stay away,
or they will wind up dead.

18  But wicked people do not see,
the nets that they extend,
Will be a trap for them alone,
which kills them in the end.

19  O surely this will come to pass
to all who live by strife;
For those who lust for unjust gain
will sacrifice their life.

***

20  O hear, O hear, now Wisdom’s call,
she’s crying everywhere –
In markets, ways and thoroughfares,
and in the public square.

21  She cries within the city gates,
where many she can reach;
Above the noise of bustling streets,
she makes this fervent speech:

22  “How long will you be simpletons,
   like those who play the fool?
How long will you hate what is wise,
   and all things ridicule?”

23  “If you repent at my rebuke,
   your present ways foreswear;
I’ll pour my spirit out to you,
   and all I know, will share.”

24  “But many times I’ve called to you,
   so you would understand;
Yet you did not attend to me
   when I stretched out my hand.”

25  “My counsel you have heeded not,
   my words you’ve not believed;
My reprimand you have ignored,
   it’s import not received.”

26  “And so whenever trouble comes,
   and tragedy is near;
I’ll laugh at your calamity,
   and mock you in your fear.”

27  “When terror strikes you like a storm –
   a fierce and driving rain;
You’ll find it leaves you in distress,
   in agony and pain.”

28  “And though you call to hear my voice,
   you’ll not perceive a sound;
And though with diligence you search,
   there’s nowhere I’ll be found.”

29  “For all of this was caused by you,
   since knowledge you ignored;
You hated learning what is true,
   and did not fear the Lord.”

30  “You did not seek to learn from me,
   or do what I advised;
My counsel you did not obey,
   my discipline despised.”

31  “And thus, you’ll eat what you have grown –
   the fruit of your own way;
You’ll doubtless get what you deserve,
   as one who’s gone astray.”

32  “For wayward people surely die
   when wisdom they reject;
And fools that show complacency,
   soon find their lives are wrecked.”

33  “But everyone who hears my voice
   will surely live in peace;
They’ll dwell secure and be at ease,
   and all their fears shall cease.”