“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.
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)
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.