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Friday Bible Blogging - Proverbs 21 to 31

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). All headings are links to those Bible chapters.

BibleOnce again, I have to apologize for falling behind on this series. But with my projects around the house pretty much finished up, and with the holidays behind me, I think I should be able to get back into my weekend routine of reading the Bible, allowing me to keep up with this series. If I was the type to make New Year's resolutions, I'm sure one of them would be to post a new Friday Bible Blogging entry every week.

This week's entry covers the final eleven chapters of the book of Proverbs, 21-31. Just like the last entry, much of the content this week was unconnected sayings. And much of it was good advice (though not all of it). So, my focus for those chapters is going to be the verses that stood out to me.

The last couple chapters did have a bit of a different character. They were attributed to different authors than the rest of Proverbs (most proverbs are attributed to Solomon - though obviously they're a collection from multiple writers), and they had slightly different structures and themes.


Proverbs, Chapter 21

The very first verse from this chapter caught my eye.

The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
   he turns it wherever he will.

This is an example of one of the Bible passages that goes against free will (hardening people's hearts is another obvious example). It's interesting to think of a mindset where a person believes that even their thoughts are controlled by a deity (though I suppose that wouldn't be hard for an omnipotent god).

The other passage from this chapter that stood out to me was partly because I found it a bit humorous, but also because I saw it repeated verbatim in 25:24.

It is better to live in a corner of the housetop
   than in a house shared with a contentious wife.

As with so many other parts of the Bible, this repetition is yet another example that this book was put together from previous collections.


Proverbs, Chapter 22

According to the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), this chapter begins a section constituting a separate collection, running through 24:22. The NOAB also indicates that the origin of this collection might lie in an Egyptian collection of sayings, "Instruction of Amenemope", noting several similarities. The article on Wikipedia has more info, and indicates that the scholarly consensus is a bit stronger than 'could be'.

Similar to the previous chapter, the passage in this chapter that caught my eye was due to a combination of it being a bit humorous, but also being repeated later in the book in 26:13, though not quite verbatim this time.

The lazy person says, 'There is a lion outside!
   I shall be killed in the streets!'

I think I might use that excuse the next time my wife asks me to take the trash out.


Proverbs, Chapter 23

There wasn't much that caught my eye from this chapter. It's not that it gives bad advice (well, maybe a bit like the sections on beating your kid), it's just that none of the passages particularly stand out. If I had to pick one highlight, it would be the last few verses describing getting drunk and getting a hangover (though obviously using more poetic language), before closing with:

When shall I awake?
   I will seek another drink.

Seems like a rather committed drinker.


Proverbs, Chapter 24

There was one verse that came across as, not exactly opposite of, but perhaps as a less charitable version of the Golden rule.

Do not say, 'I will do to others as they have done to me;
   I will pay them back for what they have done.'

It's not about actively helping other people, just avoiding retribution. Though I suppose that compared to the 'eye for an eye' type passages, this is a huge step in the right direction.

I particularly like the last several verses from this chapter.

I passed by the field of one who was lazy,
   by the vineyard of a stupid person;
and see, it was all overgrown with thorns;
   the ground was covered with nettles,
   and its stone wall was broken down.
Then I saw and considered it;
   I looked and received instruction.
A little sleep, a little slumber,
   a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
   and want, like an armed warrior.

How true it is, if a little bit hyperbolic. How many times have you sat down for just a short rest from chores on the weekend, and wound up watching TV and wasting the whole afternoon? It reminds me a bit of the saying by Ben Franklin, "If you want something done, ask a busy person."


Proverbs, Chapter 25

This chapter had a heading stating, "These are other proverbs of Solomon that the officials of King Hezekiah of Judah copied." According to the NOAB, "This note gives a rare indication of a historical context for this collection."

I liked verses 21 & 22.

If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat;
   and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink;
for you will heap coals of fire on their heads,
   and the Lord will reward you.

Biblically sanctioned passive aggressiveness.

I also liked verse 17.

Let your foot be seldom in your neighbour's house,
   otherwise the neighbour will become weary of you and hate you.

The charitable interpretation is that it's a warning not to overstay your welcome. The less charitable version is that it's a commandment to be anti-social.


Proverbs, Chapter 26

There were two juxtaposed proverbs in this chapter that gave conflicting advice.

Do not answer fools according to their folly,
   or you will be a fool yourself.
Answer fools according to their folly,
   or they will be wise in their own eyes.

The NOAB says this "provokes reflection". Personally, I wonder if a scribe was collecting supposedly sacred sayings and felt like he had to include both of these, despite the contradiction.

This passage also caught my attention.

Like a maniac who shoots deadly firebrands and arrows,
so is one who deceives a neighbour
   and says, 'I am only joking!'

So, it seems like even the writers of the Bible thought that assholes were annoying.


Proverbs, Chapter 27

I don't have any commentary on these next two proverbs, other than to say that I just liked them.

Better is open rebuke
   than hidden love.
Well meant are the wounds a friend inflicts,
   but profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

Here's another one that I found pretty humorous.

Whoever blesses a neighbour with a loud voice,
   rising early in the morning,
   will be counted as cursing.

If power tools had been around back then, I'm sure they'd have gotten a mention as well.


Proverbs, Chapter 28

Nothing from this chapter really jumped out at me.


Proverbs, Chapter 29

There were a few proverbs dealing with servants and slaves that actually come across as pretty callous:

By mere words servants are not disciplined,
   for though they understand, they will not give heed.

and:

A slave pampered from childhood
   will come to a bad end.

According to the NOAB, "The concern with servants suggests that the audience of Proverbs is the upper class," so not really a message intended for the masses.


Proverbs, Chapter 30

Chapter 30 was attributed to "Agur son of Jakeh. An oracle." It was full of numerical sayings that had an interesting structure. As an example, here are verses 21 through 23.

Under three things the earth trembles;
   under four it cannot bear up:
a slave when he becomes king,
   and a fool when glutted with food;
an unloved woman when she gets a husband,
   and a maid when she succeeds her mistress.

The NOAB also points out that verses 7 through 10 constitute the only prayer in this whole book, and that they might have been a later addition.


Proverbs, Chapter 31

This final chapter of Proverbs is "The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him". That latter two thirds of it, verses 10-31, make up an acrostic poem, where each verse begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, in order (of course, that information is from the NOAB, as I can't read the original Hebrew).

My favorite verse from the entire book is in this chapter, verse 7. It's my favorite not so much because it's the best proverb from the book, or even the most amusing, but because I found some tubler glasses in a thrift shop that have this proverb printed on them.

let them drink and forget their poverty,
   and remember their misery no more.

Actually, the tumbler doesn't have this verse perfectly (even accounting for different translations), since it drops the part about poverty. But I just get such a kick out of drinking my scotch out of a glass that seems to show the Bible condoning excessive drinking*.


---

So that's it for the book of Proverbs. Overall, it was pretty good. The first several chapters that dealt with the personification of Wisdom were especially interesting. I was also struck by how many influences there were from other mythologies and outside sources. And the proverbs themselves, while not universally brilliant, were good more often than not. There were some thought provoking ones, and some that I really did rather like.

With this book behind me, next week is on to the book I've actually been most looking forward to, Ecclesiastes.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


*In context, verse 7 can be interpreted differently. Here's a Christian article, Does the Bible Recommend Drinking Alcoholic Beverages?, which says that it's more about warning King Lemuel against drinking himself since he has to be a wise ruler, even if people around him are going to drink to try to drown out their sorrows. The article cited other passages in the Bible that contradicted the 'just let them get drunk' message. Personally, I think that's a rather charitable interpretation given the word choices, and especially since I don't think the Bible was divinely inspired with a single coherent message. If I had to bet, I'd wager that the writer of this passage really did intend to allow people 'in bitter distress' to drink their problems away, even if only for temporary comfort.

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