Thoughts on Proverbs 1

Proverbs 1 (KJV)

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The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel; 

Let us begin with the apparent but important.  This passage begins with the naming of Solomon.  Not only is it important that we know who’s proverbs these are but who he is, king, and who his father is.  What is implicit in this statement is that both station and lineage are important.  The speaker has authority not only because of who he is but who his father was.  This is something I will remind you which is lost today.  Implicit in the assumption of Tabula Rasa is that it doesn’t matter where you came from.  While it is true that truth can come in many forms we should be careful to listen to the those who have the lineage to back it up.  Knowing where someone came from in today’s day in age is not easy, but a family which can maintain itself through the generations is both something to behold and to value.  The chances are always higher that the son of a good family will be able to say something worthwhile, that being said today higher is a low bar.

To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion. A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

The passage begins with an introduction to wisdom.  It reveals how to gain wisdom, how to share widsom and how to recognize the basis of wisdom.  To teach wisdom, teach in kind, that is subtilty, knowledge and discretion.  It is of note that the passage advises not simplicity to the simple but subtitly.  I will use the definition “acuteness or penetration of mind”.  I take this to mean to give great care to your words that you convey the true meaning, rather than a passing summary, and you take great care with your words that they would pierce confusion.  Knowledge and discretion represent facts and traditions passed down, knowing when and what to tell, and finally passing on judgment again to act in kind.  

When wisdom is lost it is hard to tell whether we can offer to people.  Wisdom is hard won and easily lost.  That so many people have been false profits for sophistry should give us pause.  But none the less someone has to strive for wisdom, and most importantly whatever wisdom can be mustered must be passed on.  If there is one mistake we must correct is that whatever we gain cannot be lost on this generation.  There may be an uphill battle ahead but it would be a tragedy that our children should start from the bottom of the hill alone and confused in this wasteland.   

The passage continues reminding us that the search for wisdom is unyielding and that wisdom comes from the wise around us.  We must listen as well as learn.  Wisdom is social and while it can be found in the individual must be maintained by the group.  One should not walk alone even through your own culture or religion without the counsel of the wise.  Again a steady reminder that whatever path we walk on we must take our ancestors, or at the very least the wise who once lived with us.    

Finally the last line speaks for itself:

 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck. 

Again we are reminded of lineage this time in reference to familial respect.  It is interesting that this brings the distinction between law and instruction as both masculine and feminine.  I suppose that while laws may be made by men, most of the training in say manners, customs and proper behavior is done by mothers.  Mothers are in many cases responsible for most of the interaction with young children.  Instruction carries two meanings one obedience and two guidance.  Again this points to a matter of judgement.  Lastly an ornament of grace unto thy head, speaks of laws and instruction leading to higher things.  Juxtaposed to “higher things is the weight of the chains.  This implies that children are both property and should be limited in their actions by their parents.

10 My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not. 11 If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause: 12 Let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit: 13 We shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil: 14 Cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse: 

This passage brings with it chthonic imagery.  Literally it could be read as (do not be enticed to) ambush, rob and kill for great rewards.  “swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit”  Alludes to both hell, and the chaos of nature descent into the behavior of lower creatures.  There is imagery of descent and consumption.  The robbers are acting, becoming,  like chaos or nature to swallow the innocent.  Lastly to have one purse seems to emphasize that “my son” will fail through the group, not his own folly, and that he will share their fate.

15 My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path: 16 For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood. 17 Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird. 18 And they lay wait for their own blood; they lurk privily for their own lives. 19 So are the ways of every one that is greedy of gain; which taketh away the life of the owners thereof.  

We continue with imagery of walking, speed, impatience and evil.

Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird. 18 And they lay wait for their own blood; they lurk privily for their own lives. 

As was alluded to earlier in the path of evil lies the seeds of the walkers destruction.  Just as the robbers are waiting for a victim they are awaiting their own destruction.  The last line makes clear the distinction between (if I’m not reading into it too much) trade and theft (murder) that there is such thing as just and unjust gain.  Though the passage sets a low bar.

20 Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: 21 She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying, 22 How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? 

Here we see the juxtaposition of Wisdom and imagery of the city: streets, concourse, gates.  These can represent order, protection and again the structure of the community.  Wisdom is crying everywhere the people might be found but describing the structure of that which protects.  Finally we see simplicity used as a foil for knowledge those that love simple truths cannot be wise.  Those that feel contempt at everything will never learn to appreciate wisdom.  Finally the hatred of learning and knowledge preclude the acquiring of wisdom.

23 Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you. 24 Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; 25 But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: 26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; 27 When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. 28 Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: 29 For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord:

This last part makes clear the reason for widsom.  Those that refuse wisdom will be there own undoing.  If you do not fear god, god, nature etc will put the fear in you.  The knowledge of the righteous path is there and rejection has consequences, moreover those consequences are of the same nature as the sin.  Evil is punished by the chaos it sows. To not fear evil is to be vulnerable to it.  Wisdom makes clear that she will not help those that did not seek her.  They will suffer the consequences and she will mock them.  When there is trouble and then you ask for wisdom it is already too late.

 30 They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. 31 Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. 32 For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them. 33 But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.

The last verses summarize the passage and provide a reminder of the redemption offered in the beginning of the chapter.

This chapter lays out the beginnings of the guide for an orderly society.  We would be cynical (scornful) to dismiss it as the obvious truth.  To know that Wisdom has been lost in this age that so many men have been swallowed by the earth.  That our cities are full of men that run to evil and lurk privily for the innocent.  It is no coincidence that the age of Empiricism is also the age of cynicism.  Part the nature of the democracy is that we doubt each other.  Many are quick to judge and pretend they know the truth.  But there is no wisdom in crowds, nor is there truth to be found in the simple explanations that people tell themselves.  When an entire nation thinks that it has found the truth, that the truth has already been discovered and the world is explored, is it so surprising that they miss what is written in old books.  Where are our wise men, where is our fear of the lord?  If we won’t turn to Wisdom she will mock us as we see the seeds of our own destruction blossom into terror and calamity.  The prosperity of the fools shall destroy us all.  If this chapter tells us anything it points to a long road ahead of us.  There may never have been a time where all men were wise, but sometimes it seems like we are approaching peak foolishness.

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Thoughts on Proverbs 1

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