Proverbs 2 King James Version (KJV)
1 My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; 2 So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; 3 Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; 4 If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; 5 Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. 6 For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.
The verse starts out with “my son” solidifying the theme of imparting Wisdom patrilineally. This translation chooses hide my commandment with thee. It has been translated as treasure or store, but something rings true about hide. To hide something with thee is to carry it with you, but to protect it as well. It avoids the sentimentality or perhaps materialism of treasure while maintaining that both that there is something to loose and something after it. Wisdom may never be truly lost but it can certainly be lost from our lives.
The next two verses remind the son that finding Wisdom is both passive and active. One must first listen, then ask for knowledge when it does not find you, and when there is no one to ask, seek it out. Like silver: is an apt metaphor Wisdom both valuable and, like that hidden in your heart, obscured and protected from the rest of experience. Verses 5 and 6 answer the question of who we are listening for which is the voice of God.
7 He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly.
Here we return to the metaphor of the path, the path of judgment. If one can hide God’s, and their father’s commandments with thee and carry wisdom then one can guide the good, righteous and just. Just as one should listen for wisdom, the wise should guide the righteous. In guiding them with wisdom, the wise protects the just.
8 He keepeth the paths of judgment, and preserveth the way of his saints. 9 Then shalt thou understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, every good path.
The wise build the roads for the good to walk. The good in and of themselves cannot see the way without wisdom. Goodness in an of itself does not impart judgment to know what is right. The wise must guide the best among us. Part of the duty of those imparted with wisdom is to guide the just, as the last line implies wisdom itself is not complete until one can observe the results of good people acting upon true wisdom.
The metaphor of the roads is a powerful one. Roads, paths must be either built or discovered. Once conceived they serve as common routes. They are the shortest, safest or most tread path from the start to the end (however conceived). A path is the known, the known way to an end. Humans can navigate without paths, in fact, we have for most of our time on this earth. Some, many might get lost, moreover, it takes skill, knowledge and experience to navigate without a path. A path provides a known solution to a common problem. It brings people together as the methods of travel become more uniform. Travelers help each other on the way and soon the road gains a life of its own. People come to the road for other people, and what they might offer. The road itself becomes a destination instead of a path. This is one of the many purposes of the church: to build the road-side stand on the path to God. People may come to the stand for many reasons but having come, they have already taken their first step.
Fortunately for the wise the path has already been built. The wise keep the paths, preserves them. Through keeping the paths, they will know the good ones and learn more about the ways of the lord. Just as the mountains and rivers define the right way to build a road (sometimes you have to dynamite through them) God has created the topography of the material and spiritual world. Whether they are park rangers mending a trail or Romans building the sturdy and straight road the wise must tend their charge for the good.
10 When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul; 11 Discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee: 12 To deliver thee from the way of the evil man, from the man that speaketh froward things;
Here we are reminded of both the need for a path and wisdom. To protect us from evil men who seek to mislead us. The power of the word is a common theme, we can observe the consequences of actions. No one would look at the Soviet Union (excluding Potemkin villages) and from a bird’s eye view think: this is grand! Their actions spoke louder than words. Yet it was words which brought nations to their knees and blood to the streets. Words despite being powerless over the world itself, have power to lead men to good or to evil. Just as the wise men’s words are a shield for the good, the words of the wicked are a rope with which the good may hang themselves. The next passage reminds us of the consequences of the leaving THE path.
13 Who leave the paths of uprightness, to walk in the ways of darkness; 14 Who rejoice to do evil, and delight in the frowardness of the wicked; 15 Whose ways are crooked, and they froward in their paths: 16 To deliver thee from the strange woman, even from the stranger which flattereth with her words; 17 Which forsaketh the guide of her youth, and forgetteth the covenant of her God. 18 For her house inclineth unto death, and her paths unto the dead. 19 None that go unto her return again, neither take they hold of the paths of life.
We see three themes in these verses, height, path and seduction. We begin with uprightness and end with inclineth unto death. There is a slope from good to bad and at the end of the slope is death, both literal and spiritual. As if to answer the question of why would anyone leave the path these verses use the metaphor of the seductress. She is a stranger read literally she is an adulteress who has left her husband. This reminds the son that the way off the path is seductive. The stranger though could also be:
(1) one of another nation, or one of another family; (2) or some one different from one’s self; (3) or strange.
This wider meaning of stranger reminds us that tradition, wisdom is of the known, the familiar the familial. Someone of another nation or family will not carry the wisdom of the (F)ather. They may not walk the one of the good paths. Whatever wisdom they do carry may be corrosive to the people and culture of another land. If that person has come to you where are they from? Have they not already forsaken their fatherland, family, or husband? The path they have taken is already crooked and following them will bring death. Her, the stranger’s, fate is already sealed they have revoked wisdom, by being an adulteress or an abandoner of their family and are the walking dead, to follow her is to lead away from life.
20 That thou mayest walk in the way of good men, and keep the paths of the righteous. 21 For the upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain in it. 22 But the wicked shall be cut off from the earth, and the transgressors shall be rooted out of it.
These verses tie back into the theme of the stranger. What is the opposite of a stranger? Those who dwell in the land. By definition, they are known to one extent or the other. The good not only walk the righteous path but physically stay in their land. As the last verse shows to dwell in the land is a blessing to be rooted out is a curse. Less literally this completes the theme of the gifts of God. The land you dwell in is a gift, to walk the wrong path and you will be removed from it. This is as much a promise to the son as a nation.
If there is one thing that this chapter reminds me is the abdication of the wise. The western world has a great emphasis on being good and just. It focuses on the qualities which make for good men and women. It falls short precisely because it lacks wisdom. The wise, or at the very least those capable of wisdom, thought that goodness alone could rule the world. They thought that reason and goodness alone could guide their flock. Yet without Wisdom, we cannot even understand what is good. Not everyone will gain wisdom, and it is the duty of the wise to forge the paths for the good. Without the wise the paths are in disrepair, there are no sign posts and the flock wanders out in the wild. The good cannot find each other and the wise wonder what has become of the world. The path is not easy, there are temptations all around, but a good road will become an end for the good and a beginning for all on the path to God.