Friday May 17, 2024

Proverbs 4

The Book of Proverbs falls under the designation of Wisdom Literature (the biblical books of Job and Ecclesiastes are other examples), as does philosophy. Given that this book is authored by Solomon, who reigned in Israel from 971 to 931 BC, we would be hard pressed to make the case that it was the Greeks who invented philosophy, as I was always told. There are, in fact, many similarities between the two that suggest that the Hebrew language and culture might have been instrumental in much of what we think of as uniquely Greek.

In any case, we give our listeners the famous Book of Proverbs. We have divided it into three sections, with an introduction. The first section (Chapters 1-9) contains two different types of poetry - 1) speeches from a father to his son(s), and 2) the words of Lady Wisdom. It begins with an introduction (1:1-9). The second section consists of a collection of proverbs. It is easy to get lost here if you try to rush through. These proverbs are not meant to be read in large groups, but rather pondered in relative isolation from one another. In philosophy, we call these "aphorisms," short sayings meant to provoke thought. It is a style of philosophy that has many examples in both Eastern and Western literature. In the modern era Friedrich Nietzsche was its most famous practitioner. Try choosing one or two of these sayings and pondering them throughout a full day. It would be better to study Proverbs over the course of a year than a couple days, weeks, or even months. The video introduction contains a great deal of helpful information. The third section (chapters 30 and 31) present a sort of precis of wisdom at the level of the individual life. Chapter 30 gives us the words of Agur, a man who suggests to me the wisdom of Socrates, who claimed that the one certainty of knowledge in his life was his own ignorance and limitation, suggesting that above all we must avoid the sin/blindness of intellectual arrogance.

Surely I am too stupid to be a man.
I have not the understanding of a man.
I have not learned wisdom,
nor have I knowledge of the Holy One. (30:2–3 (ESV))

As Socrates tells us, it is only by acknowledging our ignorance that we can BEGIN to know. In that sense, Agur is the ideal example of the phrase with which Proverbs begins: "the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction."

Chapter 31 makes the case that another fundamental source of wisdom for living in God's world is the advice of those who know better - in this case, King Lemuel's mother, who gives him advice on how to be a good King and on marrying a good woman. The prophet Jeremiah, likewise, points to the wisdom of tradition:

Thus says the LORD:
“Stand by the roads, and look,
and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls." (ESV)


We strongly suggest that you watch, listen, and understand the following video introduction to the Book of Proverbs.

Refer back to it often as you listen to our reading. Remember that we are reading from the American Standard Translation, which has its limitations. So ... study what is said for yourself. Read the same text in other translations. Consult Hebrew language lexicons and investigate the meaning of words and phrases. Study cultural contexts. Much of what is difficult will come clear, as you allow God's word to expand your thinking and understanding. Indeed ... for the listeners to The Christian Atheist podcast, the words of Solomon should ring out with a familiar and welcome message:

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge," and "fools despise wisdom and instruction."

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