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Analyzing the First Section of Proverbs

After stating the purpose of the Book of Proverbs in the first six verses , Solomon states the three most valuable lessons for obtaining wisdom in verses 7 through 9:

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

Solomon begins with his own experience, which is that wisdom comes from the LORD (YHWH).  He repeats this in Proverbs 2:1-11, 3:1-12; 9:10 Because every student must respect his teacher to the point of being terrified of being a shame to him, so they should fear coming short in that which the LORD teaches them.  In contrast, fools despise the need for wisdom and instruction.  The literary method of the Hebrews was to make a statement, then either rephrase it positively or contrast it by expressing the opposite in opposite terms.  Thus, it is safe to conclude that "knowledge", "wisdom", and "instruction" are either all on the same level or are components of wisdom.  (An aside: my policy on this website is to report and expound only on that which I have experienced or which I strongly believe to be true based on solid reasoning.  Thus, I find comfort that Solomon, in verse 7, follows this policy as well by drawing upon his own experience.) 

The teaching of the New Testament is in agreement with Solomon.  James, the brother of Jesus, repeats the fact that Wisdom comes from God when giving the promise of wisdom recorded in James 1:5-8.  More importantly, when Jesus himself was asked about the Parable of the Sower by his disciples, he took the time to give the "hardest" saying that offends us moderns before going into the parable itself.  Here is Matthew 13:10-17, the longest passage that explains in detail what is summarized in Mark 4:10-13 and Luke 8:9-10:

10 And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? 11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. 12 For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. 13 Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. 14 And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: 15 For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. 16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. 17 For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.

In verse 11, Jesus states what Solomon said: the ability to understand is given, pointing out in verse 12 that existing understanding is to be used by the hearers to gain new understanding.  This is further amplified in verse 17, where the implication is given that the prophets and righteous men of the Old Testament would have understood what he was talking about if they were hearing what the disciples were hearing.  That Jesus had come to give the parables that the disciples were hearing implies that the revelation of the Messiah was necessary to further the understanding of these prophets and righteous men.  Because the coming of the Messiah is a time-based event rooted in history, these worthies were prevented from this understanding due to the necessary circumstance of their job as fore-tellers of the future Messiah.  What is most encouraging was that their understanding, while not having the same content as what the disciples were getting, was sufficient enough to tell them that their own understanding was insufficient.  An illustration of this phenomenon of an understanding profound enough to self-illuminate gaps within its own content is the development of the Periodic Table of the Elements.  Dmitri Mendeleev had a deep enough understanding of the elements and how to arrange them to not only re-arrange them into a proper order based on atomic number (a concept not discovered until much later), but was able to discern that certain slots in his preliminary table could not be filled in because they represented elements that had not yet been discovered.  In a word, he knew enough to know what he didn't know.  It was that knowing what he didn't know that won him the honor of being credited as the discoverer of the Periodic Table.  We shall return to this issue later in this essay.  

An aside: Jesus gives the force of spiritual authority in verse 12 to the principle of "them who has, gets", denying moral authority to those who believe so much in a strictly eglitarian society that they are prepared to use the force of government to impose their vison on the unwilling.  The fact that every member in such a society is not granted equal ability to impose their views on everyone else, is pretty much proof that such a society is not only illusory, but that those who advocate it, and who advance themselves as those best suited to bring it about, do not sincerely believe it.  The fact that such people still don't understand that their goal is illusory, and that they believe themselves morally superior to the rest of mankind, is living proof that true understanding is given by, and comes from, God.

Proverbs 1:8 then says:

8 My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: 9 For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.

It does not amaze me that there are rock stars and celebrities who counsel young people to disobey and disrespect their parents out of mercenary motives.  What does amaze me is that there are young people (styling themselves to be worldly wise and savvy) who fall for this line, not seeing it as a transparent attempt to capture their hearts preparatory to the capture of the contents of their pocketbooks.  My amazement stems from the obvious fact that these same celebrities were nowhere to be found when these children needed their diapers to be changed, had hungry bellies that needed filling with food that had to be acquired by the sweat of their parents brows, and were AWOL while they were teething, cholic, wetting their beds, or sick.  Here, Solomon states the obvious: you can trust that the advice from the people who worked to take care of you and who invested their lives in you is going to be the very best that they can give.  In our modern day of AWOL parents, Solomon would amend it to include the relative who took care of you, or the incredibly selfless and loving couple who adopted you.  These people have earned the right to be heard and heeded.  He repeats this specific counsel in Proverbs 6:20-35 and 7:1-3. (The use of the term "my son" may be confusing when the father and mother of the student is referred to in the third person.  This either refers to Solomon or to the teacher conducting the class of which Proverbs is the textbook: those teachers who take seriously the duty of teaching will "take ownership" of those learning from them as their own children, investing themselves in the success of their students as much as their mothers and fathers had invested in them.)

Verses 10-19 are a warning against participating in a group of undesirables to the extent of investing oneself totally in them ("Cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse").  This is the first of many counsels of what one should not do because doing them would prevent the working of wisdom: participation in a group that has a goal of evil robs one of the ability to think and act independently.  If wisdom truly is of God, then paying attention to the group/mob rather than to what one's common sense and insight tells them is abandoning the word of God to adopt the word of men.  This reflects modern warnings about the perils of "group think" that I cannot help but see is operating in the thinking today regarding "man-made Global Warming".  Solomon repeats this warning in Proverbs 4:14-19

In the interest of time, I will summarize the other counsels that are in the next 8 chapters of the first section.  These counsels are to refrain from evil (Proverbs 2:10-14), avoid co-signing for loans (Proverbs 6:1-5), work hard (Proverbs 6:6-11), live a truthful lifestyle (Proverbs 6:12-19), and avoid fornication and adultery (Proverbs 2:16-22, 5:1-23; 6:20-35; 7:6-27; 9:13-18).  The number of references to avoiding inappropriate sexual liasons is a sad reflection on the popular joke that God gave man two organs that dictate his behavior, but not enough blood to properly operate both of them at the same time.  Even a man as wise as Solomon failed to "run the numbers" to figure out that he was being warned.

In verses 20 to 33, we come to the first passage of direct interest to us:

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? 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: 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 standard view of passages like this in the first section of Proverbs is that Solomon is using a literary device by personifying wisdom (Allegory).  Mr William Young follows this convention in his book "The Shack" where Sophia becomes "the manifestation of Papa's (God the Father's) Wisdom".  In fact, the word "sophia" is the greek word used in the Septuagint version of this passage that is translated "wisdom", and people today name their daughters "Sophia" to indicate their desire that they display wisdom in their lives.

However, there are elements in this passage, and in others, that suggest that a more literal interpretation should be considered.  That is, I propose that we should entertain the possiblity that the woman in Proverbs depicted as Wisdom might be a literal being whose character and personality can be acertained by reading "between the lines".  While this goes against the standard interpretation, I should point out that the allegorical interpretation of this passage has a long tradition in Judaism that Christian theologians may have adopted without considering that the Gospel sometimes revises and supercedes Jewish belief and practice.  An example of this supercession of understanding that the disciples originally had problems with, but present day Christians do not, is the Jewish understanding of the Messiah's character, work, and mission.  The view of the symbiotic nature of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within the believer advocated by this website is founded on this very phenomenon of the conception and development of a recent idea (symbiosis) suddenly augmenting our understanding of an older phenomenon (the Holy Spirit's work within the believer). 

I believe that a fundamental difficulty in working with this passage is that the same word, "wisdom", is used to designate the name of our proposed entity and the name of that which our purported entity dispenses.  This conflation is standard practice in allegorical writing, which was a literary style quite popular during the middle ages.  The most accessable examples of this style, somewhat modified, survive today in the non-expository works of John Bunyan, of which  "Pilgrim's Progress" is the most well known.  To avoid this confusion and to help us in the task of identification, I will use the greek name "Sophia" to refer to the woman that is called Wisdom throughout the first section of Proverbs while reserving the word "wisdom" to that which Sophia dispenses.  (An aside: some literary critics have disputed that Bunyan's writing style in "Pilgrim's Progress" is purely allegorical, noting that his departures from it, though panned by the purists of his day, laid the foundations for the style used today in modern novels, and accounts for the popularity of his works then and now.  The pure allegorical form was getting tired, they argue, but the writers of that day did not have a good idea of what could take its place until Bunyan showed the way, helping bury the pure allegorical form as a side-effect.  This is what a tinker (a pot and pan repair man) did for the literary arts when moved by the Holy Spirit.)

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