There is a moment in chapter 26: verses 4 and 5, that is quite helpful I think:
Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
or you yourself will be just like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
or he will be wise in his own eyes.
I think the editor of the book did us a favour by arranging 2 proverbs with blatantly contradictory advice right next to each other. Throughout the book the specific advice is situational and often just observing the dilemmas of being human. At one point I called it a list of “for instance”s. Not to say a lot of it isn’t brilliant! Though some hasn’t dated well.
The deeper advice is to want to be wise: to be considered, reflective, careful. More than the outcome really, wisdom is caring enough to step back and process – a kind of mindfulness.
Pausing to take time, to commit to decision-making rather than just reaction, opens you up to correction. Wise people do sometimes decide wrong, but desiring wisdom increases the chance you’ll learn and adjust next time, and the time after that.
And it opens you up to other factors than your own short-term perspective – the impacts of your actions on other people. Repercussions.
Or putting it another way, humility and compassion. Assuming you actually want good for others.
As a work of faith, it suggests again and again that a person who desires wisdom will ultimately open up to the character of God, the source of wisdom.
By leading you to the idea that good and right are of God, the book treats foolishness – thoughtlessness, in-curiousness ; and evil – acting in a considered way, but with selfish and malicious intent; virtually interchangeably.
The earthly outcome is sometimes vastly different – and the book doesn’t hide that. Evil may well make you wealthy, powerful and successful, while foolishness can be a path to personal failure. But because evil will ultimately pass away, it will be revealed as foolishness.
The humbly wise confront evil. We can be a presence of God in the world. The advice kept moving towards the “as above, so below” logic of the Lord’s prayer.
I was moved by the readings on the days after the white supremacist massacre of muslim worshippers in New Zealand, the honesty about the evil that we do, and the hope of God’s mercy. Though much of the advice is literally directed to rulers and kings, I don’t think any christian could read this and not feel that God wants them to be involved in justice and advocacy at some level.
I made no secret that I found it very difficult to read on a chapter per day schedule – about the hardest book so far, strangely. But it did get under my skin, because it’s so relentlessly practical. You can’t help but think about the micro opportunities each day to make judgments, but also keeping in balance the meta.
It came as my personal situation stabilised, and I am setting the parameters by which I will live for some time, ie: my relationships, my income expectations, my use of time: all became more settled as I read it, so it is timely to be thoughtful about the patterns my life follows. It is a time for Godly mantras and rules of thumb, and proverbs can supply.
Intro – why be wise
1 One of the bible’s most targeted books. Timeless wisdom for all, but explicitly for young men. Don’t know if that’s because they matter most or are most foolish.
2 Wisdom will protect you from evil men and seductive women, and let you know the very mind of God
3 Its advice to a son. I think about them, and my daughter too
4 As father telling his child that wisdom is important, I contemplate my lack of confidence and my hope for the kids program materials I’m privileged to write at work
5 The ultimate emptiness of a life devoted to lust
6 Indebtedness, laziness, lust and more… gently persuading, cajoling you to align with the mind of God, I delight at God’s patience
7 A vivid warning tale of seduction. It recognises the power of lust to attract, but also distract and corrupt
8 Praise for wisdom. Its ancient, of God, true and precious
9 Wisdom and foolishness as two houses… you can open or harden your heart depending on which you head towards. I take stock: job permanent, but new uncertainties abound
10 The collection of relatively random two line sayings starts. Sayings of diligence and blessing side by side: live by common sense, live by faith
11 Preserving yourself through the pitfalls of life, personal and communal
12 Interpersonal ethics in principles, actions and words. At first its entirely practical, then the last verses reach toward heaven and the immortal soul
13 Don’t go for the easy win, take it slow, bit by bit, and you’ll get the rewards in the long run
14 Evil a weak minds are equally condemned… the advice becomes more spiritual as the chapter progresses
15 Proverbs mainly about humility, I wonder whether being wise equals being no fun
16 Proverbs about thought and actions, destiny and choices, and a portrait of a king more ideal than seems earthly possible
17 Finding a book of 30 random a day sayings hard to read – the material doesn’t suit my habits. Looking for underlying revelation, I see sensitivity to the spirit, a soft heart
18 The assault of foolish words and lies and running to the fortress of truth. Wisdom can be a quiet witness to the truth of God’s plan for humanity.
19 I think about the importance of balance, and rebel against too much balance. The passage talks about not blaming God when you are your own worst enemy
20 The place for pragmatism and for reflection. Our world is political, reflect deeply about the moments you are going to stand against that: God’s direction vs life lessons
21 A few whinges about proverbs… some are so sexist, some are contradictory or of dubious morality (the one talking about bribes being a good idea here)
Collection: the 30 “sayings of the wise”
22 Half this chapter is like the previous 10, then its starts a collection. It also corrects some of the wrongs I whinged about in ch21. The sayings of the wise are quite elite
23 Great chapter about other things we make gods – quite funny on the subject of wine
24 The last 10 sayings and some more besides. About consistent godly character through all that life throws at you. It lent, I work at self discipline
25 The pragmatic and the idealistic lie alongside each other in proverbs, leaving you to draw out the themes. Here there is a lot about humility, at other times, confidence
26 Some neat twists on fools and lazy people turns the tables on you, revealing the deeper theme of humility. Then it talks about lies, teasing out the impact. Great chapter
27 The tough things that last and the appealing things that are ephemeral and misleading
28 Rulers being advised to show compassion to those less lucky. I pray for it for my small patch
29 Reeling from a terrorist mass murder, proverbs about hatred and trusting in the Lord for safety are timely comfort
Collection: Sayings of Agur
Collection: Sayings of Lemuel + the wife of noble character