- PROVERBS. Centuries of experience

Created: Tuesday, 20 May 2014 Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Centuries of experience

1. The book of the Proverbs collects centuries of experience: of biblical experience, in which God manifests in many ways what he wants from the man, and common human experience, shared with the peoples that go from Mesopotamia to Egypt. There where it can be found, the wisdom is considered like God´s manifestation.
2. The experience means to achieve consciousness of the most immediate reality, something eminently personnel, but also deeply collective, a common heritance. The experience places us inside the reality. The book of the Proverbs is plentiful of experiences. Its way of teaching, especially oriented to the practice, does not lose itself in abstract digression. It is a compilation of core ideas and precepts, a collection of sayings.
3. The sayings are “precepts extracted from the experience itself, mother of all the sciences” (Quixote, I, XXI). Some of our sayings: “Eyes that do not see, heart that does not feel”, “to that who gets up early, God helps him”, “to God praying  and with the mallet striking”, “gifts smash rocks”, “from what has said to what is made there is a long stretch”, “from where we less think, the hare jumps”, “man proposes, God decides”, “the one who loves you well, shall make you cry, and the one who does not, laugh and sing”, “avarice breaks the bag”, “the dumb knows more at home that the wise in other’s home”, “it is not gold all that shines”, “through the thread you may go till the ball”.
4.The book of the Proverbs is shaped around two collections: the large Solomon’s collection (Pr 10 – 22. 16: 375 precepts), and the second one (25 – 29: 128 precepts). To the first one the “words of the wise men” are added (22, 17 – 24, 22) and its continuation (24, 23 – 24); “Agur´s words” are added to the second collection (30, 1 – 14), numerical proverbs (30, 15 – 33) and “Lemuel´s words” (31, 1 -9). In the prologue (1 – 9), we are invited to learn wisdom; in the epilogue the perfect woman is praised (31, 10 – 31)
5. Which is the purpose of the book?, why is it written down?: “to learn wisdom and instruction, to understand the profound speeches, to reach instruction and perspicacity, - justice, equity and honesty -, to teach to the simple persons the caution, to the youngsters science and reflection, to decipher proverbs and enigmas, the sayings of the wise men and their riddles. Let the wise man pay attention and he will grow in doctrine, and the clever man will learn to make projects” (1, 2 – 6). First of all: “The beginning of knowledge is the fear of Yahweh” (1, 7)

6. In the prologue, wisdom is in the father’s instruction and in the mother’s lesson (1, 8), to flee bad companies (1, 15), “For when I, too, was a young boy, and my mother fondly looked on me as special, my father taught me and said to me: Treasure my words in your heart.” (4, 3 – 4), wisdom “claims on the streets, at the squares she raises her voice” (1, 20; 8, 1 – 11): “that who listens to me shall safety live”(1, 33), “if you call for perception and raise your voice for in sight; if you seek it as silver and search for it more than any treasure, then you will understand the fear of Yahweh, and you will find the knowledge of God. For Yahweh is the one who gives wisdom” (2, 3 – 6), “trust in Yahweh with all your heart; do not rely on your own insight. Let his presence pervade all your ways and he will protect your foot from the snare.” (3, 5 – 6), “do not envy the man of violence or follow his example.” (3, 33), “do not follow the way of the wicked nor walk with evildoers.” (4, 14), “know that the lips of the adulteress are sweet as honey and her words smoother than oil” (5, 2 – 3; 6, 20 – 7, 27), “may you find joy in the wife of your youth” (5, 18), be careful with the reckless deposit (6, 1 – 5), “You idler, go to the ant, watch her ways and be wise.” (6, 6).

7. Wisdom introduces herself: “Yahweh created me first, at the beginning of his works…  I was there when he made the skies…  I was close beside him, the designer of his works, and I was his daily delight, forever playing in his presence, playing throughout the world and delighting to be with humans. (8, 22 – 31), “wisdom has built her house set upon seven pillars; she has slaughtered her beasts, prepared her wine and laid her table. Next, she sent her servants to call from the central square of the city,  “Pass by here, you who are fools.”  To the senseless she says,  “Come, eat and drink of the bread and wine I have prepared. Give up your foolishness and you will live; take the straight path of discernment.” (9, 1- 6). It is necessary to choose between two ways (Ps 1)

8. The large Solomon’s collection seems to be the oldest part. Let´s see some sentences:” A wise son is his father’s joy, a foolish one his mother’s heartbreak” (10, 1), “The wise of heart is open to instruction, the chattering fool speeds towards ruin.”(10, 8), “Whoever behaves honourably will walk safely, but the follower of crooked ways will be punished” (10, 9), “the generous man does himself a favour while a cruel man wounds his own flesh.” (11, 7), “be assured that the wicked will not go unpunished” (11, 21), “the one who speaks thoughtlessly pierces like a sword; but the words of the wise bring healing” (12, 18), “wisdom builds her house, foolishness destroys it with her own hands” (14, 1), “entrust all you do to Yahweh and your plans will be realized” (16, 3), “man’s heart seeks the right way but it is Yahweh who makes his footsteps sure” (16, 9), “he who holds himself aloof follows his own whims and is annoyed at others’ advice” (18, 1), “to argue before listening to the facts shows stupidity which leads to disgrace” (18, 13), “to the eyes of man all his ways are honest but it is Yahweh who weighs the heart.” (21, 2).

9. Wise men’s words are and appendix of the large Solomon’s collection: “have I not written for you thirty chapters of advice and knowledge 21 so that you may recognize the truth and be able to answer rightly him who sent you? (22, 20 -21), “do not move the ancient boundaries or take possession of the orphan’s land because his Avenger is powerful (23, 10), “do not hold back from correcting a youth; the rod will not kill him” (23, 13, in our society the physical punishment is penalized), “happy the father of a virtuous man! How he will rejoice, he who fathers a wise man! May your father and mother rejoice and may she who bore you be glad” (23, 24 – 25), “with wisdom a house is built. It is strengthened by prudence” (24, 3). Following this: “It is not good for judges to show partiality. People curse and nations hate him who says to the wicked man, “You are just.” (23, 23-24), “an honest answer is like a kiss on the lips” (24, 26), “finish your work out-of-doors and plan your work in the fields; afterwards, you can think of building your house” (24, 27)

10 . Let´s see the second Solomon’s  collection: “These are also Proverbs of Solomon, recorded in the time of Hezekiah, king of Judah”. (25, 1), “do not answer the stupidity of fools lest you become like them” (26, 4), “He who sends messages by a fool is cutting his own feet” (26, 6), “the fool reverts to his stupidity just as a dog returns to his vomit” (26, 11),  “let another praise you but not your own mouth; a stranger but not your own lips” (27, 2), “like a bird far from its nest, so is the one who wanders from his own place” (27, 8), “a clever man keeps the Law, while he who associates with scoundrels brings shame to his father” (28, 7), “ he who adds to his wealth by usury and greed amasses it for another who has compassion on the poor” (28, 8), “if anyone turns a deaf ear to the Law, even his prayer is contaminated by sin” (28, 9), “he who gives to the poor will not be in need; but he who turns a blind eye to them will have his fill of disgrace” (28, 27), “he who loves wisdom makes his father happy, but whoever maintains prostitutes will lose his wealth” (29, 3), “the virtuous man is concerned about the problems of the poor” (29, 7), “the fool gives free rein to his rage; while the wise man restrains it” (29, 11), “the king who judges the poor with justice will affirm his throne forever” (29, 14)

11. Agur´s words are an appendix to the second collection. Let´s see some: “every word of God is true, he is a shield in whom man can find refuge. Add nothing to his words lest he rebuke you and take you for a liar” (30, 5-6). “O God, two things I beg of you, do not deny me them before I die. Keep lying and falsehood far away from me, give me neither poverty nor riches. Give me just as much food as I need lest, satisfied, I deny you and say, “Who is Yahweh?” Or else, out of necessity, I steal and profane the name of my God. (30, 7 – 9)

12. The numerical proverbs participate at the same time of the rule of conduct, the enigma and the comparison. Let´s see an example: “There are three things which I cannot comprehend and four which I do not understand: the way of the eagle through the sky, the way of the snake on the rock, the way of the ship on high seas and the way of the human being within the mother” (30, 18 – 19)

13. Lemuel´s words, the king of Massa, an Ishmaelite tribe of the North of Arabia (Gn 25, 14), are wrds tht were taught to him by his mother: “Do not waste your strength on women, or your life on those who destroy kings” (31, 3), “it is not for kings, O Lemuel, not for kings to drink wine or for rulers to love strong drink. 5 Lest in drinking they forget what they have decreed and override the cause of the helpless.”(31, 4- 5), “Speak on behalf of the dumb and defend the cause of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, pronounce just sentences, defend the needy and the poor. (31, 8 – 9)

14. The epilogue praises the perfect woman, wisdom model: “The woman of character, where is she to be found? She is more precious than any jewel. Her husband has complete confidence in her; she will be of great benefit to him. She brings him only good and not evil, all the days of her life. She has obtained wool and flax, and works them with skilful hands. She speaks wisely and her words are kind. She keeps an eye on the conduct of her household and is never idle. Her sons rise up and call her blessed, her husband sings her praises (31,10-28).

* Dialogue: Are yesterday’s proverbs useful for today?
-    many have a permanent value
-    they have its limitations
-    they must be read in the Gospel’s spirit
-    let’s recall some experiences