Proverbs: A Christian Manual Part II

given on Sunday, September 20, 2009

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Originally I thought tackling Proverbs was a good idea, but this morning I am finding a little uncertainty.  I have tried all week to sit down and read all the couplets of wisdom from Chapter 10 through Chapter 24.  Finally I had to stop and regroup.

First, I tried to print off the chapters so I could make notes and read quickly.  Well, my first attempt created a document over 23 pages.  Now that should have been the first clue that I was being a bit over zealous.  With a little manipulating of fonts and page layout, I did manage to get it down to 16 pages and still I did not get the message.

Finally, I decided the job had to be tackled a little differently so turned to my study Bible and reviewed the side bar pieces.  In these fourteen chapters there are 457 verses of advice, many take two verses to complete so roughly 228 different pieces of advice.  Then I started realizing that many were very similar so needed editing to categorieze the advice.

By this point I knew that the task was going to have to take a different twist and turned to the Archeological Bible because I started thinking about how the Jewish people handled this type of reading.  I also started thinking how fortunate we are that Jesus gave us one primary commandment, because my memory certainly could not handle this mammoth amount of advice.

The Archeological Bible did put a new perspective on the book.  The timeline alone takes away some of the immediacy I was feeling to read each and every verse:

“Solomon’s proverbs were written between 970 and 930 B.C., while Hezekiah’s scribes compiled additional,  “unpublished” Solonomic proverbs between 729 and 686 B.C.  Nothing is known of Agur and King Lemuel, so the dates of composition of their contributions are unknown.”  (p.957)

Now that timeframe certainly means that no one living during King Solomon’s own lifetime was using these verses as Sunday school material or textbooks for teaching the young people at that time.  Why Solomon’s proverbs took 40 years to write!  And then, the publishing of the full set of proverbs took almost 250 years to complete—if I understand how the work was developed.  The final piece to the book is that Solomon was not the only wise man that is quoted in all these verses.

Going to the next paragraph of the Archeological Bible notes, another more contemporary explanation is added, one which creates a very real picture in my mind:

“The fact that Proverbs is an anthology—almost a scrapbook—of collections implies that it was not compiled at any one given point.”  (idib)

A scrapbook!  Now that makes so much sense to me that I relaxed my shoulders and took in a deep sigh.  The only things missing are the enhancements, and I could sure have some fun taking pictures and putting one together based on these wise sayings.

Whenever I scrapbook, I find the pictures say so much that words are not always needed.  Still some pictures can be grouped together in a way to emphasize a certain theme.  My scrapbook pages are more often connected through a saying or a theme than they are by a calendar of events.  Proverbs seems to be published along those principles, so it makes sense to analyze the book in that manner.  Therefore, the solution to my problem was presented through the words of my study Bibles.

One last tidbit from the preface in the Archeological Bible, which can keep us all on the same mindset as we continue:

“..recognize that the pat statements so plentiful in Proverbs are not promises from God but general principles …Try to dismiss from your mind the many exceptions that might otherwise cause you to read these assertions with a skeptical mindset. … Allow yourself to delight in the visual imagery and to chuckle at the humorous images that convey universal truths … Enjoy the comparisons and contrasts, and don’t be surprised by the lack of continuity that is often evident from one saying to the next.  By way of comparisons and contrasts, don’t be surprised by the lack of continuity that is often evident from one saying to the next.  By way of comparison, recall some of Benjamin Franklin’s proverbial maxims … such as ‘A penny saved is a penny earned.’” (p. 958)

There is it, I knew I heard Ben Franklin talking to me while I was reading the verses. Reading the Message translation Proverbs 12:27

“A lazy life is an empty life,

but “early to rise” gets the job done.”

When I read that, I knew I could hear Ben Franklin’s voice as my mind heard, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

The advice of Solomon and the other wise men that is collected in Proverbs is massive.  When I read verse 27, I knew that even Ben Franklin had to have been familiar with these bits of wisdom.  I could not find the “penny saved” reference when I started searching, but my Methodist thinking looked at these words with a new insight.  The advice just makes common sense.  As Methodists we are to read the Bible for the basics, look at the historical experiences and our own experiences to see how the teachings in the Old and the New Testament apply.  The final piece for Methodists is to think.  Think about the words in the Bible.  Think about how that has applied throughout all history.  Think about how the words of advice should or do fit into your personal life.  Finally, analyze it, think it out, maul it over.  The words in the Bible are indeed Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.

A member shared that acronym with me last week.  He said the preacher he heard while in Texas had used that acronym, and I had to use it.  The Bible, all of it, not just Proverbs, are basic instructions for us right now, here on this earth.  It is not for the Eternal Life, which goes right back to the instructional piece we learned last week from the notes in the Life Application Bible:

“Many people think that what’s written in the Bible has mostly to do with getting people into heaven—getting right with God, saving their eternal souls.  It does have to do with that, of course, but not mostly.  It is equally concerned with living on this earth—living well, living in robust sanity.  In our Scriptures, heaven is not the primary concern, to which earth is a tagalong afterthought.  “On earth as it is in heaven” is Jesus’ prayer.” (p. 829)

I suppose in the long run, it is for Eternal Life, but Eternal Life is dependent on how well we live life here on earth.  We need Proverbs and the other guiding words of the Bible in order to stay focused on God and follow his advice.

As I work to understand the Bible’s words, I have to remember what role I am taking.  The book of Proverbs is written to an audience of students, not teachers or leaders already proven to be wise.  Reading through the verses needs to be done with an open mind that is asking questions, looking for understanding, and seeing how to use the information in the future.  As I mentioned last week, the student who sees the words and just recites them back without understanding is functioning at a C level.  The student who reads the words and can understand how the words apply in their own life or can look at others and see it work are functioning at a B level.  But the student who can use the words as a tool in their own lives repeatedly in different situations or who can help someone else analyze and seek to improve the situation has reached A level work.  The A level is wisdom.

By looking at the verses in Proverbs, one can see which type of student becomes the wise learners (notice a wise one is always a learner).  The qualities are outlined in the Life Application Bible:

Wise Learners quietly accept instruction and criticism:

Proverbs 10:8:  A Wise heart takes orders;

an empty head will come unglued.

Wise Learners love discipline:

Proverbs 12:1:  If you love learning, you love the discipline that

goes with it—how shortsighted to refuse correction.

Wise learners listen to advice:

Proverbs 12:15:  Fools are headstrong and do what they like;

wise people take advice.

Wise learners accept parents’ discipline:

Proverbs 13:1:  Intelligent children listen to their parents;

foolish children do their own thing.

Wise learners lead others to life:

Proverbs 10:17:  The road to life is a disciplined life;

ignore correction and you’re lost for good.

Wise learners receive honor:

Proverbs 13:18:  Refuse discipline and end up homeless;

embrace correction and live an honored life

Wise learners profit from constructive rebuke:

Proverbs 15:31-32:  Listen to good advice if you want to live well,

an honored guest among wise men and women.

An undisciplined, self-willed life is puny;

an obedient, God-willed life is spacious.

Naturally this leads all of us to another question:  If the focus of Proverbs is on students, and we are all suppose to be life long students, then who is teaching and how are they suppose to act?  The wise sayings have not overlooked that problem either.  In fact the study notes also outline the proverbs for the teachers:

Good teachers help people avoid traps:

Proverbs 13:14:  The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life,

so, no more drinking from death-tainted wells1

Good teachers use pleasant words:

Proverbs 16:21:  A wise person gets known for insight;

gracious words add to one’s reputation.

Good teachers speak at the right time:

Proverbs 15:23:  Congenial conversation—what a pleasure!

The right word at the right time—beautiful!

Proverbs 18:20:  Words satisfy the end as much as fruit does the

stomach;

good talk is as gratifying as a good harvest.

From all these verses, which are only 12 of the 437 just in the section “Wisdom for Everybody,” the students and the teachers are given the simplest of instructions from which to grow.  As I go over them, I cannot help but think how can I instill these qualities in the students who come into my classroom.  The line between a public school teacher and a Christian is so terribly thin, yet legally so incredibly thick.

Applying all this knowledge from God, through the words of his people, seems impossible at times.  Yet, through my Methodist thinking, I know there is one adage that continues to make the role of student and teacher manageable:  Model.  Model the one true commandment.  Love one another.  If Jesus can walk on this earth living out God’s love, then I should do the best that I can to follow that model of God’s love.

By looking through the filter of the Golden Rule, the advice of Proverbs and any of the other Old and New Testament words we find the key to “heaven on earth.”  In my Methodist head, I keep thinking of the classic KISS principle, “Keep it simple, Sinner.”  Just love one another and everything else falls into place.  The words from Proverbs continue to be read generation after generation and the advice is sound.  Even the wise American Ben Franklin used them.  Yet we know that the one rule Jesus taught us supersedes all others.  We must remain wise learners in order to see how loving one another keeps it simple and provides us heaven on earth.

Dear Wise One,

We ask you to continue speaking to us through the words of Proverbs.  Keep our minds open to the words as we struggle to become wise learners.  Keep our hearts right with your love in order that we may be wise teachers modeling your Golden Rule.  When we stumble, remind us that you still love us and help us get up and begin a new.  Thank you, God, for the wise leaders that have worked so hard to guide us through the centuries.  Thank you, too, for loving us even when we make mistakes.            –Amen

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