Old Testament Poetic Books, 7

Books

Because of some major domestic adjustments for my wife and I, I have been impeded from blogging. Nevertheless, I want to complete my series of blog posts from my Old Testament Poetic Books’ class. Since I last uploaded a post on my class, we had three more classes on the last two Thursday’s of April and the first Thursday in May, with the initial Thursday finishing Ecclesiastes and the final two the Songs of Solomon and Lamentations.

In covering Ecclesiastes, we treated these issues: title, authorship & date, canonicity, integrity, literary structure, and message. In developing the message of Ecclesiastes, I presented both the negative and positive interpretations of the message. Since I have argued for a positive interpretation in the Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, this is the view that I developed more fully (to read my article, go here).

With the Song of Solomon, our discussion focused on the book’s title, authorship & date, unity, hermeneutical considerations, and purpose. The major emphasis in the class was on the book’s hermeneutical considerations. In the final analysis, I supported a literal two-part view. This view maintains that the song reflects only two major participants: Solomon and his Shulammite bride. It also includes a chorus of maidens (see Jack S. Deere, “Songs of Songs,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament).

We finally surveyed the book of Lamentations by covering the following areas: the book’s title, authorship & date, literary features, canonicity, and purpose. I gave attention to the examination of Jeremianic authorship (for a concise treatment of this book, see Charles H. Dyer, “Lamentations,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament).

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Old Testament Poetic Books, 6

Proverbs2

In my Old Testament Poetic Books on April 19 & 26, we initially completed the book of Psalms and then went through key issues in the book of Proverbs. These issues include the following.

Title

Authorship & Date

Growth of the Book of Proverbs

Canonicity

The Relationship Between Proverbs 22:17–24:22 and The Instruction of Amenemope

Characteristics of Proverbs

Literary Forms

Theme and Purpose

Theological Emphases

Interpreting Proverbs

When I went through my notes on Interpreting Proverbs, I focused on six considerations that need to be factored into our hermeneutical framework (for more on this, go to “Interpreting the Book of Proverbs“). The most important guideline is the analogia Scriptura, Scripture interprets Scripture. What this means is that the entirety of Scripture is the context and the guide in interpreting specific passages in Scripture. In reference to Proverbs, this means that problematic passages in this book should be interpreted by the rest of Scripture (to see the essence of my presentation, go here, here and here).

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Interpreting the Book of Proverbs (Part 14)

Books

With my final post on Proverbs, I will briefly summarize what we have covered in the previous thirteen posts and finally present a bibliography of key sources (to the left of the most important sources, I have placed *).

VII. Summary

With our previous thirteen-blog entries, we have developed these six hermeneutical guidelines: (1) recognize the characteristics of a proverb, (2) place individual passages within the overall structure of Proverbs, (3) identify more precise literary forms in Proverbs, (4) observe literary clues in each passage, (5) understand the book’s explicit theological structure, and (6) use the rest of Scripture to interpret problematic passages in Proverbs.

Our God is absolutely sovereign in all areas of life. Nothing in the heavens or on the earth can thwart his plan (Pss 115:3, 135:6). However, our God has also foreordained the responsible participation of his elect to accomplish his sovereign plan. Our trustworthy participation involves our response of faithfulness to his moral will as well as living by wisdom. To assist us in our walk of wisdom, God gave us the book of Proverbs, as well as the other 65 books in the Canon. Because Proverbs is the largest section in the Canon dealing with wisdom living, we should become involved in studying the book and applying its principles to our lives and to those around us. May God grant us success in examining and using Proverbs.

VIII. Bibliography

Alden, Robert L. Proverbs. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983.

Alter, Robert. The Art of Biblical Poetry. New York: Basic Books, 1985.

Berry, Donald K. An Introduction to Wisdom and Poetry of the Old Testament. Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1995.

Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. S.v. “Proverbs: Theology of,” by Bruce K. Waltke.

Fee, Gordon D. and Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.

*Garrett, Duane A. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. Nashville: Broadman, 1993.

Hildebrandt, Ted A. “Proverb.” In Cracking Old Testament Codes. Edited by D. Brent Sandy and Ronald L. Giese, Jr. Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1995.

*Hubbard, David A. Proverbs. Dallas: Word Books, 1989.

Kaiser, Walter C., Jr. Toward an Exegetical Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981.

Kidner, Derek. The Proverbs: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1979.

Klein, William W., Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Dallas: Word, 1993.

Koptak, Paul E. Proverbs. NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.

*Lane, Eric. Proverbs: Everyday Wisdom for Everyone. Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2000.

*Longman, Tremper, III. Proverbs. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006.

Murphy, Roland E. Proverbs. Word Biblical Commentary. Waco, TX: Word, 1998.

Mouser, William E., Jr. Walking in Wisdom. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1983.

New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis. S.v. “Proverbs: Theology of,” by Bruce K. Waltke.

New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis. S.v. “Proverbs; Sayings and Themes,” by K. T. Aitken.

Osborne, Grant R. The Hermeneutical Spiral. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1991.

Parsons, Greg W. “Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming the Book of Proverbs.” Bibliotheca Sacra 150 (April-June 1993): 151–70.

Robinson, Haddon W. Biblical Preaching. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980.

*Ross, Allen P. “Proverbs.” In vol. 5 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and Richard P. Polcyn. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991.

Ryken, Leland. How to Read the Bible As Literature. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984.

________. Word of Delight. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987.

Smith, Gary V. “Is There a Place for Job’s Wisdom in Old Testament Theology?” Trinity Journal 13 (Spring 1992): 3–20.

Stein, Robert H. Playing by the Rules. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994.

Steveson, Peter A. Commentary on Proverbs. Greenville, SC: BJU Press, 2001.

Van Leeuwen, Raymond C. “Proverbs.” In A Complete Literary Guide to the Bible. Edited by Leland Ryken and Tremper Longman III. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993.

Voorwinde, Stephen. Wisdom for Today’s Issues: A Topical Arrangement of the Proverbs. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1981.

*Waltke, Bruce K. The Book of Proverbs. 2 vols. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004, 2005.

Woodcock, Eldon. Proverbs: A Topical Study. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988.

Zuck, Roy B. “A Theology of the Wisdom Books and the Song of Songs.” In A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament. Edited by Roy B. Zuck, Eugene H. Merrill, and Darrell L. Bock. Chicago: Moody, 1991.

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Life in a Frustratingly Enigmatic World

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Many interpreters maintain that the overall message of Ecclesiastes is one of cynicism and vanity. According to this perspective, the author of Ecclesiastes, Qohelet (an epithet for Solomon), has written a book unlike any other in the canon—-one that focuses on cynicism and complete despair.

Those who take this view derive the message of despair from some “negative” motifs in Ecclesiastes. The most dominant of these begins the book in 1:2: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (NASB). “Vanity” translates the Hebrew word hebel.

Since hebel occurs multiple times in every chapter of Ecclesiastes, readers must understand it in order to grasp the message of the book. But if this term is exclusively negative, how do we explain its juxtaposition to the exhortations to enjoy life (the carpe diem passages)? More specifically, is “vanity” or any other negative term (such as NIV’s “meaningless” or HCSB’s “futility”) the best way to render hebel in Ecclesiastes?

I respond to this type of interpretation of Ecclesiastes by demonstrating that Qohelet’s use of hebel, the carpe diem passages, and his exhortations to reverentially fear God work against a negative view of hebel and against an overall pessimistic interpretation of Ecclesiastes (as an aside, both my posts at Sharper Iron provide background material as to why I named my blog “Fearing God in a Hebel World“). You can read both posts by going to part 1 and part 2.

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Interpreting the Book of Proverbs (Part 13)

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With my last post of this series, I began looking at the sixth and final guideline for interpreting Proverbs: problematic passages in Proverbs should be interpreted by the rest of Scripture. This sixth principle is divided into two parts: descriptive and prescriptive proverbs. With the last entry, we looked at prescriptive proverbs. We will look at descriptive proverbs with this post.

B. Prescriptive proverbs

A prescriptive proverb does more than simply tell about the way life is. It seeks to characterize an attitude or an action in order to influence behavior (Klein, Blomberg, Hubbard, pp. 313–14). There are three types of prescriptive proverbs.

1. Generalizations

A prescriptive proverb that allows for exceptions is a generalization. There are two categories of generalizations.

First, some proverbs allow for limitations in various circumstances. The example we looked at earlier in Proverbs 26:4–5 is certainly an example of this. Wise planning with proper advice is praised in 15:22. However, this is balanced by Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the LORD, it will stand” (Parsons, p. 160). The foolishness “bound in the heart of a child” in 22:15 may provide a hindrance to the generalization in 22:6 (Zuck, p. 234).

Second, other proverbs are generalizations because they are bound to the dispensation of law. For example, Proverbs 10:22 says, “It is the blessing of the LORD that makes rich, and he adds no sorrow to it.” The blessings of wealth were promised to the obedient Israelite in Deuteronomy 28:8–14. This type of promise is not made to believers in the New Testament. At times, a generalization may even be limited in the dispensation of law. An example of this is Proverbs 10:30, “The righteous will never be shaken, but the wicked will not dwell in the land.” When this text says the righteous will not “be shaken,” the sage is referring to righteous Israelites not being uprooted from the land of Israel. However, there were exceptions to this, viz., Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. While we recognize this type of exception, our point is that the “land” emphasis in this proverb reflects that its was written under the dispensation of law and its direct application pertains to those living under the law.

2. Moral absolutes

A prescriptive proverb that has no exceptions is a moral absolute. This will often be true in proverbs dealing with an action or characteristic of God. Proverbs 11:1 says, “A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is His delight.” Another example is 14:31, “He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him.” The instructional material in Proverbs 5 against adultery by maintaining a proper marital relationship is a moral absolute. It upholds the moral absolute, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exod 20:14).

3. Moral absolutes & Generalizations

A prescriptive proverb may contain both a moral absolute and a generalization. Proverbs 3:1–2 is an exhortation to honor one’s father with a promise of long life and peace. The command to honor one’s parents is a moral absolute; however, the promise about life is only a generalization for Jesus Christ was the embodiment of honor to His earthly parents, yet He was crucified in His early thirties. “God in His sovereignty may make an exception as in the case of Jesus” (Parsons, p. 161, n. 72).

With my last post, I will summarize this series of posts on Proverbs and provide a bibliography of sources that I used with my entries.

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Interpreting the Book of Proverbs (Part 12)

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With parts 10 and 11 of this series, I examined the theological framework of Proverbs. In this post and the next, we will look at the sixth guideline for interpreting Proverbs: problematic passages in Proverbs should be interpreted by the rest of Scripture.

VI. Interpreting Problematic passages in Proverbs with the Rest of Scripture.

This hermeneutical axiom is what the Reformers referred to as the analogia fidei, “the analogia of faith.” This is also referred to as analogia scriptura, “the analogy of Scripture.” This hermeneutical principle maintains that Scripture interprets Scripture. What this means is that the entirety of Scripture is the context and the guide in interpreting specific passages in Scripture.

How is a passage such as Proverbs 17:8 (“A bribe is a charm in the sight of its owner; wherever he turns, he prospers”) to be harmonized with 17:23 (“A wicked man receives a bribe from the bosom to pervert the ways of justice”), or Exodus 23:8 and Deuteronomy 16:18¬–19? On a broader level, how do we respond to some critics who maintain that the book of Proverbs is less authoritative than the special revelation contained in the Prophets? To establish their point that Proverbs is inferior in authority, critics point to supposed contradictions within Proverbs. For example, Proverbs 26:4 says, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him.” This is supposedly contradicted in the following verse, “Answer a fool as his folly deserves, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” Do we answer the fool or avoid answering the fool? According to some, if either of these proverbs is “inspired” and, therefore, presents absolute truth, only one of them can be absolute. How can this be special revelation from God if it is contradictory? How is the Bible-believing Christian to explain these problematic verses, as well as similar problem passages in Proverbs? Are we to say that the book of Proverbs is less inspired and, therefore, less authoritative than other parts of the Bible?

We would contend that every verse when originally written in our canonical book of Proverbs was as fully inspired as the Prophets or any other portion of Scripture (see 2 Tim 3:16). If the entirety of Proverbs is inspired, then it is inerrant. Consequently, Proverbs in its entirety is descriptive truth. This guarantees the accurate preservation of the entirety of Proverbs. However, not all of Proverbs is prescriptive truth. This is also true with the rest of Scripture. All Scripture is descriptive truth, but not all Scripture is prescriptive truth. For example, Satan’s desire to get Job to curse God in Job 2:4–5 and his lie in Genesis 3 are both examples of descriptive truth. Descriptive truth demands that whatever Scripture originally recorded was preserved with historical accuracy. Satan really did what Scripture says he did in Job 2 and Genesis 3. However, prescriptive truth pertains to those truths by which the people of God are to regulate their lives. Satan’s lies and deceitful tactics are not to be followed by God’s people.

How then do we determine if a proverb is prescriptive truth? Comparing Scripture with Scripture most easily does this. More specifically, by comparing a proverb with other biblical revelation, we can determine if we should view a proverb simply as descriptive truth or, more normatively, as prescriptive truth.

A. Descriptive proverbs

A descriptive proverb describes a situation of life without noting how it applies or what its exceptions are (Klein, Blomberg, Hubbard, pp. 313–14). It is not seeking to influence behavior, rather it seeks to present life the way it actually occurs. It is the reader’s responsibility to discern what is prescriptive and to accept the rest as descriptive truth. An example of a descriptive proverb is 17:8, “A bribe is a charm in the sight of its owner; wherever he turns, he prospers.” Another example is found in Proverbs 14:20, “The poor is hated even by his neighbor, but those who love the rich are many.” A further example is Proverbs 31:6–7, “Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to him whose life is bitter. Let him drink and forget his poverty, and remember his trouble no more.” The point of this proverb is that it is describing the way life is. This neither condemns nor condones the use of alcohol. To determine what use of alcohol is condemned or approved, we must look at the rest of Scripture. Proverbs 31:6-7 is a descriptive proverb.

With my next post, we will look at prescriptive proverbs

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Interpreting the Book of Proverbs (Part 11)

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In the last post of this series on Proverbs, we looked at the first of two parts dealing with the theological framework of Proverbs. With this post, we will examine the second part.

B. The three emphases of Proverbs and its theological framework.

1. Proverbs’ practical orientation

In conformity with other wisdom literature, Proverbs has a practical orientation (Osborne, Hermeneutical Spiral, p. 192). The wisdom of Proverbs is especially addressed to the youths of Israel. As such, they needed to be encouraged about subjects such as acceptable speech and etiquette (Prov 29:20), domestic relationships (10:1), self-control (25:28), material possessions (10:22, 11:4), and the certainty of divine retribution (11:21; 16:4; 20:22; 26:26–27). The practical nature of wisdom literature is reflected by Kidner’s arrangement of the content of Proverbs around these eight subjects: God and man, wisdom, fools, sluggards, friends, words, the family, and life and death (Proverbs, pp. 31-56; for other topical arrangements, see also Ross [“Proverbs,” in vol. 5 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, pp. 897–903], Voorwinde [Wisdom for Today’s Issues: A Topical Arrangement of the Proverbs], and Woodcock [Proverbs: A Topical Study]).

2. Proverbs’ emphasis on one having a complete dependence on God

Proverbs, like other wisdom literature, emphasizes that one must have a complete dependence on God. Since God is a Sovereign who with His absolute control of everything (16:1, 4, 9) permits the godly, wise person to experience suffering and difficulty as a part of His discipline (3:11–12). This teaching in Proverbial theology should force the believer to recognize with a humble and believing spirit his limitations and God’s complete control of life (21:1). This is demonstrated from three theological observations.

a. Proverbs and the Mosaic Covenant

Proverbs sets forth that wisdom is predicated on the Mosaic Covenant. This is demonstrated by the fact that the instruction in places such as Proverbs 3:1-12 and 4:4-5 are predicated upon a father’s teachings being consistent with the Torah (cf. Prov 3:3 with Deut 6:6-8). We should also notice how genuine obedience results in blessing (cf. Deut 6:24 with Prov 3:9-10) and disobedience disgrace and judgment (Prov 10:16, 21; 19:3, 9). Since God is the One bringing the results according to His time schedule (cf. Prov 3:1-10 with vv. 11-12), one must live his life in an environment of faithful obedience to the covenant.

b. Proverbs’ personifying wisdom and God

The book of Proverbs has a tendency to personify wisdom as an attribute and extension of God. This is “seen in one sense as a ‘craftsman’ standing alongside of and aiding the God of creation (Prov 8:29-30), as a female teacher inviting students to learn from her at the gates of the city (Prov 1:20-21; 8:1-36) and as a hostess inviting people to her banquet (9:1-12). Wisdom is contrasted with the adulteress (2:16-19; 7:6-27) and with a foolish hostess (9:13-18)” (Osborne, Hermeneutical, p. 193). Since this type of wisdom comes from God, we must look to Him for this.

c. Proverbs and the fear of God

Proverbs has a strong emphasis on fearing God. Though the fear of God is not found exclusively in Proverbs, or even wisdom literature (Deut 6:24), it does receive an emphasis in Proverbs (1:7; 3:7; 8:13; 16:6; 31:30). The Hebrew term for fear may be used in contexts that are of a legal nature, religious, or moral (Smith, “Is There a Place for Job’s Wisdom in Old Testament Theology?” p. 6). The focus of wisdom is in the moral realm. The fear of God denotes a relationship with God resulting in a morally pleasing lifestyle. In Proverbs 2:4-5 fearing God is correlated with knowing God. A result of this is that one hates evil in 8:13. Other practical results include qualities such as confidence (14:24), humility (3:7), and contentment (15:16). The Old Testament concept of the fear of God may be defined as an unconditional, reverential submission to the Sovereign LORD (ibid.).

3. Proverbs and creation theology

As wisdom literature, Proverbs has an emphasis on creation theology. This is seen in Proverbs 8 where God in His wisdom created the world (Prov 3:19-20; see also Job 38:4–7; Ps 104:24). The many references to God’s creative activities in Proverbs 8 set a dominant theme in the book, viz., God’s orderly design is the substance that holds life together. In Proverbs 30, the many comparisons between animals and man suggest that God control both. Proverbs’ creation theology also suggests that there is a connection between divine remuneration and retribution. Furthermore, God’s creative work as used in wisdom material is foundational for enjoying life. Man’s food, drink, work, youth, wife, and other privileges in this life are part of God’s creative design for man in this life (Prov 5:18; 10:1, 28; 12:4, 20; 29:2-3; in other wisdom literature, see Eccl 2:24-25; 3:12-13, 22; 5:18-19; 8:15; 9:7-10; 11:8-9; 12:1; Cant 1:4; 3:11). “The righteous, though part of the finite, creaturely world, can experience joy as part of God’s design in creation” (Zuck, “A Theology of the Wisdom Books and the Song of Songs,” in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, p. 219).

With my next couple of posts, I will cover the sixth principle for interpreting the book of Proverbs.

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Interpreting the Book of Proverbs (Part 10)

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In part nine of this series on interpreting Proverbs, we finished looking at the fourth guideline that focused on looking for literary clues. In the next two posts, we will look at the book’s theological framework to assist with interpreting individual passages.

V. Proverbs’ Theological Framework

To understand individual passages in Proverbs, we must understand the book’s explicit theological framework. We can see its theological structure by examining its purpose and theme and its characteristic motifs. With this post we will look at Proverbs’ purpose and theme.

A. Individual proverbs or units and the book’s purpose and theme

Unlike many books in the Bible, Proverbs explicitly announces its purpose and theme in the opening part of the book, 1:2–7.

1. Proverbs’ purpose

The purpose of Proverbs is expressed in 1:2–6. There is a twofold emphasis in this statement of purpose.

One emphasis in Proverbs is to develop moral wisdom, vv. 2a, 3–4. Solomon’s purpose in proverbs includes helping one “to know wisdom and instruction.” The word translated as “wisdom” is a term that focuses on developing “skill.” In Proverbs this term emphasizes biblically-informed skill in living. In light of vv. 3–4, this skill relates to living a life that is morally pleasing to God. The term translated as “instruction” emphasizes “discipline” or “training.” Its emphasis in this context is on a training to develop one’s moral nature.

A second emphasis in Proverbs is to develop mental wisdom, vv. 2b, 6. The last clause in v. 2, “to discern the sayings of understanding,” emphasizes one learning how to compare ideas and make evaluations about subjects. This emphasis is clearly seen in v. 6, emphasizing an understanding of proverbs, parables, and riddles. This type of discernment emphasizes one’s mental acumen.

2. Proverbs’ theme

The theme of Proverbs is found in 1:7, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” This reverential fear is the Old Testament counterpart of the New Testament concept of saving faith. The fear of the LORD expresses itself in reverential submission to God and whatever He commands. This type of fear is the “beginning of knowledge.” The Old Testament concept of “beginning” can refer to that which is “first” or to that which is “primary and controlling.” In Proverbs, the concept of “beginning” does not primarily mean that the fear of the Lord is the “starting point” of knowledge. Rather, the fear of the Lord is a “primary and controlling element” in developing wisdom. This same theme is restated in 9:10, toward the conclusion of the first section of material in Proverbs. As such, it sets the parameters for this unit.

My next blog entry on Proverbs will develop three emphases in Proverbs that indicates the book’s overall structure.

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Interpreting the Book of Proverbs (Part 9)

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I have been delinquent in completing my series on Proverbs. I will do six more parts to complete this series. In part 8, we began looking at literary clues in specific contexts in Proverbs. With this post, we will finish looking at these clues in explicit settings.

B. Other Literary Clues

1. One-Line Sayings & the Use of a “Punch-Word”

This type of one-line saying, built on the model of contrastive parallelism, may show a certain emphasis through the use of a “punch-word” (Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry, p. 168). An example of this is seen in Proverbs 11:1.

A-false balance is-an-abomination to-the-LORD.

But-a-just weight is-His-delight.

In Hebrew this proverb takes seven words, four in the first line and three in the second. I have hyphenated the terms to reflect which expressions were one word in the Hebrew text. The antithesis of “a-false balance” is “but-a-just weight.” The two Hebrew terms, “an-abominations to-the-LORD,” are compressed into a significant one-word counterpart with “His-delight.” Both of these latter expressions are strong theological descriptions of that which is an abhorrence and a pleasure in God’s sight. The counterpart of “an-abomination to-the-LORD” is the theological punch-word “His-pleasure” (ibid.). This compressed punch-word is a theologically satisfying emphasis of this one-verse unit. In contrast to that which is abominable in His sight, this verse affirms that God’s pleasure is found not only in worship but even in the marketplace.

2. One-Line Sayings & the Parallelism of Specification or Intensification

Other one-line sayings, built on the parallelism of specification or intensification, may reflect a “consequentiality.” This type of proverb shows that certain types of activity generally lead to certain types of consequences. This is to say, it reflects that God has created and governs the world and man in such a way that certain consequences are generally the result of specific actions. “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov 22:6). God has designed life in such a way that when parents seriously instruct their children according to a godly pattern, the consequence is that they generally share the same godly patterns as their parents. In a modified manner, we see another example in 21:31, “The horse is prepared for battle, but victory belongs to the LORD.” The first part of the verse focuses on preparing the horse for battle. The last half moves to the conclusion of the battle. The last half is unexpected in that we have a new figure introduced into a proverbial equation, “the LORD” (ibid., pp. 172–73). This is to say, we do not have a strict cause-and-effect relationship between the first half of the verse and the second. However, from the sage’s vantage point, God is the ultimate cause for everything in life.

3. One-Line Sayings & the Riddle Format

One-line sayings may also reflect a type of riddle format. The riddle format not only includes a riddle, but it may also include a perplexing statement or an image. The pattern of this format will have a riddle, perplexing statement, or image introduced in the first half of a verse with the second half explaining it. A perplexing and shocking image is used in Proverbs 11:22, “As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion.” The image in the first half of the verse would have been repulsive and ludicrous to a Jew. How foolish it is to think that a gold ring could beautify a pig. The second half makes the point. An undiscerning and ungodly beautiful woman is comparable to the same attempt to beautify a repulsive pig. Another example is 17:12, “Let a man meet a bear robbed of her cubs, rather than a fool in his folly.” A fool in his folly is a greater danger than meeting a bear that has been robbed of her cubs (ibid., pp. 176–78). As Alden has said, “Consider meeting a fool with a knife, or gun, or even behind the wheel of a car; a mother bear could be less dangerous” (Proverbs, p. 134).

With our next post on Proverbs, we will look at the fifth principle for interpreting Proverbs.

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Interpreting the Book of Proverbs (Part 8)

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With our first seven posts (for the last post, click here), we have looked at three principles for interpreting Proverbs. With this post and the next, we will look at the fourth guideline.

IV. Observing Literary Clues in a Specific Context.

I will give a brief overview of the literary features that are found in paragraphs of proverbial material and in one-verse units.

A. Three Literary Clues

When examining units containing more than one verse, there are many literary clues on which to focus. We will examine three of these.

1. Repetition

This is a major device in biblical poetry for showing emphasis. In the Hebrew text of Proverbs 30:11–14, the Hebrew word translated as “kind” in NASB stands at the head of each verse.

    11There is a kind of man who curses his father; and does not bless his mother.
    12There is a kind who is pure in his own eyes; yet is not washed from his filthiness.
    13There is a kind—oh how lofty are his eyes! And his eyelids are raised in arrogance.
    14There is a kind of man whose teeth are like swords; and his jaw teeth like knives, to devour the afflicted from the earth, and the needy from among men (bold print reflects my emphasis).

The Hebrew term translated in NASB as kind places an emphasis on those characterized by whatever is described in this context. This term is best correlated with a group of society having similar characteristics. It is not just an occasional individual but a group within the society who are characterized in this context by showing disrespect for their parents, self-righteousness, arrogance, and oppression of the needy.

2. Synonyms

The use of synonyms will also show an emphasis in a passage. This is demonstrated in Proverbs 6:20–35. After an exhortation to follow his commandments in vv. 20–23, Solomon provides his “son” with a proverbially packaged treatment of “You shall not commit adultery.” He uses a number of synonyms to describe a potential partner in adultery. She is called an “evil woman,” an “adulteress” (v. 24), a “prostitute” who has cheap price tag and a “married woman” who “hunts down a precious life” (v. 26). She is also characterized in v. 25 as having “beauty” and knowing how to use her eyes (“eyelashes”). The build up of synonyms shows that the adulteress is an evil and cunning foe of God’s moral will.

Through the use of synonyms for wisdom and folly, as well as examples of each, the overall unifying theme of Proverbs 1–9 is an extended conflict between wisdom and folly. The addressees of these chapters are encouraged to choose wisdom over folly (for a fuller development, see Ryken, Words of Delight, pp. 317–19).

3. Other Literary Features

Certain literary aspects of a given text may show the emphasis of a passage. For example, the numerical saying places an emphasis on the enumerated item that corresponds to the highest digit in the last line. In Proverbs 30:18–19 the sage indicates that there are four items which are too wonderful for him to understand. The emphasis of the text is on the fourth enumerated item, “the way of a man with a virgin” (see earlier discussion of poetic parallelism with the first principle of interpretation).

More needs to be developed about observing literary clues, but this will have to wait for the next post.

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