Thursday, September 18, 2008

On answering a fool: making sense of the book of proversbs (Tim Chester)

Proverbs are rules of thumb reflecting belief in a created order

Decisions, decisions. Many people find making decisions hard. Yet we have to make decisions every day of our lives. Wisdom is the ability to make good decisions. Wisdom is working out what is the right thing to do. The book of Proverbs offers helpful guidance for making wise decisions and living godly lives. They are practical: they have to do with ordinary life.

Compare Proverbs 26:4 and 26:5:
* Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. (26:4)
* Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.(26:5)

These two proverbs show that proverbs are not universally or absolutely true. They are general statements - not iron clad certainties. They are rules of thumb. They may not apply in all circumstances.

Proverbs often involve:
* consequences: ‘ ... for ...’
'Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags' (23:20-21)
* comparison: ‘Better ... than ...’
'Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred' (15:17)
* observations on life - often without moral comment
'A bribe is a charm to the one who gives it; wherever he turns, he succeeds' (17:8)

Peter Misselbrook says: Wisdom is not an exclusively Biblical phenomenon but was a particular type of thought and of writing which was common to the world of the Ancient Near East. For a man's life to be prosperous and happy it is necessary that he should know something about the world in which he lives, the way in which it functions and the laws by which it is governed. The wisdom of the Ancient Near East is therefore not an abstract philosophy but a system of practical rules for life. It is concerned with the way in which a man must act in order to live well in the world and to prosper. Wisdom therefore begins with careful observations on the world, the world of men and the world of 'nature', and through observation seeks to learn something of the way things work. At the most basic level, man observes that there are regularities in the processes of the world and that to prosper one must recognise these and conform one's behaviour to the demands of the physical world.

So, for example, in Proverbs 24:30-34 we see that the person who fails to tend the ground properly will fail to get a crop. Proverbs, however, reflect a particular way of looking a the world; a particular ‘worldview’. They look at ordinary life from a specific perspective.

The Worldview of Proverbs: A Created Order

The world was made by God. 'By wisdom the LORD laid the earth's foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place' (3:19). And so there is order in the world: God is in control. Disorder has messed up that order to some extent (more of that later), but there is still order in the world. ‘The world is not driven about by erratic, arbitrary and accidental forces, but is maintained and directed by the order which Yahweh established at creation’. Therefore we can see in the world purposeful design – the creative hand of God.

Read the rest of On Answering a Fool at Read Tim Chester's blog.

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