Saturday, March 26, 2011

Lecture 2, Fundamentals for Preaching the Book of Proverbs

This is the second in a four-part series, delivered as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectureship at Dallas Theological Seminary, February 6-9, 2007.  I am sure that there are plenty of mistakes in my transcription, but it is a great and informative sermon anyway.  Additional material at the end that was not in the lecture is found in the corresponding article, "Fundamentals of Preaching Proverbs," Bibliotheca Sacra 165 (January-March 2008): 3-12.
This lecture deals with...
The Fundamentals of Preaching
1. Demarcating the Text
2. Choosing the Translation 
3. Exegeting the text
4. Abstracting the Big Idea
5. Translating the Idea into a Message
6. Developing the Argument
7. Applying the Message
Fundamental Concepts of Proverbs
1. Distinctive Mark
2. Wisdom Literature's Epistemology
3. Five Rungs Confessions to Assure Us that We Can Find Wisdom from Proverbs 30
I apologize for violating the first rule of preaching yesterday, to stop on time, and today I’m taking off my watch so I don’t make that mistake—Well, I don’t say I won’t, but I’ll try. 
To preach Proverbs authentically the expositor should master the fundamentals of preaching (the topic of lecture one) and understand the fundamentals of Proverbs, the topic of this in the next two lectures.  The preamble of Proverbs 1.1-7 reveals the prerequisite fundamental concepts for interpreting the book.  In this lecture I have two objectives, first to reveal and illustrate the fundamentals of preaching by expositing the book’s preamble and, second, from the superscript of the preamble, verse one, to reflect on two—I’ll only have time for one of the six fundamental concepts the expositor should understand.
First then, an exposition of the preamble.  The exposition of the preamble entails seven fundamental steps: demarcating the text, choosing the best translation and exegeting it, followed by abstracting its big idea and transforming that into a message, and then developing that message into a sermonic form and applying it.
Here’s the text for the first sermon of the book of Proverbs.
The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
for gaining wisdom and instruction; (gaining in Hebrew is yada`, wisdom is chokmah and instruction muwcar )
for understanding words of insight;
for receiving instruction in prudent behavior,
doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to those who are simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young
—let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance
—for understanding proverbs and parables,
the sayings and riddles of the wise.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, (Hebrew da`ath)
and wisdom and instruction (which would be chokmah, muwcar) fools despise.
Formal rhetorical criticism demarcates Proverbs 1.1-7 as an intentional grouping.  Grammatically verses 1-6 are one sentence: a topic (the proverbs of Solomon) and a predicate that gives the writer's purpose for writing this book (w. 2-6). Formally the preambles to Egyptian instruction also contain similar superscripts modified by purpose clauses. This form contrasts radically with the forms of the following twelve lectures and sermons in prologue 1.8 through 9.18.  Their form consists of an admonition by the lecturer to the addressee to accept the teaching followed by motivations to heed the lesson.
Rhetorically verse seven also belongs to the preamble. Grammatically it stands apart as a separate sentence from the superscript with purpose clauses in verses 1-6, but its rhetoric firmly attaches it to the preamble. The sequence of words in 1.2 for gaining wisdom and instruction (da`ath, chokmah, muwcar) are repeated in the same sequence but with a different syntax in 1.7.
"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of da`ath, chokmah, muwcar, but wisdom and instruction fools despise." Moreover this key verse provides transition from the preamble to the prologue (chapter one, verse eight).  1.7b reads “For fools despise wisdom and instruction,” and the first admonition in verse eight is, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction.”   
Thus verses 1-7 may be demarcated by grammar and by form and rhetorical criticism as a unit, and it serves as a preamble. In sum, by grammar, form, and rhetorical criticism we have demarcated 1.1-7 as a text and identified its form as a preamble. 
Having established by grammar, form, and rhetoric that 1.1-7 is an intentional preamble to the book, the expositor chooses for his congregation the best translation of his text for accuracy, clarity, and beauty.  I find the TNIV best.  As for accuracy, consider verse two.   "For gaining (which renders da`ath)  wisdom and instruction.”  Literally da`ath means "to know," and is so rendered in the NASB and the ESV.  But the English term “to know”  normally separates the knower from the object from the knower, whereas the Hebrew term means to experience, to internalize the object known. The New RSV gets it all wrong by rendering da`ath "to know about wisdom.” It’s not that at all.  "To gain" more accurately represents the Hebrew thought to know an object by personal knowledge  than  the bald translation "than to know" which suggests to know about something or someone as the New RSV thought.   To the novice the NASV and ESV seem more accurate and the TNIV seem to be playing fast and loose with the text.  But in fact the TNIV more accurately translates the Hebrew text.  [7:34]
In the lectures that follow I will exegete the text as necessary.  Here I analyze only its structure at first.  The structure of the preamble consists roughly of a superscript (v. 1), a statement of purpose which is signaled by the conjunction (v. 4) and the intitial position in verses two through six, and a foundational principle: the fear of "I Am." The prose superscript identifies the literary form of this book, "the proverbs," and its author, "of Solomon son of David, king of Israel." More precisely the structure of the preamble can be analyzed thus:
I. Superscript (v. 1)
A. Literary genre: “proverbs” (v. la)
B. Author: “of Solomon” (v. lb)
II. Purpose of the Book (vv. 2-6)
A. Summary (v. 2) “For gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight;”
That is 1. As to the book's substance: “to gain wisdom” (v. 2a)
2. As to the book's style: “to understand words of insight” (v. 2b)
Then B. The purpose: “To gain wisdom” (w. 3-5) “for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just,” looking at it from the student’s viewpoint, and from the teacher’s viewpoint, “for giving prudence to those who are simple, knowledge and discretion to the young—let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance”
1. In verse three Wisdom defined in terms of ethical behavior.  “for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair”
2. In verse four Wisdom is defined in regard to simpletons.  “for giving prudence to those who are simple, knowledge and discretion to the inexperienced”
And 3. with regard to the wise (v. 5)  “ —let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance”
And then finally a summary again at the end—well, going back to II B  “ To understand the words of insight, —for understanding proverbs and parables,
the sayings and riddles of the wise.”
C. To understand words of insight (v. 6)
III. Essential Spiritual Component to Gain Wisdom (v. 7)   “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
What is the author's ideological grid that interfaces the superscript (v. 1), purpose (1.2-6), and essential spiritual quality (1.7)?  Kipling's "six little men" help focus the point. Ye coined the saying,
"I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When,
And How and Where and Who."
But the problem with the preamble is that the expositor seems to have too many little men to help him.  Verse one answers the questions, What is the book's literary form? and Who is its author? Verses 2-6 answer, Why did he write it and for whom? And verse 7 answers “How does one acquire the wisdom of this book? First, the preamble needs all these little men cause it answers all the questions asked by Kiplings little men.  In sum, the question the preamble answers is, What do you need to know to gain the wisdom of this book.  To state the question metaphorically,  What is the code of the combination lock spiritual that unlocks the gate to gain access to the paradise, the wisdom of the book of Proverbs    prerequisite for learning this book? In summary the essential question the preamble answers is, What do you need to know to gain the wisdom of the Book of Proverbs? To state the question metaphorically, What is the code of the combination lock that unlocks the gate to gain entrance into the paradise, the wisdom, of the Book of Proverbs?
The big idea is “What is the information needed to profit from this book?” must now be transformed in a message to be responded to.  The big idea calls for a response of the joyful willingness to learn the goal.  Be wise. Learn the fundamentals that unlock the gate to wisdom. Don't be a fool and ignore them.  [12:18]
The code of the combination lock has six numbers—that is to say that we must understand six concepts. In this lecture we intended to develop the first two.  I’ll do just the first one which are found in the book’s superscript understanding the book's genre or better species: "proverbs" and, two, understanding the book's authors, especially "Solomon son of David, king of Israel" (1b). In the next lecture we develop two more fundamentals, understanding the book's purpose "to gain wisdom,” and understanding the book's addressees: simpletons and those growing in wisdom (vv. 4-5). In the final lecture we develop the last two, understanding the book's words, and, six, understanding "the fear of Ί Am.' "   [13;15]
In the light of these lectures preach the book with passion, and authority.  [13:25]
Let us now learn the preambles code for unlocking the book.  The first number is the book’s literary form.  The proverbs of Solomon and the sayings of the wise of the book of Proverbs all scholars agree is a species of the wisdom genre.  But they do not agree about the distinctive characteristics that bind together such diverse works as Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiasties, all of which belong to this genre of wisdom literature.  The point to understand the species proverbs we must first understand the broader genre of wisdom literature. 
To unpack the nature of wisdom literature and the relevance to the preacher we reflect upon its distinctive mark and the epistemology that informs it.
A, WISDOM LITERATURE’S DISTINCTIVE MARK: its form of inspiration. Scholars differ on pointing their finger on the distinctive character of wisdom literature According to some it is humanistic in its orientation; according to others it is international in scope. Others note that it is nonhistorical, unlike the rest of the Old Testament, or they note that it is eudaemonistic in their view, that is "we do good to get good." Still others define wisdom literature as a human search for order, and Kidner fingers its rational tone. Although wisdom literature contains some of these characteristics, other forms of literature also contain some of them, howbeit not to the same extent.  Nevertheless I put my finger on the nature of wisdom literature, its inspiration, its distinctive mark.
The writer of Hebrews notes that in the Old Testament God spoke in diverse ways. For example, to Moses, theophany, to the prophets in visions and auditions, and to the sages in their keen observations on creation and cogent reflections upon their observations.  One can observe from Proverbs 24:30-3. His laboratory was the sluggard's field (30.31). "I went past the field of a sluggard, past the vineyard of someone who has no sense; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins" (w. 30-31).  Note now this keen observation is followed by cogent reflection in this experiment. "I applied my heart to what I observed, learned a lesson from what I saw."  
And now note how the sage coins cites the lesson he learned in a proverb.   "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man" (w. 33-34).
The sage, however, does not base his wisdom on what theologians call natural theology. Natural theology is based on God's general revelation in creation, human conscience, and human reason. In other words, in natural theology nature itself is God's oracle. God's sages, by contrast, based their theology on God's covenants with Israel, and in light of those covenants they find illustrations in creation that support the values of Israel’s covenants.
In other words the "inscape" of the sages determines how they see their landscape. As William Blake expressed it, "We see through the eye, not with the eye." What we are inside determines how we sees the world. Upon assuming David's throne, Solomon copied by hand Moses' Book of the Law under the tutelage of the priest. "When [the king] takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests who are the Levites. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere I AM his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees" (Deut. 17:18-19).
Undoubtedly even before becoming king, Solomon had been instructed in Israel's covenants. What I am saying is that Solomon and the sages of Proverbs viewed the world from a character saturated in God's Law and its concerns for justice and mercy. [19:15]
This orientation from Israel’s covenants pervades their writings. They speak-the sages and proverbs speak of God as "I Am,” God's name connected with His covenants with Israel. Moreover, when they observe creation and reflect upon it, they overlook those aspects of creation that do not affirm the covenant’s values. When Solomon erects the add into a paradigm of discipline and prudence in Proverbs 6:6-11, he turns a blind eye to the disastrous effects of the carpenter ant. Qoheleth the preacher in Ecclesiasties and Job temporarily removed the lens of Israel's covenants, speak of the Lord as Elohim, that is, of God as transcendent, and they observed in the creation the presence of evil and the lack of justice. Job and Qoheleth in the final analysis extract Israel’s values from the created order by finally viewing it through faith through Israel's covenants. Both fall back on "the fear of Ί Am' " (Job 28:28; Eccles. 12:13), which entails special revelation.  [20:42]
The point is that though the sage's form of inspiration differs from that of Moses and the prophets, they are just as inspired. With Solomon's wisdom on his lips, a fictitious father lectures his son: "For the Ί Am' gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding" (2:6).   [21:18]
WISDOM LITERATURE’S EPISTEMOLOGY: its dependence on revelation.
Inspiration, as we have defined it entails revelation. Moreover, without comprehensive knowledge, knowing everything, which must be had by revelation, there is no absolute or certain knowledge. The finite mind cannot determine absolute truth. Agur made this argument in his autobiographical confession in 30:1-6. Agur, a sage and a prophet, confessed his philosophy of knowledge to an unknown official named Ithiel, who in the canon of Scripture represents all the people of God.  We read,”The sayings of Agur, son of Jekah, an inspired utterance,” (Unique by the way to TNIV. This man’s utterance didn’t repeat “inspired” but the Hebrew text says that.)  to Ithiel.” And then amending the text by exegisis, “I am weary, God, but I can prevail,” (unique translation to the TNIV) “Surely I am only a brute not a man, I do not have human understanding.  I have not learned wisdom nor have I attained to the knowledge of the Holy One.  Who has gone up to heaven and come down?  Whose hands have gathered up the wind?  Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak?  Who established all the ends of the earth?  What is His name, and what is the name of his son? Surely you know! "Every word of God is flawless; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. 6 Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.
In the third lecture I will argue that by "understanding" and "wisdom" Agur had in mind ethics and social skills, that is, the skill of proper behavior in relationship to God and to one's neighbor. Agur introduces his philosophy of knowledge in a summary statement: "I am weary, God, but I can prevail.”  In this succinct statement he assures us that we can climb out of the pit of our human inability and weariness to find wisdom.  He does this by constructing a ladder with five rungs of confessions. [24:00]
CONFESSION 1: Apart from revelation, none attains wisdom. The first rung of Agur's ladder is made from  the stuff of human experience. The first rung that we must climb is an honest confession that on their own as mere mortals they cannot attain sure? and social skills. "Surely I am only a brute, not a human being; I do not have human understanding. I have not learned wisdom, nor have I attained to the knowledge of the Holy One."
Agur's honest confession contrasts sharply with the self-assurance of the Enlightenment. Its philosophers have full confidence that by designed experiments with cogent human reasoning, humankind can determine how to behave. After having been tried for three centuries the Enlightenment has enabled the human race to achieve what before the Enlightenment would have been regarded as miracles. Remarkably physicists and engineers enable humankind to walk on the moon. Chemists have eliminated dreaded disease. But in social and moral skills the Enlightenment has proved to be a failure. Alasdair Maclntyre documented how the Enlightenment moved Western civilization from the Greek virtues to Nietz-che's will for power.*  In its wake came Nazi genocide and ethnic cleansing. Geneticists, social scientists, and medical practitioners sometimes play God and kill unwanted human beings. Today no human life can be sure it is precious or safe. [26:12] *Alisdair Maclntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 2nd ed. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984).

CONFESSION 2: Apart from revelation humankind cannot obtain wisdom. Whereas Agur made his first rung out of experience, he makes his second rung out of his cogent reflection on his confession that human beings on their own do not know how to behave. He set this rung in place by four "who" questions in verse 4a. "Who has gone up to heaven?”  That is to see everything holistically, the knowledge of the Holy One, and who has come down to tell us the whole?  “Whose hands have gathered up the wind? Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak?”  In other words, who sustains the earth with rain?   “Who has established all the ends of the earth?"
Agatha raises the four "who" questions to confirm the post-modern philosophy of knowledge.  All human knowledge is relative and uncertain. This is so, Agur reasons, because without comprehensive knowledge the human race cannot derive certain knowledge.
Engineers, on account of their limited knowledge, used to think damming up rivers was good; now ecologists tell us that sometimes dams are bad. People used to think forest fires are always bad; now horticulturalists tell us that they may be necessary. In other words what was once thought good and wise now with more knowledge turns out to be bad and foolish.
Westminster Seminary, where I once taught, rightly prides itself on its superb library, located prominently on a hill overlooking the surrounding valleys. Around the library's core of books are the faculty offices. One of our students, however, prior to his coming to Westminster, worked for the department of the United States government that measures concentrations of deadly radon gas in atmospheres. One day our student decided to test the amount of radon gas in our library.
Now to understand the findings you need to know that the atmosphere normally contains four picocuries of radon gas; each day a chain smoker inhales about two hundred pico curies, and a uranium miner inhales with every breath about four hundred pico curies. In fact the United States government requires uranium miners to take every third year off  to detox. Our student discovered (and the government confirmed) that the atmosphere of the Westminster library, where my office was located, had a concentration of, get this, four thousand picocuries, ten times more than in a uranium mine. The day after the discovery the government sealed the library shut with black and yellow tape, with the words "Danger. Lethal. Keep out!" And that was my office!
The point, the architects who located and designed the library thought they had built wisely, but in truth they built foolishly. Unknown to them, according to geologists, there was a fracture in the earth's crust, forty miles directly below the library, spewing out the largest concentration of the radon gas ever measured in the United States.
Postmoderns of the twenty-first century, unlike modernity of the past three centuries,  agree with Agur that all unaided human knowledge is relative. But unlike Agur these secularists have drawn the perverse conclusion that there are no moral absolutes by which to evaluate social behavior. According to their philosophy of knowledge human beings must own up to the reality that they can no longer speak of values; they can only speak of evaluations. In their view no culture is better than another. Their jettison of absolute values has thrown Western civilization over the cliff into a free fall of moral relativity that must end inevitably in death. Postmodernism, cultural relativism, Utopian pacifism, and moral equivalence have now filtered down from our universities through to news media to the general public. And we are seeing the pernicious wages of such theories. For the first time in Western civilization marriage is no longer defined as between a man and woman, and cohabitation of any form is tolerated. Those wages are also paid in the Western nonchalance toward Islamic jihadism. The devil is always on the lookout for the moral relativism that signals a latter-day Faust,* and it seems that he is finding eager recruits among some prominent spokespeople in the West.
* Faust: the chief character of a medieval legend, represented as selling his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge and power.  -- Unabridged Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2011.
* Faustian: 1876, a reference to Johann Faust  (1488-1541), Ger. wandering astrologer and wizard, who was reputed to have sold his soul to the Devil. He was the hero of dramas by Marlowe and Goethe. -- Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
CONFESSION 3: For lack of time, I will just mention it.  Only the Creator has comprehensive knowledge. When he says, “What is His name?’ Only God has seen it all and has it all.  That is a statement of faith. [32:15]
[ Comments from the article in “Bib Sac” fill in some information here. “In contrast to postmodernists, Agur composed his next three rungs out of faith. To climb above the failed modernity of the first rung that depended on experimentation and reason to determine values, and the deadly postmodernity of the second rung that denies the possibility of establishing absolute values, Agur's third rung calls on God's people to answer the first of two "what" question: "What is his name?" (v. 4). Agur challenged Ithiel by his assertion, "Surely you know." Surely a catechumen in Israel's faith would know the name of the Creator "who has established all the ends of the earth" and its Sustainer "whose hands have gathered up the wind" and "who wrapped up the waters in a cloak." Believers intuitively answer, " Ί Am' is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe." Implicitly since God knows everything from beginning to end, He knows comprehensively and speaks absolute truths.”]
CONFESSION 4: Israel is God's son.  Agur’s fourth rung on which we must step to escape our social and moral inadequacy to adequacy is the second  “what” question, “What is the name of His son?”  His third rung called upon us to name the competent teacher, I AM.    Now he calls on them to name the privileged student. Although he says to his original audience, "Surely you know," his later Christian audience may not know. The New King James Version wrongly answers his question by capitalizing Son, presumably a reference to Jesus Christ. The answer to Agur's question, however, must be deduced from the firm lexical evidence. In the book of Proverbs "son" always refers to a student who listens to his teacher. The son whom Agur had in mind is Israel, as can be seen in many Old Testament passages, such as Exodus 4:20 [sic. 22], where God calls Israel His unique son. The Greek translation of Hebrew’s son which was rendered a century before the birth of Christ Septuagint uses a dynamic equivalent changing the singular son to the plural children.  "What is the name of his children?" interpreting "son" as the children of Israel. Baruch, a sage of the second temple period, answered Agur's two questions, "This is our God, with whom none can be compared. He found the way of understanding and gave it to Jacob his servant and to Israel whom he loved."*
* Baruch 3:35-36
In the fullness of time Jesus Christ was born and demonstrated Himself to be the quintessential Son of God, and His church is baptized into Him making each of us who trust in Jesus  Christ the seed of Abraham and a child of God. In short, the triune God is our Teacher, and we are His children and students.  I’ll skip to the next point.
[Comments from the article in “Bib Sac” fill in some information here.  "Agur's challenging questions to identify the God of Israel as the Father-Teacher, who is competent to teach wisdom, and to identify ourselves as His sons-students, radically reshapes the crisis of knowing into a crisis of relationship. The human epistemologica! crisis in ethics and social behavior is now defined in relational rather than intellectual categories. True wisdom is found in a responsive and receptive relationship with the triune God." ]  [34:16]
CONFESSION 5: God revealed Himself in Holy Scripture. Looking back down the ladder we have come a long ways.  Thus far we have confessed (1) that we have failed to find out how we should behave, (2) that we cannot establish absolute values by which to determine which behavior is good or which is bad, (3) that only the omniscient God of Israel is competent to make such evaluations, and (4) that we must confess that we are His students. Agur now leads us to take the fifth and final step out of our own relative and unreliable knowledge to the firm ground of God's absolute knowledge.  We step on this ground when we confess that the triune God has spoken to us in the Bible. Verses five and six, "Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar". Reverend Childs, professor of Old Testament at Yale, similarly interprets verses five and six, "As an answer to the inquirer's despair at finding wisdom and the knowledge of God, the answer offered is that God has already made himself known in his written word."*
* Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979), 556.  
Verse 5 is a citation from a psalm of David: "As for God, his way is perfect: the LORD'S word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him" (Ps. 18:30). Agur's further confession, "Do not add to his words or he will. . . prove you a liar," is known as the canonical formula.  The formula warns us not to add to or subtract from any part of God's Word. The formula is taken from Moses' teaching in Deuteronomy 4:2 and 12:32. In other words Agur will locate his own teachings that follow in the rest of Proverbs 30 within the framework of the Word of God to the extent that the canon existed in his day. [36:17]
CONCLUSION: These reflections on biblical wisdom’s literature revelation from God and its inspiration through observant and reflective sages goad the preacher to preach as n oracle of God.  When you preach Proverbs, you are a trumpet with a clear and certain sound of God's Word, not the uncertain sound of human advice.  Thank you.

No comments:

Post a Comment