Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lecture 3, Fundamentals for Preaching the Book of Proverbs

By Bruce [Dr. Waltke is Professor of Old Testament, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, Florida and has written an extensive two volume commentary on Proverbs  .  This is the third lecture (2.8.07) in a four-part series (The first lecture was not given a number.), delivered as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectureship at Dallas Theological Seminary, February 6-9, 2007.  Listen as you read at ]
This lecture primarily deals with...
The Concept of Wisdom 
•    the use of the root for wisdom in the Old Testament corpus
•    its synonyms or sevenfold equivalent terms in verse two through six
•    and its co-referential terms, righteousness and knowledge 
The Audience of the Book
•    budding officials
•    all of Israel’s youth
•    all of God's People.  
The Identification of Woman Wisdom.
This lectureship reflected on the theory of preaching Proverbs we have analyzed preaching Proverbs is based on two fundamental truths. The first set which was featured in lecture one contained the fundamentals of preaching such as demarcating the text.  The second set which we are considering in lectures two through four pertain to six fundamental concepts of Proverbs for preaching the book which we liken to the code of a combination lock. 
1. The first number to be dialed is the knowledge of the literary genre.  As a genre of wisdom literature Proverbs claims to be an inspired revelation from the Creator and its species as proverbs entails that it coins this revelation in short, pithy, memorable sound bites.  These memorable saying demands that the audience exercises his or her imagination in an effort to forge some sort of equivalent connection between the proverbs and the audience’s situation. 
2. The second number that unlocks the—opens the book’s lock and gives access to the book’s paradise is knowledge of the human author which we didn’t have time to develop.  To understand him the hearer must understand his spirit, namely, his love for Israel’s covenants and his whit to see and to speak.  In this lecture we learn two more numbers to unlock the book.  [2:39]
3. Number three, understanding the concept of wisdom.  The third number to unlock the book is to understand the concept of wisdom.  The book’s purpose is to gain wisdom.  Wisdom is the books key word.  The root “to be wise” occurs 102 times.  Almost a third of its uses in the entire Old Testament including Job and Ecclesiastes Obviously to know his topic, the central part of the expositor’s big idea, the expositor must master the concept of wisdom.  Mastery over this profound term can be gained by three considerations:
•    the use of the root for wisdom in the Old Testament corpus,
•    its synonyms or sevenfold equivalent terms in verse two through six,
•    and its co-referential terms, righteousness and knowledge, one that uses of the root “to be wise.” 
[First?] In Biblical texts outside Proverbs the noun wise is used of technical and artist skills (Exodus 28:3) of the arts of magic (Ex. 7:11), of government, (Ecclesiastes 4:13), of diplomacy (1 Kings 5:7), and of war (Isaiah 10:3).  There was enough commonality to these five specific uses of the word to deduce the abstract meaning “masterful understanding, skill, expertise.”  In Proverbs there is enough commonality of the use of the root to abstract the more specific sense “social skill, masterful understanding of proper social relationships.”  By proper and skillful social relationships is meant the skill of relating to God and to all sorts of people, rich and poor, wise and foolish, young and old, parent and child, and so forth.  [5:30]
[Second?] Having abstracted the meaning of skill from its uses let us now consider its seven equivalent terms in the preamble.  Von Rad referred to the Bible’s proclivity for the heaping up of terms for wisdom as a "stereometric" way of thinking to achieve “the desired extension of the conceptual range.”  The preamble heaps up seven more terms: instruction, insight, prudence, knowledge, discretion, learning, and guidance. These seven virtues come as Wisdom’s attendants. Woman Wisdom says, “I, Wisdom, dwell together with prudence. I possess knowledge and discretion.  To fear I AM is to hate evil.  I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.  Counsel and sound judgment are mine.  I have insight.  I have power. (8:12-15). 
Wisdom and its synonyms, however, are neutral with regard to morality.    For example, Pharaoh labels his magicians who have mastered black magic as wide men (Exodus 7:11).  And although a murder may be or•mä', or cunning (Exodus 21.14), wisdom dwells with or•mä', translated prudence (Proverbs 8.12).  In the book of Proverbs wisdom and its equivalents are never used as pejorative terms, or even as morally neutral terms.  Wisdom and here attendants are protected again misunderstanding by the coreferential terms such as "righteousness," "justice," "equity."
Coreferential terms refer to terms belonging to different semantic domains but having the same referent. For example in the United States a person may be referred to as the vice president by his relationship to the president or as chair of the senate by his relationship to the senate. Though different concepts, he cannot be one without being the other. "Vice president" and "chair of the senate" designate different notions, but always refer to the same person. The same is true of the "the righteous" and "the wise." They are terms pertaining to the different semantic fields of ethics and of intelligence, but they refer to the same person. The wise are righteous and the righteous are wise; they go together like the proverbial horse and a carriage. The preamble binds together the coreferential, sapiential,* and ethical terms, for example, in verse 3: "for a acquiring a disciplined, prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair."
* containing, exhibiting, or affording wisdom; characterized by wisdom. (
Moreover, throughout the book "wise" and "righteous" versus "fool" and "wickedness" are used interchangeably.  So to master the concept of wisdom its coreferential term righteousness must also be clearly defined.  Righteousness in the book of Proverbs is not a cold, upright term like the marble columns at a church, cold and hard.  It is a social term signifying that people do right by each other as defined by God's covenants with Israel. To put the meanings of righteous and wicked in nutshells "righteousness" means "to disadvantage self as necessary in order to advantage others," and "wickedness" means "to disadvantage others in order to advantage oneself." For example, a student who takes a reserved book out of the library to get an A, leaving the rest of the class to get a lower grade, is wicked, that is a fool.  By contrast a student who resists the temptation to check out a rare book from the library so that his or her classmates have the opportunity to read and write an "A" paper, even if it means the getting a lower grade, is righteous, wise.  The first student has social skill.  The second student has none. Righteousness, the disadvantaging of self to advantage others, is counterintuitive. Folly, that is to advantage oneself at the expense of others, is bound up in the heart of the child.  Jesus Christ is the supreme example of wisdom according to this definition for he died for sinners.  [12:31]
Having defined wisdom as social skills by its uses and notice equivalent terms to maximize its range of meaning, and nuanced its neutral meaning by its coreferential term righteousness and its equivalents, we nail down the concept of wisdom by noting coreferential term "knowledge." The inseparable connection of "wisdom" and "knowledge" can be inferred from their parallelism in the inclusion* that surrounds the prologue.  1:7 reads “The fear of I AM is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and discipline.” 
And at the end of the prologue, (9:10) "The fear of I AM is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." “Wisdom" and "knowledge," though different notions, appear to be and they are throughout the book interchangeable.
* Inclusio is the bracketing of a passage of text with the same set of words at the start and end.  (
Wisdom and knowledge are inseparable because moral social knowledge is essential to wisdom’s social skill.
 The Wright brothers "miraculously" flew the first airplane because they were the first to dope out and apply the laws of aerodynamics.  With the knowledge of aerodynamics humans can fly.  In Proverbs "wisdom" denotes mastery over social relationships by knowing the deed-destiny nexus—that is, righteous behavior (serving others) tears down strongholds in relationships and promotes the life of an individual and a community. The point, the proverbs of Solomon and the sayings of the wise provide the knowledge that, when actualized, affects social skills, wisdom.  [15:06]
4. Then the fourth lock identifying the audience.
The fourth number to be dialed in opening the combination lock to paradise is identifying the book's audience. Haden Robinson says that the difference between a novice preacher and an experienced preacher is that the novice’s first question is, “What shall I preach?”  The first question of the seasoned preacher is, “To whom am I speaking?” The expositor must understand to whom his text was addressed. The answer in Proverbs is threefold: originally budding officials in Jerusalem's royal court, then all of Israel's youth, and, third, all the God’s people.  [16:09]
First then, budding officials.  Before being collected into the collections that compose the Book of Proverbs, its aphorisms were coined by kings and royal officials. The named authors in Proverbs are King Solomon, King Hezekiah's men, King Lemuel, and the court official Agur. The analogous ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature names both the vizier who coined and collected the sayings, and the budding official, usually  his son, whom he mentors.
The original court setting of the apothegms* explains their dominant royal content. "When you sit to dine with a ruler, note well what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony. Do not crave his delicacies, for that food is deceptive" (23:1-3). Obviously the admonishment is addressed to a court official, not to a normal, run-of-the-mill person. From his analysis of chapters 28-29 Bruce Malchow labeled those chapters a manual for kings.  [17:39]
* "a pithy saying," 1550s, from Gk. apophthegma  "terse, pointed saying," lit. "something clearly spoken," from apophthengesthai  "to speak one's opinion plainly," from apo-  "from" (see apo-) + phthengesthai  "to utter." (Online Etymology Dictionary @
Secondly, all of Israel’s youth, wise and simpletons.  When these collections of aphorisms were gathered to comprise the Book of Proverbs, they were democratized for all of Israel's youth, not for just the royal court. In striking contrast to the Egyptian parallel instruction literature, the Book of Proverbs names no addressee. Rather I say it democratizes its audience to include all of Israel's youth.
Thus the preamble reads, "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" (1:4-5).
The simpletons are qualified simply by "young" which means inexperienced and the "wise" are specified those that listen to knowledge.  Let us identify these two groups more closely.  
First of all, the wise. The parents' ten lectures in the prologue are addressed to their son in the home. Essentially they call upon the son "to hear" and so "to be wise." Their first "lecture" points to their content: "Listen, my son, to your father's instruction, and do not forsake your mother's teaching" or torah.
This admonition that begins Collection I, which is composed of lectures and sermons, comports well with the first proverb of Collection II 10.1-16, which you may remember, which though not in the form of an admonition, implies it: "A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother" (10:1, NIV). 
The development in the parental lectures from “listen” to “not forget” suggests that the son is excepting the parental wisdom. Note the advance from “Listen, my son” that introduces the first lecture to the introductory exhortation in the third lecture,  "My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart" (3:1). 
Note a progression is evident in the fourth sermon. "Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding. . . “  And it continues, “She is the tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed. . . . My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgment and discretion" (3:13, 18, 21).
In sum, the son is assumed to be accepting the parents' lectures and growing in wisdom.  [21:02]
Now, the simpleton. Whereas the son orients himself to the parents' lectures in the home, the simpleton has moved beyond puberty and is about to enter society as an adult without having made a decision to own the catechism that preserves Israel’s covenant values.
Simpleton" renders the Hebrew word peth•ē', which means woodenly "open." In this book a simpleton is gullible.  Open to the wise and to the fools.  He is a covenant child by flesh, history, and memory but not spiritually committed to Israel’s world and life view of reality as revealed in its covenants and in the book of Proverbs.  Simpletons, though having been taught Israel’s catechism in the home under the tutelage of their parents, opt to remain open to their peer group of fools is now grown beyond puberty and is about to enter the city where  but he  will be tempted by wicked men and women will tempt him with easy money and easy sex.  At the entrance o the gate before he enters the city Woman Wisdom offers him his last chance. 
“Does not Wisdom call out,
Does not understanding raise here voice at the highest point along the way where the paths meet she takes her stand? 
Beside the gate leading into the city, at the entrance she cries aloud,
To you o people I call aloud, I raise my voice to all humankind
You who are simple gain prudence’
You who are foolish set your heart on in.”  (8.1-5)
The simpleton is damned (1.22).  "How long will you who are simple love your simple ways? . . . Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings. But since you refuse to listen when I call and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand, since you disregard all my advice and do not accept my rebuke, I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you" (1:22-26).
Both wisdom and folly at the end of the prologue contend for the soul of the simpleton as represented by their rival invitations to their fictitious meals. Woman Wisdom has built a perfect house with seven pillars, large enough to host all who want to enter and dine with her. Hers is a royal banquet of mixed wine, that is the catechistic collections that follow. "Wisdom has built her house; she has set up its seven pillars. She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent her female slaves, and she calls from the highest point of the city, 'Let all who are simple come to my house!' To those who have no sense she says, 'Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the ways of insight' ".
Woman Folly also appeals to the simpletons to come into her house. She pretentiously sits as queen, inviting the simple to drink stolen water, that is to enjoy sex outside of marriage. She stands in sharp contrast to Woman Wisdom's strong wine of wise sayings. "Folly is an unruly woman; she is simple and knows nothing. She sits at the door of her house, on a seat at the highest point of the city, calling out to those who pass by, who go straight on their way, 'Let all who are simple come and hear!' To those who have no sense, she says, 'Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious!' But little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the realm of the dead" (9.1-18).
In sum the expositor motivates the youth of his congregation to grow in wisdom with the threat of eternal life, and threatens the uncommitted with the possibility of death.  [25.57]
The audience, sons and daughters. The wise and simple in the book are reckoned as sons. Are the daughters excluded from the book's audience? Although ??? can mean "child," the obvious male orientation of the book shows that the son, not the daughter, is in view. Nevertheless Proverbs infers that daughters were not excluded from being educated in Israel’s catechism of aphorisms and that the book has women as well as men in its audience.
This is so because the mother is identified along with the father as the authoritative voice in the home. She is mentioned in parallel with the father at the book’s scenes.  For example in the prologue’s first sermon, "Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's torah" (1:8) and in the introduction to the second collection at the seam it reads, "A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother.”  The mention of the mother at these crucial junctures strongly infers that when the father is mentioned in the other terse, epigrammatic* proverbs, the mother, although not mentioned, is an unstated parallel with the father. Both parents are the authoritative voices in the home before their children. The book's conclusion points to the noble wife and mother as the exemplar of the book's teachings (31:10-31), and she is commended for having faithful instruction on her tongue (31. 26).  The point, for the mother to instruct her household she herself had to know Israel's inherited wisdom. The dissemination of the book's content through the mother entails that she herself had to be taught wisdom in the home by her father or by her husband. Deuteronomy [31:9-12] explicitly states that the women were instructed in the Book of the Law, and Proverbs infers they memorized its catechism.
*epigram: any witty, ingenious, or pointed saying tersely expressed.  epigrammatic: of or like an epigram; terse and ingenious in expression.  (
Instead of mentioning his daughter, the father singled out the son because the male offspring was expected to assume leadership in defining the family's identity and values.  [28:44]
New audience, all of God's People.
When the Book of Proverbs was recognized as canonical literature, at least included in the list of books, its audience expanded beyond the royal court and Israel's youth to the entire covenant community, young and old alike. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, says, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." [2 Tim. 3:16-17]  
The book sets no age limit on learning wisdom. "Let the wise listen and add to their learning." [Prov. 1:5] What Augustine said of the Bible—"It is shallow enough for a baby to wade in, but deep enough for an elephant to drown in it"—is especially true of Proverbs. In other words the expositor addresses all the discerning: novitiate and trained, the wise of all ages. And there is no time restraint on growing in wisdom.   [36:06]
And now an excursus, the IDENTIFICATION OF WOMAN WISDOM.
Since the parents lectured the son in the home and Woman Wisdom (a factitious woman represents wisdom’s teaching) preached to the simpletons at the city gate, the expositor should have an understanding of this woman street preacher’s identity.
First, Wisdom is represented as a woman because abstract nouns, such as khok•mä',  (gloss “wisdom"), commonly end with the suffix ah, in Hebrew. However, ah suffix with animate nouns signifies the feminine gender in contrast to the masculine. So when an abstract noun that ends in ah is personified, as in the case of khok•mä', it must be personified as a female. Karl Brugmann demonstrated in 1895 that this grammatical phenomenon is true of mythic personifications in all languages. For example Russians personify the days of the week as male or female on the basis of the day's grammatical gender.
Now let us analyze her persona, her role. In the two addresses to simpletons at the entrance to the gate our mythic Woman is unique. She wears a prophet's mantle, carries a sage's scroll, and wears a goddess-like diadem. She preaches and pleads with a prophet's passion, thinks and circulates with "intellectuals," and wields the authority of God. The prophetic, sapient, and divine components of her characterization so penetrate each other that she emerges as a unique personality whose only peer is Jesus Christ. Her identification as the incarnate heavenly being who in humiliation accepts the rejection by the masses of her offer to them of eternal life functions within the canon as a foreshadowing of Him who is greater than Solomon. 
But what is her identity?  But she is not Jesus Christ. Contrary to hardened orthodoxy, rather she is a figurative personification of the book's wisdom that is promoted in its proverbs. According to the preamble the book's aim is to teach wisdom through these collections of inspired aphorisms. The book's key word, wisdom, refers to the substance of these sayings. Wisdom in this book never refers to anything else. Exegetically the only possible interpretation of her identity is that she is a figurative personification of the book's teaching.
In her famous soliloquy in 8:22-31 Woman Wisdom argues that she (that is  the wisdom of this book) was born from God's nature, existed before anything else was formed, and saw the whole creation. "I AM brought me (this wisdom) forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. When there were no oceans, I was given birth, when there were no springs abounding with water; before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth, before he made the world or its fields or any of the dust of the earth. I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. Then I was constantly(unique to TNIV and a very important word. It does not mean craftsman, or child. It certainly means constantly.  That by the way was voted unanimously.) Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in humankind."
In other words because she was begotten from the divine nature, Solomon's teaching derives from God's attributes, and because she was constantly at the Creator's side while He made everything, Solomon's teachings are based on comprehensive knowledge, and so as we argued in the last lecture, represents absolute certain values, not contingent evaluations.
In conclusion, an expositor who give Woman Wisdom a voice from their pulpits, inferentially wears a prophet's mantle, carries a sage's scroll, and wears a heavenly crown as they proclaim with a clear voice and full lungs God's truth from the pulpit. Let him preach as boldly, urgently, and passionately as Woman Wisdom.  Thank you.  [36:06]

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