Fundamentals for Preaching the Book of Proverbs, Lecture 3
Bruce K. Waltke
is Professor of Old Testament,
Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, Florida.
This is the second article in a four-part series, delivered as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectureship at Dallas Theological Seminary, February 6-9, 2007.
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.
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.
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.
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.” 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, (Ecclesiasties 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.
Synonyms of Wisdom. Having abstracted the meaning of skill from its uses let us now consider its seven equivalent terms in the preamble. Fonrot?? referred to the Bible’s proclivity for heaping up of terms for wisdom as a stereometric way of thinking to achieve “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).
Three, wisdom’s co-referential term, righteousness. Wisdom and its synonyms, however, are neutral with regard to morality. For example, Pharoah labels his magicians who have practiced black magic as wide men (Exodus 7:11). And though a murder may be ???? cunning (Exodus 21.14), wisdom dwells with Orma?? Translated prudence (Proverbs 8.12). In the book of Proverbs wisdom and its equivalents are never used as pejorative terms, or even as orally nueteral terms. Wisdom and here attendants are protected again misunderstanding
To PREACH PROVERBS AUTHENTICALLY the expositor should master the fundamentals of preaching (the topic of the first lecture in this series) and understand essential concepts of Proverbs, the topic of this and the next two lectures.
The preamble of Proverbs (1:1-7) reveals these fundamentals. In this lecture I have two objectives: to review and illustrate the fundamentals of preaching by expounding the preamble, and from the superscript of the preamble to reflect on two of the six fundamental concepts the expositor should understand.
AN EXPOSITION OF T HE PREAMBLE
The exposition of the preamble entails seven fundamental steps (which were discussed in the first lecture): demarcating the text, choosing the best translation, exegeting the text, abstracting its big idea, transforming that idea into a message, developing the message in sermonic form, and applying it.1
FIRST FUNDAMENTAL: DEMARCATING THE TEXT
Form and rhetorical criticism demarcate Proverbs 1:1-7 as an intentional grouping. These verses read as follows:
The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for gaining wisdom and instruction; 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, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.2
Grammatically verses 1-6 are one sentence: a topic (the proverbs of Solomon, v. 1) followed by a predicate that gives the writer's purpose for the book (w. 2-6). A superscript modified by purpose clauses also introduces Egyptian wisdom literature. This form contrasts radically with the forms of the following twelve lectures and sermons in Collection 1. Their form consists of an admonition by the lecturer to the addressee to accept his teaching with motivations to heed the lesson.
Rhetorically verse 7 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 "ìOìDì ΠΏ?Π Hin in verse 2, involving knowledge, wisdom, and instruction, is repeated but with a different syntax in verse 7: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but wisdom and instruction fools despise."3
Thus verses 1-7 may be demarcated by grammar and by form and rhetorical criticism as a unit, and it serves as a preamble.
SECOND FUNDAMENTAL: CHOOSING THE TRANSLATION
Having established by grammar, form, and rhetoric that verses 1-7 are an intentional preamble to the book, the expositor should choose for his congregation the best translation of the text for accuracy, clarity, and beauty. In verse 2 the New International Version has "for gaining" rather than "to know," found in the New American Standard Bible and the English Standard Version. The Hebrew run means "to know," but English "to know" normally separates the knower from the object known, whereas the Hebrew term means to experience or internalize the object known. The New Revised Standard Version gets it wrong by rendering nin "to know about" wisdom. "To gain" more accurately represents the Hebrew than "to know" or "to know about."
THIRD FUNDAMENTAL: EXEGETING THE TEXT
The structure of the preamble consists roughly of a superscript (v. 1), a statement of purpose (see "for" in vv. 2-6), and a foundational principle: the fear of "I Am." The prose superscript identifies the literary form of this book, "a proverb," and its author, "Solomon son of David, king of Israel." The structure of the preamble can be analyzed in this way:
I. Superscript (v. 1)
A. Literary genre (v. la)
B. Author (v. lb)
II. Purpose of the Book (vv. 2-6)
A. Summary (v. 2)
1. The book's substance: to gain wisdom (v. 2a)
2. The book's style: to understand words of
insight (v. 2b)
B. To gain wisdom (w. 3-5)
1. Wisdom defined in terms of ethical behavior (v. 3)
2. Wisdom with regard to simpletons (v. 4)
3. Wisdom with regard to the wise (v. 5)
C. To understand words of insight (v. 6)
III. Essential Spiritual Component to Gain Wisdom (v. 7)
FOURTH FUNDAMENTAL: ABSTRACTING THE BIG IDEA
What is the author's ideological grid that interfaces the superscript (v. 1), purpose (w. 2-6), and essential spiritual quality (v. 7)? Rudyard Kipling's "six little men" help focus the point.
"I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I know);
Their names are What and Why and When,
And How and Where and Who."
The preamble addresses the fundamental issues raised by Kipling's little men. Verse 1 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 the question, What is the spiritual 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?
FIFTH FUNDAMENTAL: TRANSLATING THE IDEA INTO A MESSAGE
What fundamental information do readers need in order to profit from this book? The answer to that question—the big idea—must now be transformed into a message to which a response can be given. The big idea calls for a response of a joyful willingness to learn the code: Be wise; learn the fundamentals that unlock the gate to wisdom. Don't be a fool and ignore iL
SIXTH FUNDAMENTAL: DEVELOPING THE ARGUMENT
The code of the combination lock has six numbers—that is, six concepts. This lecture develops the first two, which are found in the book's superscript: (a) understanding the book's genre: "proverbs" (v. la); and (b) understanding the book's authors, especially "Solomon son of David, king of Israel" (v. lb). The next lecture develops two more fundamentals: (c) understanding the book's purpose: "to gain wisdom" (v. 2), and (d) understanding the book's addressees: simpletons and those growing in wisdom (vv. 4-5). The final lecture develops the last two: (e) understanding the book's words, and (f) understanding "the fear of Ί Am.' "
SEVENTH FUNDAMENTAL: APPLYING THE MESSAGE
In the light of these six fundamentals the Book of Proverbs should then be preached with integrity.
FUNDAMENTAL CONCEPTS OF PROVERBS FOR PREACHING
As noted, the code for the combination lock in the preamble has six numbers that help unlock the Book of Proverbs. The first two involve understanding its genre and its authors.
NUMBER ONE: THE BOOK'S GENRE
All scholars agree that the sayings in Proverbs are a species of the wisdom genre. But they do not agree on the distinctive characteristic that binds together such diverse works as Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, all of which belong to this genre.
To understand the nature of wisdom literature two things should be noted: its distinctive mark (inspiration) and the epistemology that informs it (revelation).
Wisdom literature's distinctive mark: its form of inspiration. According to some scholars wisdom literature 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 eudaemonistic, that is "we do good to get good." Still others define it as a human search for order. Kidner focuses on its rational tone. Although wisdom literature contains some of these characteristics, other forms of literature also contain some of them, though not to the same extent. I suggest that its distinctive mark is the nature of its inspiration.
The writer of Hebrews notes that in the Old Testament God spoke in diverse ways. He spoke to Moses in theophany, to the prophets in visions and auditions, and to the sages in their keen observations and cogent reflections on the order of creation. One can observe from Proverbs 24:30-34 how the sage received his inspiration. His laboratory was the sluggard's field. "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).
Then in verse 32 he wrote of his keen observation and cogent reflection. "I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw."
Then he cited in a proverb the lesson he learned: "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man" (w. 33-34).
The sage, however, did 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 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 found illustrations in creation that support the values in those covenants.
In other words the "inscape" of the sages determined how they saw the landscape. As William Blake expressed it, "We see through the eye, not with the eye." What a person is on the inside determines how he sees the world. When Solomon assumed 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 Levitical priests. 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 the LORD 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. He and the sages of Proverbs viewed the world while saturated in God's Law and its concern for justice and mercy.
This orientation pervades their writings. They speak of God as "I Am" (mrP), God's name associated with His covenants with Israel. When Solomon discussed the ant as an illustration of discipline and prudence in Proverbs 6:6-11, he turned a blind eye to the disastrous effects of the carpenter ant. Qoheleth and Job temporarily removed the lens of Israel's covenants, spoke of the Lord as DTÒX, that is, of God as transcendent, and they observed in the creation the amoral law of the survival of the fittest. Job and Qoheleth, however, in the final analysis extracted wisdom from the created order by finally viewing it hy faith through Israel's covenants. Both fell back on "the fear of Ί Am' " (Job 28:28; Eccles. 12:13), which entails special revelation.
The point is that though the sage's form of inspiration differs from that of Moses and the prophets, his writings are 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).
Wisdom literature's epistemology: its dependence on revelation. Inspiration implies revelation. Moreover, without 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.
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 introduced his philosophy of knowledge in a summary statement: "I am weary, God, but I can prevail" (v. 1). In this succinct statement he affirmed that though humans are incapable and weary, they can find wisdom and come to understand how they should live. He did this by constructing a ladder with five rungs of confessions.
Confession 1: Apart from revelation, no one can attain moral and social skills. The first rung of Agur's ladder is made from human experience. The first rung people must climb is an honest confession that on their own as mere mortals they cannot attain proper moral and social skills. "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" (w. 2-3).
Agur's confession contrasts sharply with the self-assurance of the Enlightenment. Its philosophers have full confidence that by 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 have enabled men to walk on the moon. Chemists have eliminated dreaded diseases. But in moral and social skills the Enlightenment is a colossal failure. Maclntyre documented how the Enlightenment moved Western civilization from the Greek virtues to Nietz-che's will for power.4 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.
Confession 2: Apart from revelation people cannot attain certainty. Whereas Agur made his first rung out of experience, he made 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 4. "Who has gone up to heaven [i.e., to see everything holistically and come down to tell us the whole]? Whose hands have gathered up the wind? Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth?"
These four "who" questions confirm the current view that human knowledge is relative and uncertain. This is so, Agur reasoned, because without comprehensive knowledge the human race cannot derive certain knowledge.
Engineers used to think damming up rivers was good; now ecologiste point out that sometimes dams are bad. People used to think forest fires are always bad; now horticulturalists affirm 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 Theological 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, before coming to Westminster, worked for the department of the United States government that measures concentrations of deadly radon gas in atmospheres. One day he decided to test the amount of radon gas in our library.
The atmosphere normally contains four pico curies of radon gas; each day a chain smoker inhales about two hundred pico curies, and a uranium miner inhales about four hundred pico curies. In fact the United States government requires uranium miners to take every third year off in order to detox their bodies. Our student discovered (and the government confirmed) that the atmosphere of the Westminster library, where my office was located, had a concentration of four thousand pico curies, 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 my office was in the library building!
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 concentrations of radon gas ever measured in the United States.
Unlike modernity of the past three centuries, postmoderne of the twenty-first century 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 freefall of moral relativity that inevitably ends in death. Postmodernism, cultural relativism, Utopian pacifism, and moral equivalence have filtered down from the media, universities, and government to the general public. And the pernicious wages of such theories are now evident everywhere. 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. 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.
Confession 3: Only the Creator has comprehensive knowledge. 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 one must step to escape from moral and social inadequacy is his second "what" question: "What is the name of his son?" Agur's third rung called on his readers to name the competent teacher. Now he called on them to name the privileged student. Although he said 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 that in 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 4:22, where God called Israel His unique son. The Septuagint of this verse rendered the Hebrew ρ ("son") with the plural παιδία ("children"): "What is the name of his children?" thereby interpreting "son" as the children of Israel. Baruch, a sage of the second temple period, answered Agur's two questions in this way: "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 each one who trusts in Jesus Christ is a seed of Abraham and a child of God. In short, the triune God is the believers' Teacher, and they are His children and students.
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.
Confession 5: God revealed Himself in the Scriptures. The first four steps of the ladder reveal (a) that people have failed to find out how they should behave, (b) that they cannot establish absolute values by which to determine which behavior is good or which is bad, (c) that only the omniscient God of Israel is competent to make such evaluations, and (d) that believers must confess that they are His students. Agur then led his readers to take the fifth and final step out of their own relative and unreliable knowledge to the firm ground of God's absolute knowledge. A person steps on that firm ground when he confesses that the triune God has spoken in the Bible. "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" (vv. 5-6). As Childs writes, "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."5
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," warns readers 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 located his own teachings in Proverbs 30 within the framework of the Word of God to the extent that the canon existed in his day.
These reflections on biblical wisdom literature goad the preacher to preach as presenting God's oracles. He is to be like a trumpet, giving a clear and certain sound of God's Word, not the uncertain sound of human wisdom (cf. 1 Cor. 14:8).
The specie of "proverb." The first word of the preamble's superscript narrows the genre of wisdom literature to its specie of "proverb" C?cpo). In English a proverb refers to a short, pithy saying that has popular currency, but the Hebrew ^CÖQ refers to an apothegm that has currency among those who fear "I Am." Solomon's proverb, "Treasures gained from wickedness have no lasting value, but righteousness delivers from death" (10:2, author's translation), is not popular with the masses. Were it popular with the masses, Wisdom would not have to stand at the gate of the city pleading a hearing for her sayings from unheeding simpletons (1:20-33; 8:1-
Proverbs, whether in English or Hebrew, call on the hearer to apply the the abstracted truth of a proverb to his or her situation. The word btìù means, "to be like." Landis, following McKane, says that this noun means "a comparison or analogy [constructed] for the purpose of conveying a model, exemplar, or paradigm."6 More specifically, this speech-act, as Polk advanced the argument, calls for heightened reader involvement to exercise the imagination in an effort to forge some sort of equivalence or connection between the proverbs and one's situation.7 "The poet," as Goethe said, "should seize the particulars, and he should, if there be anything sound in it, thus represent the universal."8 What is important here for the preacher is the awareness that a proverb is a specific example of a universal truth, an example that is to be applied by the preacher to other specifics. In short, a proverb calls for the preacher's application.
How a proverb is applied depends on the reader's response. According to some theorists the reader's response to a text determines its meaning. But an expositor seeks to establish the author's intention and knows that the reader response, not the author's intention, determines the application of a text. This point may be illustrated from Psalm 49. The sage introduced his proverb with a call for all to hear. "Hear this, all you peoples; listen, all who live in this world, both low and high, rich and poor alike: My mouth will speak words of wisdom; the meditation of my heart will give you understanding. I will turn my ear to a proverb f?ÇD]; with the harp I will expound my riddle" (w. 1-4).
After this introduction the sage developed his poem in two stanzas, each consisting of eight verses and each ending with his proverb in refrains that differ by one letter.
"Human beings, despite their wealth, do not endure ^]. They are like [^Q3] the beasts that perish" (v. 12; Heb., v. 13).
"Human beings who have wealth but lack understanding "·τ] are like |>0û3] the beasts that perish" (v. 20; Heb., v. 21).
According to the first stanza and its refrain all human beings, wise and fools, despite their wealth, do not endure ^]\. They perish like the animals. The third line of his first stanza reads, "No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a sufficient ransom" (v. 7).
According to the second stanza and its refrain, however, a fool, who by definition is without understanding, perishes eternally like the animals. Though all perish—wise and fools—only fools die eternally. The third line of the second stanza distinguishes the fate of the wise in resurrection from the fate of fools in an eternal doom: "But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself (v. 15). The author intended to compare and contrast the wise and fools. But readers will hear his proverb in different ways: it will comfort the lowly, sober the high, warn the rich, and console the poor.
In other words the proverb calls on the preacher to apply the universal truth of the proverb to the circumstance of his audience. The proverb, "Treasures gained from wickedness have no lasting value, but righteousness delivers from death" (10:2), can be used to sober an audience that trusts in its wealth, or to comfort an audience that is suffering for righteousness' sake, or to admonish an audience not to gain money by hurting others but to use their wealth to help the needy. The meaning of the proverb is one; its potential applications are many.
NUMBER TWO: KNOWING THE HUMAN AUTHOR
The second number that must be dialed to unlock the Book of Proverbs is knowing the human author. The inherent nature of any object to be studied dictates the best method for elucidating its properties. As James Houston, founder of Regent College, reminds his students, "To understand a matter one must first stand under it." For example to study the stars one must first gaze up at them in order to recognize their essential nature before crafting a telescope in order to see them better. And to understand a microscopic organism one must first consider its essential nature before crafting a microscope to observe it. If a person reverses the instruments, he will not see anything. Likewise before designing an accredited hermeneutic to study and understand the Scriptures, one must stand under them to determine their essential nature and to let them dictate an accredited method for their study.
The well-known text, "All Scripture is inspired by God" (2 Tim. 3:16, NASB), implies that three inherent qualities of the biblical text must be recognized. Each quality demands that a proper instrument (i.e., method) be fashioned for understanding it. The phrase "by God," a genitive of authorship, names God as the Author; "inspired," which refers to the written text, implies a human author who mediated the revelation; and "Scripture" denotes a text. All three demand an appropriate approach, and these three approaches must be accepted together because the Bible is a unit that is informed by all three. The first two qualities demand a spiritual commitment on the part of the interpreter, and the third paradoxically calls for approaching the text with the detached objectivity of a scientist.
Of interest here is the need to know the human authors of the Scriptures. Superior intellectual talent and superb education, though not to be despised, cannot render one fit to interpret the Scriptures. To understand them, a reader must encounter their authors with spiritual sympathy, not merely with empathy. Fairbairn argued the necessity of reading the text with a sympathetic spirit.
He [the interpreter] must endeavor to attain to a sympathy in thought and feeling with the sacred writers, whose meaning he seeks to unfold. Such a sympathy is not required for the interpretation alone of the inspired writings; it is equally necessary in respect to any ancient author. . .. The more we can identify ourselves with the state of mind out of which that thought and feeling arose, the more manifestly shall we be qualified for appreciating the language in which they are embodied, and reproducing true and living impressions of it Not a
few of them [interpreters] have given proof of superior talents, and have brought to the task also the acquirements of a profound and varied scholarship. The lexicography and grammar, the philology and archaeology of Scripture, have been largely indebted to their inquiries and researches; but, from the grievous mental discrepancy existing between the commentator and his author, and the different points of view from which they respectively looked at Divine things, writers of this class necessarily failed to penetrate the depths of the subjects they had to handle, fell often into jejune and superficial representations on particular parts, and on entire books of Scripture never once succeeded in producing a really satisfactory exposition.9
And Fairbairn adds, "A philosophical spirit is demanded for the study of Plato, a political taste for the reading òf Homer or Pindar, a sensibility to wit and satire for the perusal of Lucían, a patriotic sentiment for the enjoyment of Sallust and Tacitus, equally certain is it, that the fitness to understand the profound truths of Scripture . . . presupposes, as indispensable requisite, a sentiment of piety, an inward religious experience."10
To understand Proverbs one must identify with Solomon and the sages. First, they were spiritually sensitive. They viewed their audience as the covenant people of God, and also their wisdom enabled them to see beyond what they saw with their eyes and heard with their ears. Their spiritual sensitivity enabled them to see and hear the human heart. Second, they spoke as kings by divine right, that is, they spoke their words as oracles from God with the authority of prophets. Their officials spoke similarly. Third, they were brilliant. These protoscientists probed into astronomy, gemology, psychology, and so forth; they retained knowledge, had a creative imagination, and expressed themselves with wit and a love to play with words.
Knowledge of the literary genre of the Book of Proverbs and of its authors is fundamental for preaching Proverbs. The proverbs are oracles of God on the preacher's lips that allow him to adopt them for the needs of his audience and also to apply them. Moreover, knowing that their authors are godly kings challenges the expositor both to enter into the king's intimate knowledge of the Law— for on assuming the throne kings copied the Law under the tutelage of the priest—and to have the king's wit. These two— understanding the book's literary genre and its author—are fundamental concepts for expounding the Book of Proverbs.
1 Bruce K. Waltke, "Fundamentals of Preaching Proverbs," Bibliotheca Sacra 165 (January-March 2008): 3-12.
2 Unless noted otherwise, all Scripture quotations are from Today's New International Version.
3 The last clause follows Hebrew word order more closely than does the rendering in Today's New International Version.
4 Alisdair Maclntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 2nd ed. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984).
5 Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979), 556.
6 George M. Landis, "Jonah: AMäSälT' in Israelite Wisdom, ed. John G. Gammie et al. (Missoula, MT: Scholars, 1978), 140.
7 Timothy Polk, "Paradigms, Parables, and MëSâlîm," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 45 (1983): 564-83.
8 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Johann Peter Eckermann, Conversations with Eckermann (New York: M. Walter Dunne, 1901).
9 Patrick Fairbairn, Hermeneutical Manual: or, Intoduction to the Exegetical Study of the Scriptures of the New Testament (Edinburgh: Clark, 1858), 64-66 (italics his).
10 Ibid., 66.
BlBLlOTHECA SACRA 165 (Apri/June 2008): 131-44