Saturday, March 07, 2009

Proverbs 26:6-7

26:1-12 is a section dealing with “fools,” and nearly every verse mentions a “fool” or “folly” of some sort or another.

26:6 He who sends a message by the hand of a fool Cuts off his own feet and drinks violence.

On the surface, this seems pretty extreme. Literally, it’s “sending words by a hand of a fool.” On the other hand, it’s also meant to emphasize the absurdity of foolish messengers. Having a foolish messenger is about as dumb as cutting off your own feet and drinking violence.

Messengers are meant to be extra sets of legs, carrying messages on your behalf. A foolish messenger is worse than not having an extra set of legs. You will not only fail to have the message delivered, your own ability to deliver the message will be severely hampered. The word for “feet” is sometimes used euphemistically to the sexual organs (e.g Jdg. 3:24). This adds another layer to the self inflicted pain of a foolish messenger. Carrying words to someone else is a way of reproducing yourself. A good messenger carries the words well, and re-presents the master to the other part. A fool cuts off your ability to reproduce.

Surely this is part of what is meant by “poisoning the well.” After a fool has delivered the words, you are no longer in a position to deliver them yourself. No matter your standing or the wisdom of the words, the fool has damaged the goods.

After Rechab and Baanah bring news that they have killed Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, David has them executed and their hands and feet cut off. This is probably related to what they have done. Their hands shed blood, and their feet were used to bring this news to David (2 Sam. 4:8-12).

Contrast this with Isaiah: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Is. 52:7)

Jesus famously exhorts his followers to cut off their hand or foot if it causes them to sin (Mt. 18:8, Mk. 9:45). The application here would be to cut any feet that make your words cause others to stumble. Your messenger would be included in your feet. Cut those off before you end up having your own removed.

“Drinking violence” was used back in 4:17: “ For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence.” This was in the context of describing the path of the wicked and the way evil. The evil and the wicked celebrate violence like a sacrament (e.g. Job 15:16).

The sacramental character of words is perhaps in play here. Part of the message the gospel is a call to the feast of the Lord’s Supper. The cup of wine is a cup of violence, but it is violence to end all violence. Yet, Paul says that if we eat and drink in an unworthy manner, not receiving the words of God rightly, we will be “guilty of the body and the blood.” The violence of the cup will become ours.

Perhaps “drinking violence” is meant to emphasize the folly of the one sending the messenger. And if the one sending the messenger is not a fool, he must be trying to pick a fight.

26:7 Like the legs of the lame that hang limp Is a proverb in the mouth of fools.

Notice that this connects back with the previous verse, likening the effect a fool can have on someone’s legs. The word here for legs is different, but there’s still a parallel in play. Like wise words in the mouth of a foolish messenger, their effect is lost. And if a simple message by the hand of a fool is like inflicting violence on yourself, it doesn’t make matters better if you put a really good message in his hands. It doesn’t help if it’s a wise saying even. Your legs (ie. message) are still worthless and lame. It cannot accomplish what it is meant to accomplish.

The imagery also suggests that the fool is some sort of predator. He’s like a wolf with a chewed off elk leg hanging limp from his jaws.

The word for legs here is the one used frequently in conjunction with sacrificial instructions. It’s frequently translated “thigh.” This portion of the sacrifice is a fat, meaty part, and it was the portion given to the priests (Ex. 29:27, 7:32-34, Num. 6:20, 18:18). Interestingly, Samuel sets aside this portion of a sacrifice for Saul when he is being chosen to be king (1 Sam. 9:24).

Being “lame” restricted men in the priestly line from serving as priests (Lev. 21:18), and animals that were lame could not be offered as sacrifices (Dt. 15:24). The point seems to be that a proverb, words of wisdom, ought to be a priestly and sacrificial ministry. It ought to be the fatty meat that is the portion of priests. But in the mouth of fools, even proverbs become unclean and unfit for sacrifice. You can’t take wise words and put them in the mouth of a fool and expect them to be spoken as wisdom. Wise words in the mouth of a fool still come out as foolish words. This is a great reminder of reputations and the time it takes to make and break them.

The word for “lame” is “PESAYACH,” and it is very close to the word for Passover “PESACH.” James Jordan has pointed out that the strange incident in Exodus 4 is a proleptic Passover. In that incident when God comes to kill Moses, Zipporah circumcises their son, and smears the blood on his legs. This appears to be a mini-passover event where the blood is displayed like at Passover, and the angel of death passes over. Thus, in the actual Passover, the door posts are to be seen like legs that are being covered with blood, and that would remind Israel of circumcision, the sign of the covenant and the promised seed. Again this goes back to the “feet” of the previous verse. Feet that are “limp” and “lame” and “cut off” are images of castration, barrenness, and death. They are images of the covenant broken.

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