Saturday, July 17, 2010

Proverbs 29:3-7

29:3: “Whoever loves wisdom makes his father rejoice, but a companion of harlots wastes his wealth.”

This proverb returns to some of the basic themes from the beginning of proverbs. Here we have a comparison and contrast between certain kinds of love. In the first instance, love attaches to wisdom which is described as a woman early in proverbs (Prov. 3-4, 8-9). This wisdom is specifically the instructions of a father to his son, and this is one of the reasons why loving wisdom makes a father rejoice. In contrast, early in Proverbs the harlot/adulteress was the competitor to Lady Wisdom (Prov. 5, 6:24ff, 7:6ff).

The odd thing is that the comparison doesn’t seem completely symmetrical. The father rejoicing doesn’t seem quite parallel with the wasting wealth. It doesn’t seem to contrast neatly at first glance. However, wisdom is part of the inheritance of a father to his son, and wisdom is itself a kind of wealth and the ability to live and work in order create and maintain wealth. On the other hand, folly wastes wealth.
We might also note that the wealth wasted may be more general than just family inheritance (though it seems to include that). Loving wisdom is familial and economic blessing in general, and the pursuit of family-destroying lifestyles is a bad economic policy. This suggests that the repercussions for these decisions can be quite broad and public, especially for a king/prince.

Literally, the word for “companion” is “pasture” or “graze.” A man who feeds upon wisdom is a blessing to his father and receives his wealth. But the son who feeds on harlots despises his father.

There’s something of an interesting comparison in the person of Jesus. We know that Jesus was the great lover of wisdom and made his father rejoice, and at the same time, he was known as a “companion of harlots” and sometimes this was associated with the “waste of wealth” as well (e.g. Mt. 21:31-32, Lk. 7:37ff, Jn. 12:3ff).

Finally, we should note that the prodigal son is the “fool” of this proverb squandering his inheritance on harlots and displeasing his father (Lk. 15:11ff). But the father is the eager forgiver, and when the son returns there is great rejoicing. And there are always temptations for the “wise” to reject this kind of mercy like the older brother.

29:4: “The king establishes the land by justice, but he who receives bribes overthrows it.”

Literally, a king causes a land to stand by justice, but the man of offerings tears it down. So this proverb is about building and tearing down land. Justice makes a land stand up, but relying on money and gifts makes it fall. Part of the proverb is built on an ironic play on words. These offerings are T’rumah which are literally lifted up. This is the word of generic offerings taken up in Israel (e.g. Ex. 25:2-3, 30:13-15), and it is used specifically for the “heave” and “wave” offerings which were lifted up into the air when they were offered at the tabernacle (Lev. 10:15, Num. 6:20, 15:19). Offerings may seem like glory; they may appear like exaltation but a land does not stand by offerings. It stands by justice and just judgment.

Part of the point may also be that a king who receives or exacts offerings is acting like God. God calls for T’rumahs, but a king who calls for them or accepts them is acting like Yahweh. In other words, perhaps T’rumahs are only for Yahweh. Frequently maintaining justice is for the defense of the weak and the poor (e.g. Ex. 23:6, Dt. 10:18, 24:17, 27:19). Specifically, justice is contrasted with bribes and inability to see righteousness, and this is bound up with inheriting the land (Dt. 16:19). If justice is particularly for the protection of the poor, then “offerings/bribes” can describe the ways that the rich steal justice from the poor and the defenseless. Even if these “offerings” are not all bribes, the proverb could be pointing out that even virtues must be prioritized.

The description of “tearing down” the kingdom suggests martial imagery. The king is either attacking and throwing down his own land or allowing others within the kingdom to seriously compromise its stability.

Waltke points out that 29:5-6 both employ hunting imagery to describe different kinds of deceitfulness.

29:5: “A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet.”
This man is a “strong man” and a hunter and at first glance it is not clear whether he is catching the feet of his friend in the net or his own feet. He is literally “smooth/slippery” with his friend. He uses smooth words and flattery to lull the victim into a sense of false security. As a “strong man” he ought to be protecting the weak, but instead he is using his strength to exploit. This may be thematically related to the previous proverb with regard to justice for the poor.

Another related meaning of the word for “flatter/be smooth” is “to divide up/apportion” which suggests that this “strong man” is conquering and plundering his neighbor. This man apparently thinks that he is setting a net for his friend, but the following proverb makes it clear that he is actually setting a net for his own feet.
Rather than the usual word for feet/legs, literally the proverb says that the net is spread for his “footsteps,” suggesting even more hunting, stalking imagery. The deception is like a hunter moving through the forest incognito aiming to kill and plunder. But all the stealth will ultimately backfire.

29:6: “By transgression an evil man is snared, but the righteous sings and rejoices.”
Here the contrast is between an “evil man” and the “righteous.” The “righteous” is like the king who causes his land to stand up through “justice” in 29:4, and he rejoices like the father of a son who loves wisdom in 29:3 (cf. 29:2).

While the “transgression” is not specified, the result of being snared fits with 29:5 and suggests some kind of deception. His own action is the cause of his being snared. The word can also mean “bait” or “lure” which underlines what was probably an attractive pursuit at first.

In a positive sense, Moses was described by the Egyptians as a “snare” who was causing the downfall of Egypt. Likewise, those who worship idols in Israel are described as “snares” which will cause Israel to perish from the land (Ex. 23:33, 34:12, Dt. 7:16, Josh. 23:13). This connects back with the king who either establishes his land or tears it down. Various forms of idolatry are a sure way to tear down a nation.

The verb for “sings” means to shout out loud or even sing. It might suggest being rescued or barely avoiding various snares. The righteous do not fall into the traps all around them, and they rejoice in deliverance and protection. They are full of thankfulness and recognize the mercy that surrounds them. Righteousness is always a gift of grace.

29:7: “The righteous considers the cause of the poor, but the wicked does not understand such knowledge.”

We have suggested that protection of the poor and careful use of wealth and strength stands behind several of the previous proverbs, and this proverb seems to make that explicit. Here the righteous literally “know/learns the judgment of the poor.” This may mean studying the situation of the poor, but it is the mark of the righteous man and presumably the righteous man with means and ability and strength to do something about it. But the wicked man does not understand this knowledge. He doesn’t understand why this matters.

On the other hand this may also be a more general statement about authority and responsibility. Those in authority have the responsibility to know the weakest members of their kingdom, and when they act wisely this is righteousness. Whereas there are plenty of fools with good intentions who crush the poor with their economic policies and programs which amounts to wickedness.

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