I am about 11 chapters into Proverbs (as part of my devotional reading), and thought I’d share a few verses (and maybe some commentary) that has particularly struck me thus far.
First of all, I’m reading from The Wesley Study Bible, published by Abingdon, and am struck by some of the notes down in the margins. One of the early notes that I found insightful has to do with the phrase “fear of the Lord.” I’ve often heard this phrase before, and have generally heard it dismissed as primarily referring to awe and respect in God’s presence (though also referring to a degree of real human fear when faced with the supernatural, as God and angels regularly have to say “do not be afraid”). The notations suggest that, in different contexts in the Old Testament “fear of the Lord” suggests different attitudes:
In Prov 1:7 (and in 2:5; 9:10; 15:33; 31:30), the fear of the Lord refers to moral obedience, the acknowledgment that everything worth knowing and all moral guidance comes from God. Elsewhere in the OT the fear of the Lord refers to the trembling of the human being in the presence of the divine (Isa 6) and the covenant loyalty the nation needs to show the Lord (Deut 10:20)….
I’m choosing to use this definition of “fear of the Lord” as a foundation for reading through the Proverbs, and it becomes influential in understanding them. When we think of it as “moral obedience” as well as “acknowledgment that everything worth knowing and all moral guidance comes from God,” it influences how we read some Proverbs (such as one below!).
Second, in the process of reading, I’ve tried some lectio divina with particular pericopes. The following are two phrases from Proverbs that I tried to prayerfully repeat and reflect on during the day I read them:
Happy are those who find wisdom…
Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.
(Proverbs 3:13a, 17)
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
“Wisdom” is a word the encompasses so much. It involves the practical decision-making of our daily lives. In Proverbs it is anthropomorphised as Woman Wisdom (aka Sophia), one who seeks to lead individuals with a combination of righteousness and humility. Wisdom involves the discipline of our appetites, and a life of wisdom is characterized
by the fair treatment of others, the avoidance of fools, fidelity to one’s relationships, industriousness, respect for the poor, restraint in one’s speech, and control of one’s temper and appetites.
The first of the two verses I reflected on this past week promise that wisdom leads to happiness (and, for Wesley, happiness was part and parcel with holiness, but that may be a different reflection!). And the beginning of wisdom? “Fear of the Lord,” aka the humble recognition that all things worth knowing, and all moral guidance worth accepting, begin with and come from God! There is great hope mixed in with the attainment of – or yearning for – wisdom: happiness. God-inspired contentment and joy!
And yet… there is a good word of warning about motive in the Wesley Study Bible’s notes of a later chapter. They share that “devotion to God… ought to be our motivation for seeking wisdom, not good results.” Our search and longing for wisdom ought to arise out of a heart attuned toward God, not out of hope for results! (I have to admit to a degree of wrongful motivations, I suppose. Although I would hope my primary motivation in turning to Proverbs this past week is devotion to God, I will readily admit [confess?] that I also hope that prayerful reflection on these will help lead me toward a more calm, more wise, and more controlled attitude [such as described above]. Home life with an infant and toddler seems to entail a great degree of chaos, and I recognize the need for there to be a calming influence amid the fray!)
In addition to these few thoughts from the past week, the following proverbs caught my eye (to different degrees) this morning:
The wise of heart will heed commandments,
but a babbling fool will come to ruin. (10:8)
Whoever walks in integrity walks securely,
but whoever follows perverse ways will be found out. (10:9)
Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life,
but one who rejects a rebuke goes astray. (10:17)
Whoever belittles another lacks sense,
but an intelligent person remains silent. (11:12)
Where there is no guidance, a nation falls,
but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. (11:14)
A generous person will be enriched,
and one who gives water will get water. (11:25)
So, faithful reader, does one of these particular proverbs strike you with some bolt of insight? (Or perhaps a stab of conscience?)