Wisdom Literature Series

We just started our summer series on wisdom literature with an introduction to the book of Proverbs. In preparation for teaching/preaching this book Paul sent me an article to read that has truly whet my appetite for consuming words of wisdom. I'm going to post a section to capture your interest too, but before I do, here are a couple thoughts I have for you today.

First, read a chapter of Proverbs a day with us for the month of July. As you read, let one verse jump out at you. See if you can memorize it and chew on it for the day. I think you will be encouraged!

Second, share what you've learned. Blog, email, go out with a friend, and tell someone how a proverb (God's word) has impacted you.

So, here's a little chunk of what I read today by Ellen F. Davis, Professor at Duke Divinity. Let's go deep in God and deep in culture.

Do your preparatory work outside,
and get things ready in the field for yourself;
then afterwards, you can build your house. (Prov 24:27)

In our contemporary setting, the best way to interpret that proverb, along with the
short narrative that follows (Prov 24:30-34), about the derelict farm of the "slothful man," is not as advice or instruction to individual farmers. Rather, these passages should inform a theological critique of our urban-dominated industrial economy, which has colonized rural communities in North America and around the world. The sages' notion that the field takes priority over the house made perfect sense to a society of small farmers, such as ancient Israel, where everyone knew that settled life depends immediately on care of the land as the source of food and fiber. That reality has not changed, but only our understanding of it. Therefore we North Americans are content to build developments of "McMansions," with infertile, chemically dependent lawns, where productive family farms used to be. We allow skilled farmers to go bankrupt—and in many countries around the world, to starve—while the land is worked, but not cared for, by multinational corporations whose sole goal is short-term profit. We are willing to let our fresh water sources be poisoned by chemical run-off, our rivers and aquifers be pumped far beyond replacement levels, our bays and gulfs be choked into a ring of dead zones around the world. These teachings of the sages speak to our captivity of the natural systems that sustain our life. They now rank among the first of the "vulnerable" whose cry we must learn to hear. Norman Wirzba draws the connection between industrial society's life-destroying commitment to consumerism and our widespread willingness to practice such abuse of people—not to mention factory farmed animals—and living systems: When we are reduced to shoppers who never see the connection between food and habitat, or human health and soil vitality, it is unsurprising that as eaters we will compromise the sources of food and not see the contradiction in this act. Our collective blindness and ignorance is a slow form of suicide that will only be corrected as we recover what it means to be biological beings dependent on a geo-bio-chemical world.

If you want more, and something related to women (Proverbs 31), read on!

...the book of Proverbs concludes with the portrait of a person who has made that choice, the "woman of valor”; the now-common translation, "a capable wife" (NRSV, NIPS), is woefully inadequate. This is the longest admiring description of any ordinary person—that is, not Moses or Jesus or Paul—in the entire Bible. The woman is described in heroic, even fierce terms: she is like a lioness bringing home "prey" (teref, v. 15), or a soldier girding for battle (v. 17) and bringing home the "spoils" (salai, v.l 1). She is even like God, clothed in "strength and splendor" (v. 25). Yet the scene of all her action is the household and the local community, which she builds up and makes more secure by her work. She does the concrete work of wisdom in her neighborhood: her hands are stretched out to the poor (v. 20); she cares for her land and makes it prosper (v. 16). Her words are characterized by hesed (v. 26), the glue of mutual commitment that binds together the members of the covenanted community. This is an iconic portrait, a holy and vivid image of the kind of life that all the teaching of the sages is meant to inspire. But we miss the point if we dismiss it (as did one preacher in my hearing) as a picture of a submissive housebound woman, a throwback to another age with no constructive challenge to address to our own. The woman of valor is a source of security for her husband (v. 11) and strength for her whole community. If the word "submissive" can be applied to her at all, it would be only to denote her proper humility before God (v. 30).