Saturday, December 03, 2005

Proverbial Wisdom

Having completed our study of Ruth, tomorrow our Sunday morning Bible study is about to launch into Proverbs, at the request of a parishioner no less! Wisdom literature presents certain challenges for the study leader, but preparing for this class was a joy, proving the old maxim that the teacher learns as much as the student.

What did I learn? A proverb or wise saying, is called in Hebrew a māsāl, משל, which has its root meaning in offering direction or a rule. The godly person's life is marked by obedience, prudence, increasing knowledge, and most importantly, by godliness. The key to Proverbs is that only a spiritual person will desire wisdom, and only a Spirit-filled person will comprehend God's wisdom and take delight in it. "But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14). Only someone who is graced with a reverent awe of God will begin to grow in wisdom and knowledge (Proverbs 1:7). All too often people have separated this relationship between sanctification and wisdom, resulting in a Christian moralism of no salvific value. Indeed, trying to live according to Proverbs without the Holy Spirit is an exercise in extreme frustration. It is why so many leave the church without ever really experiencing the new life.

In the course of my preparation I ran into two interesting quotes from the Church Fathers. The first is from St Hippolytus (d. 236):

"Proverbs, therefore, are words of exhortation serviceable for the whole path of life; for to those who seek their way to God, these serve as guides and signs to revive them when wearied by the length of the road. These, moreover, are the proverbs of “Solomon,” that is to say, the “peacemaker,” who in truth, is Christ the Savior…One who knows the wisdom of God receives from him also instruction and learns by it the mysteries of the Word; and they who know the true heavenly wisdom will easily understand the words of these mysteries. Wherefore he says, 'To understand the difficulties of words,” for things spoken in strange language by the Holy Spirit become intelligible to those who have their hearts right with God.'"
- ANF, 5:172

Hippolytus offers a typically Patristic connection between what was written by Solomon and with the Word, who is Christ. In this age when the Bible is subject to hermeneutics of suspicion, it's refreshing to be reminded of the true authorship of Proverbs, and how they find their fullness and perfection only in Christ.

A second, more cryptic quote comes from Evagrius of Pontus (345-399), whose own book of proverbs, Ad Monachos I have on my "wish list."

"A proverb is a saying that, under the guise of physical things, signifies intelligible things.”
- Scholia on Proverbs 1.1.

I take Evagrius to mean that like a parable, a proverb holds a spiritual nugget within, and rewards the believer with the wisdom of God, which is the mind of Christ. Alas for poor Solomon, whose wisdom failed him when he pursued the idols of his many wives!

{illustration: "King Solomon," by Barry Moser}


Blogger prader said...

Thanks for sharing the insights. First attracted to the Word via the wisdom books, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Have always loved words, too. Keep up the good work!

10:11 PM  

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