When we explore the next several units and subunits of the first half of Solomon II, we find that they continue to be highly structured and interlocked using the janus feature. A janus just simply is a device where the first half of the verse points back to the previous section and the second half points forward to the section that follows. Chiastic inclusio does appear in one, but unlike the first unit of Solomon II this is not an all-encompassing device throughout these units and subunits. Nevertheless, it is clear that these proverbs are knitted together into units and even subdivided into subunits and that this helps us to understand the lesson of these proverbs. As we have seen throughout the book, a proverb does not stand alone. On the contrary, there is a bigger point being made by the proverbs in any given unit or subunit. Waltke’s observations and outlines are incredibly helpful for the reader to see this, which then make preaching the book a whole lot easier than just preaching verse by verse. By far the most interesting in this regard is the unit where we find the admonitions about answering a fool according to his folly or not answering a fool according to his folly.
The next unit is Proverbs 25:28-26:28. The last verse of Proverbs 25 serves as a janus linking the first unit with this second one. At the end of the previous unit the verses had given us the metaphor in the first half and then the topic in the second half. Proverbs 25:28 continues this pattern, thus linking it with the preceding unit. It also is linked because of the theme of fools not having self-control (recall the pivotal verse: Proverbs 12:16). But Proverbs 25:28 is linked to the text that follows because its theme is the same as what we will find in this second unit. The verse reads: ”A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.”
The verses that follow continue the pattern of a metaphor followed by the topic. ”Like snow in summer or rain in harvest, so honor is not fitting for a fool” (Proverbs 26:1).
Proverbs 26:1-3 is an introduction to this unit with the theme stated negatively in the first verse, then the second verse stated by contrast but also negatively, and then the theme stated positively in verse 3. Thus in verse one honor (good) is wrongly given to a fool (bad), in verse two a curse (bad) is wrongly given to an innocent person (good), and in verse three we finally see a rod (bad) is rightly given to a fool (bad).
Then Proverbs 26:4-5 transition us from that introduction to the body of the unit. These are two admonitions concerning correcting a fool. ”Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” These verses we have mentioned before because they invite the reader to ask: ”Which is it?” Do I answer a fool according to his folly or do I not answer a fool according to his folly. Many will argue that these two proverbs are relative to the situation. And they will say that it requires wisdom to know which applies and how. I have much sympathy with that argument. But note the way that Waltke understands them. He would say that the son should not respond to the fool’s insult with another insult – i.e., should not lower himself to the fool’s level – but the son should respond in a way that the foolishness of the fool is clear. He suggests that we consider how to overcome evil with good (cf. Proverbs 25:21-22). Thus Waltke says, ”Both proverbs are absolutes and applicable at the same time.” It is at least worth it for us to ponder whether this might be the case at least with this example, if not more generally.
Proverbs 26:6-10 then form a chiasm, as Waltke cites Duane Garrett:
Thus at the center of the chiasm is this theme of the unit stated negatively and following the pattern of metaphor then topic: ”Like one who binds the stone in the sling is one who gives honor to a fool” (Proverbs 26:8).
The next two verses are then the conclusion to the unit: Proverbs 26:11-12. These two verses show us the benefit of disciplining the fool. The fool just keeps going back to his foolishness – ”Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly” (Proverbs 26:11). He does not learn from his mistakes. Thus this cycle needs to be stopped – by discipline. And then Proverbs 26:12 reads, ”Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” Now we see some hope for discipline to bring the fool to his senses. You will remember that this was the reason to answer a fool according to his folly: ”lest he be wise in his own eyes” (Proverbs 26:5). This discipline will involve the rod (Prov 26:3) and a verbal answer (Prov 26:5).
The next poem serves to do something similar regarding the sluggard. The topic of the sluggard came up in part four (Proverbs 24:30-34) but also earlier in the book (Proverbs 6:6-11). One thing uniting these proverbs is the keyword ”sluggard” in each verse. And Proverbs 26:16 serves to end the unit in the same way that Proverbs 26:12 did the previous one. The opening and closing verses of this unit suggest that the problem with the sluggard is internal. The opening verse suggesting that the sluggard’s fears are irrational and the closing verse that the sluggard is suffering from an illusion that he is wise compared to others.
The poem is a thorough satire concerning the sluggard – he cannot get out of bed or lift food to his mouth.
Proverbs 26:12 then serves as a janus linking the proverbs concerning the fool to the proverbs concerning the sluggard. The sluggard has less hope than the fool – perhaps even no hope since he is so deluded. Thus the great importance of discipline before the fool becomes wise in his own eyes.
The next subunit (Proverbs 26:17-28) covers four types of antisocial people who cause problems. With each type the damage escalates. Note also the pattern of pairs and single verses: A (v.17), B (v.18-19), B (v.20-21), A (v.22), A (v.23), B (v.24-25), B (v.26-27), A (v.28). Thus also there are four triplets as reflecting above: AB, BA, AB, BA.
Proverbs 26:17 begins with the busybody or meddler who hurts himself. Note that the dog was not domesticated in Israel. Thus Proverbs is teaching us to avoid inserting ourselves into the disputes of others. This is grouped together with the ”mischief maker” as Waltke terms him (Proverbs 26:18-19). The mischief maker is worse than a madman (see the metaphor in v.18).
Next comes the slanderer who destroys the community. As Waltke explains it, ”He sustains the strife (v.20), inflames it (v.21), and transforms the society into his own image (v.22).” Fire links verses 20 and 21. Verse 22 was also found in Proverbs 18:8. Verse 22 also prepares us to move to the next tricolon.
Then Proverbs 26:23-28 tells us about the hateful enemy. This ratchets things up even more. Proverbs 26:23-25 tell us about his deception and then Proverbs 26:26-28 tell us about his destruction. More precisely, verse 26 is a janus with the first half looking back and the second half looking forward.
The next unit is Proverbs 27:1-22 concerning friends and friendship. It is the fifth of seven units in Solomon II. The word ”praise” forms an inclusio marking this unit off – Proverbs 27:1 and 27:21. Verse 22 is a janus linking this unit to the one that follows. The fact that there are twenty two verses here, which is the same as usually found in the Hebrew alphabet, suggests that what we find here is a comprehensive treatment of the subject of friends and friendship. Common synonymns in the unit are ‘friend,’ ‘neighbor,’ and ‘next-door neighbor.’
The text is easily divided into two halves of ten verses (v.1-10 and 11-21). It is an educational proverb pair that marks the seam between the two halves – Proverbs 27:11-12. ”Be wise, my son, and make my heart glad…” Both Proverbs 27:10 and 27:22 are tricolons – ending the two halves (cf. also Proverbs 27:27).
Moreover, Waltke also argues that both follow an alternating structural pattern – ABC, A’B’C’ covering to whom the son should listen (A, A’), impossible relationships (B, B’), and then ending with teachings concerning friendship that are positive (C, C’). The text is divided as follows: A is 1-2, B is 3-4, C is 5-10, A’ is 11-12, B’ is 13-16, and C’ is 17-21. Note how this one too ratchets things up from listening to friends who can remain objective to listening to parents. Also from not having relationships with fools, the angry and jealous to the wicked, hypocrite, and shrew. These words are Waltke’s descriptors.
There is one more, much shorter, unit in the first half of Solomon II. It is Proverbs 27:23-27. It also marks a transition to the next half. The second half of Solomon II is all one unit. We shall look at these next time.