In the last post, we explored two speeches by the father. It has been said that there are a total of ten speeches by the father. This number is hardly an accident given the significance of the number ten in Scripture. Our approach here will be to continue with a detailed treatment of speeches three and four and then to say less about each speech thereafter. The reason for this method is to show you that those things that we have been saying about reading earlier Scriptures are still true — look for chiasms, alternating structures, inclusios, repeated phrases or similar heading phrases, and more. So instead of a detailed treatment of every speech we will give you some orienting thoughts about the content of them, things to look for, or a summary of the main idea. And you can then explore each in more depth. We also will raise some important questions about Proverbs in reflection on these things that you will find helpful to ponder.
The first of the father’s speeches began: ”Hear, my son, your father’s instruction…” (Proverbs 1:8). The second began: ”My son, if you will receive my words…” (Proverbs 2:1). And the third begins, likewise, ”My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments…” (Proverbs 3:1). Actually, if you look at the rest of Proverbs 1:8 and Proverbs 2:1 you will see even more in common with Proverbs 3:1. These are the kinds of things one will find in the heading phrases of each of the ten speeches as we will see.
Regarding Proverbs 3:1 — To repeat observations made in the last post that remain true for things said in the third speech let me say: First it is important that to ”not forget” the father’s teaching means to obey/do it and second that this father is an ideal father, who imitates God the Father.
To this is appended a reason: ”for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you” (Proverbs 3:2). How can the father make such a promise? Well, we can go so far as to say that the source for the father’s commands is the Torah and the promises of reward and blessing are likewise dependent on the promises of God in the Torah. Thus this speech alternates between the duty of the son (in the odd verses) and the promise of God (in the even verses).
And the duty of the son is not simply outward obedience but from the heart: ”let your heart keep my commandments” (3:1); ”write them on the tablet of your heart” (3:3); ”trust in YHWH with all your heart” (3:5); ”fear YHWH” (3:7); ”honor YHWH” (3:9); ”do not despise YHWH’s discipline or be weary of His reproof” (3:11).
The only duty listed here that involves a specific action named is verse 9: ”Honor YHWH with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce.” To this we should add that the duty and promise in each are natural pairs. Thus the promise of verse 10 is, ”then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.”
Notice that the focus of all of these verses is on what we might call ”religion” (relationship with God): ”trust in YHWH,” ”fear YHWH,” ”honor YHWH.”
The speech uses reference to ”my son” as a form of inclusio to mark the opening and closing stanzas. ”My son, do not forget my teaching;” (Prov 3:1); ”My son, do not despise YHWH’s discipline…” (Prov 3:12). And while the opening stanza focuses on the father’s teaching, the closing stanza focuses on YHWH’s discipline. Still YHWH’s discipline is compared to a father reproving a beloved son. And both the opening and closing stanzas explicitly give us the reasons (”for”) for doing or not doing the thing advised.
Let me note then Proverbs 3:3-4 give us typical wisdom emphases: ”Let not loyal-love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.” The loyal-love and faithfulness in view is God’s.
Proverbs 3:6-7 should sound familiar: ”Trust in YHWH with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.” Technically the first part of verse six belongs with the previous duty. But the promise flows right out of the metaphor – ways to paths.
The remaining stanza that we have not said much concerning says, ”Be not wise in your own eyes; fear YHWH, and turn away from evil,” and the promise is that of health.
(Note that given the inclusio of this speech it is possible that one is supposed to see a loose chiasm as the organizing structure of the speech.)
So in these stanzas we see God’s promises of safety, health and wealth. Nevertheless, keep in mind Job. So what do you think? Does Proverbs promise too much?
The second half of Proverbs 3 is a fourth wisdom speech by the father. Waltke tells us that this lecture is the combination of what was once four separate poems (Proverbs 3:13-18, 19-20, 21-26, 27-35). This is why the normally introductory ”my son” is delayed to verse 21 – the text before it is an extended introduction.
The father holds up the value of wisdom in the first three poems of this wisdom speech. The first poem concerns the value of wisdom to a person (Hebrew adam). The second poem concerns the value of wisdom to YHWH as creator. And in the third the father turns and tells the son how much wisdom is worth to this son.
The first poem (Prov 3:13-18) opens and closes (an inclusio) with ”blessed.” It is a poem in the form of a beatitude (”blessed is the man who…”). ”She (wisdom) is more precious than jewels, & nothing you desire can compare with her” (Prov 3:15). Note the parallelism. The first line is not merely repeated in the second but it goes a step further. ”She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her and those who hold her fast are called blessed” (Prov 3:18).
The first poem had mentioned the tree of life associated with creation. Now the second poem (Prov 3:19-20) shows the value of wisdom to YHWH as creator. ”YHWH by wisdom founded the earth…”
Then the speech turns to formally address the son with a third poem (Prov 3:21-26). The opening verse mentions wisdom words: ”wisdom,” and ”discretion.” And the speech is full of wisdom’s promises including the end: ”for YHWH will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.”
The third poem is tied to the fourth in that the conclusion of the third poem followed the pattern, ”do not…for…” and the fourth poem (Prov 3:27-35) continues this pattern. The fourth poem tells the son his covenant duties with regard to his neighbors. The first half gives several ”do not” statements and the second half tells us why opening ”for…”
Proverbs 4:1-9 is a fifth speech by the father. It begins as expected, ”Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction…” (Prov 4:1). It is a speech showing that wisdom is the family heritage – he teaches the same lesson that his father had taught him. He says, ”The beginning of wisdom is (this), get wisdom” (Prov 4:7). Sure sounds like a circular proposition.
Proverbs 4:10-19 is a sixth speech by the father opening again as expected: ”Hear, my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many.” The key theme in the speech is way/path. It stresses staying off of the wrong path. But both ways/paths are mentioned.
Proverbs 4:20-27 is the seventh speech by the father to his son opening as expected, ”My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings.” It also uses the theme word of the previous lecture ”path.” Much of this speech says things we have heard before, but it does mention specifically the son’s words – ”put away from you crooked speech…” (note the continuing path metaphor with ”crooked”). If the last speech highlighted staying off the wrong path, this one seems to emphasize staying on the right one.
Proverbs 5 is the eighth lecture by the father to his son opening again as expected, ”My son, pay attention to my wisdom; turn your ear to my words of understanding…” with the second verse using the wisdom words of ”discretion,” and ”knowledge.” This one concerns the folly of adultery and the wisdom of marriage (as Waltke helpfully titles it). It has the famous line: ”Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well” (Prov 5:15). It also says, ”let her breasts fill you at all times with delight, be intoxicated always in her love” (Prov 5:19).
The obvious question is: Are we still talking about woman wisdom or are we talking about marriage? No wonder people are unclear how to read Song of Songs.
The issue one faces is that both can be true at the same time. After all, it is wisdom to find this kind of satisfaction only in your wife and not in adultery. But then again one can only find true satisfaction in relationship with God/wisdom. So are we talking about woman wisdom, marriage, or both?
The way that Waltke counts ten lectures by the father to his son is to consider Proverbs 6:1-19 an appendix. It does begin by saying, ”my son,” but none of the normal accompanying phrases. Waltke calls this section: ”Three inferior types of men.” This section includes discussion of the sluggard and ants. Numbers are important: i.e., the catalogue of seven abominations to YHWH.
Proverbs 6:20-35 is a ninth lecture. Waltke calls this one, ”the high price of an unchaste wife.” It begins as expected, ”Guard, my son, your father’s commandment, and do not let go of your mother’s teaching” (Prov 6:20, Waltke).
Proverbs 7 is the tenth lecture. Waltke calls this one, ”the unchaste wife’s seductive tactics.” He translates the opening of this one: ”My son, keep my sayings, and my commands store up with you;”
In this lecture the author indicates that woman wisdom and woman folly are in view.
In Proverbs 8 we will again hear from woman wisdom. Perhaps then the earlier speeches were also about woman wisdom (?).
One question to leave you pondering these things more: Why does the book of Proverbs begin with these speeches? How do these speeches introduce those pithy sayings that we think of when we think of a proverb?