In this post we will explore the structure of the rest of the second half of the second part of Proverbs. After laying out the units, we will quote the educational or rearing proverbs that open each one, and then we will proceed through each unit with some observations. I have followed Waltke’s commentary closely in this regard, having found nothing to disagree with — it fits the approach that we have seen works throughout the Old Testament. It is not an approach that most preachers follow today — after all, when you usually hear a sermon from Proverbs it is either a sermon on one individual proverb or upon selected proverbs all dealing with the same topic. These sermons can be quite helpful and Biblical. Yet the author(s) of Proverbs give us something with which we can do far more…and it is superb poetic literature.
The units of text remaining in the second half of the second part of Proverbs are as follows:
The Education Proverbs
Proverbs 18:1-3 begins, ”Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. When wickedness comes, contempt comes also, and with dishonor comes disgrace.”
Proverbs 18:22 says, ”He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from YHWH.”
Proverbs 19:23 says, ”The fear of YHWH leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied, he will not be visited by harm” (serves as a janus completing the previous unit and the introductory educational proverb for the unit that follows).
Proverbs 20:12-13 is a quatrain of education (or rearing) proverbs: ”The hearing ear and the seeing eye, YHWH has made them both. Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread.”
Proverbs 20:20-21 likewise says, ”If one curses his father or his mother, his lamp will be put out in utter darkness. An inheritance gained hastily at the beginning will not be blessed in the end.”
Proverbs 20:29-30 is our next rearing proverb: ”The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair. Blows that wound cleanse away evil; strokes make clean the innermost parts.”
And the last one begins, ”A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold” (Prov 22:1).
Waltke tells us that there are two subunits in this unit. The first deals with ”the antisocial speech of fools” (Proverbs 18:1-11). The second deals with ”the reconciling speech of the wise” (Proverbs 18:12-21). He notes that Proverbs 18:12 actually serves as a janus linking the two halves. It says, ”Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.”
Note how differently Proverbs approaches this topic here than it would have if found in the first half of Solomon I. There it would have been almost all antithetical proverbs contrasting the fool and the wise. Here the only antithetical proverb in the first subunit is Proverbs 18:5, the rest are synthetic. The next antithetical proverb is the janus.
This next unit as Waltke explains it deals with wealth and poverty both in the home and in the king’s court. We have already noted the heavy emphasis on the king in the second half of the second part of Proverbs.
The idea of ‘finding good’ links the first two subunits, which begin with Proverbs 18:22 and 19:8 respectively. The former we quoted earlier about the wife. The third subunit of this unit begins with Proverbs 19:16. It has been observed that the introductions of the last two subunits (Proverbs 19:8 and 19:16) form a chiasm. One who despises is contrasted with one who gets. One who keeps understanding is likened unto the one who keeps a commandment. Thus the intro to the first subunit is linked to the intro of the second subunit, which in turn is linked like a chain to the intro of the third subunit.
The unit ends fittingly, ”The fear of YHWH leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm” (Proverbs 19:23). This forms an inclusio with Proverbs 19:16 and is a fitting way to end the subunit and unit. As we noted earlier, this verse also serves as the introduction to the next unit.
Waltke describes the first subunit of this new unit as a ”catalogue of fools and their punishment” (Proverbs 19:23-20:1). As the catalogue continues it escalates – read the verses and see this. The second subunit has to do with the king removing fools from the kingdom (Proverbs 20:2-11).
Waltke says that the education proverbs that open this one also is a janus from the previous unit to this unit. Thus the body of this unit is Proverbs 20:14-17 and verses 18-19 form a conclusion to the unit. A cursory look at the verses shows the obvious topic of the unit is speech and the marketplace.
Waltke sums up this unit with the following heading: ”Trusting the LORD to Avenge Wrongs through His Wise King.” After the education proverbs introducing the unit (fitting that they are about honoring father and mother, this commandment applies to the relationship with the king too), Proverbs 20:22-25 is the body and the rest of the passage the conclusion to the unit.
Proverbs 20:29-21:31 – The main intro of this one begins with ”A stream of water is the king’s heart in the hand of YHWH, He turns it wherever He will.” As Waltke explains it, ”The theme of trusting the LORD, not self, to avenge wrongs against oneself (20:19-28), which drew to a conclusion with the motif that the king will protect the needy, is now qualified by a unit on doing righteousness and justice, which is framed with another focus on the LORD and his king. The new unit follows the pattern of an introduction (20:29-21:2), a main body (21:3-29), and a conclusion (21:30-31). The proverb I quoted a moment ago and the next one form an inclusio with the concluding pair of proverbs.
Again the theme in this has to do with the rule of God and the rule of the king. Interestingly, Waltke says, ”The startling and unexpected transitional verses about the dangers of the contentious wife (vv.9, 19), which divide the main body into its subunits, hit like hammer blows the need of having a wise wife.”
Proverbs 22:1-16 is the final unit in this part of Proverbs. It concerns, as Waltke titles it, ”Wealth and Moral Instruction.” This has been a theme we have seen before in this part. V.1-9 concern YHWH’s rule over wealth and then v.10-16 have to do with the moral instruction regarding wealth. The concluding verses of this unit form an inclusio with the opening ones.