Reflection: Proverbs 1 – 9
Journeying through life, we are inured to making up our minds independently. At times, this blindness towards our own self-sufficiency and complacency can be potentially destructive (1:32). Would it take a catastrophe to drive us into the arms of Wisdom? The source of wisdom is God (1:7; 2:6-7; Jam 1:5), and ‘the father’ in Proverbs spared no words to inform us that if we desire to live faithfully and fruitfully, we would heed his advice. Written principally by King Solomon (1:1), Proverbs is a Hebraic book of wisdom poetry, sprinkled with riddles and an assortment of literary devices employed to reinforce important viewpoints (1:6). There are two Collections in the book. The first nine chapters forms the First Collection, and it opens up a scenario of a father counseling his son, as the young man faces a battle over his heart and mind on several fronts. These truths are communicated through the personified Peer Group, Mrs Promiscuous, Madam Folly, and Lady Wisdom: each given a voice to dramatize the effect of their particular spoken words.
As the head of his house, the father does not mince his words, as he honestly shared with his son from his wealth of worldly experiences. His words were plainly understood and his purposes clear (1:8-9). In fact, his insight and conviction were well evidenced from his discriminating interpretation firstly, of his son’s struggles over peer invitations from an unscrupulous ‘get-rich-quick’ gang (1:10-19). Further, his understanding of this son’s temptations drove him to major on the warnings of promiscuity (2:16-19; 5:3-123; 6:24-29, 32-35; 7:4-27). This exemplary father was wisely perceptive and knew exactly what was happening to his son.
The son’s peers invited him to join them in a questionable wealth acquisition venture, “Think of the great things we will get! We will fill our houses with all the stuff. Come, throw in your lot with us, we will all share the loot” (1:13-14). How his father came to hear of it was not mentioned, but he opened up Pandora’s Box – their entrapment and murderous plans – to his son (1:15-18). It is no simple task within a tight peer group to swim against the tide! And that is exactly what his father advocated him to do, drawing his attention to the deceptive and horrendous nature of employing violence to enrich oneself (1:19); and implying that despite his son’s royal standing, as his father and king, he would side with the law (1:18-19).
Mrs Promiscuous’ potency was in her seductive words (2:16; 5:3; 6:24) and aggressive focus in luring naïve young men to her home. In her husband’s absence, her speech was provocative, brazenly immoral, and full of illicit sexual overtones (7:19), and anyone caught soliciting with her by her husband or the law, would be shamed, and certainly face death (7:22-27). The father proffered a God-honoring alternative, and encouraged his son to find love within a secure faithful marital relationship in his wife (5:15-20), and to desist from Mrs Promiscuous’ influence.
Insensitive to how others would experience her, Madam Folly sounded garish and rude. Although she was not as deceptively smooth as Mrs Promiscuous, nor was she as guileless as Lady Wisdom, she nevertheless attracted simple young men who were ready to compromise their integrity in exploring the excitement of stolen and forbidden provisions (9:17). Unlike Lady Wisdom, who invited the simple to eat and drink with her in order to learn from her good judgment (9:4-6), Madam Folly’s invitation was a fatal attraction (9:18).
Wisdom was personified as a female voice, and her speeches were scattered throughout this Collection. Her corroboration with the father appeared to be mutual, as she reinforced his advice following the gang’s inducement (1:20-33), while the father encouraged his son to “tune your ears to wisdom… wise choices will watch over you. Understanding will keep you safe,” and she was “more profitable than silver, and her wages are better than gold… and nothing you desire can compare with her (2:2-12,16; 3:14-15). She spoke truthfully and forthrightly, and the remarkable mode of her operation was that often, it was the enquirer who initiated the process of seeking her out and listening to her, as she would not force herself on anyone (2:4-5;James 1:5). Furthermore, Lady Wisdom was intimately coupled with ‘the fear of the Lord’ (1:7; 2:4-5; 8:12-13; 9:10).
Although the Collection may have been couched as instructions to young men in his kingdom, it would not be unreasonable to position these wise quotes and counsel as possible actual interactions with his adult children. Despite his own failings, Solomon exemplifies for us a dedicated father’s concern for the welfare and safety of his children, including the sort of company they keep. Read in that light, Proverbs becomes a-must-read manual for adults as exemplars, and parents who have the best interests of their children at heart.