Biblical References: Proverbs 1-3
Leading Question: “Go to the ant thou sluggard, consider her ways and be wise” (Prov. 6:6). What does the Holy Spirit have to do with a proverb like that?
The book of Proverbs is full of clever observations, many attributed to Solomon, but some to other wise men. Nothing in the book suggests that these nuggets of wisdom came from visions or voices directly from God. They appear simply to be clever statements from clever people. Are they inspired? That is what both Jews and Christians have maintained. In fact, if one looks carefully at the Bible, it is clear that its contents have come by a mix of three ways:
1) Visions or voices, that is by way of “special” revelation. Daniel and Revelation would be the most obvious examples from the Bible.
2) Research. Passages like 1 Chronicles 29:29 and Luke 1:1-4 suggest that part of the Bible came to us as a result of research on the part of the inspired writers.
3) Personal experience. The New Testament book of 1 Corinthians clearly states that the content was not triggered by visions and supernatural voices but by rumors passed on to Paul by the house of Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11). Similarly, the proverbs seem to come by way of human observation and are then put into words by a clever wordsmith.
The church has always claimed that the book is “inspired” even if there are no bells and whistles announcing visions and revelations. Still, the result has been claimed as the work of the Spirit, even though the role of the Spirit is not revealed in any tangible form in the book itself. Believers hold the book to be canonical and inspired by the Holy Spirit, even though it says nothing about visions or voices heard from on high. I suspect that we have been led astray by frequent references to the Bible as “God’s revealed word,” a phrase that implies that the whole Bible came by way of visions or revelation. The book of Proverbs can help counteract that impression.
But it has not been easy for the church to recognize the obvious signs of human activity in the book. At mid-century, the SDA Bible Commentary did not say clearly that the book is obviously a compilation of compilations. At first glance, the statement in 1:1 that these are proverbs of Solomon could easily be taken to refer to the entire book. But 10:1 introduces another collection (“The Proverbs of Solomon”) and 25:1 declares that the men of Hezekiah compiled additional proverbs. Hezekiah lived some 250 years after Solomon’s day. Remarkably, our official study guide states without qualification that Agur, the named author of Proverbs 30, was a non-Israelite. In 1954, when the third volume of the SDA Bible Commentary was published with its comments on Proverbs, that was not the case. The SDABC suggested that Agur was simply another name for Solomon.
These are questions that can help us explore the nature of the book and its inspiration.
1. How can one preserve the sense of the sacred nature of the Proverbs in light of the very human the way that they were developed?
2. How can the Spirit of God be involved with apparently contradictory proverbs? The nature of Proverbs is described in verse by these lines from Jane Merchant:
“He who hesitates is lost”
or “Look before you leap.”
The sages proffer good advice
To spur us on to victory
In sayings pithy and concise
And flatly contradictory.
Given the nature of human experience, are we not constantly faced with situations which call for “contradictory” counsel? Some people are too quick, some are too slow. We wouldn’t dare give them both the same proverb! Which just illustrates that not all of Scripture applies universally in all situations. That reinforces the perspective expressed in 1 Cor. 10:11 that Scripture is simply a book full of inspired “examples”: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come” (NIV). Not all examples apply to all situations, but all the examples are still provided us by God and inspired by His Spirit.
3. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7). How can we readily distinguish between fear as “fright” and fear as “awe”? Is there any link between the two? When Moses obeyed the command of the Lord at the burning bush to take off his sandals (Exod. 3:5), to what extent was that simply “awe” and to what extent was it real, bone-shaking “terror”? How does Scripture itself shed light on this question in Exod. 3:5-6 (NIV)?
5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
4. Lady Wisdom. In much of Proverbs, wisdom is personified as a woman. Read the counsel in chapters 2 and 3. Is paying attention to such wise “human” counsel a divine method for protecting us from moral dangers? Can one draw a distinct line between that which is human and that which is divine?
Comment: Like the incarnation which mysteriously blends the human and divine natures in Christ, so Scripture mysteriously blends the two. It is impossible to separate the human from the divine.