Proverbs 4-6

Good morning! Much of today’s passage (Proverbs 4-6) continues themes which several noticed in your comments on yesterday’s passage. The imagery of wisdom as jewelry continues here in chapter 4, where wisdom will be a garland and crown upon the head. Imagery of wisdom as a path is present also, alongside mention of the alternate paths that foolishness will lead one down. But the main two interrelated topics in these chapters are adulterous/”loose” women, and the importance of discipline.

The “loose woman” was mentioned yesterday in contrast with Woman Wisdom, and we hear much more about such a woman today. She would tempt a person to set aside the lessons of their youth—and their former promises to live with righteousness—in order to gratify more fleeting curiosities. Giving in to temptation for lack of sufficient discipline will only lead to a world of hurt down the line. Rather, the reader is to “drink water from your own cistern” (5:15), a euphemism for marital fidelity that is then reinforced with explicit reference to undying marital desire. I have no doubt that this theme was intended as literal counsel for young men in the king’s court, perhaps in the king’s own family. It may well also have been metaphorical counsel that Hebrew intellectuals not be “seduced” by the worldviews (or gods) of the Egyptians, Persians, or other cultures. In either case, I find the language of ownership over women to be as predictable as it is problematic. Wives were regarded as property of their husbands, which makes all the more ironic the suggestion that amorous, scheming women would be the ones to incite adultery in the first place. We now see these caricatures of femininity as patriarchal idolatry (worship of ideas that serve male interests alone) rather than reflecting the true wishes of God.

In order to protect against seduction, the “father” and “mother” who give this wisdom advise discipline and hard work above everything else. A parable of the hard-working ant is the most vivid element of this widespread theme. The dutiful, disciplined insect doesn’t waste time (or let itself be distracted), but stays focused on the tasks at hand. It will not always be easy, or a thrill ride. Sometimes it will feel tedious to be disciplined instead of carefree, but so be it. “The reproofs of discipline are the way of life”, 6:23 says. In other words, “suck it up and deal”—you’ll be thankful for every prudent choice down the line. Those of us who are familiar with the parable Jesus tells of the prodigal son might recognize the Proverbs worldview as the one which shaped the dutiful son who did everything well. That parable is about the inclusion of even a foolish and unwise brother, but the father (standing in for God) also commends the diligence of the older brother in doing everything which has been asked. When one lives as the eldest child, as royalty in Solomon’s court, or as the beneficiary of other privileges, this Proverbs mentality would suggest that discipline and “making wise choices” will lead to a good life. Jesus will point out that it’s not always so clear, and sometimes God favors the foolish as well. Happy reading!

Read Proverbs 4-6.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Proverbs 7-9. Thanks for reading!

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