Proverbs 12-14

Good morning! The proverbs in chapters 12-14 concern many of the themes we read yesterday as well, including the nature of righteousness and wickedness, the importance of discipline and hard work, as well as prudence in speech and action.

All things being equal, I can affirm the sentiment of most of these proverbs. But they also presume a great deal of privilege, stemming as they do from the elite male literary culture of ancient Israel. The fact is that these proverbs are not “the way things are” for women and for the poor in ancient Israel (or any other time). Many of these proverbs are romantic representation of upper-class ideals. They are perhaps useful in order to teach core values, but I react to them with a bit of Job’s skepticism. These aphorisms about hard work, for instance, don’t seem to have much to say about those whose work is stymied by racism, sexism and classism—who do all the right things and still end up at the bottom of the social heap. One exception is 13:23, “The field of the poor may yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice.” Generally though, such humane insights are left behind in favor of blanket moralisms.

I find several other proverbs noteworthy here for their subject, or for the life they have enjoyed since being included in the Bible. A reference to the righteous care of animals in 12:10 is among the only places in scripture where animal welfare is given consideration or value. Otherwise the ancient world considered animals simply beasts of burden to be used as casually as a tool in the garden. I wonder if 13:12 (“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”) inspired any part of the Langston Hughes poem, “Harlem”, which asks whether a dream deferred “fester[s] like a sore”. We find in 13:24 the source of another classic saying, “spare the rod and spoil the child”. Finally, I’m curious about the number of verses throughout that emphasize being slow to anger! Was this an especially deadly or difficult risk at the time? Or does the writer of Proverbs simply recognize the universally corrosive effect of reactivity in every era, then and now? Happy reading!

Read Proverbs 12-14.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Proverbs 15-16. Thanks for reading!

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