Proverbs 20-22

Good morning! Today in Proverbs 20-22, the list of one saying after another continues, barely interrupted by chapter markings. Then, midway through chapter 22, the writer switches to what’s labeled “Sayings of the Wise”, presumably because these “thirty sayings” (which continue into tomorrow) are no longer directly attributed to Solomon.

Below I share another “big picture” perspective on the proverbs, but first note a few other things about these chapters. The famous proverb about raising children properly so that they don’t stray as adults shows up in 22:6. In chapter 21, verse 3 signals a preference for prophetic behavior rather than religious fervor: “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” These competing “schools” of devotion have maintained a healthy tension throughout Hebrew history, and we’ll hear much more from the prophetic perspective starting in just another week. Most curiously of these proverbs, 22:14 seems to encourages bribery with this justification: the ultimate goal of harmony apparently makes a few greased palms worthwhile. Legislative earmarks operate on this same principle!

Before leaving our passage for today though, I also wanted to ask a more open-ended question. What good are proverbs in times when the world goes upside down? These aphorisms presume an orderly, conventional society of the kind that wealthy Solomon would have enjoyed after his father David’s lifetime of successful military excursions. But what good are proverbs when society coarsens and the unthinkable becomes more commonplace, such as with constant threats of war, famine and violence? People will cease to act in predictable ways then, and proverbs such as these may seem to be indulgences of the wealthy. On the other hand, these “wise sayings” might provide a framework from which to engage changing times, a set of timeless values that may help to steer through turbulence. And, broadly propagated, they may help to add a unifying sense of shared customs that holds a nation together. I welcome your thoughts on this, or any other issues you may find of interest. Happy reading!

Read Proverbs 20-22.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Proverbs 23-24. Thanks for reading!

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