Posted: 24 Mar 2011 12:00 AM PDT
I WISH TO DRAW ATTENTION TO three proverbs, or kinds of proverbs, in Proverbs 11:
(1) Like Proverbs 10, this chapter includes several proverbs that focus on the tongue, on human speech. The entire section Proverbs 11:9–14 deals with one aspect or another of how the mouth may prove to be either a blessing or a curse. Among the more interesting elements is the twin mention of the fact that sometimes the most godly thing a mouth may do is keep silent: "a man of understanding holds his tongue.… a trustworthy man keeps a secret" (Prov. 11:12, 13). Another striking feature of this section is its insistence that the mouth can either bless an entire city (and, in principle, a nation), or destroy it (Prov. 11:10, 11, 14). The one tongue offers sage counsel, prophetic rebuke, strategic planning, utter integrity in matters of government and jurisprudence, a respectful humility in dealing with others, and transparent encouragement to walk in the fear of the Lord. The other tongue is pretentious, deceitful, happy to corrupt both legislative and judicial processes, self-serving, and manipulative.
(2) "Like a gold ring in a pig's snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion" (Prov. 11:22). Structurally, the Hebrew is simple parallelism without predication: "A ring of gold in the snout of a pig / A beautiful woman without discretion." To make the Hebrew's subtle comparison explicit (since English poetry is not as dependent on parallelism as Hebrew poetry is), the NIV has constructed a simile. But the point is the same, and the imagery wonderfully evocative. The large, half-wild pigs of the ancient world had rings in their noses to control them. Never were those rings made of gold! The obvious silliness of the image would for the Jew carry a touch of repulsiveness, since pigs were unclean animals. On the same scale, but in a different dimension, the excellence of beauty in a woman is demeaned, debased to the level of a repulsive joke, when the woman herself shows no discretion. There is a great deal in our culture, and not just in Hollywood, that could profit from this proverb.
(3) "One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty" (Prov. 11:24). Paradox is another feature of many proverbs. This sort of utterance is far more powerful than a simple exhortation, "We ought to be generous," or a simple slogan, "Generosity pays," or the like. The way our providential God has ordered the universe, the generous hand, as a rule, has much to give. Very often the selfish miser ends up in bitter penury. Can you think of examples?
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