Posted: 12 Apr 2011 12:00 AM PDT
SEVERAL TIMES IN THIS BOOK there is a formula of the sort, "For x things such-and-such, and for x+1 this-and-that." For instance, Proverbs 6:16–19 begins, "There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him." Then the list begins: "haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers"—seven items, always the "x+1" number of items. This way of introducing a list with two lines—the first with a number one less than the number of items in the list; the second with the precise number of items in the list—builds anticipation and is part of the Hebrew parallelism that does not like to have exactly the same thing in both lines.
Proverbs 30 has several instances of this formula. It is not necessary to use the formula if a list is being introduced (Prov. 30:24), but it is common (Prov. 30:15b, 18, 21, 29). The five lists in this chapter are grounded in thoughtful observation of highly diverse phenomena, and each of the five makes a different point. Here I reflect on two of them.
The first is the list (without introductory formula) of small things that are extremely "wise": ants, coneys (probably rock badgers), locusts, and lizards (Prov. 30:24–28). This use of "wise" is bound up with the skill to survive (see meditation for March 14). An individual ant is nothing, easily crushed, without intelligence, yet ants store up food for the winter and survive. Rock badgers are small and relatively defenseless, yet they have the ability to make their homes in crags where others could not live. Lizards are so slow and stupid that children can catch them in their hands, and yet they have whatever it takes to live even in palaces. All these skills, all this "wisdom," God has graciously granted. In the larger context of the book, the lesson is obvious. We too are like stupid little ants or lizards, yet God has graciously given us the wisdom to survive. Two more thoughts are not far behind: (a) our wisdom, like that of the ant, is derived from God; (b) it is shockingly rebellious not to acknowledge him with gratitude as the source of our life.
The second list itemizes the thing Agur the author does not understand: "the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a maiden" (Prov. 30:18–19). Thus sex is a created function, gloriously mysterious, to be treated with respect and neither cheapened nor abused.
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