Wednesday, October 03, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (26)

If you’ve ever been part of a conversational Bible study, you’ll probably relate to this statement: One person’s initial take on a proverb may be vastly different from another’s.

Years ago in a small mid-week study, we went around the room over a number of verses in Proverbs sharing what we thought they meant. Now, differences of opinion are to be expected in situations where there exists no real context from which to more accurately pin down Solomon’s intended meaning. But as I digested the various subjective impressions about the text laid out for us, there were times I was convinced we weren’t all reading from the same book.

And of course if you really want to examine an entire range of possible interpretations to seek out the best one, ask a woman what she thinks.

Assorted Proverbs (Proverbs 11:1-31)

Those Beautiful Women

For example, consider this one:
“Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.”
Here is a proverb that doesn’t easily classify itself. It’s definitely an observation proverb (as opposed to an outcome proverb), but there is no obvious contrast, no amplification and no qualification, features we find in virtually every other proverb in this chapter (and throughout the book). It’s not even a true two-liner. You can break it into two lines, as my Bible does, but it’s really just a sentence comparing one thing to another. All the same, it’s a showstopper of a visual, and it definitely evokes opinions.

What do Christians think about it? Well, let’s see.

Discreet About Beauty?

Maria Furlough says:
“True confession? I am 29 years old and I have spent the majority of my life being anything but discreet with my beauty. I already felt insecure and down about my looks so I thought playing them up would make me feel better. I cringe because I see it every day in young ladies that remind me so much of myself. ‘If I put on this outfit, show a little here, and little more there than maybe I will finally feel good.’ I still fall into the trap of the pig’s snout, throwing around my beauty as if it were anyone’s to see and admire … a habit I am sure our husbands, future husbands, and Dads don’t enjoy very much. Nor do the insecure women we encounter.”
For Maria, the proverb is all about how a woman swaggers (her verb, not mine!) into a room, curls her hair or puts on makeup with subtlety.

Getting to the Root of It

How about this thought, from JD Abshire?
“As an old farm boy and somewhat familiar with pigs; they were not always kept in a pig pen but sometimes in a fenced in area. It is a natural tendency for a pig to ‘root’ or ‘dig’ with their nose. God designed their noses for that purpose. In order to keep them from plowing up the countryside or rooting under the fence and escaping, rings were put in their noses to cause pain when they started ‘rooting’, counteracting the desire to dig.”
JD goes on to say that it would be a waste to use a precious metal for something that is simply a tool of restraint. Something less valuable would be more appropriate.

Abominations and Filthiness

Jonathan Crosby has this application to offer:
A fair church without the discretion and doctrine of Christ’s laws, as Rome and her harlot daughters, is also like a hairy and smelly pig. While they show the splendor of cathedrals and choirs, organs and organizations, and traditions and treasures, they have the corrupt soul of a debauched whore, full of the abominations and filthiness of her fornication.”
Now THIS one I find a bit of a stretch. I very much doubt Solomon was speaking prophetically about Catholicism.

How Do You Read It?

So how do you read it? Since the meaning of words in any language tends to morph over centuries of use, I’m inclined to check the way the Hebrew word ta`am, here translated “discretion”, is used by the same author, or used in other Old Testament books from roughly the same time period.

For instance, we find David saying to Abigail, “Blessed be your discretion.” Abigail had offered a timely apology on behalf of her brutish husband, taking full responsibility for his offense. As a result, she saved his life and the life of all his servants. Here the word may be used to describe any or all of perception, humility, foresight and wisdom.

The same book of history tells us that in order to save his life among the Philistines, David was compelled to change his “behavior” (ta`am). He pretended to be insane in order to appear harmless to the enemies of God’s people. Here the word seems to indicate the way he presented himself, motivated by a strong sense of self-preservation.

Solomon himself uses this same word in another proverb:
“The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly.”
Here ta`am is translated “sensibly”. Literally, it means “thought through”. It suggests these seven men are able to give logical reasons for their answers.

A Jarring Disconnect

Taking these together, I think it’s reasonable to say that discretion in this context means thinking through why you do what you do, and acting so as to accomplish your purposes effectively. When a woman’s words and actions are random, thoughtless or ill-conceived, it doesn’t matter how attractive she is; she is a walking contradiction and her physical attractiveness, however astounding, abruptly loses its appeal.

Such a woman may even, as in Maria Furlough’s example, put all kinds of deliberation and calculation into how she presents herself, but if her judgment as to how to behave is self-serving rather than focused on a godly outcome, it is bound to produce a jarring disconnect in the eyes of her audience.

I think it unlikely that the ring as a means of restraining the pig from rooting has much significance here. I suspect it is the value of the ring that is intended to be jarring, rather than its mere presence in a pig’s snout. Gold implies the pig’s owner is ostentatious, wasteful, lacks any sense of value or is trying to draw attention to his own affluence; after all, it is not the pig that chooses what to put in its snout.

Thus, like much of the book, this proverb says more about the choices a man makes than about the discretion of beautiful women. A man who characteristically decorates his life with opulently attractive but notably foolish females is making more of a statement about his own character than about theirs.

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