Saturday, October 06, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (27)

We are 27 posts into this series, and I should point out (a bit late, perhaps) that this is not going to be my attempt at a commentary on Proverbs. It’s quite a bit longer than I planned or expected, sure, but nothing remotely approaching comprehensive in scope. There are just way too many bits of sound advice in this book to touch on even a tenth of them. Most must await your own consideration and meditation to reveal their wisdom and impact your life.

The best I can hope to do here is offer a few thoughts and bits of research that seasoned readers of the Old Testament may not yet have encountered, and to offer the occasional incentive for younger Christians to make Proverbs part of their regular Bible reading regimen.

And of course I can tell you which verses jump out at me. Your mileage will surely vary.

Assorted Proverbs (Proverbs 12:1-28)

Mouths and Hands

Solomon communicates so much truth by means of contrast that I can’t help noticing immediately when he stops using that technique. In chapter 12, a full 26 of 28 verses draw stark contrasts of one sort or another. Here is the first of two that do not:
“From the fruit of his mouth a man is satisfied with good, and the work of a man’s hand comes back to him.”
In a coming day, God will judge the world with respect to its thoughts, words and deeds. Today, however, the thoughts of most men and women are opaque to all but the most discerning; it is our words and deeds by which the world evaluates us. The heart may indeed be the wellspring of both words and actions, but it is through saying and doing that we affect those around us for good or ill. It is through saying and doing, day after day, that we sow and reap in this life.

An Illustration

Two men run a small business. Bill is a salesman, while Jerry does most of the physical production. What Jerry does is obvious; it translates into billable hours and a visible, salable thing. But in the end, he can only produce a day’s work in a day. Bill’s contribution is less noticeable but no less valuable. He can’t measure his work product by noting the time that he sat down at his desk and the time he stood up, because in a sense he is always working. Every relationship in his life is potentially financially fruitful. He may be on the golf course, in the church parking lot or at the mall when he clinches a deal that will bring in business revenue for the next two years.

What we say is often less tangible or memorable than what we do, but it may have a much more potent long-term effect.

James has a great deal to say about the power of the tongue, most of it negative. The tongue is a “restless evil”, a “world of unrighteousness”. But even James has to concede that the mouth that curses may also bless. The potential for good in the tongue is enormous.

How will I use mine today?

The Path of Righteousness

Another example:
“In the path of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.”
Okay, we could argue there is a contrast of sorts being drawn here (life/death), but both clauses are about the consequences of being righteous — the first positive and the second negative — so the proverb does break with the established pattern of many verses in this chapter (slothful/diligent, righteous/wicked, prudent/foolish, truthful/lying, etc.).

If you haven’t come across it yet, BibleHub is a useful tool for approaching verses like this one. The website provides twenty-something different English translations of a verse side by side, including most of the most popular versions, which will clue you in very quickly as to whether there are legitimate text issues in the original language that have caused translators to diverge from one another. Here are three takes that stand out from the crowd for one reason or another:
“In the way of righteousness there is life; along that path is immortality.”

“Living right is a pathway that leads to life and away from death.”
(Contemporary English Version)

“In the way of righteousness is life, and the way of the angry is unto death.”
(Aramaic Bible in Plain English)
The NIV is less literal, but it makes for memorable English; the CEV opts for plain and simple.

Translations of Translations

I’m not quite sure what to do with the ABPE. As a translation of another translation, it has just diverged from the original Hebrew too much to be useful. There doesn’t seem to be anything about the three Hebrew words in the second clause (nathiyb derek maveth) that should make us think of anger.

In any case, in Proverbs 8 the phrase “path of righteousness” is a synonym for “paths of justice”. Here, the specific aspect of “righteousness” in view is how a man interacts with his fellows and whether he treats them fairly and appropriately, as opposed to his personal piety, his almsgiving, and so on.

With that in mind, the Contemporary English Version (“living right”) probably comes closest to capturing Solomon’s intended meaning.

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