Saturday, February 16, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (46)

“These also are proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied.”

So begins the fifth major division of the book of Proverbs. It is made up of approximately 110 more bits of Solomonic wisdom of varying lengths.

As you are likely aware, Hezekiah king of Judah was no contemporary of Solomon. Solomon reigned over Israel from 970-930 B.C. or thereabouts, while Hezekiah did not appear on the scene until well over 200 years later. He died a little over 100 years before the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, but for 73 of those 100 years Judah was ruled by evil men. Some of these were merely weak, others truly depraved, but one way or the other, wickedness was pretty much the defining characteristic of Judean rule leading up to Judah’s captivity.

It’s a fair bet nobody copied Solomon’s proverbs during those years.

With the exception of Josiah’s reign, Hezekiah’s was the last period of serious Judean reform prior to God’s judgment on the House of David. Judah’s sister nation of Israel had already fallen to Assyria just before Hezekiah ascended the throne in Judah. Hezekiah restored the temple and re-consecrated it, re-invigorated the flagging priesthood, and was instrumental in turning the hearts of God’s people back from idolatry, however briefly. God granted Hezekiah a unique and miraculous victory over a much larger and more dangerous Assyrian army, an episode that went very much against the tide of history.

Reforming and Preserving

This is the historical context in which Hezekiah’s men, inevitably by commission of the king himself, appended several chapters-worth of proverbs to Solomon’s existing works. Most commentators read the words “copied” to mean transcribed for the first time, preserving for coming generations wisdom that may previously have been transmitted largely orally.

E.W. Bullinger’s note on the phrase “men of Hezekiah” is perhaps the most intriguing of all the commentators and worth including here, because it shows how much those of us who love the Old Testament owe to King Hezekiah for his diligent preservation not just of Solomon’s proverbs, but of the entire then-existing scripture:
the men of Hezekiah. Evidently a special guild of scribes employed in the work of editing and putting together the O.T. books. At the end of each book are three Majuscular letters, Cheth (= H), Zayin (= Z), and Koph (= K), which are the initials of Hezekiah, and his sign-manual, confirming the work done. This tri-grammaton is found in all MSS. and printed editions up to the end of 2 Kings. After the death of Hezekiah it obtains varied forms and additions; subsequent writers and editors having lost the origin and meaning of these three letters, and taken it as a word which means ‘Be strong’, put there for their encouragement.”
“Be strong” indeed. Without further ado …

The “Men of Hezekiah” Verses (Proverbs 25:1 - 29:27)

The vast majority of these more recently-copied proverbs involve comparisons, at least thirty of which are explicit. In English, the words “like” or “as” appear repeatedly, depending on your translation. One example: “As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man.” Others are indirect but still very much comparative; for example, “The north wind brings forth rain, and a backbiting tongue, angry looks.” In Hebrew, the word for proverb is mashal, which means likeness, similitude and, yes, comparison.

The majority of these proverbs are Solomon’s usual couplets, but a fair number of meatier, longer form proverbs are interspersed throughout.

Of all the proverbs, these 110 or so are most obviously grouped together by subject matter. Occasionally the deft arrangement of several proverbs makes a point that goes beyond those made by the individual component verses. Whether it was Solomon himself or the men of Hezekiah who did this clever juxtaposition is impossible to say, but if the verses are indeed an original transcription of oral wisdom rather than a mere copy of an original text, this notable sensitivity to the material must be credited entirely to the transcribers.

I find it interesting that for whatever reason, Solomon did not originally include this batch. It certainly explains the (very occasional) repetition of ideas we have seen before.

I’m not going to go through all these proverbs in their entirety. John Gill refers to translation notes in the Targum and Syriac versions, which read: “these are also the deep proverbs of Solomon.” The Arabic version adds, “the exposition of which is difficult.”

In some cases this is a fair characterization.

Silver In, Dross Out
“Take away the dross from the silver,
and the smith has material for a vessel;
take away the wicked from the presence of the king,
and his throne will be established in righteousness.”
One might inquire why on earth wicked men would ever be tolerated in the presence of the king, even for a moment, once their wickedness was established. It seems a perfectly reasonable question … until you consider the nature of politics in a monarchy, or even the nature of political power generally.

The Clintons and Bushes have both had nice runs by modern standards, but it’s pretty clear their “dynasties” are over already, in less than 20 years. The Bush influence on the Republican party has almost completely evaporated, and it would take a miracle to persuade the Democrat powers-that-be to run Hillary a second time.

Judah’s Davidic line is remarkable in that 22 members of the same family sat consecutively on the throne for a period slightly in excess of 400 years. This is at very least highly unusual. Throughout history, we see great rulers rising and falling, their progeny almost never holding the throne beyond a generation or two. Often, even monarchs who bear the same name turn out to have been unrelated; they were just milking an existing political brand for whatever support it might give them. Rarely was any king’s grip on the reins of power sufficiently secure to allow him to dispatch his more powerful rivals with impunity. David’s character was such that he declined to do it on several occasions when he could and probably should have.

Of course, power doesn’t just attract men whose hunger for it is evident to all. The discreetly evil often pose an even greater danger than obvious predators and would-be kings. Righteous men tend to give these manipulators and con-men a fair bit of latitude where their true nature cannot be rigidly proven. This is an unfortunate, impractical, but necessary feature of righteousness. Fairness and consistent standards of proof are kind of baked in to all that.

And yet, overt or covert, a throne cannot be established in righteousness where the wicked hold influence, any more than one would buy a silver goblet with a great big blob of some foreign metal melted into it. The two substances and their purposes are incompatible.

The millennial kingdom of Jesus Christ will commence with a complete purge of the wicked that will not depend on the human ability to gather sufficient evidence for a conviction, because it will be performed by a king who knows everything and cannot be fooled by anyone.

Surprising? Solomon would not think so.


  1. What has all this got to do with crashing and burning, as in a car wreck?

    1. Well, we are 46 posts in, so I don't repeat the things I said at the beginning in every installment, or the poor readers would go nuts. Here is the "promo" bit for the series, which makes it a bit clearer, I hope:

      "How many ways can you ruin your life, or at very least dig yourself a hole so deep that climbing out of it affects the rest of your days?

      I suspect the number is large, and the book of Proverbs is full of actions and habits of being that tend to bring about varying degrees of destruction and ruin; too many to list. Simple observation of the world around us demonstrates their essential truth.

      Proverbs is God’s instruction manual in how not to crash and burn. Heed it and you may still receive a cancer diagnosis one day, or maybe succumb to some genetic defect. It’s a fallen world and such things happen; wisdom cannot help you with that.

      What you will NOT do if you read and learn from Proverbs is pull your own house down on your head or otherwise sabotage your own life, and that’s a pretty good reason to make it a regular pit stop in your cycle of daily Bible reading."

      Make sense?