Saturday, March 23, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (51)

Perhaps the theme of these ten verses is “things that don’t stop”. I can’t say for sure.

But it is certainly true that the simple don’t stop; they charge right in where their wiser peers do not. The loud neighbor doesn’t stop either. That’s why everyone hates him, despite his outwardly cheery disposition. The search for truth never stops, thank God, and, if we’re honest, neither does enmity in our present age. Finally, the eyes of mankind never stop in their endless quest for satisfaction.

We will not find what we are looking for in this world.

The “Men of Hezekiah” Proverbs (Proverbs 27:11-20)

Cowardice or Prudence?
“The prudent sees danger and hides himself,
but the simple go on and suffer for it.”
This is what you might call the precise opposite of the fourth of Dr. Oliver Scott Curry’s seven moral rules that supposedly unite humanity. Curry says the quality of “being brave” is approved by 99.9% of human cultures. I guess that makes the ancient Hebrews out to be among Curry’s 0.1% of documented dissenters.

Personally, I think it is Solomon who was on the right track. Simple, brave men throughout history have believed what they were told by politicians with agendas, and have charged in and died horribly where their prudent peers astutely stepped aside. Saul drafted a great number of valiant men into his army, but he was fighting in a losing cause. God was no longer with him. Thus, many of these valiant men who joined him perished on Mount Gilboa at the hands of the Philistines. The ones who survived to join David’s army were very likely the sort most disposed to follow Solomon’s advice.

The proverb does not applaud cowardice, but it does acknowledge that there are hills that are worth dying on and hills that are not.

How You Say It
“Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice,
rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing.”
It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. I can say the most horrible things to my dog, but if I say them in the sing-song, affectionate voice of a loving critter-person, he looks at me as adoringly as if I’ve just called him a good boy. I have found the same thing works with women.

Okay, I will probably pay for that one later, but I think there is some truth to it. Huge swaths of the population, male and female, if we are honest, respond to the tone of a message rather than to its content. Even more respond to its timing. It is possible to make a logical argument the wrong way at the wrong time and place, and be completely ignored despite being entirely correct. Likewise, it is possible to say gracious and wonderful things — to “bless”, if you will — in the wrong tone or at the wrong time, and find yourself not only misunderstood but actively hated for it.

Moral of the story? Like the soldier looking for the right hill to die on, if you’re concerned about making friends and winning over your neighbors, pick the occasions on which you pontificate with a degree of discernment.

Shooting Off Sparks
“Iron sharpens iron,
and one man sharpens another.”
The traditional reading of this proverb is that a man’s desire to discover truth is aided and abetted by others of similar disposition in what might appear to be a rather intense process. This is certainly a legitimate truism and the experience of thousands upon thousands of men over the centuries. It may even be exactly what Solomon intended. Having experienced exactly this sort of intellectual male frisson, the pursuit of which frequently leads to increasing knowledge of God and his word, I very much like the consensus interpretation of the proverb, and am inclined to stick with it.

A small minority of Bible commentators, however, reject this more popular and admittedly figurative interpretation. The Hebrew is literally “and one man sharpens the face of another.” So Ronald Giese, for instance, points out that a more negative interpretation may be intended. In scripture, sharp eyes or a sharp tongue generally show intent to do violence or bring about destruction. In that case, the meaning of the proverb would be something like “As iron sharpens iron, so an angry man produces anger in others.” This also is quite true, and equally confirmed by other scriptures. A soft answer turns away wrath; a harsh answer doesn’t. Thus, in Giese’s view, the proverb is actually a continuation of verses 15 and 16, which speak of the unpleasant consequences of having chosen a quarrelsome woman for a wife. Verse 17, then, would suggest that one be equally careful about how one interacts with a perpetually testy neighbor. There may be fireworks.

Why Do We Scream at Each Other?
“Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied,
  and never satisfied are the eyes of man.”
Sheol is Hebrew for death. It is constantly being filled and remains always hungry for more. 56.7 million people die every year; 156,000 per day and 1.8 every single second.

Abaddon is the angel in charge of the bottomless pit, which also eagerly awaits its assigned occupants. He commands legions of locust-like creatures tasked with inflicting torment. More generally, the word signifies utter ruin and destruction. Human history is evidence that in a fallen world, these things are insatiable.

Men know where this rather grim comparison is going. It’s not terribly flattering. Yes, we don’t stop either. Sixty, seventy, eighty … I have a feeling the eyes of the male of the species rove where they ought not to long after the corresponding parts cease doing their job.

But that’s the more obvious surface interpretation. The word for “man” in this particular proverb is 'adam. It refers to mankind generally, not specifically to males. Women are far from exempt. In a fallen world, they too are creatures in perpetual search of satisfaction, subject to the same intensity of desire as their male counterparts, if not precisely the same temptations.

The apostle John speaks to believers of the dangers of “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life.” These things, he says, are not from the Father, but from the world. They originate in the Fall and will end as badly as the Last Enemy.

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Image by Foundry Co from Pixabay

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