Saturday, June 15, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (63)

I was originally planning to zip through these last few verses of Proverbs, but I find myself enjoying them too much to rush through them, even as I remain perplexed as to their full meaning in more than a few cases. I suppose it helps that they are among the least-examined verses of scripture I’ve ever encountered. New territory is always interesting.

So … horrors and marvels, here we go.

The Oracle of Agur (Proverbs 30:17-19)

Snacks for the Raptors

(No, not the dinosaur-themed basketball team. Originally, the word “raptor” referred to a medium- to large-sized carrion bird.)
The eye that mocks a father and scorns to obey a mother
will be picked out by the ravens of the valley
and eaten by the vultures.”
If you attempt to apply this proverb to life in the modern liberal West, you will have difficulty making anything but the most wildly figurative interpretations. Today, if you mock your father and scorn your mother (assuming you actually have both in your life, which is by no means guaranteed these days), thumb your nose at society and pursue a career as a petty criminal, your all-too-generous government will tax its citizenry to pay you to stay home, watch TV and drink beer. At worst, it will jail you for all too brief a period while treating you like an honored guest. The vultures will get nowhere near your eyeballs.

This may or may not be an improvement over the Old Testament remedy, depending on your level of perfidy and the spiritual perspective of those looking on.

However, in ancient Israel it was not this way. A stubborn and rebellious son who would not obey father and mother and refused their discipline could be brought before the elders of his city, and on the testimony of two witnesses, stoned for his willfulness. We don’t know how often this happened. The law may well have served as a very effective deterrent to out-of-control Israelite teens.

How bad would a child have to be to merit that sort of extreme treatment? Apocalyptically awful, I’d guess. Mothers especially are almost always inclined to keep giving Junior just “one more chance” rather than writing him off, no matter how wretched his lifestyle and how much of a clear and present danger he may pose to the society around him. But if you can’t get your head around at least pretending to cooperate with Mom and Dad once in a while, it’s highly unlikely you will eventually turn into a solid citizen of your nation. A problem with God-given authority is a problem with God-given authority, whenever and however it manifests itself. In fact, a hardened and rebellious spirit is a pretty good indicator you may be a total write-off.

Assuming the Law of Moses was followed as written, Agur’s proverb is absolutely correct. The Valley of Hinnom, outside the walls of Jerusalem, was the place where dead bodies of malefactors were cast to be consumed by wild dogs and other predators.

It’s quite likely that on more than one occasion the ravens and vultures did exactly what Agur describes.

Stumped Again
“Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand:
[1] the way of an eagle in the sky,
[2] the way of a serpent on a rock,
[3] the way of a ship on the high seas,
and [4] the way of a man with a virgin.”
Here is another of Agur’s six “fours”, and it’s one to which observers of the natural world can well relate. This time we have a quaternion of things that boggle the human mind:

[1] We don’t have eagles nesting on the upper floors of the building where I work, but I may have mentioned we have peregrines. They consume their prey on the ledges outside the windows of our lunchroom, much to the consternation of anyone with an easily upset stomach. But when they take to the air, it is a marvel. I love to see them lifting off, and I love to see them landing. It looks effortless. There’s no frantic flapping despite the obvious effects of the same natural laws that would drop you or me like a rock. They can plummet like a rocket, then pull up and soar away like gravity has no effect on them at all. “Too wonderful” is an apt description.

[2] A serpent on a rock? Well, I remember encountering one as a child up in the north, and watching as it moved easily and gracefully in the sun without any limbs at all. How does that work? There’s no obvious explanation. I suppose a scientist could tell you, but a poet can’t. He just stares and marvels.

[3] As a pre-school child, I traveled from Europe to Egypt on an ocean liner. It’s not the same effect, perhaps, as sailing in a small, ocean-going vessel three thousand years ago, but when the seas get high, even the most impressive man-made construct is a terrifying place to be. My father had served in the navy. We stood on deck together watching the waves repeatedly lift and set us down in great swelling natural rhythms. The power below us was immense. I’d never seen anything like it. I was close to petrified. My dad had been through high seas many times, and knew the deck on which we stood was as safe as the backyard at home. How does it all work? Two words: too wonderful.

[4] What is the way of a man with a virgin? How do men and women who love each other relate when nobody is looking? I guess you have to be there. If you have, you know they can be among the most exhilarating moments life can produce, but there is no real way to accurately capture the grandeur and beauty and humor and sheer crazy giddiness of such a moment. My experience and yours will surely differ, and my apprehension of the experience will almost surely be different even from that of the person I am having it with. We are better off keeping our thoughts about these things to ourselves. Decent people generally do, not because there is anything innately sinful about courtship or sex, but because moments of true intimacy with another eternal being were never intended for public consumption.

God made an amazing world for us, but the world of human relationships is more mysterious and wonderful than anything nature can produce.

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