Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Beginning Of Knowledge

One of the most often quoted proverbs is Proverbs 1:7a

"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge...."

What stood out to me today as I began the book of Proverbs is how the phrase "beginning of knowledge" really sums up the whole purpose of Proverbs.  Proverbs is one of three Wisdom Literature books in the Old Testament.  The other two are Ecclesiastes and Job.  Now, I have enjoyed Ecclesiastes for a long time.  Job is no less challenging now then it was a decade ago, but the book of Proverbs lost its appeal for me early on in college.  When I was in high school I had an NIV Bible that I read through, cover to cover, for the first time.  Back then I was big on highlighting texts that stood out to me, and I remember highlighting a number of the sayings in Proverbs.  But during college, the book of Proverbs spoke less and less to me.  It was too black and white.  It made statements that just didn't seem to hold weight in my experience.  It was overly simple.  I couldn't help but read some of the sayings and think, "Yeah, but it doesn't always go that way."

It is helpful when reading the book of Proverbs to know that most scholars think Proverbs was a book used to train princes.  In other words, it was a book used to teach children, and as such, its teaching is intentionally simple.  It is intentionally black and white.  It isn't nuanced with the lens of suffering like Job or put in the context of a whole life's experience like Ecclesiastes.  Proverbs is much more along the lines of folk wisdom, applicable wisdom, "a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush" wisdom, or maybe, "It takes one to know one."

When one is beginning to gain knowledge it is important to know that greed never pays off.  Proverbs has a saying for that.  For a young man who will one day have power, and therefore the attention of women who are attracted to power, it is important to know that adultery never ends well.  Proverbs has a saying for that.  For a young man who will one day inherit a great deal of wealth, it is important to know that money isn't everything.  Proverbs has a saying for that.  You get my point.  Yes, the wisdom Proverbs has to offer is simple, but simplicity has its place.  Proverbs, as far as Old Testament Wisdom Literature goes, is the starting place for wisdom; it is the beginning  of knowledge.  Don't expect more from Proverbs than it has to offer.

Proverbs is not a rule book for life.  It doesn't offer guidance for every challenge we'll face.  It is an introduction to wisdom.  It offers guidelines, bookends, those rumble strips on the side of highways that let you know if you're getting dangerously close to the edge.  Nothing more, nothing less.  It has its place, and if we let Proverbs teach us, it will help us move on to deeper and more complex waters.  There is a reason Ecclesiastes comes after Proverbs.  Ironically, Job should come after Proverbs too.  I think I need to talk with the monk who put our Bible in its order and iron a few things out.

Stopping point: Proverbs 3, Psalms 27

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