A fruitful way to read these chapters of Proverbs is to dwell on the contrast within each couplet, for example:

13: 9 The light of the righteous shines brightly,
but the lamp of the wicked is snuffed out.

So it is for laziness and diligence, generosity and stinginess, prudence and foolishness, pride and humility.

In the Proverbs we meet something we last saw in Genesis 2-3: “The Tree of Life.” Eating from it guaranteed immortality. In Prov. 3: 18, wisdom is “a tree of life.” In Prov. 11: 30, it is “the fruit of the righteous.” In Prov. 13: 12, we read, “a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” And in 15: 4, “a soothing tongue.” We encounter the Tree of Life again in John’s Revelation, where we will again be able to eat its fruit in full and thus partake of eternal life (Rev. 2:7–our greatest “longing fulfilled” ), and heal all that ails the nations and drives them to war (22: 2). In between the first Garden (Gen. 2) and the last (Rev. 22), the wisdom of the Proverbs tells us what kinds of foretastes of the fruit of this tree we might partake of even now, in terms of relationships, conduct and character. Eternal life is a quality of life, as well as a quantity of life.

One recurrent theme of the Proverbs is generosity, especially toward the poor. To not have pity upon the poor is to dishonor one’s Maker (14:31). To withhold from them is to impoverish oneself, while to give is to make oneself richer.

A stunning thought: if the reverent, humble, egalitarian and communitarian wisdom of Proverbs was a project of King Solomon (if not his actual practice), how greatly that contrasts with the usual kind of wisdom that constitutes royal policy, e.g. Machiavelli’s The Prince, a study in cynicism and opportunism. Or even with the class-conscious Stoicism of Marcus Aurelius.

PSALM 70 is a lament, very close in wording to Psalm 40: 14-18. It expresses God’s “preferential option for the poor,” (v. 6) against the powerful who persecute, accuse and make mockery of them. It contains both a curse against the enemies (vv. 3-4) as well as invitation and blessing for those who share the psalmist’s faith and station in life. Note the two names of God in verse 6: My Help and My Savior. “Do not delay, O Lord” (v. 6) is comparable to “Come, Lord Jesus.”


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