In the previous week I suggested meditating upon the contrasts within the verses of the Proverbs in those chapters. In this section of Proverbs we start to encounter more similes and metaphors, such as we find in the proverbs of other cultures, e.g., “However long a log floats in the water, it will never become a crocodile.” (Mali) Consider: 26:11 “As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.” So, instead of considering alternatives, such as laziness versus industry, or truth-telling versus falsehood, this section of Proverbs weaves a world view that values industry over laziness, or loyalty over treachery, and so on. The Proverbs being a royal project, of Solomon on (note the source in 25:1), the world view they espouse is the ideal for both king and commoner. Unlike the politics of other ancient Near Eastern potentates of the time (or today for that matter), the ideal character and conduct of king and commoner are identical; they are subject to the same God and to the same moral framework. Indeed, if a king’s subjects don’t live and act these ways, what point is there in ruling them? They are ungovernable. Yet why should the king expect people to live this way if he does not? That was Solomon’s fatal flaw, and the source of the moral and spiritual rot that he bequeathed to his descendants, the last bit of Egypt that never came out of Israel.
In the last two chapters of Proverbs we encounter selections from authors other than Solomon: Agur and Lemuel. We don’t know much about either of these authors. Agur’s collection displays a key component of biblical wisdom: the fear of God, which Rabbi Abraham Joshau Heschel described as “awe.” Things in the natural and social world that evoke awe are named in verses 18-19 and 24-28.
In Chapter 31, the sayings of Lemuel are attributed to his mother. Fittingly, Proverbs, which characterized wisdom as a strong, generous, hospitable woman, ends with a description of an ideal woman whose contributions to family and society are considerable. Nothing passive, demure or withdrawn about her, she takes initiative and is industrious, stewarding her money well, and is praised and appreciated by all, especially her husband. In keeping with Eph. 5: 21, she and her husband are “submissive one to another, out of reverence….”
PSALM 71 is a lament, but one which covers the life cycle, from “my mother’s womb (v. 6)” to “when I am old and gray (v.18).” “Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter,” the elderly plaintiff reaffirms his trust in the God who has sustained him through every stage of life. This psalm reflects another feature of life in the ancient world, as well as ours, the vulnerability of the frail and elderly, their risk of exploitation and abuse by the more powerful. God is their refuge and advocate as well. Note some of the names of God, such as “The Holy One of Israel,” “my confidence since youth,” and “my rock and my fortress. ”
PSALM 72 is a royal psalm, with prayers for the king that can only be fulfilled in the ultimate anointed one, the Messiah, Jesus for the Christians. The kinds of things this divinely anointed, God-pleasing king would do seem to answer the lament and plaint of the previous psalm: protecting and advocating for the poor, weak and needy. With this Psalm and the doxology of verses 18 and 19, concludes the second book of the Psalms
PSALM 73 is a lament, with a surprising resolution. The psalmist speaks honestly of a common human experience, cognitive dissonance, when life does not make sense, as did Job and Solomon in Ecclesiastes. “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments (vv. 13-14).” Meanwhile, the wicked “have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills (vv. 4-5).” How to make sense of such contradictions? The answer comes to the psalmist in, of all places, the temple, during worship (v. 17). There he would probably not have heard foolproof, watertight answers to his questions. Rather, he would have encountered God personally, along with God’s people. As in the case of Job’s encounter with God, God himself is the answer to all our puzzling, befuddled questions about God and God’s justice. The psalm concludes with prayers and promises that hint at the Christian hope of resurrection and eternal life: “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory (v. 24)…. . . “as for me, it is good to be near God (v. 28).”