A time for……..Submission
Sermon date: April 7th
Reading: Proverbs 3 v. 1-12
What does ‘submission’ mean to you and in our culture how can this be seen?
Humility, oppression, weakness?
There are a lot of notes and questions that follow, please decide how you will best cover the material in your group and if possible look at it all. It might help to get everyone to print out the notes?
Proverbs is one of three biblical books devoted to “Wisdom” (Job and Ecclesiastes are the others, while Psalms, Lamentations and Song of Songs are related to Wisdom). The Jewish Bible places these books into a group labelled “Writings” with a number of other books: Ruth, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1 and 2 Chronicles. As you will know these books are categorized in the Christian OT as History and Prophecy, which gives them a different thrust.
Of the three Wisdom books, Proverbs is the most conservative; Ecclesiastes is probably the strangest book in the Bible, and Job is the most radical – probably the most radically-questioning book in the entire Bible. So Wisdom literature is immensely variegated. That Jesus was also a Wisdom teacher indicates that Wisdom also had a prophetic aspect, which sought to challenge the status quo in some respects.
Wisdom in the Bible probably originated in three social locations and reflects some combination of these locations: the family, the scribes and counsellors in the royal court, as well as religious teachers who study the Torah. Our passage, which addresses ‘My son’ illustrates a family setting, primarily: a parent is teaching his child
Wisdom also has a universality about it, applying to all religions and cultures. This is why there are no specific instructions in it about keeping the Torah, even though, as we’ll see, almost everything in our passage is in the Torah
According to Leo Perdue (Commentary), Wisdom has six features in the Bible:
Knowledge: Particularly knowledge of who God is and how human beings are to respond to God. Not surprisingly, then, there are elements of Wisdom in many of the teachings scattered throughout the Bible, including Jesus’ teaching – see, for example, Matt 5.3-12; 6.19-21 – indeed, practically the whole Sermon on the Mount. The teachings of the Sages, as preserved in the Bible as well as in extra-canonical writings such as The Wisdom of Solomon, for example, were not regarded, however, as absolutes about which there could be no dispute. Job illustrates that Wisdom had to be searched for particular times and in particular situations.
Imagination: Wisdom was not limited to observation of reality and the use of reason, though both were important. Wisdom writers used their imagination to seek for metaphors through which underlying truths could be made available. One of the central metaphors was Wisdom as Woman, offering the feminine aspect to God – e.g. Proverbs 8.1-21; 9.1-6.
Discipline: that is, Wisdom as instruction that requires learning in order to form character – see Proverbs 1.2, 3, 7, 8; 3.11; 15.33; 23.23. Wisdom aimed to be practical, teaching us how to live well with God in the world.
Piety: Wisdom does not distinguish the rational search for knowledge as something separate from spirituality. Hence the repeated Wisdom saying, the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge – see Job 28.28; Proverbs 1.7.
Order: Order expresses the regularity and continuation that enables life in the world. It is connected to the moral idea of justice or righteousness, which is the essence of God’s concern for the world. Paul, for example, tells us that Christ’s atonement by his blood was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous (that is, just: “just” is the meaning of the Greek word translated by “righteous”) and that he justifies (that is, makes just) who has faith in Jesus [Romans 3.26]. The Book of Job, of course, questions whether and in what way God is a just God
Moral instruction: This is perhaps the most dominant aspect to biblical Wisdom. It makes Wisdom conservative in its teaching by justifying the way things are. In this it complements the Prophets who seek to change the way things are. Proverbs is a good example of this conservative bent of Wisdom, being, as I’ve said, located in the family as well as possibly in the court of the king: it was written by the powerful to organize the world in the way the powerful wanted the life of the nation to go. This is why Solomon is presented as a wise king – see 1 Kings 3.16-28.
To these features, William Brown (Wisdom’s Wonder…) would add Wonder as the lens through which Wisdom sees the world. Brown argues that Wisdom is much more than merely moral instruction, but asks us to see the world and God and ourselves through the lens of wonder which, he notes, is akin to fear and brings to the fore endless questioning, the experience of strangeness and impossibility, which is why we live by faith rather than by what we know. Wonder is what makes us dream and so drives discovery.
Brown takes as his key text Proverbs 30.18-19: There are three things that are too amazing for me, // four that I do not understand: // the way of an eagle in the sky, // the way of a snake on a rock, // the way of a ship on the high seas, // and the way of a man with a woman. He argues that “Proverbs is more than a collection of lectures and aphorisms. [It] is a manual of desires…” [Brown, p.65]
Discuss each of the six features of Wisdom listed above, noting:
Q1. The place of each in your life, especially where you are strongest and weakest in terms of these six features of spiritual life
Q2. Discuss why it is important to keep these features of Wisdom in a balanced relationship with one another
Q.3 How strong is Wonder as your life’s lens? You might like to bear it in mind as you discuss the questions on 3.1-6: how does it influence your understanding of this text?
The Text: Proverbs 3.1-12: An Overview
Our text begins with an exhortation [3.1-2], which is followed by the teaching, which includes admonitions as well as prohibitions [3.3-10]. The section concludes with another admonition and promise [3.11-12].
The writer addresses ‘My son’ because the context is a home where a father is instructing his son about proper behaviour that will express and deepen his son’s ability to live with Wisdom. However, this is not the privatized religion we practise today (faith is one of the life-choices individuals may make): the text is a public liturgy showing the way all fathers in the community teach their children (literally, their “sons” because girls were not treated in the same way as boys in the patriarchal cultures of the Ancient Near East).
Proverbs 3.1-2: The opening exhortation
As is the case throughout this passage, everything comes in couplets, telling us what to do (or not to do) followed by the benefit we can expect. It is typical of Wisdom teaching that obedience carries tangible benefits: this aspect of Wisdom is very practical!
The writer tells his son to keep my commands [NIV], commandments [NRSV]. The Hebrew term mitsv?h can refer to the Ten Commandments as a whole or to any one of them.
Q.4 What is the writer stressing when he says, keep my commandments in your heart?
Q.5 Are we to take the promise in v.2 in a mechanical, legalistic sense i.e., obedience will always result in peace and prosperity (which are the most typical benefits of Proverb’s teaching)? If not, how are we to interpret this promise?
As I noted, the teaching is presented in couplets which tell us what to do and why we should do it. Thus:
Proverbs 3.3-10: The teaching
Q.6 What is involved in loyalty and faithfulness?
The primary values are love (the Hebrew word is h?esed which is the word used most commonly for God’s unwavering love for Israel) and faithfulness, which carry good favour and a good name in the sight of God and man [3.3-4]
Q.7 Do these qualities win favour and a good name in the sight of God and man in your experience?
Q.8 What does “trust” in God involve for you?
Then follows total trust in the Lord, which means that you lean not on your own understanding, the result of which will be he will make your paths straight [3.5-6]
Q9. What straight paths would you hope for?
Q10. What evils are present for you that need to be shunned?
Don’t imagine that Wisdom is something within yourself, the writer says; rather fear the Lord and shun evil, which will bring you, health to your body // and nourishment to your bones [3.7-8]
Q11. Do you honour the Lord with your wealth? What does this mean for you?
Then comes a tough one (especially for many Anglicans): Honour the Lord with your wealth; and the result will be that your barns will be filled to overflowing…[3.9-10]
Proverbs 3.11-12: a concluding admonition and promise
The section concludes with a similarly-structured couplet, beginning with a repeat of the personal address that opened the section: ‘My son’… [3.11].
Q12. In what ways have you experienced the Lord’s discipline?
The teacher tells his son what not to do: do not despise the Lord’s discipline. The opening instruction was do not forget my teaching (Torah); the ending is its complement, do not despise the Lord’s discipline – that is the discipline of the Torah: the teaching is in itself the discipline; it removes the believer from error. “Discipline” in this context doesn’t mean punishment, but rather training in order to enable the student to live in the way his Sage/father wants him to live
Q13. In what ways have you experienced the Lord’s delight in you as his child?
He then offers the benefit: receiving the Lord’s love through reproof (the chastisement of the Torah), and through this knowing the love of God
A concluding question
How do the instructions and promises in this passage relate to your understanding of Jesus’ teaching in the NT?
Some Suggested lines of thought
Jesus was himself a Torah-loving Jew who valued and kept the commandments [see Mark 10.17-23]
Arguably, one of the things that we believe about Jesus was that he kept the Torah perfectly, so “loyalty and faithfulness” (to God) were his in full)
In fact, you can take each of the instructions and say that Jesus kept each perfectly
Jesus’ life and especially his Passion and crucifixion show that the promises in this passage can’t be understood in some simple, obvious and superficial way. In fact, key in Jesus’ teaching was that willingness to give everything for God was the hallmark of a true disciple [see Mark 8.34-35]
Close your time together by saying the Grace
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all now and forever more. Amen
Tim Long, 25/03/2019