Friday, January 2, 2009

“Come to Wisdom, My Child”: The Structure, Form and Gist of Proverbs 2

The competing forces of good and evil collide in the initial nine chapters of premium wisdom book, Proverbs. Chapter two in particular is a simple and conditional exhortation to go Wisdom’s way. It features the simple cause and effect “if… then…” structure that bears constant relevance and should be part of an oral tradition in the upbringing of all young people.

The eye-catching structure of Proverbs 2 continues the scene-setting (from chapter 1) for the rest of Proverbs, especially underscoring the singular nature of authorship in chapters 2-7.[1] There is such congruence, particularly in view of 2:1-19 resounding through ensuing chapters 3-7, that single authorship is highly probable.

Being twenty-two lines of text with numerical alignment to the Hebrew alphabet and striking use of letters aleph and lamed, there are six units of 4, 4, 3, 4, 4, 3 verses each. It is argued that this entire chapter could comprise "one continuous (and conditional) sentence," such is its unity and coherence.[2]

This long sentence can be seen from the sense of the motive starting each of the six units: “if... then... then... to save you... to save you... in order that you may walk....”[3]

Interestingly, the second unit, the first one starting with “then...,” starts with a subordinate clause of the conditional sentence (protasis) and finishes with the main clause (apodosis), leading the reader to quite firm results for acting as instructed. The third unit, also commencing with "then...," corresponds with exhortations of further, though softer and more pervasive, positive results for turning with all one’s heart to wisdom.

There is a dramatic change of tack in verse 12, commencing the second lot of strophes. Here we find the reason for the need of wisdom--to prevent the child of God from falling into the traps of the wicked and worldly. Again, we find one stanza supporting, complementing, and even compounding the previous one. A general warning to ward against wickedness in verses 12-15 is strengthened by a specific example in vv. 16-19, namely adultery, an obvious allusion to the wider control of the passions.

It flows as a gospel message of warning on how to walk the road of life. Success in life is put forth as conditional on doing certain things (seeking knowledge and wisdom) in certain ways (realising a level of understanding and insight of how life works). The effect of this is the saving of our lives here, and to come (references to Abaddon and Sheol are made later in this section of Proverbs).

The conditionality of this chapter comes from the asseverative[4] made in verse 3... "If!" In other words, IF we are to do the following (and only IF it is done) then we will reap the blessing of the gift of wisdom; that is, we make an honestly diligent search for wisdom as if it were hidden treasure, then we would stand to reap the salvific protection of the LORD. This is our "call." We alone must respond, and no one else can be blamed if we don't respond or respond appropriately.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] Roland E. Murphy, Proverbs – Word Biblical Commentary vol. 22 (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), p. 14.
[2] Murphy, Ibid, p. 14.
[3] Murphy, Ibid, p. 14.
[4] ‘Asseverative’ means “to affirm or declare positively or earnestly.”

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