“Better the poor walking in integrity than one perverse of speech who is a fool.”
~Proverbs 19:1 (NRSV).
This chapter deserves a plaque beside it stating, “Here sits another collection of loosely fitting proverbs.” But equally there are some fine threads of a theme or three that are to be teased out, not that ‘themes’ are the be-all and end-all.
More on Folly
It’s always good to get the ugliness out of the way first. Verses 24-29 are neat on folly. The sluggard sees food and instinctively plunges their fist into the bowl, yet they’re not prepared to expend the effort it’ll take to bring it back to their mouth (verse 24). This is indictment on the things that are given to us that go to waste.
The mocker makes a less-than-classy return in verses 28-29, inviting their own beating at the filthiness of their arrogantly wild antics. In verse 26, the mocker is a good example to the simple. Go that way and punishment is yours. The classic fool shows disdain for their parents in verses 13 and 26.
The ‘Poor’ Reality
Verses 4 and 7 repeat earlier themes of the vast injustices sweeping through poverty. Indeed, ‘partiality’ is the theme of the bracket in verses 4-7. These proverbs state that being poor is one of the quickest ways to lose friends; this simply speaks the truth of humanity’s propensity to live disloyally where receipt of things from others is lacking. It’s a sad reality.
We generally favour those better off and those who are popular. The challenge for patient wisdom is to always be stooped in helping the needs of those lesser off.
The Patient Wise (and Their Opposites)
Patience is one of those gentle threads meandering through this chapter.
Anger, we’ve already established much earlier, is patience’s opposite. If we rescue an angry person they’ll only fall again in their angry ways—we’re doing them no favours (verse 19). The folly of fools is self-inflicted, yet ridiculously they blame God (verse 3). Those contemptuous of their ways—ever jesting about in life—will bring about their own peril (verse 16).
Good parents are patient and they take their time to instruct their children in wisdom (verses 18 and 27) knowing that wisdom will preserve their lives and hearken them to knowledge.
Six Actual Portraits of Patient Wisdom
There is a smooth undercurrent present in verses 8-23, with every third proverb featuring an image pertaining to patient wisdom. Verse 8 starts this procession and we learn that the person acquiring wisdom loves their own soul—joy is wisdom and wisdom is joy, for these.
It is to the person’s own glory as they overlook offenses, in what we shall call grace-filled kindness; a classic image of patient wisdom (verse 11). Patience waits for a partner of the Lord’s choosing—this is no gift that can be otherwise bequeathed (verse 14). Kindness makes another splendid appearance in verse 17, and the kind, we should know, are always rewarded.
The key to the overall acquisition of wisdom is to “listen to advice and accept instruction,” which reeks highly of humility and the moral strength of self-esteem to not suffer too many identity crises along the way (verse 20). Completing the sextet is the type of proverb in verse 23 that calls us right back to the beginning (cf. Proverbs 1:7; 1:33; 9:10). It’s the awed and fully respectful fear of the Lord that leads to life, safety, and contentedness.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.