For the last few weeks we have been looking at the last chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews. And this week is the last week that the Epistle text will be from that work (13:1-17). Much could be said about the epistle’s title of a ‘word of exhortation (13:22)’, especially since that epistle contains a number of exhortations. So which ones are secondary?
I think, though, that the Book of Proverbs may be even more interesting than the Epistle to the Hebrews; and that book is only read from a very small number of times throughout the three-year series. And this Sunday is one of those times (25:2-10).
I remember, when I was young, my pastor led the congregation through that book in a bible class; it took a long time. And I thought it was worth it. I would highly recommend this book, especially for the younger generation.
At first glance, it seems to have no structure. I hope to dispel that myth.
Although I would like to look at the first verses of the book—which are often an indication as to the structure of the entire work—I would like to focus on an aspect which I think is extremely interesting.
The vast majority of the notes in the Concordia Self-Study Bible were not written by Lutherans, so I am usually very attentive for that note that has a cross at its beginning. The following note is one by a non-Lutheran, and I am very glad that I came upon it (page 959):
10:1 The proverbs of Solomon. The title of a collection of individual proverbs that extends through 22:16. The numerical values of the consonants in the Hebrew word for “Solomon” total 375—the exact number of verses in 10:1-22:16; 375 of Solomon’s proverbs were selected from a much larger number (cf. 1 Kings 4:32).
I guess that my only problem with that statement is that I have a hard time believing that these are ‘individual’ proverbs. I am seeing a contemporary problem with that word. Is there anyone or anything who/which is not connected to someone or something else? Besides, I am seeing a pattern within these proverbs.
Although a Hebrew literary structure may mean a lot of things (and this is one of the reasons that there is such great depth to the structure of the Gospel according to Matthew), one of the first things that comes to my mind is the importance of a middle point. When dealing with the number of 375, the middle point is essentially 187-188. And that is a middle point where the four previous proverbs/verses all have the name LORD (Yahweh) in them, and the four proverbs/verses which follow also have the same thing (15:33-16:7). And that extensive consistency is not found elsewhere within the work. The LORD is the turning point, and he is an appropriate one.
I also do not think it is a coincidence that the word ‘king’ comes up frequently after that middle point. It appears in chapter 16 in verses 10, 12, 13, 14, and 15. And the word ‘king’ comes up frequently also within our text (verses 2, 3, 5, and 6). Perhaps the writer/editor had this proverb in mind: ‘My son, fear the LORD and the king…(24:21).’
The importance of a king is unknown to most of Western culture (and we are certainly losing the importance of the LORD within our modern culture), and the idea that words can also equal numbers is also unknown. We have letters for words and numbers for amounts, and, at least in our part of Western culture, those two groups are usually quite unrelated. But what would we do if we did not have numbers to tell us some amounts? That would make for an interesting language. And we might learn something more about the language of the bible.