Proverbs 6:6–11, 16–19, 23–27comment (0)
May 16, 2013
By Scott McGinnis
Related Scripture: Proverbs 6:6–11, 16–19, 23–27
Bible Studies for Life
Associate Professor of Religion, Samford University
Becoming a Person Others Need
Proverbs 6:6–11, 16–19, 23–27
Much of the wisdom of Proverbs is aimed at maintaining healthy relationships. This chapter outlines patterns of life that lead to strong connections with one’s self and one’s community.
Work Diligently (6–11)
The Book of Proverbs shows great interest in nature, for the created order reflects the values of the Creator. Studying the natural world can help one see clearly the cause-and-effect relationships that Proverbs seeks to relate to the moral world we inhabit.
In this case, the tirelessness of the ant is used as a lesson to warn against laziness, one of three passages in Proverbs that condemn the sluggard (24:30–34; 26:13–16). The diligence of the ant comes from an internal motivation. No one needs to tell her what to do. She simply recognizes the task at hand and sets to it in the proper season.
Palestine has two basic seasons: about eight months of rain and four dry months during summer for harvest time. In the kind of agrarian society that formed the backdrop of Proverbs, a poor harvest might well mean famine and death, and failure to prepare for the future was foolishness.
Taken in isolation, the two questions that come in verse nine seem to urge one on to a ceaseless (and sleepless) life of anxious toil. However, elsewhere we see that sleep itself is not the enemy (3:24) but a squandering of one’s energies and resources. Rest and relaxation are necessary for healthy living but like so much of life must be managed within certain boundaries.
Demonstrate Integrity (16–19)
These verses are an exposition and commentary on the shifty-eyed character described in the verses immediately preceding (vv. 12–15), which vividly depict a ne’er-do-well who is always intent on making mischief. The scoundrel’s body language — winking, shuffling, pointing — is the outward manifestations of a flawed inward character.
The distinctive numerical form of verses 16–19 (N, N+1) occurs elsewhere in Proverbs (30:15–31) as well as other Hebrew poetic writing (Amos 1:3–2:8). This device serves to draw attention to the final item in the list as if to say “and worst of all …”
Considered in this light, it is interesting to see the direction the proverb takes. Pride, deceit, treachery and the plotting of evil are all most harmful when they are practiced by “one who sows discord in a family,” or literally, “strife between brothers” (v. 16). The Hebrew word for brother can refer to filial relationships but also to other kinship relations or even close friendships.
Either way, the message is clear: one who would live as God desires must begin by practicing wisdom in his most intimate relationships. One who cannot live well with family members and friends will ultimately lack the resources to form deep and meaningful bonds with anyone.
Exhibit Purity (23–27)
Just as leisure and rest must be kept within limits, sexual desire must also be fulfilled within certain bounds.
This passage is written from a male perspective that saw wives as property, thus the warning against adultery is in the context of taking what belongs to another. This may be seen in the comparison between relations with a prostitute and relations with a neighbor’s wife: one costs a loaf of bread; the other, one’s life (v. 26). The implication is that while immorality may be destructive, a husband’s fury over adultery will not be quenched except by the ultimate price (v. 34).
At the heart of biblical wisdom is the recognition of limits. Every choice we make or relationship into which we enter involves some sort of restriction: we choose work over leisure; we decide to be patient and loving with our family members rather than angry or manipulative; we marry one person to the exclusion of all others.
The paradox is that in the midst of all these self-imposed limitations we find ourselves free to love God and one another in the deepest way imaginable.