Bible blog 2289

THE BOOK OF PROVERBS

A CHAPTER A DAY

PROVERBS 2

My child, you must follow

and treasure

    my teachings

    and my instructions.

Keep in tune with wisdom

    and think what it means

    to have common sense.

Beg as loud as you can

    for good common sense.

Search for wisdom

    as you would search for silver

    or hidden treasure.

Then you will understand

what it means to respect

    and to know the Lord God.

All wisdom comes from the Lord,

    and so do common sense

    and understanding.

God gives helpful advice

    to everyone who obeys him

    and protects all of those

    who live as they should.

God sees that justice is done,

    and he watches over everyone

    who is faithful to him.

With wisdom you will learn

    what is right

    and honest and fair.

10 

Wisdom will control your mind,

    and you will be pleased

    with knowledge.

11 

Sound judgment and good sense

    will watch over you.

12 

Wisdom will protect you

    from evil schemes

and from those liars

13 

    who turned from doing good

    to live in the darkness.

14 

Most of all they enjoy

    being spiteful and deceptive.

15 

They are dishonest themselves,

    and all they do is crooked.:,

16 

Wisdom will protect you

    from the smooth talk

    of the separate woman,

17 

who breaks her wedding vows

    and leaves the man she married

    when she was young.

18 

The road to her house leads down

    to the dark world of the dead.

19 

Visit her, and you will never

    find the road to life again.

20 

Follow the example

of good people

    and live an honest life.

21 

If you are honest and innocent,

    you will keep your land;

22 

if you do wrong

and can never be trusted,

    you will be rooted out.

Today, for this chapter I’ve used the Contemporary English Version, which cuts through the Hebrew idioms of the text and translates only into modern English. Its brevity can seem shocking, but it often gets to the nub of the matter.

In this chapter I want to highlight the place of “common sense” or “good sense” which occur a number of times as translations of the Hebrew “tabuna” which can mean understanding, intelligence, discretion, skill. Along with “hochma” = wisdom it is one of the main terms in this passage for the mental virtue the author advocates. I think the CEV translation is good because it emphasises the communal nature of practical wisdom which is not the product of a brilliant individual mind, but the fruit of common experience. When religion abandons common sense it may discover something profound, but more often it becomes dangerously arrogant.

Jesus often gave radical teaching but he usually appealed to common sense to support it. “If you love only those who love you, what reward do you deserve?” And he used popular forms of teaching such as proverbs and parables. He would of course have been familiar with this book. It’s helpful to see him as a teacher of wisdom.

Here the teacher urges the pupil not to assume he possesses common sense, but rather to desire it and search for it as something precious. As one who has often lacked it, that seems wise to me.

Smooth talk can lead us away from common sense. In verse 16 ff the author uses the example of a sexually available woman. I have changed the translation which calls her a sinful woman, because the Hebrew describes her as strange, foreign, unattached. The profound attractiveness of such a person in a sexually conservative society is acknowledged: she draws men to her house which is also the house of the dead. The man may see this as a delightful adventure but common sense sees it as descent into unreality from which he may never recover. Disorderly living may threaten his livelihood.

Of course, the treatment of the woman expresses the prejudice of a patriarchal society: she is away from her husband, but it’s much more likely she has been divorced by her husband, and has to support herself somehow. In fact she is not blamed much; the man’s reckless liaison with her, however, gets both barrels, because it is not sensible. The seventh commandment is not mentioned. This morality is based on the good customs of ordinary people, who are described here as “honest,” Hebrew “tzaddik“. Yes, they also know the Holy God, but his wisdom takes root in the lives of his people.

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