Bible blog 2293n

THE BOOK OF PROVERBS

A CHAPTER A DAY

CHAPTER 6 (Contemporary English. Version)

My child, suppose you agree

to pay the debt of someone,

    who cannot repay a loan.

Then you are trapped

    by your own words,

    and you are now in the power

    of someone else.

Here is what you should do:

    Go and beg for permission

    to call off the agreement.

Do this before you fall asleep

    or even get sleepy.

Save yourself, just as a deer

or a bird

    tries to escape

    from a hunter.

You lazy people can learn

    by watching an anthill.

Ants don’t have leaders,

    but they store up food

    during harvest season.

How long will you lie there

    doing nothing at all?

    When are you going to get up

    and stop sleeping?

10 

Sleep a little. Doze a little.

    Fold your hands

    and twiddle your thumbs.

11 

Suddenly, everything is gone,

    as though it had been taken

    by an armed robber.

12 

Worthless liars go around

13 

winking

    and giving signals

    to deceive others.

14 

They are always thinking up

something cruel and evil,

    and they stir up trouble.

15 

But they will be struck

by sudden disaster

    and left without a hope.

16 

There are six or seven

kinds of people

    the Lord doesn’t like:

17 

Those who are too proud

    or tell lies or murder,

18 

    those who make evil plans

    or are quick to do wrong,

19 

those who tell lies in court

    or stir up trouble

    in a family.

20 

Obey the teaching

    of your parents—

21 

    always keep it in mind

    and never forget it.

22 

Their teaching will guide you

    when you walk,

protect you when you sleep,

    and talk to you

    when you are awake.

23 

The Law of the Lord is a lamp,

    and its teachings

    shine brightly.

Correction and self-control

    will lead you through life.

24 

They will protect you

    from the flattering words

    of someone else’s wife.

25 

Don’t let yourself be attracted

by the charm

    and lovely eyes

    of someone like that.

26 

A woman who sells herself

can be bought

    for as little

    as the price of a meal.

But making love

to another man’s wife

    will cost you everything.

27 

If you carry burning coals,

    you burn your clothes;

28 

    if you step on hot coals,

    you burn your feet.

29 

And if you go to bed

with another man’s wife,

    you pay the price.

30 

We don’t put up with thieves,

    not even with one who steals

    for something to eat.

31 

And thieves who get caught

    must pay back

    seven times what was stolen

    and lose everything.

32 

But if you go to bed

    with another man’s wife,

    you will destroy yourself

    by your own stupidity.

33 

You will be beaten

    and forever disgraced,

34 

because a jealous husband

can be furious and merciless

    when he takes revenge.

35 

He won’t let you pay him off,

    no matter what you offer.

There’s no hiding the fact that a good deal of this wisdom is focused on how to maintain a decently prosperous way of life. A family has to live and the living has to be earned honestly and spent sensibly. Anything, such as being a guarantor for a friend’s debt, or being caught having an adulterous affair, that may lose you money, is to be avoided. This may not look like high morality, but it is still true that people whose income just meets their needs can’t afford to be stupid. The down-to-earthness of this advice can be seen in the hint that if a man must have illicit sex, then a prostitute is cheaper than adultery.

Mixed in with this practical wisdom is the seven types of people God hates, many of which are not unexpected, but note that the proud person is at the top of list, and that those who cause family quarrels are given a place at the top table of sinners.

There is also a beautiful characterisation of parental wisdom, which guides the walker, protects the sleeper, and talks to the one who is awake. But the standout item in this chapter is the lively comparison of the ant and the slothful person. An indication of what has happened to our common language, which is also the language of faith, can be seen by comparing the passage above with the King James Version,

Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:

Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,

Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.

How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep?

Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep:

So shall thy poverty come as one that preys upon thee, and thy want as an armed man.

The difference is not just in the vocabulary and syntax, but in the attention to detail in the KJV versus the generalisations of the CEV. Comparison of human and animal behaviour to the disadvantage of the former is a ancient part of the wisdom which pays attention to other living creatures. The catastrophic onset of poverty in a society where only kinship stood between poverty and starvation, is depicted as an attack of thugs. This little poem was designed to be easily committed to memory, an item in the intellectual furniture of the community. And it was done so vividly, it looks quite at home in my brain too.

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