The teachings of Hebrew
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Wisdom literature in the Bible comprises the three books known as Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. The Mercer Dictionary of the Bible defines “wisdom literature” as “a distinctive intellectual tradition extended throughout the ancient Near East.”1 Wisdom literature in the bible includes the three books known as Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. “Ancient Israel’s sages preserved their teachings in two forms: meshalim and reflections. The former included both instructions (Prov 1-9), SIRACH) and shorter aphorisms (most of Proverbs).”2 Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart explain in their book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth that “the book of Proverbs is the primary locus of ‘prudential wisdom’ –that is, memorable aphorisms (maxims) people can use to help themselves make responsible choices in life. In contrast to Ecclesiastes and Job, which use speculative wisdom as a way of wrestling with the great issues of life, proverbial wisdom concentrates mostly on practical attitudes and behavior in everyday life.”3
Again “Proverbs concentrates primarily on practical issues, rather than focusing on theological issues.”4 Furthermore, “the book of Proverbs continually presents a sharp contrast between the life of wisdom and the life of folly. However, this contrast has little to do with book knowledge or ‘street smarts’ but rather a person’s orientation to God.”5 In this essay, I will endeavor to describe the teachings of Hebrew wisdom in Proverbs on diligence and laziness and how this corresponds with the contrast between wisdom and folly by showing how Proverbs points to diligence leading to wisdom and laziness is folly. 1James L. Crenshaw, “Wisdom Literature,” in Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1997), 962. 2Ibid, 963. 3Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 231. 4Ed Hindson and Gary Yates, The Essence of the Old Testament: A Survey (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2012), 263. 5Ibid.
First, in order to contrast diligence and laziness with wisdom and folly some of those terms need to be explained better. For example, laziness is an example of folly and diligence leads to wisdom. Things that constitute folly are “violent crime (1:10-19; 4:14-19), careless promising or pledging (6:1-5), laziness (6:7-11), malicious dishonesty (6:12-15), and sexual impurity, which is especially odious to God and harmful to an upright life (2:16-19; 5:3-20; 6:23-35; 7:4-27; 9:13-18; 23:26-28).”6
“The book of Proverbs continually presents a sharp contrast between the life of wisdom and the life of folly.”7 To elaborate further, “the contrast between wisdom and folly is often a contrast between righteousness and wickedness, a point clearly drawn out in the prologue (1:1-7) and the instructive discourses (1:8-9:18).”8 An example of wisdom and folly in the prologue portion of Proverbs is v.1:7 where is says “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge (this is an example of wisdom); fools despise wisdom and instruction (this is an example of folly).” Another example of folly in the instructive discourses can be found in Proverbs 6:7-11 concerning laziness.
It states, “Without having any chief or officer or ruler, it prepares its food in summer, and gathers its sustenance in harvest. How long will you lie there, O lazy bones? When will you rise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want, like an armed warrior.”
After the prologue (1:1-7) and the instructive discourses (1:8-9:18) then “the second major collection (10:1-22:16) consists of 375 individual proverbs or sayings, occasionally
Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 232.
Hindson and Yates, The Essence of the Old Testament: A Survey, 263. Ibid.
grouped together along thematic and /or literary lines.”9 Specifically, “two subsections may be discerned. Common to the first, 10:1-15:33, is the antithetical saying that contrasts the righteous (or wise) with the wicked (or fools).”10 An example of how Proverbs points to diligence leading to wisdom and laziness leading to folly can be found in 10:4 and 20:13 as pointed out by Hindson and Yates.11 Proverbs 10:4 states, “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” Proverbs 20:13 states, “Do not love sleep, or else you will come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread.” Getting back to the main point of the essay “the book of Proverbs consistently presents the sluggard as a fool and the diligent person as wise.”12 An example of this is Proverbs 12:24 “The hand of the diligent will rule, while the lazy will be put to forced labor.”
Gregory Mobley states it best when he says, “There is a groove that God carved out during creation week that we might call the path of righteousness. To some extent people can observe its course, and the various maxims of Proverbs mark its boundaries. The book of Proverbs asks us to patiently bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, so that we might endure all things.”
In conclusion, Proverbs is a collection of maxims that help to make good choices in our life. Throughout the book of Proverbs, the teachings on diligence and laziness correspond with wisdom and folly by showing how diligence leads to wisdom and laziness is folly.
Leo G. Purdue, “Book of Proverbs,” in Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1997), 721.
Hindson and Yates, The Essence of the Old Testament: A Survey, 266.
Gregory Mobley, The Return of the Chaos Monsters and Other Backstories of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pubishing Company, 2012), 116.