Text Prov 27-31 (Ps 5)
Observe We’ll concentrate on two passages in these chapters: 30 (Agur) and 31 (Lemuel). That’s enough to chew on for now.
Chapter 30:1-3 is Agur’s humble self-assessment of his knowledge and spirituality, recalling Job 38-39. He recognizes human limitation in the face of God’s work.
Then, a Hebrew-Bible ‘…give us this day…forgive our trespasses…’: he prays for only two things: to speak the truth, and for just enough (6), to avoid the too-much of wealth and its self-sufficiency, where forgetting God is all too possible; or the too-little of poverty which could bring on theft, dishonouring God. (7-9)
The ‘Three then four’ stanzas, interspersed with other proverbs recall chapter 6. Agur ponders greed (15-16); concealment and deception (18-20); personal and social unrest (21-23); the amazing wisdom of God in small creatures, and the ‘wisdom’ they possess (24-28); dignity (29-31) reflected in noble bearing and behaviour.
The final stanza is like a bookend. Agur spoke humbly of himself at the beginning of the chapter; he says in this stanza that exalting oneself is foolish. And a final warning: if evil plans are afoot, stop involvement and keep quiet, avoiding strife.
Lemuel’s poem (chapter 31) differs entirely from the Proverbs template. Yes, there are warnings about the effects of wine on a king (4,5) and reminders to defence the rights of the poor (8,9). But the lengthy final stanza (10-32) praises a woman who does things well. With no hurry or pressure, she simply carries out her work, bringing honour to her husband and family in her calm orderliness. Lemuel attributes wisdom to this woman as she does her work, faithfully and fully.
Interpret In Jewish culture, men, not women, read Proverbs 31 -- as a song of praise to the women in their lives. The intended male audience is instructed to Praise her for all her hands have done (28b)., to see her as precious, not for what she does but who she is.
It takes the heat off our mums when they again find this chapter copied into a Mother’s Day card, or in a well-meaning Mum’s Day sermon! Sensing for another year running their utter inadequacy in the face of Perfection, let’s insist Chapter 31 is NOT: a job description, a To Do list, a supermom bio, a model for slavish imitation, nor does it Strongly Suggest Single Ladies Get Married, raise kids and learn to weave! We first met Lady Wisdom in Chapter 8; she is also the woman in 31:10-32. Think Lady Wisdom, not Martha Stewart.
Think eshet chayil, a “woman of valour”, (rather than ‘virtue’), not because of bravery, though that might enter in too, but because how she carries out daily tasks in faithfulness is more important that what she does. Recall Boaz. He calls Ruth an eshet chayil because of her noble character.1 (Ruth 3:11)
Apply For a man (gibor) or woman (eschet) valour may be an unnamed gift of the Holy Spirit. One can be a teacher of valour, a mum of valour, a pastor of valour, a barista of valour, a singer of valour a labourer of valour, a midwife of valour, a Giant Tiger cashier of valour – a retiree of valour! We do what we are privileged to do with all courage and heart, by God’s grace and guidance. And in observing our determination to live out His life fully and faithfully, those around us just might ask, ”What makes you tick?” And we tell them!
Ask What do I pray for? What for me is ‘enough’ so I don’t forget God has given me my life and everything with it, or resort to other means of having because I think I need more? Do I take time to marvel at God’s creation, at how little I know? Who are the women and men of valour in my life? Why? How can I praise them, and , more importantly, praise God for them?
Pray Lord God, thank You for Proverbs, for the pithy verses that still apply, for the reminders of what our life could look like to You and to others. Thank You for those who wrote and collected; what a remarkable part of Your canon this is! Praise to You, our great Lord of all that is wise and good!
Song Psalm 5: Maranatha Singers
1 I owe these ideas to Rachel Held Evans (1982-2019
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.