The Thought Behind the Proverb
IT IS interesting to compare the Bible book of Proverbs with the law of Moses. Moses recorded the direct commands Jehovah gave to guide his people in the way of security and life. Solomon and other writers of the Bible proverbs do not highlight God’s commands directly but show through observation that those laws are in our best interest. Often local phenomena are compared to human behavior to help us appreciate good and bad, wisdom or folly. Knowing the thought behind the proverb is an aid to understanding the lesson taught.
“Gray-headedness is a crown of beauty when it is found in the way of righteousness.”
Among some early peoples an elderly man unable to fight or hunt was considered an unhappy burden. Some tribes harshly put the aged to death! Contrast this with the kindness of Jehovah God, who commanded: “Before gray hair you should rise up, and you must show consideration for the person of an old man, and you must be in fear of your God. I am Jehovah.” (Lev. 19:32) The proverb calls attention to the fact that a life spent in the wholesome fear of Jehovah is beautiful in God’s sight and should be respected by all as a proper example to follow. But when old age finds one in the way of wickedness, his conduct is even more repugnant than a youth’s because of his years.
“Into the lap the lot is cast down, but every decision by it is from Jehovah.”
In ancient times, in a number of nations, doubtful questions were determined by lot. Stones or inscribed tablets were put into a vessel, shaken and then drawn out or cast forth. Jehovah was pleased to use the lot as a means of making known his will in the early history of his chosen people. It seems that the lots were thrown into the gathered folds of a robe and then drawn out. But first an appeal was made to Jehovah to decide the matter. The outcome was accepted as his will. Even Jesus’ apostles utilized the lot to choose a successor to Judas Iscariot, but their selection was set aside by Jesus’ choice of Saul. Since Pentecost, holy spirit directs Christians, but in pre-Christian times God did approve use of the lot.
“The beginning of contention is as one letting out waters; so before the quarrel has burst forth, take your leave.”
Eastern cities often depended on a reservoir for their water supply. A tiny hole in the bank or dam confining a large body of water can have great consequences. If the tiny trickle is not stopped, the force of the water becomes ever stronger, until everything is washed away. From a small beginning comes a terrible flooding. So with strife. If anger is given the smallest vent it can burst into a flood of angry words and deeds that may even culminate in someone’s death. Before any discussion takes that turn it is better to leave the subject or the other person and thereby strengthen the bonds of peace.
“Because of winter the lazy one will not plow; he will be begging in reaping time, but there will be nothing.”
In Palestine the winter crops were sown as soon as the early rains had softened the ground—from the end of October to the beginning of December. The cool north wind blows during winter plowing time. While there is seldom a season of very cold weather, very cold days sometimes occur, with wind, rain and sleet. This would not deter a manly person, but a lazy farmer might neglect his plowing and blame it on the weather. Without winter plowing and sowing there could be no harvest. His hard-working neighbors could hardly be expected to sympathize with him. So with those who seize on unfavorable circumstances as an excuse for neglecting their opportunities and duties. They will reap only what they sow and must bear the consequences of laziness without redress.
“A wise king is scattering wicked people, and he turns around upon them a wheel.”
On the ancient threshing floors grain was separated from its husks by the feet of the oxen trampling among the sheaves or by bringing a rough-shod wheel over them. As the wheel crushed the sheaves, forcing out the grain, so the impartial administration of justice crushes the wicked, separating them from the righteous. A wise ruler takes measures to suppress evil elements with the sternness of the wheel that crushes the sheaves.
“A leaking roof that drives one away in the day of a steady rain and a contentious wife are comparable.”
The roofs of most Eastern homes, aside from those found on the stone houses of the wealthy, are made of tree branches, canes, palm leaves, and so forth, covered with a thick layer of earth. These flat earthen roofs were always susceptible to cracks and leakage. Imagine the endless, irritating sound of dripping water during a steady rain, when the unhappy occupant can neither sit, stand, work or sleep in comfort. Such is the plight of the man who must live under the same roof with a contentious wife. As an Arab proverb expresses it: “Three things make a house uninhabitable: tak (leakage of rain), nak (a woman’s nagging), and bak (bugs).”