Waltke points to links between verses 8-9 and verses 1-2 of the same chapter: Wisdom and folly are contrasted in verses 1 and 8; the image of the "way" is used in both verses; and the term "upright" appears in verse 2 and 9. These links suggests that verses 8-9 begin a new section, but a section that is building on themes already dealt with in the opening seven verses of the chapter. Waltke suggests that the second section highlights the contrast between appearances and reality, emphasizing that part of wisdom is discerning what is really going on in a situation when the reality contradicts the appearance. Another way to make this point is to see the importance of deception in the passage: appearances can be deceiving and one who lives by appearances is living according to falsehoods.
Waltke also cites another commentator who offers a chiastic outline for these verses:
A. Shrewd and fool, v 8
B. Restitution for sin, v 9
C. Secrets of the heart, v 10
D. Destruction of the wicked/prosperity of the upright, v 11
D'. Deceptive way of death, v 12
C'. Secrets of the heart, v 13
B'. Repayment for sin, v 14
A'. Gullible v. shrewd, v 15
In addition to these conceptual links, there are verbal echoes that link these verses together. A and A' both talk about the prudent man's caution and consideration, using the image of walking along a path. C and C' both use the words "heart" and "joy." Though D and D' don't share any terms, they are both concerned with "ends" of the wicked and the upright. This "eschatological" center highlights an important concern of the whole section: Those who look through the appearances, and "foresee" the future consequences of their actions, will find blessing in the end; those who do not have this kind of foresight will end badly. In other words, our end is partly determined by our ability to see it.
Verse 8 contrasts two characteristics – wisdom and folly, as well as the behavior of two characters – the prudent and the fool. The grammar of the verse indicates that the definition of the quality is central: The prudent man does see his way, but what allows him to do it is his possession of wisdom; the fool walks by deceit, but what leads to this deceit is his adherence to folly.
Remember that a "fool" is not a simpleton, who simply blunders through life, but a man who is hardened in his distorted view of things and in his rebellion against God. The connection between folly and deceit here is complex. Folly is based on lies; the fool doesn't see the world as it is, but according to his own rebellious reconstruction. Folly also acts deceitfully, telling untruths and attempting to set traps for the simple and the righteous. The fool victimizes others, all the while protesting that he is the victim of others' machinations. Folly is, perhaps fundamentally, profoundly self-deceived. As many Proverbs note, the fool thinks he is wiser than the prudent, and thinks that his own way is the right way – even though everyone around him can tell that he's on a road that is about to go over a cliff (cf. v. 12).
Here the contrast between their behavior is not exact. The verse does not say that the prudent man sees his way, and the fool doesn't see; nor does it say that the prudent man walks by truth but the fool by lies. The contrast is between "seeing his way" and "deceit." This suggests that "seeing his way" involves the opposite of all the sorts of deceit that folly partakes of: The prudent man sees his way in that he recognizes that God governs the world with justice, and there is payment for sin; the prudent man sees his way in the sense that he is not self-deceived; the prudent man sees his way in that he does not practice deceit and treachery toward others.
In the context, this verse partly has to do with the difference between appearance and reality. A path may look quite pleasant, wide and comfortable, inviting and seductive, but the reality is that it is the path to hell. The goodness of a path lies in its destination, and the upright chooses wisely because he sees where the path is heading beforehand. In his self-deception, the fool trusts his own observations and conclusions, and doesn't recognize the real character of the path until it's too late.
The NASB translation of 14:9 makes it sound as if the Proverb is condemning fools who laugh and make light of sinful behavior – like a TV sitcom about sodomy or a movie about bank robbers. But Waltke points out that the word "sin" is the Hebrew asham, a word that means "guilt" but specifically "an obligation to discharge guilt by giving something." The word also refers to the "guilt" or "trespass" offering in the Levitical law (Leviticus 5-6), an offering that involves restitution as well as sacrifice. What fools mock at, then, is not sin per se, but the obligation to repay or make restitution for their sin.
This in turn informs our understanding of the second line of the verse, which speaks of the upright finding favor. This probably operates at two levels: The upright make restitution for their debts, not mocking "asham," and thus find favor with God. At the same time, they are eager to make good any wrongs they have done to others, confessing readily and making restitution as needed. Thus, they find favor with both God and with other people. By contrast, the fool who mocks and spurns the obligation to make his wrong good ends up losing favor with both God and others.
Verse 10 brings out the reality of the inaccessible character of the human heart. According to Scriptural usage, the heart is the center of man's inner life, the center of thought and motivation, and not merely emotion. Only God knows the heart thoroughly, but he does. We are required to operate on the basis of externals. This Proverbs is simply an observation about the nature of human privacy. Our experiences of bitterness, sorrow, or joy are our own, and in some fundamental ways cannot be shared.
But it's important to see this verse in the context of other Scriptural teaching. For Scripture, we are radically extro-verted, turned outside ourselves. We are made as the image of God, and that means our selves are what they are only in imitation, in mirroring, another. Scripture also makes it clear that, while a happy face can mask a bitter heart (cf. v. 13), there is not an absolute disconnect of inner and outer. Our internal states are evident on our faces, in our stride, in the slope of our shoulders, in the glaze of our eyes. Finally, the NT makes it clear that in the body of Christ we share in each other in a mystical fashion, so that any member's suffering is the suffering of all. Joy is infectious, and in a sense is a profoundly communal experience. So is sorrow. Yet, at the same time, we should not minimize the reality of our individuality, and recognize a genuine biblical notion of privacy.
In these verses, the concern with "ends" of things comes directly into play. Verse 11 interestingly speaks of the different outcomes for the "house" and the "tent" of the wicked and upright. The house of the wicked looks stable, strong, permanent, solid; but its end is destruction (like the temple in Jerusalem). On the other hand, the little pup tent of the righteous (house churches in the first century, eg) don't look as if they could survive a gentle breeze, much less a storm. Yet, the solid, stable, and permanent structure is, contrary to all appearances, headed for disaster, while the meager tent survives and flourishes. As Waltke says, the verse encourages a life of faith, which is the hope of things not yet seen.
Verse 12 is also about ends and appearances, but in a different fashion. The Proverb itself is one that means something other than what it appears to mean: We need wisdom to read the Proverbs rightly, and to read to the end of the Proverb; the Proverb itself is teaching us how to live. The first line of the verse says, literally, "there is a way that is right to a man." Seems just fine. We want to be on the way that is right. But this way, to our surprise, ends with death. How can the right way end with death? The only answer can be is that the way that looked so right wasn't. It just appeared to be right. And this goes back again to the requirement to discern ways and ends, and not judge on the basis of appearance.
Verse 13 refers back to verse 10, but also adds that joy, like all human paths, is revealed by its end. Joy may come for a time, only to be swallowed in grief. That's what happens to the house of the wicked – feasting for awhile but then destruction. This part of the proverb overshadows the first line, suggesting that the pain in the heart that laughs will someday be revealed. The laughing fool has a bitterness of soul that is not apparent at the moment; someday the bitterness will be public.
Waltke suggests that this proverb reflects a faith in a final judgment. The backslider may think that his way is fine – it's the "right way" (v. 12), but ultimately he will have what his ways deserve – which is not good. Meanwhile, the good man will also find fulfillment of his ways. There is a final accounting, and the fool who mocks at restitution will someday have to pay – a lot.
The issue of appearance and reality comes out here again, this time in a contrast between the wise man and the simpleton. A simpleton is defined by his naivete, his inability to see beyond appearances. He believes everything he sees, and everything he's told, and therefore does not pay close attention to where his path is leading him. Believing his eyes, he doesn't see past what can be seen; he doesn't see the "end" of things.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Thursday, May 04, 2006 at 01:42 PM
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