Sunday, April 7, 2013

"Jussive in Meaning": What is Proverbs?

      The book of Proverbs is a very interesting book and, by definition, deserves and demands our attention. It is an often neglected book or, worse, misinterpreted book. I would like to record a few facts that I have been learning of this book. This post can be considered a part of my Old Testament series.
       When talking to people about Proverbs with someone, or reading writing of the book of Proverbs, one statement I here a lot is that the teachings in Proverbs is "Jussive in meaning". Now you might not have heard that before, and in case you haven't I will explain it to you.
        Proverbs was written in Hebrew, and in Hebrew grammar there is a type of imperative known as a Jussive. A jussive is nothing more than a heart felt plea, example: "I really wish you would let me in." That sentence is an example of a Hebrew jussive. So, that means that there are no commands in Proverbs so you can take it or leave it, and Proverbs is nothing more than a bunch of good ideas that may or may not apply to you.
          Now, that, personally, would bother me because that means that there is no authority behind Proverbs and that it is nothing more than pithy sayings that have no more meaning than Aesop's fables, and do nothing more than help you live skillfully. But there has to be more in Proverbs, and what is the history of the book and how would the Hebrews understand the book. and also where did the good ideas in Proverbs come from?
         Now Proverbs, by itself, really isn't a very hard book to understand just to read it at face value. Much of it is somewhat easy to understand, example: "Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge but he who hates reproof is stupid." Proverbs 12:1, that is pretty straight forward but like all the books in the Bible, Proverbs is an inexhaustible well that needs to be laboured over to mine out its jewels, Proverbs 2:4-5. That is what we need to do.
        So let us consider the history of this book. Who was it written by? Solomon, Agur, and Lemual. The last two authors are unknown but we all know who Solomon is. Some say that this book is merely a compilation of wise sayings of wise men from before, and it is possible that a certain section of the book was such, but some have even said, lo, many teach that the proverbs are of Egyptian origin! Now that is absolutely ludicrous, that wicked pagan gentiles would be the origin of such a jewel in our own Bibles. Further more it makes little sense from what the book itself says, chapter 1:7 "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; Fools despise wisdom and instruction." Now no one that knows anything of the Bible wouldn't doubt that the Egyptians feared God, although they had good reason to (one of these days I would like to write on the Exodus and its affect on Egypt), so then they could not have been the originators of the book of Proverbs. Also, it makes perfect sense that Solomon himself would write the book and that he personally thought of the proverbs by what I will write below.
          Think through what you know of Solomon. He was the son of David that inherited the throne of Israel. From early on he was characterized by wisdom, I Kings 2:9. Now there is certain event in his life that is very significant. I Kings 3:3-15, Solomon was at Gibeon which was where the tabernacle was thus he was worshipping and one night, while he was there, God told Solomon that He would give him anything that he wanted. Solomon, an example of showing some early signs of wisdom, Proverbs 2:1-6, asks for wisdom. God is pleased with Solomon for that requests and grants it and promises more. Solomon soon afterwards became internationally well known for his wisdom, I Kings 5:7. Now, how did God give that wisdom and is it possible for us to receive such wisdom?
        Now here is one of the most exciting things about Proverbs, I think, that is its origin. The origin will give us depth to the book and will answer our jussive in meaning predicament. So please turn to your Bibles to Deuteronomy 17:18-20. According to that section, what was the king to do with the Law, why was he to do that, and what is the beginning of wisdom? I will let you make the logical conclusions. Now, read Deut. 4:5-8.  The Law was to tutor men to understand wisdom, and to convict of sins, both of which happened to Solomon, Proverbs 20:9. This is why the imperetives in Proverbs is Jussive, because all the commands have already been given in the Law!
         Do you also want to know what is amazing about this book Proverbs. It leads those who read it to salvation, II Timothy 3:14-17! In verse 15, the word "writings" is what was used to explain the wisdom literature, mainly Proverbs. Then Paul continues to say "In fact, not only the Writings but all of God's Word is beneficial".
        Well this is an over view of the book of Proverbs, and again much more can be said. As you can see there is much more to Proverbs than just a bunch of pithy saying that the Hebrews learned from the Egyptian and reorded by Solomon, but is originated from the Word of God.