Thursday, July 13, 2006

Proverbs and Social Justice?!

You know, as I finished reading through the rest of Proverbs, I decided I had been a little unfair in my reception of that book over the years. Some time ago I read Jacques Ellul's book on Ecclesiastes in which he talks about the Wisdom Literature being in dialogue with itself--so no one book, whether Proverbs or Ecclesiastes or whatever, holds the whole picture. They engage each other, critique each other, play off each other.

But in the vein of a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, I had pigeon-holed Proverbs as being the Book of Wisdom of the Status Quo. Which, in my defense is at least partially true. There are a ton of proverbs which seem to be about keeping things the way they are, swimming with the current, not against it. Don't upset the balance, they seem to say. Rather, learn the balance and live it.

But this is not an accurate description of all the Proverbs. There are some--more than I thought--which upset the apple cart, so to speak, by calling for justice for the poor, for just rulers, for the end of oppression. While there are the verses that say that laziness will lead one into poverty, there are a lot of other verses which do not contend the poor are lazy. This is a subtle distinction I'd never noticed before. There are poor people, according to the Book of Proverbs, because there are oppressive systems, indulgent and dishonest leaders.

So in that vein, here are the proverbs that stood out for me in my reading yesterday:

"When a land rebels it has many rulers;
but with an intelligent ruler there is lasting order.

A ruler who oppresses the poor
is a beating rain that leaves no food.

The evil do not understand justice,
but those who seek the Lord
understand it completely.

Better to be poor and walk in integrity
than to be crooked in one's ways even though rich.

(All from ch 28, verses 2, 3, 5, 6)


SpiritMists said...

Thanks for your insights into Proverbs! 2 summers ago I taught a two week Sunday School class, and they requested Proverbs. I agreed, and it was difficult, for all the reasons you described! This is a helpful look at the book, as one among a collection of wisdom lit.

Mary Beth said...

Happy Delurking Day! Are y'all still travelling together?

mary beth

LutheranChik said...

Happy Delurking Week!

I have to admit that the Wisdom literature is one of the weaker places in my biblical education...frankly, I think I'm more acquainted with the Tao Te Ching, back from my college days. [blush]