I have a favorite proverb: Better is a dinner of vegetables where love is, then a fatted ox, and hatred with it. That’s a code yellow proverb for sure, a saying that tells us something about the way the world works.
I think we all know what the proverb is referring to. We’re talking Christmas dinner with the extended family including that loud uncle who is critical of everyone and everything. But the Book of Proverbs focuses not on what we know but on what we can learn from what we know. Thinking about that meal, the book observes the way of the fool. It warns its readers (I code this saying orange): The mouths of fools are their ruin and their lips are a snare to themselves. It seems the fool sabotages his and everyone else’s enjoyment of life. The fool talks on and on and in the end Proverbs says, A fool’s lips bring strife.
But now comes the big question. What do the wise do differently? In a saying I code blue (the color of the wise) Proverbs describes the style of the wise this way: One who spares words is knowledgeable, one who is cool in spirit has understanding. The point is stated in a backward way but the basic idea is easily grasped. The meal (and life) of the wise and those around them is pleasant because she or he lets others do the talking.
We are mapping a survival strategy through the many challenges of the covid age courtesy of ancient wisdom preserved in the Book of Proverbs unlocked by my color coding system. Proverbs insists that our world has a God-planned design so the first thing a wise person does (code blue here) is to start educating themselves about how the world works.
The question then becomes, what sort of things do the wise learn? That’s what the proverbs are about. One discovery makes all the others possible. The first proverb in the Book of Proverbs (and a key to the entire book) says: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”
In Hebrew the verse reads: “Reverence for Yahweh is the basis for discernment”. (Yahweh is the divine name revealed to Israel at Mount Sinai). This proverb does not advocate a creed or religious rite. It describes the attitude that makes it possible to be the kind of life-long learner Proverbs demands. A second proverb explains why it’s so important: “The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life”. To grasp the point, compare that mindset with the attitude of the fool. Another famous Proverb describes him or her well (code this one orange): “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall”. Reverence versus pride, humility versus haughtiness, these attitudes separate wise from fool. The design of reality reveals itself to the humble but remains forever hidden from the proud.