We are finding our way through the Age of Covid with the ancient wisdom of the Book of Proverbs as our guide. I invite all of us to think about this saying:
Three things are too wonderful for me;
Four I do not understand:
The way of an eagle in the sky,
The way of a snake on a rock,
The way of a ship on the high seas,
And the way of a man with a young woman.
This saying is an example of what scholars call “a numerical proverb”. It’s designed to draw our attention to the fourth strophe and invites us to ask: what do these four things have in common that reveals a secret about the fourth? In other words, it’s a kind of riddle.
I imagine more than a few women can quickly see a connection between a man with a woman and a snake on a rock but I don’t think that’s the point here. Somehow, “eagle” and “ship” have to fit too and they do. An eagle is made for the sky, a snake finds its home on a rock, a ship is built to sail the seas and a man finds his life in companionship with a woman.
Or so it is with the wise. Things are different with the fool. There are several proverbs that sound misogynistic. For example, “It is better to live in the corner of a housetop than in a house shared with a contentious wife”. Using my color code system, a person might shade that yellow, the color assigned descriptive proverbs, sayings that tell us how things are. But code this proverb and the others like it orange, the marker of the fool. It sounds like a complaint but it’s really a warning. That man on the rooftop is like an eagle forced to the ground, a snake crossing a busy road or a ship grounded. He has alienated the person designed to give his life meaning and by doing so has made himself miserable.