Daily Proverbs

My son, if sinful men entice you,
do not give in to them.
If they say, “Come along with us;
let’s lie in wait for innocent blood,
let’s ambush some harmless soul;
let’s swallow them alive, like the grave,
and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
we will get all sorts of valuable things
and fill our houses with plunder;
cast lots with us;
we will all share the loot”—
my son, do not go along with them,
do not set foot on their paths;
for their feet rush into evil,
they are swift to shed blood.
How useless to spread a net
where every bird can see it!
These men lie in wait for their own blood;
they ambush only themselves!
Such are the paths of all who go after ill-gotten gain;
it takes away the life of those who get it.

The Holy Bible : Today’s New International Version. 2005 (Pr 1:10–19). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

COMMENT:

Chronology is not the overriding structural principle in Hebrew writing (and this would include the New Testament as well, because, though written in Greek, it was not primarily composed by Greeks). Rather, chronology is subsumed by more important principles, at least in Hebrew thought: namely, theme and content. While chronology is not lacking, it is not the only, most important or overriding sequencer of the material. Rather, other things can become more important, thereby skewing the chronology in unexpected ways.

Hebrew narrative structure contains what can be called a thematic expansion of topic–a format that commonly replaces chronology as an organizational principle even in straightforward narrative. This structuring can be illustrated in various portions of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. This particular portion of Proverbs is a good example of this structure. Look at the pattern:

A My son, if sinful men entice, (1:10a)
B do not go (1:10b)
A’ 1:11-14 How sinful men entice (1:11-14)
B’ Do not go with them (1:15-19)

The first line of the pericope establishes the structure for what follows; the first half of the line, dealing with the enticement of sinners is expanded upon in the next four verses. At that point, there is a shift, and the second half of verse ten, about “not going” is then expanded upon for the same length of time. This same sort of structure appears frequently in the Bible. Notice how it works in the book of Jonah:

The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” (Jonah 3:5-9 NIV)

Jonah displays another example of this same thematic structuring. Jonah 3:5-9 is a description of Nineveh’s reaction to Jonah’s preaching. 3:5 gives a summary of the response of the city to Jonah’s preaching, while 3:6-9 gives specific details about what happened and how. If an attempt is made to read this as strictly a chronological description of what occurred, a certain confusion results. Verse five recounts how the people repented and wore sack cloth. If verses 6-9 follow chronologically, then why does the king order his people to do what they’ve already done?

However, if the thematic arrangement is recognized, the problems evaporate, and the narrative is perfectly clear and consistent. Look at the pattern, which is just like what we just saw in Proverbs 1:10-19:

A The Ninevites believed God (3:5a)
B They declared a fast (3:5b)
C They put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least (3:5c)
C’ King puts on sackcloth (3:6)
B’ Proclamation that no one is to eat or drink (3:7)
C’ Man and beast covered with sackcloth (3:8a)
A’ Let them call urgently on God and repent (3:8b-9)

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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