I have been going through Proverbs 1-9 on Wednesday nights with the students in the youth ministry. Mandy and I did a senior project for our undergraduate work that basically consisted of creating a Proverbs 1-9 curriculum for youth ministry. I’m adapting that curriculum for use at IBC. We’re not very far in, last night was our second night, but so far so good. In the past I have taught this content in a Sunday School class that consisted of, mostly, Christians. In the context I’m now teaching it the students are close to evenly split (Christian vs Non-Christian), so I’m getting different questions. This is really good, because I think it helps the students to think through things and it forces me to think through things more.
Last night a student pointed out that he doesn’t think one needs to fear the Christian God (ie, YHWH) in order to become wise. Proverbs seems to say the exact opposite. Mandy and I discussed this on the way home. The problem is that we can point to certain people in history who would not have claimed to fear YHWH who we would consider wise (Gandhi, for instance). So, if this is true – why bother with Proverbs? If it turns out that fear of YHWH isn’t required for wisdom – why bother?
Tentatively Mandy and I have come up with a distinction. We’re playing with the idea that Proverbs concerns itself with a moral wisdom that guarantees prosperity and reward. This guarantee echoes Deuteronomy as it deals with the blessings and the curses. It is obvious that even the editors of Proverbs felt that other ancient sources contained wisdom since they copied, sometimes almost verbatim, from Egyptian Wisdom Literature. Lambert (Babylonian Wisdom Literature) points out that Mesopotamian Wisdom Literature isn’t so much really wisdom literature, but that it is classed as such because of its similarity to the Biblical Wisdom Literature. So, in the ancient near eastern context in which Proverbs was composed it seems safe to assume that they must have considered people who did not fear YHWH to be wise. So, is Proverbs then concerned with a different type of wisdom? That is, not only a common sense decision-making wisdom, but a God-fearing moral YHWH-centric type of wisdom? One that ensures compliance with the Torah and promises prosperity and life? One could, perhaps, write off fear of YHWH as one of those Proverbs specific issues that don’t hold up in reality (as in – sometimes the wicked really do prosper (see Qohelet) or sometimes the righteous do suffer (see Qohelet and Job)). However, both Qohelet and Job seem to uphold the idea that the fear of YHWH is the beginning of wisdom.
So, I’d like to work this out a little in my own head so that I can give a decent answer next week. Does the argument that the wisdom Proverbs deals with differs from general wisdom hold water? If so, what are the differences – a moral and YHWH-centric message? Although this hasn’t come up yet, it probably will and so I’ll throw it out now – do we need to factor anything from the NT into this for Christians today (ie, does the fear of YHWH become fear of Jesus/faith in Jesus)? Any thoughts that you may have would be much appreciated.