One of my good friends had a writing assignment on the above topic, and sent some of us his thoughts, which were quite good. He also asked us for our thoughts on the topic. What follows is an edited version of what I sent him in response.
I have a Bible open to the book of Proverbs. This particular Bible presents them as being separated into verses, written as prose. This saddens me. They should be presented as verse, like the poetry that they are. What’s the value of a poem? Is there a point in writing poetry? Collection of poems like Proverbs answer that question with an emphatic “Yes!” It’s not just that they are written in verse with generous use of Hebrew parallelism. They also teach by using metaphor and imagery. They are memorable. They are beautiful. They convey truth. Yet, what is a true poem? How literal do we take metaphor? What does that question even mean?
The Proverbs convey a lot of maxims that are just as true now as they were then. Many of them are general and applicable, regardless of culture. In contrast to much of the Bible, quoting them ‘out of context’ is often fine, since many of these proverbs stand on their own, though in some sections, there is much to be gained from the context. Ultimately, this is poetry, and while it’s instructive poetry, our modern Western minds too often want to reduce poetry to mere principal, and quote it like a soundbite for Twitter. The author(s) could have written without metaphor, which perhaps would suit that purpose better. Instead, they mix truth and beauty. They invoke emotion and empathy. They challenge.
I just came across Proverbs 24:17, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he is overthrown.” Ah, how we like to pick and choose the maxims that serve our agendas. Perhaps we only like to hear things that justify what we already agree with. Communication studies support this assertion. There is also the matter of how much we trust the person speaking to us. I tend to steer clear of Bible know-it-alls. Part of that is a lack of relationship, and therefore trust. However, I’m not likely to want to know a know-it-all either, partially because I feel they are more interested in telling me what they know than knowing me, that it’s really about them. There is a Proverb that gets to the heart of it, “Better are the wounds of a friend than the kisses of an enemy,” Proverbs 27:6. We need to be open to being wounded by those that love us.
I’m in awe of a God who not only give us words of correction, but who speaks beautiful poetry when he does so.