Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Proverbs 14:1

Kurk asks - what do I see in the Hebrew?  See is the operative word. I have not looked at Proverbs except briefly chapter 8. I have not done a close reading of this text. The way Kurk uses proverbs from Vietnam touched me deeply.  I have some understanding of metaphor but I have not exercised the pithy part of my language - too busy with the poetry part in the psalms.  Perhaps some pith would give me moment.

The text:
חַכְמֹות נָשִׁים
בָּנְתָה בֵיתָהּ

וְאִוֶּלֶת בְּיָדֶיהָ

The first thing I see is a plural subject and a singular verb. What will I do with the subject? Is it a collective? Is it a plural of several and individual? Is it construct?  This singularity does something - she builds her house. That second line above seems clear.  But what house? For what children? Is it a nest where she may set her brood? (Psalm 84) The word order is English word order - subject-verb-object.  Not what I am used to.  The verbal form is qal perfect. x has built her house.  Perhaps the her has an antecedent elsewhere in the text. A brief scan back to Proverbs 9:1 shows me a referrent: חָכְמֹות בָּנְתָה בֵיתָהּ חָצְבָה עַמּוּדֶיהָ שִׁבְעָֽה׃

I can translate this way: if Proverbs 9:1 is Wisdom has built her house, then Proverbs 14:1 is Wisdom woman has built her house. (with a footnote, plural).

In the first two lines of Proverbs 14:1 do I feel a contrast coming with the connector, וְ vav? The subject of the next verb is singular feminine. Foolish or folly?  The verb is imperfect - ongoing. And we know this foolishness from Psalm 38:5 and Psalm 69:5. For Psalm 38 see my notes here. I have drafted my notes for Psalm 69. They are scheduled for a few months from now if I retain my discipline.
The structure is reinforced by the circle of : deep-floods-overthrow-hating : hating-overthrow-floods-depth. The second half is bounded by the word servant. The poem is a prayer about reproach. Reproach is repeated in both sections.
 The psalm is heavily used in the NT. Our folly is overcome in the cross, God's folly. (I did not say this in my notes!)  But I did note:
Why is this psalm at the place of the lilies? And this one (of psalms 45, 60 singular, 69, 80, q.v.) is the only one with extended spelling, שׁושׁנים rather than שׁשׁנים. The lilies, as you will recall, is Rashi's symbol for students of Torah. It is also a symbol of love, recalling the Song of Songs. Where psalm 60 inscribes the particularity of one elect lily, the other three psalms are inclusive of all. Where psalm 45 is the joy of love, this psalm is its cost.
So folly with her own hand tears it down. (Psalm 11:3).

The verse is not therefore a contrast and should not be read as such. The connector וְ can be read as and rather than but.  Ah, the pith and moment of one letter - these are the hooks of the tabernacle, these vavs. Could that be also the place of the lilies?

It is creation and redemption:
Wisdom - woman - has built her house, 
and Folly with her own hand tears it down 
[that it might be rebuilt as the new creation].
[hands should/could be plural]
God therefore is in the folly and in the building and rebuilding, the builder and the re-builder. As it is written of the day of creation (Bereshit 2:4), בְּיֹום עֲשֹׂות יְהוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶרֶץ וְשָׁמָֽיִם in the day that יְהוָה God made the earth and the heavens. This is the day we live in, the day which Abraham saw that John writes of as the words of Jesus, the day that יְהוָה has made that we should rejoice in it (Psalm 118).

So George Herbert writes in his poem Easter: we count 300 but we misse, there is but one and that one ever.

(Yes beloved, Herbert thought there were only 300 days in a year). (Bob: you don't really believe that, do you? Ah poetic license - stretched language.)


  1. Thank you for sharing how you've really chewed on this proverb! Bob, I'll be thinking about your analysis, and your rendering, for a long time!

    Wisdom - woman - has built her house,
    and Folly with her own hand tears it down

    The English alliterations of your first line really build! Wm - wn - hsblthrhs

    The English syntax of your second line tears at the phrasing! and Folly with her, and Folly with her own. With whom? the impatient, foolish reader asks too soon. and Folly with her own hand, and Folly with her own hand tears, and Folly with her own hand tears it. What a wonderful, final use of the phrasal verb, tears down!

    Thanks again!

  2. Thanks for the invitation to read. I have to admit I was stumped at first. Then I waited a day and the letters and things began to come together into this unexpected almost fractal-like thought.