Daily Proverbial, 29 February 2012

O my son, o son of my womb, O son of my vows, do not spend your strength on women, your vigor on those who ruin kings. Proverbs 31, verse 2.

Today is Leap Day, that once-every-four-years occurrence we undertake to accommodate our understanding of time. And on this Leap Day, we’re finally at the last chapter of the book of Proverbs. In a few more non-Leap days, we’re going to venture into what I think will be uncomfortable but rewarding territory by talking about the Proverbs 31 woman. We’ll finish out this commentary on the Proverbs by discussing what it means to be a woman of noble character. Men, stay tuned for next week.

But first…

…But first let’s talk about the sayings of a king named Lemuel. History doesn’t say who Lemuel was, but my Concordia says that verses 1 through 9 are the sayings of King Lemuel. As you can read, though, verse 2 appears to be written by a woman, maybe even King Lemuel’s mother. Why is that? Again, I don’t know! Nobody does. http://www.learnthebible.org/king-lemuel.html says “Lemuel is mentioned only in this passage in the Bible. This has left the door open to all kinds of speculation as to his true identity. He has been thought by interpreters to be imaginary, to be Solomon himself, to be Hezekiah, to be a Lemuel who was king of Massa (a play on the Hebrew words), or just some petty Arabian prince. In other words, no one really knows. The name means “to God” and has the implication of “belonging to God.” El (the basic name for God in Hebrew) on the end of Lemuel shows the name to be a compound of God. Personally, I think the name and context points to a poetic reference to Solomon. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon never uses his own name but presents himself seven times as the “Preacher”. The shift in emphasis in Proverbs would call for a different construction. Through most of Proverbs, Solomon is giving words of wisdom to his son. In Proverbs 31, King Lemuel is repeating the words of wisdom given to him by his mother.

So, like the Agur in Proverbs 30, perhaps Lemuel is a pseudonym Solomon used, or perhaps he really was another person. In the end, we don’t really know. Quite honestly, it doesn’t matter much. What matters is that someone was making a wise observation about something that’s still true today.
On the obvious surface, the author is imploring her son to stay away from loose relationships. In the time of Solomon, the vast majority of women in society would have had children within a relationship, most likely married. To have a son of her womb would mean having a son after those wedding vows she mentions. Clearly, the mother who’s writing is telling her son to not be with a woman to whom he’s not married. To do so would be to invite the kind of sin, trouble, and scandal that undoes even royalty. If you don’t believe me, think about Tiger Woods, or Ashton Kutcher, or Bill Clinton. If celebrities (and presidents) still get in trouble that starts with infidelity, how much more so with you and me who aren’t celebrities? Heck, I know first-hand of the trouble caused by infidelity.

If that’s true for adultery, then it’s true for other sins as well. Do not spend your strength on liars, your vigor on what ruins kings. Do not spend your strength on murderers, your vigor on what murders kings. Do not spend your strength on those who covet, your vigor on what undoes kings. Friends, do not spend your strength on those who do not love, your vigor on those who do not love even your kings.

Like so many other verses in Scripture, it works if you simply substitute one sin for another. Yes, again, the mother is clearly speaking against adultery. And doing this substitution is taking liberties, but it’s to make the larger point, one out of reverence for God. The author’s saying, her lesson, means much more than just keeping your pants up. It is about self-control, honor, honesty, commitment, perseverance, endurance, and fidelity. It is about doing something as an act of honoring God by honoring a relationship. And if you take out the particular sin of adultery, it is STILL about honoring that relationship even if you substitute lying, stealing, killing, anger, coveting, jealousy, hating, gossip or watching anything starring Bam Margera. I think that’s the biggest lesson from this verse. I think that’s borne out by the verses in the rest of the book – which we’ll discuss soon – because those deal with subjects other than adultery. It works no matter what sin you insert. The lesson points us back to God no matter what.

And isn’t that the point of all Scripture anyway? To point us back to God by showing how much He loves us? Whoever wrote the sayings of King Lemuel seemed to understand it was. And they did it without Leap Day.

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