Wholeness and Joy - Proverbs Commentary

We often assume that psychology began a hundred years ago with Sigmund Freud's Interpretation of Dreams, 1900. It would be better to consider the psychology of the human heart in the Book of Proverbs. Long before the modern emphasis on the psychosomatic effects of certain kinds of behavior, we discover that Solomon knew almost as much about this as we do. Here is a list of ten kinds of heart attitude that are bad for our health:

The cruel heart - "Those who are kind reward themselves, but the cruel do themselves harm" (11:17). As opposed to cruelty which damages us, kindness has a healing effect on our body.

The anxious heart - "Anxiety weighs down the human heart, but a good word cheers it up" (12:25). The person who is anxious is oppressed, burdened with worry. This condition can be relieved by a word of encouragement, and the healing results in peace of mind.

The hope-less heart - "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life" (13:12). Constant disappointment makes a person give up hope. As in the previous proverb (12:25), the right word can help cure this condition. And "a gentle tongue is a tree of life" (15:4) which looks back to the tree of life in the garden of Eden (Genesis 2:9, 17), and looks forward to the tree of life that sweetens the conversation of heaven (Revelation 22:1-2). Which is perhaps why Paul concludes the main part of his epistle with "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:13).

The bitter heart - We have seen how some heart conditions can be helped by the words of another, but Solomon also notes that "The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy" (14:10). This suggests that even when a bitter person has moments of joy, he or she cannot express that joy.

The angry heart - "Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but one who has a hasty temper exalts folly. A tranquil mind gives life to the flesh, but passion makes the bones rot" (14:29-30). Some people go through life constantly angry and upset about situations and other people. They always have some cause that agitates them. Solomon noticed how this affects our very bones. The opposite is the healing power of tranquility.

The sad heart - "A glad heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken" (15:13). A person's deep joy shows on the face, but others suffer constant depression. Obviously there are chemical imbalances that can cause depression, but if there was a way to create joy in the heart, the healing power would be better than any medicine.

The downcast heart - When a person is down at heart, it shows in their posture and their walk. So Solomon notes that "A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones" (17:22). The drying up of the bones in this proverb is a contrast to the rotting of bones due to anger (14:30).

The haughty heart - The seven heart conditions we have looked at all have harmful (psychosomatic) effects in the human body, but we can add three heart attitudes that are headed for a fall by external causes. And the humble person is spared this danger. "Before destruction one's heart is haughty, but humility goes before honor" (18:12). Which Peter picks up in his epistle: "All of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time" (1 Peter 5:5-6).

The vengeful heart - Some are constantly obsessed with the need to pay back the slights and wrongs which have been done to them. So Solomon warns us not to say "I will repay evil" (20:22). Instead he recommends "Wait for the Lord, and he will help you." Which Paul echoes when he wrote "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God: for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay," says the Lord. And he goes on to quote exactly "No, 'if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads" (Romans 12:19-20, quoting Proverbs 25:21-22). Which goes to show that Paul knew and valued the wisdom that Solomon had before he became a fool in his old age.

The stubborn heart - "One who is often reproved, yet remains stubborn, will suddenly be broken beyond healing" (29:1). In a couple of previous proverbs we have "The ear that heeds wholesome admonition will lodge among the wise. Those who ignore instruction despise themselves" (15:31-32).

Finally we can see how wisdom (sophia, whom we identified with the Holy Spirit) can keep keep us safe and sound. "Those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster" (1:33). "Length of days and years of life and abundant welfare they will give you" (3:2). "Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be a healing for your flesh and a refreshment for your body" (3:7-8). And speaking of wisdom, "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are happy: (3:17-18). Her words are "life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh" (4:22).

Postscript by "a reader of this commentary"

 Here is a man with 300 wives and 600 concubines.  What does he know about the struggles of the average Arab with only 2 or 3 wives?   He had enormous wealth yet in spite of that he taxed his people heavily to support his selfish interests. I don't think this guy had any idea of how ordinary people had to live, and yet he had the audacity to collect sayings about how to conduct your life.   I believe Solomon spent most of his time gazing at his navel and servicing his ever growing harem. If he was fertile at all the world must be full of his progeny with the same sort of  off the shelf wisdom.

So I believe Proverbs was ghost written by someone who really knew what life was about. It was not written by the self indulgent son and playboy of  an Israeli king.

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