EDITORIAL: Poetry: prosaic points

A 4-year-old computer is a doorstop, a car still running at 15 a phenomenon.

The house a young couple and their six kids found palatial two generations ago now seems oppressively small.

Old age, not death, becomes the ultimate enemy.

With the western world's cultural obsession with obsolescence, it seems only natural that we ignore poetry penned more than 3,000 years ago.

Yet from its opening sentence, the Book of Proverbs offers moderns a taste of what our culture so often lacks: “Éwisdom and discipline É words of insight É a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair … knowledge and discretion” (Proverbs 1:2-3).

Application to today? Just listen.

“My son, if sinners entice you, do not give in to them,” Solomon said (1:10). “If they say, Come along with us; let us lie in wait for someone's blood, let's waylay some harmless soul' É do not go along with them” (vv. 11, 15). How many gang members' moms would love for their sons to understand such?

How many marriages – even lives at the hands of jealous husbands – would be saved if people saw that wisdom “will save you also from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words” (1:16)?

The Book of Proverbs urges charity on those of means: “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered” (21:13) and laments oppression of the disadvantaged: “A poor man's field may produce abundant food, but injustice sweeps it away” (13:23).

It also warns that misfortune is often a do-it-yourself project: “Drunkards and gluttons become poor” (23:21) and “Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth” (10:4).

Legion are the co-signers who too late realized the foolishness of helping deadbeats get more credit: “He who puts up security for another will surely suffer” (11:15).

This book of wisdom highlights the value of patience and mercy: “Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs” (10:12); “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (15:1); and “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink” (25:21).

Some of Proverbs' wisdom seems almost trivial – but isn't: “Seldom set foot in your neighbor's house – too much of you, and he will hate you” (25:17) and “If a man loudly blesses his neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken for a curse” (27:14).

Many of Solomon's declarations are counterintuitive: “A man's pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor” (29:23) and “

Given the proliferation of divorce, cohabitation and unhappy marriages, perhaps some of the most valuable wisdom Proverbs offers is its urging of care in choosing a spouse.

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised,” it tells prospective husbands (12:4). Brides-to-be are warned that one of life's great tragedies is “an unloved woman who is married” (30:23).

Many seekers of wisdom match each of Proverbs' 31 chapters to a day of the month, gleaning new insights and stronger reinforcement with each reading.

In our passionate pursuit of the latest and greatest, we cheat ourselves if we ignore this ancient wisdom.

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