20 September 2010

Proverbs 3:27-34

"Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Do not say to your neighbour, 'Go, and come again; tomorrow I will give it' - when you have it with you." (v.27-28)


The book of Proverbs is a collection of wisdom sayings and teaching, some quite salty! It is not just a list of 'thou shalt nots' but is as concerned with how to do things as much as what to do. The proverbs are meant to instruct people in a way of living that will lead to health and well-being for self and community.

Traditionally, the Proverbs are associated with King Solomon, who asked for wisdom (1 Kings 3:9) when God offered him any gift he desired. The material in today's passage however was probably collected in the 3rd or 4th centuries before Christ, when the exiles in Babylon had returned to Jerusalem. Some of the sayings in Proverbs are thought to be much more ancient however, and were passed down for hundreds of years in the Jewish community through oral tradition.

Today's passage is part of a longer speech given by 'Wisdom' - usually given a female persona - in the broad category of instruction to the young. It is spoken by someone well used to the ways 'good' people cut corners in the way they treat each other. Often reading the Proverbs can give the sensation of being 'found out' by the text. The point of today's passage is that fullness of life does not just come from appearing to do the right thing, but from really doing it. It advises gentleness and peace between neighbours, even when the temptation is to return bitterness with bitterness.

In a time where the practise of faith and moral living are mostly seen as individual matters, Proverbs remind us that for much of human history moral living has been a community enterprise. Fullness of life is not about any one person doing or believing the right thing, but about the whole community having healthy relationships. This could be a challenge to both liberal and conservative approaches to moral choices today.

To Ponder

Which of the sayings or teachings in today's passage seems to speak to you right now? Why? What can you draw from them?

Which one do you think is most important for people in your community to hear? Why?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jennifer Smith

Revd Dr Jennifer Smith is a Methodist minister, and superintendent of the Ealing Trinity Circuit in the London District. Though resident in the UK since 1993, she is a US citizen and continues to observe US political and religious culture with interest.