19 September 2016

Proverbs 20:1-11

“Who can say, ‘I have made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin’?” (v. 9)

Psalm: Psalm 8



You may feel that there is no link between verse one and the rest of this passage. That is because verse 1 really belongs with the previous chapter - which gives a catalogue of failures to warn the reader. The one led astray by drink is added to a list which includes the scoffer, the violent and the worthless witness. In these verses we have second list of fools which is sandwiched within two statements about the power and authority of the king (verse 2 and verse 8). It is possible to see a link between the verses on kingship and the list of fools - there are particular issues in any society which is plagued by strife, the lazy who will not work and the disloyal. Verse 2 is best seen as a statement of the reality of life under a monarchy (angering the king is not simply a mistake but a possibly fatal one) rather than some kind of commendation of royal anger. Proverbs 19:11-12 has already argued for being slow to anger, while admitting the reality that kings were not always known for being so. The Jewish tradition suggests that verse 9 is supposed to remind us that the king is human as well and no human is perfect, to balance the very positive picture given in verse 8. If so, then when reading these verses we can reflect on the balance to be found between respecting those in authority and obeying lawful commandments on the one hand, and recognising that no-one is above temptation on the other.

Perhaps then, these verses from Proverbs ask us to reflect particularly on our contribution to our society, even though that society may be very different from that of ancient Israel.

To Ponder

  • If you were asked to name the faults which afflict our society, which would you choose?
  • Is there a particular proverb from today's passage which you can take with you to ponder during the rest of the day? What is it? And why do you think it jumps out at you?

Bible notes author

The Revd Judith Rossall

Judith Rossall is a Methodist tutor at Queen's Foundation in Birmingham. Before moving to Queen's, she was a circuit minister and taught at STETS in Salisbury.