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By me kings reign,
And princes decree justice.
And nobles, all the judges of the earth.
I love them that love me;
And they that seek me early shall find me.
Yea, enduring riches and righteousness,
Apd my increase than choice silver.
I walk in the way of righteousness,
In the midst of the path of rectitude:
And to fill their storehouse.
Blessed is the man that beareth me,
Watching daily at my gates,
Waiting at the posts of my doors!
And shall obtain favor from Jehovah.
The description of the model Hebrew woman in her domestic and social relations (chap. xxxi. 10-31, in the acrostic form) has no parallel for truthfulness and beauty in all ancient literature, and forms the appropriate close of this book of practical wisdom; for from the family of which woman is the presiding genius, springs private and public virtue and national prosperity.
“The Book of Proverbs," says a distinguished modern writer, “is not on a level with the Prophets or the Psalms. It approaches human things and things divine from quite another side. It has even something of a worldly, prudential look, unlike the rest of the Bible, But this is the very reason why its recognition as a Sacred Book is so useful. It is the philosophy of practical life. It is the sign to us that the Bible does not despise common sense and discretion. It impresses upon us, in the most forcible manner, the value of intelligence and prudence, and of a good education. The whole strength of the Hebrew language, and of the sacred authority of the book is thrown upon these homely truths. It deals, too, in that refined, discriminating, careful view of the finer shades of human character, so often overlooked by theologians, but so necessary to any true estimate of human life. “The heart knoweth its own bitterness, and the stranger does not intermeddle with its joy.' How much is there, in that single sentence, of consolation, of love, of forethought! And, above all, it insists, over and over again, upon the doctrine that goodness is 'wisdom,' and that wickedness and vice are ‘folly. There may be many other views of virtue and vice, of holiness and sin, better and higher than this. But there will always be some in the world who will need to remember that a good man is not only religious and just, but wise; and that a bad man is not only wicked and sinful, but a miserable, contemptible fool !" *
The poetic structure of the Proverbs is that of Hebrew parallelism in its various forms. They consist of single, double, triple, or more couplets; the members corresponding to each other in sense and diction, either synonymously or antithetically. Delitzsch calls them twoliners, four-liners, six-liners, eight-liners.f The first section, X.-xxii. 16, contains exclusively two-liners. Besides these there are a few three-liners, five-liners and seven-liners, where the odd line is either a repetition or a reason for the idea expressed in the first lines. A few specimens will make this clear.
* Stanley, Vol. II., p. 269. A different view is presented and elaborately defended in the commentary of Rev. John Miller, of Princeton (New York, 1872), who maintains that the Proverbs, being an inspired book, can have no secular, but must have throughout a spiritual, meaning. He charges King James' version with making the book “hopelessly secular in any places” (p. 12).
† Zweiteiler, Vierzeiler, Sechszeller, Achtzeiler. Commentary on Proverbs, Leipz. 1873, pp. 8899.
4. Single couplets where the second member completes the idea of the first or assigns e reason or a qualification: CHAP. XVI. 24. Pleasant words are as a honey-comb,
Sweet to the soul and health to the bonos.
6. Double couplets or four-liners: xxiii. 15 sq.; xxiv. 3 sq., 28 sq.; xxx. 5 sq., 17 sq.; xxii. 22 sq., 24 sq.; XXV. 4 sq. These are all synonymous, or synthetic, or corroboratory, but there seems to be no example of an antithetic four-liner.
7. Five-liners; the last three usually explaining and confirming the idea of the first two lines: xxiii. 4 sq.; xxv. 6 sq.; XXX. 32 sq.
8. Triple couplets or six-liners, which spin out an idea with more or less repetition or confirmations and illustrations: xxiii. 1-3, 12-14, 19-21; xxiv. 11 sq.; XXX. 29–31.
9. Seven-liners: xxiii. 6–8. The only specimen in the Proverbs. 10. Quadruple couplets or eight-liners: xxiii. 22–25.
But these four, six, and eight-liners, 80-called, may be easily resolved into two, three, or four single couplets. Take, e. g., chap. xxiii. 12–14, which Delitzsch quotes as a six-liner, and we have there simply three couplets which carry out and unfold one idea, or expand the mashal sentence into a mashal poem:
Apply thy heart to instruction :
And thine ears to the words of knowledge.
For if thou beatest him with a rod, he sball not die.
And shalt deliver his soul from hell.
ECCLESIASTES or KOHELETH is a philosophic poem, not in broken, disconnected maxims of wisdom, like the Proverbs, but in a series of soliloquies of a soul perplexed and bewildered by doubt, yet holding fast to fundamental truth, and looking from the vanities beneath the sun to the eternal realities above the sun. It is a most remarkable specimen of Hebrew scepticism subdued and moderated by Hebrew faith in God and His holy commandments, in the immortality of the soul, the judgment to come, the paramount value of true piety. It corresponds to the old age of Solomon, as the Song of Songs reflects the flowery spring of his youth, and the Proverbs the ripe wisdom of his manhood.* Whether written by the great monarch or not (which question is fully discussed on both sides in this Commentary), it personates him (i. 12) and gives the last sad results of his experience after & long life of unrivalled wisdom and unrivalled folly, namely, the overwhelming impression of the vanity of all things earthly, with the concluding lesson of the fear of God, which checks the tendency to despair, and is the star of hope in the darkness of midnight. The key-note is struck in the opening lines, repeated at the close (xii. 3):
O vanity of vanities ! Koheleth saith ;
This is the negative side. But the leading positive idea and aim is expressed in the concluding words:
Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is all of man. Some regard Koheleth as an ethical treatise in prose, with regular logical divisions. But it is full of poetic inspiration, and in part at least also poetic in form, with enough of rhythmical parallelism to awaken an emotional interest in these sad soliloquies and questionings of the poet. Prof. Tayler Lewis (in his additions to Zöckler's Commentary) has translated the poetic portions in Iambic measure, with occasional use of the Choriambus. We transscribe two specimens from chap. vii. and chap. xi.:
Better the honored name than precious ofl ;
* This comparison was made by Rabbi Jonathan on the assumption of the Solomonic authorship of the three works.'
Better to visit sorrow's house than seek the banquet hall;
Better is grief than mirth;
Than hear the song of fools.
This, too, is vanity.
Rejoice, O youth, in childhood ; let thy heart
To didactic poetry belong also the FABLE and the PARABLE. Both are allegories in the style of history; both are conscious fictions for the purpose of instruction, and differ from the MYTH, which is the unconscious product of the religious imagination. But the fable rests on admitted impossibilities and introduces irrational creatures to teach maxims of secular prudence and lower, selfish morality; while the parable takes its illustrations from real life, human or animal, with its natural characteristics, and has a much higher moral and religions aim. It is, therefore, far better adapted, as a medium of instruction, to the true religion. “The fable seizes on that which man has in common with the creatures below him; the parable rests on the truth that man is made in the image of God." The former is only fitted for the instruction of youth, which does not raise the question of veracity; the latter is suited to all ages.
There are no fables in the New Testament, and only two in the Old, viz., the fable of Jotham: the trees choosing their king, Judges ix. 8–15, and the fable of Jehoash: the cedars of Lebanon and the thistle, 2 Kings xiv. 9, and 2 Chr. xxv. 18. The riddle (parable) of Ezekiel xvii. 1-10 introduces two eagles as representatives of human characters, but without ascribing to them human attributes.
The parable occurs 2 Sam. xii, 1 (the poor man's ewe lamb), Isa. v. 1 (the vineyard yielding wild grapes), also 1 Kings xx. 39; xxii. 19. It was cultivated by Hillel, Shammai and other Jewish rabbis, and appears frequently in the Gemara and Midrash. It is found in its perfection in the Gospels. The parables of our Lord illustrate the various aspects of the kingdom of heaven (as those in the Synoptical Gospels), or the personal relation of Christ to His disciples (as the parable of the good shepherd, and that of the vine and the branches, in the Gospeld of John). They conceal and reveal the profoundest ideas in the simplest and most lucid language. They are at once pure truth and pure poetry. Every trait is intrinsically possible and borrowed from nature and human life, and yet the composition of the whole is the product of the imagination. The art of illustrative teaching in parables never rose so high before or since, nor can it ever rise higher.*
89. PROPHETIC POETRY. This is peculiar to the Bible and to the religion of revelation. Heathen nations had their divinations and oracles, but no divinely inspired prophecy. Man may have forebodings of the future, and may conjecture what may come to pass under certain conditions; but God only knows the future, and he to whom He chooses to reveal it.
* Ewald (p. 54) says of the parables of Christ : “Was hier aus der Menschenwell erzählt wird, ist vollkommen wahr, d. i. den menschlichen Verhältnissen vollkommen entsprechend, sodass keiner der es hört an seinem Dasein sereifeln kann, und ist dennoch nur Bild, nur Lehre, und nicht anders gemeint. Aber mit der höchsten Wahrheit der Schilderung dieses menschlichen Leben verbindet sich hier ihre höchste Einfalt, Lieblichkeit und Vollendung, um ihr den unwiderstehlichsten Zauber zu geben."
Prophecy is closely allied to poetry. The prophet sees the future as a picture with the spiritual eye enlightened by the Divine mind, and describes it mostly in more or less poetic form. Prophetic poetry combines a didactic and an epic element.* It rouses the conscience, enforces the law of God, and holds up the history of the future, the approaching judgments and mercies of God for instruction, reproof, comfort and encouragement Prophecy is too elevated to descend to ordinary prose, and yet too practical to bind itself to strict rules. Ezekiel and Daniel, like St. John in the Apocalypse, use prose, but a prose that has all the effect of poetry. The other prophets employ prose in the narrative and introductory sections, but a rhythmical flow of diction in the prophecies proper, with divisions of clauses and stanzas, and rise often to the highest majesty and power. The sublime prayer of Habakkuk (ch. iii.) is a lyric poem and might as well have a place in the Psalter.
The greatest poet among the prophets is Isaiah. He gathers up all the past prophecies to send them enriched into the future, and combines the deepest prophetic inspiration with the sublimest and sweetest poetry.f
The earliest specimens of prophetic poetry are the prediction of Noah, Gen. ix. 25-27, the blessing of Jacob, Gen. xlix., the prophecies of Balaam, Numb. xxiv., and the farewell blessing of the twelve tribes by Moses, Deut. xxxiii. The golden age of prophetic poetry began with the decline of lyric poetry, and continued till the extinction of prophecy, warning the people of the approaching judgments of Jehovah, and comforting them in the midst of their calamities with His promise of a brighter future when the Messiah shall come to redeem His people and to bless all the nations of the earth.
We select one of the oldest specimens, a part of the remarkable prophecy of Balaam concerning Israel, which has a melodious lyrical flow (Num. xxiv. 4-10, 17–19):
He saith who heareth the words of God,
How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob,
Thy tabernacles, O Israel!
As gardens by the river side,
As cedar trees beside the waters.
He shall flow with water from his buckets,
And his seed shall be in many waters,
And bis kingdom shall be exalted.
He hath as it were the strength of a buffalo:
And shall break their bones in pieces,
He couched, he lay down as a lion,
And as a lioness; who shall stir him up?
And cursed is he that curseth thee.
• Ewald treats prophecy as a part of didactic poetry. “ Ein reiner Dichter," he says (p. 51), “ im ursprünglichsten Sinne des Wortes ist der Prophel nicht : was er ausspricht, soll von vorne an bestimmend, rorschreibend, belehrend auf Andere wirken. Aber sein Wort will ron der Begeisterung Flügeln getragen von oben herab treffen, und muss so von vorn an erhaben in gleicher Hohe sich bis zum Ende hallen. ... So drängt sich denn dem Propheten die längst gegebene Dichlerweise unwillkührlich auf, ähnhich hebt und senkt sich bei ihm der Strom der Rede, nur der Gesang fällt vor der ungewöhnlichen Höhe und dem Ernste seiner Worte leicht von selbst weg."
+ Comp. the eloquent description of Isaiah by Ewald in his Die Propheten des Allen Bundes, Stuttg. 1840, vol. I., p. 166.