The Old Testament: Proverbs II – Contradictions Weaken a Message?

I was a pretty big pain for my parents when it came to my diet.  I avoided all things green or really anything with nutritional value.  I was downright neurotic about my food—I was fine with hamburger meat and I liked spaghetti sauce but the two WERE NOT to be combined.  I even insisted that the sesame seeds be picked off my hamburger buns.  My parents will tell you that they indulged me not because they didn’t care about my diet but that they just ran out of the energy to get me to eat differently.

Part of why I avoided vegetables (aside from hating the way they tasted) was that I never saw Dad eating them at the dinner table.  Sure, we were supposed to eat our greens (or carrots) but Dad didn’t have to.  Because I asked about this seemingly confusing double standard, I was told that Dad’s an adult and he can do as he pleases. I wasn’t buying it.  If vegetables were so important, why did Dad avoid them?  Oddly, my parents caved, although not because I had pointed out that this was one of those do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do contradictions.

Proverbs contains some strange contradictions as well.

One of the recurring ideas expressed in Proverbs is the idea of not building a high gate/fence and avoiding fighting.  Based on some of the context, the idea about the walls/gate is probably about within your community—you shouldn’t shut yourself off from your neighbors, the other people within your community.  I can see this, but this is not that developed when it comes to the attitudes one should have about neighboring communities—after all, in order for Jerusalem to get back on its feet after the exiled Jews returned, Nehemiah had to get that wall around the city rebuilt and reinforced.  A wall and high gates offered protection in a dangerous time.

But should you automatically trust your neighbors in ways you should be weary of other tribes/communities?  Sure, there is some wisdom working here, but is it wishful thinking and not providing some benefit of the doubt?

And then there is the idea of fighting.  Yes, there are benefits to not fighting just because you can or because you lose your temper.  You should try and find a different way to resolve conflict.  But this is a strange, contradictory message in the context of the Old Testament, for any city or people who happen to worship a different God, the Israelites were lead time and time again against them to wipe them out.  No attempt to resolve differences (at least not discussed) with conversations.  No, wiped out.  So which message do you believe? Yes, you shouldn’t fight, but sometimes fighting is really good and should absolutely be pursued? Yet Wisdom equals peace (3:17). So the opposite of peace, war, equals the opposite of wisdom?

When it comes to war, Proverbs dictates that one should consult several advisers, and in so doing, victory will be assured (11:14, 15:22). Though, no discussion of who should be included as an adviser.  How does one go about selecting appropriate advisers?

I started eating vegetables in my 20s (yes, it took that long). There are many times I wished my parents wouldn’t have caved to that stubborn kid at the table who refused to clean his plate or even hand the food off to the family dog, who was parked under the table at my feet.  I don’t think they saw me standing on principle—balking at the seeming contradiction.  Maybe if this had been cleared up in some way for me, I wouldn’t have waited so long (or been as sick as often).  Of course, if my tastes hadn’t required too much energy to try and change, I could have made the change myself.

About virgowriter

Brad Windhauser has a Master's in English from Rutgers University (Camden campus) and an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte. He is an Associate Professor (Teaching/Instruction) in the English Department at Temple University. His short stories have appeared in The Baltimore Review, The Santa Fe Writer's Project Journal, Ray's Road Review, Philadelphia Review of Books, Northern Liberty Review, and Jonathan. His first novel, Regret (a gay-themed thriller set in Philadelphia) was published in 2007. You can read more about (and buy) it here: His second novel, The Intersection, is being published by Black Rose Writing September 2016. He is one of five regular contributors to On his solo blog, he is chronicling his experience as a gay writer reading the Bible for the first time: Follow his work at:
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