The Old Testament: Proverbs IV – Stating the Obvious and Adding to God’s Words

I watch a lot of baseball; specifically, Phillies games.  I occasionally venture out to watch the games with friends, but this can be a pain, especially if a bar is crowded or so loud you can’t actually hear the game.  Plus I feel guilty if I don’t continue to order a beer or food/snacks if I’m at a table or at the bar.  This is one of several reasons why watching from the comfort of my own home is appealing.  Though at home you often have to endure the commentators.  Some of the guys have some interesting banter, but often they need something with which to fill up the airtime, and often this takes the form of inane stats: the Phillies haven’t won a game on the third Thursday in June when a left hander has been on the mound, they’ve been down by three runs and had a runner on third with two outs and two strikes on the batter.

Sometimes you should just let the game unfold without forcing something to be said.

Other times, one of the commentators, Sarge, feels the need to state the obvious.  Here’s a sample: “If they hadn’t had thrown him out trying to steal second, they’d have a runner at second.”  Thanks for that insight, Sarge.  Though there is perhaps something a bit deeper working here, right underneath the surface of the comment.  Likely, Sarge (or similar commentators) is trying to get at the thoughts behind what led a player to make a particular decision (like stealing a base recklessly), ideas that speak to an approach to a game.  If you laugh at these seemingly obvious comments (as I tend to), you might miss the ideas they can speak to. Of course, maybe I’m so used to parsing through figurative language that I get tripped up by someone who is about as dry and literal as they come.

Proverbs has its share of stating the obvious, with perhaps the intention of saying something profound, but in order to make the profound statement, addition meaning must be injected to give the expression weight. So, of course, this leads to people putting THEIR spin on the idea.

For example, “A truthful witness gives honest testimony, but a false witness tells lies” (12:17).  Duh.  But perhaps the idea here is that you should aim to be an honest person so that you will be able to give honest testimony? Is the author here saying what he really means or has he masked his meaning in order to speak to something deeper?

My issue with working this hard to derive meaning from lines in the Old Testament, however, is that people pick and choose when they say the Bible is speaking literally (usually in the service of denouncing gays, lesbians, anything they want to denounce) and when it’s speaking figuratively.

Basically, when you assert parts of the Bible are figurative, you are doing what the Bible, specifically Proverbs, says not to: adding to God’s words (30:6).  To me, this means don’t embellish or elaborate on what is written in the Bible—take the words at face value.  However, if a person says that what is written is this, but actually, what is really being said is this… This is adding meaning to the content—i.e. adding to God’s words, right?

This command in 30:6 is problematic, for if the language is figurative, you almost guarantee the need to have your ideas unlocked/explained…. Which requires adding to the words so that they make sense. Shouldn’t the words themselves be enough?

Think of the issues this way.  On singing show competitions, judges often call out singers for filling in runs with the melody just because they can.  Perhaps they think the added notes show off their voice better.  But, as the judges tell them, just let the melody do the work: if it works, don’t add to it.  The flip side to this is when singers go in and change the melody because they think it better suits their voice or because they think they’ve improved it.  They rarely demonstrate either case.

So what’s the point? If you think you are trying to represent God’s words, you shouldn’t have to add to them, for when you do, multiple things happen.  First, it makes you look arrogant, as if you understand God’s words and, since they are confusing, you are required to make sense of them for everyone else.  Second, it makes it seem like God’s words are not enough.  If you believe in God’s words, they should be enough.  And if they’re not, let them be, for skeptics will just assume that you’re adding meaning that is not there initially.

This is why when certain people go on TV—usually on a talking heads program—and use the Bible to justify some point of view of theirs, they often have to twist or misrepresent the content to make their argument sound—adding words, basically. This doesn’t strengthen your argument (Michelle Bachman, I’m looking at you), it just makes you look foolish.

The benefit of a TV sports commentator is that they distill aspects of the game down to digestible, easily understood points that often add some insight to the game.  The downside is that occasionally the comments are irrelevant.  Sometimes this adds for a fun diversion from the game.  But if it happens too often, it’s a distraction, which means people will stop watching or watch with the volume off.  Once people stop paying attention, focusing instead on only what they want to pay attention to, this is a problem, right?

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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: http://goo.gl/yvT24K His second novel, The Intersection, is being published by Black Rose Writing September 2016. He is one of five regular contributors to 5Writer.com. On his solo blog, he is chronicling his experience as a gay writer reading the Bible for the first time: www.BibleProjectBlog.com Follow his work at: www.BradWindhauser.com VirgoWriter@gmail.com
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One Response to The Old Testament: Proverbs IV – Stating the Obvious and Adding to God’s Words

  1. Woody Parks says:

    Brad: Excellent points with this post….I agree! Love, Mom

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