October 13th 2018 – Proverbs 30:17-23

The eye that mocks a father
    and scorns to obey a mother
will be picked out by the ravens of the valley
    and eaten by the vultures.
Three things are too wonderful for me;
    four I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
    the way of a serpent on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
    and the way of a man with a virgin.
This is the way of an adulteress:
    she eats and wipes her mouth
    and says, “I have done no wrong.”
Under three things the earth trembles;
    under four it cannot bear up:
a slave when he becomes king,
    and a fool when he is filled with food;
an unloved woman when she gets a husband,
    and a maidservant when she displaces her mistress.

Proverbs 30:17-23

There is something in the nature of a climax in the words of 17. Evil - such as that portrayed in 11-14 - eventually catches up with a man, and this is generally the end of the story: a nemesis overtakes him. In the remainder of the chapter we have a series of grouped sayings each introduced with the words 'three or four'. The first group gives us four marvels, things unsearchable in the world of nature and of men. The word-pictures are graphic and fascinating. We may ask what note is being struck and what point being made, Kidner is surely right in suggesting that it is 'the easy mastery, by the appropriate agent, of elements as difficult to negotiate as air, rock, sea - and young woman' - the effortlessness, almost, and the naturalness of the thing. A fifth marvel, however, introduces a different note (20) - here is a woman at ease, and at home, in her sinful ways. This naturalness is deeply unnatural. This is something that must defy all understanding. There is, after all, something incomprehensible about sin, and its perversity cannot, ultimately, be fathomed. The next series of pictures (21-23) speak of things that are unbearable or intolerable. The keynote here is incongruity. The upstart who becomes too big for his boots, and who carries the slave mentality into authority and government (22a), presents an incongruous picture which offends one's sense of the fitness of things, as does the churlish fellow (22b) stuffing himself with food. The odious woman (23) is one who is hated, or unloved (RSV). If the latter, it is a picture that calls forth pity and concern, even if she has somewhat brought it on herself. Another meaning, however, is possible. Ironside comments 'Unamiable and vindictive in her disposition, she destroys the peace and happiness of her husband and dependents.' The reference in 23b may be similar to that in 29:21 (see Note); it may, however have more sinister undertones. The LXX reads 'A handmaid when she hath supplanted her mistress', and this would mean being responsible for breaking up a marriage by alienating a husband's affections. It would be given, of course, the elevated name of romance by the husband and the handmaid, but it needs to be called by its proper name, and seen to be the squalid and despicable thing it is 23.