“Wisdom Builds a Poem”

Proverbs 1:20-33
20Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice;
21at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?
23If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.
24Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
25because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof,
26I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you,
27when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.
28Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
29Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
30would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof,
31therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices.
32For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them;
33but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.”

Theologian Phillys Trible rather cleverly titled this section of Proverbs as Wisdom Builds a Poem (1975). These verses are structured in what is called a chiasm. [Chiasm by definition is an inverted relationship between the syntactic elements of parallel phrases – your bit of completely useless information for the day.] In this poetic description of wisdom, we find 5 elements of wisdom compiled in the shape of a fan. A corresponds to A1, B corresponds to B2, and so on. E stands in the center alone. When you see it laid out, you have to admit, it’s brilliant. Read the two A phrases, and you will find a sort of call and response. Do that with all of the letters and you will easily see the point of this chiastic poem. This type of literary device deserves admiration if nothing else.

A          Wisdom addresses the crowds (1:20–21)
     B           Wisdom calls out to fools (1:22)
          C            Wisdom’s invitation and offer (1:23)
     D          Wisdom’s offer was rejected (1:24–25)
E          Wisdom’s condemnation (1:26–27)
     D′         Wisdom’s reaction to those who rejected her offer (1:28–30)
          C′           The consequence of not accepting Wisdom’s invitation (1:31)
     B′         Wisdom speaks about the self-destruction of fools (1:32)
A′         Wisdom addresses the crowds (1:33)
Steinmann, A. E. ©2009. Proverbs (p. 81). Saint Louis: CPH.

With that said, we look at the meat of this poem.
A   =  wisdom is available to all – the whole crowd
B   =  wisdom recognizes and is exasperated by the fact that no one is listening – they are fools
C   =  wisdom’s call is followed by a Gospel promise – God offers enlightenment that will cure foolishness
D   =  wisdom’s call is rejected, just as the Old Testament Prophets were rejected
E    =  calamity awaits those who reject this call to wisdom (there’s a mini chiasm in verses 26-27)
D1  =  wisdom rejects those fools who refuse to be informed
C1  =  fools chose to reject wisdom first, now she will return the favor
B1  =  self-destruction awaits those who reject wisdom
A1  =  wisdom tries yet again to get the attention of the crowd

They have elected not to have “knowledge” and “the fear of Yahweh”, key terminology from the declaration that is foundational and programmatic for the entire book: “the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge”. This serves as a stark warning to those who read Wisdom’s song. They are not to neglect the benefits Proverbs offers from its very beginning.
Steinmann, A. E. ©2009. Proverbs (p. 83). Saint Louis: CPH.

All of this leads us back to the heart and center of Proverbs. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (1:7) Every word emanates from that thought. A significant property of understanding Proverbs begins with knowing what is means to fear the Lord. We will, in all likelihood, talk about this topic at length as we work our way through this book.

This poem is the first salvo in the writer’s attempt to bring his readers the importance of living with wisdom. And it is an attainable thing. We just need to cease rejecting God and receive what He offers, for it is so much.