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No. 21: Advice From a Sojourner, Part 9

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 21
January, 1991
Copyright 1991, Biblical Horizons

17. The eye that mocks a father, And despises to obey a mother, The ravens of the valley will pick it out, And the young eagles will eat it. 18. There are three things that are too wonderful for me, Four that I do not understand: 19. The way of an eagle in the sky, The way of a serpent on a rock, The way of a ship in the middle of the sea, And the way of man with a maid. 20. So also is the way of an adulterous woman: She eat and wipes her mouth, And says, "I have done no wrong."

The theme of the sayings of the Sojourner is humility versus arrogance. We have seen the Sojourner (most likely Jacob) begin in verses 2-4 by saying that he is stupider than "any man," but that he rests in his knowledge of God. God is allwise, and so we need not be. He goes on in verses 5-6 to say that if we trust God’s Word, we shall have true the wisdom that comes from humility.

The humble man does not want too much (vv. 7-9), while the arrogant "leech" man wants everything (vv. 15-16). The humble man does not meddle in other people’s business, while the arrogant man does (v. 10). The arrogant man is proud. He is a knowitall. He despises his parents (vv. 11-13) and is savage to the poor (v. 14). He is never satisfied (vv. 15-16).

Now we come to another statement about the arrogant man (v. 17). The Sojourner says that he will come under the curse of the covenant.

The "eye," as we have seen, is the organ of judgment (Biblical Horizons No. 14). The eyelids of the arrogant are raised in lofty judgment against all authority (v. 13). The arrogant son mocks and despises his parents with his "eye" (v. 17). Notice particularly that it is his father who is mocked by the arrogant man, while it is his mother whom he disobeys. This is what Esau was like. He mocked the birthright that his father offered him (Gen. 25:34). He made life miserable for his parents (Gen. 26:35; 27:46). Jacob, however, obeyed his mother in all things (Gen. 27:6-13).

The unclean birds will pick out such "eyes." This refers to the curse of the covenant, set out in Deuteronomy 28:26, "And your carcasses shall be food to all birds of the sky and to the beasts of the earth, and there shall be no one to drive them away." This last part of that verse refers to Abram, who drove the birds away in Genesis 15:11. When Israel rejected her righteous inheritance, Abram no longer protected them and the birds devoured their carcasses (Mt. 24:28; Rev. 19:17-18). The doom of arrogant Esau and the picking out of his eyes is set forth in the book of Obadiah.

Rebellion may seem to lead to prosperity, but it leads to destruction. Those who judge wickedly with their eyes will be judged by God’s army of beasts and birds.

The Sojourner now moves back to the subject of humility: there are three, yea four things that are too wonderful for him. Indeed, he adds a fifth in verse 20.

What do these three, four, yea five things have in common? Because of our rationalistic education, we believe that an abstract formulation of a generality is more "true" than a series of concrete illustrations. Thus, we don’t feel we can "understand" this proverb unless we can summarize it in abstract language. Perhaps what these five things have in common is that they skillfully negotiate their environments: an eagle in the air, a serpent on a rock, a ship in the sea, a boy with his sweetheart, and an adulteress with her lifestyle. Or, perhaps what they have in common is that they are completely at ease in their environment.

It is not wrong to seek a common principle here, because obviously the Sojourner is looking at five similar things. We must avoid the idea, however, that when we have come up with an abstract generality we have done all that is necessary to understand this proverb. We must let the illustrations work on us visually and emotionally as well. Think about an eagle in the sky, a snake on a rock, a ship in the sea, and a boy with his sweetheart. Each is marvelous.

Christian philosophy says that eventually, maybe thousands of years from now, we will be able to put words to all the things we perceive and feel. This part of what is called the "maturation of epistemological self-consciousness." Maybe all we can do in this essay at this point is grope toward a sense of what is being said here.

I think we can say, however, that what is wonderful about each lies in the general area of the surprising ease of these things in their environments.

The "three things" cover the three environments God made in Genesis 1: heavens above, earth beneath, and waters under (below) the earth. It takes great effort for us to fly, and in the Sojourner’s day it was not possible at all, but an eagle soaring in the sky does it without any effort at all, it appears. The snake glides across the rocks, while we stumble and trip in rocky places. We thrash and splash in the water, but a ship negotiates it without fuss.

The "fourth thing" applies the principle to human life. Think of how shy young men are around girls. They may seek to cover up their shyness by acting boastful and by showing off, but clearly they are ill at ease. When, however, a boy and girl are in love, they just don’t seem to have any difficult communicating or getting along (that comes later!). Everything is rosy and everything falls into place.

The Sojourner adds a twist to his proverb, a "fifth thing." The adulterous woman eats up a man like a meal, wipes her mouth and thinks nothing of it. This also is amazing: Where is her guilt, her shame? Like the rebellious man with flashing eyes, so the adulterous woman has no sense of her own immorality. It is as natural for her to commit adultery as it is for an eagle to fly in the sky.

The Bible associates sexuality with eating, because both are "covenant" acts. The covenant meal seals the wedding at the marriage supper. Just so, an unclean meal is associated with sexual immorality. (For an extensive discussion of this, see J. B. Jordan, "The Meaning of Eating," available for $4.00 from Biblical Horizons .)

There is no way you can tell an eagle not to fly, and there is no way you can tell a snake not to flow through the rocks. Similarly, there is no way you can warn a love-struck young man that the person he is infatuated with may not be the right person. It is "too wonderful" for you, and you will have to take it to God. Get them to postpone marriage until they begin to see the "flaws" in each other.

In the same way, there is no way you can get through to people hardened in sin. Prisons are full of hardened criminals who think they have done no wrong. Always, according to them, it is someone else’s fault. Biblically speaking, the only hope for such people is to excommunicate them, to turn them over to Satan for the destruction of their flesh in the hope that such treatment will break through their veneer of arrogance (1 Cor. 5:1-6). It is a sad thing that the Church today does not love people enough to do this for them!