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Accepting, then, the view that the song is of parabolic import, we should avoid the extravagances of those allegorists who find a spiritual significance in every word and metaphor. We should, first of all, study to ascertain the literal sense of every passage. First the natural, afterward that which is spiritual. The assumption of many that the literal sense involves absurdities and revolting images is a grave error. Such writers seem to forget that “the work is an oriental poem, and the diction should therefore not be taken as prose.
It is the offspring of a luxuriant imagination tinged with the voluptuousness characteristic of the eastern mind. There love is warm and passionate even while pure. It deals in colours and images which seem extravagant to the colder ideas of the West.”
Having apprehended the literal sense, we should proceed, as in a parable, to define the general scope and plan of the entire song. But remembering that the whole is poetry of the most highly ornamented character, the particular descriptions of persons, scenes, and events must not be supposed to have in every detail a spiritual or mystic significance. The mention of spikenard, myrrh, and cypress flowers (chap. i, 12-14), yields an intensified thought of fragrance, and indicates the mutual attractiveness of the lovers, and their desire and care to please one another; and from this general idea it is not difficult to infer similar relations between the Lord and his chosen ones.
But an attempt to find special meanings in the spike. nard, and myrrh, and cypress flower, as if each allusion pointed to some distinct feature of the economy of grace, would lead to certain failure in the exegesis. The carping critics who have found fault with the descriptions of the bodies of Solomon and Shulamith, and condemned them as revolting to a chaste imagination, too readily ignore the fact that from the historical standpoint of the ancient writer these were the noblest ideals of the perfect human form, which, according to the psalmist (Psa. cxxxix, 14), is “ fearfully and wonderfully made.” The highly wrought eulogy of the person of the beloved (chap. v, 10–16) gives a vivid idea of his surpassing beauty and perfection, and, like John's glowing vision of the Son of man in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks (Rev. i, 13–16), may well depict the glorious person of the Lord. But the description must be taken as a whole, and not torn into pieces by an effort to
not sure,” he says, “but the absence of the name of God, and of any distinctive religious expressions throughout the song, is thus to be accounted for—that the writer, conscious of the parabolic character of what he is describing, felt that there would be an incongruity in mingling the symbol with the thing symbolized.”
· Davidson, Introduction to the Old Testament, vol. ii, p. 404.
find some separate attribute or doctrine of the Divine Person in head, hair, eyes, etc. The same principle must be maintained in explaining the description of the charmingly beautiful and perfect form of Shulamith in chap. vii, 2-6. The allegorical interpreters have been guilty of the most extravagant folly in spiritualizing every part of that portraiture of womanly beauty. But, taken as a whole, it may appropriately set forth, in type, the perfection and beauty of “a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing” (Eph. v, 27).
PROVERBS AND GNOMIC POETRY.
The Old Testament Book of Proverbs has been appropriately called
an Anthology of Hebrew gnomes." Its general form is Ained and de- poetic, and follows the usual methods of Hebrew paral
lelism. The simpler proverbs are in the form of distichs, and consist of synonymous, antithetic and synthetic parallelisms, as has been explained in a previous part of this work. But there are many involved passages and obscure allusions, and the book contains riddles, enigmas, or dark sayings (17'n, ), as well as proverbs (bum). Many a proverb is also a condensed parable; some consist of metaphors, some of similes, and some are extended into allegories. In the interpretation of all scriptural proverbs it is important, therefore, to distinguish between their substance and their form.
The Hebrew word for proverb (sre) is derived from the verb Son, which signifies to liken or compare. The same verb means also to rule, or have dominion, and some have sought to trace a logical connexion between the two significations; but, more probably, as Gesenius suggests, two distinct and independent radicals have coalesced under this one form. The proverb proper will generally be found, in its ultimate analysis, to be a comparison or similitude. Thus, the saying, which became a proverb (Sun) in Israel, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” arose from his prophesying after the manner of the prophets with whom he came in contact (1 Sam. x, 10–12). The proverb used by Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth,
1 Bruch's Weisheitslehre der Hebräer, p. 104. Strasburg, 1861.
“Physician, heal thyself,” is a condensed parable, as, indeed, it is there called (Luke iv, 23), and it would be no difficult task to en. large it into a parabolic narrative. Herein also we may see how proverbs and parables came to be designated by the same word. The word Trapoquia, adage, byroord, expresses more nearly the later idea commonly associated with the Hebrew song, and stands as its representative in the Septuagint. In the New Testament it is used in the sense of adage, or common byword, in 2 Peter ii, 22, but in John's Gospel it denotes more especially an enigmatical discourse (John x, 6; xvi, 15, 29).'
Proverbs proper are therefore to be understood as short, pithy sayings, in which a wise counsel, a moral lesson, or a Called Gnomic suggestive experience, is expressed in memorable form. because
pointed sentiSuch sayings are often called gnomic because of their ment. pointed and sententious form and force. “The earliest ethical and practical wisdom of most ancient nations,” observes Conant, “found expression in short, pithy, and pointed sayings. These embodied, in few words, the suggestions of common experience, or of individual reflection and observation. Acute observers and thinkers, accustomed to generalize the facts of experience, and to reason from first principles, were fond of clothing their results in striking apophthegms, conveying some instruction or witty reflection, some moral or religious truth, a maxim of worldly prudence or policy, or a practical rule of life. These were expressed in terms aptly chosen to awaken attention, or inquiry, and reflection, and in a form that fixed them indelibly in the memory. They thus became elements of the national and popular thought, as inseparable from the mental habits of the people as the power of perception itself.” :
“Proverbs,” says another, “are characteristic of a comparatively early stage in the mental growth of most nations. Men find in the outer world analogies to their own experience, and are helped by them to generalize and formulate what they have observed. A single startling or humorous fact fixes itself in their minds as the type to which all like facts may be referred, as when men used the proverb, 'Is Saul also among the prophets?' The mere result of an induction to which other instances may be referred fixes itself in their minds with the charm of a discovery, as in the proverb of the ancients, Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked' (1 Sam. xxiv, 13).
Such proverbs are found in the history of all nations, generally in their earlier stages. For the most part there is no record of Comp. above, p. 177.
The Book of Proverbs, with Hebrew text, King James' Version, and Revised Ver. sion, etc. For the American Bible Union. Introduction, p. 3. New York, 1872.
their birth. No one knows their author. They find acceptance among men, not as resting upon the authority of a reverend name, but from their inherent truth, or semblance of truth.” i The biblical proverbs are not confined to the book which bears
that title. The Book of Ecclesiastes contains many a Rules for the interpretation gnomic sentence. Proverbs
also in almost every of proverbs.
part of the Scriptures, and, from the definition and origin of proverbs, as given above, it will be readily seen that much care and discrimination may be often required for their proper exposition. In such exposition the following observations will be found of practical value and importance.
1. As proverbs may consist of simile, metaphor, parable, or alleDiscrimination gory, the interpreter should, first of all, determine to of form and which of these classes of figures, if to any, the proverb
properly belongs. We have seen above that Prov. V, 15–18, is an allegory. In Prov. i, 20; viii, 1; ix, 1, wisdom is personified. Eccles. ix, 13–18, is a combination of parable and proverb, the parable serving to illustrate the proverb. Some proverbial similes are of the nature of a conundrum, requiring us to pause and study awhile before we catch the point of comparison. The same is true of some proverbial expressions in which the comparison is not formally stated, but implied. Thus, in Prov. xxvi, 8, “As binding a stone in a sling, so is he that gives honour to a fool.” Here is a formal comparison, the point of which is not at first apparent, but it soon dawns on the mind as we reflect that the binding fast of a stone in a sling would of itself be a piece of folly. The next verse is enigmatical: “A thornbush (nin) goes up in a drunkard's hand, and a proverb in the mouth of fools.” The distich implies a comparison between the thornbush in the drunkard's hand and a proverb in the mouth of fools. But what is the point of comparison? The passage is obscure by reason of the uncertainty attaching to the word nin, which may mean thorn, thornbrish, or thistle. The authorized English version reads: “As a thorn goeth up into the hand of a drunkard, so is a parable in the mouth of fools.” Stuart renders: “As a thornbush which is elevated [riseth up, Zöckler) in the hand of a drunkard, so is a proverb in the mouth of a fool," and he explains as follows: “As a drunken man, who holds a high thornbush in his hand, will be very apt to injure others or himself, so a fool's words will injure himself or others.” But Conant translates and explains the passage thus: “A thorn comes up
Prof. Plumptre in the Speaker's Commentary on Proverbs (Am. ed.). Introduc. tion, p. 514.
? Commentary on Proverbs, in loco.
INTERPRETATION OF GNOMES.
into the drunkard's hand, so is a proverb in the mouth of fools. . The drunkard's hand, as he gropes around, blindly grasping at whatever comes in his way, is pierced by a thorn. So fares the fool when he awkwardly attempts to apply some sharp saying of the wise.” The enigmatical character of the next verse we have already noticed (p. 181). It is evident, therefore, from this variety in the nature and style of proverbs, that the interpreter should be able to determine the exact character of each proverbial passage which he essays to explain.
2. Great critical and practical sagacity is also necessary both to determine the character of a proverb and to apprehend its scope and bearing. Many proverbs are literal state- practical sagac ments of fact, the results of observation and experience; as, “A child is known by his doings, whether pure and whether right his deed” (Prov. xx, 11). Many are simple precepts and maxims of a virtuous life, or warnings against sin, which any one can understand, as, “Trust in Jehovah with all thy heart, and upon thine own understanding do not rely" (Prov. iii, 5). “In the path of the wicked come thou not, and proceed not in the way of the evil ” (Prov. iv, 14). But there are other proverbs that seem to defy all critical sharpness and ingenuity, as, “To eat much honey is not good, and to search out their glory is glory" (Prov. xxv, 27). The last clause has been a puzzle to all exegetes. Some, as the Authorized Version, carry over the negative particle from the preceding sentence, and so make the author say the precise opposite of what he does say. Others reject the usus loquendi of the verb noņ, to search out, and, appealing to the corresponding Arabic root, make the word mean to despise : "To despise their glory is glory.” Others take the word nia, glory, in its radical sense of weight: “To search into weighty matters is itself a weight; i. e., men soon become satiated with it as with honey” (Plumptre). Zöckler renders: “To search out the difficult bringeth difficulty;” Stuart: “Searching after one's own glory is burdensome.” Others suggest an emendation of the text. Amid such a diversity of possible constructions the sagacious critic will be slow to venture a positive judgment. He will consider how many such obscure sayings have arisen from events now utterly forgotten. Their whole point and force may have depended originally upon some incident like that of Saul prophesying, or upon some provincial idiom. So, again, the mysterious word 72aby, in Prov. xxx, 15, translated horseleech in all the ancient versions, and vampire by many modern exegetes, gives an uncertainty to every exposition. Possibly here the text is corrupt, and we may take the word Alukah as a proper name, like Agur in