The land is solid and unimaginative.
Meetings of farmers—men and women who work the land seldom sentimentalize it—are not hotbeds of speculation. Men and women of the soil are sensible folk with down-to-earth concerns and an eye on the bottom line.
You don’t debate the land. The land is what it is, a given.
Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense. (Proverbs 12:11 ESV)
Biblical wisdom, too, represents an existential terra firma. It is not given to flights of fancy, ruminations about the unseen, esoterica wrapped up in shiny paper. The wisdom tradition finds it hard to respect speculators. They are, at best, a distraction. At worst, they are fools.
The certainty, then, that working the land hard will fill pantries and stomachs is not an odd thing for this most sure-footed of biblical books. It is just how things are. The caveat ‘most of the time’ need not be spoken, for it is understood. The land, after all, is from time to time swept by hot winds or picked bare by locusts. But not every year. When it happens, you deal with it. While it’s not happening—most of the time—you work the land.
Against this oddly welcoming firmness of thought, the proverb contrasts the one who pursues vanities. More prosaically in the translation before us, he follows worthless pursuits. The sense of rapid motion, of chasing, of pursuit is not accidental. It lies at the core of the life described, one that has no time for predictability, no stomach for the ordinary. This man runs after something he cannot even describe. Like a woman who darts out into the street to chase a leaf on a windy day, this kind of fool has no sense.
A lust for novelty, an impatience with the given stuff of ordinary life, these things are quiet symptoms of folly. We call it ‘romantic’ to make it pretty, we ascribe it to ‘free spirits’ so that we might not judge them and so be judged.
We treat such folly lightly and call it good.
More serious folk get back to the land, which needs weeding, a touch of the hoe, an unremarkable Thursday or Friday more of sweat and sun before the storm breaks, for winter will be here before you know it.