We fool ourselves—quite literally—when we imagine that spontaneous means genuine.
It is a snare to say rashly, ‘It is holy,’ and to reflect only after making vows. (Proverbs 20:25 ESV)
The Hebrew text is a tough one to penetrate.
‘A snare’ is plain enough. The sudden action of a device traps an animal that never saw it coming. Snares work on witless victims who don’t know enough to watch out for them. Whether animal or human, such creatures imagine they are walking in a safe place. The person who stumbles around like that is oblivious to the dangerous reality of religion, religious talk, religious feeling. These can deceive with as much lethality as the baldest lie, to say nothing of their elevated threat level for self-delusion.
‘Rashly’ is also easy enough for us readers. We’ve seen ‘rashly’, we recognize it. Someone rushes in, unthinking, with bad effects. Rash actions come soon to be regretted. The term ‘buyer’s remorse’ needs no explanation these days because everyone has had it.
Yet the Hebrew proverb becomes dense precisely at the point where we must decide what is being said or done rashly. This something is parallel to ‘making vows’, so we are not left entirely without help in figuring it out.
The English Standard Vision has our holy fool rashly declaring something to be holy. This may be right, though the Hebrew text says nothing explicit about speaking.
The Jewish Publication Society (JPS) Bible, echoed in part by the New International Version, opts instead for a rash religious action.
It is a snare for a man to pledge a sacred gift rashly And to give thought to his vows only after they have been made. (Proverbs 20:25 JPS)
It is a trap for a man to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider his vows. (Proverbs 20:25 NIV)
A sudden spasm of religious generosity seems self-evidently a good thing. In fact, thoughtlessly pledging such a ‘sacred gift’ can be the holy delusion of an idiot with strong feelings.
We get this idea, we creatures charged with building a world that honors our Creator, that acting impulsively somehow takes us beyond the ordinary, mechanistic, calculations of our debased nature and gets things right that our day-to-day reckonings cannot. If we move quickly, we might just escape our flesh.
It’s a silly notion for creatures endowed with the power of reflection and self-awareness. Like most varieties of foolishness it has a whimsical appeal, particularly to children of all ages.