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Archive for December, 2015

the nerve!: Proverbs 30

Grace and gentleness notwithstanding, we do well to cultivate a capacity for indignation that is on its way to revulsion.

Some behaviors are almost too brazen to be countenanced.

There are those who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers. There are those who are pure in their own eyes yet are not cleansed of their filthiness. There are those—how lofty are their eyes, how high their eyelids lift! There are those whose teeth are swords, whose teeth are knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, the needy from among mortals. (Proverbs 30:11–14 NRSV)

Biblical wisdom knows this.

The Hebrew phrasing wants to speak of a ‘generation’ or ‘category’ of person who is almost too vile to exist. That he does is something of a wonder.

The Jewish Publication Society (JPS) captures the nuance of the curt Hebrew monosyllable דור, which is commonly translated by ‘generation’, ‘kind’, or ‘species’.

There is a breed of men that brings a curse on its fathers And brings no blessing to its mothers, A breed that thinks itself pure, Though it is not washed of its filth; A breed so haughty of bearing, so supercilious; A breed whose teeth are swords, Whose jaws are knives, Ready to devour the poor of the land, The needy among men. (Proverbs 30:11–14 JPS)

JPS’s deployment of the quasi-animalesque ‘breed’ successfully connotes the difficulty of even speaking of such unnatural behavior as a phenomenon of human affairs.

This species of human being defies all created intentionality. It knows nothing of gratitude or the persistent benefit of the doubt which is due one’s elders. It revels ignorantly in its moral hypocrisy. It offends by that core component of human rebellion that consists of lifting oneself up. It repurposes words—created for giving life and sowing blessing—to consume those who can least defend themselves against such articulate evil.

It is, almost literally, a shame to have to speak of such people.

One must, but there is no pleasure in it.

Tolerance is not here a core value, post-modern self-congratulation be damned.

The nerve of these people!, biblical wisdom subtly exclaims.

It expects us to turn away, to swallow hard, and to feel an indignant flush on our cheeks. There is a moment when not to revile is folly, a self-condemning abdication of proper honor and shame.

 

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