the Church on the Hill
by D. Eric Williams
Pastor, Cottonwood Community Church
This week we will briefly examine a Scripture passage in order to illustrate what a mind transforming method of Bible study is like. Proverbs 30:18-19 says: "There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not: The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid."
Let's start by dispelling the myth that the passage is telling us that the way of sin is difficult to discern. The argument is that verse twenty ("such is the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth, and wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness"), is the climatic example of how unseen sinful desires overtake a person. The truth is that verse twenty is in sharp contrast to the previous section. Indeed, (part of), the point of verse twenty is that sin is as unremarkable as a routine meal. Anyone can sin; very few are able to understand the mind of God. Moreover, the Hebrew term "pâlâ" translated as "wonderful",is rarely used in a negative context. Instead, it is typically employed to described the unsearchable character and works of the Almighty (cf. Ex. 3:20, 1 Chron. 16:12, Job 5:9, Ps. 105:5 and many more).
Now, in our selection, four common occurrences are described as "wonderful" or "hard" (to understand). Yet it does not seem that they should be considered especially deep or dark. Nevertheless, the Bible is given to reveal the mind of God ands so we must begin by accepting that this passage was written to disclose the heart of our Father in some way. How then does a great bird in flight, a snake crossing a rock, a ship on the sea or a man wooing a woman reveal the mind of the Almighty?
In the first place, we recognize that none of these happenings are actually observable. Yes we can see the eagle in flight, but we cannot see the air beneath her wings. We cannot see the motive power of a serpent, the wind which drives a ship, nor the subtleties of love. We see the results of these forces but the effective vitality behind the event is hidden.
However, the Bible teaches us that the flight of a hawk is itself a display of God's wisdom (Job 39:26-27). This shows us that He is interested in beauty and strength. It reveals His interest in complicated matters (the physics of flight), and a concern that they are hidden from the intellectually lazy man. Thereby, we know that the point of this passage is not to merely acknowledge the power of the unseen.
Our passage is also about the careful control of powerful forces to accomplish a goal (the power of a rock is overcome when the snake uses it as a roadway). The fourth example in the passage most clearly presents this idea: the way of a valiant man (warrior), with a young woman still under the oversight of her father is the culmination of all that is wonderful. Hence our thoughts are directed to the way that powerful passions are controlled in order to accomplish the goal of winning the hand of a desirable woman. The significance of this may be hard to understand in our modern age when casual "hook-ups" seem to be the norm. But the self control and careful planning required to successfully navigate the labyrinth of a woman's heart while satisfying her father's demands will tax the resources of even the most stalwart man.
In every case a special ability is required to master an extremely difficult situation. Yet in each case the elaborate nature of the matter is concealed so that the event described looks simple to the casual observer.
Unfortunately I'm out of space, so the conclusion to this study will wait until next month.