Chapter 10: Beneath the Surface

10:1 The proverbs of Solomon: A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother.

      This second section of Solomonic Proverbs (10:1-24:34) is different from the first section (1:1-9:18). While the first section consisted of extended poetic sayings which told a story (see 1:10-19 or 9:1-6; 13-18), this second section consists of single verse wise sayings in standard Hebrew poetic parallelisms. Typical of Hebrew parallelism in this section is a verse beginning with a statement about a good person followed by an opposing statement about a bad person (or presented in the opposite order).

10:5 He who gathers crops in summer is a wise son, but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son.

      The Gezer calendar is a soft limestone tablet (5" x 3") with a 7-line paleo-Hebrew inscription on one side, dating to the 10th century BCE. Discovered in September 1908 by R.A.S. Macalister at the Biblical city of Gezer, today it sits in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
      The 7 horizontal lines of text are like a poem describing the Gezer region's agricultural calendar along with a marginal vertical signature (Abijah – "the LORD is my father"). The tablet's small size and soft easily-scraped-for-reuse surface on both sides (another inscription appears to have been scraped off the reverse side) suggests it served as a learner's writing tablet. The text reads:
two months of gathering (olives) August/September
two months of planting (grains)October/November
two months of late planting (legumes and vegetables) December/January
a month of hoeing weeds (for hay)February
a month of barley harvest March
a month of harvest (wheat) and feasting/ measuring (grain)April
two months of cutting/harvesting (grapes)May/June
a month of summer (fruit harvest) July
     It describes 4 single and 4 double month periods of agricultural activity – from planting to tending to and finally harvesting of typical foods of the Holy Land. While the agricultural cycle begins with planting (see line 2), the Calendar doesn't. It begins at the time of olive ingathering – the time of the autumnal equinox and the Hebrew autumnal New Year (first mentioned in the Mishnah) – and not the annual spring calendar of the Torah (see Lev 23).
      The Gezer Calendar, mentions 4 ingathering/harvest seasons in ancient Israelite agriculture: olives (August-September), grains (barley in March; wheat in April), grapes (May and June) and summer fruits (July). Together, they included the famous 7 foods of the Holy Land (Dt 8:8; wheat, barley grapes, figs [summer fruit], pomegranates [summer fruit], olives and date honey? [summer fruit]).
      Two common terms between the Calendar and Proverbs 10:5 are "summer" (line 7 and Pr 10:5A) and "harvest" (lines 4, 5 and Pr 10:5B). Both terms are also frequently compared and contrasted in the Old Testament (see Pr 6:8 and 26:1; also 2Sa 16:1; Jer 40:10; Amos 8:1-2).
      The primary ingathering in ancient Israel was the grain harvest (March/April). If grain wasn't gathered at that time, it would be virtually impossible for a family to survive another year. The summer gathering of produce was valuable but it was a difficult season with the heat and lack of rain.
      The agricultural activities of these two seasons say much about the man who needs to engage in them (10:5). The spring grain harvest is essential for a family's wellbeing the following year and that man must be focused and consistent. The summer fruit gathering was a valuable addition, but not as critical, and the summer heat made it much more unpleasant. But there was produce in the fields that would benefit the family and no one could afford to leave them out there.

10:15 The wealth of the rich is their fortified city, but poverty is the ruin of the poor.

      The standard Hebrew word for "city" is 'ir. It is understood as a fortified place with a perimeter defensive wall and gate, typically sitting on a mound, where people live – thus a city. But this verse uses a different Hebrew term for "city" – kiriath ("inhabited place"), which may or may not be fortified.
      In the Biblical world, villages are understood as smaller and without perimeter defensives, while cities were larger and had a perimeter defensive wall. This verse speaks about a kiriath that is "fortified" (Hebrew word for "strong"). A fortified community with a high strong defensive wall becomes a picture of what the rich think their wealth will do for them.
      I have spent 10 years excavating Khirbet el-Maqatir in Israel's West Bank, 9 miles north of Jerusalem. About 3 acres in size with a 9-foot wide defensive wall and city gate, we believe it was the city of Ai captured by Joshua (Joshua 7-8). While called a "city" ('ir) in the text, because of its size and situation (geographical and historical), we refer to it as a fortress (a small fort).

10:26 As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is a sluggard to those who send him.

      The "vinegar" of this verse would have been a wine vinegar (see Nu 6:3) like we know today. A rather common condiment in the Bible world, it was a fermented, sour, mild acid used in food preparation. One characteristic of anything which has gone through this fermentation process is that it was made "sour" and that sourness in the mouth is considered in this verse.
      "Vinegar" comes from the same Old Testament word for "yeast" (leaven) which fermented dough. Characteristic of this fermentation process is the leaven causing the dough to puff up with air. Throughout the Bible, "leaven" seems to have a negative connotation. In the New Testament, Jesus uses it as a symbol for evil (see Mt 16:6-12; Lu 12:1).