Chapter 12: Beneath the Surface

12:4 A wife of noble character is her husband's crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones.

      There are both "garlands" and "crowns" mentioned in Proverbs. A "garland" was generally made of vegetable material (probably cloth as opposed to a wreath of twisted branches). The wreath garland become famous as a symbol of success in competition and it was also later won by Roman emperors as sort of humble victors over their enemies – as opposed to a royal crown symbolism.
      When "crowns" are mentioned in the Old Testament, if their material is noted, it is metal (especially gold). That is the term used here, it was the term used for a crown of royalty.

12:9 Better to be a nobody and yet have a servant than pretend to be somebody and have no food.

      In the Old Testament world, people of moderate means might also have a servant. Some were servants because they were prisoners of war and had no choice. Others were poor and signed on to serve under someone else who could at least afford to provide daily food and shelter for them.
      Under such circumstances, a servant who could produce enough to cover his own "room and board" would make it possible for his owner/boss could afford to keep him. Admittedly, some servants were treated better than others – and some were treated totally inappropriately. But generally, while the situation may not be ideal, both could benefit from this arrangement.
      While modern Americans might be very uncomfortable with these images and bristle at the thought of not being "free," we must also acknowledge that many in our modern world have demonstrated that "freedom" is not their greatest desire. Instead many would say, "Just provide me what I need and I can be reasonably happy."

12:10 A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.

      Animals in the ancient world were not generally kept or treated as pets. They were basically tools to help people accomplish what needed to be done. The modern western concern for an animal's feelings did not seem to be widespread in antiquity.
      Admittedly, in the ancient world – just as today – some guys took better care of their tools than others. Those who took care of their equipment planned on having it a long time and getting maximum benefit from it.
      Similar attitudes and actions are still typical throughout the Middle East today. At my Tall el-Hammam dig site in Jordan, Americans are regularly dismayed at the treatment of animals by locals. Whether dogs, cats, sheep or donkeys, we get upset at how even owners treat their animals. They don't seem to consider that these animals might feel pain because they are simply tools to get some work done.
      One of the local landowners, who keeps a large section of his fields open for our excavation, is quite wealthy and has a pet dog – a greyhound. Really more like an expensive toy, he enjoys the dog and cares for it as the investment it is. But, most locals have little appreciation for pets. The Old Testament world behind this verse and before our very eyes.

12:27 The lazy man does not roast his game, but the diligent man prizes his possessions.

      In the world of the ancient Israelites, there was really no such thing as "recreational" hunting. When a man went looking for wild game, it was, first and foremost, to provide food for his family. But the animal's hide, horns, bones and sometimes even sinew was also used for daily household items, as well.
      So it would have been unthinkable for a man to hunt and then not dress, cook and eat what he killed. This dead animal was valuable to him on a number of levels and to leave it in the field to be eaten by other animals would have been hard to imagine.
      If I may suggest, a modern analogy might be having a car that runs okay and just leaving it on the side of the road somewhere. Just as a car is valuable for a modern American's daily life, so the dead animal was of real value in antiquity. In fact, this is such an extreme example of laziness that I'll suggest that Solomon is describing an unreal situation – the absurd – to get his point across.