Chapter 22: Beneath the Surface

22:1 A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.

      I write these words today at the beautiful Movenpick Resort and Spa Dead Sea in Jordan. It sits right on the northeast corner of the Dead Sea and ad is beautiful and wonderfully decorated for Christmas. I am here to help direct the Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project (TeHEP) Christmas week 2010. It was 19 degrees F back home the morning I left, it was in the 60's when I went to bed here last night. My wife, Gayle, is with me and this is awesome!
      The Movenpick much more than we would pay, so consequently we would just not stay in a play like this. But it is our dig headquarters and part of the arrangement the excavation made. A tough job, but somebody has to do it!
      To be honest, I know so many other archaeologists whose credentials and experience make them more qualified to do what I am doing – but here I am. Neither rich, famous, important or powerful, I am very blessed and as far as I can see, the only explanation I can offer is that this verse really works! I try (imperfectly!) to be this guy one day at a time, and God honors such a commitment. It is a great way to live!

22:6 Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.

      In the ancient world there were few roads leading to and from a city. So if you were trying to go from this city to another, and you took the wrong road out of town, it was going to be difficult to turn off that road and get to the right road to finally arrive at that other city. With so few other roads, it was hard to even exit to another one and the terrain was very difficult to navigate, so it would be hard to get and keep your bearings.
      In addition, there were virtually no road signs along the way, although I do think there may have been some sort of road markers; not unlike the "ancient boundary stone" of verse 28. In fact, people didn't travel that much and you might not even find someone else along the road you were traveling who could even tell you anything about the place you were really trying to find. No GPS, no cell phones, no maps – it was sure important to get going down the right road at the very start!

Throughout the Roman Empire roads between major cities were paved as both economic and military necessities. Pictured is remains of the east-west Roman road from Tyre on the coast (modern Lebanon) to the Golan Heights (north of the Sea of Galilee). This stretch is near the Old Testament city of Dan. While Old Testament roads between cities in the Holy Land were not paved, the later paved Roman roads often followed over the same ancient paths (photo by permission from www.BibleWalks.com).

22:7 The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.

      Poverty is not treated the same as sin or wickedness in the Bible. Admittedly, it can be the consequences of one's own bad and inappropriate decisions, but poverty also comes at the hands of the sinful act of others.
      But neither is poverty understood in the Bible as virtuous – the poor were not necessarily more pious. Poverty was not an ideal or desired way to live.
      To balance the equation, it should also be noted that the LORD has the right and power to give and take away (Job 1:21). As His children, if He sees fit to allow us to spend some time in difficult financial circumstances, it always has value in our lives and we need to be open to learn the lessons of that experience.
      While most people in the Old Testament would have been poor by our standards, they probably didn't really know it. Hopefully, they understood this proverb and learned how to appropriately navigate the system. Scripture does not consider the poor as immoral or second-class citizens. Instead, they were understood as neighbors in need of help and support.

22:17 Pay attention and listen to the sayings of the wise; apply your heart to what I teach,

22:18 For it is pleasing when you keep them in your heart and have all of them ready on your lips.

22:19 So that your trust may be in the LORD, I teach you today, even you.

22:20 Have I not written thirty sayings for you, sayings of counsel and knowledge,

22:21 Teaching you true and reliable words, so that you can give sound answers to him who sent you?

      This section of Proverbs has frequently been compared to the Wisdom of Amenemope, an Egyptian text probably dating to the 13th-12th centuries BC. While there are a number of partially preserved copies, a complete copy is at the British Museum.
      In this text of 30 chapters, Amenemope instructed his son about proper conduct in their social world. Many of those sayings teach the same principles of Proverbs 22-24.
      It is popular in modern scholarship to focus on these similarities (even the possibility of the "thirty sayings" of 22:20 being a reference to Amenemope's text). I do not have any problem with the book of Proverbs teaching man similar social truths that are also known from other ancient cultures. Maybe even the writer had read Amenemope's text, himself.
      But it would be my understanding that the Holy Spirit determined which of these principles would be appropriate to be included in this or any other section of Proverbs or any other book of the Bible. The message of Proverbs – all Scripture – has transformed my life and I have great confidence in its divine origin, inspiration and authority.

The Wisdom of Amenemope is an Egyptian wisdom text probably dating to the 13th-12th centuries BC. Above is a section of the most complete copy known, today in the British Museum. It has 30 chapters of father-to-son instruction about personal responsibility and being a good citizen.

22:28 Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your forefathers.

      Part of everyday life in the ancient world was establishing and respecting the ancient landmarks set up in the community. While there may have been different kinds of landmarks set up for different reasons, one of those institutions was to mark the corners of each family's fields – received by inheritance from their ancestors. The ancient Israelites were farmers and everyone's annual harvest had to pretty much cover them for that year, there were no grocery stores. If you didn't grow it, there was a pretty good chance you would have nothing to eat. So, everyone needed to keep their fields up and running as efficiently as possible, just to keep their families alive. When I began excavating in the West Bank of Israel in the early 90's, I saw my first ancient boundary stone markers. It was in the midst of a valley of wheat fields. They were consisted of a simple vertical stack of stones – one upon another standing close to 3 feet high. If such a marker was moved, it wouldn't have been by accident. This would have been a deliberate act of deceit and an attempt to cripple someone else's livelihood.

Old Testament boundary stones between family fields would not have been major inscriptions, just field markers. Later city boundary markers carried similar ideas but were clearly more "official." Pictured is one of the 13 known boundary stones of the ancient Biblical city of Gezer. Dated to the 2nd century BC, this stone is on display at the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, Turkey. Photo courtesy of Dr. Farrell Jenkins, one of my colleagues in the Near East Archaeological Society. While right side of this inscription is broken, the top line is in Hebrew as reads "boundary of Gezer" which the bottom line is in Greek and reads "of Aklios." We do not know who Aklios was. In 2012 another of my Near East Archaeological Society colleagues (Dr. Eric Mitchell) found #13 while leading an archaeological survey team in a systematic sweep of the fields around Gezer. All the known boundary inscriptions date to the same period (2nd century BC) between the Old and New Testaments, the general time of the Maccabees and the Hanukkah story. These inscriptions indicate the Jewish occupants Gezer still concerned about keeping their fields according to Jewish law.