Chapter 25: Beneath the Surface

25:11 A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.

      Whatever the precise nature of the gold and silver artistic creation in this verse was, it was not doubt attractive and valuable. Ephesians 2:10 says "we are His handiwork" (NIV). The Greek New Testament word for "handiwork" is poiema, from which we get our modern English word "poem" – also rightly understood as a beautiful work of art.
      Another good translation for poiema is "masterpiece." God considers followers of Jesus (Eph 2:8-9) is individual artistic masterpiece. You are truly a work of art!
      Admittedly, many of us don't see ourselves that way or feel like that – but it is how He views us. We would do well to understand just how special, important and valuable to God each one of us really is.

25:12 Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man's rebuke to a listening ear.

      I can't remember that we have found gold jewelry at any of my digs in the Holy Land. But, at Tall el-Hammam, Jordan, we did found a few pieces of silver and bronze jewelry. And, at Khirbet Nisya in Israel's West Bank years ago, we found a tomb from the time of the Judges with skeletal remains of 51 people –all in a very bad state of preservation.
      Also in the tomb was a half dozen iron bracelets and anklets, also called bangles. Some of these were actually found still circling some tibia bones. At that time in history, iron jewelry was pretty valuable and important, possibly worth about as much as gold.
      As far as earrings are concerned, there are numerous ancient carved reliefs which depict both men and women wearing them. And, in tombs, earrings have been identified with skeletal remains of men.

25:13 Like the coolness of snow at harvest time is a trustworthy messenger to those who send him; he refreshes the spirit of his masters.

      Snow is not mentioned lots in the Bible (see 26:1), but it was a phenomenon with which the ancients were familiar. It is was not mentioned negatively, but rather as a unique situation to be noted and appreciated just because of its uniqueness. It was, of course, a winter season event, but winters in the Bible are known as the rainy season and not for snow.
      Snow in the Holy Land today is similar. It does happen, and seems to be happening more frequently these days – so much for global warming. But is not a common occurrence and is generally treated as a special occasion by the locals. Generally just a dusting that covers the ground, it is gone the next day.
      One winter year while I was excavating in the Jordan River Valley – where the temperature tends to stay in the 60s and 70s at that time of the year, it snowed about 6 inches in the mountains on both sides. Both Jerusalem and Amman were blanketed with snow that lasted a couple of days.
      The road from the valley to the airport in the mountains was closed and we missed our flight home. I contacted my boss and told him I was snowed in – in the Holy Land – and wasn't sure he believed me! I told him to check Google Earth!

25:14 Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of gifts he does not give.

      While snow in winter (25:13) was an extremely unique phenomenon, winter was the Holy Land's rainy season. The former rains tended to be gentler and began in October. They continued throughout the region for the rest of the year (the western Christian calendar year) until the heavier latter rains of the new year kicked in and finished out the winter season. With the early rains, the sun-hardened ground softened and farmers could plow
      and plant. The generally harder later rains brought the crop to maturity and the winter season ended with the harvest of barley and then wheat.

25:16 If you find honey, eat just enough – too much of it, and you will vomit.

      God told Moses that He would take His people out of Egypt into the Promised Land, "a land flowing with milk and honey" (Ex 3:8). That phrase suggests a land of food the Holy Land only comes off like that in the springtime, after the winter rains, but it has been making it that way for thousands of years.
      In the Bible world, they probably partook of goat's milk more than another kind. It would not have been anything close to the pasteurized and refrigerated milk we know. In fact, it would have been more of curds (cottage cheese) or yogurt, but it represented sustenance and nourishment from animals. These goats (and maybe sheep) were understood to be domesticated animals kept in flocks.
      The honey may well have been the agriculturally-produced bee honey with which we are so familiar. While wild honey was mentioned in Samson (Ju 14) and Johnathan (1S 16) stories, corresponding to milk from domesticated flocks would be apiaries, such as at Tel Rehov.
      But Biblical scholars have often wondered if the honey was a syrup-like substance produced from one of the summer fruits well-known in the Holy Land. Deuteronomy 8:8 lists what we commonly call "the 7 foods of the Holy Land: including grains (wheat and barley); summer fruit (vines, figs, pomegranates); olive oil and honey.
      Dates (Hebrew tamar), the well-known fruit of the date palm tree of the Holy Land are not included in the list. It has been suggested that the "honey" may represent date honey, a popular food in antiquity and today.
      Which honey does this verse reference? We can't be sure. They are both agricultural products and they are both very sweet. And they will both make you sick if you eat too much.

25:18 Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow is the man who gives false testimony against his neighbor.

Military weaponry seldom mentioned in Proverbs.
Arrow (7:23; 25:18; 26:18); sword (5:4; 12:18; 25:18; 30:14)
Sword (see note at 5:4), sharp arrow (bronze and stone arrowheads) – found at KeM or TeH?
Bronze at TeHEP in 2014.

25:20 Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.

      "Garment" was the cloak, coat, outer garment worn by a man in the ancient Near Eastern world. The same word was used for a poor man's only coat or leper's filthy outer garment as well as the high priest's holy robe and a rich man's finest coat.
      "Vinegar" (see 10:26) was a sour mild acidic liquid created from the fermentation process. It was used in small doses as a common condiment in antiquity. The "soda" of this verse was natron the main substance of ancient Egyptian embalming. But in everyday life of Bible times, it was used as a cleaning substance (Jer 2:22).

25:27 It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it honorable to seek one's own honor.

      Admittedly, honey (Hebrew debash) in this verse may speak of well-known bee honey. Yet, it may also represent a syrup-like substance produced from one of the summer fruits of the Holy Land (see also the note at 25:16).
      Deuteronomy 8:8 describes "the 7 foods of the Holy Land," which includes 2 grains, 3 summer fruits, olive oil and honey. Because the rest of these 7 foods are actual vegetable products, it is reasonable that the honey/debash of both these verses is also a vegetable product.
      It is very likely this honey is date (tamar) honey – another well-known summer fruit of the Holy Land that is surprisingly absent from the list of 7 foods. I have eaten "date honey" and it is very tasty and would not be surprised if it was the actual honey of this verse.

25:28 Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.

      I have been excavating in the Holy Land for almost 20 years – 11 seasons at a site 10 miles north of Jerusalem, Khirbet el-Maqatir (probably the Canaanite city of Ai) and 8 seasons in Jordan at Tall el-Hammam 8 miles north of the Dead Sea in the Jordan River Valley (possibly Sodom of Sodom and Gomorrah).
      At both sites, I have excavated the ancient city wall – one was 13 feet wide and stone-built and the other was stone-built with a mudbrick superstructure, 17 feet wide. Since each wall could have structurally been constructed up to 3 times the width (thus 39 and 51 feet, respectively) it is clear both would have been quite effective in keeping each city secure. Of course, each walled city would have a gate (or two) and we have found one associated with each wall.