Chapter 27: Beneath the Surface

27:3 Stone is heavy and sand a burden, but provocation by a fool is heavier than both.

      I am writing these words at our Tall el-Hammam excavation in Jordan. We have just finished a week excavating house and city stone wall foundations from the time of Abraham and the massive disintegrated mudbrick debris ("sand") on both sides these walls.
      My responsibility is to supervise the excavation, so I don't have the opportunity to get as dirty as I really enjoy. But my square probably moved a hundred small stone boulders and two square yards of disintegrated mudbrick material each day and I can tell you it is heavy stuff.
      The ancients had four basic criteria for the location of an ancient city: 1.) perennial water source, 2.) sufficient arable land, 3.) defensibility, 4.) travel and trade accessibility. A trade route we necessary to even access the site. A water source tended to be found and accessed down low while defendable position would be found up high. Arable land nearby was essential for sustained habitation.
      In antiquity, once a good location for an ancient city was identified, it would tend to be inhabited century after century – even by different people groups. Archaeology demonstrates that rebuilding on a site was a regular practice. To clear an area and create a solid foundation, they – as well as access readily available building materials – they had to dig through the same stone and mudbrick material ("sand") we dug through. They were intimately familiar with the weight of stones and sand and the effort necessary to move them. The meaning of this comparison was not lost on them.

27:6 Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.

      Kisses were a typical greeting in the ancient world, but they were generally given among friends. The Apostles Paul (Rm 16:16; 1C 16:20; 2C 13:12; 1 Th 5:26) and Peter (1P 5:14) said believers should greet one another with a holy kiss. It would have appeared to be a legitimate friend greeting from Judas to Jesus that night in the garden (Mt 26:48-49), but was the ultimate kiss of an enemy.
      Such greetings are still popular in much of the Mediterranean world. It is certainly that way in Jordan where I spend a month each year excavating at Tall el-Hammam. It is not uncommon to see older local men give each other a kiss on each cheek, and I know I have been accepted as one of the guys when one offers me the same.
      I do kiss back, but a bit awkwardly. Back home, I can give a guy a hug and even say "love you, bro." But I don't have that kissing things down yet!

27:10 Do not forsake your friend and the friend of your father, and do not go to your brother's house when disaster strikes you—better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away.

      In the Biblical world, each family received an ancestral inheritance of land and family members did not tend to move away from there. Part of that land was their inheritance and they would live there and work their own fields.
      While there were a few very large ancient cities, most cities and villages were pretty tightly packed and families lived in very close proximity. The arrangements might well be a family compound with a number of houses sharing the same open courtyards, and all within an exterior wall. As described in the Old Testament, extended families of up to four generations are living in very close proximity – see some rather poignant language about that in Leviticus 18, 20.
      Thus "your brother's house" tended to be literally next door. Friends/ neighbors lived in close proximity and a decision to go to them would mean that I would pass my brother's house on the way. Since he will pretty much always be there, don't wear him out with all my troubles – go and share it with someone (else!) who really cares!

27:17 As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.

      The idea of iron sharpening iron is self-evident, but it was still a relatively new metal to most people in Solomon's day. In fact, the average family at that time probably did not own a single item made of iron. While abundant in the earth's surface, iron ore was infrequently mined and utilized because it was not easy to achieve the high level of heat required to melt and shape it. Consequently, only a minimal number of iron tools and weapons from ancient Canaan during this period are known from excavation.
      In fact, iron was so special, that iron jewelry was apparently a special accessory during this general period. I excavated two seasons at Khirbet Nisya, 8 miles north of Jerusalem in Israel's West Bank, with the Associates for Biblical Research. Dated about a century before Solomon, a family tomb excavated at our site had remains of 50 or 51 people, identified by their teeth!
      The space inside this stone-cut tomb was narrow, just a yard high, and the soil was rather damp. Consequently, the bodies and burial goods buried here had disintegrated significantly. While skeletons were no longer intact, some tibia bones were found in situ ("in place;" in the situation where they had been left). On a few of these legs bones, bangles (anklets) were excavated – some made of iron.
      A metallurgist analyzed a couple of them and said they had qualities of being carburized like steel. Fashionable iron jewelry at this period suggests to archaeologists that the people buried here were pretty well-to-do, financially. So was King Solomon(!), and he was certainly aware of iron sharpening iron.

27:23 Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds;

27:24 For riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations.

27:25 When the hay is removed and new growth appears and the grass from the hills is gathered in,

27:26 The lambs will provide you with clothing, and the goats with the price of a field.

27:27 You will have plenty of goats' milk to feed you and your family and to nourish your servant girls.

      The focus of these verses is the world of a shepherd/herder with flocks and herds of sheep and goats. By Solomon's time, more and more flocks and herds were owned by sedentary people living in villages who also owned fields around the city. The number of nomadic shepherds ("bedouin" in Arabic) had decreased greatly among the Israelites.
      These verses may refer to these village people or maybe it was a wise saying from an earlier period of Israelite history. Note a similar long poetic wise saying about ancient Israelite village farmers in 24:30-32.
      Daily, the local (or even family) shepherd would lead his sheep and goats over the nearby hills where they would eat whatever was out there. I just spent a month driving down from the Jordanian mountains to my excavation in the Jordan River Valley. On the slopes between the two these two areas is basic dirt and rock desert.
      Yet, every morning we saw shepherds leading their sheep and goats over this seemingly barren landscape – but they all kept stopping to eat the new shoots of grass that sprouted with the winter rains. This is their world as described in verses 25-26.
      On the hoof, both sheep and goats were appreciated for their milk and manure, while sheep also contributed wool. When they were slaughtered, the meat was, of course, appreciated but skins of both were also quite valuable. Bones, hooves and horns were also utilized for a variety of daily household items.
      In antiquity, cows, bulls and oxen (a castrated bull) were quite expensive and were not kept in herds, but owned singly or in pairs. They were not generally kept for milk or meat by the ancient, but were used to help cultivate fields by pulling plows or transport materials by pulling carts. This verse should not conjure up an image of cowboys on a cattle drive of steers in the American west, but ancient Israelite families trying to eke out a daily living.