Proverbs 2 starts with an appeal from a father to a son. This appeal and the instructions that follow play a part in the the son’s journey of authentic manhood. The speaker addresses him as “my son” and presents a situation of conditional logic, “if” you do X, “then” Y will be the result. In this case, X is several lines long and you may find yourself anticipating the word “then” when you read through them. This creates an interesting expectation during the reading experience and probably for the son as well, when and however these words were first presented to him long ago.
When we look closer at the conditions themselves, we discover an inner relationship among them. “My son,” the speaker begins, “if you:
1. receive my words
2. and treasure up my commandments with you,
3. making your ear attentive to wisdom
4. and inclining your heart to understanding;
5. yes, if you call out for insight
6. and raise your voice for understanding
7. if you seek it like silver
8. and search for it as for hidden treasures” (Pr. 2:1–4).
Note here that the lines have been separated so that one condition sits on each line. The lines have also been numbered to order the conditions and for the sake of visibility. There are eight of them. Thus, keeping with our simple conditional logic construction from above, the condition X is made up of eight “sub-conditions.”
At first glance you might say that all eight of these are related in that they all seem to share the same goal. The general goal is to receive or hear wisdom. But the general goal seems less about getting wisdom and more about seeking wisdom. You might also notice an intensity, even a desperation, that seems to increase in the later conditions. Words like “call out” and “raise your voice” communicate this desperation-like intensity. This shows how vital and important the father feels it is for the son to do these things, namely to seek wisdom and be receptive to it.
The father also uses imagery language to describe understanding and the process of seeking it. He uses words like “treasure up,” “silver,” and “hidden treasures.” These image words have an inner consistency and a compounding effect of treasure imagery in the mind’s eye. This association with seeking wisdom and hidden treasure is interesting. The father is helping his son make this association and by doing so he may be communicating the message that wisdom, insight, and understanding, if viewed correctly, has the allure or value of precious treasure.
Even if precious treasure does not seem that alluring to the son, it is the imagery that is important. Imagery does wonders with our memory. Images stick with us far better than abstract concepts, instructions, or figures. The trick is to make those things concrete, which is what images do. This may be a tactic that the father is employing to help his son remember to do these things as the son continues on his journey of authentic manhood.
We finally get to the much anticipated “then” statement. “Then you will understand the fear of the Lord,” says the father, “and find the knowledge of God” (Pr. 2:5). One would expect the reward for meeting the conditions of the “if” statement to be a part of the “then” statement. Understanding the fear of the Lord and finding the knowledge of God could be viewed that way, the reward for meeting the conditions. However, it is interesting that the allure of the reward has already been communicated in the treasure imagery of the conditions. It may be that understanding the fear of the Lord and finding the knowledge of God are the explicit and literal rewards that the metaphorical treasure-imagery rewards of the conditions describe.
However the father’s language works, it is all meant to implore the son further on his journey of seeking wisdom. This conditional logic is meant to give the son answers to a specific implied question: why should I seek wisdom? The answer the father gives provides the son with the explicit literal reward in the “then” statement, and it provides the son with information about how to think about wisdom, in the metaphorical imagery language of the “if” conditional statements. In this way, the father is giving the son guidance regarding his inquiry, but also guidance that the son can rely on as he continues his journey of authentic manhood.
Questions for Reflection:
Think of an instance when someone effectively used imagery to teach you something valuable?
In what ways can you use imagery to communicate wisdom to your son?