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Proverbs 6 and the Story of Joseph

One of the joys of reading the Bible multiple times is seeing connections between books that you previously never knew existed. Your pastor may be preaching in the Psalms, and you are doing your devotions from Matthew, and suddenly you see a theme that ties two of the chapters together.

Like the other 65 books in the Bible, Proverbs does not stand alone in isolation of the others. One connection that may exist is between Proverbs 6:1-19 and the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50.

In 1995, Scott L. Harris published his dissertation entitled, Proverbs 1-9: A Study of Inner-Biblical Interpretation. In his fourth chapter, he traces some of the inner-biblical connections between the Joseph story and Proverbs 6. Proverbs 6:1-5 speaks of the dangers of being a “surety” for another person. Harris pointed out that “A well-chosen word or phrase being representational of action can allude to a whole series of events for an attentive reader” (133). He argues that there are links from the surety in Proverbs to Judah’s role both in selling Joseph and in becoming himself a surety for Benjamin.

There are several similar phrases that link the passages. Israel says to his children in Gen 43:11, “If it must be so, then do this” (ESV). Proverbs 6:3 begins with the same phrase, “Then do this, my son” (Harris 143). Harris also points to an interesting link between the last words in Proverbs 6:19 – “one who sows discord [midanim] among brothers” – and the brothers selling Joseph to the Midianites [midyanim] in Gen 37:36, thus separating the brothers in discord (pg. 144).

Harris also points to connections between the need for agricultural readiness in Proverbs 6:1-11 and the events of Joseph preparing Egypt to be ready for the famine (147-149). He finds many of the elements mentioned from Proverbs 6:16-19 to be found in the brothers’ actions in Genesis 37-50 (149-153).

Though some of these connections are indeed intriguing, they may be too subtle to truly draw a tight and noticeable link between the passages. Did the author of Proverbs 6 truly intend for readers to think of his words in the backdrop of Joseph’s story in Genesis? The Joseph story may be illustrative for many of the principles and much of the wisdom in Proverbs 6, but I’m less certain that there was an intentional connection being made between the two passages.

 

Connections and Catchwords within Proverbs 6:1-19

What is more certain is that Proverbs 6:1-19 was meant to be read as a unity. Even though the passage seems to be four disconnected concepts randomly strewn together, there is evidence that by using several “catchwords” and rhetorical devices, the sections have a tighter unity than what is at first perceived.

Andrew Steinmann, in his commentary on Proverbs (pg. 164), notes several words that are used in adjacent sections that tie them together:

6:1-5 and 6:6-11 are tied together with the words “go” (vss 3 and 6) and “slumber” (vss 4 and 10). 6:6-11 and 6:12-15 are tied together with the words “man of a shield/wickedness” (vss 11 and 12). 6:12-15 and 6:16-19 are tied together with the words “spreads conflict” (vss 14 and 19).

Though I remain unconvinced of Harris’s thesis regarding the connection between Joseph and Proverbs 6, his analysis of the text of Proverbs 6 is commendable. He demonstrates a very tight connection between the body parts mentioned in 6:17-18 and those mentioned in 6:12-14 (pg. 123):

“haughty eyes” (17) // “winks with his eyes” (13)

“lying tongue” (17) // “crooked speech” (12)

“hands that shed innocent blood” (17) // “he points with his finger” (13)

“a heart that cultivates wicked plans” (18) // “with perverted heart he cultivates evil” (14)

“feet that make haste to run to evil” (18) // “he speaks with his feet” (13)

There are other connections to be made, both between the proverbs within chapter 6 and between the book and other biblical books. As you read Scripture, enjoy finding these connections and make sure to read each book against the backdrop of the larger story of Scripture and the narrative of Christ’s redemption.

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