As snow in summer, and as rain in harvest, so honour is not seemly for a fool. (Proverbs 26:1)
Brother Keith Green once sang a song with the following lyrics: “Like summer snow, you were an unexpected sight. Oh blazing sun, you were shining in the night. And I really should have known that you’d be coming home.” It’s a song that I’ve never fully understood. In part, it seems to be the father singing about the return of his prodigal son. Yet, it also seems to be about one believer’s surprise to see his Lord coming for him. Whatever the premise of the song, the part that caught my attention was the phrase “like summer snow.” Where had I heard that before? I wondered.
Using a concordance (a good reference book to have), I looked up the word “snow” and found 24 places in scripture where it is used. So, I went down the list of scripture phrases containing the word, and got down to Proverbs 26:1, our text. Then, I opened to that passage in my Bible and read.
I confess that the book of Proverbs has always been problematic for me. I’ve never really understood its place within the larger context of God’s word. Then again, perhaps its just the style of writing that bothers me. Such pithy little sayings remind me of Appalachian mountain culture — the culture of my family but one in which I don’t quite fit because I wasn’t raised in Appalachia, much less the culture. (That culture is known for its pithy little gems of wisdom). My limited exposure to Appalachian culture has been through my dad’s cousin, who took me in shortly after my mom died; she later adopted me. Like many folks in Appalachia, she emigrated north in the 1960s when there were still plenty of jobs to go around in the nation’s rust belt. I guess Proverbs reminds me of my being out of place in my own culture; and western New York State (where I was raised and where I currently live) doesn’t really have a uniquely identifiable culture. In any event, such sayings often contain very powerful truths. Anyway, back to our text.
“As snow in summer…” I can’t imagine many places in the world, certainly none Solomon would have known about, where there is snow in the summer. I’ve seen ice at the base of Niagara Falls in June. I’ve heard of snow on some mountain tops in places like Montana and Wyoming. I certainly suspect that there is snow year-around in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. So, this might not be so strange to some. But what Solomon is saying here has an agricultural connotation. We know this from the phrase that follows, “…and as rain in harvest…” Summer is the time when the crops are growing. Snowfall at such a time would kill most (or all) of the crops. Harvest is the time to gather in the crops. Rain at such a time is potentially disatrous, particularly for crops that need to be dry to be harvested, such as hay and various grains. Solomon uses these near contradictions in terms and applies them to humans, “…so honour is not seemly for a fool.”
The word “fool” is used frequently in the King James Bible. But what does it mean? What kind of person are we talking about? In modern English, the noun “fool” means a person who acts unwisely or who lacks good sense or judgment. The Hebrew word that Solomon used is k’ciyl (kes-eel’). It properly means fat but is never used in the Old Testament as such. Solomon uses it to mean stupid or silly. The King James translates it as fool (stupid is never used in the King James; in the Old Testament, silly is a word that means a person who is seducible, like our modern word gullible). A particularly close modern equivalent to Solomon’s fool is what we in modern America call “common sense.”
Honour (using the Euro-Canadian and Victoriana spelling) is the King James rendering of kabod (kaw-bode’). The Hebrew word properly means weight but is used to express splendor or copiousness. The King James translates it as glorious(-ly), glory and honour(-able). It comes from kabod (kaw-bod’) or kabed (kaw-bade’), these being primary roots meaning to be heavy. In a bad sense it means burdensome, severe or dull. In a good sense, it means numerouos, rich or honourable. The King James uses honour and honourable more in the sense of being held in esteem by others — i.e., celebrity and social position in the community — than one’s inner character or reputation. Thus, Solomon is referring to hounour as high social position, as celebrity status, rather than substantive character or good reputation.
Seemly is an archaic English word that means suitable, fitting or morally/socially proper. The Hebrew word is naveh (naw-veh’), meaning suitable or beautiful. Naveh is translated in the King James as becommeth, comely and seemly.
So, what is Solomon saying? He’s saying that, like snow in the summer or rain in the harvest, celebrity and social position are not suitable or fitting for someone who acts unwisely or has no common sense.
What does this mean for us today? Many of the Proverbs are simply truthful observations about life, rather than commandments or promises. Yet, there are lessons to be learned in such observations. Our text suggests that people of celebrity and high social standing should be people who have good common sense and do not behave inappropriately. These people set the example for others. (Of course, the very concept of celebrity borders on the sin of idolatry). A fool, as Solomon uses the word, is the kind of person we should strive NOT to be. That Solomon refers to such people frequently, and never in a good way, should teach us something about the kind of people we should or should not be.
QUESTIONS TO PONDER:
1. What does Solomon suggest by his use of the phrase “[a]s snow in summer”?
2. What does the Hebrew word translated “fool” mean, as used in our text?
3. How does Solomon use the Hebrew word translated in our text as “honour”?
4. What does the word “seemly” mean?
5. What does our text mean for us today?
Author, educator, theologian and scholar Rev. Chancellor Carlyle Roberts II was ordained a minister of the National Gay Pentecostal Alliance and has served as a pastor, Bible teacher and Sunday school teacher. He earned a bachelor’s degree in multidisciplinary studies (religion and special education) and a graduate certificate in global studies and is the author of God in Three What? An Examination of the Use of Persons in the Trinity Doctrine, We Believe: A Commentary on the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381 A.D., Pure As He Is Pure: My Struggle With Homosexuality and Homesick.