Did I Already Say That??

Repeating yourself is a common occurrence for several reasons. We all know some “older” (I’ll let you define that term) adults who tell the same stories…a lot. I’m doing the same thing even though my definition of “older” changes as I keep approaching the last number I assigned to that category. John D. Rockefeller was reportedly asked “How much money is enough money?” to which he replied, “Just a little bit more.” I guess if his income goal could move up, so can my definition of “older.” But I digress…

Whether or not they are older, some people repeat stories they don’t remember telling before. Or, at the request of others, because the story is just that good. Our family has a few stories that, once started, someone will often say..”here we go again.” These amusing anecdotes tell some of the funnier events in our past. All someone has to do is mention camping or canoeing and one such tale that happened early in our marriage will be recounted. Surely, there are family legends that get repeated every time your family gathers, too.

Other times, things are repeated because you need to remember it. I have often recited a grocery list of a few items because I didn’t want to write it down. I do the same things with phone numbers and other short phrases I want to remember. Repetition helps with memorizing Scripture.

Repetition of words and ideas were often used by biblical writers to help the hearer or reader learn the material. Some authors use a literary form known as chiasm in which “words, clauses or themes are laid out and then repeated but in inverted order. This creates an a-b-b-a pattern, or a “crossing” effect like the letter “x.”1 Romans 10:9-10 is one such example.

Knowing that biblical writers often use repetition, I am rarely surprised to see it. This month, I am reading through the book of Proverbs by reading one chapter a day, something I have done in the past. I thought starting the new year by meditating on statements expounding on wise advice would be a good start. After some general comments on the value of wisdom and the importance of pursuing it, chapters 10-31, for the most part, contain short pithy statements of things that are generally true and wise.

You can profitably use the Book of Proverbs as a practical handbook to living wisely in modern times, but keep its nature and characteristics in mind. The sayings found here express general and universal principles which are relevant to all people of all times. These guidelines apply to everyone, not just to believers. The sayings are generalizations, and all general statements have exceptions. Don’t mistake a proverb for a promise God is giving to you to claim by faith. If you think on the proverbs and follow their advice, you’ll find them a wonderful source of insight into your daily life.

Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Reader’s Companion, electronic ed., (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1991), 385.

Commentators credit Solomon with most of the proverbs, including the 4 that caught my attention. I recently read chapters 21, 25, and 27. A similar proverb is mentioned 4 times in these chapters. The statements all mention a wife, and I am one, so I wanted to take notice. The phrases in question nearly always bring snickers when read in a group of couples along with some good-natured (I hope) elbows to the ribs or at least a look or two. You will have likely heard these statements in the past…

  • Better to live on the corner of a roof than to share a house with a nagging wife.
    • (Prov 21:9, CSB)
  • Better to live in a wilderness than with a nagging and hot-tempered wife.
    • (Prov. 21:29, CSB)
  • Better to live on the corner of a roof than to share a house with a nagging wife.
    • (Prov. 25:24, CSB)
  • An endless dripping on a rainy day and a nagging wife are alike
    • (Prov 27:15, CSB)

For perspective, consider that Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). Such a man would certainly have some experience with nagging wives. That would be a safe bet among so many personalities. Had you been up to date with the gossip columns at the time of Solomon, you may have wondered which one he recalled when he penned these verses.

I paused when I realized that the first two mentions are merely verses apart. Why did he feel the need to repeat so soon on the list? I wonder which wife came to him with her “honey, do” list that day (although I think that’s a more recent occurrence). The 3rd mention in chapter 25 mirrors 21:9 and he concludes his “nagging wife” warnings in chapter 27 by waxing poetically with a comparison to endless dripping (which could drive one utterly mad).

Wanting to investigate these oft-repeated words of wisdom, I set out to glean additional insights. Researching the word translated “nagging” (a common complaint heard among some husbands) seemed to be a good place to start. Various translations use other words to convey her characteristics in these 4 verses. Consider these descriptors: nagging, quarrelsome, a woman of contention, or brawling. The Amplified Version enhances the adjective to include “nagging, quarrelsome, and faultfinding woman” (Pr. 21:9), “disagreeing, quarrelsome, and scolding” (Pr. 25:24). What a prize!

Three of the verses mention the phrasing “better to live” either on the corner of a roof or in a wilderness than to share a house with the nagging wife. The flat rooftop was often space that was used (consider Rahab hiding the spies on her rooftop in Joshua 2:6) but in these verses, it signifies the man living there, rather than simply walking away. The desert reference contrasts the harshness of living in a desolate desert with the comforts of a home. In both locations, the writer notes the preference of “somewhere that may not be very comfortable but is away from the situation of unbearable matrimonial conflict.”2

I enjoy Bible research. Application must follow reading and meditating on a passage. As a wife, I want my home to be a place of joy for my husband. And, I certainly don’t want words like nagging or faultfinding to be commonplace. In their culture and context, Solomon’s wives would not have dared badger the king with a “honey, do list.” Or… did they? We will never know how, but his proverb suggests there was something amiss. With that many wives, surely there was conflict among them or something that seemed like “the drip, drip, drip of a leaky faucet… can’t turn it off, and you can’t get away from it.” (Pr. 27:15 The Message)

My husband recently retired and I DO have a “honey, do” list. These verses were timely reminders to avoid the mannerisms and actions (by word or deed) that would make our home contentious. While nagging is not my M.O. (you can ask my husband), the temptation to nag is possible.

So, since these proverbs caught my attention, I am heeding the warning: more “honey” and less “do.”

1(Matthew S. DeMoss, Pocket Dictionary for the Study of New Testament Greek, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 29.)

2 (William David Reyburn and Euan McG. Fry, A Handbook on Proverbs, UBS Handbook Series, (New York: United Bible Societies, 2000), 444.

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