Tag Archives: Proverbs


John J. Pilch in ‘Introducing the Cultural Context of the Old Testament’ focuses on Wisdom literature, and to help his readers understand how important honour and shame were in Ancient Israel, Pilch takes them on a journey of discovery around the book of Proverbs (Pilch: pp49-70). He comments: “The core values of Mediterranean culture are ‘honor and shame’” (Pilch: p49). He explains it like this:

“The central or core value of our Mediterranean ancestors in the faith is ‘interpersonal contentment’. This value dictates that people should be content with what they have and not worry about getting ahead of others, achieving more than others, or being better than others. This, in fact, is what Mediterranean people are ‘anxious’ about: not to infringe on others, and not to allow others to infringe on them.

“Such anxiety revolves especially around the value feeling of ‘honour’ and ‘shame’. Whatever the status into which a person is born is ‘honourable’ and must be maintained throughout life. Indeed, being born into honour is the chief way of getting it. The reason for genealogies in the Bible is to let the reader know that the person to whom this genealogy is applied is honourable because the entire ancestral line is full of honourable people.” (Pilch: p52.)

Pilch then goes on to help his students reflect on a whole series of different verses from Proverbs (3:9, 16, 35; 4:8; 5:9; 6:33; 8:18; 11:16; 13:18; 14:31; 15:33; 18:3, 12; 20:3; 21:21; 22:4; 26:1, 8; 27:18; 29:23). His asertion is that these proverbs are intended to direct and control people’s behaviour and to do so they include sanctions and rewards. It seems as though the writer of Proverbs ‘carrot and stick’ (my words) are honour and shame. Take Proverbs 13:18 as an example:

“He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame,
But whoever heeds correction is honoured.”

“Honor is contrasted with disgrace (shame). … Honor results from heeding instruction, particularly reproof (discipline). The book of Proverbs is … ‘wisdom literature’ which is practical, down-to-earth advice on successful living. Such wisdom helps a person maintain honor” (Pilch: p57), and avoid being shamed.

Pilch then encourages his readers to look at references to shame in Proverbs ( which include: Proverbs 10:5; 12:4; 13:5; 14:35; 17:2; 18:3; 19:26; 25:8-10; 28:7; 29:15). Shame, he says, “in a positive view, is a sensitivity to one’s honor and a determination to guard and maintain it. In a negative view it is the result of a loss of honor” (Pilch: p61). Consider Proverbs 28:7 as an example:

“He who keeps the law is a discerning son,
but a companion of gluttons disgraces his father.”

“Gluttony bespeaks having more than enough. The Mediterranean cultural obligation when one has more than enough is to share with those who do not have enough. To be capable of gluttony means one has refused to share, and this is shameful. Notice who bears the shame. The father is tainted by the son’s misbehaviour.” (Pilch: p63). Pilch goes on to explain that shame and honour are never purely personal matters. The son shames the father, the father bears that shame as a deep pain negating his honour, his place in the community, he is reduced as a person.

Shame in Proverbs, then, is a sanction. It seems to as much affect the family of a miscreant rather than necessarily just the miscreant him/herself. For those who are shamed, there is little they can do to change the circumstances. Shame overwhelms them but they have nowhere to turn to resolve their predicament. Their honour has been taken away.


Please see the bibliography on Honour and Shame on this blog.

Muhabura – Wisdom from Uganda – A thought for the day!

It is only days now before I am back in Uganda again. It will be three short weeks and Jo, my wife, will not be with me as she has to continue to work in the UK. I have just been thinking back to my first visit to Uganda in 1994. …….

Proverbs 8: 1-3 (ESV)

Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance to the portals she cries aloud.

Mt. Muhabura

When I first went to Uganda in 1994, I travelled by train from Mombasa. A beautiful journey travelled at a snail’s pace in some ancient but well kept carriages and with silver service for meals and attendants who made up beds for passengers. The journey took for ever and included an unscheduled stop in Jinga because of a freight train derailment closer to Kampala. Our train waited 6 hours in Jinga!

On the last leg of the journey to Kampala, I was reading from Proverbs 8 – the passage above. It was as we came into the suburbs of Kampala that I looked up from reading to notice on the skyline a number of different religious buildings. I remember seeing two cathedrals, a Bahai temple and a mosque (I think). Here were various claims to wisdom calling out from the heights, ‘Listen to me!’

Kampala is a city of many hills and it seemed to me, on that first day that I saw it, to have a religious building on the top of each one.

I travelled down in a car from Kampala to Kisoro, a long journey, really long. Half way through the last leg of the journey, travelling over dirt roads, I caught a glimpse of Mt. Muhabura. It was the dry season and the dust in the air meant that I did not see it again until leaving Kisoro when I travelled back over the same road to Kabale.

Mount Muhabura, also known as Mount Muhavura, is an inactive volcano in the Virunga Mountains on the border between Rwanda and Uganda. At 4,127 metres (13,540 ft) Muhabura is the third highest of the eight major mountains of the mountain range, which is a part of the Albertine Rift, the western branch of the East African Rift. Its summit contains a small crater lake. The limited evidence for this volcano suggests that it last erupted some time in the Holocene, but the exact date is not known. Muhabura is partly in the Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda and partly in the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Uganda. [1]

Anyone from Kisoro will tell you what the name of the mountain means and hence why the Diocese is named after it. Muhabura is ‘the guide’, the ‘one who leads me home’ – a mountain visible for miles around calling the people back to their homeland.

It strikes me again now, as it did back in 1994, that ‘Muhabura’ is an excellent name for a diocese. It is our Christian calling to be people who call others back to faith, back to where they belong. The wisdom of the Christian faith is not primarily intellectual, it is not ‘clever’, per see. Christian wisdom is primarily about relationship, about knowing God.

Someone is truly wise in God’s eyes when they are one of his people, in relationship with him, listening to his word, and full of his all-embracing inclusive love. When we gather together as Christians we aspire to be those in whom God’s wisdom dwells, to be a community faithfully drawing those around us back home, back to God. So we should be like Mt. Muhabura, a true and faithful guide, in an uncertain world.

Proverbs 8:1-3 has more for us than this. … Wisdom stands at the crossroads; …….. beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance to the portals she cries aloud.


Proverbs 8:1-3 also encourages us to count on God’s wisdom at the crossroads, at the place of decision, the place where we have to make choices. And it encourages us to seek wisdom in the gates of the city. The place of business for any community in Old Testament times was the gates of the city. It was where the village elders met, it was often the market place. God’s wisdom is not just spiritual wisdom but practical wisdom, and available to us as we go about the daily business, decusion-making and transactions of our working lives.


1. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Muhabura, accessed on 30th September 2022.