Reiteration (repetition) is a strategy we all use to emphasise something. The word itself is from the Latin ‘to do again’, with the prefix re- used to emphasise the idea of repetition in many English words. Proverbs 27 starts with two familiar ideas couched in very similar language to previous chapters: “do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring” (see James 4:13-17) and “let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips.” As a teacher, repetition is something I get rather tired of; I often wish pupils would listen the first time and take in what I am saying! But we all tend to need to hear things more than once before the truths of what we hear sink in.

I make no apologies, therefore, for the repetition of certain themes which we find in Proverbs 27. Relationships are again crucial: “a spoken rebuke is better than approval that’s never expressed.” (Prov 27:5) . This reminds me of the poem by Dorothy Law Note which I read daily in the staff room where I work:
“If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.”
Copyright © 1972 by Dorothy Law Nolte

Jealousy, fury and anger are all negative emotions which Proverbs warns against (Prov 27:4). Relationships help us to grow, however difficult we find them: “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Prov 27:17) . We often wonder why God put us in our family, our church, our place of work, our neighbourhood and feel we’d be a much better Christian if we lived somewhere else! The grass always looks greener on the other side, but Proverbs reminds us that those ‘awkward people’ who antagonise us and rub us up the wrong way are actually God’s tool for sharpening and refining us. Refining is another theme repeated in this chapter. “The purity of silver and gold is tested by putting them in the fire; the purity of human hearts is tested by giving them a little fame.” (Prov 27:21) In other words, praise can go to our heads at times and we need to learn how to be gracious in all situations.

As we read Proverbs and listen to its down-to-earth similes (eg “A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm” Prov 27:15), we begin to grasp that God is there in the ordinariness of our lives. Whether we’re feeling buoyant and excited or worn down by nagging or the frustrations of failure, it has something for every situation. It anchors us in the security and trustworthiness of God and constantly peels back the layers in our own hearts.