The Word in the Wings

The Word in the Wings  > Regina’s Journey: always be humble

Regina's Journey: always be humble

By: KAYA WEAVER

Glorify Dance Theatre’s upcoming ballet Regina’s Journey follows the young Regina as she sets out on a quest to gain wisdom for leading her village, following her mother’s instruction to keep to the path and not stray. The second lesson Regina will learn along the way is, “God can use creatures as small as frogs to help guide you, so always be humble.”

Proverbs 30:24-28 contains poetic lines that consider the wisdom of other small creatures. Creatures even smaller than frogs teach the people of God that humility is an important trait to cultivate for living wisely.

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24 Four things are the small things of the land,

yet they are wiser than the wise.

 

The poem begins with a couplet that places “small” and “wise” in parallel and contrasts them using the disjunctive word, “yet.” The poet acknowledges that the reader likely doesn’t expect creatures of diminutive size to abound in wisdom, but the poet asserts that not only are “small” things “wise,” they are “exceedingly wise,” perhaps even more wise than larger or stronger creatures. The behavior of animals considered in the poem challenges an assumed correlation between size or strength and wisdom.

 

25 The ants are a people not strong,

but they prepare their bread in the summer.

 

Following the pattern of the introductory couplet, the rest of the poem uses a sense of contrast to show how four small creatures demonstrate wisdom that belies their apparent weakness.

When I’ve encountered ants, I’ve observed their individual lack of strength; an ant is so tiny I can step on it without feeling anything, and it isn’t armed with teeth or stinger to deter me from squishing it. Judging by relative strength, an ant appears to have little chance of survival.

But if I attentively watch an ant invading my kitchen instead of squishing it, I’ll see that its task is to find and carry away crumbs. If we’re thinking in terms of individual strength, it doesn’t seem smart for an ant to enter human territory where it can so thoughtlessly be destroyed. But the ant is thinking in terms of long-term preparation for the survival of its whole colony, braving dangerous places to gather food while there is plenty so they can survive a season of cold and lack. The ant’s wisdom is surprising for a creature of its small size, and it invites a perspective shift, from thinking about wise behavior in terms of size and strength to weighing the value of foresight and diligence.

 

26 The badgers are a people not mighty,

but they put their houses in a crag.

 

Similar to tiny, squishable ants, badgers are furry mammals with apparently little strength. When the poet says badgers are “not mighty,” this could mean they are not numerous, since they often live in small groups. With ants, the surprise is in their focus on a goal that requires a value other than physical fortitude. With badgers, the surprise is that they show ingenuity by fortifying their homes with rugged terrain to make up for their lack of force in numbers.

The surprising wisdom of both ants and badgers, as expressed by the poet of these proverbs, evokes images that contrast with typical ideas of power. It’s easy to think of a powerful, successful people as a group with great numbers of strong warriors–an army to impose order and deal with external threats. Yet these proverbs point to discipline and resourcefulness as better, wiser ways for a people to thrive.

 

27 The locusts have no king,

and all of them go out in companies.

 

Under certain environmental conditions, grasshoppers use their senses of sight and smell to join together into a swarm of locusts. While they normally act as individuals, in a swarm they move together in coordinated fashion (BBC Science Focus). Locust swarm behavior is different from bee hive behavior in that bees have a queen, differentiated from the worker bees by size and reproductive ability. When bees swarm, they are led by a queen. Locusts, as the proverb observes, don’t rely on a differentiated leader-insect but are still able to coordinate their movements en masse.

This proverb is particularly interesting in light of Israel’s political history. When God first leads Israel out of Egypt, no king is appointed; they are given commandments from God through Moses to govern their relationships with one another. God’s people are meant to coordinate their values and actions to live in trust and kindness with their neighbors without establishing a hereditary leadership position. By the time these proverbs are written and compiled, they are attributed to King Solomon (Proverbs 1:1), so it is certainly after the time when Israel does have a king. In that context, this proverb is suggestive; the kingship grants formal political cohesion to the twelve tribes. But when their kings fail to lead them well, do the people still have the wisdom to act in harmony with one another?

 

28 A lizard is captured in two hands,

but she is in kings’ palaces.

 

The lizard is small enough and slow enough to be captured without any tools, but it is also small enough to slip through cracks and clever enough to pass through defenses. Perhaps a larger creature could force its way past walls and guards, but it would leave destruction in its wake. The tiny lizard sneaks into the palace with little disruption. To extend the metaphor and consider its possible implications, we could imagine the results of an armed assault on a king’s palace versus a diplomatic mission. Both efforts could have a political impact, but one burns bridges while the other builds.

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All four of these comparisons suggest that wisdom can be found even without physical strength or outwardly obvious power. These creatures exhibit what Proverbs calls “wisdom” through survival strategies involving foresight, resourcefulness, cooperation, and meekness. These creatures accept that they are weak in a certain sense; they don’t puff up their chests and try to be bigger than they are, but they turn to other faculties and, often, work together. The small creatures’ survival strategies demonstrate a measure of humility.

Humility is also found in the attitude of a person who is willing to consider what wisdom the small and weak of the earth have to offer. The thinkers of these proverbs could have looked to animals at the top of the food chain like eagles and lions, yet there is a sense that it is not only the most obviously powerful members of the animal kingdom who can teach humans how to live wisely, but also the tiniest ants. We might be able to step on them, but if we only see ants as “beneath us,” we will miss out on an important lesson. At times we might find ourselves in a position like the ants, being stepped on, lacking defenses against stronger enemies; then we have to humbly acknowledge our weak, lowly state and seek the path of wisdom even there.

Humility toward God is expressed in looking for wisdom not by doing what seems good in our own eyes but by looking to all that God has made to discern the wisdom God has expressed uniquely in every aspect of creation. God created the majestic sky-fliers and “the great sea monsters” (Genesis 1:21), but God also created the “creeping things” that “creep on the ground” (Genesis 1:24-25), and these proverbs note the wisdom God formed in these lowly creatures.

Early in her journey, Regina encounters an obstacle in her path: a river full of frogs. An elderly woman suggests that she walk along the river instead of attempting to cross, but this suggestion conflicts with Regina’s mother’s instruction to keep to the path. It might make sense to listen to the elderly woman, who has the appearance of experience and wisdom. But on closer inspection, Regina finds that the frogs are showing her a way across the river. She learns that even small creatures possess wisdom and that she has to be humble and search for wisdom even from unexpected, seemingly insignificant sources.

One more lesson from Regina’s Journey and from Proverbs 30 is the abundance of God’s wisdom in the world. We must take care and seek God to discern right paths from wrong, but God has not withheld knowledge of what is good. If even the “small things of the land” are “wiser than the wise,” then it seems God has revealed wisdom in many places where people may find it. Jesus teaches that “everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:8, NRSVUE). If, when we consider God’s creation, we are seeking wisdom from God, this is a good gift we can trust God to grant.

 

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Scripture quotations in this post are my own translation except where otherwise noted.

Secondary references:

“European badger: Distribution and habitat,” Wikipedia (March 21, 2024).

Why do locusts swarm?” BBC Science Focus (Our Media, 2024).

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