Saturday, June 30, 2018

Proverbs 18:21 --- Choose Your Lover's Words

Proverbs 18:21           
Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
    and those who love it will eat its fruits.

Here is a literal translation of today's verse: 

            Death and life in the hand of the tongue,
                and those who love her will eat her fruits.

Both suffixes, "her", in the second line are feminine and point to the "tongue", which in Hebrew is a feminine noun. Van Leeuwen gives us a more literal translation,[1] which I like:

            Death and life are in the hand of the tongue,
                her lovers will eat her fruit.

I like Van Leeuwen's choice of the word lovers, because it gets at the idea of this verse.  All of us in the human race, from the worst of us to the best of us, are lovers.  The only real question is who or what we will love. The preface to Proverbs (chapters 1-9) teaches us that ultimately the choice for us is a choice between two lovers.  Will our souls be united in marriage to Woman Wisdom or Woman Folly?  Woman Wisdom represents the revealed religion of the Scriptures that finds its culmination in Jesus Christ.  Woman Folly represents the idolatry of the human heart that is opposed to the revelation of the triune God.  All of us are lovers, and our souls love one of these two women.

Our proverb teaches us that we love to hear the words of our lover.  The "tongue" in today's proverb symbolizes the words of either Woman Wisdom or Woman Folly.  If we love Woman Wisdom, then we will love the wisdom, grace, and truth our lover speaks to us.  But if we love Woman Folly, then we will love the foolish, wicked, flattering and false words she speaks to us. 

The word "hand" in the Hebrew is translated by the word "power" in the ESV.  This is not a bad translation, for the hand "is often used as a metaphorical expression for coming into the grasp of or under the power of another."[2] What or whom we love exercises a great power over us.   The three chief virtues of the Christian life are faith, hope, and love.  "So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13). Faith unites our hearts to the Word and Wisdom incarnate, but surely genuine faith must produce love for Him who is our Lover, our Husband, our Lord (cf. 1 Timothy 1:5). 
Notice below how often the words love or lover occur in this passage that describes an "appearance of godliness" that falls short of genuine faith in Jesus Christ:

"For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovinggood, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power"  (2 Timothy 3:2-5)

O how we need to come under the powerful intoxication of our true lover, Jesus Christ!  O that he would grasp us by his loving hand!  O that his love might expel our false lovers and false loves with his perfect love displayed for us preeminently when he spread his arms wide to embrace us on his cross!  Does not genuine faith and true hope lead us to the power of his love? 

But Christ's love comes to us in words (e.g. Romans 10:17).  Words are the currency of the soul.  Words are the medium our Lover uses to transform the canvas of our hearts.   Our Creator relates to his creation by words, and so he speaks in truth and love and power to our inner man to create us anew.  And so our prayer is that Christ, the lover of our souls might bring life and health to our sin-sick souls through his words.  "O Lord, pray within my heart, sing within my heart, and teach within my heart."[3]

The words of Christ give us life.  The words of Christ bring us health as we internalize them and receive them by faith.  Christ's words restore our souls.  But if we reject his words, what hope is there for us?  Jesus alone has the words of eternal life (John 6:69).  But apart from Jesus' words --- the Word and Wisdom from heaven come down to us --- we are left to eat the soul-sickening words of Woman Folly.  We are relegated to the dry and noxious pasture of the evil one, the world, and our sinful nature.  No wonder the world is sick and dying, living on such a diet.  Proverbs 4:17-19 puts it like this:

            For they eat the bread of wickedness
                and drink the wine of violence.
            But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
                which shines brighter and brighter until full day.
            The way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
                they do not know over what they stumble.

"They do not know over what they stumble."  Our proverb teaches, the problem is their own words.  The problem is their spiritual diet.  The problem is their rejection of the Great Physician's medicine, his life giving words that alone can begin to expel the disease from our souls and replace it with his health and life. 

The wicked "eat the bread" of wicked words and "drink the wine" of the words of the world, the flesh, and the devil that violently oppose the Father and his Son.  But the righteous eat the bread of Jesus' body and the wine of Jesus' blood, the food of eternal life that comes to us through the written Word, the preached Word, and the sacramental Word. 

Death and life are truly found in words --- words that become our portion, the food of our souls.  May we with Mary choose the good portion.  "Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:42).


[1] Van Leeuwen, Proverbs, 175.
[2] Kitchen, Proverbs, 405.
[3] Starck's Prayer Book, 9

Friday, June 22, 2018

Proverbs 18:18 --- In His Will Is Our Peace

Proverbs 18:18 
The lot puts an end to quarrels
    and decides between powerful contenders.
The assumption behind today's proverb is the Lord's providential control.[1]  Proverbs 16:33 taught us:

            The lot is cast into the lap,
                but its every decision is from the Lord.

When we read and study God's Word, one of the questions we want to ask the text is this:  What does this text teach us about our Lord?  As we meditate on this question, it will be a short step to another question: What does this text teach us about ourselves?  Then will follow quickly a third question:  How might we apply what we have learned to ourselves?  And, finally, we must never forget our Lord Jesus' instruction that all Scripture is about him, and so we must ask: How does our text point to our Lord and Savior?

The assumption behind our text is God's absolute sovereignty.  There are no chance events outside our Creator's control.  Nothing takes our God by surprise.  Before the dice are rolled, the Lord knows what number will come up. Before the coin is tossed, the Lord knows every time if it will be heads or tails.  Before we speak a word, the Lord knows what we will say:

            Even before a word is on my tongue,
                behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.  (Psalm 139:4)

Not only this, our Lord's knowledge and providence extends even to our secret sins and inner thoughts.  Consider how the lot found out Achan's secret sin.  What was hidden from other people could not be hidden from the Lord:
"So Joshua rose early in the morning and brought Israel near tribe by tribe, and the tribe of Judah was taken. And he brought near the clans of Judah, and the clan of the Zerahites was taken. And he brought near the clan of the Zerahites man by man, and Zabdi was taken. And he brought near his household man by man, and Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken." (Joshua 7:16-18)

Out of the hundreds of thousands, the perpetrator was found out.  Such is the Lord's sovereignty.  He is the God who sees what men cannot.

What does our text teach us about ourselves then?  Man cannot be understood rightly apart from God.  Only in the knowledge of God can we know ourselves.  So in answering the question about God, we are on our ways to answering the question about ourselves.  But notice that the text speaks of "powerful contenders" who are quarreling.  The older commentators rightly saw these powerful people as the rulers or the rich.  Matthew Henry, for example, writes, "Contentions commonly happen among the mighty, that are jealous for their honor and right . . . ."[2]  Lawson points to "the contention of princes" because of pride.[3]  And Poole says that the proverb "mentions the mighty because they are most prone to contention, and [are] most fierce and intractable in it."[4]

Undoubtedly the contentions and pride of world leaders have more serious consequences for far more people than the contentions of everyday folk.  But our proverb mentions the mighty not to let us off the hook, but to give us the most egregious example.  Nevertheless, we all share the same sin of pride.  And our pride is the result of our spiritual blindness toward the sovereign Lord, and our unwillingness to humble ourselves before him.  In our sin we shut our eyes to the glorious nature of our Creator.  And after closing our eyes, we lift ourselves up in pride, which leads to fighting and quarreling with one another.

Finally, let us try to answer the last two questions together:  How should we respond to the Lord? And, how does the text point to Jesus Christ our Lord?

Derek Kidner entitled this proverb, "In his will is our peace."[5]  I like that.  It gets to the right response you and I should make to our sovereign Lord and Maker.  The lot teaches us that our God is so great that nothing is hidden from him.  Our secret sins are fully known to him.  Nothing in his universe is outside his control --- not even the smallest things like casting a lot.  His will is supreme and therefore he is the sovereign King.

Therefore, as our King, who rules heaven and earth from his throne at the right hand of the Father, teaches us, "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  We must humbly bow before the sovereign Lord, for his will cannot be thwarted.

The good news is that our Lord has made it possible for us to be brought back into right relationship with himself and his Father.  Because of this reconciliation Jesus achieved through his death and resurrection, we can accept the sovereign will of God in our lives as a good thing.  For in Christ, God is now our Father, and his providential rule is for us, not against us. 

Let the Heidelberg Catechism teach us how we ought to now view God's providence in our lives as his children:

The eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth and everything in them, who still upholds and rules them by his eternal counsel and providence, is my God and Father because of Christ his Son.
I trust him so much that I do not doubt he will provide whatever I need for body and soul, and he will turn to my good whatever adversity he sends me in this sad world.  (Q&A 26)
We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from his love.  All creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they can neither move nor be moved.  (Q&A 28)

[1] Ross, Proverbs, 1027.
[2] Henry, Proverbs, 895.                                                 
[3] Lawson, Proverbs, 290.
[4] Poole, Proverbs, 249.
[5] Kidner, Proverbs, 122.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

May His Gifts Make Room for Him! --- Proverbs 8:16

Proverbs 18:16 
A man's gift makes room for him
    and brings him before the great.

"A man's gift" is literally, the gift of a man.  Is the gift something the man gives or something the man receives? Grammatically, are we dealing with an objective or subjective genitive?  Language is flexible enough to sometimes allow a certain amount of ambiguity.  My inclination is to answer these sort of questions with a both/and, not an either/or.  We can read the proverb two ways.  The gift may have been given to the man, or the gift may be given by the man.

With that being said, I opt for the idea that the gift has been given to the man.  Joseph (Genesis 37-50) is an example of this objective-genitive-way of reading today's proverb, and Joseph is a type of Christ.  Joseph was given the gift of being able to interpret dreams, and this God-given gift of the Spirit and wisdom made room for Joseph to receive a position of equal authority to the "great" king, who alone held the title of Pharaoh.  Joseph became a type of Christ as the bread-giver, who saved many from death, including Joseph's own family from whom would come the Christ. Joseph's gifts to his family also remind us of our Lord, for they opened up room for his family to live in the land of Goshen separate from Egypt, where they would be fruitful and multiply.
There is another ambiguity in Proverbs 18:16 which also may be intentional.  The ambiguity concerns the word "gift."  Is this gift a gift or a bribe?  Undoubtedly, the line between a gift and a bribe can be thin.  A Christological reading of the text favors the idea that these are gifts, not bribes.  There are many examples of gifts that are not considered bribes in Scripture.  The servant of Abraham brings gifts that make room for him in Rebekah's family (Genesis 24).  Jacob's gifts make room for him in his brother's heart (Genesis 32:13-21).  The Bible does not censure such gifts.  Wise pastors exercise gentleness and kindness toward their flocks, knowing that such tender care will open room in the hearts of his people when he preaches the law and the gospel from the pulpit.  Similarly, if we want to win unbelievers to our Lord Jesus Christ, we cannot hope to do so through insults, belligerent verbal combat, or bad behavior.

"The gift is just that --- a gift that calls attention to the interest that one has in another.  It says something like, 'I respect you for what and who you are,' and (in general) shows the regard one has for another. . . . The bribe is designed to obligate the one who receives it; the gift carries no such connotation.  The bribe shows disrespect; the gift respect. . . . the gift opens conversation and communication."[1]  To this we might add that bribes are used "to influence judicial or administrative decisions," but gifts "encourage favor or friendship."[2]  Bribes almost always are given nefariously in secret, but there is no secretive aspect to a gift except for not wanting to draw praise from others, so that the service may be done unto the Lord (Matthew 6:2-4).

How do we see Christ in today's proverb?  How do we read the text Christologically?  Jesus is the gift given for us from the Father.  Romans 8:32: "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?"  Because of this gift, God is now for us, not against us (Romans 8:31). Because of this gift, we are justified, and free from condemnation.  The Judge has declared us righteous in his courtroom for one has died in our place, and his righteousness is now credited to us (Romans 8:33-34).  Our crucified and risen Lord is our high priest who prays for us that our faith may not fail (Romans 8:35; Luke 22:31-32).  And nothing can separate us from the love of God that is ours in his beloved Son (Romans 8:35-39).  What amazing gifts our Lord Jesus has given to us through his death and resurrection for us!

Notice what else the Father has given us through the gift of his Son:

"There is one body and one Spirit . . . one hope . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one  God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:4-6).

Our unity with one another in the body of Christ has a sevenfold foundation.  Seven times the apostle uses the word "one."  Believers are part of one body and share one Spirit.  We belong to a great company of believers who have preceded us, all the way back from great saints like Noah and Abraham to great apostles like Peter and Paul to great theologians like Augustine and Luther to great martyrs like Polycarp and Bonhoeffer.  We have wonderful sisters in the Lord like Sarah and Ruth and Mary the mother of our Lord, and the two sisters whom Jesus loved, Mary and Martha.  Could it be that the "great" in today's proverb describes not the people the world considers great, but the great company of believers that you and I who believe in God's Son are privileged to be a part of? (cf. Psalm 16:2). Or maybe "great" refers to the "one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all," for now through Jesus we have access to his presence! (Hebrew 10:19-22, 12:18-24).  Or maybe it is not either/or, but once again, both/and.

Either way we are blessed!  As George Lawson writes, "Blessed be the Lord who makes us welcome to come to his throne without money and without price, to receive the richest gifts.  May his gifts make room for him in our souls!"[3]

[1] Adams, Proverbs, 148.
[2] Hubbard, Proverbs, 254.
[3] Lawson, Proverbs, 289.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Proverbs 18:10-11 --- Run!

Proverbs 18:10 --- Run!
10 The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
    the righteous man runs into it and is safe.
11 A rich man's wealth is his strong city,
    and like a high wall in his imagination.

The next two proverbs are closely linked together.  We will deal with verse 10 today and verse 11 tomorrow, but I want us to take note of the word "imagination" in verse 11 as we begin.  It is often claimed by unbelievers that faith is sort of like a wish.  It is something people wish were true, but there is really no evidence for it.  But the truth is just the opposite.  As Hebrews 11:1 says, "faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." 

True biblical faith is built on the witness of God.  First is the witness of God to his own existence through creation.  So we read, "For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made."  The very things God has made are shouting his existence!

Second is the witness of God to his Son through the resurrection.  God has given us evidence for redemption, not only through fulfilled prophecy, but also through the eyewitness testimony of the apostles and first disciples to the resurrection of Jesus.  See, for example, 1 Corinthians 15:1-9.  What was it that changed Peter from a cowering man in front of a servant girl to a bold witness to Jesus Christ in the same city that crucified him, if it wasn't the resurrection?  What changed the apostle Paul from a persecutor of the church to its greatest apostle, if it wasn't the resurrection?  What changed Jesus' own mother and brothers into committed disciples after giving him lukewarm support during his earthly ministry, if it wasn't the resurrection? (e.g., John 7:1-5 and Acts 1:12-14).  What made the apostles willing to die a martyr's death if they knew the resurrection was a lie?

The truth of the matter is that it is unbelief in the Lord as both creator and redeemer that is imaginary!  Such unbelief is the creation of an illusory world that does not exist.  A world that doesn't come to grip with the reality of our situation as fallen, rebellious creatures who will have to face him as our judge --- a God who is holy and just.  A Lord who cannot let sin go unpunished.

There is an urgency in today's proverb.  We are to "run" to the safety the Lord provides.  That safety is described as a "strong tower."  The word tower is literally the Hebrew word for high.  It is the same word translated as "high" in verse 11.  Back in Solomon's time, a high tower or city was a place of refuge in a time of military attack.  Our verse is teaching us that it is urgent to seek refuge in "the name of the Lord."

In one sense, the name of the Lord is tantamount to saying, the Lord.  But it also reminds us what the Lord has revealed about himself through his attributes, his covenant promises, and titles.  In our verse, it is teaching us that the Lord is willing to be a gracious and forgiving God to us.  It is teaching us that he is willing to protect us from our spiritual enemies, that is, his wrath and the second death that threatens our eternal welfare and safety.

You see, the miscalculation the rich tend to make is that they factor in only security in this life.  But they conveniently forget that man's biggest problem is not security in this life, but security in the life to come.  What will shield us from God's holy wrath against us on account of our sins?  Where can we go to flee the presence of an omnipresent God, when our rebellion testifies against us?  How do we survive the war against the Lord our first parents initiated in the garden, and that their sinful progeny have been fighting ever since?

The ultimate proof that God wishes to be a gracious and forgiving God to us is the cross of his Son.  Listen to how Jesus describes his cross as high and lifted up, very much like the high/strong tower in today's proverb:

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.  (John 12:32-33)
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.  (John 3:14-15)

It is urgent that you and I seek refuge today, and every day, for the rest of our lives in the cross that God the Father in his grace and mercy has provided for us through his Son.  Apart from Jesus and his cross, you and I are in imminent danger.  Flee to Jesus.  Put your trust in Him, and you can then have the assurance that comes from faith, that your God is no longer angry with you, but rather graciously disposed toward you as one whose life is now hid with God in Christ.
 "You have been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him  through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. If then you   have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at    the right hand of God.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory."   (Colossians 2:12, 3:1, 3-4)

Sunday, May 6, 2018

New Hymn for Worship Based on Matthew 12:38-45

New hymn for worship based on Matthew 12:38-45.  Click on the tune name to sing along with the tune.

From Our Fallen, Wretched State
Suggested tune: JESUS, MEINE ZUVERSICHT ( Meter: 787877 (trochaic). Based on Matthew 12:38-45. Words: William Weber, 2018. (after sermon, hymn during the offering, closing hymn of devotion, Jesus as prophet, Jesus as priest, Jesus as king, Jesus as sign, repentance, listening, faith, sanctification)

v. 1
From our fallen, wretched state,
Jesus came in grace to save us.
For the Father's love is great,
see His Son the sign He gave us.
Jesus, Prophet, Priest and King,
here's my heart an offering.

v. 2
Will you heed the sign He gives,
the beloved of the Father?
He was dead but now He lives,
look to Him and no one other.

v. 3
Jesus is the bread of life,
eat His body for you given.
He alone can satisfy,
O believe and be forgiven!

v. 4
See the cross and Jesus cursed,
see the blood and water flowing.
From the Fount relieve your thirst,
life is found in Jesus knowing.

v. 5
Jesus speaks and must be heard,
He's the Son sent by the Father.
For He speaks God's very words,
heed your Lord and no one other.

v. 6
Wisdom comes from heav'n above,
Jesus is the Word incarnate.
Learn from Him and know His love,
let your heart become repentant.

v. 7
Come and make my heart Your home,
greater sign could not be given.
For too long my heart has roamed,
fill my heart, O King of heaven!

Friday, May 4, 2018

Proverbs 18:5 --- The Cross: A Pattern for Thinking and Living

Proverbs 18:5 
It is not good to be partial to the wicked
    or to deprive the righteous of justice.

Yesterday's proverb spoke of Christ as the fountain of wisdom and life.  This led to the inflow of the Spirit into the hearts of believers and the outflow of the Spirit in evangelism, pointing others to Jesus.  Christ Jesus fills us with his Spirit so that the Spirit might overflow the banks of our heart for the blessing of others.  But today's proverb informs us that many will not be receptive to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the Lord's people at various times will face persecution.  More often than not the governments of this world will be "partial to the wicked" in order "to deprive the righteous of justice."
When our proverb says, "it is not good," this again is a litotes or understatement.  It is not good means it is reprehensible, revolting, and repugnant to favor the wicked over the righteous.   It is easy for rulers in representative governments to forget that before they are representatives of the people they are representatives of the Lord (e.g., Romans 13:1-7; Psalm 82).  Therefore, rulers and judges have a responsibility to rule righteously, no matter the form of government. 

One commentator writes that our verse "speaks generally about a reversal of God's revealed order."[1]  Idolatry goes hand in hand with wickedness, for wickedness wants nothing to do with righteousness.  The reason the Lord overthrew the Canaanites, Hittites and other nations in the land of promise was because of their wickedness.  But the cause of their wicked behavior was their idolatry.  This is taught in Deuteronomy 20:18 when it explains, "all their abominable practices [were] done for their gods."  In the west, we flatter ourselves with notions of progress --- that we have somehow evolved far beyond people who lived millenia ago.  But the murder of babies in the womb, the proliferation of pornography, the acceptance of homosexual marriage, the exclusion of Christ in the public square, the exclusion of Christians from many vocations, and a host of other wicked practices are done for the reason wicked practices are always done --- for the gods/idols we serve.  Wicked behavior is never progress, but merely the abominable practices idolatry always demands.  In order to worship sex, for example, the necessary corollaries of this idolatry are things like abortion, pornography, and homosexual acceptance.  Christians who oppose sexual immorality must also be opposed and excluded.  I've chosen sex as the idol for this illustration, but could've easily picked wealth, self, drugs, false religion, or any other idol.  But this is the kind of thing today's proverb is talking about: partiality to the wicked in order to[2] deprive the righteous and innocent of justice.
Persecution, whether we find it in the Pentateuch, the Prophets, Proverbs, or the New Testament, reminds us that believers are pilgrims and exiles in this world.  This wicked world is no longer our home.  If we have received the life-giving Spirit of God from Jesus, then we have been born from above.  Our new home is in the heavenly realms, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

The cross of Christ was the defining moment in the history of the world.  The Son of God came into to the world and instead of welcoming him and embracing him, the world put him on trial and sentenced him to die.  But by sentencing God's Son, the world sentenced itself; by judging God incarnate, the world judged itself; and by condemning Christ, the world condemned itself.  Thus, the born from above believer is the one who comes out of the world with its sentence of death, judgment, and condemnation, and into the life, freedom, and favor of Christ Jesus in his kingdom. 

From now on we have a new way of thinking and living that takes its pattern from the cross.  I Peter 4:1-5 gives us the pattern:

"Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign youbut they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead."
The cross becomes the pattern of our thinking (v. 1).  Just like our baptism teaches us, we die to the flesh and the world, and rise with Christ to do the Father's will (v. 2).  The world maligns us (v. 4), because we don't join them in their idolatry and wicked desires (v. 3).  But in the end, the wicked are to be pitied, because the judgment is coming (v. 5), and apart from Christ, they will be condemned with a world that rejects God's Son and his offer of grace and mercy.

The way to be a blessing in the world is to think and live following the pattern of the cross.  The way of blessing --- to be blessed and bless others --- is not to follow the flesh or the world, which are under God's judgment.  Instead, die daily with Christ to the old self and to the world, so that you might live a new life in the Spirit to do the will of the Father.  This baptismal pattern of the cross is better than anything our judged flesh (cf. 1 Peter 4:6) or condemned world (John 12:31) can offer, even though it means a short time of suffering before glory (v. 1, 4).


[1] Adams, Proverbs, 146.
[2] Waltke says that the second line can be read as a purpose or result clause.  Proverbs, vol. 2, 66.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Proverbs 18:2 --- Stop Talking and Listen!

Proverbs 18:2 
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
    but only in expressing his opinion.

"A fool in Proverbs is a person who lacks wisdom.  He is a person who 'does not delight in understanding.' He is not able to see life from God's perspective and act accordingly."[1]  Lutheran scholar Andrew Steinmann says of today's proverb, "This verse helps define foolishness: it is a failure to accept wisdom from God or from others who have understanding.  It is usually accompanied by a proclivity to promulgate one's own opinions as if they were beyond criticism."[2]

In our educational system people often speak of self-expression as a worthy goal.  But the verb "expressing" in line two is quite negative.  It's only other use in this exact form comes in Genesis 9:21, where a drunk Noah exposes his nakedness to his shame.[3]  Sadly, this is what the mouths of those who do not know God do, whenever they speak.  By their words, those who have no knowledge of God expose the nakedness of their hearts, unclothed by the Spirit of God and uninformed by the Word of God (cf. Luke 24:49).
Waltke sees the phrase "takes no pleasure" as a litotes or understatement, so that our proverb is telling us that the fallen heart not only rejects wisdom, but detests it.[4]  As Paul says of the flesh or unrenewed human nature, "The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:7-8).
Our problem as fallen creatures is that we have rejected and are unaware of this truth: man was meant to live by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:3, 32:47).  God relates to his creation through his Word (e.g., Genesis 1).  Ultimately, our opinions are worthless.  Only God's truth matters.  It is God's Word, and God's Word alone, that determines truth---determines reality.  Therefore, the only fitting posture for man is a kneeling posture, a listening posture, a receiving posture.  The know-it-all who speaks with foolish certitude based on his own opinions, especially when those opinions venture into the realm of spiritual reality, is simply exposing his shame by expressing his opinions.  O how we need the Word and the Spirit of God!  O how we need to humble ourselves to listen to Jesus, and those who are able to faithfully teach His Word.
One of the best places to see our need to stop talking and start listening is found in Matthew 17:1-5:

"And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, 'Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.' He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.'"
Our problem is that we fail to see the glory of Jesus.  "Jesus' face gets as bright as that bright star in our solar system---the sun. . . . That's a lot of light!  And that abundant light that is on Jesus' skin and seemingly coming from within radiates out, bleaching his clothes. . . . What's all the brightness about?  It's about divine glory---'Christ's heavenly or divine nature, a revelation of Jesus as he always was and is.'"[5]

Our problem is we fail to listen to Jesus.  Peter was airing his foolish opinions, based on his faulty understanding of the Word of God.  He failed to see the preeminent glory of Jesus that the law (represented by Moses) and the prophets (represented by Elijah) were pointing to.  Three tents for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, as though they were equal, was utter foolishness.  Jesus is the Son of God, equal to the Father, uncreated, immeasurable, eternal, almighty.  He is "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made."[6]  No wonder, then, that the Father mercifully interrupts Peter to tell Peter and us what is pressingly crucial for us:  "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him."

O that we had a hunger for the Word of God!  O that we would spend much time in his Word, daily asking Jesus to teach us!  O that we would stop clamoring for short, fluffy sermons that are almost always unfaithful, and at best, just scratch the surface of God's Word!  O that there would be an exodus from churches that doubt the truth and authority of God's Word!  O that we would bow to the authority of His Word!  O that we would stop repeating the error of Peter, who failed to see that all of Scripture is about Jesus and his glory!  O that we would see that the Bible is a book that humbles us by helping us to see the glory of Jesus and the triune God!  O that we would stop looking to the Bible as a self-help manual that helps us to live our best lives now, but rather a book that teaches us how to live in the light of a future that will bring either eternal life or eternal death! 

Heavenly Father, help us to listen to Your Son, and love the Scriptures through which we hear Your voice and the voice of Your beloved Son!  Take away our foolishness and fill us with the glory of Jesus Christ and his love!  Amen.


[1] Akin, Proverbs, 114.
[2] Steinmann, Proverbs, 392.
[3] See Hubbard, 275; Kidner, 120.
[4] Waltke, Proverbs, vol. 2, 70.
[5] Douglas Sean O'Donnell, Matthew, 468.
[6] The Nicene Creed.

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