Monday, June 27, 2016

Christ in the Proverbs: Icons of Discipleship

Proverbs 21:19
It is better to live in a desert land
    than with a quarrelsome and fretful woman.

This section of Proverbs has been dealing with the anti-social aspects of wickedness.  The biggest problem of the wicked is their "quarrelsome and fretful" nature.  The wicked are fighting against the Lord and his revealed Word, refusing to trust him.  The wicked are quarreling with their Creator.  The wicked refuse to submit to the Lord, and thus, they become rebels, causing social disorder.  Having rejected the Lord and his Word, they make this world a hellish place of fighting, quarreling, and even violence, the opposite of the triune love.

The woman, more so than the man, is a better physical icon of discipleship.  Besides her beauty, her body is more receptive, which is the appropriate attitude toward the Lord and his Word.  While Proverbs' main image of God is Father, we should not forget the Lord is also the Husband of his people.  We are betrothed to our Lord.  The proper attitude to the Lord is one of trust, love and reception.  We are to receive the words he implants in our souls.  In this way, we bear fruit, and Christ is formed within us (see Galatians 4:19).  The imagery of Scripture is in some ways sexual, and is so meant to be.  Women beautifully picture what discipleship is supposed to be, and this discipleship is seen throughout the Gospels in women like Mary, who humbly receives the word of the Lord, and so Christ is physically formed in her; in the woman in Luke 7:36-50 who gives Jesus the lavish reception he deserves, when the male host so grievously does not; and in Mary who sits at Jesus' feet to humbly learn from him.

Maybe the best icon of discipleship in the Old Testament is Ruth.  After repeated urging from Naomi to depart and "find rest . . . in the house" of a husband from Moab (Ruth 1:9), Ruth refuses and instead she
clings to Naomi (Ruth 1:14), a covenant word often used for how we ought to cling to the Lord.  One gets the feeling that the One Ruth is really clinging to is, not Naomi, but the Lord, who has become her true Husband.  Her words to Naomi express trust and receptive discipleship, and seem at times to be more directed to the Lord, her Husband, than Naomi.  They are beautifully receptive words that speak of dwelling and lodging in the Lord, the opposite of the disorder and chaos created when the wicked quarrel and depart from him:

"Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God" (Ruth 1:16).

Therefore, once again, these humorous transitional verses about the quarrelsome wife teach us deep lessons about both the wicked and the righteous, and tell us what makes a place either heavenly or hellish here on earth.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Poverbs 21:17: The Pleasure Paradox

Proverbs 21:17
Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man;
    he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.

The kind of wickedness envisioned in this verse is sadly relevant for today.  2 Timothy 3 teaches us what it will be like in the last days, the time between Christ's first and second comings.  One of the vices it lists is this: people will be "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" (3:4).

The word "pleasure" in line one of our proverb is the same Hebrew word translated as "joy" just two verses earlier in verse 15:  "When justice is done it is a joy to the righteous."  As John Kitchen says, "The two verses help form a theology of pleasure."[1]  Verse 15 teaches that pleasure/joy is a by-product of the pursuit of the Lord and his righteousness.  Verse 17 teaches that the pursuit of pleasure/joy directly is self-defeating and brings spiritual poverty.  Sandwiched between the two verses is verse 16, warning us "that more than pleasure is at stake."[2]  Which theology of pleasure we opt for carries eternal consequences.

The competing theologies of pleasure form the pleasure paradox.  The direct pursuit of pleasure is self-defeating and brings spiritual poverty.  But the pursuit of righteousness or right conduct brings the spiritual by-product of joy.  The pursuit of pleasure is idolatry and it will lead to spiritual emptiness.  But the pursuit of the Lord and his kingdom brings pleasure and joy, which the direct pursuit of pleasure can never bring.  Jesus taught this paradox in the Beatitudes, when he said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matthew 5:6). 

I often hear people in our prosperous culture talk about how good life is.  It doesn't get better than this, they say.  One of our modern heretic's most famous slogans is about living "your best life now."[3]  But these sentiments are hard to square with Jesus' words from John 12:25: "Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life."  I rarely hear people say, I hate my life in this world.  What would make anyone hate their life in this world?

At the heart of our proverb is what a person loves.  In fact, in Hebrew there is a chiasm that is hard to duplicate in English that might be rendered rather clumsily like this:

                Will be poor a man whoever pleasure loves;
                loves wine and oil he will not be rich.

The pattern is ABBA, with the A elements contrasting the poor and rich man, and the B elements in the center of the chiasm emphasizing the word "loves."  Thus, love is at the middle of the proverb and is central.  Love is the key to what we are and become.  What we love determines what we pursue.  If we love the Father, we will, as Jesus taught, "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness" (Matthew 6:33).  But if we love an alternative kingdom --- a different view of what constitutes the good life --- then we will pursue that kind of life.

Who, then, would say they hate their life in this world?  The answer is someone who loves the Lord and his righteousness.  The answer is a person who is longing for his kingdom to come.  The answer is someone who sees the beauty and glory of the triune God of love, who is blessed (joyous) forever.  The answer is a person who sees that this world is a place where his Father and his Lord are dishonored; a place where death has entered because of sin; a place that is filled not with the self-giving love that comes from the triune God, but rather the self-grasping desires and passions that James says causes conflict and enmity between persons, families, communities, and nations (James 4:1-5).

Our Lord is not a kill-joy.  But he is a jealous God.  He is our Husband, and he calls us to have no other gods before him.  We must forsake false husbands/gods in order to love the true God.  Pleasure/joy is one of those false gods we must forsake because we love Christ our heavenly husband.  Will we lack joy and pleasure if we forsake pleasure and joy as our god?  No, actually in forsaking pleasure/joy and serving and loving the Lord, our joy will be great and our hearts satisfied.  This is the pleasure paradox, and how relevant it is for our hearts to learn in a world that hungers for pleasure, but not for the Lord, his righteousness, and his kingdom!

[1] Kitchen, Proverbs, 475.
[2] Kidner, Proverbs, 136.
[3] Joel Osteen

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Proverbs 21:9: The Foundation of Human Community

Proverbs 21:9
It is better to live in a corner of the housetop
    than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.

There are a series of these better-than proverbs sprinkled throughout Proverbs, some of which deal with the quarrelsome wife.  I have to admit I find them humorous.  It's almost as though this form of the better-than proverb took on a stereotyped formula, with each new version trying to top the next in where it would be better to live than with a contentious wife!

The section of Proverbs we are in runs from 20:29 to 21:29, with 20:29-21:3 the introduction, and 21:4-29 the main body.  The section has three sub-units: verses 4-8, 10-18, and 20-29.  Strangely, two of these better-than proverbs, dealing with a quarrelsome wife, divide the sub-units.  It seems odd at first that these two proverbs, which seemingly have no connection to this section as a whole, would be chosen as an "organizing principle."[1]  But I have a thought on why these two verses are a brilliant piece of divine wisdom perfect for this section, which is telling us about the anti-social behavior of the wicked.

The Book of Proverbs sees a wife as a gift of God.  Proverbs 18:22 tells us about this wonderful gift:

                He who finds a wife finds a good thing
                   and obtains favor from the Lord.

Mothers, along with fathers, are viewed as teachers of their children.  In fact, the book's main body after the introduction, includes the mother's teaching alongside the father:

                Hear, my son, your father's instruction,
                    and forsake not your mother's teaching. (Proverbs 1:8)

But the better-than proverbs often recognize the imperfect situation we are now in after the fall.  The better-than proverbs sometimes describe "two less than perfect conditions.  The sage weighs their relative worth and declares one preferable---although neither is entirely satisfactory."[2]  And so, in our verse, the "two less than perfect conditions" compared are a spacious house with a quarrelsome wife, or the corner of a roof without a quarrelsome wife.  Solomon advises it is better for the husband to take a chance on nature's storm on the roof than with the wife's storm in the house![3]  Again, it is hard to miss the humor, but in seeing the humor we don't want to miss the serious message.

The first message is this.  While a good wife is a good gift, not every wife is righteous and good.  The relationship between husband and wife, after the fall, is more difficult because of sin.  Men are prone to selfishness and lust, rather than self-giving love.  The tendency for men to objectify women, after the fall, is strong, and this tendency must be fought and put to death in the believing man's heart.  Self-emptying love must be cultivated, rather than self-grasping lust.  

Women tend to a slightly different problem after the fall.  It is expressed in Genesis 3:16: 

                Your desire shall be for your husband,
                   and he shall rule over you.

The word desire in this verse is the same word used in the words the Lord spoke to Cain just a bit later:

                "sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it" (Genesis 4:7b).

The idea, then, in 3:16 is that after the fall, the wife's tendency is to rule over her husband, just as sin wanted to rule the heart of Cain.  The wife's fallen tendency is to want to control her husband.  But just as in the case of the man, so in the case of the woman, she must fight this tendency and put it to death.  She must learn, like godly women always have, the precious jewel that is the true beauty and glory of a woman:

"but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious" (1 Peter 3:4).

In a marriage, just as it is the case in all human communities, selfishness destroys relationships.  While love builds up, selfishness tears down.  And this, I think, is why this seemingly unrelated proverb fits perfectly into this section which deals with the anti-social aspects of wickedness.  Marriage is the primordial sacrament that is meant to teach us what life is really all about!

First, marriage in its physical union of mutual indwelling is a sign that points to the mutual indwelling of the trinity.  The Father indwells the Son and Spirit.  The Son indwells the Father and Spirit.  The Spirit indwells the Father and the Son.  And this mutual indwelling is not impersonal, but self-giving in its love.  The Father makes room for the Son and Spirit.  The Son makes room for the Father and Spirit.  The Spirit makes room for the Father and Son.  And all of this is pictured in marriage, which is foundational for human society.  And so, we see how the mutual love and indwelling of the trinity is to be pictured in the sexual union and everyday relations between a husband and wife.  The trinity is the model for the most basic model of community --- marriage --- from which all of us come forth.  Thus, the trinity is the model for all human community.

But there is also a hierarchy among the equal members of the trinity.  Each person in the trinity is fully God.  The Father is fully God.  The Son is fully God.  The Spirit is fully God.  There are not three gods, but one God.  But within this unity there is diversity.  And within this unity there is hierarchy.  From eternity the Son has always done the Father's will, delighting in it.  So too the Father and Son send the Spirit.  This order is seen especially in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28, where we read that even the Son, who is fully divine and equal with the Father, willingly subjects himself to the Father.

Therefore, the picture of the quarrelsome woman, is a picture that shows us how humanity fights against the way things really are.  We live in a world where everything is modeled after the triune God.  And from that model we learn that two things are especially important for us to live rightly in God's world with our God and others: self-giving love and humility, for it is selfishness and pride that destroy relationships and fail to reflect the image of the triune God.

[1] Waltke, Proverbs, vol. 2, 169.
[2] Schwab, Proverbs, 535.
[3] Van Leeuwen, Proverbs, 193,

Monday, June 13, 2016

Christ in the Proverbs: Proverbs 21:7

Proverbs 21:7
The violence of the wicked will sweep them away,
    because they refuse to do what is just.

Verse seven continues to teach us about "the wicked."  It is helpful to learn about the wicked, so that we might be warned and kept from following their path.  The wicked, as the Lord defines them in his Word, are people who live only for this life.  Psalm 17:14 puts it like this, "they are men of the world whose portion is in this life."  Sadly, secular society thinks there is nothing wrong with teaching children there is no God, that life somehow began by blind chance, and that all that exists is matter.  If there is no creator, then ultimately we answer to no one, and we may live however we please.  But such a godless and short-sighted worldview creates people who live just for this world, and will inevitably do whatever it takes to get what they desire through get-rich quick plans (v. 5), lying (v. 6), and violence, as in the present verse.

The word translated "sweep" in line one, pictures a net that catches fish.  It is the same word that's used in Habakkuk 1:15 to picture catching fish with a dragnet.  Just as the previous proverb spoke of "a snare of death," this proverb speaks of getting caught in a net.  Allen Ross describes it this way:  "It is the 'violence' of the wicked that destroys them---it 'drags them away,' probably to more sin, but ultimately to their punishment."[1]

Our verse shows us a pattern.  The pattern begins with self-will.  The person refuses "to do what is just," or what is right.  This leads to the slavery of sin.  The person gets caught in the net or snare of sin.  Finally, the threefold pattern culminates in eternal death, as the violent man is dragged or swept away to punishment.  Self-will motivated by lust and greed brings about slavery to sin and ultimately eternal death --- this is the pattern.

But surely this verse applies only to violent criminals, right?  Literally, this may be the case, but there are reasons to think this verse has an application to all fallen sinners, unless we repent.  First, this pattern of self-will, slavery, and then eternal death is shared by the entire, fallen human race.  Second, can we really be sure that our lust and greed do not involve violence?  Recently, I watched two documentaries, one on sex-trafficking and the other on the drug trade.  What becomes clear is that our lust or demand for pornography and drugs leads not only to the individual's enslavement, but also to various forms of violence.  The evil one weaves a web that takes our self-willed lusts and makes our greed for money, sex, and pleasure an important part of the web of violence.[2] 

God is not mocked.  What we reap we sow.  There is a steep price we pay individually and socially for our self-will motivated by our lust for money and sex and pleasure.  When a culture refuses to do what is right, refusing to restrain anti-social lust and greed, the results are increasing addiction/enslavement, chaos, and ultimately judgment.  The same is true for the individual who refuses to put to death the sinful nature, but lives for the lusts of the flesh.  The same results can be expected: enslavement, and ultimately, judgment.  Lust and greed are inherently destructive and anti-social.  They are the opposite of love, which alone builds up and edifies. 

As the cross of Jesus Christ teaches, all sin has a violent aspect to it.  The cross showed us the violent nature of our sin.  Fallen man violently took away the life of God's Son when he came to earth.  Our sin put him on the cross.  Sin is anti-social and the opposite of love.  Sin destroys individuals, families and communities, precisely because sin hates the triune God of love with a murderous rage, the God who is himself a relational community of love.

O how we should seek to escape the net of self-will that drags us away to the slavery of increasing greed, lust, and eternal condemnation!  How much better it is to be caught by our Lord's gospel net, which frees us from condemnation and pours out the love of the Father into our hearts by the Spirit!  Our Father, give us receptive, submissive hearts that love you and your will.

[1] Ross, Proverbs, 1051.
[2] Think of the violent effects of sexual lust in the break-up of families or the millions of abortions performed around the world.  Surely, such effects are a form of violence against spouses, children, and babies in the womb.

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