Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Proverbs 21:28---The New Is In the Old Concealed

Proverbs 21:28 --- The New Is in the Old Concealed
A false witness will perish,
    but the word of a man who hears will endure.

The second line of this proverb seems to puzzle almost all the commentators on this verse.  But one wonders if the reason for their universal puzzlement is their failure to heed St. Augustine's famous maxim, "The new (testament) is in the old (testament) concealed, and the old is in the new revealed."  In other words, Christ and his teaching is found in the Old Testament, but it was concealed or hidden, until Jesus came in the fullness of time and unveiled to us the ultimate meaning of the Old Testament Scriptures.

The first line of the proverb is straight forward.  The Lord hates lying.  It is one of the seven things the Lord finds abominable (Proverbs 6:16-19).  "You shall not bear false witness" is one of the Ten Commandments.  According to Revelation 21:8 "all liars" will have "their portion . . . in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death."  That false witnesses will perish is not a surprise, for the Lord incarnate is the way,
the truth, and the life, thus the truth remains forever.

But in the second line, we are told that "the word of a man who hears will endure," and the Hebrew is even stronger, because it uses the word
forever, literally saying, "but he who hears will speak forever."[1]  What could this possibly mean?  How could a mere man speak forever?

When we turn to the New Testament, we find our answer.  In Romans 10, we are told that preachers of the gospel are sent (v. 15).  And, when they are sent, the question becomes, how will people respond?  Romans 10:16 asks, "Lord, who has believed what he heard from
us?"  But verse 17 then teaches that is was not the voice of the preachers the people heard, but it was the voice of Jesus Christ himself: "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (v. 17).  Yes, this is the word about Christ, but it is also the word of Christ!  It is similar to what 1 Peter 4:10-11 says, "As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God." Since preachers and even everyday believers are able to speak the word of God, and since that word of the Lord is described as "seed" that is "imperishable" (1 Peter 1:23), and a "word" that "remains forever" (1 Peter 1:25), therefore, we can say that just as there are false witnesses in the world, so there are also true witnesses who speak the word that lasts forever.
Our proverb today teaches us that there are false teachers/witnesses and there are true teachers/witnesses in the world today.  Jesus called false teachers wolves, camouflaged in sheep's clothing (Matthew 7:15).  False witnesses in courts of law can do much physical damage sending to prison or even death, but false witnesses in religion bring far worse damage, because false teaching brings eternal ruin to the souls of men.

The key to being a faithful teacher is found in faithful hearing of the word of Christ!  One cannot preach and teach the word of God until one faithfully hears the words of our Lord and Teacher.  Jesus himself was the teacher par excellence because he was the listener par excellence (Isaiah 50:4-5).  Jesus came as the faithful and true witness, but all who receive his witness come to know the truth as well, so that they too can bear witness to the world.  As John 3:33 says, "Whoever receives his [Jesus'] testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true."  When Nicodemus came to Jesus, he came overconfident, trusting in worldly wisdom.  He said, "We --- me and my group --- we know" (John 3:2).  But Jesus countered by speaking of himself and his group of disciples:  "Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony" (John 3:11). 

The first disciples were witnesses of Jesus' life and teaching, and his death and resurrection.  The apostles laid the foundation for the church, leaving a witness for us in the New Testament Scriptures.  But when we receive their testimony, then we too become witnesses in the sense that we come to know the truth as it is in Jesus.  And so we can do good in the world as we share the imperishable and eternal gospel with a world that remains in death apart from this imperishable word!  Praise the Lord that "the new is in the old concealed," and that in Christ we can bring out this wonderful latent meaning!

[1] Lane, Proverbs, 242.

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