Friday, August 26, 2016

Proverbs 10:4: Tips for Getting Along or Heavenly Wisdom?

Proverbs 10:4 --- Tips to Get Along or Heavenly Wisdom?
A slack hand causes poverty,
    but the hand of the diligent makes rich.

We have just been taught that righteousness is far more valuable than money, and saves from the death that separates us from the blessed God (v. 2), and that those who desire righteousness will be filled, while the desires of the wicked will be thwarted in this age and the age to come (v. 3).  Now, we come upon a proverb that seems so obvious one wonders why it needs to be said, let alone be said by the Lord in his holy Word!  My hunch is that there is more going on in this verse than many think. 

Here is the gist of the comments of one commentator, who apparently doesn't think there is anything going on beyond the literal meaning (I will hide his name to protect the guilty!):
"The generalization here is that the industrious, conscientious worker is eventually recognized by his superior and promoted, while the man who constantly watches the clock and puts forth as little effort as possible will stay in the same job slot forever, if he manages to keep his job."

I believe this commentator, and sadly he is not alone, has missed something obvious.  If verses 2 and 3 have just told us that righteousness is true riches, and is to be the locus of our desire, then the words
"poverty" and "rich" may not bear their literal meaning in this verse!  If Solomon, and ultimately, our heavenly Father, has just told us about true wealth, it is quite unlikely our heavenly Father is now telling us about how to make more dollars!  No, we would be wise, at this point, to look beyond the literal, prosaic meaning of the words.

The word
"slack" has the idea of negligence, "loose, deceitful or slothful."[1]  "It describes not necessarily the person who is completely inactive, but, rather, one who only half-heartedly does his job.  He has a poor work ethic.  He does not care about the quality of his work."[2]  Here, then, is what is going on in this verse.  Proverbs 10:4 is the equivalent of our Lord's words in Matthew 6:33: "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness."  Don't be half-hearted or deceitful in your relationship with the Father.  Instead, be devoted to your heavenly Father and pursue righteousness.    Don't presume upon the grace of God, but work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).  In other words, "pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart," as the apostle Paul put it.  "Strive for . . . the holiness without which no one will see the Lord," as the writer to the Hebrews put it (Hebrews 12:14).

The heavenly wisdom of Proverbs should not surprise us.  If we are expecting Proverbs to be a book of little maxims and tips to help us get along in life, we are fundamentally misreading Proverbs.  Proverbs is teaching us about the grace of God that has come to us, and how to live in the light of that grace.  If you don't believe me, believe our Lord's apostle, Peter:

"Concerning this salvation, the prophets
who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look." (1 Peter 1:10-12)

The Old Testament, including Proverbs, was written for the new covenant people of God (1 Peter 1:10, 12)!  "The Spirit of Christ," himself, was "in them," as they wrote.  Jesus was revealing to the Old Testament writers wonderful truths about "the grace that was to be yours," i.e., ours!  If we learn that Proverbs teaches things that sound quite similar to what our Lord Jesus taught, should that really be a surprise to us?  Should we not rather glory in the fact that as Augustine said, "The New is in the Old concealed."  Therefore, seek first, seek wholeheartedly, seek diligently, and not with a slack hand, Christ's righteousness and kingdom, and then you will be rich indeed!



[1] Kitchen, Proverbs, 216.
[2] Ibid.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Proverbs 22:16: This Age and the Age to Come

Proverbs 22:16 --- This Age and the Age to Come
Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth,
    or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.

We've come to the end of Solomon's second collection.  This is proverb number 375.  There have been 375 proverbs, which is also the numerical value of Solomon's name.  The letters of the Hebrew alphabet have a numerical value.  It seems quite improbable this is a coincidence.  Solomon has put his name on this collection of Proverbs in a subtle and unique way.

I think he ends with an appropriate proverb, for this proverb is telling us this age is corrupt, but there is going to be a new age.  There is going to be a reversal.  In the age to come, the rich, who rule this world are going to come to poverty, and the poor in spirit are going to be rich. 

Undoubtedly, this truth is told cryptically and enigmatically in this proverb.  But Solomon also told us in his preface that this is the very nature of a proverb:

            to understand a proverb and a saying,
               the words of the wise and their riddles. (1:6)

The second line of our proverb moves us toward this conclusion, this reversal, when it tells us that those who oppress the poor or give to the rich to gain favors, "will only come to poverty."  Yet experience teaches us that while sometimes such reversals come in this world, it is far from the norm.  Thus, Proverbs itself forces us to look to the age to come and the Lord's judgment, when righteousness will rule and Christ's order will be established forever.

Our Lord's brother in the flesh, James, who became Jesus' devoted servant (James 1:1) after witnessing his resurrection, seems to share this perspective about the corruption of this age, and its reversal.  In James 5:1-6, does he not point to the ultimate judgment of the rich and powerful of this world?  Most certainly he does (I have put in italics and bold font the judgment and reversal he foresees):

"Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you."

But notice that James equates the poor, not with the literal poor who are actually not mentioned in these verses, but with the "righteous person," in verse 6.  And, notice the meekness of the righteous: "He does not resist you."  James has internalized well, his brother's, and now Lord's, teaching:  "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3).

The question for each of us, whether rich or poor, then, is this:  Whose side are we on?  Which age shall we live for?  With whom, and with what age, will we identify?  The believer is baptized into the name of Jesus Christ and the triune God.  He doesn't belong to this evil age that is passing away.  He belongs to his Lord and his life is to be characterized by the priorities and values of the age to come, for there lies his true home.  Ultimately, this is what Proverbs is all about.  It is about learning to live in this age as children of the age to come.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Proverbs 22:15 --- Training for Eternal Glory

Proverbs 22:15 --- Training for Eternal Glory
Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,
    but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.

The Christian view of the discipline of children flows out of its view of human nature.  While we were created in God's image, that image has been greatly marred by the fall of Adam.  Original sin, or as one commentator calls it, "original folly,"[1] is "bound up" in the heart of children.  Only one child has ever been born with an innocent and unblemished nature, and that was our Lord, who was born of a virgin and conceived by the Spirit.  The rest of us come into the world with a sinful nature that is tied tightly to our hearts, like a stain we can't remove or a scar we cannot restore.  Thus, sin has darkened our understanding, sensualized our affections, and perverted our wills.[2]  All sinners are self-willed and guided by their own understanding (Proverbs 3:5), until the Spirit intervenes and makes us receptive to the revealed Word of God.

What can remove the folly of our self-willed, self-trusting, self-loving, autonomous hearts that are "guided and grounded"[3] from within rather than by the Lord and his Word from without?  The Proverbs' answer is the Lord's powerful working in our hearts (notice the two Yahweh proverbs, verses 12 and 14, and royal proverb, verse 11, that precede our proverb), and the heavenly Father's discipline.  Parents and teachers can imitate the Father's discipline, which comes in the form of words and difficult trials, and they are commanded to use the means at their disposal (instruction and discipline).  But ultimately, only the outpouring of the Spirit through the Son can change our hard hearts.  Ultimately, we need a change of heart that desires to have God as our Father, Christ as our Lord, and God's Word as our final authority.

If we do not choose God as our Father, Christ as our Lord, the Spirit as our enabler, and the Word as our rule, the result will be what we see around this particular proverb.  We will deceived by the words of traitors (v. 12), enslaved to false beliefs and sexual immorality (v. 13), lazy and subject to cravings that never ceases (v. 14), and greedy for wealth that cannot last, rather than the true riches of Christ and his blessings (v. 16).  In the end, our lack of discipline from the Father, and a right response to his discipline will kill us, for our portion will be the misery of hell.

How much better it is, then, to commit ourselves into the hands of our heavenly Father and his Son!  How much better it is to commit ourselves to be trained for the purpose of godliness!  How much better it is to learn from Jesus, who gives us rest, and from the Father who teaches us and disciplines us for our eternal good. 

As I write, we are in the midst of the 2016 Summer Olympics.  How happy these athletes are when they compete, and even more, when they win the prize.  We can be in a better training program and compete for a far better prize!  We can train for eternal glory with Christ in heaven.  Won't you put yourself under the heavenly Father's loving discipline of Word and trial, the Son of God's lavish grace, and the Holy Spirit's sweet fellowship?  You will never regret your decision to go for eternal glory!




[1] Ross and Waltke both attribute this phrase to Whybray.
[2] Lawson, Proverbs, 385-386.
[3] The phrase is borrowed from James Mays, Psalms, 43.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Proverbs 22:14 --- The Journey from Selfish Desire to Sacrificial Love

Proverbs 22:14
The mouth of forbidden women is a deep pit;
    he with whom the Lord is angry will fall into it.

As we near the end of Solomon's second collection (10:1-22:16), Solomon takes us back to one of the most important themes of his first collection (1:8-9:18).  Throughout his first collection, two women are contrasted: Woman Folly and Woman Wisdom.  These two figures are personifications of folly and wisdom.  Woman Wisdom is a type of Jesus Christ, whom Paul calls "the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:24).  Woman Folly is a paradigm for the opposite of wisdom, namely, idolatry and false religion.  Thus, there are just two ways to live.  One is the way of folly, the other is the way of wisdom; one is the way of unfaithfulness, the other the way of loyalty to the Lord; one is the way of idolatry, the other is the way of devotion to Jesus Christ; one is the way of selfishness, the other is the way of the cross and self-giving love; one is the way of sinful desire, the other is the way of hunger, thirst and desire for righteousness (right relationships).

Our bodies are sacramental.  They make visible, invisible, spiritual realities.  We were created as the Lord's icons, i.e., the images in his temple, which is the universe.  With our bodies we reflect who or what we truly worship.  Marital love and fidelity to one woman reflects the sacrificial love that Jesus Christ our Husband showed for us at the cross as he embraced his people.  Following our sinful desires to intertwine sexually with many partners reflects the multiplicity of idols we follow when we leave the one and only Lord.  Notice that the first line of our proverb has the forbidden woman in the plural, pointing to the multiplicity of the idols we make when we depart from the Lord.

The fact that in the sexual act we intertwine and indwell one another is also important to see.  Our gender, male or female, is a vital part of our being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), because God is triune.  In the Godhead, the Father, Son, and Spirit mutually indwell one another in love.  Thus, our gender, even if we remain single, points to our purpose, namely, to reflect and participate in the love of God: Father, Son, and Spirit.  In fact, the sexual union is capable of bringing forth a third person equal to the husband and wife, thus reflecting the triune relations in an even greater way.  Thus, the Lord has inscribed on our bodies our very purpose for living.  We were created as his image bearers to participate in and reflect visibly the love and glory of God in the world.  We were created for union with Christ --- to dwell in him.  Our bodies enable a visible reflection of the spiritual reality of our participation in the triune God.  Our bodies enable the display of God's character to take place, for how could we show spiritual realities without a body?

Thus, we are now in a position to see why the Lord's anger is kindled by sexual immorality.  Sexual immorality is the visible sign of idolatry, just as marital purity and love is the visible sign of devotion to the Lord.  The Lord, who is our husband and has betrothed himself to us through the cross, is rightly angered when his image bearers forsake him to pursue other lovers.  His judgment in this life is to give us over to our lovers (see Romans 1:24, 26, 28), thus the forbidden women becomes a trap --- a deep pit --- from which we cannot escape apart from the Lord's cross-shaped mercy and resurrection power.

We can be thankful, though, that some have escaped.  David was one, and Judah another.  The Lord in his mercy brought both to a sacrificial love for others in imitation of Christ, their Lord and Husband.  Judah's example is instructive as he went from sleeping with a woman he mistook as prostitute (Genesis 38) to being willing to sacrifice himself for his brother out of love for his father (Genesis 44:30-34).  This is the journey we all need to make.  David's path was similar as he moved from the sinful desire that caused him to sleep with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:2-4), to the Christ-like prayer of 2 Samuel 24:17: "Behold, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand be against me and against my father's house."




Friday, August 12, 2016

Proverbs 22:13 --- Real and Imaginary Lions

Proverbs 22:13 --- Real and Imaginary Lions
The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside!
    I shall be killed in the streets!”

This verse causes us to laugh at its absurdity.  The sluggard in Proverbs is a sad, pathetic figure, and often the butt of jokes.  But unlike the humor in our society, the humor in God's Word serves an instructional purpose to warn, edify, and motivate us toward fulfilling our calling to glorify the Lord with our lives.  Forgetfulness of his calling and purpose is at the heart of the sluggard's problems, as it is at the heart of all of our problems.

Because the sluggard does not fear the Lord, he becomes subject to a host of external fears, some of which have a basis in reality, and some that don't.  This particular fear of being killed by a lion, is mostly unfounded, and part of the paranoia which sets in when a man foregoes the fear of the Lord.

As we saw just a few verses back, the sluggard's true concern should be his sinful desires that truly will kill him!  "The desire of the sluggard kills him . . . all day long he craves (desires) and craves" (21:25-26).  These are the sinful desires that should scare us to death, and should be put to death, according to our Lord:

"You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. . . . be reconciled to your brother" (Matthew 5:21-22, 24).

"You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell" (Matthew 5:27-29).

"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money" (Matthew 6:24).

Here is the evil triumvirate of anger/hate, lust, and the love of money that should be the anxiety of our souls, since they can send us to hell!  But the sluggard gives in to these sinful desires, and so not fearing the Lord, he is beset by a different kind of fear not based in reality.  He fears a lion attack!

Now, while lion attacks were not unheard of in ancient Israel, they were rare.  A prophet, in 1 Kings 13, was killed by a lion, because he disobeyed the word of the Lord.  The proof that this was the Lord's judgment against the prophet was that when the slain man was found, he was laying unmauled next to the lion and the prophet's donkey!  Unusual behavior from both lions and donkeys!  The point of the story is that our safety lies in trusting and obeying the Word of God, something the sluggard has abandoned in order to pursue his sinful desires.  A more reasonable fear when we abandon the Word of God to gratify our lusts, is the fear of falling into the hands of the devil, whom Peter names "a roaring lion."  The key to fulfilling our calling is to live in the fear of the Lord, whose fear casts out all other fears.  The New Testament calls us to humble ourselves to receive his grace, to call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, and to walk with him by faith, with the sure hope that he will graciously bring us to the glory of our eternal home:

"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen." (1 Peter 5:6-11)




Friday, August 5, 2016

Proverbs 22:9 --- Imitating the Father's Bountiful Eye

Proverbs 22:9
Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed,
    for he shares his bread with the poor.

I am a bit worried that what I have said about the rich and the poor in Scripture might lead to a lack of generosity and compassion in my heart and others.  I am tempted to say that the answer to this worry is to simply say the text's literal meaning points to the poor in general, therefore, we should be compassionate and generous to all.  The problem with this solution is that the poor in the Old Testament were fellow Israelites, and thus, brothers.  The typology of the Old Testament points to Israel as a type of the church, not the state.  So generosity to the poor Israelite brother works typologically as generosity to the poor in the church of Jesus Christ.

I think a better solution to our need to have large and generous hearts toward all people is what the Old Testament says about the alien or stranger, and what Jesus says in the New Testament about our neighbor and our enemies. 

In Leviticus 19:33-34 we read:

"When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.  You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God."

Leviticus 25:35 assumes that the stranger or alien will be treated well in Israel:

"If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you."

In the New Testament, Jesus says this about generosity toward even our enemies:

"But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the   ungrateful and the evil.  Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. . . . give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, and it will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you" (Luke 6:35-36, 38).

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus defines our neighbor as anyone in need who comes across our path or into our view.  Therefore, we must not close our hearts toward anyone in need, for once again the key to Christian ethics is found in the principle of imitation: "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful."

Our proverb, today, does not seem to assume the person sharing is literally rich.  Rather, he seems to have limited means, since "he shares his bread."  There seems to be a sacrificial element involved in his generosity.  Charles Bridges notes that "God's standard is sacrifice, not convenience."[1]  Many studies have shown that the poor in America are much more generous than the rich in terms of the percentage of giving.  Some of our highest candidates for office, when their financial records were released, have given such paltry amounts to charity as to be embarrassing.  Let this never be the case with Christians, whether they be rich or poor.  For, "whoever has a bountiful eye" (a compassionate heart that sees the need of others and takes action to meet those needs according to their ability), our heavenly Father, himself, will bless.

Finally, let us be thankful to our gracious Father in heaven, who because of his "bountiful eye," has given to the poor in spirit, the bread of heaven, his beloved Son.  May we be thankful for such lavish, sacrificial giving, and learn to imitate it in our lives.  Amen.




[1] Bridges, Proverbs, 408.

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