Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Proverbs 10:15 --- The Economy of our Lord

Proverbs 10:15
A rich man's wealth is his strong city;
    the poverty of the poor is their ruin.

This is a remarkable proverb.  On the surface, it is just an observational proverb that tells us the way life is, not the way it ought to be.  The rich are insulated from many of the difficulties of life because of their wealth, while the poor are not.  Tremper Longman gives some helpful modern examples of the security wealth gives, and the helplessness of poverty.  He writes, "We might begin with a plumbing emergency.  If a pipe bursts, no problem.  Just pay a plumber to fix it.  If a lawsuit threatens, no problem.  Just hire a better lawyer than the plaintiff, and if one loses, there is more money to pay the person anyway!  On the other hand, if a pipe bursts in the home of the poor, what are they to do?  Wealth means having shelter and plenty of food, but not so for the poor; they could starve to death."[1]

The first lesson of this proverb, then, is compassion.  A life of poverty makes life extremely difficult.  Our hearts should go out to the literal poor.

But our proverb hints at something more going on.  Our proverb begs for a spiritual interpretation.  The first line of the proverb is contradicted again and again in the Old Testament, not to mention the New!  The rich are invariably condemned for making their wealth their "strong city."  Proverbs 10:2, for example, has already told us that righteousness, not money, is the great treasure of life.  Earthly wealth is of no value in making us right with God, as Proverbs 11:4 says: "Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death."  Thus, the first line of the proverb, while true in an observational sense, hints at the idolatry of the rich in making wealth their trust, rather than the name of the Lord, which Proverb condemns while pointing to the One we should trust:
The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
    the righteous man runs into it and is safe.
A rich man's wealth is his strong city,
    and like a high wall in his imagination. (Proverbs 18:10-11)

Once we see that the first line of our proverb, in a spiritual sense, points to the idolatry of the rich, the proverb gains a whole new meaning.  As Jesus taught us, "How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" (Luke 18:24).  The rich face a number of roadblocks to entering the kingdom.  Among these roadblocks are to put their trust in wealth, rather than the Lord; to imagine wrongly that wealth provides lasting security; to put their trust in their own understanding, rather than the Word of God; to become indifferent to the plight of the literal poor; and, most importantly, to fail to become rich toward God (Luke 12:13-21).

If the first line of our proverb has a twist, in its spiritual sense, then we should expect the second line to have a reversal as well.  The second line, "the poverty of the poor is their ruin," takes a surprising turn.  Now, in a spiritual sense, stunningly, the second line applies to the rich themselves!  The rich, who do not trust in the Lord, will find they are actually spiritual paupers on the day of judgement.  They will not have enough wealth to enter the kingdom of heaven, for the ransom of a man's soul is costly, and requires the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ.  With his shed blood, Jesus Christ gives forgiveness, and with his perfect righteousness he covers our sinful nakedness, which was ours from the time of our conception and birth.

In Jesus' economy, the literal poor are not automatically in his kingdom apart from faith.  But the poverty of the literal poor is a picture of our true state before the Lord.  We are dependent creatures, who depend upon the grace and goodwill of our heavenly Father for all the blessings of body and soul.  And, we are sinful creatures, who are spiritually bankrupt, and have nothing to offer for our salvation, except our sin.  Therefore, Jesus reverses the "ruin" of poverty, and he speaks of this reversal when he says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven!"  The kingdom of heaven, now that is true wealth in the economy of our Lord!

[1] Longman, Proverbs, 235-236.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Proverbs 10:13 --- Wisdom from Above

Proverbs 10:13 --- Wisdom from Above
On the lips of him who has understanding, wisdom is found,
    but a rod is for the back of him who lacks sense.

Wisdom begins with revelation from the Lord.  Wisdom, like revelation, comes from above, not below (see James 3:13-18, which speaks of "wisdom from above").  Satan's temptation to rebellion in the garden involved the substitution of wisdom from below for the wisdom from above (Genesis 3:4-5).  In order to gain understanding about truth and reality, revelation from God is the starting point, not our reason or our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).  Proverbs way of saying this is that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7, 9:10).  Jesus' way of saying this is that the wise man must build his life on his words or revelation:
"Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man     who built his house on the rock. . . . And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand" (Matthew 7:24, 26 --- notice how Jesus viewed his words as authoritative and revelation from above). 

The person of "understanding" is the person who "can distinguish wrong from right, good from bad, better from best."[1]  He can do this because "he has, though practice in applying God's word, learned to discern God's way in this world (Hebrews 5:14)."[2]

In order to speak wisdom to others, we must listen to the Lord.  The better we listen to Christ, the more wisely we will speak to others.  Only the teachable can teach.  Only those, who like Mary, have sat at Jesus' feet listening and applying the Lord's words to themselves, will prepare themselves to speak wisely to others.

Derek Kidner has entitled this proverb: "God's mouthpiece or God's mule."[3]  This is because the proverb teaches that if we won't be guided by God's Word, then we will have to be guided by the Lord's force.  In this title, Kidner is making an allusion to Psalm 32.  The wise are privileged to have the Lord as their teacher:

            "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
                I will counsel you with my eye upon you" (v. 8).

But the wicked, because they refuse to listen to the Lord, must be sovereignly guided and dealt with through force --- "a rod is for the back of him who lacks sense":

            "Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
               which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
               or it will not stay near you" (v. 9)

No wonder, then, that the sorrows of the wicked are many, for force is far more unpleasant than instruction:

            "Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
             but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord" (v. 10).

The fool, "who lacks sense" earns his punishment by his refusal to listen to the Lord and put his words into practice.  That punishment will come suddenly in final disaster, as our Lord Jesus Christ makes plain:

"And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.   And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it" (Matthew 7:26-27).

If we have eyes to see it, the book of Proverbs is an eschatological book.  It teaches us to live our lives in light of the end by hearing and putting into practice the Lord's wisdom from above.



[1] John A. Kitchen, Proverbs, 223.
[2] Ibid., 223-224.
[3] Derek Kidner, Proverbs, 83.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Proverbs 10:11 --- Life-Giving Water in the Wilderness of the World

Proverbs 10:11 --- Life-Giving Water in the Wilderness of the World
The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
    but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

In Proverbs 10:11 we have a contrast between the words of the righteous and the words of the wicked.  The words of the righteous are a fountain of life.  The words of the wicked conceal violence.  The contrast between a "fountain of life" and "violence" could not be greater.  The words of the righteous bring eternal life.  The words of the wicked bring eternal death.

A fountain is a natural spring that is fed by an underground aquifer, which is supplied by rain from the heavens.  Just as a natural spring or fountain gives life, especially in a dry land, so the words of the righteous give life to a world that has become a barren wilderness because of its rebellion against the Lord.

It is impossible for the wicked, who belong to the evil one, to be a fountain of life to others.  Their words come from below, not from above.  Unbelievers do not know the Wisdom that came from the Father from heaven to earth.  Unbelievers have not received the Son the Father has given.  Unbelievers do not possess the water of the Holy Spirit, whom only the resurrected Jesus gives, nor do they pay attention to the Word of God, which is breathed out from the mouth of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  Therefore, the words of unbelievers will never refresh and give eternal life.  The words of the unbelieving world must necessarily conceal violence, because as 1 John 5:19 teaches, "The whole world lies in the power of the evil one."

Think of all of the false religions of the world.  They all conceal violence, because they all will be judged by the Lord, and their adherents cast into hell.  Think of all the Christian ministers who have rejected the apostolic faith.  Their words conceal violence as they move men and women away from the truth that was once delivered from Jesus and his apostles for the salvation of the world (Jude 1:3).  Think of all the secular people in our world that have no concern about their eternal state, and teach others to also have no concern.  Their words conceal violence.

As believers in Christ, we ought to be different.  We ought to speak words of life to others, even as our Lord did while he walked the earth.  This world is a barren wilderness and it needs the life-giving water of eternal life. 

How do we become a fountain of life to others in our speech?  How can our words become a source of blessing and eternal life to those around us?

Just as a fountain needs a source, so too we need to be in touch with the source of eternal life and love.  We must be taught by the Father (John 6:45).  We must learn each day from the Word of God as we sit at the feet of Christ our Lord (Luke 10:38-42).  Jesus Christ is the fountain of living waters, who says to his people: "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me, and let him who believes in me drink. As the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water'" (John 7:37-38).  As we daily die (repentance and consecration --- Romans 12:1) and rise with Christ (faith), we will live in contact with the source --- in union and communion with Christ Jesus and his indwelling Spirit --- and we too can learn to be a life-giving blessing to others through our words.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Jesus our Treasure

From "Narrative Criticism of the New Testament" by James L. Ressseguie:
"The setting is Mary's anointing of Jesus in Lazarus's house. She pours a costly perfume on Jesus' feet and wipes them with her hair, a symbolic act that prefigures Jesus' preparation for death and burial. Judas, however, misses the symbolism and sees only waste: 'Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?' Since a character's first words in a narrative are usually important, a comparison of Judas's speech with the first words of the other disciples is instructive for our understanding of Judas's characterization:
  • Two of John's disciples: 'Rabbi . . . where are you staying?' (John 1:38)
  • Andrew: 'We have found the Messiah' (John 1:41).
  • Philip: 'We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth' (John 1:45).
  • Nathanael: 'Can anything good come out of Nazareth? . . . You are the Son of God . . . the King of Israel' (John 1:46, 49).
  • Peter: 'We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God' (John 6:69).
  • Thomas: 'Let us also go, that we may die with him' (John 11:16).
The first words of the other disciples are lofty confessions of faith, or a willingness to die with Jesus in Judea (Thomas), or a desire to abide (i.e., stay or remain) with Jesus (the 'two disciples'). By contrast, Judas is indignant that an expensive perfume---worth a year's wages---has been wasted on Jesus rather than lavished on the poor. While other disciples anoint Jesus with extravagant titles and confessions of faith, Judas's response is niggardly. No title or confession of faith flows from his lips, only a complaint that the anointing is a waste."
What do we treasure? Is it the state or Jesus? Is it the poor or Jesus? Is it self or Jesus? Is it family of Jesus? Is it possessions or Jesus? Is it our pleasure or Jesus? Our words are probably a good indicator of what we truly value.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Proverbs 10:8 --- Following Your Heart? Or, Following the Lord and His Commands?

Proverbs 10:8 --- Following Your Heart? Or, Following the Lord and His Commands?
The wise of heart will receive commandments,
    but a babbling fool will come to ruin.

Proverbs 10:6-18 is a section of the Proverbs that deals extensively with the tongue, i.e., our words.  George Schwab points out that in this section, as the righteous and wicked are contrasted, "the impression that builds in the mind of the reader is that of two categories, two manners of living."[1]  Today's proverb and tomorrow's give us a glimpse of what is at the heart of these two ways of living.

This is an antithetical proverb.  It contrasts the wise with the foolish; a heart that receives commands with babbling; and "come to ruin" in the second line has no parallel at all, except for one implied.  It is this imprecision of the contrasts that give the proverbs their depth.  Instead of being frustrated by the imprecision of the parallelism, it is this imprecision that gives room to consider why the Spirit of God gave us the parallelisms he did.  In other words, it should get us thinking and praying about the meaning of this portion of God's Word.

The most important contrast is between the wise heart of a person that receives commandments and a babbling fool.  It appears that the fool is too busy talking to listen.  It is difficult to listen when you are talking!  But the fool's problem goes deeper than a mere failure to be quiet and listen.  There is a pride involved that will not receive God's commandments.  There is a trust in self, rather than a trust in the Lord, that sees no need to be instructed.

One of the main differences between false religion and the true faith is the direction of the heart's gaze.  False religions tend to have an inward focus.  They think it is a good thing to follow your heart, and to find the answers on the inside.  But Christianity is a revealed religion.  The faith and love of Abraham, Jacob, the prophets, and the apostles has been a response to God's revelation of himself.  Hebrews 1 puts it like this:  "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world" (1:1-2).

Our God is a speaking God.  Just as you can't get to know another person unless they are willing to speak, so we cannot know God unless he speaks.  But he made us in his image, and so we are the only creatures on earth who can understand and form words.  And, this is how the Lord has revealed himself to us. 

But here is the key point this verse is making: man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).  There are only two ways to live.  We can look inward and follow our own hearts, sinful desires, and selfish ambitions.  Or we can look outward and live according to the word and commandments of the Lord.

If we follow our own wisdom, then we will be too busy talking to ever listen to the Lord; too proud to ever submit to his commands; and too unbelieving to trust that the Lord knows better than our own heart.  The end result will be "ruin."  But if we are wise in heart and follow the Lord's instruction, then we will be found at our Lord's feet listening (see Luke 10:38-42); we will be humble enough to receive the commands of the Lord we love; and we will trusting enough to know that our heavenly Father is loving, good, and wise and knows what is best for his image bearers.  The end result will not be ruin, but everlasting life!

[1] George M. Schwab, Proverbs, 528.

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