Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Christ in the Proverbs: Proverbs 12:22---Practicing the Truth

Proverbs 12:22 
Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord,
    but those who act faithfully are his delight.
"A sense of what disgusts God is essential to the fear of God."[1]  So writes Michael V. Fox, and indeed this is true.  It is so helpful for us to learn about the Lord, our Creator --- to learn what he is like.  The goal when we open our Bibles is to get to know the Father and the Son and be conformed to his image.  Verses like this teach us what our heavenly Father and Lord Jesus Christ hate and love, and what we also should hate and love.

For our goal, our purpose, our aim in life is to imitate our Lord.  This is what image bearers are created for!  We were created to represent the Lord on earth.  We were created to show forth the character of the triune God in all we think, feel, will, say, and do.  In the temple of this world (the tabernacle or temple was designed as a microcosm of the universe), men and women are His images placed in the temple!  Only in Israel's temple, first the tabernacle and then Solomon's temple, were no images placed.  In all of the pagan temples, images were placed, so why the difference?  The difference comes because human beings were created to be God's likeness in his temple, not lifeless idols that cannot think, feel, speak, will, or do.  Man, male and female, were to be the triune God's representatives.

But why does the Lord hate "lying lips?"  Why are lies such an abomination to him?  It is because when we lie we imitate the evil one, who Jesus tells us is the "father of lies."  When we lie, we do something reprehensible.  We imitate, not the Lord, but the enemy.  We act treasonously.  We participate in the darkness rather than the light.

But the good news here is that "those who act faithfully," or those who do the truth or practice the truth, are the Lord's "delight."  This word translated as "delight" is the Hebrew word ratzon, which also carries with it the idea of favor, intimacy, and protection.[2]  We see something of the intimacy that those who belong to the truth enjoy, in Proverbs 3:32:

            for the devious person is an abomination to the Lord,
                but the upright are in his confidence.

How wonderful it is to be brought into this intimacy and favor with the Father and the Son.  In Christ, God's beloved Son, we can come to know this intimacy and fellowship.  Think of the apostle John, who describes himself throughout his Gospel as the disciple whom Jesus loved, and you get a sense of the favored and intimate relationship the Father wants to have with us his children (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7,21:20).

But this intimacy with the Father comes only through Jesus Christ, who came as the perfect revelation of God (e.g., John 12:44-50, 14:8-10).  Many people lie and claim an intimacy with God, but reject God's Son.  We must reject the claim of such people for it is false.  Those who reject the Son, reject the Father who sent him (John 5:23,15:23; Luke 10:16; 1 John 2:23).  Fellowship with God is only possible through God's beloved Son.  Though the Jewish scribes and Pharisees claimed to have fellowship with God, their rejection of Jesus showed their true, inward colors.  Their rejection of Jesus pointed to their true Father, who was not the Father of our Lord, but the "father of lies," i.e., the devil (John 8:44).

We should also note that this fellowship and intimacy with the Father and Son can only be ours if we acknowledge our sin.  This was also part of the problem with the Jewish leaders who rejected Jesus: they were unwilling to acknowledge their sin.  If we are unwilling to humbly acknowledge our sin and unworthiness before a holy God, then we can never enjoy the intimacy of union and communion with the Father and Son for which we were created.  This truth is stated in 1 John 1, using the same phrase we find in the second line of our proverb, namely, to "act faithfully" or more literally, to "do the truth."  This phraseology is picked up in 1 John 1:6 as practice the truth:

"If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truthBut if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."

Part and parcel of practicing the truth, doing the truth, or as our proverb puts it, acting faithfully, is acknowledging Christ's atonement for sin.  If we say we have no sin, we reject Christ's atoning work on our behalf.  Ironically, in order to "act faithfully" the Lord's people must humbly acknowledge themselves as liars and sinners who need the gracious atoning work of Christ, which transfers us into his kingdom and cleanses our hearts daily from sin.  May the Spirit teach us what it means to practice the truth in intimate and delightful fellowship with the Father and the Son.

[1] Fox, Proverbs, vol. 1, 167.
[2] Waltke, Proverbs, vol. 1, 539.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Proverbs 12:13 --- The Power of Words

Proverbs 12:13
An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips,
    but the righteous escapes from trouble.
The entire human race has a problem with words.  We misunderstand this proverb if we limit it to a particularly evil man who "is ensnared by the transgression of his lips."  The transgression of our lips is something in which the entire human race is involved.  Hear of your involvement and mine in Romans 3:12-14:

            “Their throat is an open grave;
                they use their tongues to deceive.”
            “The venom of asps is under their lips.”
                “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
There is a story told in our family about me as a little boy, probably when I was about two years of age.  I am the oldest of the children in our family, and when my father was in graduate school, Mom and Dad would often drive home to see the family on the weekends.  My Dad's brothers were notorious for their bad language.  I think it was hard for my father not to join in a bit when he was with them.  Apparently my two year old impressionable ears picked up on their language, because on the way home a car passed us going quite fast, and out of my young mouth came the words, "Look at that son of a bitch go!"  And, that may have been the cleaned up version of what I actually said! 

Sadly, nothing much has changed in the last 2800 years.  Isaiah's words are still true:
"Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a     people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" (Isaiah 6:5)

Proverbs is clear, as is Jesus, that our words reveal our hearts.  If you want to know what your heart is like it is easy to find out.  Pay attention to your words.  They are a sure indicator of the condition of your heart.  Our Lord taught us this when he said, "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34 cf. Proverbs 4:23-24).

Words, according to today's proverb can ensnare us.  Words can trap us.  Words can trap both the speaker and the hearers, as the footnote to the ESV points out.  Here are the two possible translations of the first line, which the ESV gives us:

            An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips,
            In the transgression of the lips, there is an evil snare.

The footnote is merely pointing out what is inherent in the language of every person.  Since our language reveals our hearts, if we could listen carefully to a person's words over the course of time, we would be able to detect the worldview of that person.  If a man is unconverted, his words won't reflect the wisdom that comes from above.  Instead, his words will reflect a worldview James tells us is "earthly, unspiritual, demonic" (James 3:15).  A worldview that gets it wrong about God (theology), man (anthropology), sin (hamartiology), redemption (soteriology), and consummation (eschatology).  Thus, every word that does not come from above is susceptible to ensnaring both the speaker and the hearer with a false theology.

How can we escape this wretched situation?  How can we escape the woeful state Isaiah spoke of when he cried out, "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips?"

The answer is a new teacher and a new heart.  Our new teacher is our Lord Jesus Christ.  Speaking of himself as the good shepherd, Jesus says, "The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers" (John 10:3-5).  A new heart comes from this good shepherd, for Jesus also says, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11).  In laying down his life for us, Jesus is able to cleanse us by his blood, and after his resurrection to send us the promised Spirit. 

Through his forgiveness, teaching, and Spirit, our Lord enables us to speak in a new way.  Born into the Father's family, like all children, we begin to sound like our parents.  In time our words begin to echo our Father's words and his Son's, rather than this present evil age.

The second line of our proverb is blessedly true.  "The righteous escapes from trouble," from the trap laid by an unbelieving world, and the prince of that world (Ephesians 2:1-2).  Jesus Christ came to rescue us from our sin, from this evil age, and from the domain of darkness (Colossians 1:13).  May we learn to imitate our Lord, who when he was on this earth, learned to listen and speak, morning by morning, from his Father and ours:

            The Lord God has given me
                the tongue of those who are taught,
            that I may know how to sustain with a word
                him who is weary.
            Morning by morning he awakens;
                he awakens my ear
                to hear as those who are taught.
            The Lord God has opened my ear,
               and I was not rebellious;
                I turned not backward. (Isaiah 50:4-5)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Christ in the Proverbs: Two Leaders, Two Peoples, Two Ways of Life, Two Outcomes

Proverbs 12:12 
Whoever is wicked covets the spoil of evildoers,
    but the root of the righteous bears fruit.

There is an interesting phenomenon that takes place in Solomon's Second Collection (10:1-22:16).  Almost all of the proverbs in chapters 10-15 are antithetical.  Of the 174 proverbs in chapters 10-15 about 150 are antithetical.[1] These antithetical proverbs contrast the righteous and the wicked, pointing to two opposite, antithetical ways of life. 

There is something similar that occurs in the Psalms.  The book of Psalms, which consists of 150 psalms, is divided into five books: 1-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-106 and 107-150.  Fifty percent of the root words for the wicked (rasha), and the righteous (tsadik), occur in book one of the Psalter.  Why is this?  O. Palmer Robertson has written a wonderful book about the structure and flow of the entire book of Psalms.  Book one of the Psalms (1-41) stresses the spiritual war that has arisen in the world.  Robertson writes, "The Lord God Almighty rules eternally over heaven and earth.  But the 'mystery of iniquity' has arisen to challenge his sovereignty among humanity. . . . The instrument by which . . . redemption will be accomplished is a 'singular saving hero' who in the fullness of time will enter into moral conflict with Satan himself."[2] 

Book one of the Psalms is particularly focused on this spiritual war between the two seeds, a war that began in Genesis 3:15, when the Lord in response to man's sin, declared (speaking to the serpent):

                  I will put enmity between you and the woman,
                      and between your offspring and her offspring;
                  he shall bruise your head,
                      and you shall bruise his heel.

The spiritual war between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman will be won by one man, who was foreshadowed by David, who was God's anointed king or christ.  The One greater than David, who came and won this war by bruising the serpent's head, was the true Christ or Anointed King.  Although the enemy bruised the true King's heel on the cross, this only fulfilled the Father's plan for dealing with man's sin.  The Son's suffering led to glory, resurrection and enthronement at the Father's right hand.
Although I've digressed slightly, the point is this.  Both the Psalms and Proverbs 10:1-22:16 begin by telling us something fundamental about life: There is a spiritual war in this world.  In this war, there are two leaders, two groups of people, two ways of life, and two outcomes.  Each of us must choose our leader, our people, our way of life, and accept the eventual outcome of our choice.

Proverbs 12:12 gives us maybe the most fundamental difference between the righteous and the wicked.  It tells us about what motivates the wicked, and what motivates the Hero of the righteous, his people.

A more literal rendering of this proverb would read something like this:

                  Whoever is wicked covets the net of evildoers,
                      but the root of the righteous gives.

The wicked covet the "net" that contains all the precious treasure the wicked have gained.  The wicked are motivated by lust for money, pleasure, reputation, power, and the things of this world.  But in the end, the wicked will find their covetousness a net that captures them, like a bird captured by the net of the hunter (Proverbs 1:10-19, esp. 17-19).  Their desire for, and worship of, created things will be the very thing that sends them to hell.  Having chosen to worship created things rather than the Creator, they will be ensnared by their own lusts and perish eternally.

But the righteous forsake covetousness, which the New Testament calls idolatry (Colossians 3:5).  Instead, the righteous imitate their Hero, their Lord, who gave himself for us in self-giving love. 

An excellent commentary on this proverb is Philippians 2:5-8.  It shows us that our Lord did not grasp after the things of this world.  Rather, he emptied himself in love, first in love for his Father, and then in love for sinners like us.  Instead of living in the idolatry of covetousness, he lived and died in the trust, love, and worship of God, and the blessing of others:
"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of  men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

But where will Jesus' people get a self-giving love like this?  Where will we get a love like this for our heavenly Father, and Jesus our Bridegroom and Lord, and the people we live near every day?  Our proverb answers the question.  Jesus is the source.  Jesus is the root of the righteous, who give his people love and life.  United to him by cords of faith and love, his life and love will flow to us, the way nutrients and sap flow from the root to the plant.  It will happen for those united to Christ "because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Romans 5:5).


[1] Steinmann, Proverbs, 250-251.                               
[2] O. Palmer Robertson, The Flow of the Psalms: Discovering Their Structure and Theology, 53.

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