Saturday, April 22, 2017

Proverbs 13:17 --- An Indescribable Love

Proverbs 13:17 
A wicked messenger falls into trouble,
    but a faithful envoy brings healing.

Growing up, I was never a big fan of poetry.  English poetry always struck me as too obscure and difficult to figure out the meaning.  Over the years it has grown on me a bit, but I still prefer prose to poetry.  And yet, I have come to love Hebrew poetry.  I think the reason for this is that the main feature of Hebrew poetry is parallelism, which instead of promoting obscurity, promotes clarity.  Hebrew poetry shares the imagery and terseness of English poetry, but its parallelism promotes meditative understanding.

In today's proverb we have a great example of how parallelism can pay meditative dividends.  The two things paralleled in Proverbs 13:17 are:

            A wicked messenger
                  is parallel and contrasted with
            a faithful envoy;


            falls into trouble
                  is parallel and contrasted with
            brings healing.

The first contrast suggests that wickedness is about unfaithfulness.  All human beings are obligated to their Creator.  Wickedness is essentially unfaithfulness to the Lord who made us.  Wickedness is not fulfilling our reason for existence, which is to bear his image and reflect his character.  The parallelism of "wicked" and "faithful" helps me better understand what wickedness is.  It also helps me to realize what the Lord requires of his servants, namely, faithfulness to himself.

There is a sense in which every person is a messenger or envoy.  This status as messengers is inherent to our created status and the purpose of faithfully glorifying our Maker.  We were created to reflect our God, who he is and what he is like.  But if we are unfaithful to him, we still send a message, but the message we send is false and is seen in all we say and do, as the previous proverb taught us.

The second contrast between falling into trouble and healing is more imprecise, but that imprecision makes it more interesting and thought provoking.  The first line teaches that a wicked messenger falls into trouble.  In other words, the messenger himself falls into trouble.  This trouble comes because the one who sent him calls him to account.  If we apply this to everyone's created status as sent ones, then the proverb teaches us that all of us will have to give an accounting of our lives to the Lord who made us.  We will be judged by what we said and did, and the faithfulness or unfaithfulness of our words and deeds will bring us either trouble or blessing.

The second line teaches us that a faithful messenger brings healing to others.  Because of the parallel with line one and the messenger who fell into trouble himself, the healing applies not only to those who hear and accept the message, but also to the faithful messenger himself.  The faithful messenger has been healed by the good news he carries to others.

Now, I have applied this proverb to the whole human race as image bearers.  But we could uniquely apply it to our Lord Jesus Christ, who was the One sent by the Father in a mission of mercy to the sinful human race.  Jesus said of himself, "For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me" (John 6:38).  Our Lord describes his mission of love and grace when he says, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10).  "The lost" who need saving are all of us, who have fallen short of reflecting God's glory in this world.

But if we reflect on the parallelism between "trouble" and "healing," we see something remarkable about our Lord as the Apostle (cf. Hebrews 3:1-2) or Sent One from the Father.  Our proverb teaches that those who bring the gospel to others are blessed themselves by the gospel, because we are saved from the trouble and calamity of God's displeasure and wrath.  But not so, with our Lord Jesus Christ.  In order for him to bring us this message of healing, he himself had to be cursed.  He himself had to forego healing.  And so he says, in words that looked to the cross in his first sermon in his hometown, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Physician, heal yourself'" (Luke 4:23).  Later, his words will be fulfilled at his crucifixion:

"And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, 'He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!'  The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, 'If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!'" (Luke 23:35-37). 

Our Lord came as a faithful messenger and envoy from heaven.  He was the Apostle, which means sent-one.  Sent from the Father, he brought a message of healing for a human race, which desperately needs saving, because we have fallen short of the glory of God and are subject to his just wrath and displeasure.  But the only way our Lord could save us was if he endured in our place the wrath and displeasure we deserve because of our wicked unfaithfulness.  And yet, in his great love and compassion, he did just that.  May we meditate and prayerfully take time to internalize and thank the Father for sending his Son, who has loved us in such an indescribable way.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Proverbs 13:12: The Healer and Lover of our Souls

Proverb 13:12 
Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
    but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
I am with Bruce Waltke who sees this proverb as "an index of lives that are moving either toward final despair of every expectation in death or toward a fulfillment of every desire in the the everlasting presence of the Lord."[1]  The wicked, in line one, are those who will learn the hopelessness that comes from not knowing the Lord and following after idols.  The righteous, in line two, are those who have set their desire on knowing the Lord, walking with him, and being in his presence forever.  In this life, they enjoy the continual hope and sustenance that comes from knowing him.
Earlier Proverbs gave us a picture of these two paths:

            But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
                which shines brighter and brighter until full day.
            The way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
                they do not know over what they stumble.  (Proverb 4:18-19)

What the wicked do not see is that no one can live in the universe the Lord created and defy his rules with impunity.  If we do not love the Lord, but love other things more than him, we will pay a price.  The price in Proverbs 4:19 is deep darkness.  The price in Proverbs 13:12 is a heart that is sick with no hope of getting better, but only worse.

The righteous, however, desire to know the Father and the Son.  Above all else they long for eternal life in the presence of the Lord.  They know their heart is still sick with sin, and they long for the day when that sickness will be completely healed.  But even now they have a source of healing the wicked do not have.  That source of healing is called the "tree of life" in today's proverb.

The tree of life first appears in Genesis two.  The tree of life is a symbol of immortality and eternal life.  After man sinned in the garden, the first couple were not allowed to eat from the tree of life, lest they become confirmed forever in their sinful condition without a means of escape.  Therefore, they were banned from the garden:

"Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken (Genesis 3:22-23).

The next time we run across the tree of life is in Proverbs 3:18, where it is associated with wisdom, and wisdom is personified as a woman:

            Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
               and the one who gets understanding,
            for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
                and her profit better than gold.
            She is more precious than jewels,
                and nothing you desire can compare with her.
            Long life is in her right hand;
                in her left hand are riches and honor.
            Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
                and all her paths are peace.
            She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
              those who hold her fast are called blessed.  (Proverbs 3:13-18)

Since the New Testament pictures our Lord Jesus Christ as embodying wisdom, Jesus is the fulfillment of the tree of life imagery.  His cross, which is often spoken of as a tree, is the means of our spiritual healing and eternal life.  One example, would be 1 Peter 2:24:

"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed."

It is through the cross that our most pressing spiritual need is met, namely, our need of forgiveness and restoration to the heavenly Father.

When a person contracts a potentially fatal disease, what they want more than anything else is a cure.  Dear friends, we all have that fatal disease.  It is called sin.  It is called desiring other things more than we desire our Creator and Redeemer.

The "desire," in line two, is not a sinful desire, but a holy desire.  We know this because of the mention of the tree of life.  This desire is, first of all, to be healed of our disease.  It will be wonderful to be transformed in the age to come, free of sin, and filled with the glory of the Lord.  I don't know about you, but I long for, I desire, the day when I am set free from the sinful and wicked desires of my heart, and transformed by the glory of the Lord.

But, next, this desire is a desire to know the triune God.  It is a desire to know God as our Father; our Lord as our Husband and Savior; and the Spirit as the indwelling presence of Christ, who is changing us into his likeness.  If we don't want this, then our desires must be changed.  We must stop living for lesser things.  We must learn to see that those lesser things are merely pointers to a relationship with God, and only in the triune God is desire truly "fulfilled."

Wherever you are at spiritually, come to the great Physician.  He alone can heal your soul.  Come to the One who wants to be your Husband, and spread his arms on the cross to embrace you in his love.  Only He can satisfy your desires.  Come to the One who is your true food and drink, for only his body and blood can nourish you by faith and fill the hunger of your heart. 


[1] Waltke, Proverbs, vol. 1, 563.

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