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.


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