Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Proverbs 14:10 --- Solitude, Gender, and Marriage

Proverbs 14:10
The heart knows its own bitterness,
    and no stranger shares its joy.
                                            
This proverb points to the solitude of each human being.  "Bitterness" and "joy" constitute a merism, which points to the full spectrum of the inward life of each individual, and the full gamut of our emotions.  It teaches us that no other human being can fully understand the heart of another.  Like fingerprints, so each person's inward life is known only to themselves.  In the final analysis, we are alone until we know the Lord.  The poet Matthew Arnold stated it this way:
                                                                                                    
            Yes! in the sea of life enisled,
            With echoing straits between us thrown,
            Dotting the shoreless watery waste,
            We mortal millions live alone.[1]

We see the original solitude of each human being in the garden.  In Genesis 2:18 the Lord says, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him."  As Christopher West points out, "It is significant that the first man (adam) is not defined as a male (ish) until after the creation of woman (ishah).  So Adam's solitude is not only proper to the male.  It is proper to 'man' as such, to every human person."[2]

While it may appear on the surface that the solitude of the individual is met in the institution of marriage, it is not.  Marriage is a shadow that points to something greater. The reason for this is stated in our proverb.  No human being can know the inward being, the "emotional-intellectual-religious-moral motions"[3] of another.  "They are too complex, too inward, and too individualistic to be experienced by others or even to represent them adequately."[4]  Only the Lord can know our hearts completely.  Therefore, he must be our Lord, our Husband, the One who knows our heart completely.  As Augustine put it, "God is closer to me than I am to myself."[5]

Who we are, both inwardly and outwardly, soul and body, point to who we ought to be.   Augustine famously said that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.  Thus, our proverb teaches that our inward solitude shows us who we ought to be, for only the Lord can know us thoroughly.  The solitude of our inward being is pointing to our need to be united to the Lord, for he alone can know our heart.  But even our outward being, our bodies as male and female, point to fruitful union and communion.  Our biology pictures our purpose, which is found in union and communion, even if that purpose must ultimately be sought in marriage to our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is remarkable that our triune God reveals our purpose for living in the opening two chapters of the Bible.  Our inward solitude and our outward biology as male and female point to this grand purpose of union and communion with himself!  What a glorious purpose it is!  What dignity we are given!  We are made for fellowship with the triune God.  He in us and us in Him!  To think he would give such a privilege to finite and dependent creatures is astounding.  To think he would give such an honor to creatures who have committed rebellion against him is beyond astounding.

The question, then, for us all is this: Will we fulfill our purpose?  Will we accept the invitation of marriage?  Will we prefer our solitude to communion with Christ?  Will we prefer a marriage with the idols of this world to a marriage to Jesus Christ, who in his mercy endured the cross, so that we might come to him?

There is a joy that those who refuse the invitation will never know.  There is an intimacy the unbeliever will keep seeking, but never know.  For this intimacy and joy is only known if we come to Jesus Christ.  Our Lord bore the bitterness of the cross, so that his people might have the deep joy of knowing him and knowing the Father through the indwelling Spirit.  How unspeakably sad it would be if you missed the purpose of your creation, and your recreation in Jesus Christ.  Come to Him.





                                                                                            




                                                                                              





                                                                                                                          


[1] Quoted in Thomas Thomason Perowne, The Proverbs, 106.
[2] Christopher West.  Theology of the Body Explained: A Commentary on John Paul II's "Man and Woman He Created Them," 96.
[3] Waltke, Proverbs, vol. 1, 590.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Quoted in Murphy, Proverbs in the Word Biblical Commentary, 104.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Proverbs 14:7 --- Learning to Hear the Voice of Christ

Proverbs 14:7 
Leave the presence of a fool,
    for there you do not meet words of knowledge.
                                                          
This verse forms a pair with the previous proverb.  The catchword knowledge helps to link the two proverbs.  But while the previous proverb viewed the scoffer as a seeker of the wisdom from below, this proverb sees the scoffer or "fool" as a teacher.  But, of course, the fool is a teacher the Lord's people must turn away from.  We will "not meet words of knowledge" from a fool or scoffer, who rejects the wisdom from above for the wisdom that is below.
                                      
If I were to think of a New Testament parallel to this verse, I think we would find it in John 10.  There we learn that following Jesus Christ as our Shepherd King, means total allegiance to his teaching.  Our allegiance to Jesus' teaching means we must reject teachers who reject Jesus and his teaching.  How many souls have been ruined because they have sat year after year in the same pews long after solid gospel preaching, which exalts Christ and his heavenly wisdom, has left the church.

Let us consider John 10:1-6:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. 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." This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

With regard to our proverb, the key verses are italicized above.  Jesus' people are devoted to his teaching.  We learn to recognize the voice of our Shepherd.  His teaching is our rule, and any teaching that deviates from this rule is to be rejected, and is rejected, by his faithful people.

In the early church there developed the idea of the rule of faith.  The rule of faith was made up of the essential teaching of the apostles.  Faithful teachers held to the rule of faith.  False teachers deviated from the rule of faith.  The Apostles Creed, Nicene Creed, and Chalcedonian Definition became a summary of the rule of faith, and we still confess this rule today.  These creeds or confessions were following the Scriptural precedent of creeds that we find in both testaments (for example, 1 Timothy 3:16).

At the time of the Reformation there was a debate about the work of Christ.  The creeds of the early church were mainly concerned with the person of Christ and were answering the errors of various groups that challenged the deity or humanity of Christ, or how the humanity and deity of Christ related to each other.  The Reformation debate brought to light the need for further confessions that spelled out in more detail the work of Christ on our behalf.  The Reformation held to the doctrine of justification by faith alone, while the church of Rome chose to see justification as the result of the cooperation of faith and works.  There was also a split over the sole headship of Jesus Christ over his church.

Creeds and confessions, then, give us boundaries that help us, and especially the young, to distinguish the voice of Christ from the voice of imposters, like the scoffers and fools run into in Proverbs 14:6-7.  The true sheep of Christ "flee from" (John 10:5) strangers, scoffers, and fools who bring false teaching and depart from "words of knowledge."  Below is a new creed called The Word Made Flesh, from Ligonier Ministry which I would commend to you.  Its strength is that it helps us to discern the truth, not only about Christ's person, but also about his work on our behalf.  The church would be strengthened by using it along with the Apostles and Nicene creeds.

We confess the mystery and wonder
            of God made flesh
            and rejoice in our great salvation
            through Jesus Christ our Lord.

With the Father and the Holy Spirit,
            the Son created all things,
            sustains all things,
            and makes all things new.
            Truly God,
            He became truly man,
            two natures in one person.

He was born of the Virgin Mary
            and lived among us.
            Crucified, dead, and buried,
            He rose on the third day,
            ascended to heaven,
            and will come again
            in glory and judgment.

For us,
            He kept the Law,
            atoned for sin,
            and satisfied God’s wrath.
            He took our filthy rags
            and gave us
            His righteous robe.

He is our Prophet, Priest, and King,
            building His church,
            interceding for us,
            and reigning over all things.

Jesus Christ is Lord;
            we praise His holy Name forever.
Amen.



                                                                                              






Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Proverbs 14:4 --- Serving the Lord Jesus in His Time

Proverbs 14:4
Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean,
    but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.
Today's proverb makes a simple observation about obtaining "abundant crops," in the era in which Solomon lived.  If you wanted an abundant harvest in Solomon's time, then you needed oxen.  As someone put it, the ox was the tractor in ancient Israel.  Apart from "the strength of the ox," a bumper crop was an impossibility. 
One could choose not to own oxen.  This would save the farmer lots of trouble.  Without oxen the hard work of feeding, caring, and cleaning after the animals would be taken away, but so too would the abundant crop be taken away. As Charles Ryrie quipped, "There is no milk without some manure."[1]
So what we have here is an economic observation similar to our modern day maxim:  You
must spend money to make money.  But is that all we can glean from this proverb? If we leave this proverb now and move to the next, don't we feel a bit like Paul, when he said: "Is it for oxen that God is concerned?  Does he not certainly speak for our sake?" (1Corinthians 9:9-10).  Surely the Lord's interest in giving us his Word goes beyond teaching us economics at even a level I can understand! Just as the apostle Paul was certain that the Scriptural observation about oxen he cited from the Pentateuch taught us a spiritual lesson, so I think we also can be certain that this observation about oxen from the Proverbs also teaches us a spiritual lesson beyond economics. But what is that lesson?  The first hint in our text comes from the harvest. The ox was vital to bringing in an abundant crop.  Now, with what harvest is Scripture concerned?  Our Lord's concern was the harvest of souls.  As Christians we share our Lord's concern. This time between our Lord's coming and his return is the time of sowing and planting and harvesting people for heaven. As disciples, we have been given the great commission:

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the       Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20)
We have been given a task of making disciples, but where will the power come to do this? Who is the ox, the "tractor," in this task of making disciples?  May I give you the Sunday School answer?  The ox is our Lord Jesus Christ, and this for three reasons.  First, Jesus is the sacrifice that has made possible the forgiveness of sins.  The ox was a sacrificial animal, and in some ways the chief sacrificial animal.  Solomon sacrificed 22,000 oxen at the dedication of his temple (1 Kings 8:63). Jesus' sacrifice enables all who call on him to enter his heavenlytemple in the heavenly Zion. Second, Jesus is the strength for all his disciples, each of whom is involved in the task of evangelism and discipleship.  Isn't it interesting that Jesus' invitation to us involves a yoke?
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
None of us have the strength or power to make a single disciple.  Jesus himself acknowledges our lack of strength, but also our source of strength when he says to us in John 15:5, "Apart from me you can do nothing." What is a yoke? A yoke was an instrument for work that usually was made for two oxen.  Jesus is promising us a restful and easy yoke.  A yoke made easy because of love --- his for us and ours for him.  A yoke made easy because he is beside us, pulling the yoke, by his power and Spirit. Third, Jesus is the ascended and resurrected King.  The ox was the king of the domesticated animals, just as the lion the king of wild animals, and the eagle the king of the winged animals.  It is his authority and power that guarantees an abundant crop.  Earlier I left out the words that introduce the great commission, but they point to our Lord Jesus Christ's absolute authority:  "And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."  Jesus is the King whose authority over heaven and earth ensures an abundant crop. How important it is for us to know the time in which we live.  We live in the time of making disciples for Jesus Christ our King.  You won't read about this time in the news.  You won't
learn about this time in the headlines. But it is what this time we live in at its deepest and profoundest level is all about.  Our proverb teaches us about this time and about the One who is our strength for this time.  May we be wise and serve him in this time, which fundamentally is his time.  Amen.
                                                                                                


[1]Quoted in Kitchen, Proverbs, 303.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Proverbs 14:3 --- Preserved and Protected

Proverbs 14:3 
In the mouth of a fool is a rod of pride,
   but the lips of the wise will preserve them.
                                       
The word "rod" in line one, is a rare word in the Hebrew Bible.  The only other occurrence of this word occurs in Isaiah 11:1, where the same Hebrew word is translated as "shoot":
                                                                  
            There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
                and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
                                                        
The idea in this first line, then, is that the words that come out of a fool's mouth express his inner life.  Just like the branch or shoot of a tree can only express what the tree is, so also a fool's words will invariably express what a fool is. 

Fools by nature are proud.  They have rejected the fear of the Lord in their pride.  Therefore, the words of a fool are likened to a shoot of pride that springs up from an arrogant heart.  Since the fool's heart is proud, so also are his words.

There is also the connotation of punishment in the first line of our proverb.  A shoot from a tree can be used as a whip.  It can be used as an instrument to inflict pain.  The words of the proud can harm others.  Throughout the Proverbs, the wicked are seen as dangerous,[1] for their words reflect foolish philosophies, which reject the foundation of the fear of the Lord.  Their words, knowingly or unknowingly, contradict the words of the true God, and thus, endanger the souls of men, women, and children.  Since the words of the wicked grow out of a heart that rejects the Lord, so their words lead others to also reject the Lord.

Thus, the second line uses the word "preserve," showing us that people need to be protected from the words of the foolishly proud.  Foolish words must be counteracted with wise words.  Just like certain medicines can counteract poisons or infections, so the lips of the wise can preserve and protect us from the diseases that endanger the souls of men. 

We have already looked at Isaiah 11:1, and the shoot that comes forth from the stump of Jesse.  This, of course, refers to Jesus Christ our Lord, who was the true David who grew up out of the fallen house of David.  Isaiah refers to David's fallen dynasty as "the stump of Jesse" (Jesse was David's father), because David's kingdom had been cut down by the ax of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king who conquered Israel and sent them into exile.  No Jewish king had reigned since the exile in 586 B.C.  But God had not forgotten his promise to raise one David's descendants, who would reign forever.

When our Lord came to this earth in fulfillment of this prophecy in Isaiah 11:1, notice how the next verse describes Jesus Christ in wisdom terms:

            And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
                the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
                the Spirit of counsel and might,
                the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.  (Isaiah 11:2)

Our Lord Jesus was prophesied to be the embodiment of wisdom.  And, thus he was.  "Where did this man get this wisdom?" (Matthew 13:54) the people asked when he came. 

Another place where people were astounded at Jesus' wisdom was when he went to the temple as a young boy of twelve, and met with the Jewish teachers.  There we read, "And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers" (Luke 2:47).  Then a bit later we read again of his wisdom:  "And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52).  Here is Jesus growing up as the shoot from the stump of Jesse, filled with wisdom, just as Isaiah prophesied 700 years before his coming.

One other place where we see a reference to Jesus as the shoot is in Isaiah 53.  Here our Lord is described figuratively like a "young plant" or tender shoot as some translations (for example the NIV or NASB) have it:

            For he grew up before him like a young plant,
                and like a root out of dry ground; (Isaiah 53:2)

What would happen with this shoot from the dry ground of Israel's desolate kingdom?  Would he be a rod, to whip us?  Would he be a shoot used to inflict pain on us?  No, look at what he did for us: 

            Surely he has borne our griefs
                and carried our sorrows;
            yet we esteemed him stricken,
                smitten by God, and afflicted.
            But he was pierced for our transgressions;
                he was crushed for our iniquities;
            upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
                and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5)

The shoot bore the whip in our place.  The rod bore the strokes of punishment that should have been ours.  The eternal destruction that should have been ours, our Lord Jesus Christ came to bear for us on the cross.  By his wounds we are healed.  By being smitten and stricken Jesus  protects his people from God's righteous anger.  Because of his substitutionary death and resurrection from the dead, the words of the gospel preserve us from the righteous wrath of God.  We do not have to be eternally destroyed because of our sinful pride, which rejects the fear of the Lord.  Salvation has come to us in the wonderful words of the gospel. 

The words of our proverb are wonderfully true: the lips of the wise that proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, will preserve his penitent and believing people from the eternal destruction we foolish sinners deserve.


                                             

                                                                                                 
















[1] Fox, Proverbs, vol. 2, 534.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Proverbs 13:22 --- The Final Transfer of Wealth

Proverbs 13:22 
A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children,
    but the sinner's wealth is laid up for the righteous.
                                    
If we are to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ, then the weight of the glory of Jesus Christ must be greater than everything else we are tempted to live for.  Jesus must be more satisfying to us than our pleasures.  Jesus must be bigger to us than our fears.  And, more to the point of our proverb, Jesus must be our true wealth, which relativizes earthly wealth.

This is just what Solomon's Second collection does in the second verse of the collection:

           
            Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit,
                but righteousness delivers from death.  (Proverbs 10:2)

Right from the start, Solomon in his wisdom tells us that righteousness is far more valuable than earthly wealth, for only righteousness can rescue us from death and give us eternal life.  We know, because we read the Bible backward from the New Testament to the Old Testament, that this righteousness which delivers from death is the righteousness of Christ imputed to believing sinners.

And yet, in our penchant for literalness, we are slow to see that the inheritance a good man leaves to his grandchildren in verse 22 is not earthly wealth.  It is a better treasure than the earthly wealth, which is a mere shadow of the true wealth found in Jesus Christ.

The Old Testament, read Christologically, is not near as enamored with earthly wealth as some would tell us.  Instead, it is enamored with the anointed King, the glorious Christ, who was to come.  For example, we see this in the life of king Saul's son, Jonathan.  Jonathan was the crowned prince.  He was next in line to the throne of his father, Saul.  But the Lord took away the kingdom from Saul, and this was communicated to Saul through the Lord's prophet, Samuel.  Then, at the Lord's direction, Samuel anointed a new king, David, who would replace Saul.  So, in 1 Samuel 18, what we read is remarkable:

"Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt" (1 Samuel 18:3-4).

Jonathan in these words becomes a picture of true discipleship.  Instead of seeking the kingdom for himself, Jonathan recognizes, submits to, and loves the Lord's anointed king, i.e., the christ (the title christ means anointed one).  By stripping himself of his robe, Jonathan acknowledges that the kingdom belongs to David.  Though his father, Saul, will fight David's kingship and defy the word of the Lord through Samuel until the bitter end, such was not Jonathan's attitude.  At great expense to himself, Jonathan gives up his right to reign, and becomes a model of discipleship for us forever.

When Jonathan dies, David laments Jonathan's death along with his father.  But two parallel lines of this chiastic lament tell us of the glory that became Jonathan's because of his loyalty to God's anointed king, the christ:

            Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places! (2 Samuel 1:19a)

            Jonathan lies slain on your high places. (2 Samuel 1:25)

The parallelism tell us that the glory belonged to Jonathan, not his father.  Jonathan's glory was found in giving up his right to rule, and in his loyalty and love for God's small "c" christ.  Our glory, our true riches, is found in giving up our right to rule, and in our loyalty and love for the true Christ, Jesus the Lord, who has been installed by the Father at his right hand, after his death and resurrection.

When Jesus Christ becomes the true treasure of our lives, then the most important thing we leave to our children and grandchildren is not earthly wealth, but our prayers, our loyalty and our love for Jesus, so that they too might find Him.  As George Lawson said, "It is better to be the son of a poor saint than of a great lord, for every believer will acknowledge that a single promise in the Bible is far better than a large estate."[1]

As to the wealth that sinners are so anxious to acquire as they live for this world, and are sometimes anxious to leave to their posterity, it will actually impoverish their children and grandchildren if they live only for this world, which is opposed to Christ and his rule.  Instead of laying up true wealth for their children and grandchildren, they may be storing up for them treasures of God's wrath, for earthly wealth can often lead people to forget the Lord and the true riches he gives his people.

Finally, as Lawson wisely notes, wealth is often changing masters,[2] or changing hands.  But as Proverbs and the rest of the Bible teaches, in the eschaton, there will be a final transfer of wealth, when the meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5):

            For the upright will inhabit the land,
                and those with integrity will remain in it,
            but the wicked will be cut off from the land,
                and the treacherous will be rooted out of it.  (Proverbs 2:21-22)

On that final day, "The kingdom of the world has [will] become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ" (Revelation 11:15).  In that kingdom, "Whatever is excellent and valuable in this world shall be there enjoyed in a more refined kind, and to a far greater degree---brighter crowns, a better and more enduring substance, more sweet and satisfying feasts, . . . a true sense of honor and far higher posts of honor . . . and a form and a countenance more glorious than ever were known in this world."[3]







                                                                                                                       


[1] Lawson, Proverbs, 180.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Matthew Henry. A Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 6, 1185.

Share This