Monday, May 1, 2017

Proverbs 13:21 --- A Clear Choice

Proverbs 13:21 
Disaster pursues sinners,
    but the righteous are rewarded with good.
I believe Proverbs is a book obsessed with the age to come.  Proverb after proverb looks forward to the judgment or the blessing of the future, and urges us to live in the light of what is coming.  Contrary to the popular view that Proverbs is about tips for living well in this life with no view to the age to come, Proverbs offers a much more profound wisdom.  The wisdom of Proverbs teaches that wise living in this life is predicated on living in light of the future age which is coming, and for us has now arrived in Christ.

I come to this view, in part, because I believe it is legitimate to read the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament.  Reading backwards in the light of Christ's coming is what the New Testament itself calls us to do.  The Old Testament is Christian Scripture, not only because it pointed forward to Christ's coming, but also because its true and full meaning is only brought to light by Christ's coming.  What once was obscure is now made plain in the light of Christ's death and resurrection.
The idea that Proverbs, a book inspired by the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of the age to come, would teach an earthly sort of wisdom that never looked beyond the end of one's own life seems ludicrous to me.  If wisdom is merely planning for a good retirement on earth, it is hard to see why we should spend much time with Proverbs at all, since a much more profound wisdom can be found in the teaching of Jesus and his apostles.  But, thankfully, a wisdom bound by the parameters of our conception and death is not what we find in Proverbs.  Rather, in the light of Christ's incarnation, death, and resurrection, we find a book that teaches us the true wisdom that comes from living on earth in the light of heaven.  Proverbs is not out of step with our Lord's prayer: "Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven."
Our verse today is no exception in teaching us that true wisdom is found only in the light of the eschaton, i.e., the age to come.  John Kitchen states, "The imagery of this verse is powerful!  The rebel is hunted down and set apart for destruction, while the righteous man is ushered into the King's presence and conferred with rewards for faithful service."[1]  Here is true motivation for a life well-lived.  On the one hand, we are warned that unrepentant sinners face a future disaster if they continue to live defiant, unrepentant lives.  On the other hand, we are promised that the Lord's people will be rewarded by their King, if they live in repentance and faith in fellowship with him.  The choice between these two paths and destinies belongs to us.

Furthermore, our proverb also teaches us that the judgment of the eschaton is oftentimes  anticipated or experienced in this life.  This is intimated by the word "pursues" in line one.  "Disaster" is personified as hunting down sinners who refuse to repent.  As Hubbard writes, "This theme of retribution is sounded crisply in the line "evil [i.e., 'disaster' or 'calamity']pursues sinners,' as the hounds harry the stag."[2]  The word "pursues" implies that the disaster gets closer and closer before finally catching its victim.  This rings true to the experience of unrepentant sinners as trouble and dread begins to stalk their paths.  And whether the disaster of the final judgment is felt in this life by sinners or not, the reality of line one is always a certainty.  Eternal disaster will inevitably fall upon all the unrepentant at the day of judgment.

But if this judgment seems to pursue the unrepentant in this life, how much more does the Lord's mercy and blessings pursue his people!  As Psalm 23:6 teaches, the future blessings of the age to come are already, at least in part, given to us in this present evil age:

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow [same Hebrew word as in our proverb] me

all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

The choice set before us could not be clearer.  Continue to defy the Lord by living in unrepentance and unbelief, while the eternal disaster of God's judgment chases you down and finally catches you.  Or, live a life of repentance and faith in Christ, while increasingly learning the blessing of his presence and mercy before you receive the reward of life in his presence forever, free from sin and death.  The choice is yours.  Which do you choose?


[1] Kitchen, Proverbs, 295.
[2] Hubbard, Proverbs, 333.

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