August 16, 2015
Prov. 17:1-14, Mark 1
Prov. 17:15-28, 1 Peter 1
There is so much wisdom in these chapters, it is hard to choose one verse for comments. But today let us look at verse 15: “He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the Lord.”
Like so many other verses in Proverbs, this applies first to those entrusted with the service of government. Since this book is written to Rehoboam, who is destined to become king of Israel, we are not surprised by this. But the fact that it is written to the future king of a small country long ago does not preclude it's application to all rulers in all places and in all times. Reading the verse, we naturally think of civil authorities, but it applies equally well ecclesiastical authorities. Anyone who is familiar with the facts of history can easily recall civil and religious leaders who abused their power and did much harm to innocent people. Where ever power exists people exist who seize that power and use it for their own enrichment at the expense of others.
Civil authority exists primarily to protect the rights of the people by executing “wrath upon him that doeth evil” (Rom. 3:4). This is accomplished through the impartial enforcement of the principles of punishment and restitution. Punishment is exemplified in the Old Testament principle of an eye for an eye. This means one who causes harm to another suffers the same harm to himself. If your actions cause another to lose an eye, you lose your eye. Restitution means you owe the injured person for the value of his injury or loss. Thus, a thief restores the stolen property, or its value, to its rightful owner, with interest. This is justice, and it is the task of civil authority to enforce it without partiality, favoritism, or exemption. All just laws apply to all people at all times.
But people in power often use the power of government to justify the wicked and condemn the just. A famous example of this it is found in first Kings chapter 21. Naboth had a vineyard which Ahab, the king, wanted. His wife, Jezebel, used the legal system to have Naboth killed so her husband could take possession of the vineyard. Through false charges and lying “witnesses,” Naboth was convicted of blasphemy, and executed by stoning. This is a terrible sin and abuse of power by Jezebel. It is the epitome of mocking the poor (Prov. 17:5). Ahab and Jezebel, should have devoted themselves to protecting the rights of people like Naboth. Since they did not, and since they used their power to steal and murder, they, along with their co-conspirators, should have been deposed from office, tried and convicted of murder, and treated according to the principles of justice and restitution. But, because they held power, their crimes went unreported and unpunished, at least, as far as the legal system of man is concerned. Their crimes were punished at the bar of God’s justice, but they did much harm to many people during their reign.
We may wish the visible Church were free of such sin, but we know better. Righteous Micaiah was mistreated while false prophets were honoured (1 Kings 22), and some of our Lord’s most incriminating words against Jerusalem were, “thou that killest the prophets and stonest them which are sent” (Mt. 23:37). Today we see ecclesiastical authorities deserting the clear teachings of the Bible and joining forces with those who distort justice in the name of God and justice.
In a second sense the words of this Proverbs apply to everyday people. They apply to those who see injustice, but do nothing about it. They apply to those who call evil good and good evil. They apply to those who vote for legislators and laws that steal the fruits of legitimate labour from workers in order to advance policies and laws that pervert true justice. They refer to employers who steal from employees through poor pay and benefits to people trapped in their systems.
Prov. 18, Mk. 2
Prov. 19, 1 Pet. 2
“The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost part of the belly” (Prov. 18:8).
We are all aware of the Bible’s instruction to bridle our tongues (Jas. 3:1-12), speak gently (Prov. 15:1), and speak in ways that build others up in Christ (Eph. 4:29). Here is the reason for this; our words have the power to hurt. We all have people in our lives who are susceptible to our influence. Therefore, they can easily be hurt by our words as well as by our actions. Who cannot remember being hurt by words from other people? Perhaps they happened long ago, yet, if we let ourselves, we can still feel their pain. To those feeling the pain, the Bible says, forgive. But that is not easily done. We may feel the pain many times during our lives, and each time we feel it again, we must re-forgive the person who spoke the words. It may help to remember that other people are imperfect, just like us, and even loving family members, fellow Christians, and friends can and do sin. When we were children, our parents, were young and inexperienced, and they were burdened with the heavy responsibilities of earning a living and guiding children through life, which was still very perplexing to them. It is no wonder they often made mistakes, or spoke too harshly to us. Remember, too, that we were no angels, and that our own actions may have contributed to their burdens. Forgive them, and pray that your children will forgive you.
To all, remember that your words can hurt others. To “go down into the innermost parts of the belly” means your words can hurt the deepest and most vulnerable parts of a person. Psalm 64:3 speaks of the froward as those who, “whet their tongues like a sword, and shoot out their arrows, even bitter words.” Swords and arrows are what Solomon had in mind when he wrote this verse. Such weapons penetrate deep into the vital core of a person, inflicting mortal wounds. Our words also penetrate deep into the vital core of a person; not the physical core, not the chest and thorax which contain vital physical organs; but the spiritual core of mind and feelings, and character. Since our words have such power, let us be very careful how we use them.
A talebearer is a gossip. Specifically it is a person who spreads rumours and/or lies about other people. Such people assassinate the character and well-being of others.
“A false witness shall not be unpunished; and he that speaketh lies shall not escape” (Prov. 19:5).
Gossips, and those who assassinate the characters of others with false words, are not usually charged with crimes, and punished. Courts and churches usually allow such people to go on about life as though they were completely righteous and in good standing in the community and the congregation. But they are not. They are guilty of terrible crimes. And, though they may not suffer censure in community or church, their sins are seen by a greater Judge, and they shall not escape.
Prov. 20, Mk. 3
Prov. 21:1-16, 1 Pet. 3
“Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (Prov. 20:1).
Let us first understand what this verse does not mean. It does not mean all use of alcoholic beverages is sin, or even to be avoided. The Passover feast of the Old Testament used real wine, and Jesus used real wine after the Passover meal when He instituted the Lord’s Supper. One of the charges hurled at Him by the Pharisees was that of being a wine-bibber. This means He did not abstain from wine, nor did He drink only heavily diluted wine as some of the Pharisees may have drank. There is no Biblical commandment for total abstinence for alcohol. But there are many warnings against alcohol, so, if a person chooses to drink it, he must do so very cautiously and very sparingly.
Now let us see what this verse does mean. It does mean that a life of drunkenness and revelry is forbidden. It does mean that a person under the influence of alcohol is liable to say and do things that are embarrassing and foolish. That is the primary meaning of the words, “wine is a mocker, strong drink is a raging.”
But there is a secondary meaning in this verse. It means wine entices us to drink, then laughs at the consequences of drunkenness. It is as though wine speaks to us, promising joy and happiness, or at least relief from the sorrows of life for a while, but brings ruin on those who habitually resort to it for relief. To fall into its control is to bring ruin to homes and families, jobs and incomes, and to the life of the one who has become dependant upon it. And then it laughs at them. It mocks those who have believed its lies, and allowed it to ruin their lives.
“He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man: he that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich” (Proverbs 21:17). This verse warns against a self-indulgent, pleasure oriented lifestyle. The person pictured spends his life and his money on passing pleasures. He lives for pleasure and loves it more than he loves God (2 Tim. 3:4). He is the opposite of the man who lives below his means, saves his money, and finds his contentment in knowing God, and loving his friends, family, and church.
This verse does not rebuke us for enjoying the legitimate fruits of Godly labour. It does not teach us to live a life of poverty and self-denial. It does teach us to love God first, and to honour Him with the substance over which He has made us His stewards.
It is sometimes assumed that the love of pleasure is only for those with the financial means to devote themselves to its pursuit. It is indeed true that the rich face strong temptations to make pleasure their first love. Our Lord Himself said it is harder for a rich man to get into Heaven than for a camel to get through the eye of a needle (Mt. 19:24). The rich man in Mt. 19:16-22 loved his possessions more than he loved God. Luke 12:16-21 speaks of a man who was rich in the world, but was poor toward God. He wanted to live by the motto, “take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry,” not knowing God would soon say to him, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee.”
It is also true that the lack of luxuries can produce an inordinate desire for them. Many are the people who dream of the life of ease they would live if they were wealthy, rather than working to improve their lot in life, or enjoying the blessings God has given them.
Prov. 21:17- 35 , Mk.4:1-25
Prov. 22:1-16, 1 Pet. 4
“Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
There is some controversy over how this verse should be translated from its original form in the ancient Hebrew language. Rather than “train up a child in the way he should go,” it is possible to translate it, train up a child “in accordance with his way.” If this interpretation is correct, it has several possible meanings.
First, it could mean in accordance with his natural inclinations. There are many ways to train up a child this way. The child can be given minimal expectations of behaviour, and, thus minimal instruction in all things that form his character, values, and mind. He may be taught that his natural inclinations are usually good and should be indulged. Or, things like values and life-views may be intentionally not taught so the child can decide such matters for himself as he grows. In the end, there is not much practical difference between these views. Each, essentially throws the helpless child to the wolves by forcing him to rely on his own resources for learning about and coping with life. The problem with this is that a child is not ready to face the wolves. He must be protected from them, and taught how to protect himself from them, and this is one of the primary tasks of the parents.
If this verse is saying that a child raised according to his own inclinations will not depart from them when he is old, it means such a child will be hardened in his own ways, which are always shaped by his natural inclination toward sin and selfishness. The verse, then would be saying something like: letting the child run wild will lead to his ruin.
Second, it could mean something like, train up a child in ways that recognise and develop his God given skills and talents. This will enable him to reach his full potential, and will best enable him to learn the ways of goodness and Godliness.
Third, it could mean we are to train up our children according their ability to understand what they are learning. Don’t try to feed a child the strong meat of the Bible. Instead, give him the sincere milk of the word, and move slowly to solid food, similar to the way we introduce physical food to children.
The interesting thing about each of these meanings is that they all support the conclusion of the translation in the King James Version. All agree that children must be taught the ways of Godliness. All of them agree that children left to their own devices are vulnerable to the attacks of the world, the flesh, and the devil. It is our duty, therefore, to both God and the child, to train him in the way in which he should go.
“When he is old, he will not depart.” Like many of the proverbs, we should take this as a general principle, rather than a promise. Cautions against sloth, for example, do not promise that hard work and financial wisdom will always accumulate wealth, or that sloth will always result in poverty. Economic conditions beyond his control may cause a frugal man’s finances to vanish, and a slovenly man may win the lottery. But, as a general principle of life, hard work and financial prudence pay off, while sloth does not. I have seen children from the most Godly homes and teaching reject the Faith and live as complete reprobates. I have seen people raised as complete reprobates become solid believers and pillars of the Church and community. Such things are part of the mystery of God’s Providence and sovereign grace, and we must be content to leave them in His hands. But, even as we do trust in God’s Providence, we do so in hope.
Prov. 22:17- 29 , Mk. 4:26-41
Prov. 23:1-21, 1 Pet. 5
The Proverbs in chapter 23 are longer than those in other chapters. Verses 1-5 urge caution when in the presence of the king, but its warning applies to the presence of all people of wealth and power. Verse 2 tells us to refrain from gluttony at their tables. Again this can be expanded to all the luxuries and dainties of the rich. We are neither to spend our time desiring them (3) nor to greedily partake of them when in the houses of the rich and powerful. The implication seems to be that such luxuries may cause us to be contemptuous of our own blessings, thus spoiling our contentment with God and life; and may anger the host and owner of the luxuries, which may cause him to harm us.
Verses 6-8 expand the warning to cover all greedy and envious people. The “evil eye” is not a magical power, or ability to cause harm with a look or spell. It is an eye that looks with greed and jealousy on worldly possessions. The person wants more than he has, and is jealous of those with more, and very vengeful towards anyone he thinks might covet his things. He is the opposite of the person with the bountiful eye in Prov. 22:9.
Verse 9 warns of the futility of speaking wisdom to a fool. Only God can change the heart of a person, and, until He begins to work in a heart, the person will always reject Wisdom. He may reject it in the most polite and winsome ways, but he will still reject it.
Verses 10-11 returns to a warning against oppressing the poor. Ancient landmarks are the boundary markers of the property, given to each tribe and family when Israel entered Canaan after being released from Egypt. Greedy people might attempt to move the markers in order to claim property belonging to another. Such people often controlled the courts, which then enabled, rather than punished such theft. Verse 11 warns that God will plead the case of the wronged, and His court cannot be corrupted.
12-18 exhort us again to the pursuit of Wisdom. We are to apply our hearts to it, and teach our children to do the same. 19-35 warn against sloth, drunkenness, and sexual sins.
Prov. 23:22- 35 , Mk. 5::1-20
Prov. 24, 2 Peter 1
This chapter brings us to the close of this collection of wise sayings, which compare and contrast the ways and end of the wise and the foolish. Verses 19 and 20 very fittingly tell of the end of the foolish/wicked person (the foolish man is wicked because he defies the Wisdom of God). And though he may sometimes prosper, his end will come, and his candle shall be put out. In a land where candles were great luxuries, most homes were dark during the evenings and nights. The wealthy could afford candles and lamps. The value of light in the darkness of night is almost impossible for those with ample electric power to imagine. But such wealth, if garnered by wicked and immoral means will not last. That candle will be extinguished.
Surely this refers to the final end of the wicked. Job correctly noted that they often seem to go unpunished in this world, yet the Bible has numerous references to their facing the judgment and wrath of God. Luke 16:19-31 shows how this punishment comes about, as does Revelation 20:15.
Prov. 25, Mk. 5:21-43
Prov 26, 2 Pet. 2
Here begins a collection of warnings and instructions. They were written by Solomon, and collected by Hezekiah, who was one of the better kings of Judah, and actually led a revival among his people. The main difference between these proverbs and those of the previous section is that the earlier ones usually contained statements about what is wise or what wise people do, followed by a statement of what is foolish, or what foolish people do. The proverbs in this sections are usually statements of instruction or warning. Verse 28 is such a warning:
“He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.” We all know ancient cities were, essentially fortifications, surrounded by walls from which the inhabitants hoped to be able to fend off invaders. To be without a wall was to be defenceless against invading armies, and roving bands of of thieves and killers which preyed upon the weak or vulnerable. The point made in this verse is that a person who refuses to control his passions and desires is like a city whose wall is broken down. He will follow his passions wherever they lead, even to his eternal doom. The Reverend Matthew Henry expressed the meaning of this verse well. He wrote that the wise and virtuous man:
“is one that has rule over his own spirit; he maintains the government of himself, and of his own appetites and passions, and does not suffer them to rebel against reason and conscience. He has the rule of his own thoughts and desires, his inclinations, his resentments, and keeps them all in good order.”
Self control, temperance, and self restraint are always urged upon those who would follow the Saviour. His service is perfect freedom, and His ways are peace that the world cannot give.