Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Reflections on Proverbs 24

    Proverbs 24 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Don't be jealous of crooks or want to be their friends.
  2. All they think about and talk about is violence and cruelty.
  3. Use wisdom and understanding to establish your home;
  4. let good sense fill the rooms with priceless treasures.
  5. Wisdom brings strength, and knowledge gives power.
  6. Battles are won by listening to advice and making a lot of plans.
  7. Wisdom is too much for fools! Their advice is no good.
  8. No one but troublemakers think up trouble.
  9. Everyone hates senseless fools who think up ways to sin.
  10. Don't give up and be helpless in times of trouble.
  11. Don't fail to rescue those who are doomed to die.
  12. Don't say, "I didn't know it!" God can read your mind. He watches each of us and knows our thoughts. And God will pay us back for what we do.
  13. Honey is good for you, my children, and it tastes sweet.
  14. Wisdom is like honey for your life-- if you find it, your future is bright.
  15. Don't be a cruel person who attacks good people and hurts their families.
  16. Even if good people fall seven times, they will get back up. But when trouble strikes the wicked, that's the end of them.
  17. Don't be happy to see your enemies trip and fall down.
  18. The LORD will find out and be unhappy. Then he will stop being angry with them.
  19. Don't let evil people worry you or make you jealous.
  20. They will soon be gone like the flame of a lamp that burns out.
  21. My children, you must respect the LORD and the king, and you must not make friends with anyone who rebels against either of them.
  22. Who knows what sudden disaster the LORD or a ruler might bring?
  23. Here are some more sayings that make good sense: When you judge, you must be fair.
  24. If you let the guilty go free, people of all nations will hate and curse you.
  25. But if you punish the guilty, things will go well for you, and you will prosper.
  26. Giving an honest answer is a sign of true friendship.
  27. Get your fields ready and plant your crops before starting a home.
  28. Don't accuse anyone who isn't guilty. Don't ever tell a lie
  29. or say to someone, "I'll get even with you!"
  30. I once walked by the field and the vineyard of a lazy fool.
  31. Thorns and weeds were everywhere, and the stone wall had fallen down.
  32. When I saw this, it taught me a lesson:
  33. Sleep a little. Doze a little. Fold your hands and twiddle your thumbs.
  34. Suddenly poverty hits you and everything is gone!

Solomon began 30 wise sayings in chapter 22 that conclude with verse 22 of this chapter. Then he adds six additional sayings of the wise men. My approach with this chapter will be to highlight some counsel that has not yet been touched on in Proverbs.

The first comes from verse 5. Wisdom and knowledge is better than strength when going to war, he says. In fact, he says, "A wise man is strong; yes, a man of knowledge increases strength." There is more to strength than one's physique. Wisdom and knowledge give strength as well, and Solomon even says they increase it. In other words, they provide more strength than physique.

Verse 10 offers another saying that also touches on strength vs wisdom. It says that if we fail to act in difficult situations our strength is of no use. There are two dimensions to what this is saying. First, regardless of our physical strength it is of no use if we fail to act. It is also saying that if we buckle under pressure we are weak no matter what our physical strength. A number of things may keep us from acting under pressure. It may be a lack of courage or possibly not knowing what to do which falls under a lack of wisdom or knowledge.

On a different subject, we are told in verses 11-12 that we have an obligation to rescue those headed for death. What is the meaning of this? It is unclear what specific circumstances to which it might be referring, but maybe it isn't intended to be specific. Various commentaries understand it primarily in one of two ways: Referring to those caught by lawless people who are being carried off to their death, or as innocent people caught up in unjust oppression. I would add another possible understanding to these two. It could also be referring to people caught up in their own foolish choices and heading, unsuspectingly, toward their death. Whatever the circumstances, we are told we can't get off the hook by simply looking the other way and pretending we don't see the plight of these people. "Won't He who weighs hearts consider it? Won't He repay a person according to his work?" it asks.  It would not be wise to attempt to be too specific about the circumstances to which this refers or to attempt to spell out specific circumstances under which we are obligated or not obligated to help a person headed to their death. This is a matter for God's guidance.

Concerning our enemies, we are not to gloat when they fall. So says verse 17. Verse 18 goes on to say that if we gloat the Lord will be displeased and turn His wrath away from the enemy. So we have a situation here in which God Himself has brought about the fall of one's enemy. But there is strong instruction not to rejoice in their fall. We are not to be proud that "God is on our side." On the other hand, I see no injunction against rejoicing for our own good fortune. In fact, I believe God would want us to praise Him for our salvation from the enemy. We are just not to rejoice in the misfortune of the enemy.

I will conclude with the instructions from verse 27. "Complete your outdoor work, and prepare your field; afterwards, build your house."  This is speaking of priorities. When planning what to do, don't start with the most inviting work - that which will aide your comfort. Start with the most vital work - that which will provide for you and sustain you. This is advise to help us have success. As we lay out the steps toward success we need to identify those factors most vital to that success. Start with those factors. Other things are also important but they can and should wait. Recognize which category your tasks fall into.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Reflections on Proverbs 23

    Proverbs 23 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. When you are invited to eat with a king, use your best manners.
  2. Don't go and stuff yourself! That would be just the same as cutting your throat.
  3. Don't be greedy for all of that fancy food! It may not be so tasty.
  4. Give up trying so hard to get rich.
  5. Your money flies away before you know it, just like an eagle suddenly taking off.
  6. Don't accept an invitation to eat a selfish person's food, no matter how good it is.
  7. People like that take note of how much you eat. They say, "Take all you want!" But they don't mean it.
  8. Each bite will come back up, and all your kind words will be wasted.
  9. Don't talk to fools-- they will just make fun.
  10. Don't move a boundary marker or take the land that belongs to orphans.
  11. God All-Powerful is there to defend them against you.
  12. Listen to instruction and do your best to learn.
  13. Don't fail to correct your children. You won't kill them by being firm,
  14. and it may even save their lives.
  15. My children, if you show good sense, I will be happy,
  16. and if you are truthful, I will really be glad.
  17. Don't be jealous of sinners, but always honor the LORD.
  18. Then you will truly have hope for the future.
  19. Listen to me, my children! Be wise and have enough sense to follow the right path.
  20. Don't be a heavy drinker or stuff yourself with food.
  21. It will make you feel drowsy, and you will end up poor with only rags to wear.
  22. Pay attention to your father, and don't neglect your mother when she grows old.
  23. Invest in truth and wisdom, discipline and good sense, and don't part with them.
  24. Make your father truly happy by living right and showing sound judgment.
  25. Make your parents proud, especially your mother.
  26. My son, pay close attention, and gladly follow my example.
  27. Bad women and unfaithful wives are like a deep pit--
  28. they are waiting to attack you like a gang of robbers with victim after victim.
  29. Who is always in trouble? Who argues and fights? Who has cuts and bruises? Whose eyes are red?
  30. Everyone who stays up late, having just one more drink.
  31. Don't even look at that colorful stuff bubbling up in the glass! It goes down so easily,
  32. but later it bites like a poisonous snake.
  33. You will see weird things, and your mind will play tricks on you.
  34. You will feel tossed about like someone trying to sleep on a ship in a storm.
  35. You will be bruised all over, without even remembering how it all happened. And you will lie awake asking, "When will morning come, so I can drink some more?"

A shift in style took place toward the end of chapter 22. At that point Solomon began with 30 wise sayings that are a combination of ones he has borrowed as well as his own. With these sayings there is also a shift from one-verse statements to two and three verse instructions. Another shift is in the topics it covers, keeping some of the same topics, but broadening the scope.

Among the sayings in this chapter I would categorize some as dealing with development of one's own character and others as just smart conduct. For instance, it is smart conduct not to be a glutton at the king's table. It may be a wonderful opportunity with great food, but it will not make the impression you wish to make. Another is not to eat a stingy person's food. It will place a strain on the relationship - on him because he is counting the cost of what you are eating, and on you for the same reason. Another is not to give insight to a fool. Beside the fact he will not value the insight he may despise you for giving it. This counsel goes contrary to what some people think. They believe they have an obligation to give insight where it is sadly lacking, or at least they feel guilty if they have not spoken. Solomon says here it is better not to speak.

Then there is the counsel regarding character development. Much of it Solomon has already touched on in previous chapters. It includes: Don't associate with drunkards, don't expend yourself trying to get rich, don't be jealous of sinners, avoid the prostitute, and apply yourself to instruction, even if you have to pay for it. I would also include in this category of character development instructions concerning parents. Respect and honor of parents is a mark of character. Solomon says to listen to the instructions of your father. Also, don't despise your mother when she is old. For the young person interested is showing respect to his parents, Solomon says that a father's heart rejoices when a son's heart is wise. And for when the son is a parent himself, Solomon says not to withhold correction to his own son, for it will rescue his life. When done in the proper spirit, correction of a child can be one of the greatest forms of love. It is love that is willing to do what is difficult for the betterment of the child.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Reflections on Proverbs 22

    Proverbs 22 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. A good reputation and respect are worth much more than silver and gold.
  2. The rich and the poor are all created by the LORD.
  3. When you see trouble coming, don't be stupid and walk right into it-- be smart and hide.
  4. Respect and serve the LORD! Your reward will be wealth, a long life, and honor.
  5. Crooks walk down a road full of thorny traps. Stay away from there!
  6. Teach your children right from wrong, and when they are grown they will still do right.
  7. The poor are ruled by the rich, and those who borrow are slaves of moneylenders.
  8. Troublemakers get in trouble, and their terrible anger will get them nowhere.
  9. The LORD blesses everyone who freely gives food to the poor.
  10. Arguments and fights will come to an end, if you chase away those who insult others.
  11. The king is the friend of all who are sincere and speak with kindness.
  12. The LORD watches over everyone who shows good sense, but he frustrates the plans of deceitful liars.
  13. Don't be so lazy that you say, "If I go to work, a lion will eat me!"
  14. The words of a bad woman are like a deep pit; if you make the LORD angry, you will fall right in.
  15. All children are foolish, but firm correction will make them change.
  16. Cheat the poor to make profit or give gifts to the rich-- either way you lose.
  17. Here are some sayings of people with wisdom, so listen carefully as I teach.
  18. You will be glad that you know these sayings and can recite them.
  19. I am teaching them today, so that you may trust the LORD.
  20. I have written thirty sayings filled with sound advice.
  21. You can trust them completely to give you the right words for those in charge of you.
  22. Don't take advantage of the poor or cheat them in court.
  23. The LORD is their defender, and what you do to them, he will do to you.
  24. Don't make friends with anyone who has a bad temper.
  25. You might turn out like them and get caught in a trap.
  26. Don't guarantee to pay someone else's debt.
  27. If you don't have the money, you might lose your bed.
  28. Don't move a boundary marker set up by your ancestors.
  29. If you do your job well, you will work for a ruler and never be a slave.

This chapter shifts style at verse 17. To that point it continues the one-verse, one-liner approach to wise instruction. Then it begins 30 sayings of the wise leaving the one-verse instruction for mostly two-verse instructions. These 30 sayings go through Proverbs 24:22. The 30 sayings most likely include a combination of Solomon's wisdom along with others from whom he has borrowed.

In the last several chapters I have looked for themes found within the chapters on which to comment in my reflections. Here I will simply share some thoughts on the topic of humility. In general, I believe the kingpin of this chapter and possibly of the book is humility. I believe it could be argued that humility leads to all the outcomes of wise living and pride to those of the foolish and wicked. The question is, which comes first, humility or respect for the Lord. Solomon says in earlier chapters that respect for the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge. In this chapter he says that humility results in respect for the Lord. So, do we wake up one day saying we want to choose to be humble which soon leads to respect for the Lord and this is followed eventually by the other attributes?

When we overlay these teachings with those of the New Testament we must insert here that any lasting transformation in our lives is only possible with the transforming power of Christ in our lives - with His Spirit working in our lives. In my own experience I have always focused on relating to Christ and trying to respond to His Spirit within me and everything else has flowed from there. Whatever humility I have didn't come because I decided to be humble. It came because I first decided to submit myself to Christ. That humbling act led to other acts of humility and then a growing spirit of humility.

I believe humility and pride are dividing factors in these teachings of Solomon - humility leading to the outcomes of the wise and pride leading to the outcomes of the foolish and wicked. But I wouldn't want to empower them as if we simply decide to be humble or prideful and the outcomes follow. The power is not in turning over a new leaf, as we say, but in submitting our lives and our ways to the Lord.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Reflections on Proverbs 21

    Proverbs 21 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. The LORD controls rulers, just as he determines the course of rivers.
  2. We may think we are doing the right thing, but the LORD always knows what is in our hearts.
  3. Doing what is right and fair pleases the LORD more than an offering.
  4. Evil people are proud and arrogant, but sin is the only crop they produce.
  5. If you plan and work hard, you will have plenty; if you get in a hurry, you will end up poor.
  6. Cheating to get rich is a foolish dream and no less than suicide.
  7. You destroy yourself by being cruel and violent and refusing to live right.
  8. All crooks are liars, but anyone who is innocent will do right.
  9. It's better to stay outside on the roof of your house than to live inside with a nagging wife.
  10. Evil people want to do wrong, even to their friends.
  11. An ignorant fool learns by seeing others punished; a sensible person learns by being instructed.
  12. God is always fair! He knows what the wicked do and will punish them.
  13. If you won't help the poor, don't expect to be heard when you cry out for help.
  14. A secret bribe will save you from someone's fierce anger.
  15. When justice is done, good citizens are glad and crooks are terrified.
  16. If you stop using good sense, you will find yourself in the grave.
  17. Heavy drinkers and others who live only for pleasure will lose all they have.
  18. God's people will escape, but all who are wicked will pay the price.
  19. It's better out in the desert than at home with a nagging, complaining wife.
  20. Be sensible and store up precious treasures-- don't waste them like a fool.
  21. If you try to be kind and good, you will be blessed with life and goodness and honor.
  22. One wise person can defeat a city full of soldiers and capture their fortress.
  23. Watching what you say can save you a lot of trouble.
  24. If you are proud and conceited, everyone will say, "You're a snob!"
  25. If you want too much and are too lazy to work, it could be fatal.
  26. But people who obey God are always generous.
  27. The Lord despises the offerings of wicked people with evil motives.
  28. If you tell lies in court, you are done for; only a reliable witness can do the job.
  29. Wicked people bluff their way, but God's people think before they take a step.
  30. No matter how much you know or what plans you make, you can't defeat the LORD.
  31. Even if your army has horses ready for battle, the LORD will always win.

Themes found in this chapter include God's sovereignty, man's motives, outcomes of the wicked, and ill-chosen marriages.

Whether we have good intent or bad, whether person of power or not, whether we have wise counsel or not, God, in His sovereignty will prevail. He directs even a king's heart wherever He chooses. It is He who brings victory in battle not all our weapons and strategy, etc.  The wise will operate in partnership with God rather than independently or against Him. They will seek God's counsel and learn what His plans are, then join Him. It is true that many carry out plans every day with no consideration for God or His purposes and have a level of success. But they do so with the resources God has given them, along with the abilities He has given them, and succeed only because He has allowed it. They give no consideration that He can just as easily take away their successes. They will not credit Him for the gains of their success, but they will surely blame Him when their gains are lost. It is ironic how we are so prone to conduct life as if there is no God until we have problems. Then, suddenly, there is a God, and He is to blame for our problems.

On another theme, Solomon points out that God is more interested in man's motives than his actions. We like to pat ourselves on the back for our good deeds and religious activities. God, however, is looking at our motives for doing these things and is unimpressed if they are self-serving and insincere. That is the problem when we attempt to come to God through religion rather than through a relationship.  With religion we are prone to do all the rituals with the intent of appeasing or pleasing God while conducting our lives apart from religion as if God doesn't exist. Solomon tells us in this chapter that God is not impressed with such practices. He would rather our ways be His ways than to have our offerings. In fact, if our lives are not consistent with His teachings, our offerings are detestable to Him.

We go on to the outcomes of the wicked. Solomon addresses this theme in every chapter. First, the characteristics of the wicked. They are guided by sin, their only interest is evil, and they have no consideration for their neighbor. The outcome of their evil activity is that they will be swept away. They may enjoy a time of pleasure or ill-gotten gain, but it will not last. God will eventually bring them to ruin.

Finally, the theme of ill-chosen marriages. In two verses of this chapter Solomon refers to a quarrelsome wife, as he also does in three other chapters in Proverbs. Again, keep in mind this is a father speaking to his son. I don't believe Solomon is picking on wives. In fact, I refer to it as ill-chosen marriages. Besides quarrelsome wives, there are a number of other issues characteristic of both husbands and wives that can make a marriage rather unpleasant. I can't know what Solomon had specifically in mind when giving this counsel, but I would suspect he is saying to his son, "Be careful in your choice of a wife. Consider factors other than her attractiveness. Consider also her personality and character, for if you get a quarrelsome and nagging wife, it can be so unpleasant you would rather not be in the house with her." Notice, though, he didn't mention anything about divorcing the wife even though he considered it very unpleasant to live with such a woman. Choosing a life-long mate is a matter on which to seek God's guidance.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Reflections on Proverbs 20

    Proverbs 20 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. It isn't smart to get drunk! Drinking makes a fool of you and leads to fights.
  2. An angry ruler is like a roaring lion-- make either one angry, and you are dead.
  3. It makes you look good when you avoid a fight-- only fools love to quarrel.
  4. If you are too lazy to plow, don't expect a harvest.
  5. Someone's thoughts may be as deep as the ocean, but if you are smart, you will discover them.
  6. There are many who say, "You can trust me!" But can they be trusted?
  7. Good people live right, and God blesses the children who follow their example.
  8. When rulers decide cases, they weigh the evidence.
  9. Can any of us really say, "My thoughts are pure, and my sins are gone"?
  10. Two things the LORD hates are dishonest scales and dishonest measures.
  11. The good or bad that children do shows what they are like.
  12. Hearing and seeing are gifts from the LORD.
  13. If you sleep all the time, you will starve; if you get up and work, you will have enough food.
  14. Everyone likes to brag about getting a bargain.
  15. Sensible words are better than gold or jewels.
  16. You deserve to lose your coat if you loan it to someone to guarantee payment for the debt of a stranger.
  17. The food you get by cheating may taste delicious, but it turns to gravel.
  18. Be sure you have sound advice before making plans or starting a war.
  19. Stay away from gossips-- they tell everything.
  20. Children who curse their parents will go to the land of darkness long before their time.
  21. Getting rich quick may turn out to be a curse.
  22. Don't try to get even. Trust the LORD, and he will help you.
  23. The LORD hates dishonest scales and dishonest weights. So don't cheat!
  24. How can we know what will happen to us when the LORD alone decides?
  25. Don't fall into the trap of making promises to God before you think!
  26. A wise ruler severely punishes every criminal.
  27. Our inner thoughts are a lamp from the LORD, and they search our hearts.
  28. Rulers are protected by God's mercy and loyalty, but they must be merciful for their kingdoms to last.
  29. Young people take pride in their strength, but the gray hairs of wisdom are even more beautiful.
  30. A severe beating can knock all of the evil out of you!

Topics in chapter 20 include disputes, integrity, getting counsel, laziness, knowledgeable speech, and God's sovereignty, along with a variety of other counsel. Solomon's wisdom statements throughout the book are what I refer to as "one liners." Each is just a short statement of advise. Within each chapter several of these will fall into common categories, but many do not. With my reflections I attempt to find the common themes within a chapter and speak to those.

As for disputes, Solomon says it is honorable to resolve them. Further, he says any fool can get into a quarrel. Though we may argue that we must save our honor by quarreling, Solomon is saying the honor is found in resolving the dispute, not in quarreling. If vengeance becomes involved, this should be left to the Lord.  This is in keeping with Deuteronomy 32:35. Loosely connected to this topic of disputes is the counsel that men, even young men, are known by their actions. This could actually fit into most any topic, but I believe most fitting with this one. A young man who is always quarreling gains a reputation which will be harder to live down than it was to attain.

Next is the topic of integrity and trustworthiness. Solomon says it is hard to find, but the person who has it is righteous. This would suggest that a person of integrity will stand head and shoulders above people around them. Why is it so hard to find? I suspect it is because it requires consistent actions, even when we don't feel like it, and because it sometimes requires tough choices. What is right in a situation is not always what is easiest. We tend to default to the easiest choice in a situation, but this is not integrity.

Another topic is getting counsel. Solomon says in verse 5, "Counsel in a man's heart is deep water; but a man of understanding draws it up." Further, he says in verse 18, "Finalize plans through counsel, and wage war with sound guidance." How prone are any of us to seek counsel when making plans? I believe Solomon would say, "only the man of understanding". Our thinking, however, tends to go in the opposite direction. We think the man of understanding doesn't need counsel. But such a person recognizes their limitations and seeks the counsel. That is probably one reason we are not prone to get counsel for our plans - we don't admit our limitations. Another reason may be that once we have a plan in mind we are afraid someone from whom we seek counsel will tell us they won't work. Either our ego can't take the hit or we are so invested in the plans we don't want to change them, even if wise counsel tells us otherwise.

Laziness is the next topic. Most chapters in Proverbs will have something to say about this topic. In this case, Solomon says the slacker, or lazy person, fails to do the work to plant a crop, but still expects a crop. This comes close to the Einstein definition of insanity, "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Only, in this case it is doing nothing and expecting results. Also on laziness, Solomon says in verse 13, "Don't love sleep, or you will become poor; open your eyes, and you'll have enough to eat." How much of poverty is related to laziness?  We shouldn't assume each case is one of laziness, and yet without knowing the situation we can't assume otherwise. To provide assistance in the case of laziness is to encourage and promote it.

Another topic in this chapter is knowledgeable speech. Solomon refers to it as knowledgeable lips, and he says it is a rare treasure. In contrast to this is the person with a big mouth. Solomon says we should avoid such persons. They reveal secrets and are a constant gossip. The rarity of knowledgeable speech may have some connection to laziness. It is so rare because people do not, as a whole, seek knowledge on a subject before speaking or reflect on the knowledge they have to draw wise conclusions about it. It is easier to repeat what we hear from others without considering or checking the accuracy of it.

Finally, is the topic of God's sovereignty. Solomon has touched on this before. He says in verse 24, "A man's steps are determined by the LORD, so how can anyone understand his own way?" What did Solomon not say here that might be inferred? He didn't say, "So don't presume to understand your own way." It is popular these days to speak of controlling our own destinies. Now this statement may not always be intended as presumptuously as it sounds, but it is presumptuous. It is true that by making wise choices we can avoid certain outcomes, but in the end, we still have no control over our destinies. They are in God's hands who made "The hearing ear and the seeing eye." (verse 12)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reflections on Proverbs 19

    Proverbs 19 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. It's better to be poor and live right than to be a stupid liar.
  2. Willingness and stupidity don't go well together. If you are too eager, you will miss the road.
  3. We are ruined by our own stupidity, though we blame the LORD.
  4. The rich have many friends; the poor have none.
  5. Dishonest witnesses and liars won't escape punishment.
  6. Everyone tries to be friends of those who can help them.
  7. If you are poor, your own relatives reject you, and your friends are worse. When you really need them, they are not there.
  8. Do yourself a favor by having good sense-- you will be glad you did.
  9. Dishonest witnesses and liars will be destroyed.
  10. It isn't right for a fool to live in luxury or for a slave to rule in place of a king.
  11. It's wise to be patient and show what you are like by forgiving others.
  12. An angry king roars like a lion, but when a king is pleased, it's like dew on the crops.
  13. A foolish son brings disgrace to his father. A nagging wife goes on and on like the drip, drip, drip of the rain.
  14. You may inherit all you own from your parents, but a sensible wife is a gift from the LORD.
  15. If you are lazy and sleep your time away, you will starve.
  16. Obey the Lord's teachings and you will live-- disobey and you will die.
  17. Caring for the poor is lending to the LORD, and you will be well repaid.
  18. Correct your children before it's too late; if you don't punish them, you are destroying them.
  19. People with bad tempers are always in trouble, and they need help over and over again.
  20. Pay attention to advice and accept correction, so you can live sensibly.
  21. We may make a lot of plans, but the LORD will do what he has decided.
  22. What matters most is loyalty. It's better to be poor than to be a liar.
  23. Showing respect to the LORD brings true life-- if you do it, you can relax without fear of danger.
  24. Some people are too lazy to lift a hand to feed themselves.
  25. Stupid fools learn good sense by seeing others punished; a sensible person learns by being corrected.
  26. Children who bring disgrace rob their father and chase their mother away.
  27. If you stop learning, you will forget what you already know.
  28. A lying witness makes fun of the court system, and criminals think crime is really delicious.
  29. Every stupid fool is just waiting to be punished.

Misuse of the tongue and foolishness continues to be a theme in this chapter while including comments about the poor and wealthy and about the family along with a variety of "one liners," or single comments on a topic.

Concerning the tongue, Solomon says it is better to be poor and honest than to be deceitful or to be a perjurer. In other verses he mentions the drawbacks to being poor, so here he is saying it is better to suffer those drawbacks as a poor person than the outcome of being deceitful or a perjurer who mocks justice. Though Solomon doesn't go into the drawbacks of being deceitful, he is offering wise counsel for the good of those who will learn from it. In another verse he says that the one who acquires good sense loves himself. So in effect, he is saying here to love yourself and avoid being deceitful.

Throughout the book of Proverbs, in various ways, Solomon has contrasted foolishness with respect for the Lord. In the first chapter he said that respect for the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Here he says, in verse 3, that "A man's own foolishness leads him astray, yet his heart rages against the LORD." Foolishness and respect for the Lord are incompatible. Those who love and respect the Lord seek the high road. They desire understanding and wisdom so they can act in the best manner at all times. I believe this is another point on which it could be said that if one does this he "loves himself." On the other hand, the fool is not interested in instruction or understanding and will not learn when punished. In verse 25 Solomon speaks of striking a mocker. It is not the mocker who learns from this punishment, but the inexperienced. So rather than forgetting the punishment because the mocker will not likely learn from it, it is done for the benefit of those who can and will learn from it.

Solomon's comments about the family relate to disciplining children, having a sensible wife, having a nagging wife, and having a foolish child. What about comments about a sensible or an overbearing husband? Keep in mind Solomon writes this primarily for the benefit of his son. It is father to son. Although we might expect that he could at least instruct his son about being a good husband, he is instructing him to be a good person and to respect and appreciate a sensible wife. A sensible wife, he says, is from the Lord. The unspoken assumption is that the son should treat such a wife accordingly. She is a treasure. On the other hand, a nagging wife is like an endless drip. She is a constant irritation. Neither does he mention how this type of wife should be treated, but my assumption is that the advise is given for the benefit of avoiding even having such a wife.

Concerning discipline, he says in verse 18 to "discipline your son while there is hope." There comes a time when the course is set and discipline is no longer of value. But while the son's character can still be shaped, discipline him. It will be beneficial in the shaping of his character. But a comment on overdoing the discipline. He says, "don't be intent on killing him." Then a word, both to the son and to the father. Verse 13 says, "A foolish son is his father's ruin." To the son he is pointing out one of the results of being foolish. To the father he is pointing out one of the results of not disciplining his son.

Regarding the poor and the wealthy, he says that wealth attracts friends and poverty separates one from friends. I would want to place friends in quotation marks. Would true friends turn away from one simply because of his poverty? Or would those attracted to a person because of his wealth be true friends? Unfortunately, there is truth in these statements. We are prone to "suck up" to a person of wealth in hopes that we might benefit. But what benefit does a poor person offer us? Solomon gives us a benefit. He says that kindness to the poor "is a loan to the Lord, and He will give a reward to the lender." But shouldn't any benefit we gain from a friendship be a byproduct of that relationship rather than a motivation for it?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Reflections on Proverbs 18

    Proverbs 18 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. It's selfish and stupid to think only of yourself and to sneer at people who have sense.
  2. Fools have no desire to learn; they would much rather give their own opinion.
  3. Wrongdoing leads to shame and disgrace.
  4. Words of wisdom are a stream that flows from a deep fountain.
  5. It's wrong to favor the guilty and keep the innocent from getting justice.
  6. Foolish talk will get you into a lot of trouble.
  7. Saying foolish things is like setting a trap to destroy yourself.
  8. There's nothing so delicious as the taste of gossip! It melts in your mouth.
  9. Being lazy is no different from being a troublemaker.
  10. The LORD is a mighty tower where his people can run for safety--
  11. the rich think their money is a wall of protection.
  12. Pride leads to destruction; humility leads to honor.
  13. It's stupid and embarrassing to give an answer before you listen.
  14. Being cheerful helps when we are sick, but nothing helps when we give up.
  15. Everyone with good sense wants to learn.
  16. A gift will get you in to see anyone.
  17. You may think you have won your case in court, until your opponent speaks.
  18. Drawing straws is one way to settle a difficult case.
  19. Making up with a friend you have offended is harder than breaking through a city wall.
  20. Make your words good-- you will be glad you did.
  21. Words can bring death or life! Talk too much, and you will eat everything you say.
  22. A man's greatest treasure is his wife-- she is a gift from the LORD.
  23. The poor must beg for help, but the rich can give a harsh reply.
  24. Some friends don't help, but a true friend is closer than your own family.

Solomon continues to address topics of a similar nature to those of previous chapters while bringing to them new insights. One of these frequent topics is the tongue, which is prominent in this chapter. Is not Solomon's interest in addressing the tongue in his wisdom material because the tongue is the main instrument one has for wielding his influence, either for good or for bad? It is so powerful, Solomon says in this chapter, that it holds the power of life and death. Because of this power, we enjoy wielding the tongue for our purposes. But we often do so to our own detriment, for we can also trap ourselves with our tongue and bring strife and devastation upon ourselves. If so foolishly inclined, we will also fail to listen, giving answers before we fully know the situation. Nor are we interested in understanding - only in showing off our opinions. Thus, instead of displaying our wisdom, as we suppose we are doing, we reveal our ignorance and foolishness.

Is one interested in justice? Then he will hear both sides of the argument before making a judgment or forming his opinion. Neither will he pervert justice due the innocent in partiality to the guilty. We touched on this issue in the previous chapter. In our court systems it is not always possible to get to the truth for lack of evidence and reliable witnesses. So on which side of justice do we err? Is it in protecting the innocent or the guilty? Solomon cautions against overbalancing the scales toward perverting justice due the innocent in favor of the guilty. In my opinion, this is an error U.S. courts has been increasingly propagating over the last couple of decades. It has become increasingly difficult to rule against the guilty, even when guilt is obvious, due to the technicalities that have been established. Technicalities that have so overbalanced the system in partiality to the guilty that justice due the innocent is often withheld from them.

Concerning Conflict, Solomon says an effective tool for resolving them is the casting of lots. In his culture, the casting of lots was a method of determining God's will. It was understood that in asking for God's guidance and then casting the lots, God would direct the outcome according to His will. New Testament understanding of seeking God's guidance is more personal than this, with the presence of God's Spirit in us to give us understanding of His will. The point of Solomon's counsel here is the seeking of God's guidance in resolving conflict. The key to this approach is the submission of all parties to God's will and guidance. Without this willing submission, resolution of conflict is not easily obtained, thus leading so frequently to violence rather than resolution.

I will wrap up with the topic of Pride, leaving a number of topics uncovered. These uncovered topics are single statements which are actually worthy of our attention, even though I am choosing not to address them in my reflections. The topic of pride is closely attached to that of conflict. Great insight is not required to recognize that pride is nearly always a strong contributing factor to conflict. Both in bringing the conflict and in failure to resolve it. Solomon tells us in this chapter that pride leads to a man's downfall, but that humility leads to honor. It has often been a person's pride that has driven them to conflict, conflict, even, that leads to their death. All, supposedly, to protect their honor. But Solomon tells us that is backwards. It is through humility one gains honor. One's honor is lost through pride and conflict.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Reflections on Proverbs 17

    Proverbs 17 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. A dry crust of bread eaten in peace and quiet is better than a feast eaten where everyone argues.
  2. A hard-working slave will be placed in charge of a no-good child, and that slave will be given the same inheritance that each child receives.
  3. Silver and gold are tested by flames of fire; our thoughts are tested by the LORD.
  4. Troublemakers listen to troublemakers, and liars listen to liars.
  5. By insulting the poor, you insult your Creator. You will be punished if you make fun of someone in trouble.
  6. Grandparents are proud of their grandchildren, and children should be proud of their parents.
  7. It sounds strange for a fool to talk sensibly, but it's even worse for a ruler to tell lies.
  8. A bribe works miracles like a magic charm that brings good luck.
  9. You will keep your friends if you forgive them, but you will lose your friends if you keep talking about what they did wrong.
  10. A sensible person accepts correction, but you can't beat sense into a fool.
  11. Cruel people want to rebel, and so vicious attackers will be sent against them.
  12. A bear robbed of her cubs is far less dangerous than a stubborn fool.
  13. You will always have trouble if you are mean to those who are good to you.
  14. The start of an argument is like a water leak-- so stop it before real trouble breaks out.
  15. The LORD doesn't like those who defend the guilty or condemn the innocent.
  16. Why should fools have money for an education when they refuse to learn?
  17. A friend is always a friend, and relatives are born to share our troubles.
  18. It's stupid to guarantee someone else's loan.
  19. The wicked and the proud love trouble and keep begging to be hurt.
  20. Dishonesty does you no good, and telling lies will get you in trouble.
  21. It's never pleasant to be the parent of a fool and have nothing but pain.
  22. If you are cheerful, you feel good; if you are sad, you hurt all over.
  23. Crooks accept secret bribes to keep justice from being done.
  24. Anyone with wisdom knows what makes good sense, but fools can never make up their minds.
  25. Foolish children bring sorrow to their father and pain to their mother.
  26. It isn't fair to punish the innocent and those who do right.
  27. It makes a lot of sense to be a person of few words and to stay calm.
  28. Even fools seem smart when they are quiet.

Chapter to chapter, Solomon continues to touch on much the same topics while adding new perspectives to them and intermingling new topics. In this chapter Solomon addresses:
  • Our Speech - We are told that to remain silent is often wiser than speech. Even the fool might appear wise if he doesn't open his mouth. The problem is, it is the intelligent person who understands the need to restrain his words and keep a cool head while the fool is not inclined to do either. A fool and excessive speech is not a good combination, but one that often goes together. We are also told that lies and deceitful speech will lead to our ruin.
  • The Fool - While a fool may bring destruction to himself, he brings grief and bitterness to his parents. There is no joy, Solomon says, for the man who fathers a fool. I should note that Solomon gives no hint of responsibility to the parents for raising a fool. This comment comes from my own question as to the role discipline plays in raising a son who is a fool. I suspect it plays a significant role, but Solomon seems to place the responsibility on the son, and it is right that he should, if for no other reason than simply because a person must at some point take responsibility for their actions. Since Solomon is addressing his own son, however, it is natural that he would place responsibility on the son for acting foolishly because he has repeatedly emphasized the need for the son to seek wisdom and knowledge and tells him the pitfalls of being foolish. Particularly in his case, since he is providing the teaching, responsibility would rest with the son. Besides bringing grief and bitterness to his parents, what else is characteristic of the fool? It is hard to tell him anything. A rebuke for his actions has little affect. He may as well be given a hundred lashes. Furthermore, he is dangerous to be around. Solomon says, "Better for a man to meet a bear robbed of her cubs than a fool in his foolishness."
  • An Evil or Wicked Character - An evil or wicked person is constantly stirring up trouble. He listens to malicious talk and to a destructive tongue. Though it is not mentioned here, the wicked person is likely prone to pass on the malicious and destructive talk he listens to or to even stir up trouble based on it. This seems likely since the nature of the wicked person is to stir up trouble and Solomon points out that he seeks only rebellion and secretly takes bribes to subvert justice.
  • Conflict - Solomon say that "To start a conflict is to release a flood." A flood, when released, is hard to stop, and Solomon says the dispute should be stopped before it breaks out and becomes like a flood. He says it is better to choose peace than to have wealth and better to ignore an offense against one's self and to promote love. To offend others is to invite strife, and excessive boasting invites injury.
  • Justice - "Acquitting the guilty and condemning the just--both are detestable to the LORD." And, "It is certainly not good to fine an innocent person, or to beat a noble for his honesty." These are Solomon's comments on injustice at the governmental level. On a personal level, he says that if we return evil for good, evil will never depart from our house. On a personal level, injustice can nearly always be avoided, particularly if a person is not too obsessed with his own personal rights. But if we become excessively concerned for personal rights we will also promote injustice toward others. At a governmental level it becomes more difficult to avoid injustice, particularly in the courts. Gathering strong evidence related to a crime or having reliable witnesses is not always possible. When these are missing the execution of justice becomes extremely difficult. Both acquitting the guilty and condemning the just are detestable to the Lord. If we err, on which side is it best to err?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Reflections on Proverbs 16

    Proverbs 16 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. We humans make plans, but the LORD has the final word.
  2. We may think we know what is right, but the LORD is the judge of our motives.
  3. Share your plans with the LORD, and you will succeed.
  4. The LORD has a reason for everything he does, and he lets evil people live only to be punished.
  5. The LORD doesn't like anyone who is conceited-- you can be sure they will be punished.
  6. If we truly love God, our sins will be forgiven; if we show him respect, we will keep away from sin.
  7. When we please the LORD, even our enemies make friends with us.
  8. It's better to be honest and poor than to be dishonest and rich.
  9. We make our own plans, but the LORD decides where we will go.
  10. Rulers speak with authority and are never wrong.
  11. The LORD doesn't like it when we cheat in business.
  12. Justice makes rulers powerful. They should hate evil
  13. and like honesty and truth.
  14. An angry ruler can put you to death. So be wise! Don't make one angry.
  15. When a ruler is happy and pleased with you, it's like refreshing rain, and you will live.
  16. It's much better to be wise and sensible than to be rich.
  17. God's people avoid evil ways, and they protect themselves by watching where they go.
  18. Too much pride will destroy you.
  19. You are better off to be humble and poor than to get rich from what you take by force.
  20. If you know what you're doing, you will prosper. God blesses everyone who trusts him.
  21. Good judgment proves that you are wise, and if you speak kindly, you can teach others.
  22. Good sense is a fountain that gives life, but fools are punished by their foolishness.
  23. You can persuade others if you are wise and speak sensibly.
  24. Kind words are like honey-- they cheer you up and make you feel strong.
  25. Sometimes what seems right is really a road to death.
  26. The hungrier you are, the harder you work.
  27. Worthless people plan trouble. Even their words burn like a flaming fire.
  28. Gossip is no good! It causes hard feelings and comes between friends.
  29. Don't trust violent people. They will mislead you to do the wrong thing.
  30. When someone winks or grins behind your back, trouble is on the way.
  31. Gray hair is a glorious crown worn by those who have lived right.
  32. Controlling your temper is better than being a hero who captures a city.
  33. We make our own decisions, but the LORD alone determines what happens.

A shift in focus is noted with chapter 16. Whereas the advantages of wisdom have been the focus to this point, the advantages of a righteous lifestyle are emphasized in this chapter. Regarding the righteous lifestyle, four primary themes rise to the surface:
God determines the outcome of our plans - Verse 1 probably states it best, "We humans make plans, but the LORD has the final word." We take great pride in our strategies for success, but often forget that the outcome is determined by the Lord. He may allow our plans to take their natural course or He may intervene in some way, but in the end, His purpose will prevail. Whatever success our plans accomplish will be a result of either God allowing that success or aiding it. We are wise always to recognize this reality and therefore to "Commit your activities to the LORD" as verse 3 states. In so doing, "your plans will be achieved." A truth to be drawn from this, as I see it, is that it is better to be proactive in seeking the Lord's help with our plans and activities, than to be passive and hope He will help or to not think about His help at all. But we must keep in mind that it is His purpose and not ours that will prevail. Therefore, it is even better to let Him guide us in making the plans in the first place rather than to make our plans and hope He will bring them to success. If they are His plans aimed at accomplishing His purpose to begin with, we know success is assured.
Pride is dangerous - Solomon declares that pride will lead to destruction and to a fall. He also says it is detestable to the Lord and will not go unpunished. This leads me to believe that there is more to pride than being an irritating personality trait. Actually, it is not a personality trait at all but rather a behavior. One can choose to behave with pride and arrogance or to behave with humility. But if the choice is to behave with pride, it can become a dangerous behavior and is best avoided. How is it that pride can lead to destruction and a fall? It happens primarily because the proud person is unwilling to accept instruction or to seek counsel. Such persons believe they have the answers and don't need anyone's help. This sets them up to all. Another factor that contributes to one's fall and/or destruction is the harm pride does to relationships. Verse 5 tells us that the proud heart is detestable to the Lord. But the Lord is not the only one to whom pride is detestable. Most persons do not like being around a proud or egotistical person and will sever or even avoid such relationships. This leaves the proud person isolated from sound counsel or from any balance to their own thinking. As verse 19 says, "You are better off to be humble and poor than to get rich from what you take by force." A tendency of the proud is to take what is not theirs presuming themselves to be deserving of it and the owner not to be worthy.
Pleasing the Lord is to our advantage - Solomon gives several advantages to pleasing the Lord. He says, "The one who trusts the Lord will be happy." He also says in verse 7, "When a man's ways please the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him." The advantages to pleasing the Lord are two-fold. Besides having God working in our favor, we are also acting with more wisdom, which means our choices and behavior guide us toward more favorable outcomes. Some people view God as a "traffic cop" who is always watching for us to do something bad and give us a ticket. This is foolish thinking. God desires for our conduct to be righteous so that we avoid problems that come with foolish and wicked behavior. By pleasing God and seeking wisdom we do ourselves a favor and make for ourselves a better life. It may not be a life of wealth, but as Solomon says, "Better a little with righteousness than great income with injustice." Living righteously does not automatically eliminate wealth, but if we must choose, righteous living is the better choice.
Pleasant words are a honeycombe - Solomon has a great deal to say in this book about how we use our mouths. In verse 23 of this chapter, he says, "A wise heart instructs its mouth and increases learning with its speech." Some people pride themselves on "telling it like it is," or in "putting people in their place." Too often this is an attempt to put a good face on bad behavior. In contrast, Solomon says, "Pleasant words are a honeycomb: sweet to the taste and health to the body." We all know that pleasant words are much "sweeter to the taste" than harsh words, even if they are used to give a rebuke. But it is significant to note the rest of verse 24. Pleasant words are also health to the body. A constant diet of harsh words, rather than being health to the body, is like poison both to the one who speaks them and to those who receive them. We do harm to ourselves and others when we are inclined often to speaking harshly.
Unrighteous behavior causes all sorts of trouble - Several behaviors are lumped into this theme of "unrighteous behavior." Included in this theme are the violent man, the worthless man, the contrary man, and the wicked man. Thus, I have simply labeled it unrighteous behavior. Concerning the violent man, Solomon says he "lures his neighbor in a way that is not good." The worthless man "digs up evil." The contrary man "spreads conflict." And the wicked man's "behavior is detestable." One gets the impression from the description of these behaviors of a tornado beating a path of destruction wherever it goes. And so it is that our behavior cuts a swath as we go, whether it be a swath of destruction or a constructive swath. Some argue, "It's my life, I'll do with it as I wish." Such an argument assumes the person themselves will be the only one affected by their behavior. But our behavior, our lives, always affect other people. So we must choose what affect we want to have on those about us. Our choices are not just about ourselves. They always involve others.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Reflections on Proverbs 15

    Proverbs 15 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. A kind answer soothes angry feelings, but harsh words stir them up.
  2. Words of wisdom come from the wise, but fools speak foolishness.
  3. The LORD sees everything, whether good or bad.
  4. Kind words are good medicine, but deceitful words can really hurt.
  5. Don't be a fool and disobey your parents. Be smart! Accept correction.
  6. Good people become wealthy, but those who are evil will lose what they have.
  7. Words of wisdom make good sense; the thoughts of a fool make no sense at all.
  8. The LORD is disgusted by gifts from the wicked, but it makes him happy when his people pray.
  9. The LORD is disgusted with all who do wrong, but he loves everyone who does right.
  10. If you turn from the right way, you will be punished; if you refuse correction, you will die.
  11. If the LORD can see everything in the world of the dead, he can see in our hearts.
  12. Those who sneer at others don't like to be corrected, and they won't ask help from someone with sense.
  13. Happiness makes you smile; sorrow can crush you.
  14. Anyone with good sense is eager to learn more, but fools are hungry for foolishness.
  15. The poor have a hard life, but being content is as good as an endless feast.
  16. It's better to obey the LORD and have only a little, than to be very rich and terribly confused.
  17. A simple meal with love is better than a feast where there is hatred.
  18. Losing your temper causes a lot of trouble, but staying calm settles arguments.
  19. Being lazy is like walking in a thorn patch, but everyone who does right walks on a smooth road.
  20. Children with good sense make their parents happy, but foolish children are hateful to them.
  21. Stupidity brings happiness to senseless fools, but everyone with good sense follows the straight path.
  22. Without good advice everything goes wrong-- it takes careful planning for things to go right.
  23. Giving the right answer at the right time makes everyone happy.
  24. All who are wise follow a road that leads upward to life and away from death.
  25. The LORD destroys the homes of those who are proud, but he protects the property of widows.
  26. The LORD hates evil thoughts, but kind words please him.
  27. Being greedy causes trouble for your family, but you protect yourself by refusing bribes.
  28. Good people think before they answer, but the wicked speak evil without ever thinking.
  29. The LORD never even hears the prayers of the wicked, but he answers the prayers of all who obey him.
  30. A friendly smile makes you happy, and good news makes you feel strong.
  31. Healthy correction is good, and if you accept it, you will be wise.
  32. You hurt only yourself by rejecting instruction, but it makes good sense to accept it.
  33. Showing respect to the LORD will make you wise, and being humble will bring honor to you.

A lot of what Solomon has to say in this chapter, and for that matter throughout the book, is simple common sense. But as Voltaire said: "Common sense is not so common." It is usually a mistake to assume people know and understand what might seem to be plain and simple and just common sense. Here are what I see to be overarching themes in this chapter:

  • The Lord takes delight in the upright. There are a number of reasons why life is more enjoyable, more pleasant, and runs smoother when we include the Lord in our life and plans. One is that the Lord takes delight in those who do. This brings with it His blessings. And, as Solomon says in this chapter, "The Lord hears the prayer of the righteous." He also says "The Lord detests the way of the wicked," and, "The Lord destroys the house of the proud." Although we cannot expect life not to have it troubles, it will be a much more pleasant ride when we are in partnership with the Lord.

  • Pleasant words are pure. The tongue is a powerful tool for such a little part of our body. As James says in James 3:5, "So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites." And the tongue can ignite a huge fire. But it can also turn away anger, be a tree of life, and give instruction. We have the power with our tongues to make life miserable for ourselves and those around us, or to make life a pleasure - also for ourselves and those around us. But he is a fool who does not guard his tongue, speaking without thinking, speaking whatever comes to mind, and speaking without considering the other person.

  • A Cheerful heart has a continual feast. Contrary to what many think, we have a choice concerning our countenance. We can choose to be cheerful despite difficult circumstances, or we can choose to be downcast and sullen, even when everyone else around us is cheerful. And whichever choice we make will be contagious to the atmosphere around us. If we are cheerful we tend to bring joy to those around us and help them to be cheerful, and the opposite is also true. I can't understand why anyone would choose to be downcast and sullen. If it is intended to gain the sympathy of others, it is a misguided intent. It will only cause others not to want to be around them. We have the ability to choose our environment, whether it be pleasant or unpleasant.

  • Having abundance is empty by itself. To be wealthy or have abundance is a poor goal to have, though it might be a pleasant byproduct of other goals. Too often the end (the goal of wealth) justifies the means and the wealth is gained through less than honorable methods. To this, Solomon says, "The one who profits dishonestly troubles his household." In the end, there is no pleasure in the wealth. With wealth as the goal other benefits tend to be lost along the way as well. Such as relationships and the Lord. To both of these, Solomon says, "Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure with turmoil." and also, "Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred."

  • Ignoring Instruction is harmful to one's self. This is one of the most predominate themes throughout Proverbs. In this chapter Solomon gives four perspectives to this ignoring of instruction: He says such persons are fools, they despise themselves, they despise their mothers, and they will die. Pretty strong sentiments. But it is instruction I would not ignore without becoming a fool myself.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Reflections on Proverbs 14

    Proverbs 14 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. A woman's family is held together by her wisdom, but it can be destroyed by her foolishness.
  2. By living right, you show that you respect the LORD; by being deceitful, you show that you despise him.
  3. Proud fools are punished for their stupid talk, but sensible talk can save your life.
  4. Without the help of an ox there can be no crop, but with a strong ox a big crop is possible.
  5. An honest witness tells the truth; a dishonest witness tells nothing but lies.
  6. Make fun of wisdom, and you will never find it. But if you have understanding, knowledge comes easily.
  7. Stay away from fools, or you won't learn a thing.
  8. Wise people have enough sense to find their way, but stupid fools get lost.
  9. Fools don't care if they are wrong, but God is pleased when people do right.
  10. No one else can really know how sad or happy you are.
  11. The tent of a good person stands longer than the house of someone evil.
  12. You may think you are on the right road and still end up dead.
  13. Sorrow may hide behind laughter, and happiness may end in sorrow.
  14. You harvest what you plant, whether good or bad.
  15. Don't be stupid and believe all you hear; be smart and know where you are headed.
  16. Only a stupid fool is never cautious-- so be extra careful and stay out of trouble.
  17. Fools have quick tempers, and no one likes you if you can't be trusted.
  18. Stupidity leads to foolishness; be smart and learn.
  19. The wicked will come crawling to those who obey God.
  20. You have no friends if you are poor, but you have lots of friends if you are rich.
  21. It's wrong to hate others, but God blesses everyone who is kind to the poor.
  22. It's a mistake to make evil plans, but you will have loyal friends if you want to do right.
  23. Hard work is worthwhile, but empty talk will make you poor.
  24. Wisdom can make you rich, but foolishness leads to more foolishness.
  25. An honest witness can save your life, but liars can't be trusted.
  26. If you respect the LORD, you and your children have a strong fortress
  27. and a life-giving fountain that keeps you safe from deadly traps.
  28. Rulers of powerful nations are held in honor; rulers of weak nations are nothing at all.
  29. It's smart to be patient, but it's stupid to lose your temper.
  30. It's healthy to be content, but envy can eat you up.
  31. If you mistreat the poor, you insult your Creator; if you are kind to them, you show him respect.
  32. In times of trouble the wicked are destroyed, but even at death the innocent have faith.
  33. Wisdom is found in the minds of people with good sense, but fools don't know it.
  34. Doing right brings honor to a nation, but sin brings disgrace.
  35. Kings reward servants who act wisely, but they punish those who act foolishly.

If there is a central verse in chapter 14, I would consider it to be verse 8 with the statement, "The sensible man's wisdom is to consider his way." It seems that central to these "words to the wise" is to give consideration to what we do. Obviously the foolishness of fools are unconsidered acts. But what about verse 4, "Where there are no oxen, the feeding-trough is empty, but an abundant harvest comes through the strength of an ox." It is saying that if one wants an abundant harvest they need to consider the wisdom of investing in oxen. It is not enough to work hard for a good harvest. One needs to think about the best way - consider his way - for an abundant harvest. Socrates said that the unconsidered life is not worth living. This seems to be in line with what Solomon is saying. However, verse 12 gives us a caution, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death." It is not enough simply to consider our ways. We do not have enough wisdom within in us to understand the best path. We need to seek counsel as we consider our way. Certainly the counsel of others is good, but the counsel we need always to be seeking is that of the Lord.

If we will but consider our way, not relying only on our own understanding, we will avoid the errors to which Solomon cautions against.  In Proverbs 3:5 Solomon tells us to "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding" From this starting point, then, go ahead and read the rest of chapter 14 and consider your way accordingly.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Reflections on Proverbs 13

    Proverbs 13 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Children with good sense accept correction from their parents, but stubborn children ignore it completely.
  2. You will be well rewarded for saying something kind, but all some people think about is how to be cruel and mean.
  3. Keep what you know to yourself, and you will be safe; talk too much, and you are done for.
  4. No matter how much you want, laziness won't help a bit, but hard work will reward you with more than enough.
  5. A good person hates deceit, but those who are evil cause shame and disgrace.
  6. Live right, and you are safe! But sin will destroy you.
  7. Some who have nothing may pretend to be rich, and some who have everything may pretend to be poor.
  8. The rich may have to pay a ransom, but the poor don't have that problem.
  9. The lamp of a good person keeps on shining; the lamp of an evil person soon goes out.
  10. Too much pride causes trouble. Be sensible and take advice.
  11. Money wrongly gotten will disappear bit by bit; money earned little by little will grow and grow.
  12. Not getting what you want can make you feel sick, but a wish that comes true is a life-giving tree.
  13. If you reject God's teaching, you will pay the price; if you obey his commands, you will be rewarded.
  14. Sensible instruction is a life-giving fountain that helps you escape all deadly traps.
  15. Sound judgment is praised, but people without good sense are on the way to disaster.
  16. If you have good sense, you will act sensibly, but fools act like fools.
  17. Whoever delivers your message can make things better or worse for you.
  18. All who refuse correction will be poor and disgraced; all who accept correction will be praised.
  19. It's a good feeling to get what you want, but only a stupid fool hates to turn from evil.
  20. Wise friends make you wise, but you hurt yourself by going around with fools.
  21. You are in for trouble if you sin, but you will be rewarded if you live right.
  22. If you obey God, you will have something to leave your grandchildren. If you don't obey God, those who live right will get what you leave.
  23. Even when the land of the poor produces good crops, they get cheated out of what they grow.
  24. If you love your children, you will correct them; if you don't love them, you won't correct them.
  25. If you live right, you will have plenty to eat; if you don't live right, you will go away empty.

Solomon continues in this chapter to contrast the wise with the foolish, but he also provides some general good advice. His also continues to make his appeal that it is wise to accept instruction since this is how one gains wisdom. To despise instruction and not accept rebuke is not only foolish, it reveals a foolish heart that does not seek after what is best. If one wants to do well in life, desires to prosper (not especially to be rich), and wants to guard against ruin and disaster, here is Solomon's advice:
  • First of all, listen to advice and take it to heart
  • Secondly, guard your mouth. Learn to speak sparingly and to use the truth when you do speak. It is wise to know when to keep quiet and to not speaking rashly at all.
  • Choose your friends carefully. Walk with the wise and become wise or keep company with fools and become a fool. It determines the course of your life.
  • Be diligent. The good things in life are not acquired through laziness unless one stoops to fraud. But wealth gained through fraud will only dwindle. That which is gained through labor will be multiplied. These contrasting truths are a reflection, not on fate as much as on character. The character of the one who is willing to defraud people for his wealth has no proper value for things and will soon waste away whatever wealth he gains in this manner.
  • Value discipline. Self discipline causes one to accept rebuke, take instruction, labor for what he has, and to be diligent. The one who recognizes the wisdom of self discipline is the one who attains the so-called "good life." By so valuing discipline he also recognizes the wisdom of disciplining his children. Solomon states this truth rather strongly. Failing to discipline the son, using the rod if necessary, is to hate the son. What a blight on our society that we have lost our senses on this wisdom and become foolish. We have become so foolish on the topic that we cannot tell the difference between discipline and abuse. Therefore we have a generation of young people who have not been disciplined and who are not learning the ways of the wise.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Reflections on Proverbs 12

    Proverbs 12 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. To accept correction is wise, to reject it is stupid.
  2. The LORD likes everyone who lives right, but he punishes everyone who makes evil plans.
  3. Sin cannot offer security! But if you live right, you will be as secure as a tree with deep roots.
  4. A helpful wife is a jewel for her husband, but a shameless wife will make his bones rot.
  5. Good people have kind thoughts, but you should never trust the advice of someone evil.
  6. Bad advice is a deadly trap, but good advice is like a shield.
  7. Once the wicked are defeated, they are gone forever, but no one who obeys God will ever be thrown down.
  8. Good sense is worthy of praise, but stupidity is a curse.
  9. It's better to be ordinary and have only one servant than to think you are somebody and starve to death.
  10. Good people are kind to their animals, but a mean person is cruel.
  11. Hard working farmers have more than enough food; daydreamers are nothing more than stupid fools.
  12. An evil person tries to hide behind evil; good people are like trees with deep roots.
  13. We trap ourselves by telling lies, but we stay out of trouble by living right.
  14. We are rewarded or punished for what we say and do.
  15. Fools think they know what is best, but a sensible person listens to advice.
  16. Losing your temper is foolish; ignoring an insult is smart.
  17. An honest person tells the truth in court, but a dishonest person tells nothing but lies.
  18. Sharp words cut like a sword, but words of wisdom heal.
  19. Truth will last forever; lies are soon found out.
  20. An evil mind is deceitful, but gentle thoughts bring happiness.
  21. Good people never have trouble, but troublemakers have more than enough.
  22. The LORD hates every liar, but he is the friend of all who can be trusted.
  23. Be sensible and don't tell everything you know-- only fools spread foolishness everywhere.
  24. Work hard, and you will be a leader; be lazy, and you will end up a slave.
  25. Worry is a heavy burden, but a kind word always brings cheer.
  26. You are better off to do right, than to lose your way by doing wrong.
  27. Anyone too lazy to cook will starve, but a hard worker is a valuable treasure.
  28. Follow the road to life, and you won't be bothered by death.

Chapter 12 continues the 'potpourri' of short wisdoms we have already seen in the previous two chapters. But more than simply giving statements of wisdom, it contrasts the wise with the unwise as did chapter 11. Solomon hardly ever uses the term "the wise," though. He usually refers to the wise as the "righteous." This, I believe, is because the two cannot be separated. To act righteously is to act wisely and vice versa. On the other hand, the unwise are usually referred to as "the wicked" but sometimes also referred to as "the foolish." For the same reason righteousness and wisdom are used interchangeably, lack of wisdom and wickedness are also used interchangeably. I touched on this in the previous chapter. So let's look briefly at the characteristics of these two groups, the wise and the foolish, or the righteous and the wicked. I see 5 main characteristics that are contrasted between the two groups:

  • First, the wise are interested in what is good and upright. These are qualities that are directed at others. If spoken of only as regarding ourselves, they become selfish and actually disregard others. So being concerned for what is good and upright is a concern for others. In contrast, the wicked are always scheming trouble for others. At times, they even seem to take delight in causing trouble for others.

  • Second, the wise listen to counsel. They want to make wise choices that benefit both themselves and others. Their primary pursuit is doing what is right rather than the pursuit of pleasure. However, pleasure is a byproduct of doing what is right, a concept the wicked or foolish would never understand. The foolish, on the other hand, consider their own ways to be right and need no counsel or instruction. They disdain instruction which is an attitude that leads to their own destruction.

  • Third, the wise are not primarily concerned with their own rights. They are willing to be dishonored or to ignore an insult without flying into a rage and doing something foolish. After all, what is the wise thing? Is it to lose all rather than be dishonored, or to ignore an insult, consider the source, and remain intact? Obviously this is not the course of the foolish. They will fight to the death rather than be insulted.

  • A fourth characteristic relates to one's speech. It seems that a little more attention is given this subject than to the others. The wise speak truthfully and of what is good rather than speaking deceitfully and of what is evil or disrespectful, etc. They prefer to build up rather than to tear down. Deceit and lies and false witness against others is all part of the arsenal of the wicked who are always scheming trouble.

  • Finally, the two groups are contrasted regarding their productiveness. The wise are diligent and shrewd. They figure out what will be the most productive and set their hand to doing it. Obviously, this is not the case with the foolish or wicked. They are lazy and will figure a way to get by with the least effort. They can't survive by doing nothing, but they will survive on the least effort possible. If they can prosper, it will be at someone else's expense.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Reflections on Proverbs 11

    Proverbs 11 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. The LORD hates anyone who cheats, but he likes everyone who is honest.
  2. Too much pride can put you to shame. It's wiser to be humble.
  3. If you do the right thing, honesty will be your guide. But if you are crooked, you will be trapped by your own dishonesty.
  4. When God is angry, money won't help you. Obeying God is the only way to be saved from death.
  5. If you are truly good, you will do right; if you are wicked, you will be destroyed by your own sin.
  6. Honesty can keep you safe, but if you can't be trusted, you trap yourself.
  7. When the wicked die, their hopes die with them.
  8. Trouble goes right past the LORD's people and strikes the wicked.
  9. Dishonest people use gossip to destroy their neighbors; good people are protected by their own good sense.
  10. When honest people prosper and the wicked disappear, the whole city celebrates.
  11. When God blesses his people, their city prospers, but deceitful liars can destroy a city.
  12. It's stupid to say bad things about your neighbors. If you are sensible, you will keep quiet.
  13. A gossip tells everything, but a true friend will keep a secret.
  14. A city without wise leaders will end up in ruin; a city with many wise leaders will be kept safe.
  15. It's a dangerous thing to guarantee payment for someone's debts. Don't do it!
  16. A gracious woman will be respected, but a man must work hard to get rich.
  17. Kindness is rewarded-- but if you are cruel, you hurt yourself.
  18. Meanness gets you nowhere, but goodness is rewarded.
  19. Always do the right thing, and you will live; keep on doing wrong, and you will die.
  20. The LORD hates sneaky people, but he likes everyone who lives right.
  21. You can be sure of this: All crooks will be punished, but God's people won't.
  22. A beautiful woman who acts foolishly is like a gold ring on the snout of a pig.
  23. Good people want what is best, but troublemakers hope to stir up trouble.
  24. Sometimes you can become rich by being generous or poor by being greedy.
  25. Generosity will be rewarded: Give a cup of water, and you will receive a cup of water in return.
  26. Charge too much for grain, and you will be cursed; sell it at a fair price, and you will be praised.
  27. Try hard to do right, and you will win friends; go looking for trouble, and you will find it.
  28. Trust in your wealth, and you will be a failure, but God's people will prosper like healthy plants.
  29. Fools who cause trouble in the family won't inherit a thing. They will end up as slaves of someone with good sense.
  30. Live right, and you will eat from the life-giving tree. And if you act wisely, others will follow.
  31. If good people are rewarded here on this earth, all who are cruel and mean will surely be punished.

Chapter eleven is a listing of short wisdoms which serves also as a contrasting of the benefits of following wisdom versus not following wisdom. It is clear that wisdom is a choice that is available to everyone and is not something related to intelligence or some other attribute that some can have and others cannot. In Solomon's vernacular, wisdom is equivalent to righteousness and lack of wisdom is equivalent to wickedness. Thus, lack of wisdom and wickedness are used interchangeably to describe those who reject wisdom. Why would this be? Maybe it is related to the issue of choice.  Those who choose not to follow wisdom have wickedness in their hearts that causes them to choose this direction over that of wisdom. Therefore the two go together. Why would one choose not to follow wisdom? As I discussed in chapter 10, it is to have what they want at any expense, even at the disregard of justice and other virtues and at the harm of others. Such a pathway is a rejection of wisdom and leads to wickedness.

But look at the outcomes to rejecting wisdom to which Solomon points in this chapter. It causes one to fall and to be destroyed. It leads to nothing of benefit. It tears down rather than building up. It turns everyone against the person who lacks wisdom (the wicked). The desires of the wicked benefit no one and lead only to destruction. They will not go unpunished.

It is good to read this chapter and make note of its wise practices. Guard against legalism, though. The proverbs should not be made into laws that must be strictly observed with outcomes that are certain. Again, they are wise practices that may not always have observable outcomes, but when consistently practiced will build up one's life and benefit them and others rather than tearing down.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Reflections on Proverbs 10

    Proverbs 10 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Here are some proverbs of Solomon: Children with good sense make their parents happy, but foolish children make them sad.
  2. What you gain by doing evil won't help you at all, but being good can save you from death.
  3. If you obey the LORD, you won't go hungry; if you are wicked, God won't let you have what you want.
  4. Laziness leads to poverty; hard work makes you rich.
  5. At harvest season it's smart to work hard, but stupid to sleep.
  6. Everyone praises good people, but evil hides behind the words of the wicked.
  7. Good people are remembered long after they are gone, but the wicked are soon forgotten.
  8. If you have good sense, you will listen and obey; if all you do is talk, you will destroy yourself.
  9. You will be safe, if you always do right, but you will get caught, if you are dishonest.
  10. Deceit causes trouble, and foolish talk will bring you to ruin.
  11. The words of good people are a source of life, but evil hides behind the words of the wicked.
  12. Hatred stirs up trouble; love overlooks the wrongs that others do.
  13. If you have good sense, it will show when you speak. But if you are stupid, you will be beaten with a stick.
  14. If you have good sense, you will learn all you can, but foolish talk will soon destroy you.
  15. Great wealth can be a fortress, but poverty is no protection at all.
  16. If you live right, the reward is a good life; if you are evil, all you have is sin.
  17. Accept correction, and you will find life; reject correction, and you will miss the road.
  18. You can hide your hatred by telling lies, but you are a fool to spread lies.
  19. You will say the wrong thing if you talk too much-- so be sensible and watch what you say.
  20. The words of a good person are like pure silver, but the thoughts of an evil person are almost worthless.
  21. Many are helped by useful instruction, but fools are killed by their own stupidity.
  22. When the LORD blesses you with riches, you have nothing to regret.
  23. Fools enjoy doing wrong, but anyone with good sense enjoys acting wisely.
  24. What evil people dread most will happen to them, but good people will get what they want most.
  25. Those crooks will disappear when a storm strikes, but God will keep safe all who obey him.
  26. Having a lazy person on the job is like a mouth full of vinegar or smoke in your eyes.
  27. If you respect the LORD, you will live longer; if you keep doing wrong, your life will be cut short.
  28. If you obey the Lord, you will be happy, but there is no future for the wicked.
  29. The LORD protects everyone who lives right, but he destroys anyone who does wrong.
  30. Good people will stand firm, but the wicked will lose their land.
  31. Honest people speak sensibly, but deceitful liars will be silenced.
  32. If you obey the Lord, you will always know the right thing to say. But no one will trust you if you tell lies.

This chapter of Solomon's proverbs is a potpourri of short proverbs of which there are overarching truths. For instance, verse 7 touches on one of these overarching truths when it says, "The remembrance of the righteous is a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot." However it is said, or from whatever perspective is taken, the truth is that the wicked leave only disgrace in their wake while the righteous are remembered positively. I should pause at this point and describe or define the "wicked." Few people would see themselves as being wicked. However, I believe those described with this term in these proverbs would catch more people than might realize as being "caught" by the term. Wicked is defined as having a mental disregard for justice, righteousness, truth, honor, or virtue. Does this mean we must always have disregard for these things to be termed wicked? We must keep in mind that what we are is defined more by the heart than by deeds. Even the wicked can do "good" deeds. Having a disregard for justice and the other virtues mentioned does not necessarily mean one always does things that disregards them but more that one has little qualm about disregarding them if it serves their purpose.

This brings us to the core issue of the wicked. They are selfish. They want what they want and will disregard various virtues if necessary to have what they want. Usually this disregard for virtue harms other people. Though there may be some regret about harming others, the desire for having what they want is greater than the regret. Here is where Solomon's proverbs kick in. One of the overarching truths is touched on in verse 24. That is that in the end, the wicked don't really get what they desire. They get what they dread.  It is the righteous who get what they desire. Why? Because they desire what is good and what is not based in selfishness.

Everyone desires happiness, but not everyone understands how it is attained. Not everyone realizes that happiness is a byproduct that results from honorable pursuits. Those who give themselves over to the pursuit of happiness end up with a load of regrets and nothing much that could be called real happiness. This raises the question of whether "happiness" and "fun" are synonymous? Certainly not by biblical standards. For instance, Psalm 34:8 says, "Taste and see that the LORD is good. How happy is the man who takes refuge in Him!" This concept of happiness is stated over and over in scripture. It is not the idea most have of "fun." But I don't think happiness can be attained through the pursuit of fun. Nevertheless, many do just that. To them, fun is everything. If it is not fun it is not worth pursuing. This thinking must surely be motivated by the idea that fun is the means to happiness. No, the pursuit of fun to the disregard of other things of value is another example of wickedness that disregards justice, etc. No, it may not be a direct disregard, but does so by default. To fail to DO justice is equivalent to doing injustice. And a similar statement could be made about wickedness. To fail to do righteousness is by default to do wickedness.

Well, this line of thinking could go on and on. Hopefully the point is made. Going back to the overarching truth in verse 24, the righteous get what they desire. We can have what we want in life but if it requires a disregard for virtues such as justice, we have the wrong "want." Those things that can be had through righteousness are attainable and lasting and bring true happiness.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Reflections on Proverbs 9

    Proverbs 09 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Wisdom has built her house with its seven columns.
  2. She has prepared the meat and set out the wine. Her feast is ready.
  3. She has sent her servant women to announce her invitation from the highest hills:
  4. "Everyone who is ignorant or foolish is invited!
  5. All of you are welcome to my meat and wine.
  6. If you want to live, give up your foolishness and let understanding guide your steps."
  7. Correct a worthless bragger, and all you will get are insults and injuries.
  8. Any bragger you correct will only hate you. But if you correct someone who has common sense, you will be loved.
  9. If you have good sense, instruction will help you to have even better sense. And if you live right, education will help you to know even more.
  10. Respect and obey the LORD! This is the beginning of wisdom. To have understanding, you must know the Holy God.
  11. I am Wisdom. If you follow me, you will live a long time.
  12. Good sense is good for you, but if you brag, you hurt yourself.
  13. Stupidity is reckless, senseless, and foolish.
  14. She sits in front of her house and on the highest hills in the town.
  15. She shouts to everyone who passes by,
  16. "If you are stupid, come on inside!" And to every fool she says,
  17. "Stolen water tastes best, and the food you eat in secret tastes best of all."
  18. None who listen to Stupidity understand that her guests are as good as dead.

Wisdom and Folly are personified in this 9th chapter of Proverbs - both as women. The comparison of the two is similar to the comparison of a queen to a prostitute.

Wisdom builds a spacious house and then prepares a banquet for those who will come. She sends out her servants to extend the invitation throughout the city. This invitation is given to those who are inexperienced and who lack sense. They are invited to eat the bread and drink the wine of wisdom, thereby leaving behind inexperience and pursuing the way of understanding. In so doing, they will live.

Verses 7-12 seem to be a side note for those who would offer instruction. They are advised to be discerning with their counsel. Those who have counsel to offer may be prone to give instruction when it seems needed, but when dealing with a "mocker" or a "wicked" man, it is not wise to give counsel. From these verses we understand that a person's character can be perceived by how that person receives rebuke or admonishment. We are told that the mocker will defame the one who gives him rebuke, and the wicked man will assault him. In contrast, the one who is wise will learn from admonishment and become wiser. We live in an age in which popular thought believes the answer to many of our ills is education. "If people just know differently they will do differently," is the thought. Unfortunately this thinking is naive, assuming that people are basically good and will do good if they are better informed. But scripture tells us otherwise. It tells us that we are all born with a sin-nature. That is, our basic nature is to do wrong rather than right. It is not a matter of being better informed but of being transformed, and only God can transform us. That is why Solomon keeps reminding us, as he does in verse 10, that the beginning of wisdom is fear, or respect, of the Lord. We have no hope of becoming wise if we leave God out of the equation. Does all of this seem silly? Solomon would say that is a reflection of your own character.

Now we see what Folly has to offer, and right away it is obvious she has no spacious house or banquet to offer. She also extends an invitation to those who are inexperienced, but the invitation is not to dine at her table but to participate with her in illicit pleasures. She offers the lie of the foolish which says that to do what is forbidden offers more pleasure than to do what is not forbidden. For such people adrenaline is addictive. "The greater the risk, the greater the fun," is their philosophy. But it is a philosophy that leads to their own demise, as suggested in verse 18. This verse tells us that those who accept Folly's invitation don't know that there are departed spirits present.  That Folly's former guests are in the depths of the grave.

What do the two have to offer? Wisdom offers life. Folly offers death. Is this a hard choice to make?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Reflections on Proverbs 8

    Proverbs 08 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. With great understanding, Wisdom is calling out
  2. as she stands at the crossroads and on every hill.
  3. She stands by the city gate where everyone enters the city, and she shouts:
  4. "I am calling out to each one of you!
  5. Good sense and sound judgment can be yours.
  6. Listen, because what I say is worthwhile and right.
  7. I always speak the truth and refuse to tell a lie.
  8. Every word I speak is honest, not one is misleading or deceptive.
  9. "If you have understanding, you will see that my words are just what you need.
  10. Let instruction and knowledge mean more to you than silver or the finest gold.
  11. Wisdom is worth much more than precious jewels or anything else you desire."
  12. If you respect the LORD, you will hate evil. I hate pride and conceit and deceitful lies.
  13. By my power kings govern, and rulers make laws that are fair.
  14. Every honest leader rules with help from me.
  15. What you receive from me is more valuable than even the finest gold or the purest silver.
  16. I always do what is right,
  17. and I give great riches to everyone who loves me.
  18. From the beginning, I was with the LORD. I was there before he began
  19. to create the earth. At the very first, the LORD gave life to me.
  20. When I was born, there were no oceans or springs of water.
  21. My birth was before mountains were formed or hills were put in place.
  22. It happened long before God had made the earth or any of its fields or even the dust.
  23. I was there when the LORD put the heavens in place and stretched the sky over the surface of the sea.
  24. I was with him when he placed the clouds in the sky and created the springs that fill the ocean.
  25. I was there when he set boundaries for the sea to make it obey him, and when he laid foundations to support the earth.
  26. I was right beside the LORD, helping him plan and build. I made him happy each day, and I was happy at his side.
  27. I was pleased with his world and pleased with its people.
  28. Pay attention, my children! Follow my advice, and you will be happy.
  29. Listen carefully to my instructions, and you will be wise.
  30. Come to my home each day and listen to me. You will find happiness.
  31. By finding me, you find life, and the LORD will be pleased with you.
  32. But if you don't find me, you hurt only yourself, and if you hate me, you are in love with death.

In chapter 7 it was the adulteress who called out to the young man. It is wisdom that calls out the young man in this chapter. Wisdom is personified in these verses, crying out from everywhere to be heard. How is wisdom characterized? From verses 5-11 we learn that it is shrewd, it is comprised of common sense and of truth, and it includes no deception. To those who are perceptive and who discover knowledge, wisdom is recognized as being right. For such people, wisdom will be recognized as more valuable than silver, gold, or precious stones. There is nothing more desirable than wisdom.

Solomon has already told us in earlier chapters that the beginning of knowledge and wisdom is respect for God. Now he tells us that to respect God is to hate evil, and pride and perverse speech. There is no compatibility between respecting God and also respecting evil and the characteristics that go with it. They cannot coexist. We may feel we can dabble in certain activities that God might not approve of while not losing our respect for God. But this last statement says it all. We cannot go against what God approves without disrespecting Him. It is like disobeying our parents. We cannot do what they have told us not to do without showing more respect for the thing we want to do than for our parents. Furthermore, to show respect for evil activities and perverse speech is to expose our own ignorance. Wisdom contains good advice, competence, understanding, and strength. To reject it is to show our own inability to recognize good advice and our own lack of competence and understanding. To depend upon wisdom for our judgments is to join kings and rulers in our dependence on wisdom for making sound judgments.

Verses 22-31 can be somewhat confusing. Does Solomon continue to speak of wisdom or has he suddenly switched to another subject? Some believe these verses refer to Christ as the one who was made at the beginning of creation, as verse 22 says. That is not my understanding of these verses, though. I don't think Solomon has made a subtle switch here as to his subject, nor do I believe Christ was made at the beginning of creation. My understanding of scripture is that Christ and the Father are one, and that Christ coexisted with the Father before creation and was involved in creation, not a created being Himself. No, I think Solomon is still referring to wisdom at this point, telling us that wisdom isn't something new, but goes back to the beginning of creation. Because of her existence before creation and association with the Lord in creation, wisdom is credible and something we do well to acquire. This ancient existence of wisdom precludes man's involvement in the existence of wisdom. Man is not the source of wisdom. His can only acquire wisdom and pass it along. True wisdom comes from God. That is why the beginning point for wisdom is respect for God. James 1:5 tells us that if we lack wisdom, we should ask God, "who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him." God is our source of wisdom. Leave Him out of the equation and wisdom is not within our grasp regardless of our intelligence level. One who has high intelligence but lacks wisdom is sad to behold.

What is the benefit of acquiring wisdom? The one who finds wisdom finds life. In contrast, the one who rejects wisdom harms himself. We hear statements that this or that or something else is "really living." But Solomon tells us that "really living" requires the acquisition of wisdom.