Monthly Archives: February 2016

Proverbs 7 & 8

Just in case we didn’t get the message, chapter 7 is yet another devoted to warning against adultery. Interesting how they are all addressed to men, as if women would never want to stray from their marriage vows. This makes sense in a patriarchal ancient society, and of course men are naturally susceptible to lust. Jesus of course addressed men in Matthew 5 om warning against lusting in the heart. But I have a feeling this has less to do with such male weaknesses and more to do with the covenant and the man’s responsibility to his vows. Despite what these so called egalitarians I’ve been learning about (Christ basically destroyed all rolls between men and women) might argue, Scripture treats men and women very differently in terms of authority. They want us to believe these are all culturally determined and distorted as a result. So when Jesus said this in Galatians 3:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

I’m not sure that it follows that the essential differences between men and women that God built into creation are obliterated. Anyway, I suspect that the authority and thus responsibility for a marriage is on the man, and we he goes wayward it is tragic and destructive. And there must be some analogy to God’s covenant to his bride, the church. Marriage is serious business, and regardless how people act, most know it.

Chapter 8 reiterates the benefits of wisdom, but verses 22-31 are profoundly Trinitarian. Before there was creation, there was wisdom:

22 “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works,
    before his deeds of old;
23 I was formed long ages ago,
    at the very beginning, when the world came to be.

Then he goes on to describe when he was creating:

30     Then I was the craftsman at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
    rejoicing always in his presence,
31 rejoicing in his whole world
    and delighting in mankind.

And Paul tells us in Colossians 1 that By Christ, all things were created. What do we see when we look at creation? The wisdom of God in Christ. That is why nature communicates, why it is not silent. It speaks of the greatness of our creator God, and he allows us to partake of that same wisdom to live a life of flourishing and honor to him, not only here and now, but forever. Praise the Lord!

Proverbs 5 & 6

Chapter 5 is given completely to a warning against adultery, while 6 includes more such warnings against what the NIV calls folly. Why is it that adultery gets so much attention; it is even afforded one of the Ten Commandments, and a second says we should not even “covet” our neighbor’s wife. Just thinking about it is wrong. Paul said that marriage is in some sense analogous to Christ and the Church as his bride. Indeed he calls it a great mystery. I wonder if the warnings against adultery are more than just moral, but symbolic of something more profound.

Maybe it goes back to the covenant. The import of the relationship, and its inviolability, is in the promise the man makes to the woman, which is analogous to the promise Christ made to the Church, to his people. When God confirmed his covenant with Abram in Genesis 15, he walked in the form of a smoking pot through animals that had been cut in half, a sign in ancient agreements between kings that if the promises were not fulfilled, the lesser king would become like the animals. God himself, in effect, took both roles. It would all be up to him, to secure the promise for both parties.

Marriage is also ordained in creation, as we see in Genesis 2. Verse 24 starts with these words: “For this reason . . . ” Which reason is that? Woman came from man, thus when the man leaves his father and mother and is united with his wife, they again become what they originally were, one flesh. You can’t cut a man in half and still have a man. Jesus said what God has joined together, man cannot separate. So creation and redemption tell us that marriage is no trivial thing, and we violate the covenant at our own peril. Solomon says it will bring on to the brink of “utter ruin.” He says in chapter 6 the whoever does it, “destroys himself,” he will not “go unpunished.”  These chapters are an indication on how seriously God takes marriage. Any Christian that goes along with our secular culture’s view of it does great damage to God’s ordained foundation of civilization and a profound redemptive mystery.

 

Proverbs 4

Solomon is still selling wisdom. This time he make a father the source of it, the benefits are still as great, but you still gotta want it, bad. The focus on desire in these chapters is obviously critical, or Solomon wouldn’t keep mentioning it. He exhorts his sons to lay hold of his words with “all your heart,” to “get” wisdom, to “not forsake it,” to “Love her” and “listen.” Further he encourages his son to “pay attention,” to “listen closely,” to “not let them out of your site,” (his words) and “keep them within your heart.”

The analogy that best captures that attitude we must have toward wisdom and knowledge is hunger. We live in a modern economy where food is plentiful and few people have any idea what hunger really means. Try going without any food for a day and the definition of hunger will change. That is the kind of hunger we must have for wisdom, all the time. And what’s amazing is that God has provided it to us, made it available to us, if we would but seek it. And why would we not seek it, i.e. why would we not read and listen and read and listen and read and listen? In 1000 BC when these words were written most people would have no access to books, and couldn’t read. For most the way to attain wisdom was to listen to people in real time who were wiser than they were. In the modern world there is literally no limit to the resources at our disposal to gain knowledge and wisdom, and we’d better take advantage of them. No excuses.

Which brings us to the benefits, yet again, of wisdom. Solomon uses a common metaphor in Scripture for what wisdom provides, and the lack of it: light and darkness. I think most people, because the light/darkness comparison is so common miss the profundity of it. Solomon gets at the contrast splendidly:

18 The path of the righteous is like the morning sun,
    shining ever brighter till the full light of day.
19 But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
    they do not know what makes them stumble.

I wrote about this in the chapter of my book in the making on explanatory power:

Lewis’ metaphor of the sun for Christianity is perfect because the Christian worldview sheds light on literally everything. Light is a common biblical metaphor. Unfortunately, light is so common and easily produced in the modern world that we take for granted what a powerful function it plays in our lives. How about this for simplicity: light is profoundly powerful because it lets us see what is actually there. Yes we all have different perceptions of things, but when you turn the lights on chances are you will not run into the couch, or the table with the beautiful vase on it. Instead of sitting on nothing and falling on your behind, you can just go sit in the chair. Notice too that when the lights go on, all of a sudden you have depth perception; three-D is so much more impressive in reality than on a movie screen. When the lights go on, you can see color. All of a sudden, everything is defined!

So John’s claim (chapter 1 of his gospel) is that Jesus is not only God, but he is the one who allows us to see reality as it actually is. As we get to know Jesus and his word and his world, we will stop bumping into chairs and stubbing our toes. We’ll stop running into things we can’t see and trying to convince ourselves, and others, that there was really nothing there after all! Why do you think it is that  psychotherapists do such bang up business, especially among the rich and famous? (There are over half a million “mental health professionals” practicing in the US). They are confused! If you lived in spiritual darkness you would be confused too, running into walls and couches, wondering if this thing you’re feeling is the door to the garage or the bathroom. It would be so much easier if someone would just turn on the damned lights! God has, in Christ!

Solomon puts it simply and profoundly, that his words are, “life to those who find them.” And that above all else we must guard our heart, “for it is the wellspring of life.” This makes the anti-intellectualism of American evangelicalism of the last 150 years all the more tragic. If you read these first four chapters of Proverbs, that is the last thing you could ever be.

Proverbs 3

More of the benefits of wisdom, and downside of rejecting it. I memorized a couple of these verses a long time ago and never forgot them. Whether I understood them, that is another story:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

I think the contrast is the thing. You can either trust the Lord, or your own understanding. There is no in between. Why is the word trust used here. It’s such a familiar word that I think it’s easy to pass of the implications of its meaning. Here’s some dictionary definitions:

1. reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.
2. confident expectation of something; hope.
3. confidence in the certainty of future payment for property or goods received; credit: to sell merchandise on trust.
4. a person on whom or thing on which one relies:
God is my trust.
5. the condition of one to whom something has been entrusted.

6. the obligation or responsibility imposed on a person in whom confidence or authority is placed:

And what does all this imply? That the one in whom trust is placed is worthy of that trust, of that confidence. In other words, the character of that person or thing can be counted on. We are told throughout Scripture that God is trust-worthy. of whom Moses says:
his works are perfect,
    and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
    upright and just is he.
When things in life don’t go exactly the way we want them to or think they should, at exactly that point we tend to “rely on our own understanding.” Out of which flow all the negative emotions and thoughts associated with disappointment. That human understanding is antithetical to trust in God because it is fundamentally limited and centered on the self. It is a perspective of things that thinks it can define the their true meaning apart from God’s eternal plans in redemption. In other words if we see things outside of the history of redemption, outside of God’s purposes in that process, we will distort everything.
C.S. Lewis said somewhere in God in the Dock that if we see this life as ultimate, challenges and suffering are difficult to take, but if we see this life as preparation for eternity, and challenges and suffering as training, that is completely different. We know that somehow they have a larger purpose even if they make little sense to us now. We can trust God, and as we acknowledge him, in one way or another, nor or into eternity, he will make straight our paths. I think these words have very real temporal implications, as these first three chapters of Proverbs tell us. But as I wrote about that poor young women who has stage 4 cancer at 35, death is the great equalizer. Some things simply will not make sense to us until eternity. Paul talked about this “light and momentary troubles” which seen in the context of eternity are nothing. Compare 70 or 80 years to a trillion. It is the only way to get true perspective on the crap of life.
One more thing I’ll comment on in this chapter. Solomon speaks of creation:
19 By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations,
    by understanding he set the heavens in place;
20 by his knowledge the watery depths were divided,
    and the clouds let drop the dew.
Think about this. God’s wisdom was his creative pulse, the energy and power and intelligence that put this whole universe together. This wisdom we know is God’s word, Genesis, and the logos, Christ in the NT. This same wisdom that created the cell, the human genome, the laws of physics, the galaxies, and the firefly, is available to us! He is willing to give us that same creative power if we will but seek it. No wonder there are benefits to wisdom; it is bound up in the very ground of existence, the nature of things. The more I learn of Aristotle’s four causes, the more I understand “the good,” the end to which all things are created, their telos.
God’s wisdom, revealed to us in Scripture, creation and Christ, is the ultimate key to unlock life’s mysteries. To those who live in darkness, i.e. those without Christ, they stumble and bump into things and wonder why, why, why. There is enough light in creation so that life is not total disaster, but the poverty of such an existence is sad to behold. Even when these people think they have life wired, when health and wealth are taken for granted, and suffering kept at bay, they are living a pathetically limited existence because they are not living for the good, and the ground of their being, the Living God. And they will soon be dust, with judgment to come.

Proverbs 2

Not much gospel in this chapter, which is great because even though we’re not under the law, God’s moral law is still our guide to a flourishing life. The gospel is there because we can never fulfill it completely or perfectly. The title of the section given by the editors of the NIV is, “Moral Benefits of Wisdom.” And vice versa! There are real, tangible benefits in this world to gaining and living wisdom. You just gotta want it, bad. If we do, Solomon says, we will “understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” In a sense, and I just saw this and now it seems axiomatic, God and wisdom are the same thing! Of course they are. God is the ground of all existence. The very definitions of good and bad, right and wrong, holy and profane, love and hate, all of it, are bound up in his being and extend to the reality he created. As Solomon puts this:

For the Lord gives wisdom;
    from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He holds success in store for the upright,
    he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
for he guards the course of the just
    and protects the way of his faithful ones.

Then you will understand what is right and just
    and fair—every good path.
10 For wisdom will enter your heart,
    and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
11 Discretion will protect you,
    and understanding will guard you.

In another words, God and the wisdom the flows from his person is of the essence of reality as it is supposed to be, pre-Fall if you will. We benefit if we live as he commands. We tend to think of God’s law, or any law really, as restrictive, as if it’s meant to keep us from doing what we want to do. As if what we want to do is the definition of good. Although I dislike the idea I’ve read or heard over the years that the Bible is God’s “instruction manual,” we can live a truly flourishing life if God in it is our guide. Solomon makes the contrast harsh in the chapter, as if on the one hand there are those who are perfectly upright and blameless, and those who are totally wicked.

This is of course not how we experience reality, and Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares indicated. It’s not always easy to tell the difference between God’s people and the heathen. But the last two verses he, most likely unwittingly, introduces the Gospel into the chapter after all, if we have eyes to see it. He says:

21 For the upright will live in the land,
    and the blameless will remain in it;
22 but the wicked will be cut off from the land,
    and the unfaithful will be torn from it.

Here you have God’s elect, those in Christ, and everyone else. Since we know that no one can be blameless, those who live in the land can only be those in Christ. All through the OT, “the land” is a metaphor for heaven and God’s presence, his eternal rest from sin and death. It is interesting how the unfaithful must “be torn from it.” This implies they try to grab it, and grasp it, and earn it. And if we know our Bible, the wicked is everybody. All are by nature objects of God’s wrath. We can’t earn entrance into “the land.” As Paul says in Romans 3, the righteous of God, his very righteousness (kind of hard to comprehend this), This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” So while there are practical benefits in this life in God’s wisdom rightly applied, we enter “the land,” only through him.

Proverbs 1

Solomon starts the Proverbs with the reason he is writing them. That would be to gain wisdom so we can live a disciplined and prudent life. Part of that includes “doing what is right and just and fair.” Our growth in knowledge is always to be reflected in how we live, and how could it be otherwise. We are embodied creatures living among other embodied creatures in a moral universe. It’s kind of the way God set it up. But all wisdom and knowledge starts with our ultimate priority:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
    but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

My 1978 NIV says discipline, but it looks like others translate the word instruction. Either way, true wisdom and knowledge can only be had with an orientation toward God. And fear here is not that we should be afraid of God, but that we have the proper perspective of who he is, all powerful and holy, and who we are, his creation, fallen and utterly dependent on him for literally everything.

Then Solomon exhorts his readers to gain wisdom, and starts with something that might be surprising:

Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction
    and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
They are a garland to grace your head
    and a chain to adorn your neck.

God made the family fundamental to human existence and flourishing. In fact, in the Ten Commandments, the only one of those with a promise of blessing attached to it is the fifth (Exodus 20):

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

That is incredibly profound. You can bet Solomon knows this, and that is why he puts it the way he does. It doesn’t surprise us then, that that enemies of God for centuries in the modern world have denigrated and denounced the family as patriarchal oppression. Now they have in effect defined the family out of existence. But God has defined the family, and his definition is ingrained in reality. People can think what they want, but up can never become down, and inside can never become out.

Then Solomon warns those who would reject wisdom, that they will suffer the consequences, they will eat the (bitter) fruit of their ways. But those who love wisdom and listen to her, will “live in safety and be at ease without fear of harm.” Some Christians it seems think that life is a crapshoot, that there is no correlation between obedience and blessing. Or that if we say that, we’re falling into a prosperity gospel mentality. But it is very clear throughout Scripture, that we live in a cause and effect universe. Jesus himself says in the Beatitudes that we will be blessed if we do such and so. Although we can never take God’s blessings for granted, we can be grateful he’s given us his revelation that we might live a life that honors him, ourselves and others. Thus the Greatest Commandment, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

And a final thus. I think what God through Solomon is saying here is that the person who seeks wisdom and knowledge can have a certain equanimity in life, a calmness, composure, and tranquility. When the storms of life arise, big and small, profound and trivial, we can trust God, and conduct ourselves in a way, because of God’s revelation in nature, Scripture and Christ, that honors him and works blessing in our lives.

 

Psalm 146-150

Each of these psalms begins and ends with the phrase, “Praise the Lord.” Similar themes run throughout, except for 150, which is sheer exhortation for everything to praise him. One is God as Creator, which we read throughout the Psalms. God’s power and faithfulness, his creativity and wisdom, are all displayed in the heavens and the earth. Last time I read through the Bible, this focus of God as Creator in the OT sort of surprised me, although I don’t know why it would. In the ancient world the primary temptation was idolatry, following false Gods. In a way it’s the same today, only that these things simply take different forms. But the temptation vis-a-vis God as Creator, is materialism, to get seduced into thinking that the cosmos is a closed system of material cause and effect. We neuter God and make him a mere bystander. In Biblical terms, we become fools when we live like practical atheists. Sure we “believe” in God, but live as if “No, God” is our motto. We’ll call the shots, thank you very much.

The contrast here, and in the rest of the Psalms, could not be more different. We, God’s people, praise him continuously for his work as Creator. His creating wasn’t a one time thing; God spoke, it was, now he sits back and watches it all like a reality TV show. No, God is continually creating. He is the animating principal of all life. Every conception of every living thing, comes from his hand. Every seed that drops in the earth, sprouts because of his power. Every breath we take, he grants us. Every good thing, comes from his hand. And because of this, we can trust these wonderful verses in 147:

10 His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
    nor his delight in the legs of a man;
11 the Lord delights in those who fear him,
    who put their hope in his unfailing love.

We can trust our God because as 149 says, we are his people, he is our Maker, and God takes delight in us. This is often hard to accept because we are so aware of our sin, but as the Psalmist says:

he crowns the humble with victory.
Let his faithful people rejoice in this honor
    and sing for joy on their beds.

How much more true is this for we who live on this side of the resurrection, we who have eye witnesses of God’s salvation for us in Christ. We can rejoice! We can sing for joy!

And as the following verses indicate, this victory is eternal, it is forever, for we will judge the nations with the “praise of God” in our mouths, “and a double-edged sword” in our hands. As the writer to the Hebrews tells us, God’s word is a double-edged sword. In the last verse, it says “This is the glory of all his saints.” So, we who he has chosen, who have been purchased and redeemed by Christ’s blood, will rule forever with him. I have no idea what this means, but I suspect God makes no insignificant plans. Grand and magnificent, glorious and awe-inspiring events await us. Let us keep our gaze on eternity, where our true value lies, and not on this passing, futile, entropy-filled existence here. If we do, like the Psalmists says, we can continually Praise the Lord!