Monthly Archives: March 2016

Proverbs 21

The first and the last verses highlights that we do not serve a deist God:

The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord’s;
    he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.

30 There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan
    that can succeed against the Lord.

31 The horse is made ready for the day of battle,
    but victory rests with the Lord.

The first verse doesn’t mean, I think, that he does this always, only that he can. You think of all the horrible leaders of all the horrible nations over the millennia, and I would say God permits them to rule in their horrible ways. He doesn’t cause it. But when he wants to, a king will do exactly as God wants.

We might read the history of redemption into verse 30. Through the thousands of years of Israel’s history, no matter what happened, Jesus eventually said, “It is finished.” What he came to do, he accomplished. You think of all the people and events that had to be orchestrated over almost 2000 years and it’s staggering. God’s power and purposes will always prevail. And he will ultimately accomplish salvation for all of his people into eternity. That indeed is our hope. We gird up and prepare, do everything we can, but the victory is God’s alone to accomplish because it is eternal in scope. Our measly few years on this earth are only prologue to the main event: Forever!

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Proverbs 20

Again, too many disparate thoughts to comment on, but a couple stand out.

Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler;
    whoever is led astray by them is not wise.

The teetotaler would of course read this as a reason to abstain, as if God is saying here that alcohol is in and of itself a mocker and brawler. In other words, beer and wine by their nature will make you do bad things, which is of course absurd. Many people drink without it destroying them. The point is don’t be led astray by them, don’t allow the pleasure to drag you away to excess, or places you would not go otherwise. As in all things, self-control ought to reign, and Alcohol need not war against self-control unless there are other character related issues and a person in effect wants to be led astray. That is why it is unwise to drink for negative emotional reasons. People who drink ought only to drink because they enjoy it.

15 Gold there is, and rubies in abundance,
    but lips that speak knowledge are a rare jewel.

How often, like daily, do I wish I had more money and wealth. How often am I envious of others more well off, or annoyed that I have to always think about money or debt or bills. Yet it is obvious that God has given me a ravenous hunger for knowledge and wisdom, and it clearly has blessed others. And God is saying that is worth far more than material wealth. I ought to be more grateful.

Another one:

20 If someone curses their father or mother,
    their lamp will be snuffed out in pitch darkness.

Just another reason the Hebrew religion was unique in all the ancient world. This doesn’t sound at all patriarchal. The mother’s standing in the home had every bit the moral authority of the father. It doesn’t say, nor does the Fifth Commandment, that the father’s authority is greater than the mother. They both must be honored equally. Yet another reason to trust that the Bible is the revealed will of God and not human invention, or mom wouldn’t have even been mentioned.

Finally, another

24 A man’s steps are directed by the Lord.
    How then can anyone understand his own way?

Good question. We are in so many ways a mystery to ourselves. Why worry about it? Why try to dissect in detail everything we do? Why obsess over our inconsistencies, our hypocrisy, or failures? Surely it is not our success we try to understand, right? When things are going well we don’t much think about them at all. It’s easy to trust God when all is right with the world. In good, bad and in between, we must simply trust the Lord, trust that as David said in Psalm 48: 14, that “this” God, the God who will secure his people’s future, “this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.” Amen!

Proverbs 19

I’m noticing that a number of verses repeat themselves throughout Proverbs. Like those having to do with sluggards and laziness, or lying, or being a good son, or accepting instruction, or God’s providence, or all the warnings to the fool, etc. Like these:

A man’s own folly leads to their ruin,
    yet his heart rages against the Lord.

A false witness will not go unpunished,
    and whoever pours out lies will perish.

15 Laziness brings on deep sleep,
    and the shiftless man goes hungry.

17 Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord,
    and he will reward them for what they have done.

I love verse 17 because it was so counter-cultural to the ancient world. What’s so special about the poor? Why not treat them like dirt? First, of course, they are made in God’s image. But God also hates the proud, those who put their trust in riches, as if they didn’t need him to exist. I think that’s why Jesus says blessed are the poor. They understand their dependence more easily, unlike the wealthy.

20 Listen to advice and accept discipline,
    and at the end you will be counted among the wise.

21 Many are the plans in a man’s heart,
    but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

This verse is similar to those we found in chapter 16, and I love how this adds to those. History, all of it, is God’s purposes in action. God did not and has not left his redemptive plans in man’s hands. I don’t care what any of the anti-Calvinists’ say, God did not make salvation possible for people, he made it actual for his people. Jesus was given his name specifically because he was going to “save his people from their sins.” His people didn’t become his people because of their choice, but because of his! The Father, as Jesus prays in John 17, has given him these people. We are his gift to Jesus, and Jesus saved us. Period.

Proverbs 18

If there is any theme in this chapter it would be our words again:

2 A fool find no pleasure in understanding
    but delight in airing his own opinions.

The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters,
    but the fountain of wisdom is a rushing stream.

6 A fool’s lips bring him strife,
    and his mouths invites a beating.

A fool’s mouth is his undoing,
    and his lips are a snare to his soul.

The words of a gossip are like choice morsels;
    they go down to the inmost parts.

20 From the fruit of his mouth a man’s stomach is filled;
    with the harvest of their lips he is satisfied.

21 The tongue has the power of life and death,
    and those who love it will eat its fruit.

That’s quite a few verses out of 24. I think that last verse says it all. God grants life and any blessings associated with it, while the wages of sin is death and everything associated with it. We have both of these powers in our words. Kind of heavy when you think about it, and the responsibility that goes along with it is sobering. Obviously we ought to do everything in our power to make sure our words are on the side of life.

 

Proverbs 17

I have no idea of you can really pull themes out of chapters of Proverbs, but if several verse address a certain topic, maybe. In this it might be justice. Here are the verses that address it in some way:

15 Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—
    the Lord detests them both.

23 The wicked accept bribes in secret
    to pervert the course of justice.

26 If imposing a fine on the innocent is not good,
    surely to flog honest officials is not right.

Justice, of course, is a profound biblical concept. First of all it assumes an ultimate basis upon which justice can be measured. It points to an objective reality beyond our simple desires or decisions, a standard that exists outside of our subjective experience. You can only have justice if we really do live in a moral universe in which good and evil, right and wrong, are built into the nature of things. Otherwise all you have is the will to power, and then only might makes right. Those that have the power define right and wrong, what is just and what is not.

We find the biblical concept of justice in these verses, not the liberal perversion called “social justice.” The latter has come to mean doing good to the poor, and even some kind of egalitarianism, but justice has nothing to do with material conditions and everything to do with fair scales. And Solomon uses a strong word here for those who would pervert justice: detests. God’s nature is the very definition of justice; it exists because he does. That is why the wages of sin is death and it must be punished. God’s mercy holds back his judgment, or there would be no world or people in it, but justice must be done. Praise the Lord it was done in Christ for us. As Paul tells us in Romans 3, God is both just and the justifier of those who have faith in Christ.

Proverbs 16

So what stands out in this chapter. Of course, one could comment on every verse, but that would take forever, and I really don’t have that much time. There are several verses that address God’s providence. We can make our plans, but ultimately God calls the shots.

   To man belong the plans of the heart,
    but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue.

All a man’s ways seem pure to him,
    but motives are weighed by the Lord.

Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
    and your plans will succeed.

The Lord works out everything his own ends—
    even the wicked for a day of disaster.

Man’s plans and God’s. It is clear that only one has sovereign power, and that isn’t us. Verse 9 says it most pointedly:

In his heart a man plan his course,
    but the Lord establishes his steps.

And the final verse contrasts luck, if you will, with God’s sovereign purposes:

33 The lot is cast into the lap,
    but its every decision is from the Lord.

It is fascinating to me that many Christians when issues of God’s providence and sovereignty come up immediately are inclined to think they have to defend man’s free will. In their mind the concepts appear potentially mutually exclusive. If God is sovereign and you insist that he “controls” everyone and everything, then you’ve destroyed free will and made existence deterministic. Well, no you haven’t. Just because I cannot fathom in any way how God can control a human being and circumstances doesn’t mean he can’t.

This is just a handful of verses in one chapter of Proverbs, but the whole of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is full of God’s sovereign declarations that his purposes will be fulfilled. If God cannot “control” free people and still hold them morally accountable, then the Bible makes no sense. The problem is that we analogize God’s control to man’s. As soon as I “control” another person, he is no longer free. Human control requires by its very nature coercion and force. If God is infinite in every omni way imaginable, then his control is different than ours also in every way imaginable, even though we can’t imagine it. If God isn’t in “control” then why ever pray? What comfort would there be in believing we are somehow autonomous and God is up there hoping everything turns out okay? That’s frightening, and unbiblical.

And as far as freedom and moral accountability, every person knows intuitively they are free and morally accountable, that freedom is not an illusion. Somehow our freedom fits perfectly with God’s sovereign power and providence. He uses it perfectly in accordance with our nature to accomplish his purposes in our lives, and in the history of redemption. Thus we can trust him and rest assured that none of us can mess up his plans. That is a God worth worshiping and praising, all the day long, all our lives long. Amen.

Proverbs 15

There are several verses in this chapter that touch on the importance of attitude, which is all about our decisions not our circumstances. For instance:

13 A happy heart makes the face cheerful,
    but heartache crushes the spirit.

How exactly does one have a happy heart, especially in trying circumstances. The next verse gives us a hint:

14 The discerning heart seeks knowledge,
    but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.

What is a discerning heart? Here is a definition of the word: “the ability to see and understand people, things, or situations clearly and intelligently.” In other words dispassionately and accurately. And what is the beginning of knowledge? The fear of the Lord, of course. If we fear, i.e. revere, trust, live in awe of, the Lord, we won’t fear the circumstances or others. We won’t allow our imaginations  to catasrophize. And what is folly? It is what the fool thinks, says and does contrary to knowledge, i.e. wisdom. The next verse says it again, but in a different way:

15 All the days of the oppressed are wretched,
    but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.

What if we just don’t feel cheerful? Good question. But it raises another question. Why wouldn’t we be cheerful? Probably because how we envision the current situation or circumstances is just not what we want, damn it! I think that is possibly 95% of the reason why our attitude and feelings get gloomy. At those moments we simply do not believethat in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Paul says we know this. No guesswork here. And what is this purpose Paul speaks of? It is in the verses that precede this promise:

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

We live the present in the hope of the eschaton. Google translates this word simply as, “the final event in the divine plan; the end of the world.” We live in the already and the not yet. God has poured out his Spirit our hearts as a deposit “guaranteeing our inheritance,” as Paul says in Ephesians 1. As hard as it can be at times to realize this life doesn’t have ultimate meaning in and of itself, it is the truth. We are so time bound, we let temporal things and circumstances steal our joy. It’s not easy. But if what Paul says in Romans 8 is true, let us try to suffuse our imagination with that, instead of what we can only see. And God says “all,” so that means all the stupid and sinful stuff we do as well.

And I say 95% because there are times when living in a fallen world no matter how much we have confidence in God’s eternal plans is wearying. Even depressing. The pain, the suffering, the heartache, the longings and desires and plans never fulfilled. Nothing easy about it. Jesus cried at Lazarus’ tomb. There is something terribly wrong with this world, and Jesus came to set it all right. We, as Paul says again, “wait for it patiently.”

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