Archives For Proverbs

open_graveThere is a reminder that we all need to hear from time to time: lust is destructive. It will eat you alive. This is the kind of sin that begins attractively, that looks so appealing, that we’re tempted to call “innocent”—at least at first.

But it ensnares us. And it has done so throughout the centuries. This has always been a human problem, and it has always been deadly. In fact, the most vivid warning ever written against the destructive effects of lust was written thousands of years ago. This is nothing new.

I have no idea what you’re struggling with at the moment. Maybe you indulge lust “just a bit,” “only here and there.” Maybe you’re secretly into pornography. Maybe you’ve been taking second and third looks at attractive passersby. Maybe you indulge lust only in your thought life. Maybe you’ve actually been doing really well in your battle against lust. Regardless of your situation, you need this reminder. I encourage you to read these wise words, to step into the imagery, and to remember why lust is so harmful.

 

Excerpts from Proverbs 5–7 (quoted from the ESV)

“My son, be attentive to my wisdom;
incline your ear to my understanding,
that you may keep discretion,
and your lips may guard knowledge.
For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey,
and her speech is smoother than oil,
but in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
sharp as a two-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death;
her steps follow the path to Sheol;
she does not ponder the path of life;
her ways wander, and she does not know it.

“And now, O sons, listen to me,
and do not depart from the words of my mouth.
Keep your way far from her,
and do not go near the door of her house,
lest you give your honor to others
and your years to the merciless,
lest strangers take their fill of your strength,
and your labors go to the house of a foreigner,
and at the end of your life you groan,
when your flesh and body are consumed,
and you say, ‘How I hated discipline,
and my heart despised reproof!
I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
or incline my ear to my instructors.
I am at the brink of utter ruin
in the assembled congregation.’” (5:1–14)

“Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman
and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?
For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD,
and he ponders all his paths.
The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.
He dies for lack of discipline,
and because of his great folly he is led astray.” (5:20–23)

“My son, keep your father’s commandment,
and forsake not your mother’s teaching.
Bind them on your heart always;
tie them around your neck.
When you walk, they will lead you;
when you lie down, they will watch over you;
and when you awake, they will talk with you.
For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light,
and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life,
to preserve you from the evil woman,
from the smooth tongue of the adulteress.
Do not desire her beauty in your heart,
and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes;
for the price of a prostitute is only a loaf of bread,
but a married woman hunts down a precious life.
Can a man carry fire next to his chest
and his clothes not be burned?
Or can one walk on hot coals
and his feet not be scorched?
So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife;
none who touches her will go unpunished.” (6:20–29)

“He who commits adultery lacks sense;
he who does it destroys himself.
He will get wounds and dishonor,
and his disgrace will not be wiped away.” (6:32)

“My son, keep my words
and treasure up my commandments with you;
keep my commandments and live;
keep my teaching as the apple of your eye;
bind them on your fingers;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”
and call insight your intimate friend,
to keep you from the forbidden woman,
from the adulteress with her smooth words.
For at the window of my house
I have looked out through my lattice,
and I have seen among the simple,
I have perceived among the youths,
a young man lacking sense,
passing along the street near her corner,
taking the road to her house
in the twilight, in the evening,
at the time of night and darkness.” (7:1–9)

“With much seductive speech she persuades him;
with her smooth talk she compels him.
All at once he follows her,
as an ox goes to the slaughter,
or as a stag is caught fast
till an arrow pierces its liver;
as a bird rushes into a snare;
he does not know that it will cost him his life.
And now, O sons, listen to me,
and be attentive to the words of my mouth.
Let not your heart turn aside to her ways;
do not stray into her paths,
for many a victim has she laid low,
and all her slain are a mighty throng.
Her house is the way to Sheol,
going down to the chambers of death.” (7:21–27)

Wisdom LiteratureIn talking about “Wisdom Literature,” I’m referring to Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. These books focus less on giving us direct commands and instead give us wise sayings to live by. Wisdom Literature pushes us to reflect, and in doing so it forms our character.

Each of these four books plays a different role in the overall body of Wisdom Literature. Proverbs, for example, gives us the norm for biblical wisdom. These sayings hold true in general. Now, as soon as I say that, you might notice that I’m hedging a bit. The sayings are true in general. Consider, for example, the following two proverbs:

“Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes.” (Proverbs 26:4–5)

So which is it? The truth is, both are wise statements that we should allow to form our character. Taking a cue from verse 4, if we engage a fool in his argument, we’re just playing his game and showing ourselves to be fools. But when we consider verse 5, it’s also true that if we let a fool continue making his argument, his view will prevail and he won’t see the stupidity of it. Therefore we ought to engage the fool in argument so he (and everyone else) can see how foolish he is.

These proverbs set the norm. They tell us how life works, and how to live wisely. There are exceptions to many of these proverbs, but they give us the normal point of view on how the world works.

The other books of Wisdom Literature fill in this perspective. Job, for example, provides us with an exception to proverbial wisdom. Though Proverbs tells us that the righteous prosper (Prov. 3:33), Job gives us an example of a righteous man who does not prosper, precisely because he is a righteous man! Job’s friends use proverbial wisdom in “counseling” him, but they use it foolishly.

Ecclesiastes relays one man’s (“the Preacher”) pursuit of meaning in life. He lays his observations of life, considered apart from God’s presence (this is what the phrase “under the sun” is getting at), alongside traditional proverbial wisdom. He finds life perplexing and meaningless all along the way, until he finally reaches a godly conclusion.

Song of Solomon gives us a collection of love songs that simply delight in the goodness of marital love.

Together these books give us wisdom. Here are some tips for navigating this biblical genre:

 

1. Feel the imagery presented.

When you’re told that it’s better to live in the corner of a housetop than with a quarrelsome wife (Prov. 21:9), you should imagine both scenarios. What would it be like to live in the corner of a housetop? What would it be like to live with a quarrelsome wife (I sincerely hope you have to use your imagination)? Wisdom Literature makes use of vivid imagery for a reason.

 

2. Consider the wisdom offered and the benefits of being shaped by it.

Don’t move through the Wisdom Literature too quickly. Let the wisdom offered sink in. Appreciate it. See the depth of each statement. As you read through Proverbs 5, consider how profoundly wise the warning against the “forbidden woman” truly is. Imagine what your life would look life if your character was formed by these wise sayings. It’s one thing to scamper through a list of brilliant sayings. It’s another to weigh and ponder the depth of their wisdom, and to let that wisdom become a part of you.

 

3. With Proverbs, look for life direction rather than blank check promises.

As I said above, Proverbs offers us the norm. But there are exceptions. Consider, for example, Proverbs 10:3:

“The LORD does not let the righteous go hungry,
but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.”

This is a wise saying to live by. It should shape our character. And it’s often true to life. But do Christians experience crippling hunger? All the time, yes. Do the wicked receive what they “crave”? Very often.

As you read proverbs like this one, let the wisdom of the saying set the direction for your life. You should read this and be motivated to pursue righteousness. But you can’t hold this promise over God’s head like some kind of blank check promise. Paul was content to go without (Phil. 4:11–13). Christians do indeed die of starvation. God isn’t promising you unwavering material prosperity in exchange for good behavior. He spoke these words in the form of Wisdom Literature to shape your character, not to give you grounds for complaint.

 

4. With Ecclesiastes, walk with “the Preacher” on his journey.

As you read this enigmatic book, follow the “Preacher” as he searches for meaning in life. Experience his journey and resonate with his frequent observation that “all is vanity.” See the futility of life apart from God and feel the weight of the many exceptions he finds to proverbial wisdom (e.g. Eccl. 7:15). And then see the brilliance of his conclusion to this fascinating book (12:13–14).

 

5. With Job, accompany this righteous man in his unjust suffering.

As you read through this sad story, feel the bitterness of the unpredictability of life. Feel the foolishness of offering wisdom in a foolish way, as Job’s friends do for chapter upon chapter. Finally, come to the realizations that God offers to Job at the end of the book.

 

6. For Song of Solomon, delight in the romantic side of love.

As you read through this beautiful book, don’t try to spiritualize it, as Christian scholars have done for much of church history. Nothing in this book indicates that these songs are to be taken as allegories of Christ and the church. They give every indication of being love songs written between lovers. So read them that way. And appreciate the value and beauty of romantic love.

 

When Prayer Is an Abomination

Mark Beuving —  September 30, 2013 — 4 Comments

Don't PrayThroughout the Bible, prayer is a good thing. Obviously. Biblical characters pray in tight situations, they pray for one another, and the Bible frequently commands us to pray. Prayer is powerful and effective, we are told. Prayer is one of those things that Christians know they ought to do regularly, and it’s one of the first religious activities that the non-religious take to when they start feeling religious.

But believe it or not, the Bible has some negative things to say about prayer. In fact, prayer is even described as an abomination in Proverbs:

“If anyone turns away his ear from hearing the law,
even his prayer is an abomination.” (28:9)

That’s a crazy verse. An abomination is something that God hates. Detests. So if God so clearly wants us to pray, then how could our prayers be an abomination to the Lord?

The proverb is clear: if you stop listening to God’s law, then your prayers make him sick. I know. It’s pretty crazy. But put it in perspective.

Here you are, day after day, decision after decision, disregarding everything God tells you to do. He tells you to do these things not because he’s cruel and taxing, but because he knows how we function best in this world. He’s a loving father. So he tells you not to hate one another. And what do you do? You hate. He tells you to care for the disadvantaged. So you accumulate wealth. He tells you to seek righteousness, so you pursue pleasure.

And then the day comes that life gets too big for you to handle. Everything’s falling apart. So you ask God to bless you in your godless pursuits.

What does God say to this person? Even his prayer is an abomination. He doesn’t listen to God’s law, should God be giddy with excitement when he suddenly asks God to give him a bigger house?

Of course, the takeaway should not be that we stop praying, but rather that we start listening to God’s commands.

On top of that, we need to resist the urge to take this as an affirmation that we need to clean up our act before we can come to God. Because we can’t clean up our act. Coming to God is the only way to get cleaned up. As powerful as this proverbial warning against living a godless life while simultaneously invoking God’s blessing is, we can’t forget the truth of 1 John 1:9:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Proverbs warns us against habitual godlessness. This person is not a struggling saint trying desperately to obey but falling short. This person “turns away his ear from hearing the law.” He doesn’t care. He wants nothing to do with what the law says.

So if you find yourself identifying with this person—if you’re able to list a handful of commands that you’ve never made any effort to heed—then be careful about your prayers. At times like that, there are many prayers you could pray that God would absolutely abhor. But the prayer of 1 John 1:9 is always there, and that is a prayer that God always loves to hear.