Right v. Wrong… Consequences… Fools?.. Parents… Dreams
DAY ONE – Proverbs 9-12 Prose is my typical manner of writing, but today I propose to develop a list of words that unpack the meaning of the Proverbs of Solomon. His pithy sayings are basically antithetical–that is, the meaning of one word is amplified when set against the meaning of its opposite. For example, ‘righteous’ and ‘wicked’ appear again and again, until one might suppose there are only two kinds of persons in the world–the righteous… and the wicked. That is a gross oversimplification, but it is essentially true. If you keep Proverbs 4:23 in mind, “Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it flow the wellsprings of life,” then we know intuitively that ‘righteous’ and ‘wicked’ are describing the inner condition of a man, not just his behavior. So, resorting to the thesaurus, here is my list; and by the way, how do the words listed MAKE YOU FEEL? That is, what feelings attach to the words as you read them, and WHY?
Which words would you hope to use to describe yourself? Which would you not like to use to describe yourself? Interestingly most of us have an innate sense of the kind of person we wish to be… and the kind of persons we wish our children will be. But our broken world system reveals that something is fundamentally wrong, that whatever we are doing to promote the good is not always working. There is plenty of goodness in evidence, but the spotlight is more and more turning to the bad, the evil, that is among us; and some days we feel vulnerable, that it’s too close to home. So before we turn the page, let’s ask one more question… What do we think Jesus meant when He said, Luke 6:31, 36 “As you would like people to do to you, do exactly so to them. 36 “Therefore be merciful, even as your Father is also merciful. I can be responsible for only my actions, so let me live as if the world’s welfare depends on me.
DAY TWO – Proverbs 13-16
When my nephew was about two, he watched my daughter throw a tantrum or two. One day when he didn’t get his way, he threw himself on the floor, kicking and screaming. My sister-in-law found it extremely amusing, because he couldn’t quite pull it off. Something inside of him just wasn’t wired for tantrums! We are all OBSERVERS in life, but we are not all the same. King Solomon was given the ability to observe many kinds of human behavior and explain predictable outcomes. His proverbs are a kind of collected wisdom which can be used either as a primer for growing up or as a reminder to grownup people that life has consequences. We live in community, and the life of the community depends on the behaviors of its participants. If it’s a family, both parents and children can change the atmosphere and the fortunes of the family–good or bad. If it is a larger community, even one person can upset the normal flow of life. The point is, life has consequences… oh, did I already say that?
None of us ever knows all that goes on within another person, even if that person is our spouse or child. But God has seen it all. As Creator of all things, He has witnessed the best and worst of every one of us and still loves us. Since it is difficult to catalogue all of Solomon’s writings, we can OBSERVE that God gave the king the wisdom to forecast the eventual result of human behavior, positive and negative. That’s what these proverbs are about. In some ways they are common sense–common in that life has rules and boundaries we all must share; and sense in that some things make more sense than others. Becoming familiar with these proverbs arms us with a preventive mechanism which may help us and our community avert some outcomes none of us wants to see. By memorizing the Ten Commandments and learning some proverbs, at least our conscience is awake and active to help us do the right things. And the Lord knows we need all the help we can get!
DAY THREE – Proverbs 17-20
It seems harsh to say that somebody is a fool. Foolish, yes… but a fool? Where do we draw the line? When does a person go beyond foolish to be judged a fool?
1) When he refuses instruction. Every wise person learns the boundaries of behavior which allow all of us to live in an orderly society.
2) When he continually disrespects his parents and other authority figures. Longevity in any society requires order; but when order breaks down, fools are at their best!
3) When he can no longer be corrected–that is, when every corrective tool has been applied to no avail; the child, whether juvenile or grownup, continues his disrespectful and evil ways.
4) When he finally says in his heart, “There is no God.” Since “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” the person who has ceased utterly to believe in God has lost all sense of true personhood and has begun to take excessive charge of his own life without regard for others. An orderly society doesn’t have in place the mechanisms to deal with fools, for normal measures are not persuasive to a fool. He will continue his destructive ways–we call that folly–until they take him out. The problem is that he often takes innocent others with him.
When God is no longer the foundation stone of social awareness, then society begins unraveling until at last it implodes upon itself. We saw just that in the communist revolution of the twentieth century. At one point communism dominated a third of the world’s inhabitants; but because its social order was based on a man-centered worldview in which God didn’t exist or was not relevant, it lasted as a world power only about seventy years! The destructive tendencies of that order which brought it down, however, are still around and are at work–it’s called evil, wickedness. We do well to look to ourselves, to bring God back into the picture, to seek God-based wisdom and instruction; and to guard against allowing fools to take over the social order. These proverbs are good because they are wise. Wisdom is good because it leads to order and longevity. Order is good because it allows every person to flourish while we are growing and learning. God is good because He gave us order, wisdom, longevity and instruction. Will we figure this out again while we have time? If we don’t… then we are a nation of fools. Time to pray and get wisdom.
DAY FOUR – Proverbs 20-24
If we are parents, our job is never done. Growing old is supposed to be accompanied by a wisdom that attaches to age and experience, and our children and grandchildren will always need to follow in our light; assuming, of course, that we are a lighthouse! “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” So says the Wise King. It is a sad fact that Solomon himself, in his old age, was unable to hold the torch of wisdom aloft in his personal life. He had violated so many of his own proverbs that his heart was drawn away by his many pagan wives, whose spiritual influence watered down his devotion to Yahweh God–but not before he enriched the world with the gift of wisdom the Lord gave him. His example warns us to continue growing and learning the ways of God, never turning our back on the deceptions of the world system. As we come toward the end of the Proverbs, we are reminded that this is all a HEART ISSUE and cannot be processed with only our minds. Even if I memorize a thousand proverbs, I still need to humble myself every day and ASK God for His timely help. I need also to CULTIVATE a thankful heart and attitude of gratitude. The generations that follow us will always find a slippery slope in the world system, but they will eventually appreciate that we have become a foundation stone to which they can attach a lifeline to keep them from getting too far away from God.
Proverbs 24:30-34 I walked by the field of a lazy person, the vineyard of one with no common sense. 31 I saw that it was overgrown with nettles. It was covered with weeds, and its walls were broken down. 32 Then, as I looked and thought about it, I learned this lesson: 33 A little extra sleep, a little more slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— 34 then poverty will pounce on you like a bandit; scarcity will attack you like an armed robber. Have we, the older generation, become spiritually lazy? Have we pulled back into what is called ‘retirement’ to leave the world in the hands of those still needing that guiding light? If so, God’s people may discover that we are spiritually impoverished, that we no longer have the spiritual resources to express the kingdom of God to our children and their children. My plea today is that we elders will stay in the fray and pass our wisdom along; that our light will continue to shine brightly as a beacon in the stormy atmosphere of our present world. I pray that we will use our energy and the accumulated wisdom of our years to model God’s kingdom and to pray mightily for the ones coming behind us. If we are still breathing, God can still use us.
DAY FIVE – 1 Kings 5-6, 2 Chronicles 2-3
Dreams come alive. King David dreamed of building Yahweh God a house in Jerusalem, something befitting God’s majesty and royalty. The task however, went to his son Solomon, who excelled in wisdom and understanding. This massive project commandeered the forces of two nations and took seven years to build. When we consider its dimensions, the quarried stones, the imported cedar and cypress and the immense amount of gold overlay with precious stones set in various places, we are describing a true wonder of the world. Visiting Solomon’s temple would have been an “ooh” and “aah” experience! Would God live there? We know now that the Creator God of heavens and earth doesn’t live in temples made with human hands. But we also know now that this God of ours, Yahweh by name, did put His Presence in the house that Solomon built. When the place was dedicated with a plethora of sacrifices and offerings, God’s spirit filled the house. But back to our story. The sheer numbers of human beings set to the work is overwhelming. An aerial view of the project would have had you believing that a colony of ants were laboring below! Why so much fuss, such grand opulence, such breathtaking beauty should there be in Solomon’s house built for the Lord? Is it possible that, in our world of man-made skyscrapers, palaces and yes, beauty of all kinds, we have lost the sense of majesty and glory?
Most of our population used to live in small towns and rural landscapes; but now most of us live in cities and clusters that obscure the original creation. At one time we lived at a slower pace with time to contemplate life and watch it unfold. But now we are totally consumed by the urgency and the speed of everything happening around us, and we have less and less time to really contemplate anything. Explosions of technology keep us breathless as we endlessly check our smartphones and pray that we won’t miss a ‘hi’ or even a ‘wave’ from one of our friends or family. News from around the world informs but doesn’t educate us. Background ‘noise’ from competing views of life, politics, religion and even sexuality threaten to dismantle our sense of peace and order. Where are we headed? Is it possible to dream anymore? Is there time to carefully build a life, contemplate eternity, find answers to the great questions we have all pondered? Building the temple took Solomon seven years and utilized the labor of over one hundred fifty thousand men; and for what? God’s temple, God’s house–a resting place for Yahweh, the Most High and Almighty God. How much time and interest are we investing personally to create a place for the Lord to live today? Understanding that He lives within the human heart–our inner life–must necessarily engage us to dream of that beautiful house not made with hands but crafted in our spirit with all the consecration and devotion to God that we can imagine. Let’s slow down a minute and worship; contemplate and give thanks; pray and do life by offering Him the best of our self!