Thursday, July 27, 2017

Psalm 1:4 - The Great Contrast

In the first three verses of Psalm 1, we saw that the blessed person was characterized by delighting in and walking according to the Word of God. As we move into the fourth verse, we see a stark contrast. Emphatically, the psalmist states, “It is not so with the wicked.” The Septuagint (the LXX – the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) translates this as “Not so the ungodly, not so.” Just as the darkness makes us appreciate the light, so does wickedness make us appreciate righteousness. This picture of the wicked vivifies the metaphor in verse three.

The wicked are not so,

The wicked is the person who does not delight on the word of God. Spurgeon wrote that “we are hereby to understand that whatever good thing is said of the righteous is not true in the case of the ungodly.” All throughout the Old Testament, the wicked are the direct opposite of the righteous. The word ‘wickedness’ denotes evil thoughts, words, and deeds that are contrary to God’s character and hostile toward mankind.

Since wickedness is contrary to God’s nature, He takes a stand against it. David writes that “The wicked spies upon the righteous and seeks to kill him. The LORD will not leave him in his hand Or let him be condemned when he is judged” (Psa 37:32-33). But “[The LORD] will condemn a man who devises evil” (Prov 12:2). God takes a stand against the enemies of His servant: “Behold, the Lord GOD helps Me; Who is he who condemns Me? Behold, they will all wear out like a garment; The moth will eat them” (Isa 50:9). In the future Millennial Kingdom, God will defend His people: “‘No weapon that is formed against you will prosper; And every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn, This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, And their vindication is from Me,’ declares the LORD” (Isa 54:17).

But they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
While the righteous are like a thriving tree, the wicked are pictured as chaff. Chaff is the worthless husk that must be separated from grain. When wheat was harvested, the harvesters would crush the wheat with a threshing sledge. They would then throw in into the air in a breezy location. The wheat would fall the ground, but since it is lighter, the chaff would be blown away. This is a picturesque way of saying that the wicked have no value and will be removed.

That the chaff will be driven away by the wind “shows the vehement tempest of death, which sweeps away the soul of the ungodly,” writes Spurgeon. “Death shall hurry them with its terrible blast into the fire in which they shall be utterly condemned.” But the good news is that there is still time to repent. For the moment, chaff can still become grain. The wicked can become righteous. God sent His Son in order to redeem the wicked, and if any will but repent of sin and embrace Him as Lord, they will certainly be saved. We are all chaff when we enter this world. But through the grace of God, through the death of Jesus, we may become grain that will never see the fires of condemnation. Praise be to God who rescues sinners from the dark dominion of this world!

Sir Richard Baker wrote: “Here, by the way, we may let the wicked know they have a thanks to give they little think of; that they may thank the godly for all the good days they live upon the earth, seeing it is for their sakes and not for their own that they enjoy them. For as the chaff while it is united and keeps close to the wheat, enjoys some privileges for the wheat’s sake, and is laid up carefully in the barn; but as soon as it is divided, and parted from the wheat, it is cast out and scattered by the wind; so the wicked, whilst the godly are in company and live amongst them, partake for their sake of some blessedness promised to the godly; but if the godly forsake them or be taken from them, then either a deluge of water comes suddenly upon them, as it did upon the old world when Noah left it; or a deluge of fire, as it did upon Sodom, when Lot left it, and went out of the city.”

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Proverbs with a Purpose (Proverbs 1:2-6)

The Book of Proverbs begins with a list of benefits and purposes. While the form of a Proverb may be a bit fuzzy, they serve a very distinct role in life. I think that it is safe to say that without the study of proverbs, we are impoverished today. We learn many facts, but we are never tantalized with the riddles and paradoxes that are presented in proverbs.

To Know Wisdom and Instruction
The first purpose of learning Proverbs is “to know wisdom” (v. 2). This word ‘know’ in this instance has the connotation of ‘to gain knowledge of’ or ‘to become wise in.’ This sort of knowing comes through experience. The purpose of proverbs is not just for one to come to know wisdom, but to put to practical use the wisdom that is acquired. The term ‘wisdom’ could be defined as a ‘valuable skill.’ That is, it is a skill that produces something of value. It is used of seamen (Ps 107:27), weavers (Exod 35:26), administrators (1 Kings 3:28), or craftsmen (Exod 31:6). It can also be used to refer to the skill of godly living, which is valuable because of the lasting benefit produced in one’s life.

Along with wisdom, one also comes to know instruction. Since instruction and wisdom are parallel, the idea is moral training. The Septuagint (LXX – the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) translated this term as “child-training.” This sort of instruction consists of wisdom that is attained through observation of the consequences of actions that others do. It can also refer to the discipline one receives from God.

In summary, the first purpose of Proverbs is that we learn wisdom that results in skillful living. It should be the goal of every believer to live in a way that pleases God. Proverbs gives us the tools to produce such skillful living within ourselves. Through studying the Proverbs we will come to know wisdom and instruction.

To Discern the Sayings of Understanding
The Hebrew word for discern is closely related to the preposition ‘between’ and the noun ‘space between.’ So the verb ‘to discern’ means distinctions between things or to evaluate them. ‘Sayings of understanding’ could be woodenly translated as ‘words of discernment.’ To discern words of discernment (or wise sayings, sayings of understanding) is the ability to distinguish truth from falsehood.

This is a much needed ability in our generation where truth is thought to be relative. There is so much information available today, and we are in dire need of the ability to discern between truth and falsehood. The church desperately needs to know how to discern truth from error, because there is so much falsity that passes for truth. Discernment is indeed the great need of the hour.

To Receive Instruction in Wise Behavior, Righteousness,  Justice, and Equity
The third purpose of Proverbs is for the student to receive something that is worth having. The word ‘receive’ is used in a parallel construction with ‘store up’ in 2:1. The disciple is to receive instruction in wise behavior. This wise behavior is better known as prudence. Abigail is described as a prudent woman. That is, she was a woman of good sense and understanding while her husband, Nabal was described as a fool.

The student who receives instruction in prudent behavior will manifest this prudence in their life. Proverbs says this will be seen in righteous conduct. It will also be evidenced by justice, the ability to make a good decision. Lastly prudence will be shown by equity. Equity has the idea of being upright. It refers to activity that is proper and moral. It could be paraphrased as “the straight and narrow.”

To Give Prudence to the Naïve, To the Youth Knowledge and Discretion
From the perspective of the instructor, proverbs are to give prudence and discretion to the naïve youth. The noun translated as ‘prudence’ here means ‘craftiness’ or ‘cleverness.’ The naïve are to be given a shrewd plan of action. The term can be used negatively (Gen 3:1; Josh 9:4), but here it is used to speak of a morally prudent lifestyle. Pictured here is the wide-eyed youth who is easily enticed and deceived. We need proverbs to instruct us to “be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” because we are sent out “as sheep in the midst of wolves.” (Matt 10:16).

The Proverbs give a young person knowledge and discretion. The word translated ‘discretion’ means ‘a plan’ or ‘discretion’, and has in mind the ability to reach a goal in the best and most direct way. Together with knowledge, the youth benefits from the Proverbs by gaining the ability to plan his/her steps in a wise and skillful way in order to reach a favorable goal.

Instruction to the youth is a major focus in Proverbs (count the number of times he says ‘my son’). It is necessary to impart the knowledge and discretion that Proverbs provides to the next generation. As the world becomes more confusing and chaotic, these proverbs will provide an anchor for learning to live godly in an evil age. We must make the Proverbs a portion of our daily meditation so that we learn this wisdom in order to live skillfully in a dark world.

A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel
Like all of Scripture, the message is not just for one group. Solomon pauses to include those who are already wise and understanding. Literally, the text reads, “Let the wise hear and add instruction.” Where the simpleton and the youth were addressed before, those who are characterized by discernment are here addressed. Proverbs speaks to everyone. No one can say that they have nothing to learn from the Proverbs.

Even the wisest and the most discerning have more to add. The famous violinist, Jascha Heifetz, was known to say, “There is no top. There are always further heights to reach.” From a human perspective, that is true, for even if we lived as long as Methuselah, we could never learn all of the wisdom that there is. There is only One who possesses wisdom in its entirety. ‘Wise counsel’ comes from a word that originally meant ‘the direction of a ship by pulling ropes on the mast.’ In Job 37:12, God is described as guiding the clouds: “It changes direction, turning around by His guidance, That it may do whatever He commands it.” So it is with the wise and discerning. As they study the Proverbs, they acquire guidance for their life.

To understand a proverb and a figure, The words of the wise and their riddles
Here is the fifth and final purpose of the Proverbs. These are the benefits of the Proverbs from the perspective of the reader. The reader will gain the ability to discern the meaning of a proverb and a parable (the noun refers to a saying with a hidden meaning). The sayings of the wise and their obscure sayings (riddles) will become understandable.

Let us pace ourselves in our study of Proverbs and drink deeply of its wisdom! Let us glean all that we can. Make this book a part of your daily meditation. Do not read too quickly, but ponder over the words. Search out the meaning, and apply it prayerfully. Then you will see these five benefits in your life.

What is a Proverb?

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There is no definitive definition of a Proverb. The root idea of the word is “likeness.” A proverb gives a description of something by way of comparison. There are many ways that this can take place. We are most familiar with the short two-liners: (e.g. “A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, But a just weight is His delight.”) This teaches a practical truth in a pithy and thought provoking way. Yet we are also familiar with extended proverbs like the parables of Jesus. Parables also teach a core truth in a thought provoking way.

Proverbs employ poetry to establish their meaning. Hebrew poetry does not rely on meter or rhyme like some English poetry. Instead, two or more lines are stated in a way that the meaning is deepened by the relationship between the lines.

The first line may state a truth that is reinforced through synonymous language in the following line(s). This is called synonymous parallelism. For example: “My son, do not reject the discipline of the LORD Or loathe His reproof” (Prov 3:11).

The following line(s) may reinforce and deepen meaning of the first line by use of contrast. This is antithetical parallelism. For example: “He who keeps the commandment keeps his soul, But he who is careless of conduct will die” (Prov 19:16).

Sometimes the other line(s) of the proverb extend, develop, supplement, or complete the thought.  This is synthetic parallelism. For example: “The sluggard does not plow after the autumn, So he begs during the harvest and has nothing” (Prov 20:4).

Other times the following line(s) employ(s) symbolic language. This is emblematic parallelism. For example: “Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest Is a faithful messenger to those who send him, For he refreshes the soul of his masters” (Prov 25:13).

There are also different types of proverbs. There are discourse proverbs. These are found primarily Proverbs 1:8-9:18. There are short proverbs which are primarily found in 10:1-31:9. There is also an acrostic proverbial poem in 31:10-31.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Proverbs 1:1 - Wisdom for Us?

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The Proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel.

As we approach the book of Proverbs, we need to understand the nature of the book. The first thing that we must know is that this is a book of proverbs that were primarily written by King Solomon. Solomon was the son of David, and succeeded David to the throne (1 Kings 1:39). 1 Kings 4:32 tells us that he wrote and collected more than 3,000 proverbs. The Holy Spirit has not preserved all the proverbs that Solomon ever wrote, for there are only about 800 verses in the book of Proverbs. So these are selected proverbs. Chapters 1-24 are a collection of proverbs that was probably collected during the time of Solomon. Chapters 25-29 were collected and published under King Hezekiah. Chapters 30 and 31 contain proverbs written by Agur and Lemuel respectively, and may have been collected by Solomon. Some have even speculated that “Lemuel” is another name for Solomon. But in any case, Solomon played a prominent role in writing and collecting these proverbs.

Now, Solomon was a good king who walked after the LORD…for most of his life. God prospered Solomon and the kingdom of Israel. The LORD appeared to Solomon and asked him what He should give to him (1 Kings 3:5). Solomon replied, “You have shown great lovingkindness to Your servant David my father, according as he walked before You in truth and righteousness and uprightness of heart toward You; and You have reserved for him this great lovingkindness, that You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. Now, O LORD my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. Your servant is in the midst of Your people which You have chosen, a great people who are too many to be numbered or counted. So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” (1 Kings 3:6-9).

As a young man, Solomon knew that many challenges awaited him during his reign. He had seen the struggles that David had as he ruled the kingdom. So he does not ask God for money or for land or for victory over his enemies. He asked God for the wisdom to rule God’s chosen people. And God replied that He was pleased with this. He then said, “I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you” (1 Kings 3:12). God told him also, “If you walk in My ways, keeping My statutes and commandments, as your father David walked, then I will prolong your days” (1 Kings 3:14).

But Solomon did not always walk with the LORD. Solomon married many foreign women, totaling 700 wives and 300 concubines, “and his wives turned his heart away” (1 Kings 10:3). That is the reason that God commanded the kings of Israel not to marry foreign wives (Deut 17:17). “For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians and after Milcom the detestable idol of the Ammonites. Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not follow the LORD fully, as David his father had done” (1 Kings 11:4-6). Tragic. The wisest man. The wisest king. And he became a fool (in his own words in the Proverbs) and followed after other gods.

So can we still trust the Proverbs if they were written by a man whose heart was turned away from God? This is a fair question. It does seem that Solomon returned to the LORD toward the end of his life. We do not know how long Solomon was turned away from the LORD, but it was enough that God “was angry with Solomon because his heart was turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not observe what the LORD had commanded” (1 Kings 11:9-10). Yet we find in Ecclesiastes that Solomon looks back on his life and concludes that all is vanity (Ecc 1:1) and all that matters is to “fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Ecc 12:13-14).

I think we can be encouraged by Solomon. God used him to give us three wisdom books in the Bible. He greatly blessed him with vast wisdom. But yet even this wise man gave into temptation. And we do too. Maybe not to the degree that Solomon did. Maybe we are not punished as severely as God punished Solomon. But even that wise king was just a man who struggled to live in a wise way. As we study these Proverbs, it is important to not just assent to their truth. It is important to live them. Use them to guide your walk, and ask the Lord to strengthen you as you do. These proverbs, if used in a wise way, will help us to walk in a manner worthy of our Lord to please Him in all respects (cf. Col 1:9-14).