I’ve found this series helpful for me. Spending time thinking through a number of proverbs in some detail has helped reinforce my reading of the book as a whole. The result is hopefully that they may more ‘ready on [my] lips’ than before (Provs 22:18). But more than that, I hope they’re shaping my actions as well, that I may not only be reading and learning the path of wisdom, but walking in it as well.
I look forward to another chapter of my Fav Provs to come at some stage in the future (maybe later this year).
Next week I hope to start a series on settling into Cambodia. It should complement the facebook posts of our time so far, but go into more depth with some reflection.
Those who trust in themselves are fools,
but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe.
Although it’s hard to admit, there is actually a right distrust of ourselves. We want the opposite to be true. We want to be trustworthy in ourselves. We want it to be true, and, led astray in this wish, we’re bolstered by the messages around us. Our culture says, ‘Trust yourself’, ‘believe in yourself.’ Our culture says, ‘Look within,’ to find truth.
In reality, however, wisdom isn’t found within, but comes from without. The first line of the proverbs puts wisdom-found-within myth to rest. It poses another paradigm. Wisdom is external to us, not internal. The proverb flips ‘proverbial wisdom’ and says that ‘we need to be in wisdom’. That is, us-in-wisdom rather than wisdom-in-us. The result is that the way we receive wisdom is not by looking within, but by being ‘in’ it ourselves. As the proverb says, we ‘walk in wisdom’. In this sense wisdom is not internal (not in us) but we need to become internal to wisdom.
Wisdom can still become internal, but that doesn’t happen till we are internal to wisdom (walking in wisdom). Even then, wisdom still will remain external. We will always be dependent on God and others for wisdom, for walking in wisdom. The outcome of this way of wisdom is that the wise person knows they remain dependent on God and others for wisdom, even while seeming to possess an ‘internal’ wisdom themselves.
A faithful person will be richly blessed,
but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.
Two surprises arise from this proverb. The first is that blessing comes not from seeking blessing (as the one eager to get rich). Blessing comes to the one who is faithful. In this sense blessings are indirect. The problem, then, is not riches per se, but the eagerness to get rich. We can enjoy blessing, but eagerness for riches pushes us past proper conduct into punishment. I think the proverb is underlining that the one who is eager to get rich pushes past others, pushes others down or forgets about others. They end up hurting others in the pursuit of riches. In contrast, the one who is faithful (I take faithful as thankful the blessings God has given them) already as “the other” in mind, since thankfulness is the implicit recognition of a gift from someone else. The take home is that blessings are side affects and shouldn’t be the goal.
The second surprise is that those eager to get rich don’t just end up poor, as you’d expect. Instead they’re punished.
On a slight tangent/rant…
I wonder if this proverb also speaks to the faithfulness/fruitfulness debate. The usual answer to this dilemma, made by those who are aiming at fruitfulness, is that it doesn’t need to be one or the other, but both. However, those on the faithfulness camp would argue that faithfulness is more important that fruitfulness.
This proverb might say something to both, affirming the priority of faithfulness, but also the importance of fruitfulness. It could do this by affirming that its fruitfulness through faithfulness.
In the end, I can’t help but wondering whether both sides (me included) should heed the warning of Proverbs 14:12 – “there is a way that appears right, but in the end it leads to death.” To me, I see this as a caution about siding with one particular approach as “the right” way.
Like a roaring lion or a charging bear
is a wicked ruler over a helpless people.
Scary isn’t it. A wicked ruler is like a charging bear. One of things about proverbs is that while this proverb is directed at rulers, its general enough to be applied much more broadly. You don’t have to be a ruler to be able to gain wisdom from this proverb. One easy application is as a parent or as a boss or leader of some sort.
The mention of ‘helpless’ ones turns me straight to my kids; not that they’ll be helpless forever. But in these early years, my anger has the same effect that this charging bear would. Now I don’t see my self as a wicked ruler. Yet, because of sin, I inhabit some of the traits of a wicked ruler. Thus, while parts to my anger that are probably right, not all of it is. There’s always some frustration and impatience mixed in as well – hence wicked ruler-esque.
This proverb has similar themes to Proverbs 28:3. In a previous post I majored on more subtle forms of wicked leadership. In this post, I have in mind a more obvious kind. The kind of ruling (hear parenting or some other form of ruling i.e., being the boss) that instils a more localised fear. This type of ruling instils fear not from a wearing down from high expectations year after year, but from a sudden and often unexpected outburst. Just like a charging bear is often unexpected and localised. This proverb gives us a glimpse into the effect of our own actions, particularly that of anger, for me. It should help us realise our sin and to make amends before God and before those who we charge at. I want to be able to say, ‘Bye-bye beary’.
Those who work their land will have abundant food,
but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty.
This has been one of my favourites for a number of years now. I like it because it points me back to doing the important regular things. Land work takes daily care, again and again, and the pay off is often delayed. Its this delay that leads me to chase the fantasy of the short cut or the golden bullet. Often, partly because of my high expectations, I end up in long searches or spending too much time chasing things that aren’t going to happen. This proverb reminds me to do the basics, that of working the land that is before me instead of as the writer of Ecclesiastes puts it ‘chasing the wind.’ In a similar vein to my high expectations, when we’re chasing fantasies we’re not dealing with reality. Working the ground before us is the reality in all its messiness–ordering the disorderly.
Often the working of our land means doing the things we should–the responsibilities that have been placed before us; our vocation. They are often less glamorous. But like discipline, working the land means reaping the benefits in due time: abundant food. Food here is as the symbol of receiving the benefit of our labour. We may not receive food for working the land, it might be proficiency or results of a less material nature. So what do you want to be filled with? Abundant food or poverty.
Blessed is the one who always trembles before God,
but whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble.
Many times in the Bible, people are described as hardening their hearts. In one way this is a vivid image that is easy to grasp. A hard heart is no longer soft, no longer soft to those who call to it-either the Lord’s call or the call of those in need. What does a hard heart look like in our life? This proverb fills out this picture slightly more.
To harden your heart, according to this proverb, is to stop trembling before God. In other words, the right response to God from our heart includes trembling. The opposite is also true, a lack of trembling leads to a hard heart.
We often think of a soft heart in terms of compassion and caring. But this proverbs adds another description of how our hearts need to be. Part of a soft heart includes an aspect of trembling, of fear, of being in the presence of greatness, or being in the presence of goodness (when we are not). The obvious application is that trembling before God keeps our hearts soft.
A previous post linked head and heart. But from this post and the last post we should also link heart and knees. On our knees we tremble before God as a medicine against a hard heart. But also, on our knees we confess and find mercy (Prov 28:13). Instead of wearing our heart on our sleeves, maybe we should wear our heart on our knees.
Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper,
but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.
This is not a proverb about letting our our inner-Vader.
Our impulse in life is the opposite of this proverb. We’re often (and I say often as in constantly) tempted to think that by concealing our faults and wrongs, we’ll prosper. Underlying this is the assumption that if we reveal we’ll need to pay the price of our wrongs. In other words, we think confess pay, conceal prosper.
But the reality is opposite. As this proverb in God’s Word shows us it’s not confess-pay, conceal-prosper, but confess-prosper, conceal-pay. Prosperity, in the form of mercy, follows confession.
A few quick thoughts that follow:
- The assumption of this proverb is that everyone sins. None is exempt.
- Notice its not just confess, but confess and renounce. We’re not to just say words, but to renounce (give up on, turn away from our wrongs). There are such things as cheap confessions. Confession when it is true involves renouncing – it’s not just saying the words, but meaning it in our heart.
- Prosperity comes in the form of mercy. Mercy is not just to be let off the hook, given a second chance. Mercy is given a much higher value than we might ordinarily give it. Mercy as we see in this proverb is a form of God’s blessing, its the way he does good to those who turn to him.
Evildoers do not understand what is right,
but those who seek the Lord understand it fully.
Which came first, the head or the heart? Or which has more say, head or heart? You might ‘think’ or ‘feel’ yourself to go with your head or heart more. The reality is that none of us use our head or heart alone. We use both. There are no pure facts. What we know is based on what we love. In other words, our understanding is linked to what we love, what we seek. What happens in life is that what we love will determine what we understand. It’s not enough to just know the right thing/way on its own – the bare facts as you might say. Understanding relates to what we love, what we seek.
If understanding comes from what we love, then the path to understanding is an indirect pathway. It’s not that we seek understanding and find it. Instead, we seek God and get, or get given, understanding. Understanding comes as a result or as a gift as we seek the God who does the know the right fully.
The implication that I take away from this proverb is that my understanding is dependent on God’s Word for direction. But I don’t go to God’s Word looking for understanding, on its own. I need to go to God’s Word in search of him and in that seeking him, I’ll receive understanding from him.
A ruler who oppresses the poor
is like a driving rain that leaves no crops.
High expectations. Our society has them. I definitely have them, just ask my wife.
What is the result of our high expectations – oppression. High expectations are oppressive as we expect more out of people than they are able to give. The result of our high expectations is that we become slave drivers; like a driving rain on a crop. We deprive the poor, or those under us. I’m guilty of high expecations in my family and in my work.
This proverb speaks to all of us, since oppression isn’t just in the obvious forms of oppression that we might see in the actions of a dictator, or totalitarian regimes. Seeds of oppression are in all our actions, no matter how big or small. In all of our interactions in some way we are–to take the image further–all are robbing others of their fruitfulness or cropfulness.
The antidote then, and even business sense has seen this, is to make those around us great. Rather than rob, we give. This doesn’t just mean gifts or handouts, but having the right expectations of those under us. Giving them the space they need, giving them the resources or support to complete tasks we give them. The result of good expectations is that those under us thrive, rather than being left cropless. Right (or better) expectations are good for those around us. But better expectations are good for us as well, lowering anxiety and worry and and freeing us from the overworking tendencies of those high expectations to just working with what you have. The result is that right expectations are good for those under us and good for us as well; oppression not only robs the oppressed, but also the oppressor.
We won’t remove all oppression in this life, but we can work towards reducing it. We need to recognise the oppression in all our actions and repent, constantly. Then the God who is kind to us in Jesus will, by his Spirit, help us to drive away oppression, instead of driving away others. When I am kind and look out for others I enable them to bear the fruit that my oppression would have just stripped away.
The wicked flee though no one pursues
but the righteous are as bold as a lion.
The picture of the wicked drew me to this proverb; a guy running away even though nobody pursues. Fear of what? Nothing. Nobody’s chasing you. It is this fear that pervades our society (in different ways) and Christians are not exempt. Thus this proverb for me is an encouragement to interrogate my fears as there will be some aspects of that fear that are right and some where I’m running away from nothing.
In light of that fear, confidence or bold-ness sets that fear in sharp relief. This is not presumption or arrogance, but trust and assurance. For those whose trust in Jesus, there is NOW no condemnation. That must issue out into our lives. How we move from fear of nothing to confident trust is a work of the Spirit, making us more like Christ. Jesus didn’t run away from nothing, but with boldness set his face towards Jerusalem, towards the cross.
This work of the one Spirit, in all who trust in Jesus, will be highly individual – slower for some, quicker for others, more full-er for others. There is no recipe for us to follow except, as Psalm 1 says, a constant murmuring on God’s Word amongst his people.