Proverbs 18

Remember Psalm 109, the cry of the poet wounded by hurtful things said about him – things that weren’t true?
The Proverbs continually remind us that every time we open our mouths to speak, a message is being conveyed about who we really are. In fact, speech is such a revealing thing that it’s not just the content of what we say that betrays our character, but the fact that we say anything at all! So Solomon writes that “the words of a man’s mouth are deep waters” – danger lurks there (18:4). The wise man “holds his tongue” (10:19; 11:12) and guards his life (13:3).
Your words can “pierce like a sword” or they can bring healing (12:18). Even a gentle tongue can break a bone (20:18).
Righteous people think before they speak, but fools are quick to respond (often before the question is finished – 18:13), their words are many – and destructive (15:28).
A person who talks all the time will eventually tell something he shouldn’t (20:19), and that person is to be avoided.
In the New Testament, James will write that the tongue is a “world of evil among the parts of the body.” It is such an undisciplined body part that “if anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check” (James 3:6,2).
This business of what we say, when we say it, how often and for how long is such an important matter that it is addressed in some way in every chapter of the proverbs except for three (chapters 3, 9, 29). As you read the proverbs, take note of these warnings, reflect on them regarding your own life. Your willingness to do it, and mold your life accordingly, will say volumes about the kind of person you really are.

Saturday, July 19. Proverbs 29 – Ecclesiastes 1

Proverbs 29 speaks in many ways to those who are in positions of leadership. Leaders should seek to do the right thing, and have it done. Surely the only reason for not going in this direction would be if the matter is self-serving. Solomon says, when the leaders seek to serve themselves, the very thing over which they rule will come apart (vs. 4).

When a ruler become someone who listens only to what he wants to hear, rather than the truth, his administration will be corrupt (vs. 7).

The security of leadership is tied directly to the leader’s concern for those who are least able to help themselves (vs. 14).

No matter how good leadership is, it can never take the place of God’s sovereignty (vs. 26).

Respect for God, concern for the weak, a devotion to honesty and integrity. These are what make a leader worth having, and a prize to the organization.

Friday, July 18. Proverbs 25 – 27

Jesus condemned calling people “fools,” but the writer of Proverbs has no such inhibitions. We should not see it as a contradiction. Jesus was condemning an attitude that is contemptuous of others. Solomon, in chapter 26, is speaking of a reality: some people are simply fools. You can tell who they are by the way they live their lives, and you should be careful around them.

They are unreliable (vs. 6).

They are hopeless. They never learn from their mistakes (vs. 11).

They believe they have the answer to the world’s problems (vs. 12).

They are dangerous. I particularly like verse 8. “Like tying a stone in a sling is the giving of honor to a fool.” You can fire a stone from a sling as David did against Goliath, but if you attach the stone to the sling, it will only come back to wound you.

I’ve thought about that a lot when asked, as a minister, to give recommendations for others. To recommend for any reason other than they are commendable is sure to come back to haunt you.

Thursday, July 17. Proverbs 22 – 24

What do you value?

Proverbs 23 is about values, particularly material ones. The warning is to be careful what you value, what you long for, and whose company you keep.

I take verses 1-3 two ways. On the one hand, don’t long for the stuff of the wealthy. Their stuff is deceptive. It will not bring happiness and has likely brought them sorrow (vss. 1-3). On the other, when in the company of the wealthy, don’t take advantage. To this day, when someone else is buying my dinner, I only eat what I can personally afford.

Don’t work your self to death to accumulate wealth. In a moment, illness or an economic downturn can take it all from you (verses 4-5). Then what will you have?

And then, there is the illusion of happiness that comes from too much materialism. Those who give themselves to satisfying every desire will find themselves either unable to afford the necessities (vss. 19-21) or drowning in their luxuries (vss. 29-35). In the end, keep a level head, and balance in all things.

Wednesday, July 16. Proverbs 19 – 21

Children deserve parents who have thought about the responsibility of parenting and settled on fulfilling that responsibility – before bringing children into the world. They deserve sufficient and healthy food, an education, encouragement, and a safe place to live. They deserve two parents who love them.

They deserve direction.

The ability to think through, formulate, and make good decisions is due in large measure to the direction children receive growing up. These are life skills that must be learned, and parents are responsible for teaching them.

It may very well be that some children, even properly reared ones, go bad. There are a lot of influences in a child’s life and once the child leaves home, parents have little control (though they should always have a say and even an adult child should listen and consider the direction given). But if this happens, let it not be because the parents did not provide the necessary direction and guidance. As Solomon points out in 19:18, failure to do this makes the parents complicit in the failure of the child.

Tuesday, July 15. Proverbs 16 – 18

In a book devoted to wisdom, you would expect a lot of references to “the Lord,” for after all, the “fear of the Lord” is the beginning of wisdom. And we do find a lot of references. In fact, some ninety references throughout the book. Interestingly, though the book of Proverbs was written without our chapter divisions, the heaviest concentration of references to “the Lord” are in chapters 3, 15 and 16.

Four points stand out to me in the references and form an outline useful is seeing the far-reaching sovereignty of God expressed in the Proverbs.

First, the Lord is omni-present: His eyes are everywhere keeping watch on all mankind (15:3). Nothing is hidden from him, not even the intents and motives of your heart (15:11; 16:2).

Second, God has standards – moral absolutes if you will. Honest scales and balances are from the Lord (16:11) and those who treat these absolutes with disrespect or impunity find themselves separated from Him – even despised by Him – (15:8,9, 29) and punished by Him (15:25).

Third, the Lord is in control. Of everything (16:4). Think your own thoughts, but no matter what you think, God can control what comes out of your mouth (16:1). Make your plans, but God will adjust them as He pleases according to His will (16:9, 33). God can even make a man’s enemies be at peace with him, if that man’s ways are pleasing to God (16:7). Nothing is beyond His ability or control.

Fourth, it is, therefore, important to consider the Lord in all that we do, seeking His will and approval in all things and making sure He is foremost in our hearts and minds. Prosperity and blessing are dependent on it (16:20). “Better,” the wise man says, to have a “little” and respect the Lord, than a lot and face His opposition (15:16).

Monday, July 14. Proverbs 13 – 15

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying: “A messy desk is a sign of a cluttered mind.” I’m not too sure Solomon would agree, particularly in chapter 14. The NIV renders verse 4 as follows: “Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest.” The point is, if the manger has no hay, but is clean, that means nothing is going on. You’ve got to have a work animal if you are going to have a harvest, and work animals require food and all the mess that goes along with them.

I’m not necessarily an advocate of a tidy desk, except, perhaps, at the end of a day. But a desk, like a shop or a kitchen, is going to get messy if anything is being accomplished.

Proverbs contains much financial advice, and some of it is hard to swallow. When Solomon writes “The poor are shunned even by their neighbors, but the rich have many friends” is he advising us to shun the poor or just stating a fact? Is he encouraging us to get rich?

He is certainly not advocating poverty. Proverty, in Proverbs is a sign of laziness (though not always). Nor is he urging the shunning of the poor, for twice more in this chapter alone (vss. 21 & 31) he pronounces a blessing on those who help the poor. Rather, his statement in verse 20 is to be seen as a reality. Poverty is to be avoided – and best avoided by hard work.

Sunday, July 13. Proverbs 9 – 12

From Proverbs you can make a lists of the things God hates:
Haughty eyes – a demeanor that says “I’m better than you.”

A Lying tongue

Hands that shed innocent blood – not just murderers, but those who tend to run over innocent people to get their way.

A Heart that devises wicked schemes.

People who stir up trouble among others.

And people who act before thinking. There is a lot in chapter 12 about rash actions – people who chase fantasies rather than working with what they’ve got, people who covet the treasure of the wicked without thinking about how they got it. People whose ill-considered talk paints them into a corner or hurts other people. Folks who cannot abide by criticism but immediately take offense. People who are too quick to make friends without considering the character of their companions.

Two proverbs from chapter 14 sum this up: “The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways” and “A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.”

Saturday, July 12. Proverbs 5 – 8

Tremper Longman observes that the “sheer quantity of teaching devoted to [the subject of illicit sexual relationships in Proverbs] both demonstrates the strength of the temptation to the son, as well as the dangerous consequences that result.” I find Proverbs 7 as embarrassing to me as the story of Eve’s temptation. In the garden story, Eve is at least tempted by the serpent. Man, on the other hand, is just following his appetite. His wife gives him food, and he eats it, not knowing what it is or where it came from. In Proverbs 7, the young man is seduced and led like an ox to the slaughter.

Think about the story as it is presented. First, this is a married woman who seduces the young man. She admits she is married and despite the fact that the law prescribed the death penalty for adultery, the young man ignores the possible consequences. Second, the woman tells him no one will know, but the fact is, everyone will know. She dresses the part of an adulteress – why would he think that being seen with her would go unnoticed? More than that, she is loud – not prone to quietness at all. Why would he think she would keep her mouth shut? She uses persuasive words and smooth talk, telling him she has sought him out and appealing to his own vanity. She offers him food.

The bottom line is that when it comes to sex, a man tends to stop thinking. There is the embarrassment.

Notice that the father is not telling his son what the Bible says, but rather, what he observes. He’s seen it a hundred times before. Perhaps he has experienced it. Sexual desire is an appetite hard to control for a man, and any woman who is willing can always get her way by using it. That we can be duped and controlled so easily is the embarrassment.

So what? Who cares but God?

We should. Stolen water is sweet (see the end of chapter 9), and sweets are addictive. Once sex moves outside the realm of faithful monogamy, it becomes an insatiable appetite that will ruin and control our lives and make faithfulness impossible. The seducing woman may have only meant it for the short term, but the after affects are permanent for men.

Friday, July 11. Proverbs 2 – 4

The call to “listen” occurs some 25 times in the book of Proverbs – most often in the first nine chapters which are devoted to the praise of wisdom. Almost an equal number of times (and again, mostly in the first nine chapters), the writer addresses his children (my sons).

In chapter 4, the author picks up on a requirement of the law found in Deuteronomy 11: “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the Lord swore to give your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.” The message he is passing on to his children was given to him by his father, and early in life: “When I was a boy in my father’s house, still tender, and an only child of my mother, he taught me and said, “Lay hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands and you will live.”

Parents have an obligation not just to educate their children, but to teach them how to live. Among those teachings are three outstanding ones in this chapter: First, success in life depends to a great extent on a parent’s teaching and a child’s listening. The parent must be confident that what he has to say is important. The parent must also have credibility. A man whose life has been a miserable failure in so many ways told me once: “I have lots of valuable advice based on my failures. My children should listen to me.” Perhaps. The problem was his failures cost him his credibility. Just because a person knows by experience the way not to go doesn’t mean he knows the way to go.

Second, there is a right way to go. It is important to be an observer of people’s lives to see which way they are heading. The idea is not to follow the crowd, or even the few, but to observe where the crowd is going, and pick the right path, even if you travel it with the few.

Third, take stock of the kind of person you want to be. Solomon says: “Guard your heart.” Life challenges and temptations, successes and failures, will mold us if we are not careful. We must always be careful in considering how we are being molded.