Sunday, June 3. Proverbs 11 – 14

    Every time I read Proverbs I am struck by something new.  I don’t know why I haven’t noticed it before, but there is a tremendous emphasis in today’s reading on “the righteous” – how much better off they are than others, and how hopeful their lives are.  Of the 78 times this theme occurs in the Proverbs, 48 of them are in chapters 10-14.

    The righteous are those who make God’s way their own and seek to follow that way with all their heart.

    Of course, there are always those who reject that way, who don’t see why they should take it, who believe they know best and elect to do as they see fit.  Throughout the Proverbs, watch for Solomon to address those folks too.  A sampling of the comments in chapters 11 – 14 is as follows:

*    “The wise in heart accept instruction.  The chattering fool comes to ruin” (10:8).

*    “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid” (12:1).

*    “He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored” (13:18).

*    “There is a way that looks harmless enough, but in the end it leads to hell” (14:12).

    The whole idea is that the wise person works within community, seeking wisdom from others to help guide his life.  The wise person also seeks the wisdom of God.  Put it together and you have a prescription for a successful life.  Note these verses: “For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisers make victory sure” (11:14).  “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (15:22). 

    The problem with our time is that we often feel by seeking advice, we’re saying we don’t know how to do anything.  In other words, our pride keeps us in the dark, and, as we shall see in chapter 16, that pride leads to something greater than failure.

Thursday, May 31. Proverbs 1 – 3

“Well done is better than well said.”

“God helps those who help themselves.”

“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

These are but a few of our “American proverbs,” all of which came, at least through, if not from, Benjamin Franklin.

Every culture has its proverbs.  From Babylon during the days of Abraham we have the following: “Build like a Lord, live like a slave.  Build like a slave, live like a Lord.”  From Egypt we have this one: “A petitioner likes attention to his words better than the fulfilling of that for which he came . . . a good hearing is a soothing of the heart.”

The culture of Israel in the Old Testament was no different.  Solomon himself was said to have spoken three thousand proverbs, and over 300 of them are specifically to be found in the book of Proverbs, part of what is called the “wisdom literature” of the Old Testament.  The book of Proverbs has more parallels with ancient literature than any other book in the Bible.

Proverbs has little organizational structure, but may be outlined as follows:

I)    Title and aim of the book.  1:1-7
II)    The importance of wisdom.  1:8 – 9:18
III)    Proverbs of Solomon (374 two liners) 10:1 – 22:16
IV)    Sayings of other wise men 22:17 – 24:22
V)    Hezekiah’s collection of Solomon’s proverbs chapters 25 – 29
VI)    Wisdom from the wise man Agur – chapter 30
VII)    Wisdom from King Lemuel 31:1-9
VIII)    The Woman of Noble character 31:10-31

Wisdom has to do with “how” we live our lives in order to be successful.  Proverbs are wise rules of conduct.  They are not “guarantees.”  Our proverb, “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” is a good rule to follow, but not a guarantee.  Some labor from dawn to dusk, destroy their health, and never become “wealthy.”  But on the other hand, “go to bed late, get up late,” is a prescription for disaster.

Since they are not guarantees, they should not be read or treated as laws.  Thus the parent who “trains up his child in the way he should go” can expect that his child will live accordingly.  But that is not a guarantee.  If a child turns from the wise path later in life, it should not serve as an indictment against his parents.  On the other hand, of course, the parent who offers no guidance for his child can fairly well expect him to turn out poorly.

Proverbs offers direction for daily manners, work, sex, family life, friendship, and our relationship with God.  These particular proverbs are important because they come to us by the approval of God and as such, provide us not with earthly wisdom, but heavenly.

Saturday, June 2. Proverbs 7 – 10

    The prostitute stands for illicit sexual activity in Proverbs, but she is also a symbol of danger and foolishness.  And so, while she calls out to the simple, the young lacking judgment, another woman also calls out.  She is known as “wisdom.”

    When you take chapters 6-7 and 8-9 together, life is presented with two options: wisdom and foolishness.  Both call out.  Both have doors to their homes where men gather.  Both have fruit and delicacies to eat.  We each get to decide which road to take.  The problem is, there is some predisposition to one way or the other.  The “wise” take the wise road and become wiser.  The foolish . . . don’t.

    Wisdom is the way of kings; it’s why they have so many advisors.  The fool charts his own course.  I think there are two lessons in this contrast:

    First, what kind of person are you going to be?  Will you be wise or foolish?

    Second, how can you tell which you are?  The wise person seeks out wisdom.  It is not to be found among your contemporaries, those who share your own experience and age.  It is found among those outside your circle, those more successful, more experienced, whose walk with God plainly close, whose life is different from your own.  You cannot get to where the wise are by following your own path.  You must seek their direction, and follow it.

    The fool will do none of this, never asking for advice, resenting anyone giving it, and seldom taking it.  Life will be hard, but mercifully, short.

Friday, June 1. Proverbs 4 – 6

    Listen my son.

    Pay attention to what I say.

    Listen closely.

    These are but a few of the ways Solomon calls to his children, but the frequency of such calls leads us to believe he thought what he had to say was important for his children to hear and he appears to be proactive in sharing his wisdom with his children.

    But was he really?  Or is he writing in a way he would have liked to have acted, the father sitting down with his child, talking about life, sharing what’s important?

    Being wise doesn’t always mean to act wise.

    In any case, from the Proverbs we learn that it is important to listen to the wisdom that comes from the marriage of education and experience.  And then, it is important to add to that wisdom the results of your own experience, and pass that on to your children.

    Parents always have more wisdom than their children.  It cannot be otherwise, for no matter how much education a child has, it means precious little without experience and experience can only come with age.

    The father in Proverbs believes he has something valuable to offer.  He believes it is worth passing on to his children.  He believes listening to his advice is important, and he sounds that way when he speaks.

    Children, of course, always want to go their own way.  They believe they know best.

    But, in general, they don’t, and it is a failure of a parent who believes his child can do without his direction.  Neglecting to give it dooms the child to all the failures he could have avoided if the parent had only had the courage to speak up.  When the child fails to listen, the parent should remind the child: “If you had listened, this failure would not be yours.”

    You cannot say that, however, if you failed to give the advice in the first place.

Tuesday, May 29. 1 Kings 9 – 11

I find it significant that the conditional nature of God’s promise to David is once again emphasized in chapter 9.  We saw it in Psalm 132, again in 1 Kings 2 in David’s charge to Solomon, and now here in God’s own words.  Today’s reading takes us through chapter 11 and as each chapter unfolds, like an attorney building his case, evidence builds that Solomon did not meet God’s conditions.  In Deuteronomy 17:16-17, the Lord’s requirements for the king were as follows: “The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.”  He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

The horses are mentioned in chapter 9, the gold in chapter 10, and the wives in chapter 11.

We’ve seen it before and we will see it repeatedly: God’s promises are conditional.  He makes them to His people without any obligation on His part, their existence is always a matter of grace.  But God is not duty bound to carry out His part if His people do not carry out theirs.

This has always been one of the most difficult things for God’s people to understand. God grants us salvation solely by faith because of Grace.  But the ultimate end of that salvation, a home in the presence of God, is conditional.  We cannot earn it, it’s already ours by virtue of our relationship with God.  But we can lose what we have received by grace through faithless living.

Monday, May 28. 1 Kings 6 – 8

The opening of chapter six provides for us first a chronological marker.  Comparative dating places Solomon’s fourth year somewhere between 968 and 957 B.C.  The Exodus would have occurred sometime in the 15th century, perhaps about 1440 B.C.  This is the first matter of striking importance for us.

Second, reference to the date of the building is very much the way ancient people wrote when talking about temple work (you can see examples of this in Donald Wiseman’s Commentary on 1 & 2 Kings in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series – from which this temple drawing is taken).

Third, you cannot help but be impressed with the grandeur of this structure.  And yet, for all that grandeur, he spent nearly twice as much time building his own palace.  Since that fact goes unnoticed in Chronicles, I wonder if the comparison, while brief, isn’t an important one in the mind of the author of Kings.

Thursday, May 31. Proverbs 1 – 3

    “Well done is better than well said.”

    “God helps those who help themselves.”

    “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

    These are but a few of our “American proverbs,” all of which came, at least through, if not from, Benjamin Franklin.

    Every culture has its proverbs.  From Babylon during the days of Abraham we have the following: “Build like a Lord, live like a slave.  Build like a slave, live like a Lord.”  From Egypt we have this one: “A petitioner likes attention to his words better than the fulfilling of that for which he came . . . a good hearing is a soothing of the heart.”

    The culture of Israel in the Old Testament was no different.  Solomon himself was said to have spoken three thousand proverbs, and over 300 of them are specifically to be found in the book of Proverbs, part of what is called the “wisdom literature” of the Old Testament.  The book of Proverbs has more parallels with ancient literature than any other book in the Bible.

    Proverbs has little organizational structure, but may be outlined as follows:

I)    Title and aim of the book.  1:1-7

II)    The importance of wisdom.  1:8 – 9:18

III)    Proverbs of Solomon (374 two liners) 10:1 – 22:16

IV)    Sayings of other wise men 22:17 – 24:22

V)    Hezekiah’s collection of Solomon’s proverbs chapters 25 – 29

VI)    Wisdom from the wise man Agur – chapter 30

VII)    Wisdom from King Lemuel 31:1-9

VIII)    The Woman of Noble character 31:10-31

    Wisdom has to do with “how” we live our lives in order to be successful.  Proverbs are wise rules of conduct.  They are not “guarantees.”  Our proverb, “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” is a good rule to follow, but not a guarantee.  Some labor from dawn to dusk, destroy their health, and never become “wealthy.”  But on the other hand, “go to bed late, get up late,” is a prescription for disaster. 

    Since they are not guarantees, they should not be read or treated as laws.  Thus the parent who “trains up his child in the way he should go” can expect that his child will live accordingly.  But that is not a guarantee.  If a child turns from the wise path later in life, it should not serve as an indictment against his parents.  On the other hand, of course, the parent who offers no guidance for his child can fairly well expect him to turn out poorly.

    Proverbs offers direction for daily manners, work, sex, family life, friendship, and our relationship with God.  These particular proverbs are important because they come to us by the approval of God and as such, provide us not with earthly wisdom, but heavenly.

Wednesday, May 30. Psalms 72, 127

    There are two Psalms attributed to Solomon (72, 127), though he is obviously known more for his wisdom books.

    Psalm 72 begins as a request for the king of Israel, that God would give him a mind to know and do what is right.  God’s answer to that prayer will be seen in two ways: First, the actions of the king in behalf of the afflicted, the needy, the weak, little children.  All of these, the most vulnerable of society, will be protected by the king from those who would mistreat them.  He doesn’t just act in their behalf, he feels for them.  I love this phrase: “precious is their blood in his sight.”

    Because the king rules in this way, the way of God, the king is honored by other nations, and prosperity comes to his kingdom.  The prosperity is a blessing from God, who is praised at the end of the prayer.  Because the nation of the righteous king prospers, blessing overflows to surrounding nations as well.  His becomes a model for them to follow.

    To seek the guidance of God.  To stand for what is right and good.  To protect and help the weak.  This are, first and foremost, the goals of good government.  A nation that seeks to remove God from the equation is a nation doomed to failure, and mountains of military might, freedom, and capitalism will not change that fact.  This truth will always be lost on the world, but it must not be lost on us.  As we have opportunity to select public officials, God’s people should choose those who have embraced this ideal.  The blessing of God for us all hangs in the balance.

Sunday, May 27. 1 Kings 2 – 5

“You can’t tell the players without a program.”

Adonijah was Solomon’s older half-brother.  As David’s eldest surviving son, he would normally have been the legitimate heir.  But succession in the Bible it always a matter of God’s choice and grace.  Adonijah thought he was to be King, but David had other plans, plans he had not exactly shared with everyone.  When David’s plan to make Solomon his successor became known, Adonijah seemed to graciously accept the decision, but his request for consolation prize, David’s young nurse (concubine) Abishag, revealed his true heart.  To take the wife of a king gave the taker a right to the throne.  Bathsheba does not seem to know this.  Or, perhaps she did and she knew that by requesting it on behalf of Adonijah she would remove him as a rival to the throne.

Joab of course was David’s cousin and had been David’s most successful general and greatest supporter.  But Joab’s ruthlessness turned David’s stomach (nevermind that such ruthlessness probably kept David on the throne).  Joab’s support of Adonijah either demonstrates he was not a part of David’s inner-circle, or that he saw himself as a king-maker and determined to subvert David’s wishes.  Either way, it cost him his life.

During David’s reign there had been two high priests, both descendants of Eli: Abiathar, and Zadok (though Zadok appears to be older).  Abiathar too supported the wrong heir and was removed from the priesthood.  From that time on, the family of Zadok determined the High Priesthood.

Frankly, this securing of Solomon’s throne is hardly a tale of righteousness, and I think that’s why the whole story beginning in chapter 2 begins with God’s conditional promise to David: ‘If your heirs take heed to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail you a successor on the throne of Israel.’  The coup described here is pure worldly politics – a foretaste of what is to come.

Tuesday, May 29. 1 Kings 9 – 11

I find it significant that the conditional nature of God’s promise to David is once again emphasized in chapter 9.  We saw it in Psalm 132, again in 1 Kings 2 in David’s charge to Solomon, and now here in God’s own words.  Today’s reading takes us through chapter 11 and as each chapter unfolds, like an attorney building his case, evidence builds that Solomon did not meet God’s conditions.  In Deuteronomy 17:16-17, the Lord’s requirements for the king were as follows: “The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.”  He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

The horses are mentioned in chapter 9, the gold in chapter 10, and the wives in chapter 11.

We’ve seen it before and we will see it repeatedly: God’s promises are conditional.  He makes them to His people without any obligation on His part, their existence is always a matter of grace.  But God is not duty bound to carry out His part if His people do not carry out theirs.

This has always been one of the most difficult things for God’s people to understand. God grants us salvation solely by faith because of Grace.  But the ultimate end of that salvation, a home in the presence of God, is conditional.  We cannot earn it, it’s already ours by virtue of our relationship with God.  But we can lose what we have received by grace through faithless living.