Proverbs 31

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This final chapter of Proverbs is written by King Lemuel.  Like the author of chapter 30, we know basically nothing about King Lemuel from Scriptures or from history.  Some historians think this chapter was actually written by Solomon using a pseudonym (pen name).  If that were true, then that would make Bathsheba (Solomon’s mother) the origin for these sayings.  There is no evidence in Scripture that Bathsheba was the author of the words quoted here.  Again, the focus is on the proverb’s truths, not on the author.

This chapter is broken into two parts:  verses 1-9 are the truths that King Lemuel’s mother taught him, and verses 10-31 is King Lemuel’s mother’s vision of a godly woman.  The second part (verses 10-31) is an acrostic, with each verse beginning with the next consonant of the Hebrew alphabet.  This language structure would make this section easier to memorize and recite.

In verses 1-9, King Lemuel’s mother teaches him three things:

  • Don’t waste your strength on prostitutes (v. 3)
  • Don’t get drunk, which will impact your ability to rule well (vv. 4-7)
  • Treat people fairly, including the poor and needy (vv. 8-9)

In verses 10-31, King Lemuel’s mother identifies attributes of a godly wife for her son.  Reading through these attributes, it’s clear that she is describing a woman who can be head of state as queen, a public official’s wife who actively participates in running the household, and thus the kingdom, setting an example for others.

So what are the attributes of this ideal wife?

  • Finding such a woman outlined here is rare, but worth the search (v. 10)
  • She has earned the trust and confidence of her husband (v. 11)
  • She is a positive force in her husband’s life, not a liability (v. 12)
  • She enjoys working with her hands – she is “hands-on” (v. 13)
  • She goes out of her way to make sure her family is fed (v. 14)
  • She is up early to provide for her family and staff (v. 15)
  • She saves and invests, not just spending money (v. 16)
  • She physically works hard at whatever she does (v. 17)
  • She has confidence in what she produces and creates (v. 18)
  • She can do delicate work like tapestries as well as physical labor (v. 19)
  • She is kind to the poor and needy (v. 20)
  • She prepares well for the winter months (v. 21)
  • She decorates her home (v. 22)
  • Her husband is prominent and respected in the community (v. 23)
  • She is a businesswoman, in an honest trade (clothing) (v. 24)
  • She is confident for the present and the future (v. 25)
  • She teaches others with wisdom and kindness (v. 26)
  • She does not have to work, but chooses to invest her time wisely (v. 27)
  • Her husband and children publicly praise her for her character and her accomplishments (vv. 28-29)

The last two verses summarize her focus (the fear of the Lord), and the incredible good that comes from that focus and mindset.

While these character traits are true for a godly wife, they are also true for anyone who fears the Lord and desires to walk with God and honor Him with their lives.  Simply stated, this last section of Proverbs 31 is a summary of the wisdom shared across the rest of the preceding chapters.  If we desire and work toward these characteristics, starting with the fear of the Lord, we will finish our lives well in honoring God and being a blessing to others.

Blessings,
~kevin

Proverbs 30

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Proverbs 30 introduces a new author named Agur.  We know basically nothing about him, his father (Jakeh), or the two people (Ithiel and Ucal) mentioned in verse 1.  Some authors speculate that Agur was a contemporary of Solomon, while others say he wrote hundreds of years later   Some say the two people this proverb was written to were those who sought Agur’s wisdom, while others say they were Agur’s sons.  Bottom line, we don’t know, so we should focus on the proverbs themselves, and not speculate on the author.

Agur used a series of lists to communicate his truths.  The lists are not meant to be exhaustive, but to be examples.  We see this in Agur’s literary structure and style, as he calls out a number, then adds one item to it (example – v. 29 – “three things… even four…).

Agur begins his chapter with worship, using a bit of self-loathing, not in false humility, but to acknowledge his place under God.  In verses 2 and 3, Agur says “I really don’t know anything at all, and I certainly don’t have God’s knowledge… but I know the One (God) who does”.  This positioning of himself under God is reminiscent of Isaiah chapter 40 and Job chapters 40-41, where God asks mankind hard questions that only He can answer.

Agur then proceeds to brag on God (v. 4) and asks his audience five similar questions, each question leading his hearers to look to God for their wisdom and strength:

Who has gone up to heaven and come down?
    Whose hands have gathered up the wind?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak?
    Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is the name of his son?
    Surely you know!”
(Proverbs 30:4 NIV)

If Agur had any detractors or scoffers, he shut them up quickly with these questions attributed to things that only God could do.

Every word of God is flawless;
    he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.”
(Proverbs 30:5 NIV)

Following up from his worship in the form of questions in verse 4, Agur uses a metalsmith’s term (“flawless”) here, meaning that the God’s Word is refined, and has no impurities.  It’s the real thing, no “fool’s gold” or other look-alikes.  Therefore, Agur says, we can trust God and His Word (He is our shield) and find peace and safety (He is our refuge) in the Lord.  Like King David in Psalm 23, Agur quietly concludes that God is his sufficiency, his security, and his salvation.

Two things I ask of you, Lord;
    do not refuse me before I die:
 Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.
 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God.”
(Proverbs 30:7-9 NIV)

After acknowledging God’s holiness, wisdom, and power, Agur comes before God with a simple prayer for his own life (verse 7 – 9).  His two requests?  to lead an honest life, and a life of dependence on the Lord.

Agur asked for an honest life, free from both false thoughts and intentions (“falsehood”) and false words (“lies”).  He desired to live a life of integrity before the Lord, and honor God from his heart.

Agur also asked for a life of dependence on the Lord, where he would have neither riches and become self-sufficient, nor poverty, where he would be feel that God had abandoned him, and thus be tempted to steal to survive.  Similar to the Israelites in the desert, Agur asked only for his daily portion of food to sustain him, and the faithful hand of God to feed him each day.

May we have Agur’s heart for the Lord, as well as his humility and priorities as we go about our day.

Blessings,
~kevin

Proverbs 29

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Today’s selected proverbs:

Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes
    will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy.”
(Proverbs 29:1 NIV)

Solomon uses the term “stiff-necked’ here to reflect a stubborn, obstinate, or rebellious person, intent on having their own way.  This person has been given many warnings (“rebukes”), but still continues down their own path.

These warnings are not petty nagging about little things, but about major life issues where the person has clearly crossed the line, and there are significant consequences for ignoring or disobeying the standard in place.  Solomon says that after so many warnings, judgment will be given, and there will be no turning back, no asking forgiveness, no repenting.

Fools give full vent to their rage,
    but the wise bring calm in the end.”
(Proverbs 29:11 NIV)

The word “rage” here is better translated “full emotional outburst”.  Anger or rage (as used in this verse) is one expression of this type of outburst; others include bitterness, sadness, frustration, etc.  The idea here is that there is no self-control or restraint.

Solomon says that wise persons learn how to express themselves without having that full emotional outburst – to be sad without having a meltdown, to be angry without going on a rant, to be frustrated without giving up and sinking into a pit of depression.  Yes, our circumstances may really stink, but they will most likely pass and there will either be peace or some other issue that pops up that takes our mind away from the current issue.

Jesus instructs us to let Him carry our emotional burdens, and avoid all the drama to ourselves and others around us:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)

Discipline your children, and they will give you peace;
    they will bring you the delights you desire.”
(Proverbs 29:17 NIV)

Solomon has previously cited the benefits of teaching children right from wrong, so that they may grow up and be wise.  In this proverb, Solomon identifies the benefits to the parents in addition to the children.

Solomon says the benefits of raising wise children are peace and joy.  “Peace”, as used here, implies emotional rest, free from worry or anxiety.  When we teach our children right from wrong, using discipline to correct behavior, we trust that they will likely make wise choices when they are not with us and on their own.  And Solomon says that this brings joy to a parent’s heart.

Pride brings a person low,
    but the lowly in spirit gain honor.”
(Proverbs 29:23 NIV)

Solomon uses a play on words to make his point here.  We all fight with pride to some extent – it’s part of our fallen condition.  Solomon says that unless we keep a proper view of ourselves before God, we will be have pride and lack of humility.  Eventually our deluded view of ourselves (that bubble we create and jump inside) bursts and we are humbled and must face the reality of our attitudes and actions.

On the other hand, Solomon says that if we stay humble and walk with the Lord, that we will be honored at some point.  Jesus reiterated this truth in Matthew 5, where He said that the poor (lowly) in spirit inherit the kingdom of heaven.  I don’t know about you, but that seems about as big as it gets for being honored!

Blessings,
~kevin

Proverbs 28

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Today’s selections:

The wicked flee though no one pursues,
    but the righteous are as bold as a lion.”
(Proverbs 28:1 NIV)

Solomon contrasts the insecurity of someone with a guilty conscience with the courage of someone with a clear conscience.  The person with a guilty conscience is constantly looking over their shoulder, expecting someone or something to jump out and condemn them for their past or present actions.  Those with a clear conscience move forward without fear of the past or the present.

Solomon is not telling us to be prideful, but to be strong in our faith and courageous in our actions.  This reflects in our love of the Lord, and our care for ourselves and others around us.

Better the poor whose walk is blameless
    than the rich whose ways are perverse.”
(Proverbs 28:6 NIV)

Solomon makes an assumption that most who become rich do so at the expense of others.  Yes, there are those whom God blesses that walk in integrity; Solomon is not addressing them.  When Solomon uses the phrase “whose ways”, he is talking about the rich who live hypocritical lives, who want to look good on the outside, but are corrupt from the heart, and in their actions.  Solomon says that honesty with poverty is a better choice than wealth with corruption.

Whoever increases wealth by taking interest or profit from the poor
    amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor.”
(Proverbs 28:8 NIV)

What is Solomon talking about here?  When God laid out the principles for commerce and community within the nation of Israel, He said that people with money could make loans to fellow Israelites who needed help, but they could not charge interest (Exodus 22:25, Leviticus 25:36-37, Deuteronomy 23:20).  Solomon is saying that those who ignore or dismiss God’s clear directive in this area will not be able to hold on to their ill-gotten wealth.  Instead, God will redistribute that wealth through another who obeys God’s commands in this area, who will be kind to the poor and not take advantage of them, and give back to the community and to the poor.

Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper,
    but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”
(Proverbs 28:13 NIV)

As Solomon wrote this, he was likely remembering the contrast between Saul, the first king of Israel, and David, his father, who was second king of Israel.

In 1 Samuel 15, the prophet Samuel had given Saul clear direction from the Lord, and Saul had clearly disobeyed.  Samuel confronted Saul, and Saul even admitted to Samuel that he had sinned.  Samuel told Saul that the Lord had removed him as king over Israel.  Saul then insisted that Samuel return to town with him, and that they worship the Lord together, as if everything was OK.  Saul may had admitted his sin when directly confronted by Samuel, but had not changed his ways, and was consumed with how others would perceive him, so he covered over his issue by insisting that Samuel return and worship the Lord with him.

Contrast Saul with David, when Samuel confronted David about his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, and his premeditated murder of her husband.  In Psalm 51, David confesses his sins, and writes it down and proclaims it publicly.  King David does not care who hears, he only wants to be set right before the Lord.  Unlike Saul, David turns from his wicked ways and finds God’s mercy, rather than God’s judgment.

As we consider Solomon’s contrasting proverbs today, may we choose to walk humbly with the Lord, boldly for Him, and generously with others.

Blessings,
~kevin

Proverbs 27

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Today’s selected proverbs:

Do not boast about tomorrow,
    for you do not know what a day may bring.”
(Proverbs 27:1 NIV)

Solomon knew well the unpredictability of each day’s events.  We can’t control the future, so therefore, we should not act as if we can.  When we do presume on the future, our overconfidence looks like practical atheism, where we don’t even consider God in our planning and preparation.  James 4:13-17 talks about this very issue; here is a link to our previous study of that passage.

Likewise, we are also not to be consumed with fear or worry about the future.  Jesus addressed this in Matthew 6:25-34.  Jesus tells us to seek God’s righteousness and kingdom first, and God will take care of our needs.  Jesus also tells us not to worry about the future, as He is in control.  I don’t know about you, but that is a very comforting reminder, and helps me focus on each day.

Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth;
    an outsider, and not your own lips.”
(Proverbs 27:2 NIV)

Solomon warns us against pride, against boasting, or “tooting our own horn”, as some would say.  So what else is Solomon saying in this proverb?  Who is “an outsider”, and what is their role and purpose?

Solomon is not talking about our reputation; that is established over time by those who know us, and measures our character and integrity.  Instead, Solomon is talking about measuring our expertise or skill or talent in a certain area, such as a trade, or in music, physics, writing, engineering, botany, etc.  Solomon is saying we might be the best at something and have a tendency to want to brag about it; we may even be humble and our friends may brag about our skills, and we start to believe their hype.

What Solomon is saying is to bring in someone from the outside, someone who could speak objectively about our skills and accomplishments, someone who knows the subject matter at hand and can offer an informed analysis.  The point of inviting someone else to look at our work is not pride or seeking praise, but having a teachable spirit, being humble and wanting to grow and learn and pursue excellence in all we do.

If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor early in the morning,
    it will be taken as a curse.”
(Proverbs 27:14 NIV)

Whether you’re a morning person and love the quiet and stillness of the start of the day, or a night owl, and cherish your sleep, no one likes a noisy neighbor early in the morning, even if they are all positive and perky.

‘Nuff said.

As iron sharpens iron,
    so one person sharpens another.”
(Proverbs 27:17 NIV)

This is one of my favorite proverbs, reminding me of God’s design for us to live in community.  Just as Solomon infers, sharpening involves contact with one another.  This contact is not fighting or arguing or trying to hurt one another.  Instead, this contact is helpful, positive, and makes us better people.

This sharpening can occur in many aspects of our life.  A few examples to ponder:

  • in our faith, learning how to trust and love the Lord and live for Him
  • in our families, learning how to love our spouses and kids better
  • In our jobs, learning how to do something new or different
  • In our communities, learning how to give back and help others
  • In our churches, learning how to teach and lead others

As Jesus reminds us in Matthew 22:34-40, our greatest commands are to love God first, living in communion with Him, and love our neighbors second, living in community with them.  Both involve contact to carry out.

Let the sharpening begin.

Be sure you know the condition of your flocks,
    give careful attention to your herds;
for riches do not endure forever,
    and a crown is not secure for all generations.”
(Proverbs 27:23-24 NIV)

This proverb actually continues through verse 27; the main thought is here in verses 23-24.  Solomon is telling us to be good stewards of what God has given us, and to work hard with the time that God provides us.  We are to be stewards of what He provides, realizing that it won’t last forever, and we should not take for granted we will always have abundant provision.  This does not mean we worry or start hoarding; it means we trust the Lord, and work hard with what we have so as to provide for ourselves, our families, and if we are responsible for others, for our employees as well.

Blessings,
~kevin

Proverbs 26

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The first twelve verses of Proverbs 26 are sometimes called “The book of fools”, as it largely deals with the actions and consequences of those who do not follow God’s wisdom.  Remember, in Solomon’s day, there were only two general classes of people – those who followed God and sought after wise living, and those who did not, and were called fools.  Sometimes the best example is the negative example, and a number of Solomon’s sayings around these negative examples are grouped together here.

Today’s selections:

As a dog returns to its vomit,
    so fools repeat their folly.
(Proverbs 26:11 NIV)

Solomon uses a rather disgusting truth to make his point in this proverb.  Dogs have a very short-term memory of their own actions, and often repeat their same behaviors, thinking it will be better this time around.  In the same way, we are fools when we repeat our same mistakes.  The goal is to learn from our mistakes, not to repeat them.

Peter also quotes this proverbs in 2 Peter 2:22, when he talks about false teachers who have known the way of righteousness, and have turned their backs on God.  They have tasted God’s grace, and return to the vomit of their false teaching.

Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears
    is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own.”
(Proverbs 26:17 NIV)

Solomon is not talking about rescuing a family pet from a fight, but rather, he is talking about a street dog, a stray, that travels in packs with other stray dogs.  This stray dog is undisciplined, and will see any form of discipline as a threat and will respond accordingly, most likely by biting the hand of the one giving the discipline.

Solomon says in similar fashion that the person who becomes furious over a matter that they are not party to, jumping in to take sides is a fool, and will get hurt in the process.  This person will be rejected by both parties, as there is no relationship or trust between the one jumping in and either of the ones in the disagreement.

So what should our response be, if two people are in an argument, and we are tempted to let our emotions take over and jump into the middle of the disagreement?  First of all, pray for God’s wisdom.   Secondly, don’t engage in the argument unless invited in by both parties (which is very unlikely to happen, since neither one knows you).  If you are invited in, establish ground rules about the upcoming discussion before agreeing to your involvement.  If both parties will not agree to civil discourse (a discussion that seeks both points of view, listens with an open mind, and speaks with integrity, not slander or falsehood), then walk away.

Whoever digs a pit will fall into it;
    if someone rolls a stone, it will roll back on them.”
(Proverbs 26:27 NIV)

Solomon is not talking about digging a hole in the ground for constructive purposes; instead, he is talking about digging a hole in the ground as a trap for another person, for evil purposes, to snare them.  In the same way, Solomon is talking about rolling a stone towards someone, to harm them or crush them, again for evil purposes.

The whole idea behind both of these evil actions is revenge, taking matters into our own hands.  Solomon knew well God’s command to leave vengeance up to Him (Deuteronomy 32:35), and not take it into our own hands.  Paul repeated this same reminder in Romans 12:19.  God will take care of the situation far better than we can every imagine, using the opportunity to bring those perpetrators to Himself.

Instead, we are called to love, not in emotion only, but in tangible action, as Solomon reminded us yesterday (Proverbs 25:21-22).  May we choose to live to this higher calling and higher standard, accepting God’s grace and mercy when we fail, and giving the same when others fail us.

Blessings,
~kevin

Proverbs 25

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Starting with Chapter 25, these proverbs were written by Solomon, but were found about 250 years later by King Hezekiah’s sages.  Overall, Scripture tells us that Solomon authored 3,000 proverbs (1 Kings 4:32) as well as over a thousand songs.

These proverbs speak less of God than the previous proverbs, and are mostly similes (sayings that use “like” or “as” for comparison).

Some may argue that these proverbs don’t belong in the Bible, as they were found so much later.  But yet, New Testament writers (Luke, Peter, Paul) all quote from these proverbs, giving authenticity to their inclusion in the Bible.

Here are today’s selections:

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter;
    to search out a matter is the glory of kings.”
(Proverbs 25:2 NIV)

Solomon reminds us that God knows all, and our tiny understanding of ourselves and of the world we live in is insignificant in His sight.  Earthly kings like to solve issues by investigation.  They also have the resources available to support research of new ideas and concepts (and get the credit for the discovery).  But the Lord knew the answer long before the king began his quest to find an answer to the question.

Like apples of gold in settings of silver
Is a word spoken in right circumstances.
(Proverbs 25:11 NASB)

Solomon reminds us of the beauty and artistry of a well constructed thought that was skillfully delivered at just the right time.  This could be a tribute to another as a speech, or a truth shared with a small group, or even a word of empathy or encouragement with a friend.  All are fitting, and have lasting value.  Solomon compares these well-spoken words to the beauty of golden apples in a silver bowl.

The keys to speaking in such a manner are understanding the situation, knowing the person being spoken to, and considering the timing of the circumstances.  Jesus and Paul were masters at this.  Peter, before Jesus’ crucifixion, was the opposite of this, but through humility and transformation after Christ’s resurrection, also learned this skill.

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
    if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
    and the Lord will reward you.”
(Proverbs 25:21-22 NIV)

Solomon knows that if we treat our enemies with respect, and help them in their time of need, their conscience will weigh heavily on their hearts and minds about their unkindness to us.  Our natural reaction is to respond like for like, unkind word for unkind word, evil deed for evil deed.  But yet, Solomon says there is a better way, not taking the path of violence, but of peace and kindness to win someone over.

Paul gives credence to this proverb, as he quotes it in Romans 12:20.  This proverb is easier said than done, but Solomon tells us that it comes with a reward from God when we practice it.

Like cold water to a weary soul
    is good news from a distant land.”
(Proverbs 25:25 NIV)

How good it is to hear from a long-time family member or friend!  Truly our hearts are revived when we hear from them.  Have you ever noticed that a long time may have gone by, but yet, you are able to pick up the conversation like it was just yesterday?  That’s the beauty of friendships, just as God intended.

I also think back to the story of Jacob hearing that his son Joseph is still alive, after giving him up for dead so long ago.  Scripture says that Jacob’s spirit was revived (Genesis 45:27).  Imagine the energy and urgency Jacob must have had to go see his long-lost son, and the joy of seeing him face-to-face again.

May we be refreshed with time spent with our Lord, hearing His good news through His Word.  And may we encourage and bless one another through all our interactions and prayers for one another.

Blessings,
~kevin