Proverbs 16

“A prideful spirit goes before destruction casts its pall; an arrogant and haughty heart before a mighty fall.”  (Proverbs 16:18)

This is the sixteenth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 16, preceded by a brief reflection.

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Choosing wisely is one of the central themes in Proverbs.  Whether it is the words we speak, the actions we take, or the company we keep, wisdom is reflected in our choices.  And we are told in various ways that this can be a matter of life and death.  For example, in Proverbs 16 we find that wise choices can lead to success (v3), peace (v7), and life (v17). Whereas poor choices lead to discipline (v22), destruction (v18), and death (v25).

There is a lot riding on our choices.  But choosing wisely, as we all know, can be very hard at times.  And according to Proverbs, even when we think we are choosing what is right, we may be heading toward disaster.  In the NIV translation, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.”  (Proverbs 16:25)  Some have interpreted this verse to mean that bad things sometimes happen despite the best laid plans.  This is the view of Tim Keller who writes about verse 25, “Sometimes … you can follow the ways of wisdom and make your plans as well as can be and things can still go terribly wrong.  The wise know that sometimes all paths run ill.”  (God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life, page 226)  This interpretation is a helpful corrective of a flawed theology that says that if something bad happens to me, I must have done something wrong.  Indeed, Jesus himself refuted such an automatic nexus when he said that a man was not blind because he had sinned, but so that “the works of God might be displayed in him.”  (John 9:3)

However, I believe that most of us understand Proverbs 16:25 is referring to following a way that is wrong even though initially it appears to be right.  Just because our heart feels our way is correct, does not make it so.  For as the prophet tells us “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?”  (Jeremiah 17:9)  Relying on our feelings and what comes naturally to us can lead to disaster.  There can be no doubt that our feelings are not an infallible indicator that we are on the right path.  As Christians we know that we are to follow God’s way and not our own.

Most of us don’t start out to select a wrong path.  Indeed, our natural tendency is to choose a path that “feels right.”  But feeling right is not the same as being right.  So how can we know if the way we are choosing is going to lead to death?

One answer is found elsewhere in this chapter, “A prideful spirit goes before destruction casts its pall; an arrogant and haughty heart before a mighty fall.”  (Proverbs 16:18), or in the NIV translation, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”  The Hebrew word for destruction is transliterated sheber, which like the word “death” in verse 25, has a figurative meaning of ruin.  Thus, while verse 25 tells us that certain ways lead to ruin, verse 16 identifies a specific way, which is pride.

Proverbs 16:18 may be the most quoted verse from Proverbs, at least in its common paraphrase, “pride goeth before a fall.”  I always understood this to mean that when we start to brag about something, that failure is almost certain to follow.  In other words, bragging is a way to jinx oneself.  I’ll leave the validation or refutation of this to your own empirical experience.  But one thing that’s for certain – pride in the Bible is much deeper than simply bragging about things.  Biblical pride is the sin that caused Satan to fall, and the sin that CS Lewis referred to as the Great Sin.  Throughout the Bible, pride is seen as something God hates.  For example, in the present chapter, we read, “The Lord detests the arrogant and all whose hearts are proud.”  (Proverbs 16:5a)

As Lewis describes pride in Mere Christianity, “there is no fault that we are more unconscious of in ourselves.”  And it is because of its hiddenness that pride causes so many difficulties in our lives.  One of the primary ways that pride manifests itself is by the excessive emphasis we attach to ourselves and the events around us.  It is a view of the world that frames events from their impact on us and exaggerates their significance – all with predictable consequences.

Henri Nouwen refers to this as eternalization.  To eternalize something is to give it undue weight and importance.  In other words, we invest things with eternal significance by exaggerating their significance in relationship to ourselves.  He writes of the impact of eternalizing events.  “Small, seemingly innocent events keep telling us how easily we eternalize ourselves and our world.  It takes only a hostile word to make us feel sad and lonely.  It takes only a rejecting gesture to plunge us into self-complaint.  It takes only a substantial failure in our work to lead us into a self-destructive depression. … Aren’t the many feelings of sadness, heaviness of heart and even dark despair, often intimately connected with the exaggerated seriousness with which we have clothed the people we know, the ideas to which we are exposed and the events we are part of?  This lack of distance, which excludes the humor in life, can create a suffocating depression which prevents us from lifting our heads above the horizon of our own limited existence.”  (Reaching Out, pages 116-117)

I believe that most of us understand how pride puts enmity between us and God, because over and over we read that God detests the arrogant and proud.  It is also self-evident that pride destroys relationships, because pride is inherently competitive, which means that it seeks to prevail over the other, and when it loses, it refuses to forgive.  But perhaps less obvious is how pride damages our own souls, because it feels only “natural” for us to see the world through our own wants and needs.  But here is the great paradox of pride – the more we seek to protect ourselves, the more we suffer.  When we expect the world to revolve around us, inevitably we end up disappointed and discouraged, which leads to anger, unforgiveness, and depression.  Doomed to forever live in a state of unsatisfied demands, our souls are gradually crushed.

It is a great step forward when we simply recognize the extent of pride in our lives, and when we resolve to make choices consistent with humility.  This is not simple or without its own pain.  Indeed, Jesus refers to it this way:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  (Matthew 16:24)  But Jesus also said that, “those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  (Matthew 23:12).  And that, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 5:3)

S

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1  While people make elaborate plans,
conceived within the heart;
The proper answers come from God,
through words that tongues impart.

2  While people think their ways are right –
correct in all they do;
Their spirit will be weighed by God,
their motives he’ll review.

3  Commit your efforts to the Lord,
entrust him with each deed;
Then he’ll establish all your plans,
ensuring they succeed.

4  The Lord has worked out everything,
to reach its proper end;
He’s even planned a day of woe,
the wicked can’t transcend.

5  The Lord detests the arrogant,
and all whose hearts are proud;
So be assured that punishment,
will fall upon that crowd.

6  Iniquities and guilt are purged,
through love and faithfulness;
While fearing God provides the way,
to turn from evilness.

7  When ways that people choose to live,
are pleasing to the Lord;
He quiets those who are their foes,
so peace will be assured.

8  Much better to have little wealth,
and live a righteous life;
Than having money garnered through,
injustices and strife.

9  While people plan within their hearts,
the course to guide their way;
The Lord establishes their steps –
the path they go each day.

10  While kings can speak like oracles,
with words that are divine;
Their mouths must not betray what’s right,
with justice on the line.

11  The Lord wants honest balances,
correct and faultless scales;
For he’s concerned with every weight,
and trivial details.

12  A righteous king won’t tolerate,
what’s evil in his sight;
Because a throne is founded on,
what’s virtuous and right.

13  A righteous king takes pleasure in,
both honest and sincere;
He values those who speak what’s right,
and to the truth adhere.

14  The anger of a king predicts,
that death will have its day;
The wise will mollify the king,
to turn his wrath away.

15  A king whose countenance is bright,
brings life to his domain;
His favor’s like a welcome cloud,
that brings the springtime rain.

16  Now wisdom that’s obtained is worth,
much more than any gold;
While insight gained surpasses all,
the silver you can hold.

17  The highway of the righteous turns,
from evilness and strife;
For everyone who guards their way,
preserves and keeps their life.

18  A prideful spirit goes before,
destruction casts its pall;
An arrogant and haughty heart,
before a mighty fall.

19  Far better being poor in heart,
with those whose hopes are quelled;
Than sharing in ill-gotten gains,
with those whose hearts are swelled.

20  The ones who listen when they’re taught,
discover what is best;
And those who put their trust in God,
will find that they are blessed.

21  The wise in heart are known to be,
discerners of what’s right;
Their gracious lips help others learn,
and in their words delight.

22  Insight is like a spring of life,
for those who mark its way;
But folly leads to discipline,
for fools who disobey.

23  The hearts of those whose ways are wise,
give guidance for their speech;
And make their words persuasive when,
they’re offered up to teach.

24  Kind words are like a honeycomb,
that helps to make one whole;
A healing touch to weary bones,
and sweetness to the soul.

25  There is a way that seems correct –
a way perceived as true;
But it deceives, and in the end,
it’s death it’s leading to.

26  The appetite of laborers,
incentivizes work;
For it’s their hunger driving them,
so that they do not shirk.

27  Ungodly people make their schemes,
with evil as its name;
The slander on their lips is like,
an all-consuming flame.

28  An evil person stirs up strife,
and generates a fray;
A gossip separates two friends,
as unity gives way.

29  The wicked stir their neighbors up,
enticing them to wrath;
They show a way that is not good,
then lead them down that path.

30  Whoever winks their eyes is one,
who plans dishonest things;
Whoever tightens up their lips,
has evil in the wings.

31  Gray hair can be a splendid thing –
a crown of dignity;
When gained along the narrow way,
of living righteously.

32  Far better being patient than,
a fighter of renown;
And better having self-control,
than capturing a town.

33  While some throw lots into a lap,
or dice upon a board;
Still all decisions that are made,
come wholly from the Lord.

 

Proverbs 15

“The best laid plans will surely fail, without a learned guide; but with advisors to assist, success will soon abide.” (Proverbs 15:22)

This is the fifteenth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 15, preceded by a brief reflection.

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Proverbs 15 has at least eight verses (5, 7, 10, 12, 14, 22, 31, and 32) on the importance of receiving advice and counsel.  For example, “The best laid plans will surely fail, without a learned guide; but with advisors to assist, success will soon abide.”  (Proverbs 15:22)  and “Correction mockers always hate, chastisement they despise; they will not seek or ask advice, from anyone who’s wise.”  (Proverbs 15:12)  Solomon no doubt understood that life is too complicated to be distilled into a finite number of sayings, and that we need to seek the wisdom of others.  To rely solely on our own thoughts and ideas is a formula for disaster.  I like the way the fourth century Christian monk Dorotheus of Gaza put it, “Nothing is more harmful than self-direction, nothing more fatal … I never allowed myself to follow my thought without asking advice.”

But where do we turn for advice, particularly in spiritual matters?  For some it is a discerning spouse or a close friend.  For a few it is a pastor, counselor, or spiritual advisor.  But no one is a font of all wisdom, nor do all of us have access to someone who can help.  For us Christians, the Bible is the most reliable source of spiritual wisdom.  However, even the most devout among us needs help at times in applying biblical principles to everyday life.  This is why the Bible tells us to honor those who teach it, and why Solomon tells us to listen to other people who are wise.  We see an example of this in the book of Acts where Philip approaches the Ethiopian eunuch who is reading from the book of Isaiah.  “‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked.  ‘How can I,’ the eunuch said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’  So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.”  (Acts 8:30-31)

The most available source of counsel and advice is found in books.  It seems strange to mention books as a source of spiritual counsel given the wealth of wisdom they contain.  But there are many people who have drifted away from reading as a source of wisdom.  This is more than anecdotal as a 2017 survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found a 15-year decline in leisure reading among Americans from 30% to 20%.  This is stunning!  On average, only one in five Americans is reading in their leisure time.  It was also noted in the survey that we are also watching TV roughly ten times more than we are reading.

It is not that reading is inherently more valuable than listening to another person.  I have received excellent spiritual direction by hearing sermons and talking to friends.  Nor are books inherently more reliable, because there are some books that are filled with spiritual nonsense and worse.  But when we discover a writer with spiritual depth, we can gain insights into our souls that may otherwise remain hidden.  When we read, we set our own pace.  If we are distracted, we can reread a passage.  If we question what we read, we can consult other sources.  If we are moved by what we read, we can pause and ponder.

I write as one for whom books have been my primary source of spiritual guidance.  Authors such as Dallas Willard, Judith Hougen, Richard Foster, Catherine Marshall, NT Wright, Kathleen Norris, Ronald Rolheiser, Henri Nouwen, and many others have been my teachers and advisors.  Like Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch, they have explained Scriptures to me.  In this, they have given me a framework in which to both understand the Christian life, as well as practical steps to live it out.  They have helped reveal my sinfulness and hidden faults; encouraged me to serve others; and shown me how to pursue a life of faith.

As helpful as reading good books can be, we will always need others in our lives to encourage us, teach us, and sometimes to correct us.  The choice is not between reading or listening to others – both are essential.  Still, most of us are the poorer when we avoid reading good books.  The breadth and depth of wisdom that is available from the best spiritual writers simply cannot be matched by listening to a sermon or casual interactions with others.  But regardless of how we are receiving advice and counsel, we must constantly examine how it is affecting our spiritual life.  Are we learning about our weaknesses and sins?  Are we becoming more compassionate and loving towards others?  And are we growing in our love for God?

S

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1  A gentle answer on the tongue,
turns wrath and strife away;
But strident words stir anger up,
and instigate a fray.

2  The wise have knowledge on their tongues,
commending what they tout;
But fools just open up their mouths,
and folly gushes out.

3  The Lord is looking all around,
He watches every place;
He sees the wicked and the good,
there’s none he does not trace.

4  A soothing tongue’s a tree of life,
a healing balm replete;
A lying tongue will always leave,
the spirit crushed and beat.

5  A fool rejects a parent’s word,
and spurns their discipline;
The prudent heed what they are told,
when chastised for their sin.

6  The righteous have great treasure in,
a house that is secure;
The wicked find that what they earn,
brings trouble to endure.

7  The wise who know and understand,
have knowledge to impart;
But fools are just the opposite,
with folly in their heart.

8  God hates it when the wicked come,
to give their sacrifice;
But when the righteous offer prayers,
for him they do suffice.

9  The Lord detests the wicked for,
the ways that they transgress;
But loves the good and upright for,
pursuing righteousness.

10  Stern discipline awaits the one,
whose pathway goes awry;
And one who hates to be reproved,
assuredly will die.

11  If death and desolation lie,
in full view of the Lord;
Then how much more does he discern,
what every heart has stored.

12  Correction mockers always hate,
chastisement they despise;
They will not seek or ask advice,
from anyone who’s wise.

13  A happy and contented heart,
imbues a face with cheer;
But sorrow deep within the heart,
will make a spirit drear.

14  The heart of one who understands,
seeks knowledge to possess;
The mouth of one who is a fool,
just feeds on foolishness.

15  For those afflicted, days are bad,
their hardship can’t be ceased;
But happy cheerful hearts are like,
a never-ending feast.

16  Far better having not so much,
and fear the Lord most High;
Than living in prosperity,
with troubles drawing nigh.

17  Far better eating only herbs,
when served with loving care;
Than eating rich and fatty meat,
with hatred and despair.

18  An angry person filled with rage,
is sure to cause a fight;
But one who’s slow to show their wrath,
will calmly make things right.

19  The lazy face a thorny path,
with trouble as their fate;
The upright walk a level way –
a highway that is straight.

20  Wise children make their fathers glad,
and thankful they were born;
The foolish treat their mothers bad,
through disrespect and scorn.

21  To those who have no commonsense,
there’s joy in foolishness;
But those with wisdom walk a path,
from which they won’t digress.

22  The best laid plans will surely fail,
without a learned guide;
But with advisors to assist,
success will soon abide.

23  A person finds abiding joy,
to give an apt reply;
For timely words are very good,
as no one can deny.

24  The prudent find the path of life,
leads upward and away;
It saves them from the world below,
of darkness and decay.

25  The Lord destroys the dwelling place,
of everyone who’s vain;
But he protects the widow’s land,
securing her domain.

26  The Lord detests the thoughts of all,
the wicked and the vile;
But he delights in every word,
that’s gracious and worthwhile.

27  The greedy seeking unjust gain,
bring trouble on their tribe;
But they will surely live and breathe,
who do not take a bribe.

28  The righteous heart gives careful thought,
before its answer’s heard;
The wicked have a mouth that pours,
out evil with each word.

29  The Lord is far away from those,
pursuing wickedness;
But hears the prayers of those who walk,
the way of righteousness.

30  A cheerful look that lights the eyes,
brings joy to fill the soul;
As well, good news restores the bones,
to make the body whole.

31  The one who listens when rebuked,
to words that offer life;
Will be at home among the wise,
with knowledge that is rife.

32  The one ignoring discipline,
will tear their soul apart;
But one who heeds correction gains,
an understanding heart.

33  To fear the Lord brings discipline,
with wisdom as its aim;
While being humble comes before,
the honor of one’s name.

Proverbs 14

The prudent show their wisdom when they contemplate their ways”  (Proverbs 14:8a)

This is the fourteenth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 14, preceded by a brief reflection.

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Christmas morning was a wild scene when I was a child.  As soon as my parents appeared, my two brothers and I tore into piles of neatly wrapped gifts.  We did not take turns, and pausing only to confirm our name on a present, we raced through the gifts like a murder of crows feasting on carrion.  I can’t remember giving much thought as to who the giver was (Mom & Dad, grandparent, Santa), and barely was one gift opened that it was tossed aside and another attacked.  Quickly the stacks of packages were converted into a sea of empty boxes, bows, and wrapping paper.  I have a memory of board games, electric trains, cap pistols, and coonskin hats.  But more than the presents, what I remember most is unbounded energy and excitement marked by shouts and squeals of delight.

Now you might be tempted to dismiss my recollection as just that – a faded memory that has become embellished with each telling.  But in this you would be wrong because there are tapes!  My dad, you see, was an audiophile and sort of amateur archivist who selectively recorded people and events.  He owned a good quality reel-to-reel tape recorder, which probably means nothing for those of you who are under 50.  Reel-to-reel was a technology that preceded eight-track recorders and cassettes by a couple of decades.  Rather than the recording tape being self-contained within a single cassette, it moved between two separate reels.  Suffice it to say, the tape recorder was a rather large affair weighing perhaps fifteen pounds or so and about the size of a small suitcase.  These days with smart phones, it is a simple matter to secretly record a conversation or event, but stealth was not so simple in the days of reel-to-reel.

The first time my dad recorded us on a Christmas morning, we were more or less oblivious to the fact that we were being taped.  But we boys caught on fast, and thereafter carefully searched when we suspected he was going to record us.  This was the situation one Christmas, where we conducted a sweep of the room before diving into our presents.  Despite our efforts, he caught us on tape again.  For unbeknownst to us, he had set up the tape recorder in the basement underneath the living room where we opened presents.  Drilling a hole in the floor, he had threaded the wire so that the microphone could be in the living room while the recorder was in the basement.  And where did he put the microphone, which was about the size of a deck of cards?  Why, in the box of tissues next to his chair of course!

When my dad played this recording for me many years later, what I described above is pretty accurate.  Lots of ripping of paper against a chorus of “oh boy, oh boy’s.”  It wasn’t altogether unpleasant to listen to, but even with the passing of so much time, I felt a bit silly to hear it played back.  Still, we were only little kids and the unrestrained excitement and joy seems very natural to the season.

For most other times in my life I am thankful that what I have said has not been recorded.  Too often I have spoken out of anger, frustration, or just plain meanness.  I would no doubt be overwhelmed if the full extent were made known.  What a grace that no one can play my words back to me.

But if the idea of having my words recorded is not bad enough, how much worse would it be if someone had recorded my thoughtsUnbearable shame is what comes to my mind.  For the truth is that too often I choose thoughts of anger over forgiveness, pride over humility, defensiveness over teachability, lust over purity, resentment over joy, criticism over understanding, and selfishness over generosity.  These thoughts have hurt others as they have worked themselves out in my words and emotions.

We are spiritually mature to the extent of our thoughts.  In the words of Solomon in Proverbs 14, The prudent show their wisdom when, they contemplate their ways.”  (Proverbs 14:8a)  This idea of contemplating or giving thought to our ways is repeated in a later verse.  The prudent think about their steps, and where they’re bound to lead.”  (Proverbs 14:15b)  In other words, thoughts matter.  Indeed, our thought life is a hinge about which our spiritual life pivots.

This truth is expressed in different ways in Scripture.  The Apostle Paul wrote, “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  (2 Corinthians 10:5)  And to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  (Romans 12:2)  It’s not just that our thoughts are at the root of our actions and emotions, but according to Jesus, unholy thoughts are morally equivalent to their corresponding action.  “I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. … I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  (Matthew 5:22, 28)

I am grateful that there is no technology that can secretly record my thoughts the way my dad recorded my words on a Christmas morning long ago.  But God of course transcends physical technology and is always monitoring our thoughts.  This is what it means for God to be omniscient, and what King David beautifully describes.

– O Lord, You have examined me, discerning what’s inside;
You know my every thought and deed, there’s nothing I can hide.
– You know when I am sitting down, You know when I arise;
You know my thinking from afar, whatever I devise.
– You know when I am going out, You know when I’m at rest;
You know the places I have been, You know my worst and best.
– Before a word is on my tongue, You know what I will say;
You know what I am thinking, Lord, the thoughts that I’ll convey.
– You’re all around on every side, behind me and before;
You lay Your hand upon my head so I can rest secure.
(Psalm 139:1-5)

What’s on your mind?

S

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1  Wisdom builds her dwelling house,
where solidly it stands;
But Folly strikes and tears hers down,
by means of her own hands.

2  The one who fears the Lord walks straight,
and upright every day;
But one who hates him is perverse,
and crooked in their way.

3  The foolish utter prideful words,
that hurt them in the end;
The wise however speak with lips,
that guard them like a friend.

4  Where there’s no oxen for the plow,
the manger will be bare;
But where their strength is utilized,
abundance will be there.

5  An honest witness tells the truth,
when giving a reply;
But one who falsely testifies,
tells nothing but a lie.

6  A mocker seeking wisdom tries,
but vainly casts around;
The wise find knowledge comes with ease,
as quickly it is found.

7  It’s wise to stay away from fools,
avoiding where they live;
For there’s no knowledge they can share,
no wisdom they can give.

8  The prudent show their wisdom when,
they contemplate their ways;
But fools reveal their folly when,
deception fills their days.

9  The foolish mock at all attempts,
to offer recompense;
The righteous find acceptance by,
redressing their offense.

10  The heart knows its own bitterness –
its darkness and its light;
There’s no one who can know its pain,
or share in its delight.

11  The vile will see their house destroyed –
demolished where it stood;
The righteous flourish in a tent,
for doing what is good.

12  There is a way that seems correct –
a way perceived as true;
But it deceives and in the end,
it’s death it’s leading to.

13  Although a heart may laugh and shout,
inside it still may break;
And even though rejoicing ends,
it still can grieve and ache.

14  The faithless ones will be repaid,
for their ungodly ways;
The righteous will be satisfied,
with how they’ve lived their days.

15  The foolish trust in everything,
And to such things accede;
The prudent think about their steps,
and where they’re bound to lead.

16  The wise are cautious and aware,
and turn from evilness;
But fools show overconfidence,
and reckless carelessness.

17  The foolish and quick-tempered act,
in ways that are unwise;
While those devising evil schemes,
are hated and despised.

18  The foolish get what they deserve,
with folly their return;
The prudent wear a noble crown,
of knowledge to discern.

19  The wicked bow before the good,
when they comes into sight;
Indeed they bow before the gates,
of those whose ways are right.

20  The poor are shunned by neighbors who,
on once they could depend;
The rich although know quite a few,
who love to call them friend.

21  To hate a neighbor is a sin –
an act of wickedness;
But one who’s kind to those in need,
is filled with happiness.

22  Those plotting vile and evil acts,
will surely go astray;
But those whose plans are good find love,
and faithfulness each day.

23  In working hard there’s wealth and gain –
a profit one can see;
But merely talking makes one poor,
and leads to poverty.

24  The crowning glory of the wise,
is wealth without surcease;
The foolishness of fools just makes,
their foolishness increase.

25  A truthful witness saves a life,
when called to testify;
But one who speaks deceitfully,
condemns it by a lie.

26  Whoever trusts and fears the Lord,
will have security;
And for the children in their home,
a refuge it will be.

27  To fear the Lord is like a spring,
that flows with life untold;
It turns one from the snares of death,
and its determined hold.

28  A king who governs multitudes,
is honored by his reign;
But princes with no one to rule,
know ruin and disdain.

29  The one who’s slow to anger has,
their wisdom on display;
But one who’s temper quickly shows,
displays their foolish way.

30  A tranquil heart gives life and health,
to make a body sound;
But coveting is cancerous,
so rotten bones abound.

31  The one who persecutes the poor,
shows God contempt and shame;
But being kind to those in need,
brings honor to his name.

32  The wicked will be overthrown,
by their iniquity;
The righteous feel secure and safe,
in their integrity.

33  Those having understanding live,
with Wisdom in their heart;
But she does not reside with fools –
with them she has no part.

34  Now righteousness will surely lift,
a nation in its place;
But sin condemns societies,
to fall into disgrace.

35  A wise and honest servant has,
the favor of a king;
But one who causes shame will feel,
the fury of his sting.

Proverbs 13

“A hope deferred will make the heart feel sick and full of grief; But filled it is a tree of life, alive with fruit and leaf.”  (Proverbs 13:12)

This is the thirteenth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 13, preceded by a brief reflection.

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2020 has been a tough year.  The global pandemic has left many of us shaken and fearful for our health and those we love.  More than anything, we desire an end to the scourge and a recovery from the resulting economic distress and social isolation.  The civil and political unrest has added to our anxiety, and we desperately hope for relational healing from the deep divisions within our country.  The words of Solomon in Proverbs 13 seem to capture the moment, “A hope deferred will make the heart feel sick and full of grief; But filled it is a tree of life, alive with fruit and leaf.”  (Proverbs 13:12)  No doubt when a cure is found for Covid, and divisions within the country begin to heal, we will emerge from our grief and heartsickness and begin to feel alive once again.  Indeed, in a later verse in Proverbs 13, we read, “Those with their longings satisfied, know sweetness of the soul.”  (Proverbs 13:19a)

But is this what it is going to take for us to be a tree of life?  Will it only be when our hopes and longings are satisfied that we will feel alive with sweetness in our soul?  Is it only when external conditions change that we will know internal peace?  Is it only when we are protected by a vaccine and conflicts resolved that we will experience contentment?

Proverbs 13 has essentially two types of verses.  The majority are those which embody a moral imperative.  For example,“A child who’s wise will want to heed its parent’s clear command; A mocker though does not respond to words of reprimand.”  (Proverbs 13:1)  This is a pattern we find throughout Proverbs – a comparison and contrast between the righteous and the wicked, the wise and the foolish, the diligent and the lazy, etc.  In other words, these carry the weight of ethical norms – we ought to pursue a life of righteousness, wisdom, diligence, etc.

However, there are also a handful of verses, such as verse 13, that do not involve right and wrong per se, but rather are universal truths about the human condition.  “A hope deferred will make the heart feel sick and full of grief; But filled it is a tree of life alive with fruit and leaf.”  (Proverbs 13:12)  This is something we have all experienced – being heartsick when our hopes go unfulfilled and being overjoyed when they are filled.  If we were to read this as a moral imperative, then I suppose the way forward is to reduce the things we hope for.  In other words, we should put to death those things that we desire.  But while overcoming one’s desires or “detachment” is the goal of many Eastern religions, it is decidedly not part of Scripture or a Christian worldview.

The point being, Proverbs 13:12 is not the final word on our desires and hopes, but must be read in light of the rest of Scripture.  Otherwise, our happiness and fruitfulness would be dependent upon having our desires met.  The Bible provides a lot of guidance on overcoming worry.  The foundational way is stated by Jesus, Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  (Matthew 6:33-34)

As we seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness in increasing measure, God’s provision enables us to live more and more in the present moment.  In the immediately preceding verses in Matthew 6, Jesus gives practical guidance on overcoming worry and anxiety by telling us to contemplate God’s care for “the birds of the air” and “flowers of the field.”  Mostly we do this in our mind’s eye, and rarely in actual fact.  It seems to me that birds and flowers are a metonymy for nature.  And that nature is a way God provides for soothing our fears.  Let me give three examples.

My wife Pat loves to “go birding.”  Particularly during the Spring migration, she desires nothing more than to spend a few hours of a morning with binoculars in hand studying birds that she finds in bushes, trees and the air.  Along with her “birding buddy” Jo Anne, she soaks in the diverse beauty of the “birds of the air.”  From the spectacular colors of indigo buntings and goldfinches to the lyrical songs of Baltimore orioles and wood thrushes, it is all a healing salve to the soul.  Excited and energized when she returns home, the renewed sense of wholeness in her spirit is palpable.

My friends Marly and her husband Bill have taken to exploring our local parks since Covid disrupted their normal activities.  This spring and summer, they regularly hiked trails that took them through wood, field, and fen.  Marly recently commented on how her love for being outside in nature has grown.  In this, she has come to appreciate the love for the out-of-doors of her long-departed father, who worked many years for the National Park Service.  A small thing perhaps, but contemplating nature is a restorative to what confuses, confounds, and worries us in our daily lives.

I too spend a lot of time outside, because one of my tasks is to walk our dog.  After years of running daily for exercise where I focused only on my footing and stopwatch, I have a slower pace in my wanderings these days.  As I go, I find my gaze drawn to the beauty of the heavens and their seemingly infinite variation.  I like skies of grey, I like skies of blue, but I really like skies with clouds.  Daisy doesn’t mind when I pause to look up.  She sniffs the ground while I follow the patterns and shapes in the clouds.  It helps me put things in perspective as I consider that God’s firmament has been on display since the dawn of time and will be to the end.  Invariably, I return home refreshed and at peace.

Being outside in nature provides temporal relief from our worries.  Whether spying on migrating birds, hiking a woodland trail, or simply watching the clouds – it is almost impossible to ponder these sights while worrying at the same time.  But Jesus’ words suggest that there is a deeper freedom from our worries we can experience.  For if God provides for the birds of the air and adorns the flowers of the field, how much more will he care for us.  In essence, Jesus tells us that if we focus on the wonders of today we don’t have to wait until our hopes are fulfilled to live as “a tree of life, alive with fruit and leaf.”

S

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1  A child who’s wise will want to heed,
its parent’s clear command;
A mocker though does not respond,
to words of reprimand.

2  Those speaking right and fruitful words,
will surely taste good things;
The treacherous seek violence,
and eat the hate it brings.

3  Those placing guards upon their lips,
will keep their lives secure;
Those rashly speaking careless words,
won’t flourish or endure.

4  The sluggard’s wants are never filled,
but always are denied;
The diligent find all their wants,
are fully satisfied.

5  The righteous hate whatever’s false,
no lies do they embrace;
The wicked bring upon themselves,
dishonor and disgrace.

6  The righteous find their way secured,
by their integrity;
The wicked though are overthrown,
by their iniquity.

7  One person acts like they are rich,
but yet is very poor;
Another acts like one in want,
while having so much more.

8  The rich must pay a ransom when,
their lives are on the line;
The poor don’t even hear a threat –
such problems they don’t find.

9  The righteous are a joyful flame –
a bright and shiny light;
The wicked are fading lamp,
that’s snuffed out in the night.

10  The arrogant are insolent,
creating strife and fear;
The wise will listen to advice,
accepting what they hear.

11  Those gaining wealth dishonestly,
will find it slips away;
But those who earn it bit by bit,
will watch it grow each day.

12  A hope deferred will make the heart,
feel sick and full of grief;
But filled it is a tree of life,
alive with fruit and leaf.

13  Those scorning wise, instructive words,
will surely meet their fate;
But those who keep commands will know,
rewards that won’t abate.

14  The wise have teaching that provides,
a font of life for all;
It turns one from the snares of death,
so it will not befall.

15  Those showing their good judgment will,
win favor like a friend;
But those who act unfaithfully,
will surely meet their end.

16  The prudent and self-disciplined,
show knowledge and good sense.
But fools expose their ignorance,
with folly and pretense.

17  A wicked messenger will fall,
into adversity;
A faithful courier with bring,
a healing remedy.

18  Those disregarding discipline,
have poverty and shame;
But those who heed admonishment,
find honor and acclaim.

19  Those with their longings satisfied,
know sweetness of the soul;
But fools can’t turn from wickedness,
in part or in the whole.

20  Those walking with the wise become,
as wise as they are too;
But those who spend their time with fools,
are harmed by what they do.

21  A sinner lives a life pursued,
by trouble and distress;
The righteous are rewarded with,
good blessings and success.

22  Good people leave their money for,
their grandchildren to keep;
But sinners simply store up wealth,
that righteous people reap.

23  The poor could glean sufficient food,
from even fallow fields;
Injustice sweeps it all away,
destroying what it yields.

24  To spare the rod of discipline,
means hatred for a child;
But parents who correct with care,
have love that’s not defiled.

25  The righteous eat abundantly,
until they’re satisfied;
The wicked suffer hunger pangs,
that are not mollified.

 

Proverbs 12

“There is a path called righteousness – a way that leads to life; A pathway where there is no death – no finitude or strife.”  (Proverbs 12:28)

This is the twelfth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 12, preceded by a brief reflection.

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Psalm 23 is the most beloved Psalm in the Psalter, and one of the most read passages in the Bible.  The King James version captures well its unfailing comfort and consolation.  Consider the first three verses:  “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters.  He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”  (Psalm 23:1-3)  Is there any one of us who has not yearned to know the Lord as their Shepherd?  Is there anyone not desperate for rest from the bumps and bruises of life; to be refreshed as it were by living water; to have their soul restored?  Yet, at times this can seem like a far land – remote and seemingly beyond our reach.  Even for those who call on the Lord as Shepherd, there is often a gap between the world of Psalm 23 and the reality.  I believe that the way of restoration – where we can enter into and experience the comfort of Psalm 23 more fully – is by following the Shepherd on the path of righteousness of verse 3.

This is not a matter of earning the rest and renewal offered by our Shepherd, but of receiving these as blessings by following the One who offers them.  The blessings and the path are inseparable.  The Lord leads us to the waters and he leads us to the path – we often can’t see where he is leading, but we know that we can trust Him to keep us safe.  Still, following a path, particularly the path of righteousness, requires effort on our part.  The Lord is there to lead and guide us, but it is up to us to follow the path.  The nature of the path of righteousness is not described in Psalm 23.  To flesh this out, we must look elsewhere in Scripture – for example, the words of Jesus, and the teachings of Paul and other writers of the New Testament.  But for a concentrated tutorial on the path of righteousness, it is hard to beat Proverbs.

Proverbs 12 has a wonderful verse with echoes of Psalm 23.
“There is a path called righteousness – a way that leads to life;
A pathway where there is no death – no finitude or strife.”
  (Proverbs 12:28)
This path of righteousness leads to life, a way where there is no death.  We are not told what sort of life this is, but the Hebrew word for life in this verse is “chay,” which is used both literally and figuratively.  Literally it can mean green (likevegetation) and fresh (like water); figuratively it can mean revival and renewal.  All of which sound very similar to the rest and restoration of Psalm 23.

But this still begs the question as to what exactly the ways or paths of righteousness look like?  And here Proverbs is a treasure-trove of descriptions of the paths of righteousness.  Embedded in many of the Proverbs are the blessings that follow from the path.  For example, here are some from Proverbs 12:
– Goodness leads to favor from the Lord (verse 2);
– Diligence leads to plenty (verse 11);
– Honesty leads to endurance forever (verse 19);
– Peacemaking leads to joy (verse 20); and
– Faithfulness leads to delight from the Lord (verse 22).

There are many more verses that describe the way of righteousness that do not explicitly include the blessing.  Again, here are some from Proverbs 12:
– Justice (verse 5);
– Humility (verse 9);
– Teachability (verse 15);
– Truthfulness (verse 17);
– Prudence (verse 23); and
– Encouragement (verse 25).

These are precisely the “paths of righteousness” where the good Shepherd of Psalm 23 would lead us.  It is perforce a sampling given that this is but one chapter in Proverbs.  But there are many others described throughout Proverbs and the rest of Scripture.  The point is that Proverbs is much more that a bunch of platitudes about wisdom, although there is some of that.  Rather, we find in Proverbs a collective description of the rules that govern a life of faith.  They are not laws in the sense that following them guarantees an outcome.  But they are highly predictive so that if we follow them with the help of our Shepherd we will find the rest that he promises.

When I first started running, I could barely make it around the block.  But with daily practice and discipline, my stamina increased and within a year I was running competitive marathons.  There is no way I could have achieved this without training.  Still, I had no direct ability to increase my lung capacity or strengthen my legs.  All of this happened as a result of the way God designed my body.  In the same way, spiritual maturity happens when we follow the path of righteousness – not because we can directly control the outcome, we can’t.  But because God has designed the spiritual world with rules that are as predictive as those in the natural world.  One of these “rules” is that when we act with goodness towards others, we experience the Lord’s favor.  (Proverbs 12:2)

Ronald Rolheiser describes it this way.  “When we act like God, we get to feel like God.  Conversely, when we are petty, we get to feel petty.  There is a clear cause and effect here:  when we do bighearted things, we get to feel bighearted, and when we do small-hearted things, we get to feel small.”  (Sacred Fire 234-235)  And this I think is one of the principal takeaways from Proverbs – that when we follow the paths of righteousness, we get to experience the feelings of righteousness – abundance, joy, peace, etc.  In other words, when I show goodness and mercy towards others, then, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.”  (Psalm 23:6a)

S

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1  The person loving discipline,
loves knowledge as the same;
But one who hates to be reproved,
has stupid for a name.

2  A person who is good and true
finds favor from the Lord;
But one devising wicked schemes,
feels God’s condemning sword.

3  The wicked will not find their wrongs
provide security;
The righteous though are resolute,
deep rooted as a tree.

4  A wife of noble character
will crown her husband’s way;
But she with shame is like the rot
that make his bones decay.

5  The righteous think and make their plans,
with judgments that are just;
The wicked though give skewed advice,
that’s dubious to trust.

6  The wicked speak with words of death,
that lie in wait for blood;
The righteous speak with words of life,
that rescue from a flood.

7  The wicked will be overthrown,
so they will be no more;
The righteous have a standing house,
that’s solid to the core.

8  A person will receive the praise,
that matches their good sense;
But one who has a perverse mind
is loathed for their offense.

9  Far better to be commonplace,
and working for one’s meat;
Than acting like someone who’s great,
and have no food to eat.

10  The righteous love their animals,
providing what they need;
The wicked even at their best
are cruel to them indeed.

11  Those working hard upon their land
will never want for bread;
But those pursing fantasies,
lack any sense instead.

12  The wicked covet all the things
that evildoers steal;
The righteous treasure only fruit
that their own roots reveal.

13  The wicked find their evil words,
entrap them like a snare;
The righteous by their innocence,
escape from every scare.

14  Good people will be satisfied
by fruitful words they say;
And they will be rewarded by
the work they do each day.

15  The foolish walk along a way
that’s right in their own eyes;
But those who listen to advice
are singularly wise.

16  The foolish don’t withhold their wrath,
or let their anger keep;
The prudent though will overlook
an insult cutting deep.

17  The honest witness gives the facts
on which the truth relies;
The crafty witness falsely speaks
by only telling lies.

18  The reckless speak with words that cut,
like swords with blades of steel;
The wise are soothing with their tongues,
that reassure and heal.

19  The one whose lips convey the truth,
endures forevermore;
But one whose tongue dispenses lies,
will fade like days of yore.

20  Those plotting evil have deceit
implanted in their hearts;
But those promoting plans for peace,
know joy that it imparts.

21  The righteous will not suffer harm –
no evil will befall;
The wicked though will have their fill
of troubles great and small.

22  The Lord finds those with lying lips,
abhorrent in his sight;
But those behaving faithfully
are always his delight.

23  The prudent hold their knowledge close –
concealed where none can see;
The foolish in their ignorance,
proclaim stupidity.

24  The diligent with thrifty hands,
will rule by holding sway;
The lazy though will be compelled,
to labor night and day.

25  Anxiety and heaviness
weighs heavy on a soul;
But kindly words will cheer it up,
and gladly make it whole.

26  The righteous guide their neighbors well,
to help them like a friend;
The wicked lead them down a path,
to perish in the end.

27  The lazy do not roast their game,
so have no food to eat;
The diligent protect their wealth,
like something that is sweet.

28  There is a path called righteousness –
a way that leads to life;
A pathway where there is no death –
no finitude or strife.

Proverbs 11

“The one who hurts their family, inherits just the wind.”  (Proverbs 11:29a)

This is the eleventh in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 11, preceded by a brief reflection.

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It was June of 1858, almost three years before the start of the Civil War, and Kansas was bleeding.  Violent clashes were rocking the territory from the political debate over whether it would enter the Union as a free or slave state.  People were being shot and murdered, buildings burned, armed militias roaming, and elections rigged.  Anger and hatred had the day.  Meanwhile, two states away in Illinois, a lawyer from humble roots had just been nominated by the state Republican party to run for a U.S. Senate seat.  It was the occasion of his acceptance speech that Abraham Lincoln prophetically spoke these words:  “A house divided against itself cannot stand.  I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.  I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided.  It will become all one thing, or all the other.”  The reference to a “house divided,” as we know, comes from Jesus, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.”  (Matthew 12:25)

So here we are today, more than 150 years later, and once again living in a deeply divided country.  Not that these times can be compared to the Civil War, few things can.  Yet, we are frightened by the social, medical, and economic consequences of a worldwide pandemic.  We are struggling to understand the racial and economic roots of ongoing protests.  We are confused by what is spread on social media.  And if this were not enough, we find ourselves polarized by a toxic election cycle that is breeding conflict and division.  The person we elect to lead our nation for the next four years is certainly critical.  But even more critical is how we as Christians react and respond to those whose views are different than ours.  Jesus spoke forcefully that murder starts in the heart and that anger is murder in the eyes of God.  By God’s reckoning, the hearts of many of us are daily killing others.  We may not be using the weapons of war, although some are, but we are using the weapons of our words to vilify and demean all those who believe differently than we do.

While there is much in Scripture that can inform us on the qualities of a good leader, there is much more on the qualities that God wants to be formed in us.  Proverbs 11 touches on both of these.  Before commenting on the former, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I must confess that I am a recovering lawyer.  As such, I fight the urge to use Scripture as a proof-text for my viewpoint.  Instead, I would hope to follow the words I recently heard from a Benedictine monk.  While stating that he knows intellectual reasons regarding the Bible, even how to rationally reject it, he also knows the Bible feeds him in way that never ceases to amaze him.  And so I would simply highlight several verses in Proverbs 11 that have fed me as I have reflected on them over the past several weeks.

Leaders
Verse 14 speaks directly to two foundational qualities of a leader.  When there is no wise guiding hand, a nation’s hope is done; but with advice of counselors, a victory is won.”  (Proverbs 11:14)  The first is wise guidance, which starts with self-control, and a set of core moral values that are displayed daily in word and deed.  From this foundation, vision and direction that are in the best interests of the nation will emerge.  Without such guidance, we are told that the nation’s hope is done.  The second involves the “advice of counselors” who are informing the leader.  A good leader needs really smart, moral people who will provide honest facts and the best advice available.  The leader who only wants “yes men” or “yes women” is sure to endanger the nation.

Beyond verse 14, there are many ancillary verses in Proverbs 11 that speak to the moral fitness of all of us, including our leaders.  These include: honesty (verse 1); humility (verse 2); integrity (verse 3); discernment (verse 12); no slander (verse 13); kindness (verse 17); morality (verse 22); and generosity (verse 26).  When I was a child we had prayer in school.  We also had something called Citizenship and were instructed in moral values.  These verses in Proverbs 11 are a pretty good sampling of what we learned.  They were taught not only because they were Judeo-Christian values, but because they were our shared American values.

There are other qualities that are no doubt important in a leader, but ultimately whomever is elected will not be our savior.  And that is why we must trust in God and look principally to the qualities he expects in us.

Christians
This is a uniquely challenging time for us Christians because at the heart of our division is the central issue of the importance and role of character in an elected official.  I don’t need to spell it out because there is no sincere Christian who is not grappling with this at some level; for virtue as it is spelled out in Scripture has always been a foundational Christian value.  On one side are those who believe that, assuming a candidate is competent, character is more important than policies.  On the other side are those who believe that a candidate’s policies trump basic morality and respect.  Indeed, this is the point of the spear that has divided us – the relative importance and weight we place on the moral character of our elected officials.  And as we have polarized over this issue, we have drifted away from another central value, which is the unity that Jesus desires for us.  In John 17, his longest recorded prayer in Scripture – Jesus prays for his disciples, and for us.  “My prayer is not for them alone.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity.  Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  (John 17:20-23)

It is interesting that in his final prayer for us, Jesus asks only for our unity.  Elsewhere in his final discourse he reminds the disciples of the importance of virtue through obeying his commands and loving one another.  In his prayer however, his focus is on our remaining one in him.  He does not ask that we agree on every matter that comes before us, but that whatever our differences they must not destroy our unity.  This is hard for me to do when I feel the pull of my desires and fears for the election alienating and estranging me from some in my family and church.  Fortunately, there is a verse in Proverbs 11 that speaks into my emotional state and helps bring Jesus’ prayer into sharper relief.  “The one who hurts their family, inherits just the wind.” (Proverbs 11:29a).

“Inherit the wind.”  Perhaps you remember it from the title of the play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee?”  In one scene, the minister is preaching to a cheering crowd against a local teacher accused of teaching against the Bible.  When the minister’s daughter suggests that they forgive the teacher, the minister in his zeal actually calls a curse on her.  At this point, another character in the play cautions the minister by reminding him of Proverbs 11:29, but to no avail.  At the end of the story, the crowds are gone and the minister’s daughter moves away leaving him all alone in the world.  The prophetic words of Proverbs coming true – what he has to “inherit” at the end is nothing but the wind.

I need the commonsense of Proverbs and a big measure of grace to understand those Christians whose political views are different than mine.  But in my zeal I know that I need that same grace from them.  Proverbs 11:29 has helped me remember that elections come and go, but my relationships are forever.  No matter how right my beliefs or just my cause, no matter if I can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, if I have not love, I am nothing.  And, indeed, I will have nothing.

I end this reflection where I started – with the words of Abraham Lincoln.  It is now January of 1861, the country is on the brink of the Civil War, and these are the closing words of his inaugural address.  Words with an import similar to those of Jesus in John 17, but words that were unfortunately ignored as they were drowned out by the passion of the times.  “We are not enemies, but friends.  We must not be enemies.  Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.  The mystic chords of memory … will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

S

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1  The Lord detests dishonest scales –
a measurement not right;
For truthful weights are what he wants –
in them he takes delight.

2  With arrogance and haughty pride,
disgrace and shame is known;
It’s only with humility,
that wisdom will be shown.

3  The righteous have a steadfast guide
through their integrity;
The faithless though will be destroyed
by their duplicity.

4  There is no wealth that saves a soul,
when judgment day is here;
But righteousness delivers one,
whenever death is near.

5  The blameless walk by righteousness,
that makes their pathways straight;
The wicked live by evilness,
so ruin is their fate.

6  The upright walk by righteousness,
which saves them from distress;
The vile are captured by their thoughts
of sin and wickedness.

7  When wicked people pass away,
their hopes will surely die;
The confidence they placed in wealth,
will end without a sigh.

8  The righteous will be saved from harm,
when trouble comes along;
The wicked though will feel its weight,
because of doing wrong.

9  The wicked strike their neighbors down,
by harmful words they speak;
But righteous victims will escape
through knowledge that they seek.

10  The righteous thrive and towns rejoice,
for everything is great;
And when the wicked fall apart,
their cities celebrate.

11  The righteous lift a city up,
so it is truly blessed;
The wicked tear a city down,
with every word expressed.

12  The one who cuts a neighbor down,
lacks sensibility;
But one with understanding stops
their tongue from running free.

13  A gossip and a slanderer
betrays a confidence;
But one of trust keeps secrets safe,
ensuring their defense.

14  When there is no wise guiding hand,
a nation’s hope is done;
But with advice of counselors,
a victory is won.

15  The one who backs a stranger’s debt,
is certain to be harmed;
But one whose hands won’t shake in pledge,
will never be alarmed.

16  A woman who is generous
has honor for her gain;
A ruthless man may gather wealth,
but nothing more obtain.

17  Those kind to others help themselves,
and harvest what they’ve sown;
Those cruel will know a troubled way,
that ruins them alone.

18  The wicked earn a phantom wage,
that’s valueless to hoard;
The righteous sowing what is good,
will reap a just reward.

19  The righteous in their steadfast ways
acquire life and breath;
The wicked find their vile pursuits
will only lead to death.

20  The wicked are abhorred by God,
and loathed within his sight;
The righteous he finds innocent,
in them he takes delight.

21  The wicked surely won’t get off,
as punishment they’ll see;
The righteous though will be absolved,
as they will be set free.

22  Much like a lovely golden ring,
a pig wears in its snout;
Is one whose face is beautiful,
but morals are in doubt.

23  The righteous have a hope that ends
in goodness for their path;
The wicked though will find their hope
devolving into wrath.

24  The generous who freely give,
will certainly gain more;
The miserly who hold too tight,
will surely wind up poor.

25  The generous who bless, will be
successfully endued;
For those who water lavishly,
will find themselves renewed.

26  The one who hoards is cursed by those
who need provisioning;
But one who freely sells will get,
their prayers for God’s blessing.

27  The one who faithfully seeks good,
finds favor and delight;
But one who looks for evil things,
finds viciousness and spite.

28  The one who only trusts in wealth,
will fall without relief;
The righteous though will surely thrive,
much like a verdant leaf.

29  The one who hurts their family,
inherits just the wind;
For such a fool will serve the wise,
which no one will rescind.

30  The righteous are like trees of life,
that yield abundant fruit;
The wise are those who capture souls,
through glorious pursuit.

31  The righteous will receive their due,
when they are disciplined;
The wicked suffer so much more,
because of how they’ve sinned.

Proverbs 10

“The righteous leave a lasting name – a blessing to recall; the wicked just a name that rots – expunged by one and all.”  (Proverbs 10:7)

This is the tenth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 10, preceded by a brief reflection.

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The book of Proverbs is organized according to style and author.

1)  Proverbs 1 – 9  (Extended Wisdom Poem of Solomon)
2)  Proverbs 10 – 22:16  (Proverbs of Solomon)
3)  Proverbs 22:17-24  (Sayings of the Wise & Further Sayings of the Wise)
4)  Proverbs 25 – 29  (Proverbs of Solomon collected by Hezekiah)
5)  Proverbs 30  (The Words of Agur)
6)  Proverbs 31:1-9  (The Words of Lemuel)
7)  Proverbs 31:10-31  (The Wife of Noble Character by Lemuel)

Proverbs 10 marks an abrupt change in style from the preceding chapters.  For whereas the extended wisdom poem of Proverbs 1-9 hangs together in its topical and narrative form, much of what comes after is stylistically and organizationally disparate.  The verses in Proverbs 10, like those that follow, are styled as two-line couplets, with no obvious organization between and among the verses.  A few translations, such as the Message, provide sub-headings in an attempt to impose some structure.  I have found it best to simply accept the fact that the verses are only loosely organized by theme, rather than search for coherent patterns. However, as a general aid in reading them, I use three stars *** to separate groupings of verses that seem to go together.

Proverbs 10 may be lacking in formal structure, yet it includes a verse that helps to contextualize the other verses in chapter 10, as well as many of the others throughout Proverbs.  This is verse seven.  “The righteous leave a lasting name – a blessing to recall; the wicked just a name that rots – expunged by one and all.”  (Proverbs 10:7)  Is there anyone among us who does not want to leave a lasting name, a legacy if you will, that is a blessing to recall?  Surely there is an urging in all of us to want to be remembered with affection, and not with a name that rots and is slowly forgotten.  No doubt all of us remember someone who is a blessing to recall.  As no doubt there are some who we remember (if at all) with indifference, and even perhaps some whose names we would expunge from our minds.

Proverbs 10:7 contextualizes Proverbs by providing a reason to pursue the life of virtue that is described throughout Proverbs.  Of course, the primary reason for pursuing a life of virtue is to reflect our love for God.  “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.”  (John 14:21)  Furthermore, this pursuit leads us into a full and better life.  “The righteous have a just reward – a life that’s full and true; the wicked earn what they deserve – the judgment that they’re due.”  (Proverbs 10:16)  According to Proverbs 10:7, righteous living is our legacy to future generations – it is how we will be remembered because it is how our lives impact those who come after us.

God describes this generational blessing in the Ten Commandments, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”  (Exodus 20:5-6)  These words show that God’s love endures forever, but also that our life impacts future generations.  Or in the words of the translators of the NET, the beneficial consequences of a life of goodness extend indefinitely further than the retribution that is the penalty for persisting in sin.”  The focus of generational blessing is not principally about us – we are not seeking to leave our image carved in stone, but to imprint a certain goodness on the souls of those who will come after us.

But what is the essence of a person’s life that makes it a blessing?  To answer, I would mention my father whose name is a blessing for me to recall.

Every year on the first of September, I mark his birth month by rereading Northern Farm by Henry Beston.  It is a gentle series of reflections of life on a small freehold in rural Maine in the late 1940s.  I love Beston’s writing style and the recollections it stirs up of the five years I lived on a farm in Maine.  But mostly I read one short chapter each day because it was a favorite of my father who lived in Maine for the final 35 years of his life.  I read from his copy – the one that he gave me a few years before he died in 2013.  As I hold his book and read about snowstorms, wood fires, muddy roads, and starry nights, I have a wonderful sense of his presence.  Yet the blessing that his memory holds for me is not just the book or the other things we shared in common, but how he lived his life in relation to me and others.

I have struggled to put my finger on what it was about his character that makes his name a blessing.  I don’t feel that way about everyone I have known, even some in my own family.  What was it about him that is different?  Proverbs 10:7 says that the difference is between those who are righteous and those who are wicked.  But this is not entirely helpful because although Proverbs is filled with a description of the righteous and wicked, my dad did not always live up to the descriptions of one who is righteous.  Indeed, there are few of us who consistently measure up to the standards of righteousness identified throughout Proverbs.

My memory of my father is of a kind and gentle man.  He had his faults, as we all do, but they are not what I recall.  Rather, it was his kind and gentle spirit.  He spoke softly and with compassion.  His words were life-giving.  They exemplified, “The speech that comes from righteous mouths is like a spring of life.” (Proverbs 10:11a)  He believed in fairness and justice, but never allowed his fight for these to embitter his heart and poison his tongue.  Still, it wasn’t just his words, but his humility and humanity.  He had a tender heart for the disadvantaged, and ran a rural food pantry for a number of years.  The pantry served all comers, and the only thing that got my dad mad was when people donated food that was obviously spoiled.  He valued the poor, as he did all life.   He would have appalled to see the present age where many have drifted away from decency and kindness, at times even from our shared humanity.

How will you be remembered?  Will your name be a blessing to recall?  Will the memory of you bring a joyful recollection?  Will your example encourage someone to live a better life?  The questions are easy, the answers less so.  But the answers lie somewhere within the quality of our compassion and love for others. For God tells us that there is a type of love that we can embody that can cover over even a multitude of wrongs.  Or in the words of another verse in Proverbs 10, “For hatred and hostility, stirs conflict and discord; but love will cover every wrong, and all that is untoward.”  (Proverbs 10:12)

S

**********

1  These proverbs are from Solomon,
who writes about a child –
A wise one brings its parents joy,
A fool just gets them riled.

***

2  Ill-gotten treasure does not last,
no profit’s found in it;
But righteousness delivers life,
and keeps one from the pit.

3  The Lord won’t let the righteous starve –
He keeps his people fed;
But everything the wicked crave,
the Lord denies instead.

***

4  A slacker does not have success,
and ends in poverty;
But one forever diligent,
brings wealth that all can see.

5  The one who reaps in summertime
has prudence for a name;
But one who sleeps at harvesttime
brings disrepute and shame.

***

6  The righteous wear a noble crown
of blessings on their head;
The wicked hide a violent will
behind their mouth instead.

7  The righteous leave a lasting name –
a blessing to recall;
The wicked just a name that rots –
expunged by one and all.

***

8  The wise in heart accept commands
when wisdom they are taught;
But ruin clings to babbling fools,
and they will come to naught.

9  Whoever walks with honesty,
will walk secure and steeled;
But those who take a crooked path,
will have their way revealed.

10  Whoever winks maliciously
will cause a lot of grief;
While ruin comes to babbling fools,
with no chance for relief.

11  The speech that comes from righteous mouths
is like a spring of life;
But that from wicked tongues conceals
both violence and strife.

12  For hatred and hostility,
stirs conflict and discord;
But love will cover every wrong,
and all that is untoward.

13  While wisdom’s found on lips of those
with knowledge to dispense;
A rod is destined for the backs
of those who have no sense.

14  The wise will store up knowledge gained,
like treasure stashed away;
But fools with rash and reckless tongues,
bring ruin and decay.

15  The rich have wealth that’s like a fort –
a city strong and safe;
The poor are crushed by poverty –
a lost and needy waif.

16  The righteous have a just reward –
a life that’s full and true;
The wicked earn what they deserve –
the judgment that they’re due.

***

17  Whoever heeds what they are taught
discovers life that way;
But one who disregards reproof
will surely go astray.

18  Whoever hides their hating heart
is one whose lips tell lies;
And one who slanders and defames
is certainly unwise.

19  Whoever speaks too many words
is guaranteed to sin;
But one who knows to hold their tongue
has prudence deep within.

20  The righteous have a tongue that’s like
the finest silver known;
The wicked have an evil heart
with small worth of its own.

21  A righteous person’s words give life,
so many souls are fed;
But fools who don’t have commonsense,
are sure to end up dead.

***

22  The blessings of the Lord bring wealth –
a treasure to behold;
They come without the pain of work,
and sorrow of the soul.

23  A fool enjoys a wicked scheme,
and thinks that it’s okay;
While those of understanding find
delight in wisdom’s way.

24  The wicked will be overrun
by fears they can’t ignore;
The righteous though will be supplied
with all they’re hoping for.

25  The wicked will be swept away
by tempest, wind and squall;
The righteous though will not be moved,
whatever may befall.

***

26  Now sluggards are a pain to those
on whom their work relies –
Like vinegar upon the teeth
or smoke that fills the eyes.

***

27  The righteous have their life prolonged,
because they fear the Lord;
The wicked though will have their years
cut short as their reward.

28  The righteous have a certain hope –
a joy that is profound;
The wicked though will see their hopes
be buried in the ground.

29  The righteous know that God’s way is
a refuge safe and strong;
The wicked will be wrecked by it,
because their way is wrong.

30  The righteous have a solid root –
an anchor where they stand;
The wicked though will not remain,
or live within the land.

31  The righteous speak and bear the fruit,
of all that’s good and wise;
The wicked have a perverse tongue
that’s silenced for its lies.

32  The righteous know that what they speak
gives pleasure and delight;
The wicked only utter words
perverse and dark as night.

Proverbs 9

Instruct the wise and they’ll improve, increasing what they know; and teach the righteous carefully, and they will surely grow.”  (Proverbs 9:9)

This is the ninth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 9, preceded by a brief reflection.

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Proverbs 9 is the final chapter in the extended wisdom poem of Proverbs 1-9, which collectively serves as an introduction to Proverbs.  In this chapter Wisdom (verses 1-6) and Folly (verses 13-18) each makes her final appeal.  The appeals themselves are so wrapped in metaphor that it is hard to extract much practical advice for the spiritual life, except to hear once again that the way of Wisdom leads to life, and the way of Folly leads to death.

Sandwiched between these two appeals are three verses that speak deeply and practically to our human condition.  “Correct a mocker and it’s sure that you will be maligned; rebuke the wicked and you’ll find abuse is close behind.  For if you chide the ones who mock, it’s you that they will hate; but if you chide those who are wise, their love for you is great.  Instruct the wise and they’ll improve, increasing what they know; and teach the righteous carefully, and they will surely grow.”  (Proverbs 9:7-9)  In short, a wicked person will not accept correction and will attack the one correcting them; whereas a wise person will welcome correction and grow as a result.  And in this, Solomon gives us one of the most critical components of spiritual growth, namely, the importance of being able to receive correction well.

I wonder whether Solomon was thinking about the prophet Nathan who confronted Solomon’s father King David after his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah.  You remember the rebuke – Nathan tells David the story of a rich man who killed the only ewe of a poor man.  David was outraged, and then Nathan says to him, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7)   David did not get mad at Nathan, rather, he said, “I have sinned against the Lord.”  (2 Samuel 12:13)   Because Bathsheba was Solomon’s mother, it seems likely that Solomon would have known about this story.  Indeed, David himself wrote of his remorse, Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.  Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.”  (Psalm 51:1-4)

All of us make mistakes, no one is perfect.  But the essential posture of the wise person when confronted is to repent, to change.  The fool, on the other hand, becomes defensive.  This is a hard teaching because who among us likes to be corrected?  Or rebuked?  Or chided?  These words of Solomon are words of confrontation and challenge.  They are words that we hear as “you are wrong,” “you made a mistake,” or perhaps even “you are stupid.”  When I hear words like these my defense shields are fully engaged and I am ready to fight.

Defensiveness though, comes at a dear cost, because it silences the truth.  “Correct a mocker and it’s sure that you will be maligned; rebuke the wicked and you’ll find abuse is close behind.”  (Proverbs 9:7)   Who among us when confronting another person will continue to speak the truth in the face of being maligned and abused?  Certainly this can be a big problem in a marriage, where defensiveness effectively silences the one offering correction.  I wonder sometimes at how my marriage survived in the face of my defensiveness over the years.  I recognize today that my pride and insecurity would rarely allow me to be corrected.  It must be extremely challenging to live with someone who cannot receive correction.  Solomon tells us that the righteous grow as a result of correction.  The implied opposite being that those who are unwise will never grow.

Beyond relational damage though, there is the potential for deeper spiritual harm when a person no longer recognizes their need for correction.  The risk is that of losing sight of one’s sin.  The inability for us to recognize when we have sinned is a uniquely dangerous spiritual disease.  Ronald Rolheiser writes,

“This proclivity to rationalize and not admit weakness and sin is, singularly, the most deadly temptation facing each of us.  Failure to admit weakness and acknowledge our sin as sin is infinitely more damaging than weakness and sin themselves.  Failure in self-honesty is the start of the sin against the Holy Spirit, the only sin that can never be forgiven”  …
“Simply put, it is the sin of lying to oneself until one becomes so warped that one believes one’s own lie. Falsehood becomes truth.  The reason this sin cannot be forgiven is not that God does not want to forgive it, but rather that the person no longer sees the need for forgiveness.  Living in darkness is seen as living in light; sin is seen as grace; perversion as virtue.” (Forgotten Among the Lilies, 105-106)

Near the end of his life, Solomon himself became like the fool he wrote about in Proverbs.  God told him not to marry foreign women or worship their gods.  Whether this correction came through a prophet or directly from God, we do not know.  But we do know that Solomon did not repent and obey God.  Rather Solomon married those outside his nation and worshipped their disgusting gods (1 Kings 11:5,7)  Indeed, He sinned against the Lord and was not true to him as his father David had been.”  (1 Kings 11:6)  As punishment, God split the kingdom apart.

The irony should not be lost on us.  Here we have Solomon, whose “wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt.  He was wiser than anyone else.”  (1 Kings 4:30-31)  And yet he who wrote with such great insight about correction, was himself unable to receive it himself.

Nonetheless, Solomon’s advice is sound.  And it is achievable if our hope is in the Lord.  Or as we read, “Trust in the Lord … and he will make your pathways straight.”  (Proverbs 3:5-6)

S

**********

1  It’s Wisdom who has built her house
where all can gather round;
She’s carved out seven pillars strong
to firmly set it down.

2  She’s skillfully prepared her meat,
she’s mixed her finest wine;
She’s laid her table carefully,
so everything is fine.

3  She’s had her servants lead the way,
as she sets out to go;
She calls from high above the town
to everyone below.

“Let anyone who is naïve,
   and has no commonsense;
Come now and enter where I live,
   come now and listen hence.

Come, have your fill of what I’ve made,
   come freely eat my bread;
Come drink the wine that I have mixed,
   partake of what I’ve spread.

Forsake and leave your simple ways,
   and life will come to you;
Seek understanding for your walk,
   and insight that is true.”

***

7  Correct a mocker and it’s sure
that you will be maligned;
Rebuke the wicked and you’ll find
abuse is close behind.

8  For if you chide the ones who mock,
it’s you that they will hate;
But if you chide those who are wise,
their love for you is great.

9  Instruct the wise and they’ll improve,
increasing what they know;
And teach the righteous carefully,
and they will surely grow.

***

10  To fear the Lord is wisdom’s door –
the start of what is true;
While knowledge of the Holy One
is understanding too.

11  For wisdom will extend your days
by giving many more;
Your years will surely multiply,
increasing by the score.

12  If wise, you’ll gain a just reward,
and keep it for your own;
But if you mock, you’ll suffer much,
and bear it all alone.

***

13  Now Folly is tumultuous,
unruly and naïve;
She’s gullible and ignorant,
and eager to deceive.

14  She’s at the doorway of her house,
the place where she sits down;
Her vantage is the highest point,
that’s far above the town.

15  She calls to everyone she sees –
whoever’s passing near;
Those walking straight along their path
without concern or fear.

16  “Let anyone who is naïve,
   and has no commonsense;
Come now and enter where I live,
   come now and listen hence.

17  Now stolen water’s sweeter than
   whatever else you drink;
And food that’s gathered secretly,
   tastes better than you think.”

18  But simpletons are unaware,
it’s there the dead reside;
For those who enter Folly’s house,
become like those who’ve died.

Proverbs 8

The Lord created me to be His first work to behold; He made me at the very dawn, before his deeds of old.” (Proverbs 8:22)

This is the eighth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 8, preceded by a brief reflection.

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In Reflection On The Psalms, C.S. Lewis wrote of Psalm 19:  “I take this to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.”  High praise indeed from the preeminent Christian apologist of the 20th Century.  Lewis starts his reflection by reminding us of the structure of Psalm 19 – six verses about Nature, five about the Law, and the remainder about personal prayer.

The verses about nature are summed up by verse 1 –
The heavens show the work of God, His glory they proclaim;
The skies disclose His handiwork through starry host aflame.

The verses about the law by verse 7 –
The Lord reveals His perfect law so every soul can grow;
His words are worthy of our trust, with wisdom all can know.

And the verses about prayer by verse 14 –
May every word that’s in my mouth and thought within my soul,
Be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock who makes me whole.

What fascinated Lewis was how the psalmist so seamlessly moved from the beauty of nature to the beauty of God’s law.  Lewis wrote of the psalmist, “I think he felt, effortlessly and without reflecting on it, so close a connection, indeed (for his imagination) such an identity, between his first theme [nature] and his second [law] that he passed from the one to the other without realizing that he had made any transition.”  Lewis understood this connection between nature and God’s law through a simile – as the sun penetrates all of the natural world, so too God’s law penetrates all of a person’s soul.  Lewis wrote of the psalmist, “As he has felt the sun, perhaps in the desert, searching him out in every nook of shade where he attempted to hide from it, so he feels the Law searching out all of the hiding-places of his soul.”

I don’t think we need to get too hung-up about the meaning of God’s “law,” because in this context it is clear that the psalmist is referring to God’s moral law (as opposed to the ceremonial law).  For example, the psalmist says that the law is absolutely ‘just’ (v 9), and provides ‘moral guidance’ (v 11) – both of which describe moral law.  Lewis himself understood God’s ‘law’ in Psalm 19 as referring to Christian ethics.

C.S. Lewis gives us a wonderful handle on how the psalmist connects the beauty of nature and Christian ethics.  Proverbs 8 suggests another.

Proverbs 8 is the penultimate chapter in the extended wisdom poem of Proverbs 1-9.  Here Solomon returns to a number of themes from earlier chapters:  the universal call of wisdom (v 1-3); the moral underpinnings and value of wisdom (v 4-21); and the blessings for those who find wisdom (v 32-36).  I previously commented on the moral underpinnings of wisdom (see reflection on Proverbs 4).  This is supported by a number of verses in Proverbs 8 that relate wisdom to virtue.  For example, we find that Wisdom: only utters truth (v 7); only speaks righteous words (v 8); hates pride, evil ways and falsehoods (v 13); and walks the way of righteousness (v 20).

But in addition to restating some of his earlier themes, Solomon also provides a new insight in Proverbs 8, namely, that Wisdom was the first of God’s creations.  Before God created anything else, he created Wisdom. (v 22-31)  “The Lord created me to be His first work to behold; He made me at the very dawn, before his deeds of old.” (v22)

Many Christians think about creation in terms of the intelligent design of nature.  We reason that life is far more likely to be the result of an intelligent being, than the result of random actions.  But how often do we think about creation in terms of its moral underpinnings?  Proverbs 8 tells us that Wisdom and its inherent ethical attributes are part and parcel of the created world.  As noted, Wisdom was the first of God’s creations (v 22).  This was no mere passive presence, but an active relationship with God.  In the words of Wisdom:  “I constantly was at His side, and I was his delight, Rejoicing in His presence while forever in His sight.” (v 30)  And so, our world has more than just an intelligent physical design, but an ethical design as well.  Christian ethics and virtue are not post facto overlays to the created world, but are in its very warp and woof.

This, I believe, is why Psalm 19 so easily flows from nature to law – from the physical to the spiritual.  It is also why so much of what we call Christian virtue is intuitively obvious to us.  Does anyone not know that lying is immoral?  Or that assaulting another person is evil?  Or that stealing is wrong?  What about the fruit of the Spirit that we Christians so desire?  “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  (Galatians 5:22-23)  Are these not virtues that resonate with the vast majority of people on our planet?  They are familiar to us Christians, but even those of other religions or no religion recognize them as somehow fundamental to our common humanity.  Not that we achieve them or even mostly achieve them, but at least most of us would agree that they are desirable virtues – ones that at the very least we would like others to exhibit towards us.

It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  But when it comes to the natural world and the moral world, I am not so sure that it is quite that subjective.  It is the rare person who isn’t moved by the physical beauty of a sunrise, a rainbow after a storm, or the birth of a new life.  It is not the idea of creation that is perceived as beauty, but its physical manifestation in nature.  Similarly, most of us, regardless of our faith beliefs, recognize the moral beauty of another person who is truly kind, loving, and self-giving.  It is not God’s law per se that is perceived as beautiful, but its embodiment in the lives of others.  We really don’t need to be trained to appreciate these because both are woven into the very fabric of creation.  This I think is why the psalmist in Psalm 19 writes so seamlessly about nature and God’s law.  We have a vestigial recollection of something that God did at the dawn of time.  Something about beauty and goodness that has been imprinted upon our souls and which we ignore to our poverty.

S

**********

1  Is that not wisdom speaking now?
Is she not calling out?
Is that not understanding that
is coming with a shout?

2  On hilltops near the thoroughfare,
and far above the land –
Close by to where the pathways meet
is where she takes her stand.

3  Besides the city portal gates,
positioned near the crowd;
Close by the entrance passageway
is where she cries aloud.

***

“To you, O people, I call out –
   to all both far and near;
I, wisdom, elevate my voice
   so everyone can hear.

For those of you with simple minds,
   gain prudence for your way;
And those who act most foolishly,
   learn commonsense today.

O listen very carefully
   to what I say to you;
For what is coming from my lips,
   is excellent and true.

My mouth will only utter truth,
   it’s all that it will state;
My lips detest all wickedness,
   while loathsome things they hate.

8  For only righteous words I speak,
   each one of them is just;
Not one is crooked or perverse,
   not one you cannot trust.

To those who are discerning souls,
   my words are always clear;
To those who find what knowledge is,
   they’re upright and sincere.

10  Choose my instruction over all
   the silver you can hold;
Take knowledge every chance you get
   instead of bars of gold.

11  For I’m more precious than a jewel –
   no ruby is so rare;
There’s no desire that you have,
   that ever can compare.”

12  I, wisdom, live with commonsense
   with prudence do I dwell;
It’s knowledge and discretion’s way,
   that I cling to as well.

13  To reverence and fear the Lord,
   means hating what is vile;
O I hate pride and evil ways,
   and falsehoods that defile.

14  I, wisdom, offer sound ideas,
   I put forth good advice;
For I have power, I have strength,
   I’ve insight that’s precise.

15  A king’s empowered for his reign
   by following my lead;
By me, a righteous ruler knows
   what’s just must be decreed.

16  By me, a prince will govern well –
   like one of noble birth;
By me, an overlord will rule
   with justice on the earth.

17  I show my love to everyone
   who shows their love for me;
For they will surely find me when
   they seek me earnestly.

18  I’ve many riches to dispense –
   high honors and success,
Prosperity that long endures,
   great wealth and righteousness.

19  My fruit is far more valuable
   than gold of any kind;
My yield surpasses silver ore
   that’s perfectly refined.

20  I walk the path of righteousness –
   the way that all can trust,
Along the course of what is fair,
   commendable, and just.

21  I grant a rich inheritance
   to all those loving me;
I generously overflow,
   each store and treasury.”

***

22  “The Lord created me to be
   His first work to behold;
He made me at the very dawn,
   before his deeds of old.

23  Yes, I was formed long years ago –
   so many ages past;
Before God even made the earth
   and anything was cast.

24  Before there were great ocean depths,
   is when I had my birth;
Indeed, I came before the springs
   spewed water from the earth.

25  I came before the mountain peaks
   were settled purposely;
Yes, long before the rolling hills
   is when I came to be.

26  I came before God made the world
   before it would begin,
Before the Lord created fields,
   or even dust therein.

27  O, I was there when God set out
   the heavens in their keep;
And when He drew a circle on
   the face above the deep.

28  I watched when He established clouds
   above where they would show;
I saw Him fix the ocean depths
   and fountains deep below.

29  I looked when He gave sea a place
   where it would be confined;
And when He marked the boundaries
   where earth would be assigned.

30  I constantly was at His side,
   and I was his delight,
Rejoicing in His presence while
   forever in His sight.

31  Indeed, I constantly rejoiced
   in everything He made –
The world and people living there,
   and all that I surveyed.”

***

32  “Now then, my children, hear me well –
   my every word and phrase;
For all are blessed who follow me,
   and ever keep my ways.

33  O hear instruction that I give,
   and in this way be wise;
Don’t disregard these things I say,
   or what they teach despise.

34  For they are blessed who listen well
   to every word I state,
Those watching daily at my doors,
   those waiting at my gate.

35  Yes, everyone who finds me now,
   finds life as their reward;
And they are certain to receive
   the favor of the Lord.

36  But others bring themselves to harm
   and suffer endlessly;
For they must be in love with death,
   who harbor hate for me.”

Proverbs 7

Tell wisdom with sincerity – “You are my sister dear;”  (Proverbs 7:4)

This is the seventh in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 7, preceded by a brief reflection.

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I am guessing that not many sermons have been preached on Proverbs 7.  I can think of at least three reasons for this.  For one, Proverbs was written for a patriarchal society that can seem impenetrable to many modern minds.  Like Proverbs 2, 5, and 6, this chapter once again reveals Solomon’s one-sided view of adultery, which is that of a married woman seeking to seduce an unsuspecting man.  The problem of adultery and lust is, of course, very serious and in some ways the great scourge of the ages.  But the matter is far more complex than what appears on the surface of this teaching.

Another reason is that many in our culture have rejected God’s voice on matters of sex.  Even within the church itself many have decided to go their own way sexuality.  A pastor friend recently lamented that is rare anymore to have a couple in pre-marital counselling who are not co-habiting.  Sermons on adultery will not go down easily with this crowd.

The third reason is, ironically, that on its face this chapter is way too simple for anyone who believes in the Biblical teaching on sex and marriage.  Any such person would have to be either remarkably dumb or incredibly naïve to find Solomon’s teaching edifying.  Who doesn’t know that having an affair with a married person is a really bad idea?  Not that it doesn’t happen.  Indeed, marriage boundaries are probably looser today than ever.  But the problem isn’t that we don’t know that it causes harm to so many people.  Rather, the struggle is how to control the relentless pressure of our sexuality.

Still, it would be unwise to dismiss Proverbs 7 too quickly, because there is a deeper wisdom in these verses, which is how to relate to those of the opposite sex.  On the surface it seems principally directed to cautioning men to avoid an adulterous woman.  But looking closer we see that Solomon describes not one, but two women – one an adulterer, and the other a sister.

In verses 1-4, Solomon commends us to possess wisdom, and gives us a number of images to ponder.  We are to store wisdom internally, keep it close, guard it like the apple of our eye, bind it on our fingers, and write it on the tablet of our heart.  He caps this off in verse 4 by personifying wisdom as a sister or a close relative.  This, he says, is how we are to treat it – say to it “you are my sister.”  It’s an insightful image in this context because we would never dream of possessing a sister sexually; although we would certainly hold her close so as to protect and keep her safe from harm.

The remaining verses in Proverbs 7 are about possessing a person sexually.  The image Solomon provides here is that of an adulterous woman.  It might seem that the young man is simply an unsuspecting pawn, but this is not the case – he is an adulterous man.  Verse 8 is a key,  In the New English Translation (NET):  “He was passing by the street near her corner, making his way along the road to her house.”  The critical translated word is “way,” which according to the footnote means that he was going there intentionally.  The verb צָעַד (tsaʿad) means ‘to step; to march.’  It suggests that the youth was intentionally making his way to her house.”  (NET)  This was not a situation where a young man was unaware of the direction he was heading.  He knew very well that he was on the road to her house.

Although Solomon writes this as warning against being seduced by a married woman, the deeper issue is the lust that the young man has in his heart.  Jesus addresses this in the Sermon on the Mount, where he says, You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  (Matthew 5:27-28)  We men recognize lust as the desire to possess the other.  It goes beyond simple sexual attraction towards a woman, and moves us (at least in our heart) to want to claim her as our own.

While we men don’t always treat our sisters or other close female relatives as we should, we understand the barrier that exists when it comes to sex.  Whatever our relationship with a sister, we don’t think of possessing her the way we might with other women.  Perhaps if we paused when we find ourselves attracted to someone other than our wife, and think about her as a sister, how might we treat her differently?  And even if we never had a sister or daughter or other close female relative it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to recognize that every woman is someone’s sister and/or daughter.

We would be remiss if we allowed any aversion we feel towards Solomon’s misogynistic language to ignore the actions of the adulterous woman.  She too clearly desires to possess the young man sexually.  Perhaps if she looked upon other men as a brother, son, or close relative, she too would have a change in heart.

Jesus spoke pointedly about seeing others in the same light as close family.  “While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him.  Someone told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’  He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’  Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers.  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”  (Matthew 12:46-50)

S

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Proverbs – Chapter 7

1  My child, attend to what I say,
give all my words their due;
Store my commandments in your heart,
so they are close to you.

2  Keep my commands and you will live –
don’t let them pass you by;
Make what I teach a precious thing –
the apple of your eye.

3  O bind them on your fingers tight,
so they will never part;
And write them down where they won’t fade –
the tablet of your heart.

4  Tell wisdom with sincerity –
   “You are my sister dear;”
Tell insight, “You’re my relative,
a friend who’s ever near.

5  These things will surely keep you safe
from those who would seduce –
Adulterers with wayward tongues,
who morally are loose.

***

6  One day when I was at my house
with windows on the town;
While peering through the latticework,
I happened to look down.

7  And there I saw a simpleton –
a young man who was dense;
I noticed him among a group –
a youth who had no sense.

8  He made his way along the street,
and headed down the road –
The road to where a temptress dwells,
and lives in her abode.

9  It was about the end of day,
with fading of the light;
As evening slowly yields itself
to darkness of the night.

10  The woman suddenly appears
to meet him where he stands;
Attired like a prostitute,
she has her secret plans.

11  Her way is bold and unashamed,
perverse and wayward too;
Her feet don’t ever stay at home,
but always go askew.

12  Look now, and she is in the street,
look now, and in the square;
At every corner she lies low
to catch him unaware.

13  She seizes and she kisses him
upon his lips and cheeks;
And then in brazen fearlessness,
the following she speaks:

14  “Today I have fulfilled my vows,
   and made my sacrifice;
At home I have remaining food
   that surely will suffice.

15  So now you see I’ve ventured out,
   and happened on this way;
I’ve looked for you most eagerly,
   and found you here today.

16  For I have opened up anew
   and spread across my bed –
Egyptian dyed material
   of finest linen thread.

17  I’ve scented and perfumed the bed
   with every kind of spice;
Like aloes, myrrh, and cinnamon
   to make the fragrance nice.

18  So come let us enjoy ourselves
   and take our fill of love;
O let us go till morning comes
   and have the best thereof.

19  Because, you see, my husband’s gone,
   he’s traveled far away –
A journey distant from his house –
   he won’t be here today.

20  He put his money in a bag,
   and tied the purse strings tight;
He will not be returning home
   until the full moon light.”

21  By way of her persuasive words,
she turned him from his walk;
Seducing and compelling him
with smooth and pleasing talk.

22  Then all at once he followed her,
like one that’s unaware –
An ox led to the slaughterhouse,
a deer that springs a snare.

23  For when an arrow strikes the heart
one knows that life is lost;
It’s only when a bird is caught,
that it perceives the cost.

***

24  So now, my children, listen well
to what I say to you;
Give your attention to my words,
so you will hear me through.

25  Don’t let your heart be turned aside
by one who’d have you stray;
Don’t follow on the path that’s laid,
or walk along that way.

26  For many victims have been slain
of those who’ve come along;
Yes, those struck down are numerous –
indeed a mighty throng.

27  Beware, her house leads to the grave –
a way that all should dread;
A highway leading to the crypt –
the chambers of the dead.