Ecclesiastes 1

“In vain! In vain! It’s all in vain!” the Teacher’s words declare; “All things are futile and in vain, like vapor in the air.”
(Ecclesiastes 1:2)

This is the first post on Ecclesiastes, which I am translating into common meter.  The following contains my rendering of Ecclesiastes 1, preceded by a brief reflection.

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In the days leading up to the Second World War in 1939, Nazi Germany and Russia signed a non-aggression pact.  Shortly thereafter Hitler invaded Poland and the war was on.  France and Great Britain quickly entered in support of Poland.  And notwithstanding the non-aggression pact between Russia and Germany, there was some question as to what Stalin’s Russia would ultimately do.  It was against this uncertainty that a few weeks later Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, gave a radio address in which he addressed this uncertainty with his now famous description of Russia as, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”  It was an apt description of a country and a leader that were notoriously difficult to figure out.  Of course, Russia eventually joined with the allies when Hitler recklessly invaded it in 1941.  Still, Stalin was a brutal dictator who, after the shooting war was over, helped set the stage for the cold war with the West.

Churchill’s characterization of Russia as a “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” is in many ways an apt description of the book of Ecclesiastes.  For it is a confusing and sometimes controversial book.  It starts with uncertainty about whose words we are reading.  We do know that there are two people heard in Ecclesiastes:  1) the Author, whose words appear at the beginning in verse 1:1, and the conclusion in verses 12:9-14; and 2) the Teacher, whose words appear in the intervening verses 1:2 to 12:8, which comprise the bulk of the Book.  There is no indication as to the identity of the Author, but there is strong evidence that the Teacher is Solomon, although even this is far from certain.

Authorship aside, Ecclesiastes starts with the Teacher striking the strange and enigmatic theme: “In vain! In vain! It’s all in vain!” the Teacher’s words declare; “All things are futile and in vain, like vapor in the air.”  (Ecclesiastes 1:2)  In the King James Version, the verse is translated, “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”  Most translations follow the lead of the KJV and use the phrase “Vanity of vanities.”  I don’t like this interpretation because the term vanity has two meanings, and the one that is most familiar to us, ‘excessive pride in oneself,’ is not what this verse is about.  Rather, it is the other definition of vanity, namely ‘futility,’ which is closer to the actual meaning of the verse.  But even this needs some explanation.

The Hebrew word that is translated as vanity is hebel’, which literally means wind or vapor or breath.  This term hebel appears roughly 40 times in Ecclesiastes – sometimes literally and other times figuratively.  To add to the complexity, it has at least three different figurative/metaphorical meanings depending upon the context:  1) unsubstantial, pointless, in vain, or futile; 2) transitory or fleeting; and 3) hidden, difficult to understand, or a puzzle/enigmatic.  The context for its use in Ecclesiastes 1:2 is the first – unsubstantial, pointless, in vain, or futile.

But the real rub comes with the first thing the Teacher names as futile, namely, work“What does a person gain from working everyday?” the Teacher asks rhetorically.  (Ecclesiastes 1:3)  He answers this by pointing out that:  Generations come and go and others take their place, and what is here today will soon be forgotten (Ecclesiastes 1:4,11); Things just keep repeating themselves over and over again, but we are never satisfied (Ecclesiastes 1:5-9); there’s nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:10); and everything we accomplish is futile, like “chasing after the wind.”  (Ecclesiastes 1:14).

But is work truly futile?  Is it pointless and in vain?  Is this what the Teacher has in mind?  If so, then it is a very sobering thought indeed.  Yet it seems to me there are at least two ways of understanding the import of the Teacher’s words: a) the inherent value of work; or b) our attitude towards work.  Some commentators suggest that the Teacher is talking about the inherent value of work itself, and is simply taking an honest and unvarnished look at the reality of work, and that any intrinsic value it may have is fleeting at best.  No wonder that Ecclesiastes can seem so depressing.  But while this may be a very natural reading of Ecclesiastes 1, I don’t believe the Teacher’s words are primarily about the inherent value of work itself.  Here are three reasons.

1) Our survival depends upon work.  Unless we are rich or provided for by someone else, then we will perish if we don’t work.  It is part of the divine order of things – God worked six days in creation, and he also assigned work to the Adam.  Work is as much a part of life as is breathing, resting, and eating.  The Teacher compares work to the repetitiveness of the sun rising and setting, the winds blowing, and rivers endlessly flowing. (Ecclesiastes 1:5-7)  But these too are critical for life.  God created us as a people who need food, clothing, and shelter.  He could have created us differently, but he did not.  Work is essential to life.

2) There is no alternative to work.  If work is futile, what is the solution?  Normally, when something is said to be futile it is for the purpose of ending it.  Perhaps you are having a dispute with an unreasonable and hard-hearted individual and a friend advises you that your arguments are futile?  If you listen to your friend, you stop.  Is this what the Teacher is advising us to do – to stop working?  If so, we might as well stop breathing, and sleeping, and eating.

3) Almost no work is truly futile.  Truly futile work brings to mind the ancient Greek myth of Sisyphus, whom you may recall was sentenced by Zeus to the endless task of pushing a massive boulder up a hill, only to have it slip from his grasp when near the summit forcing him to go down the hill and try again.  An endless cycle of effort and failure for all eternity.  The perfect image of futility – never ending and never accomplishing anything.  But in the real world, there is simply too much work that is meaningful and anything but futile.  Consider just a few:  a doctor caring for suffering patients; a lawyer fighting for basic human rights; an immigrant advocate assisting those fleeing persecution; a missionary sharing the good news with the lost; or a stay-at-home parent lovingly raising children.  Futile work?  I think not.  And if this is the Teacher’s point then he and I are living in different realities.

So, if the Teacher is not speaking about the inherent value of work, then he must be speaking about our attitude towards our work.  And here I believe we are on solid ground.  For the bigger picture of Ecclesiastes is how to find meaning and purpose in life.  When read in this light, Ecclesiastes 1:2-11, has wisdom for us – namely, that work is a good servant but a bad master.

1)  Work is a Good Servant.  The issue here is one of gratitude for the work we have.  Work takes effort, but we get so much back.  For rightly understood, work is a gift – not only that we have work, but that we have the requisite strength and ability, and that through our work are able to support our lives and the lives of others.  Indeed, work is a primary way we live, love, and serve other people.  If we really bought into the despair that some might read into the words of the Teacher, we could spend our working years angry and frustrated.  But looking honestly at what we receive from our work can enable us to be grateful and enjoy the work that we have.

The Teacher validates this when he speaks to finding enjoyment in our work in Chapter 5.  “I have seen personally what is the only beneficial and appropriate course of action for people:  to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in all their hard work on earth during the few days of their life that God has given them, for this is their reward.  To every man whom God has given wealth and possessions, he has also given him the ability to eat from them, to receive his reward, and to find enjoyment in his toil; these things are the gift of God.  For he does not think much about the fleeting days of his life because God keeps him preoccupied with the joy he derives from his activity.”  (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20)

If we are not careful, we can miss the richness of what a life of work offers.  Ronald Rolheiser put it this way, “Many … deeply regret that during the healthiest and most productive years of their lives they were too driven and too unaware of the richness of their own lives to appreciate and enjoy what they were doing.  Instead of privilege, they felt burden; instead of gratitude, they felt resentment; and instead of joy, they felt anger.  One of the demons we wrestle with during our adult years is … a joylessness bordering on anger for, ironically, being burdened with the privilege of health, work, and status.”  (Sacred Fire).

Work can be monotonous at times, but yet it can be wonderfully rich.  In the Teacher’s words,
“The sun arises every day and sets upon its wane; Then hurries back to where it starts to once more rise again.”
  (Ecclesiastes 1:5)
“The wind blows strongly to the south, then turns round to the north; Around and round the wind goes out, before returning forth.”
 (Ecclesiastes 1:6)
“All rivers flow into the sea, and yet it never fills; Returning to the river’s source, the water once more spills.”
 (Ecclesiastes 1:7)
Ironically, the metaphors the Teacher uses for the monotony of work richly show its value.  If the sun did not reliably rise every day, or if the winds did not distribute the equatorial heat, or if there was no rain to replenish the rivers, then there would be no life.  The same is true of work.

2) Work is a Bad Master.  The issue here is one of keeping a proper perspective on our work life.  The danger being that work can become an idol.  Tim Keller defines an idol as “anything that is more important to you than God. … anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.”  He names our work as one such idol, “the human heart [can] take good things like a successful career … and turn them into ultimate things.  Our hearts deify them as the center of our lives because we think they can give us significance and security, safety and fulfillment, if we attain them.” Furthermore, “More than other idols, personal success and achievement lead to a sense that we ourselves are god, that our security and value rest in our own wisdom, strength, and performance.” (Counterfeit Gods)

The Teacher clearly puts a damper on those who would turn their work and career into an idol.  For one thing, he tells us to keep in mind that in the long haul everything we do will be forgotten.  “For generations pass away and others take their place.”  (Ecclesiastes 1:4); and “There’s no one who recalls to mind the things of long ago; nor will someone in future times recall what we now know.” (Ecclesiastes 1:11).  Moreover, whatever we accomplish is really not that new at all.  “The thing that once before has been is what again will be; Beneath the sun there’s nothing new, that anyone will see.”  (Ecclesiastes 1:9); “Is there a thing that one can say, ‘Look!  This is new, for sure?’  For long ago in ages past such thing was done before.” (Ecclesiastes 1:10).  As John Mark Comer wrote, “No matter how smart or hard working or gifted or charismatic we are, there will always be somebody better than us.”  (Garden City, 173)  Futility does not come in our work per se, but in finding our self-worth in our work.

The End of the Matter

[Spoiler Alert]  For those who haven’t read to the end of Ecclesiastes, you might want to stop here.  Because in Ecclesiastes 12:9-14, we hear the voice of the Author who summarizes all that the Teacher has said.  “Having heard everything, I have reached this conclusion:  Fear God and keep his commandments, because this is the whole duty of man.  For God will evaluate every deed, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.  (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

The end of the matter is that God is the only one and only thing that is permanent and never-changing.  All else is impermanent and destined to pass away.  It is only by trusting in him through faith, hope and love, mediated through our work, that we find purpose and meaning that is imperishable.

S

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1  What follows are the Teacher’s words –
the sayings that he spun;
While king within Jerusalem,
and David’s heir and son.

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“In vain! In vain! It’s all in vain!”
the Teacher’s words declare;
“All things are futile and in vain,
   like vapor in the air.”

3  What can a person hope to gain,
from working every day;
Beneath a hot and blazing sun,
while toiling away?

4  For generations pass away,
and others take their place;
The earth however changes not –
forever fixed in space.

5  The sun arises every day,
and sets upon its wane;
Then hurries back to where it starts,
to once more rise again.

6  The wind blows strongly to the south,
then turns round to the north;
Around and round the wind goes out,
before returning forth.

7  All rivers flow into the sea,
and yet it never fills;
Returning to the river’s source,
the water once more spills.

8  Now everything is wearisome,
no matter what is tried;
No ear can ever hear enough,
no eye is satisfied.

9  The thing that once before has been,
is what again will be;
Beneath the sun there’s nothing new,
that anyone will see.

10  Is there a thing that one can say,
“Look!  This is new, for sure?”
For long ago in ages past,
such thing was done before.

11  There’s no one who recalls to mind,
the things of long ago;
Nor will someone in future times,
recall what we now know.

***

12  O onetime I, the Teacher, ruled,
within Jerusalem;
When king of those in Israel,
and sovereign over them.

13  I set my mind to study all,
and everything that’s done.
O what a burden man must bear,
which God has laid upon.

14  I’ve looked at all that has been done,
beneath the sun so fair;
And each of them is meaningless,
like chasing swirling air.

15  What’s crooked can’t be straightened out,
or undergo repair;
Nor can whatever’s disappeared,
be counted like it’s there.

16  I thought, “I’ve learned much more than kings,
Jerusalem has known;
I’ve gained much wisdom in my time,
and knowledge on my own.

17  And so I looked how wisdom’s path,
compares to foolish ways;
But this as well I found to be,
like chasing wind and haze.

18  For with great wisdom there comes much,
frustration, grief, and pain;
Whenever knowledge is increased,
then woes and sorrows rain.

 

Proverbs 31

“A wife of noble character – Can anybody find?  She’s worth more than the finest jewels and precious gems combined.”  (Proverbs 31:10)

This is the thirty-first and final post on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 31, preceded by a brief reflection.

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Proverbs 31, the last chapter in the book of Proverbs, concludes with a poem about a noble wife in verses 10-31.  This has traditionally been viewed as a paradigm for a godly woman, and various verses are often used in honoring a wife and/or mother.  For example, it might be said of her, “She’s worth more than the finest jewels and precious gems combined.” (v 10b); or “She’s dressed with strength and majesty, and clothed with dignity.” (v 25a); or “Her children rise and call her blessed, with honor and acclaim.” (v 28a)  Using these words to honor a godly and loving wife is certainly appropriate.  At times I have given cards to Pat with selected ones of these verses.

But if this poem is principally a model for a godly woman, then it is an impossible standard to achieve.  Taken literally, the verses describe a superhuman woman, who never existed in reality, nor could she ever.  Consider her description.  She is super high energy (v 17); buys land and plants a vineyard on it (v 16); travels widely to find the best food for her family (v 14); buys the finest wool, spins her own thread and makes all of her families’ clothing (v 13, 19, 21, 22); makes so many clothes that she sells the excess (v 24); and also has time to aid the poor (v 20).  Not surprisingly, she never slows down (v 27); sleeps very little as she works late into the night (v 18), and gets up so early that it is still night (v 15).  Her main concern in life is to make her husband look good (v 11, 12, 23).  She speaks with wisdom and loving kindness (v 26); and through it all, amazingly, she has no worries (v 25)!

Even accounting for time and cultural differences, no one person could actually live like this.  This suggests that while it may reasonable to read this in part as praise for a noble wife, there is something else in these verses.  It starts, of course, with recognizing that verses 10-31 is a self-contained poem within one of the five poetical books of the Bible – Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon.  The essence of poetry is to take our minds and imaginations beyond the literal words that are used and into the context and deeper meaning of what is being written.  And such is the case when we do so with these verses.

One interpretation put forth is that these verses are not principally about a wife at all, but rather about the true nature of wisdom itself.  That the poem is framed as a noble woman is simply a literary way to personify wisdom.  And in doing so, this merely continues the personification of wisdom as a woman that is done previously in Proverbs 1:20-33; 8:1-9:11.

The translators of the NET Bible explain it this way.  “The book of Proverbs comes to a close with this poem about the noble wife.  A careful reading of the poem will show that it is extolling godly wisdom that is beneficial to the family and the society. Traditionally it has been interpreted as a paradigm for godly women.  And while that is valid in part, there is much more here.  The poem captures all the themes of wisdom that have been presented in the book and arranges them in this portrait of the ideal woman.  Any careful reading of the passage would have to conclude that if it were merely a paradigm for women what it portrays may well be out of reach – she is a wealthy aristocrat who runs an estate with servants and conducts business affairs of real estate, vineyards, and merchandising, and also takes care of domestic matters and is involved with charity.  Moreover, it says nothing about the woman’s personal relationship with her husband, her intellectual and emotional strengths, or her religious activities.  In general, it appears that the “woman” of Proverbs 31 is a symbol of all that wisdom represents.  The poem, then, plays an important part in the personification of wisdom so common in the ancient Near East.  …  The poem certainly presents a pattern for women to follow.  But it also presents a pattern for men to follow as well, for this is the message of the book of Proverbs in summary.”

What then does Proverbs 31 tell us about the nature of biblical wisdom, and the pattern for all people of faith to follow?  Two things jump out.

The first is that godly wisdom is primarily manifested in its care and concern for others.  Every verse in the poem that describes the noble wife’s actions involves serving and helping someone else.  This is shocking to those of us who have been shaped by the spirit of the age, which is self-care.  We are bombarded with worldly wisdom that says take care of number one.  From self-aggrandizing public figures to commercial advertising to religious hucksters who promote a health and wealth ‘gospel.’  This is as far from godly wisdom as the east is from the west.  Jesus came not to be served, but to serve – and we are called to do the same.  And while we should not disregard our own needs, this hardly needs to be emphasized in today’s narcissistic culture.

The second is that godly wisdom requires a lot of effort.  One thing that strikes me from this poem is the physical and emotional energy inherent in godly wisdom.  Essentially every verse speaks of effort – industry, thrift, working all hours, and always with the goal of serving others – be they family or simply those in need.  It is really hard for me to get my head around the strength that’s needed to live this kind of life.  I enjoy my rest and  private times – sometimes too much.  The challenge we Christians face is where to find the strength to persevere.  I like the encouraging words spoken by Eric Liddell, the great Scottish Olympic champion and missionary to China, from the movie Chariots of Fire.

“You came to see a race today.  To see someone win.  It happened to be me.  But I want you to do more than just watch a race.  I want you to take part in it.  I want to compare faith to running in a race.  It’s hard.  It requires concentration of will, energy of soul.  You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape – especially if you’ve got a bet on it.  But how long does that last?  You go home.  Maybe your dinner’s burnt.  Maybe you haven’t got a job.  So who am I to say, “Believe, have faith,” in the face of life’s realities?  I would like to give you something more permanent, but I can only point the way.  I have no formula for winning the race.  Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way.  And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end?  From within.  Jesus said, ‘Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you.  If with all your hearts, you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me.’  If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race.”

And so, we are reminded again of the guiding principle of the spiritual life, which is trusting the Lord to make our pathways straight (Proverbs 3:5-6).  We lean not on our own understanding nor what we find in the world’s wisdom.  But in trusting the word of the Lord we gain not only the cognitive knowledge of how to live a godly life, but the strength to do so as well.  May it be that way with us all.

S

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1  These are the sayings that have come,
from Lemuel the king –
Inspired by his mother’s words,
that he should learn and cling.

2  O listen now, O son of mine,
O precious son I bore;
O son – the answer to my prayers,
the one whom I adore.

3  Don’t give to women what you have –
your strength and energy;
Ignore those who can ruin kings,
and bring calamity.

4  O Lemuel, it’s not for kings,
to fill themselves with wine;
For rulers should not crave strong drink –
as it is not benign.

5  For drink can make their minds forget,
the law that’s been decreed;
And thus pervert the justice due,
to all of those in need.

6  But give strong drink to one whose life,
is soon to pass away;
And wine to those whose anguished lives,
and souls are in dismay.

7  O let them drink so they’ll forget,
their hopeless poverty;
And nevermore recall to mind,
their life of misery.

8  Speak up for those who have no voice –
the powerless and mute;
And everyone who has no hope –
the poor and destitute.

9  Speak up and judge impartially,
so justice is decreed;
Defend the rights of indigents –
the poor and those in need.

10  A wife of noble character,
can anybody find?
She’s worth more than the finest jewels,
and precious gems combined.

11  Her husband trusts her thoroughly,
with faith in all her deeds;
There’s nothing valuable he lacks,
or anything he needs.

12  She only brings out what is good,
to help her husband thrive;
And never does she do him harm,
as long as she’s alive.

13  She seeks the finest wool and flax,
that’s sold throughout the lands;
Then skillfully she handles them,
with glad and willing hands.

14  She seeks out food like merchant ships,
that travel far and wide;
Then brings it to her family,
at home where they abide.

15  She gets up in the still of night,
to gather bread and meat;
Providing for her family,
and servant maids to eat.

16  She looks to buy some country land,
and once the deal is sealed;
From income of her own she plants,
a vineyard in the field.

17  She girds herself with strength and might,
to work with energy;
Her arms are strong for every task,
she tackles eagerly.

18  She knows her merchandise is good,
while profiting from it;
While working late into the night,
she keeps her candle lit.

19  She reaches out a hand to hold,
the distaff for her wool;
Then whirls the spindle with her palms,
and threads it till it’s full.

20  She opens up her arms to aid,
the people who are poor;
Extending out her hands to them,
to help a little more.

21  She does not fear for those she loves,
when snowflakes fill the air;
For they are clothed and warmly dressed,
in scarlet outerwear.

22  She also makes her coverings,
from finest cloth she chose;
And she herself is well adorned,
in purple linen clothes.

23  Her husband is respected when,
he’s at the city gate;
It’s there he takes his place among,
the elders and the great.

24  She makes fine linen into clothes,
and garments she can sell;
She takes to merchants all these goods,
and custom belts as well.

25  She’s dressed with strength and majesty,
and clothed with dignity;
She laughs at what the days may bring –
the future she can’t see.

26  She opens up her mouth to speak,
with wisdom from her heart;
Her tongue is lovingly prepared,
with kindness to impart.

27  She watches how her house is run,
in all its varied ways;
She does not eat the bread of sloth,
or waste away her days.

28  Her children rise and call her blessed,
with honor and acclaim;
Her husband also praises her,
with glory to her name.

29  “Though other women may excel,
   with noble things they’ve done;
Still, what you’ve shown is higher yet –
   surpassing everyone.”

30  Now beauty is mere vanity,
and charm won’t long enthrall;
A woman, though, who fears the Lord,
is to be praised by all.

31  So honor her for everything,
her hands have made anew;
And at the city gates let all,
her works receive their due.

Proverbs 30

“Three things are far too great for me, magnificent and grand; and there are four I do not know, and cannot understand:  the way of snakes upon a rock, and eagles up above; the way of ships upon the sea, and those who fall in love.”  (Proverbs 30:18-19)

This is the thirtieth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 30, preceded by a brief reflection.

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Pat and I were returning from a walk several weeks ago when our eyes caught sight of a swarm of several hundred starlings flying in what is known as a murmuration.  This is not simply a large flock of birds that one might observe during migration, or geese flying in V-shape formation.  A starling murmuration occurs when hundreds, sometimes thousands of starlings fly in ever changing and seemingly coordinated patterns through the sky.  Perhaps you have observed a starling murmuration at some time in your life?  With swooping, pulsing and heaving, the aeronautic display appears as if it is being directed by an invisible conductor. And conductor might not be a bad word to use, because even the word ‘murmuration’ is the onomatopoetic sound of the fluttering of thousands of wings.  We could only stand and marvel at this wonder of God’s creation.

The why’s and how’s of a murmuration are a mystery.  There are, as you might expect, different theories postulated on the purpose of a murmuration.  Some say that the large ever-changing patterns are to confuse erstwhile predators, while others suggest that it allows starlings to form smaller groups, which break off from the murmuration and roost together for warmth in the cold weather. As to the mechanics of a murmuration, it is believed that when one bird changes direction, it affects those immediately around it, which then cascades through the entire flock.  But these are only theories – no one understands for certain.  And even if correct, they don’t begin to explain the biological complexities of the phenomenon, much less its aesthetic pull on the soul of those with eyes to see.

In the current chapter of Proverbs, Agur the Seer identifies some things he doesn’t understand: “Three things are far too great for me, magnificent and grand; and there are four I do not know, and cannot understand:  the way of snakes upon a rock, and eagles up above; the way of ships upon the sea, and those who fall in love.”  (Proverbs 30:18-19)  While acknowledging his lack of understanding, he is still able to marvel at their magnificence and grandeur.  They are, as he writes, ‘far too great for me.’  Other translations use the words wonderful and amazing.  Words that surely apply to a starling murmuration as well.

How do you suppose verses 18-19 relate to the stated purpose of the book of Proverbs, which is for gaining wisdom (Proverbs 1:2)?  In an earlier post on Proverbs 4, I compared wisdom in the Bible with how it is generally understood in our culture.  My conclusion is that Biblical wisdom is primarily a moral concept, whereas worldly wisdom is essentially a cognitive one.  Biblical wisdom and worldly wisdom are not generally opposed to one another, they are simply different concepts.  Both have their place.  Indeed, wisdom as the world knows it is important for a Christian – even Jesus directed his disciples to be ‘as wise as serpents.’  In other words, to have ‘street smarts.’

At first glance, it is hard to see how verses 18-19 have anything to say about Biblical wisdom, particularly if the focus is on the Seer’s lack of understanding.  Although there is wisdom in humility and admitting what one doesn’t understand, it is hardly worth our time to consider what this ancient Seer doesn’t know about how snakes, birds, and boats move about.  On the other hand, there is much in these verses worth pondering; namely, how beauty and mystery are connected to Biblical wisdom.

In the book, “Anatomy of the Soul,” Christian author and psychiatrist Curt Thompson explores the connections between neuroscience and spirituality.  In it, he compares the functions of our left and right brains.  As is well known, the left brain is responsible for logical understanding reflected in reasoning, language, and numbers; and the right brain for intuitive understanding reflected in beauty, music, and the arts.  Thompson writes, “The left hemisphere tends to be more dominant in situations in which we seek to ‘know’ things.  It separates us from the objects we wish to examine and analyze, which is critical if we are to interpret what we are experiencing.  When such analysis is the dominant mode by which we encounter other people or God, however, joy becomes merely a defined concept.  Love is something we know about but do not know.  However, the right mode of operation enables us to open ourselves to be touched by God and known by him in such a way as to become living expressions of love.  The integration of the left and right systems is required to experience being known … .”  (37)

What I take from this is that wisdom involves not just the left brain, but the right brain as well.  We need both halves of our brain to follow Jesus’ command to, “Love the Lord your God with all your … mind.” (Matthew 22:37)  If I am correct that wisdom emerges from our entire brain, then we need to cultivate the right side of our brain to pursue Biblical wisdom.  While our left brain yearns for understanding of the why’s and how’s of a murmuration; our right brain is satisfied to soak in its beauty and mystery.  What we see is a function of the lens through which we see it.  When I read verses 18-19, the words great, magnificent, and grand stand out.  Clearly the Seer is overwhelmed by the beauty and mystery of snakes slithering, eagles soaring, boats sailing, and love sharing.  His right brain is fully engaged, and his protest against lack of understanding only serves to accentuate the point.

It seems to me that the contuition of God in all that is wonderful and beautiful is the first step on the road to Biblical wisdom.  In the opening verses of Proverbs we find, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”  (Proverbs 1:7)  The word ‘fear’ means to stand in awe of, or to revere, or respect.  I am not sure how we come to the place of revering the Lord unless we have some felt experience of his presence in the world.  And this, I believe, is only possible when we open the right side of our minds to see the hand behind all that is wonderful.  The apostle Paul wrote, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”  (Romans 1:20)  This is so, but it requires that we see it through the right brain eyes of beauty and mystery.

But how exactly do we open the eyes of our right brain?  Even though it is factually correct that wonder and emotion come from the right hemisphere of our brain, for all intents and purposes the left brain/right brain dichotomy is a construct because we only have a single brain to absorb stimuli from the world around us and direct our response.  The answer I believe involves slowing down and contemplating the God-markers in the world around us.  As the Psalmist says, The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.  They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.”  (Psalm 19:1-3)  Ours is a faith rooted in beauty and mystery.  When we ponder and reflect on our God-bathed world, our right brain is necessarily engaged, which is the start of wisdom.

In the words of famed minister and hymnist John Newton, “There is a signature of wisdom and power impressed on the works of God, which evidently distinguishes them from the feeble imitations of men.  Not only the splendor of the sun, but the glimmering light of the glowworm, proclaims his glory.”

S

**********

1  These words of Agur, who’s the son,
of Jakeh, who’s the seer;
Are spoken so that Ithiel,
and Ucal both can hear.

2  O surely I’m more ignorant,
than any other man;
I guess I do not comprehend,
what others understand.

3  I have not learned of wisdom’s ways,
or even yet begun;
Nor is there anything I know,
about the Holy One.

4  Who’s gone to heaven and returned?
Who’s held both wind and sea?
Who’s made the earth; and do you know,
his name and son to be?

5  Each word of God is tried and true,
each utterance made known;
For he is like a shield to those,
who trust in him alone.

6  Don’t add a thing to what God says,
or any word revise;
For if you do, he’ll prove you wrong,
revealing all your lies.

***

7  O Lord, please hear these things I ask –
two things for which I pray;
Do not deny or hold them back,
before I pass away.

8  Don’t let deceit and lies come close –
but keep them far instead;
Don’t give me wealth or poverty –
but only daily bread.

9  For if I’m rich, I may deny,
that you alone are Lord;
And if I’m poor, then I may steal,
and make your name abhorred.

***

10  Don’t slander servants to their lord –
be careful what you say;
Or they will curse and threaten you,
and you will surely pay.

***

11  There’s some who curse their fathers’ lives,
thus causing them distress;
They treat their mothers just the same –
in ways that do not bless.

12  There’s some who think that they are clean,
and pure in their own eyes;
But they have not been washed from filth,
despite what they surmise.

13  There’s some whose eyes are arrogant,
and ever filled with pride;
With glances showing their disdain,
and silent looks that chide.

14  There’s some whose teeth are sharpened swords,
and jaws are set like knives;
They eat the poor and those in need,
and decimate their lives.

***

15  Two daughters of the leech exclaim,
‘O Give, O Give, your stuff;’
Three things are never satisfied,
and four won’t say, ‘Enough!’

16  The empty grave, the barren womb,
the thirsty land and bluff;
And fire burning uncontrolled,
which never says, ‘Enough!’

***

17  The eye that mocks a father and,
derides a mother’s way;
Will be pecked out and eaten up,
by countless birds of prey.

***

18  Three things are far too great for me,
magnificent and grand;
And there are four I do not know,
and cannot understand:

19  The way of snakes upon a rock,
and eagles up above;
The way of ships upon the sea,
and those who fall in love.

***

20  This is the way a faithless wife,
goes forward all day long:
She eats then wipes her mouth and says,
‘There’s nothing I’ve done wrong.’

***

21  Three things there are that cause the earth,
to tremble to its core;
And four there are that under which,
the earth cannot endure.

22  The first is one in servitude,
who rises to be king;
The second is a godless fool,
who eats up everything.

23  The third’s a woman filled with hate,
who marries a good lad;
The fourth’s a servant who supplants,
the mistress she once had.

***

24  Four things there are upon the earth,
extremely small in size;
And yet in many ways they are,
exceptionally wise.

25  The first are ants without the strength,
to lift up anything;
And yet in summer they store food,
to last from fall to spring.

26  The second are the hyraxes –
their lives a paradox;
Though weak, they make their homes in cliffs,
among the crags and rocks.

27  The third are locusts on the move,
with no king who commands;
And yet they march in unison,
in perfect ranks and bands.

28  The fourth are lizards that one’s hand,
can pick and hold with ease;
But yet they’re found in palaces,
and anywhere they please.

***

29  Three things appear magnificent,
when treading here and there;
And four that seem to move about,
with proud and stately air.

30  The first one is a lion who’s,
the mightiest of beasts;
It does not turn and run away –
it’s not one that retreats.

31  The second is a rooster and,
the third’s a Billy goat;
The fourth’s a king whose fighting men,
surround him like a moat.

***

32  If you are one who plays the fool,
or lifts themselves up high;
Then put a hand across your mouth,
so no word goes awry.

33  As churned up cream makes butter chunks,
and noses pinched give blood;
So stirred up anger yields discord,
that rises like a flood.

Proverbs 29

“Those with no vision from the Lord, will cast restraint away; but blessed are they who know God’s word, and willingly obey.”  (Proverbs 29:18)

This is the twenty-nineth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 29, preceded by a brief reflection.

**********

The percentage of Americans who self-identify as ‘Christian’ is dropping fast.  The Pew Research Center, which has been tracking the religious makeup of the country for a number of years, has just published its latest report.  The results couldn’t be more sobering for us Christians.  For while the number was above 90% for as long as such statistics have been kept, there was a dramatic shift downward in the 1990’s to where roughly 64% so identify themselves today.  Moreover, modeling suggests that the number will drop below 50% by 2070 at the latest.

This drop is due primarily to young people leaving the Christian faith they have been raised in.  They are not leaving for atheism or another religion per se, but towards a secularized mindset that identifies with no formal religious belief.  They are often referred to as ‘Nones’ (a name taken from the category ‘None’ under ‘Religious Preference’ on the survey).  There are two primary theories offered as to what is causing this shift.  One is that as secular institutions develop that take care of people’s basic needs, the need for religion decreases.  The other is that it is a reaction to American Christianity that has become more and more associated with conservative political ideology.  Both of these have some validity, but I don’t believe they explain the whole picture.

My perspective on this is that of a former “None,” who came to faith in 2000.  Although ‘None’ was not a label then in use, it is nonetheless a good descriptor of my religious beliefs at the time.  As I started on my spiritual journey in the late 1990’s, I tore into books on Christianity, but the single most critical factor in my faith decision was what I saw in the lives of various Christians I was closest to.  I witnessed a number of believers who seemed to be living lives radically different (and better) than the surrounding culture – they were honest, caring, and humble.  They had a clear vision for their life with God and were more or less living it out with compelling authenticity.  They had something I wanted, and their winsomeness drew me in.

These days I still see many believers with an engaging vision of life in the Kingdom of God and who continue to attract and encourage me in my own faith journey.  At the same time, I often feel depressed by the number of Christians in America who seem to have drifted away from God’s vision for life with Him.  Proverbs 29:18 describes what happens when someone fails to have a godly vision for their life – namely, they go off the rails by casting away the natural restraint that comes from following the way of the Lord, “Those with no vision from the Lord, will cast restraint away; but blessed are they who know God’s word, and willingly obey.”  Other translations are more explicit, saying that those without a godly vision will ‘perish’ or ‘decay.’  I believe the consequences of this decay is a plausible explanation for the dramatic decline reflected in the survey.  For when Christians lose their godly vision, they affect not only themselves, but those who are observing them.  And that which was once winsome becomes loathsome.

When I consider those who have drifted from a godly life, I am not primarily thinking about extreme cases such as clergy abuse scandals, even though their impact is often magnified far beyond their numbers.  Nor even about various strains of racism or nationalism that have a foothold in some of our churches.  I believe the problem is much more systemic, with large swaths of confessing Christians living lives in opposition to the spirit of Christ.  Not surprisingly, the result is a turnoff to many young people.

I would point to three areas where this drift has recently been most striking:  justice, mercy, and humility.  These virtues, of course, are found throughout the warp and woof of Scripture.  A familiar summary of which is Micah 6:8, “He has shown you O man what is good, and what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly with the Lord.”  The pursuit of justice, mercy, and humility pretty much cover God’s vision for our lives.

Justice.  All justice is based upon truth, which is why believing lies and conspiracy theories is so antithetical to a godly vision.  Conspiracy tales are in full force these days.  From the lie that the last election was stolen, to the heresy of QAnon, which claims that there is a satanic, cannibalistic group of child sex abusers that is being fought by Donald Trump.  According to Pew Research, a staggering 61% of white evangelical Christians believe the lie that the election was stolen.  And QAnon is particularly popular among white evangelical Christians – some 25% of whom believe it according to a recent survey.  Such lies are a cancer that not only erodes society, but our Christian witness.  According to Proverbs 29:12, If any ruler listens to, the lies that people tell; then those who are subordinates, will learn to lie as well.”  When rulers are influenced by lies, others are encouraged to lie as well to gain the favor of the leader.  According to the NET footnote, “The servants of the monarch adjust to their ruler; when they see that court flattery and deception are effective, they will begin to practice it and in the end become wicked .”  Think about the consequences for our faith.  Why would any normal sober-minded person be attracted to a group of people where so many believe such nonsense?

Mercy.  Mercy is a fundamental quality of God, and according to Jesus one which we are to imitate.  “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  (Luke 6:36)  Mercy is how we show compassion, kindness and concern for someone in need.  It is always based upon the needs of the other person, and requires sacrifice on our part.  During the Covid pandemic, the wearing of facemasks in public became a visible symbol of the care and concern that we have towards one another.  For some; however, it became a symbol of the erosion of an individual’s right to choose.  Although no one failed to wear a mask when required to receive medical care, there were many who refused to wear a facemask in their church.  This became a major problem for those most susceptible to the virus – the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, and by extension their families.  To walk into a church and find some who steadfastly refused to wear a mask kept many away.  Attendance no doubt would have dropped off in any event, but for many of us who might have gone, the risk of someone without a mask sitting close was too great.

Sadly, masking became a proxy for the culture wars in many churches.  For those objecting based upon individual rights and government overreach, I believe they missed the point that mercy is something done in response to the needs of others, and not themselves.  The pandemic was particularly hard on churches, and with attendance now plateaued at around 67% of pre-Covid levels (according to Pew Research) it seems a real likelihood that the numbers will never rebound to what they were.  In a way, the pandemic simply accelerated a decades long decline in church affiliation.  The disputes over masks might be only a secondary factor in the decline.  Still, I can’t help but wonder how Christians would be perceived if we had been animated by a godly vision of mercy towards others and universally embraced the sacrifice of wearing a facemask?

Humility.  Just as there is no justice without truth, and no mercy without sacrifice, neither is there humility without submission.  The touchstone of humility is submission.  The Apostle Paul wrote that we should, Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”  (Philippians 2:3-4)  One might well ask whose interests were being advanced with all of the political endorsements by clergy during the last election cycle?  Only a few pastors explicitly endorsed political candidates from the pulpit, being mindful of IRS rules that could jeopardize their church’s tax exempt status. Still, there was a sharp increase in the number of pastors endorsing political candidates outside of church.  According to Lifeway Research, the percentage of such endorsements rose from 22% to 32% from 2016 to 2020.

Although perfectly legal and within their ‘rights,’ such endorsements have consequences for the advancement of the kingdom of God.  The obvious one is that in a polarized political environment, there will always be a sizable number of people who oppose the endorsed candidate and may understand it as official Christian doctrine that God favors a certain candidate.  It also runs the risk of putting a candidate on a pedestal that is unwarranted.  But the greatest danger is that politics plays by power and Christianity plays by submission.  It has long been known that when religion gets close to politics, it is good for politics and bad for religion.  This is why we must avoid conflating purely secular matters such as politics with our faith.  In the words of James, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God?  Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.  Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us?  But he gives us more grace.  That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’”  (James 4:4-6)

Barring a revival, when the history of the decline of American Christianity is written, I believe it will not be the result of an influx of foreign pagans, nor a direct defeat by the forces of secularism.  Rather, it will follow the familiar pattern of similar declines throughout the ages.  Namely, it will come from within – from the hearts of too many who lost a godly vision for their lives.  It might then be said of us, in the words of Walt Kelly’s Pogo cartoon strip, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

S

**********

1  The one rebuked repeatedly,
yet choosing not to yield;
Will suddenly be broken down –
destroyed and never healed.

2  When just and righteous rulers thrive,
the people shout and cheer;
But when the vile and wicked rule,
the people live in fear.

3  A man will bring his father joy,
who follows wisdom’s way;
But he who chooses prostitutes,
will see his wealth decay.

4  By justice does a king ensure,
a country will be sound;
But one who’s greedy for a bribe,
will surely tear it down.

5  The one whose words are flattering,
to neighbors when they meet;
Is surely spreading out a net,
to tangle his own feet.

6  The wicked are ensnared by sins,
that come from them alone;
But righteous souls shout joyfully,
with songs that they intone.

7  The righteous care that justice comes,
to everyone who’s poor;
The wicked though don’t understand,
or care what is de jure.

8  Those treating others with contempt,
will set a land ablaze;
But one who’s wise will calm down wrath,
and turn away such ways.

9  When one who’s wise goes into court,
with one who is a fool;
The fool will only rage and laugh,
and peace will never rule.

10  A murderer hates anyone,
who’s virtuous and true;
The righteous though protect the just,
and safely see them through.

11  The foolish vent what’s on their minds,
and let their anger roll;
But those with wisdom hold it back,
by showing self-control.

12  If any ruler listens to,
the lies that people tell;
Then those who are subordinates,
will learn to lie as well.

13  The poor and their oppressors are,
the same to this degree;
The Lord provides them both with eyes,
and light so they can see.

14  A king who judges faithfully,
the downcast and the poor;
Will have his throne and dynasty,
secured forevermore.

15  A rod that disciplines a child,
brings wisdom to the same;
But any child who’s unrestrained,
will bring a mother shame.

16  When wicked people multiply,
iniquity will rise;
The righteous though will see them meet,
their downfall and demise.

17  Correct your children when they’re wrong,
and they will give you rest;
They’ll fill your spirit with delight,
and you’ll be truly blessed.

18  Those with no vision from the Lord,
will cast restraint away;
But blessed are they who know God’s word,
and willingly obey.

19  A servant can’t be disciplined,
by hearing only talk;
Although they understand the words,
to follow them they balk.

20  Have you seen those with hasty words,
who speak without a thought?
There is more hope for fools than them,
for all their reckless talk.

21  A servant pampered from his youth,
and not told what to do;
Will turn out to be insolent –
a weakling through and through.

22  An angry person stirs up strife,
and makes a fight begin;
The one whose temper’s uncontrolled,
commits all kinds of sin.

23  The way of pride and arrogance,
will bring a person low;
But those with meek and humble hearts,
will see their honor grow.

24  A thief’s accomplice hates themselves,
for what is coming nigh;
They’ll have to hear themselves be cursed,
yet dare not testify.

25  The fear of other living souls,
will prove to be a snare;
But anyone who trusts the Lord,
is safe within his care.

26  While many seek a ruler’s ear,
to speak about their plight;
Still it is only from the Lord,
that one gets what is right.

27  The righteous hate dishonest souls –
such people they don’t trust;
The wicked hate high-minded souls –
the righteous and the just.

Proverbs 28

 

“Those trusting only in themselves, to foolishness are bound; but those who follow wisdom’s path, are guarded safe and sound.”  (Proverbs 28:26)

This is the twenty-eighth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 28, preceded by a brief reflection.

**********

The summer has raced by for me.  It seems like Memorial Day was just a couple of weeks back and now Labor Day weekend is upon us.  Still, the time has not been empty as Pat and I have wonderful memories from several trips – the most recent to Nantahala Lake in North Carolina where we met our son and his family at a lake house.  Our outbound travel plans were 300 miles to Knoxville the first day, and the final 100 miles the next.  The second leg of the trip from Knoxville to Nantahala Lake would take us past the Great Smoky Mountains.  According to our map app, the time would be about 2½ hours.  I didn’t see how it could take so long, although I do recall our son mentioning something about a ‘dragon road’ that might slow us down a bit.  It was only later that I understood what he was referring to.

About an hour outside of Knoxville on US 129, with the terrain increasingly more twisty and hilly, we started seeing signs about the ‘Tail of the Dragon.’  Stopping at a roadside country store, we were advised by the owner that we were about ten miles from the start of the ‘Dragon.’  Surprised that we were uninformed, he delighted in telling us that it is an eleven mile mountainous stretch of ups and downs and 318 curves, many of which were of the hairpin variety.  He also mentioned that it is an internationally known roadway destination for motorcyclists and sportscar enthusiasts.  Forewarned, we motored on passing signs limiting certain trucks, cars with trailers, and generally any large vehicles.  I was already feeling tired from the winding road on our approach when we passed two yellow signs, one over the other, that turned out to be the ultimate understatement – the upper one a squiggly arrow, and the other simply “next 11 miles.”

The Tail of the Dragon lived up to its name.  We were fortunate to drive it in the middle of the week with rain showers off and on, for this kept many adventurers away.  I was grateful to have no one behind me and to meet only a handful of cars and motorcycles coming the other way.  It required the utmost concentration to stay within the lines of the narrow lane – for with so many blind curves it would take only a momentary lapse in concentration to wander left of center on the one side or a wooded cliff on the other.  There were remarkably few guard rails to help in the latter situation.  Pat told me that there were some wonderful views through this mountain stretch, but I must take her word for it because my eyes were firmly fixed on the road.

There were some signs announcing curves to the left or right, but they were hardly necessary because the road was nothing but curves one way or the other.  The only things of real value were the two yellow road lines – the centerline and the edge line.  The former to guard against oncoming vehicles, and the latter to guard against falling off the road.  These I followed with the greatest intensity as I constantly varied my speed to stay in my lane.  It honestly wasn’t much fun.  The speed limit is set at 30 mph, which I seldom approached.  Incredibly, the speed limit was 55 mph prior to 1992 – a speed that is unimaginable.  That said, there have been several motorcyclists who have done the stretch in just over 60 mph.  Real knee-scraping driving that.

On our return trip the following Saturday, the weather was perfect and the weekend traffic significantly greater.  One pack of about ten Corvettes raced past us in the opposite direction, as did a number of Harley Davidson bikes, followed by a somewhat amusing gaggle of Mini Coopers.  The flow of vehicles never stopped, and there were a couple of close calls with errant drivers.  It was a relief to complete the traverse.

A drive through the Tail of the Dragon is a wonderful metaphor for life’s journey – ups and downs, twists and turns, never knowing what’s around the next bend, and ever forward towards a final destination.  From a spiritual perspective, the road lines represent the boundaries that God provides to keep us safely in our lane.  In simple terms, we can either choose God’s way, which is to stay inside the lines.  Or we can choose our own way, which is to ignore the lines.  In this sense, the book of Proverbs defines many of the boundary lines of our life with God.  We cross over these at our peril.  For example, Those trusting only in themselves, to foolishness are bound; but those who follow wisdom’s path, are guarded safe and sound.”  (Proverbs 28:26)

In the NET1 version, Proverbs 28:26 reads “The one who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but the one who walks in wisdom will escape.”  The study footnote from the translators reads, The idea of ‘trusting in one’s own heart’ is a way of describing one who is self-reliant … it means to follow the untrained suggestions of the mind or to rely on one’s own mental resources.  It is arrogant to take no counsel but to rely only on one’s own intelligence.   [‘To escape’] means ‘to escape from trouble,’ because the one who lives in this life by wisdom will escape trouble, and the one who trusts in himself will not.”  This is reiterated in Proverbs 28:18 which reads, Whoever leads a blamelessness life, is safe from all alarm; but one whose ways are devious, will quickly come to harm.”

Few should doubt the folly of stepping outside the boundary lines set forth in Proverbs.  Who among us has not paid a price at one time or another for lying, cheating, addiction, greed, etc.?  Moreover, don’t we empirically know that the wisdom of staying inside the guidance in Proverbs inevitably leads to a better life?  But are Proverbs promises as some believe, or probabilities?  For example, if we follow wisdom’s path and not our own heart will we escape trouble?  (Proverb 28:26)  Or if we lead a blameless life, will we be unharmed?  (Proverbs 28:18)  My understanding is that most Christian theologians believe that Proverbs are probable outcomes for living a godly life, but not guarantees.  This is based on the hermeneutics of wisdom and poetic biblical literature, and on commonsense application of biblical principles.

I agree.  It’s hard for me to believe that the promises in Proverbs are guarantees as such because our lives are contingent.  We are not alone on this good earth – there are over seven billion other souls living out their lives – some following godly principles and some not.  And this means there are an infinite number of ways their foolishness can impact me.  On the Tail of the Dragon, it only takes one oncoming car slipping over the line at the wrong time to destroy me even though I may be driving solidly inside the lines.

But guarantees or not, I am convinced that God’s wisdom is deeper than I can comprehend and that He will ultimately honor those who are faithful to his word.  The unfailing hope we have is that the Lord will never leave us or forsake us.  And that despite what the road may bring that He will be with us.  For as the Lord said, Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.”  (Isaiah 43:1-2).   And so, I will continue to trust in the Lord and in his ways regardless of what the road brings.  I will ground my hope in this: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your pathways straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

S

1 As readers of this blog may have noticed, I frequently refer to the NET (New English Translation).  For those who may be unfamiliar with the NET, I highly recommend it.  It is an entirely new translation from 2001 based on the best original manuscripts of the Bible.  It was completed by 25 experts in the original Biblical languages.  There are thousands of translation footnotes (tn) that describe the reasoning behind word choices made by the translators.  This is critical because, as I have learned, the more literal a translation is, the less readable will be; and the more readable it is, the less faithful it will be to the original meaning.  The NET also has helpful study footnotes (sn) to further explain the meaning of a verse.

**********

1  The wicked flee despite the fact,
that they are not pursued;
The righteous stand in boldness with,
a lion’s fortitude.

2  A nation that’s in disarray,
has rulers by the score;
But with a leader who is wise,
its peace will long endure.

3  When one who’s poor mistreats the weak,
the lowly and the small;
It’s like a nonstop driving rain,
that leaves no crops at all.

4  The ones who disregard the law,
give wicked people praise;
But those who keep the law oppose,
the wicked and their ways.

5  The wicked do not know what’s just –
it’s something they forgo;
But for the seekers of the Lord –
it’s something well they know.

6  Much better that a person’s poor,
and honest all their days;
Than being someone who is rich,
and crooked in their ways.

7  A child with understanding knows,
the law and keeps the same;
But one who’s friends with gluttons will,
increase a parent’s shame.

8  Whoever multiplies their wealth,
by usury and greed;
Amasses it for someone else,
who gives to those in need.

9  Whoever disregards the law,
and does not hear a word;
Will find that God detests their prayers,
so they will not be heard.

10  Whoever leads the just astray,
will fall in traps they’ve made;
The blameless though inherit all,
that’s good and does not fade.

11  The rich are wise in their own eyes,
and think they know a lot;
But one who’s poor and can discern,
will see that they are not.

12  Whenever righteous people win,
there’s glory far and wide;
But when the wicked rise to rule,
the people run and hide.

13  Whoever covers up their sins,
will not be prosperous;
But who admits and turns from them,
finds ample mercy thus.

14  There’s many blessings to be had,
for those who fear the Lord;
But those who let their hearts grow hard,
will reap a harsh reward.

15  A wicked ruler over those,
of mean and lowly caste;
Is like a lion roaring loud,
or bear that’s charging fast.

16  A ruler who’s tyrannical,
secures ill-gotten gain;
But one who hates dishonesty,
enjoys a lengthy reign.

17  A person who’s a murderer,
is in a living hell;
Let no one offer any help,
or give a place to dwell.

18  Whoever leads a blamelessness life,
is safe from all alarm;
But one whose ways are devious,
will quickly come to harm.

19  Whoever works the land will have,
abundant meat and bread;
But one who chases fantasies,
has poverty to dread.

20  A faithful person will abound,
with blessings by the score;
But one who hastens to be rich,
has punishments in store.

21  To practice partiality,
is never good to do;
Yet for a simple piece of bread,
a person goes askew.

22  Those greedily pursuing wealth,
are eager to get more;
But they don’t know that in the end,
it’s certain they’ll be poor.

23  Those willing to rebuke someone,
gain favor in the end;
Not so those who are flatterers,
despite what they intend.

24  Whoever robs their parents’ house,
and says that, “It’s all right;”
Is like a partner to a thug,
destroying things in spite.

25  The greedy person stirs up strife,
with fights and enmity;
But those who trust upon the Lord,
will know prosperity.

26  Those trusting only in themselves,
to foolishness are bound;
But those who follow wisdom’s path,
are guarded safe and sound.

27  Those giving freely to the poor,
have everything they need;
But those who close their eyes to them,
get curses for their greed.

28  When wicked people rise to rule,
all others look to hide;
But when the wicked are destroyed,
the just are multiplied.

Proverbs 27

“Like standing water can reflect a face that stops and stares; So too a heart reflects a life in all of its affairs.”  (Proverbs 27:19)

This is the twenty-seventh in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 27, preceded by a brief reflection.

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The morning is sunny and getting hotter as we turn into the parking lot of Conkle’s Hollow State Nature Preserve.  I find a shady spot in the upper lot, and Pat and I slide our binoculars out of their cases and prepare for a short hike.  We have spent the previous night at a Bed & Breakfast in Hocking Hills State Park, and are just out for a short excursion before heading home in a few hours.  We are looking for an easy walk with some opportunities for birdwatching.  According to what we read, Conkle’s Hollow seems to fit the bill.

The Hocking Hills area is located in Ohio’s rolling hills, known as the Appalachian Plateau, which is just east of the western flatlands, known as the Till Plains.  The Till Plains is a major landform of flat mile after flat mile of Ohio corn and soybeans that is the start of the Great Plains.  The Appalachian Plateau, in contrast, is hill country, where the vast level commercial farms of the Till Plains give way to smaller freeholds of woodland and fields of timothy.  These hills are not the higher peaks of the Appalachian Mountains, which lie farther to the east.  Still, they have their own magnificence; if not in stature, then texture.  For the Plateau is a varied terrain of hills and dales with many hidden caves, ravines, and waterfalls.  It is also an area rich in wildlife, including birds, which is why, with field glasses at the ready, we are heading down the parking lot to the trailhead.

Conkle’s Hollow is a narrow gorge about a half mile in length.  It offers two trails.  The higher one follows the circumference of the rim of the gorge for about two and a half miles and requires a bit of climbing and scrambling.  The lower one follows a small stream at the bottom of the gorge for about a half mile to a waterfall at the far end.  It is bounded by cliff walls on either side.  We choose the latter.

A narrow footbridge over the gently flowing stream is the start of the gorge trail.  On both sides of the bridge are thick carpets of green ferns with a smattering of wildflowers such as the long-stemmed blue phlox.  We pause on the bridge for a moment to look into the waters and watch a few tadpoles and small fish darting hither and yon with a purpose known only to them.  On the far side of the bridge, the trail turns to the left.  It’s there we get our first relief from the heat as the warm dry air of the parking lot slowly yields to the cool damp air of the gorge.  Walking leisurely, we watch the sides of the gorge rise to perhaps 200 feet above the floor, with the distance side to side narrowing to only 100 feet or so at some places.  Heavy shadows, earthy smells, and primordial sounds against a hovering silence speak to a very old ecosystem indeed.

The small stream that cuts down the middle of the gorge is hidden at times by an undergrowth of ferns and small plants.   Growing up from the floor on either side of the stream are enormous trees – hemlock and birch mostly, that appear to be old growth.  They are perfectly straight, no doubt as a result of shelter from winds and storms and the freedom to stretch to the sun and sky high above.  But for their inaccessibility, in an earlier age some of the hemlock might have been cut for a ship’s mast.  The path follows one side of the stream and is bounded on the stream side by soon to ripen touch-me-nots, and on the other by moss covered rocks and steep walls.  The path itself is concrete, which seems strangely out-of-place in such an otherwise unspoiled setting.  Still, it does allow us the freedom to focus on the wildlife and natural beauty without having to think about our footing.

As we make our way ever deeper into the gorge, images bring words of Scripture to my mind.  The high walls and foreboding rock outcroppings: “Yea though I walk through valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” (Psalm 23:4)  The mighty trees bordering the stream: “The one who meditates on God’s law day and night shall be like a tree planted by rivers of water.” (Psalm 1:2-3)  The birds darting among the tree branches: The birds are safe in trees that thrive where rivers rush along; they nest among the verdant leaves and sing a happy song.” (Psalm 104:12)  And the easy paved pathway: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your pathways straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

We settle into an unhurried rhythm – looking, listening, lingering.  Before too long we hear a birdsong – the unmistakable call of a wood thrush echoing through the gorge.  Ee-oh-lay, he sings, and then a pause … and ee-oh-lay again.  Always enough of a pause for its hauntingly beautiful song to reverberate off of the canyon walls and back again.  Never in a rush – more than enough time to let its call settle into our souls.  The wood thrush is a favorite, and its call never ceases to delight.  The naturalist Henry David Thoreau wrote of the song of the wood thrush: “Whenever a man hears it he is young, and Nature is in her spring; wherever he hears it, it is a new world and a free country, and the gates of Heaven are not shut against him.”  What Thoreau is saying is that the sound of a wood thrush awakens a place deep inside of us – a place that knows no boundaries, no fears, no hurries.  A place we call the soul.

The gates of Heaven are not shut because we can feel the hope beyond.  It is what the early Celts would have called a “thin place” – a place where the veil between heaven and earth is very thin.  A place where God feels close.  Perhaps God is speaking in the song of the wood thrush?  Not directly or in a panentheistic sense, but more like a reflection onto our soul.  We remain still – listening and looking.  It’s then that Pat spots a movement in the understory and suddenly a wood thrush hops onto the path.  A rare sighting because the wood thrush is reclusive by nature and its cinnamon brown color is otherwise good camouflage.  We have a few moments to study it before it disappears back into the undergrowth.  We search the terrain with our binoculars but its time has passed.  Our time is also up as we reach the end of the paved path, and reluctantly turn around without getting to the waterfall.  But no regrets because we have heard deep calling to deep and our souls are filled with joy and hope.

The morning in Conkle’s Hollow reveals to us something of the eternal nature of God.  Not directly of course because as the Apostle Paul wrote, For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face.” (1Corinthians 13:12)  This is the way of the spiritual life.  Some things cannot be perceived directly.  But if we are attentive, we can catch a glimpse of them, as in a reflection.

This is the point of Proverbs 27:19, “Like standing water can reflect a face that stops and stares; so too a heart reflects a life in all of its affairs.” (Proverbs 27:19)  Although we can never look directly at our own face, we can see its reflection in a mirror or even a pool of still, clear water.  What is true about how water can show a reflection of a face, is true about how a heart is a reflection of a life in all of its affairs – words, thoughts, and deeds.  We cannot look at our heart directly, but we can ‘see’ it as a reflection of our actions.  The authors of the NET write that Proverbs 27:19 means that a person’s heart is the true reflection of that person.  It is in looking at the heart, the will, the choices, the loves, the decisions, the attitudes, that people come to self-awareness.”  Jesus says much the same thing, “For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”  (Matthew 12:34)

Our morning stroll in Conkle’s Hollow is deeply satisfying.  Our senses have perceived a reflection of the spiritual realm and our souls are at ease.  We have been attentive, and God has given us a glimpse of something beyond.  But for those who are attentive to the ways of their heart, Jesus gives a greater promise: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.”  (Matthew 5:8)

S

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1  Don’t boast of what tomorrow holds,
or brag about a thing;
For you cannot prognosticate,
what any day may bring.

2  Don’t call attention to yourself –
let others praise your name;
Much better that a stranger gives,
you honor and acclaim.

3  A stone can be a heavy lift,
and sand a weighty haul;
But provocation by a fool,
is heavier than all.

4  Though wrath and rage are harsh and cruel,
and anger awful strong –
Can any withstand jealousy?
Is anyone so strong?

5  Much better is a reprimand,
that’s openly revealed;
Than love abiding in the heart,
and carefully concealed.

6  The wounds inflicted from a friend,
are given out to bless;
Not so the kisses from a foe,
though given in excess.

7  The one who’s full loathes honeycomb –
it’s sickening to eat;
But to the one with hunger pangs,
what’s bitter will taste sweet.

8  Much like a bird that flees its nest,
to sojourn far away;
Is anyone who leaves their home,
without a place to stay.

9  Perfume and ointments bring great joy,
and makes the spirit whole;
A friend who offers sound advice,
is sweetness to the soul.

10  Don’t leave a friend for relatives,
when trouble comes your way;
A nearby neighbor’s better than,
your family far away.

11  Be wise, my child, in all you do,
so joyful I will be;
Then I can answer anyone,
who criticizes me.

12  The prudent find a place to hide,
when danger’s round the bend;
But fools just keep on going on,
and suffer in the end.

13  Demand the coat of one who swears,
to pay a stranger’s debt;
And do not give it back again,
until the payment’s met.

14  To bless your neighbors in the morn,
with loud and blaring voice;
Will feel to them more like a curse,
than reason to rejoice.

15  The dripping from a leaky roof,
upon a rainy day;
Is like the nagging of a wife,
that will not go away.

16  To tame a shrew is harder than,
preventing wind to blow;
Or grasping oil with a hand,
so that it cannot flow.

17  As iron sharpens iron so,
it’s keener in the end;
A soul makes sharp another soul –
a friend enhances friend.

18  Whoever guards a fig tree will,
be sure to eat its fruit;
Whoever guards their master will,
be held in high repute.

19  Like standing water can reflect,
a face that stops and stares;
So too a heart reflects a life,
in all of its affairs.

20  Destruction and the underworld,
are never satisfied;
And neither are a human’s eyes,
which will not be denied.

21  The crucible tests silver ore,
the furnace flames test gold;
But praise will test the human heart,
by how much it can hold.

22  Although you grind a fool the way,
a mortar crushes grain;
You won’t remove their foolishness,
your efforts are in vain.

23  Be diligent to know your flocks –
the health of every sheep;
Give close attention to your herds –
those trusted to your keep.

24  For riches will not long endure,
no matter how immense;
Not even is a crown secure,
for generations hence.

25  When hay is safely gathered in,
and new grass blades appear;
It’s then the mountain crops are ripe,
and harvest time is near.

26  For clothes you wear are from the wool,
you harvest from your sheep;
The fields you buy are from the sale,
of goats once in your keep.

27  Your goats will yield sufficient milk,
to feed your family;
And sustenance for servant girls,
so nourished they will be.

Proverbs 26

“A sluggard looks upon himself, and thinks that he is wise – Exceeding seven counselors, who sensibly advise.”  (Proverbs 26:16)

This is the twenty-sixth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 26, preceded by a brief reflection.

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The seven deadly sins – pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth – is a core grouping of sins found in Catholic and certain mainline Protestant theologies.  They emerged from traditions of the Desert Fathers in around the year 400, and were formalized in the teachings of the church a couple of centuries later.  It is not a list that is found anywhere in the Bible, although all are Scripturally based.  In my experience, the ‘seven deadly sins’ is not a construct that is used within Evangelical circles, although they certainly will be recognized by most churchgoers.

From time to time, you will hear a sermon on one of the first five:  pride, greed, wrath, envy, or lust.  On the other hand, solid teachings are few and far between on gluttony and sloth.  The reluctance to speak about gluttony, particularly as it relates to overeating, is understandable because obesity is epidemic in our country and it would be perceived as too damning on those who are overweight.  Can you imagine the squirming in the pews from the 40% who are overweight?  Not very good for long term growth of a congregation, to be sure.  That said, the similar lack of teaching about sloth is puzzling because its tentacles can reach deep into a soul with grievous spiritual consequences.

So why does sloth receive scant attention?  It could be because sloth, like gluttony, seems to be a national pastime.  We live in a culture that idolizes ‘downtime,’ and even in the church we don’t want to be disturbed or otherwise prodded into action beyond our own otherwise hectic (or not) schedules.  It could also be because sloth is not mentioned a lot in the Bible.  In fact, almost all direct references to sloth are found in a dozen or so verses in Proverbs, four of which are in Proverbs 26.  But I think the most likely reason is because sloth doesn’t somehow seem so bad in comparison to various other ‘deadly sins,’ such as pride, wrath, and lust.  But whatever the reason, it is unfortunate, because sloth can indeed have deadly consequences for our spiritual journeys.

The predecessor of the sin of sloth, was known as ‘acedia’ by the Desert Fathers.  Acedia was a spiritual affliction, frequently brought on by the heat of midday, that in an extreme case could cause a monk to give up and leave the religious life.  It is a condition that in some instances can be seen as a manifestation of clinical depression; in which case, sloth is not a sin but an illness that requires appropriate medical attention.  Depression aside, the key insight of the Desert Fathers is that this condition has deep spiritual implications.  These we can observe in the way that sloth runs counter to our life in the kingdom of God, and the command to love God and others with all of our faculties – strength, heart, mind, and soul.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;’ and, love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Luke 10:27)  Sloth can affect each of these aspects of our being.

Sloth is most frequently pictured as a lack of movement or strength.  The term used in Proverbs is, ‘sluggards,’ which on the surface suggests physical laziness.  For example, “A sluggard turns upon his bed like hinges turn a door; He slowly pivots side to side, displaying his languor.”  (Proverbs 26:14)  To accomplish things for God and others takes physical effort.  Whether it is running errands, talking, or simply spending time with another person, we must physically move beyond our bed (or recliner) to love and serve others.  Similarly, to accomplish things for ourselves takes physical effort.  In ancient times, life was based around physicality, which fit well with God’s design for our bodies.  In today’s sedentary world, physical exercise is needed to compensate.  And while there is a need for rest, even a command from God for Sabbath rest, we suffer for physical sloth.

But while sloth is often identified with laziness and lack of physical action, this is not the essence of sloth.  If someone is unable to act due to physical limitations, they are not being slothful.  It is when one has the ability to act, but chooses not to, which is at the heart of sloth.  And so, it is the heart that is literally at the heart of the matter.

For the most part, sloth is a condition of the heart or will, which shows itself whenever a spiritual imperative is delayed on avoided altogether.  For example, “A sluggard says, ‘I can’t go out – A lion’s roaming there; A fearsome lion in the streets, that’s prowling everywhere.’”  (Proverbs 26:13)  Sloth rationalizes and justifies a lack of action.  Ronald Rolheiser puts it this way, “Sloth takes the form of postponing and evading our true responsibilities.  For instance, … putting off having to deal with a moral or relational issue in our lives. … We are also slothful when we distance ourselves from the more radical demands of adult responsibility and Christian discipleship and settle in for second best rather than striving for the higher bar.  Ironically, we often hide our sloth by working hard so as not to have to face the more challenging task of doing our inner work.”  (Sacred Fire, 89)

There is something deeply human about wanting to take the easy way out.  Perhaps there is someone I need to forgive, but instead I let the hurt brew.  Or perhaps there is someone I need to apologize to, but I avoid them.  Or perhaps I have an addiction or relational issue that I keep kicking down the road.  Unfortunately, the easy way out often leads to greater problems.  We have all no doubt witnessed the effect of unexamined sins in others that after many years have metastasized into their soul like a sort of cancer.  At that point, it is next to impossible to reverse the effects – perpetual bitterness, anger, despair and the like.

But sloth is also a condition of the mind that manifests itself in the avoidance of new ideas and thoughts, which becomes toxic when coupled with the idea of its own superiority.  For example, “A sluggard looks upon himself, and thinks that he is wise – Exceeding seven counselors, who sensibly advise.”  (Proverbs 26:16)  When we stop learning, we stop growing.  This happens when don’t read and/or listen to others.  It is a theme that is emphasized throughout Proverbs.  “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.”  (Proverbs 12:15)  Much of the division in our country today stems from people who have shut their minds to any view other than their own.  Being open to hear other voices doesn’t mean sacrificing core beliefs, but rather, learning that opposing positions are not necessarily evil, just different.  Seeking to understand different viewpoints takes effort, but it’s the only way our compassion for others will grow.  And compassion in ever increasing measure is the way of the Kingdom – the only way.  The way of the sluggard in matters of the mind is perhaps the most dangerous of all the manifestations of sloth.

Left unchecked, sloth eventually affects the soul as it overwhelms all aspects of one’s life.  For example, “The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway.”  (Proverbs 15:19)  And this leads to a place where Christian hope gives in to despair and emptiness.  In the words of Dorothy Sayers, “The sin of our times is the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.”  In this then we see that the ancients had it right – sloth is deadly.

S

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1  Like summer snow or harvest rain,
that strangely doesn’t quit;
So honor given to a fool,
just does not seem to fit.

2  Like swallows darting here and there,
or sparrows flitting round;
So curses given without cause,
will never come aground.

***

3  A whip for smacking on a horse,
a bridle for a mule;
A rod for laying on the back,
to discipline a fool.

4  Don’t give an answer to a fool,
that validates his whim;
For if you think the way he does,
then you’ll become like him.

5  But give an answer to a fool,
that’s just as crazed as he;
Or else the thought that he is wise,
is what the fool will see.

6  Like cutting off one’s own two feet,
or drinking violence;
Is one who sends a message by,
a fool who has no sense.

7  Like legs of one who’s paralyzed,
that cannot hold their weight;
Is any proverb that a fool,
is trying to restate.

8  Like one who binds a stone to sling,
so it cannot be thrown;
Is one who seeks to honor fools,
despite how they are known.

9 Like thorns that pierce a drunkard’s hand,
that make him flail about;
So is a proverb that a fool,
is trying to speak out.

10  Like archers wounding randomly,
by letting arrows fly;
Are those who seek to hire fools,
or any passerby.

11  Like dogs that retch return again,
to where they made their mess;
So also fools who make mistakes,
repeat their foolishness.

12  Do you see people who believe,
they’re wise in their own eyes?
There’s greater hope for fools than them,
despite what they surmise.

***

13  A sluggard says, “I can’t go out –
   A lion’s roaming there;
A fearsome lion in the streets,
   that’s prowling everywhere.”

14  A sluggard turns upon his bed,
like hinges turn a door;
He slowly pivots side to side,
displaying his languor.

15  A sluggard reaches out his hand,
and drops it on a plate;
Too hard to lift it to his mouth –
an effort far too great.

16  A sluggard looks upon himself,
and thinks that he is wise –
Exceeding seven counselors,
who sensibly advise.

***

17  Like one who grabs a passing dog,
and holds its ears too tight;
Is anyone who meddles in,
another person’s fight.

18-19  Like one who madly shoots his darts,
with flaming tips that smoke;
Is one who tricks a neighbor then,
says, “It was just a joke.”

***

20  Without some wood to stoke the flames,
a fire will not burn;
Without a gossip fueling it,
a quarrel will not churn.

21  As charcoal makes the embers glow,
and wood makes fires roar;
So one who’s quarrelsome takes strife,
and stokes it all the more.

22  The words of gossiping are like,
the daintiest of fare;
They slide on down into our soul,
and then they settle there.

***

23  Like shiny glaze upon a pot,
that’s made of mud and clay;
Are fervent words that mask a heart,
where evil has its way.

24  Whoever hates, disguises it,
through words that they impart;
While all of their deceitfulness,
is stored within their heart.

25  Whoever hates, may speak with grace,
but don’t believe the hype;
For there are seven evil things,
that fill their heart with spite.

26  Whoever hates, may use deceit,
so that their hate’s concealed;
But all the wickedness inside,
is sure to be revealed.

***

27  Whoever’s first to dig a pit,
will fall into the hole;
And too, a stone will turn and crush,
the one who starts its roll.

28  A tongue that lies hates those it hurts –
its victims one and all;
A mouth that flatters with deceit,
brings ruin and a fall.

Proverbs 25

“We honor God for everything that He keeps out of sight; We honor kings for searching out, and bringing things to light.”  (Proverbs 25:2)

This is the twenty-fifth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 25, preceded by a brief reflection.

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Growing old doesn’t make one an expert in aging, any more than slicing a finger makes one a phlebotomist.  Still, with advancing years a person experiences changes in their body that are alien to the young.  There was a time when I didn’t think twice about my body mechanics – standing, bending, turning, and walking all came naturally; these days I am cautious before making any quick movement.  When I was young, my mind could at once hold onto multiple thoughts; these days when I enter a room, I often forget why I am there.  And increasingly, I am aware of the brevity of life as serious medical events and the loss of those I have known provide frequent reminders of mortality.

Still, aging also has its consolations.  For me, this includes time for reflection.  Even as my body slowly breaks down, I have the hope that I can continue to grow spiritually.  The Apostle Paul wrote of this hope, “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”  (2 Corinthians 4:16)  As I look for reliable guidance for navigating this phase of my life, I find an essentially complete spirituality of aging distilled in a single verse – Proverbs 25:2.  “We honor God for everything that He keeps out of sight; We honor kings for searching out, and bringing things to light.”  Let me explain.

The first part of the verse, “We honor God for everything that He keeps out of sight,” relates to God’s invisibility and his inscrutable ways.  This is the mystery that the Apostle Paul captures in the doxology in Romans 11:33-36:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Yes, God’s ways are invisible, but he leaves markers.  “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”  (Romans 1:20-21)  In other words, God reveals himself in the wonders of creation that he has made, and which can be contemplated by anyone with open eyes and a thankful heart.

My daily morning walk has become a time when I try to be more aware of God’s revelation in the natural world.  On my better days, I seek to savor the moment, the weather, seasonal changes, how I am feeling – aches and all, and give God thanks.  Some mornings the clouds and sun seem to dance as they declare the glory of God.  Often in Spring a cacophony of birdsongs lifts my heart to God.  And sometimes of a morning my friend Steve pulls up in his pickup truck.  Steve has had multiple heart surgeries and is a medical miracle in many ways.  When I ask how he is doing, his inevitable response is, “God is so good, he has given me another day.”

The second half of the verse, “We honor kings for searching out, and bringing things to light,” takes some parsing.  Recall that this was written by Solomon, who was a king with outstanding wisdom and knowledge.  “Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt.” (1 Kings 4:30)  No doubt Solomon had himself in mind when he wrote this verse.  These days we don’t have kings, and there are very few leaders who bring things to light – the politics of today being based more on disinformation than enlightenment.  So for this verse to have any currency, ‘kings’ must be understood as a metonymy for those who discover and bring things to light.  Indeed, the Message translation uses ‘scientists’ rather than kings.

But the salient point is not whether it is a king or scientist who brings something to light but that it is a flesh and blood person who is enlightening us with knowledge or otherwise lightening our load.  The contrast in this verse is between the hidden ways of God and the visible ways of people.  In both instances we are called to respond with honor that is grounded in thankfulness.  When someone provides a service, I thank them.  When someone is kind, I thank them.  When someone forgives me, I thank them.  Thankfulness is food for the soul – nourishing both the receiver and the giver.

The clarion call of the spiritual life is to thankfulness.  First, to God for our lives and all that is good and pure in creation; and second to those around us.  The Apostle Paul tells us, Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)  As we grow older, thankfulness in ever increasing measure becomes a moral imperative.  The author, Morris West writes, “At a certain age our lives simplify, and we need have only three phrases left in our spiritual vocabulary:  Thank you!  Thank you!  Thank you!”

But it would be wrong to suggest that thankfulness is only for the twilight years, as it is a foundational virtue for the life of every follower of Christ.  Not only as a way of loving and honoring others, but as a road to a more satisfying life with fewer regrets as one ages.  For, as Ronald Rolheiser writes, “Many … deeply regret that during the healthiest and most productive years of their lives they were too driven and too unaware of the richness of their own lives to appreciate and enjoy what they were doing.  Instead of privilege, they felt burden; instead of gratitude, they felt resentment; and instead of joy, they felt anger.  One of the demons we wrestle with during our adult years is … a joylessness bordering on anger.”  (Sacred Fire)

One of the challenges we face throughout our lives is the tendency to take things for granted.  If we are not careful, our desire to get ahead or simply keep our head above water can turn into a singular focus on self.  This in turn can blind us to all that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable.  When we take such blessings of God and the people around us for granted, it is but a small step to the cancer of entitlement.  And when this metastasizes in our soul, the stage is set for disappointment and bitterness in old age.

As followers of Christ, we want to live well – abundantly and generatively.  We also want to end well.  I know many people who have struggled with health issues as they have grown older – weakened hearts, failed kidneys, senility, various cancers, and the like.  No one I know rejoices at their maladies, nor should they.  Some are stoic, some complain, and some despair.  It can be a lonely journey – this final one of our mortal life.  But those who seem to navigate it with the most aplomb and grace are those with thankful hearts.

S

**********

1  These Proverbs are of Solomon,
that future scribes wrote down –
When Judah’s Hezekiah was,
the king who wore the crown.

***

2  We honor God for everything,
that He keeps out of sight;
We honor kings for searching out,
and bringing things to light.

3  As high as heavens are above,
and earth is deep below;
A king’s heart is unsearchable,
his mind no one can know.

***

4  Remove the dross from silver ore,
by purging what’s impure;
And then a silversmith can make,
a vessel to endure.

5  Remove the wicked from the king,
and keep them from his sight;
And then his throne will be preserved,
through what is just and right.

***

6  Don’t praise yourself before the king,
or tell him how you rate;
And do not stand or claim a place,
among the famed and great.

7  Much better he should say to you,
   “Step up and come to me;”
Than have him shame you in the eyes,
of his nobility.

***

8  Don’t be too quick to go to court,
a grievance to pursue;
For if a neighbor shames your word,
O what then will you do?

9  Instead, present your arguments,
in person face to face;
But don’t betray another’s trust,
in how you state your case.

10  For if you break a confidence,
then you will come to shame;
And evermore a bad report,
will fasten to your name.

***

11  Like apples of the finest gold,
upon a silver bed;
Is any word that’s fitly made,
and opportunely said.

12  Like earrings of the purest gold,
and ornaments so dear;
Is any warning from the wise,
upon a willing ear.

13  Like snow that comes at harvesttime,
refreshes all the land;
Is any faithful messenger,
to one who’s in command.

14  Like clouds and wind without some rain,
that’s needed for a drought;
Is one who boasts of giving gifts,
but never hands them out.

***

15  Through patience rulers can be coaxed,
to change how they are prone;
For gentle words can break a will,
that’s harder than a bone.

***

16  Don’t gorge yourself on honeycomb,
you find within a tree;
Too much and surely you’ll feel bad,
as sickly you will be.

17  Don’t go into your neighbors’ house,
too often as a guest;
Or they will hate the sight of you,
for being such a pest.

***

18  Like warring club or sharpened sword,
or arrow set to maim;
Is one who gives false evidence,
against a neighbor’s claim.

19  Like broken or decaying tooth,
or foot that is not sound;
Is trusting in a faithless soul,
when trouble comes around.

20  Like vinegar on open flesh,
or coat removed when cold;
Is anyone who sings a song,
a grieving heart can’t hold.

***

21  If your enemy is hungry,
give food to fill him up;
If thirsty give a welcome drink,
like water from a cup.

22  In doing this, then burning coals,
you’ll heap upon his head;
The Lord will then reward you for,
providing drink and bread.

***

23  Like wind that comes down from the north,
will certainly bring rain;
Is one whose gossiping provokes,
an angry look of pain.

***

24  Much better with a rooftop nook,
and solitary life;
Than sharing an entire house,
in conflict with a wife.

***

25  Like water to a thirsty soul,
so weary it can’t stand;
Is good news that is coming from,
a far and distant land.

26  Like springs with mud, or tainted wells,
which grime and trash defile;
Are righteous souls submitting to,
the wicked and the vile.

***

27  It is not good to overeat,
the honey from the comb;
Nor is it glorious to seek,
out glory for one’s own.

***

28  Like walls around a city that,
are split with breach and hole;
Is anyone with raging heart,
and lacking self-control.

Proverbs 24

“I passed a lazy person’s field, beyond a broken fence; and by the vineyard of someone, devoid of any sense.  Sharp thorns had sprung up everywhere, and weeds were all around; the stone wall that surrounded it, was strewn about the ground.”  (Proverbs 24:30-31)

This is the twenty-fourth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 24, preceded by a brief reflection.

**********

I have written previously about moving to Maine as a young man in late spring, 1974, and settling onto fifty acres of abandoned farmland with the goal of becoming self-sufficient.  It was my intention to follow in the footsteps of Helen and Scott Nearing who in their book “Living The Good Life,”described their life of organic farming and native material home building.  I was not a follower of Jesus at the time and therefore unfamiliar with Scripture.  But, in one sense, I followed the prescription in Proverbs 24:27, Prepare your fields by plowing them, and scattering your seeds; and only then construct a house for your domestic needs.”  For one of the first things I did was to have a local farmer plow an enormous 100 ft by 100 ft garden plot, which I mostly planted with corn, peas, potatoes, tomatoes, and lettuce.

Things went swimmingly in the garden for a few weeks as small green plants began to appear.  However, there was soon another sort of green that overspread the garden plot – a sort of creeping covering that had no respect for my carefully laid out rows and mounded hills.  I would later discover that this invader is a particularly tough weed appropriately referred to by the locals as ‘witchgrass.’  It is well named because it is devilishly difficult to control – particularly without pesticides, which I was loathe to employ due to my commitment to the organic method.  The only thing to do was to try to rip them out by their sprawling roots.  So, early one day I started down a row with fork hoe in hand.  Heat and dust arose as I shuffled and scratched my way along, until I suddenly realized I was under attack by black flies – a particular scourge of the region where I had settled.  Delivering a nasty bite, they leave a welt that can swell up and itch for weeks.  Hot, sore, and bitten I soon called it quits without having make any noticeable difference in the weeds.

I might have stuck with it longer, but it wasn’t just the weeds and insects that were disheartening.  As soon as lettuce started breaking through the soil, rabbits appeared and neatly trimmed the tops.  Given the size of the garden and my limited financial resources, fencing was out of the question.  Other pests too were soon chewing holes in the leaves of the potatoes and tomatoes.  The final blow came when a succession of hot days made irrigation essential.  The only water on the property was an abandoned hand-dug well several hundred yards away, which meant an almost impossible effort of dipping and hauling water by the bucketful.

Suffice it to say, I soon gave up the labor of the garden.  In spiritual terms, I was facing a crisis of believing vs. being.  On the one hand, I had the desire and intellectual belief to pursue an organic lifestyle.  On the other hand, I could not muster the internal fortitude to be an organic gardener.  It is a dilemma that many of us find in various endeavors, not least of which in our spiritual lives.  Alan Jones writes, “believing is closely related to being and to our refusal to be.  Tears flow when we begin to realize just how deep that terrible refusal goes.  Believing is never simply a matter of assent to a doctrine.  In fact, it is not primarily that. … To bring believing and being together can be a painful and tearful process.”  The Apostle Peter had just such a crisis, when believing that he was faithful, said he would never deny Jesus.  Yet before the coming dawn he denied the Lord three times.  Who cannot feel pity for Peter when reading, “So he went out and wept bitterly.”  (Matthew 26:75)

Now my failure as a gardener was hardly an occasion for tears, nor was it a great spiritual failure as such.  Still, my untended garden did reveal a spiritual principle that is captured in Proverbs 24:30-34.

I passed a lazy person’s field, beyond a broken fence;
And by the vineyard of someone, devoid of any sense.
Sharp thorns had sprung up everywhere, and weeds were all around;
The stone wall that surrounded it, was strewn about the ground.
I carefully considered all, these things that I had seen;
And learned a simple lesson from, what knowledge I could glean.
A little too much slumbering, a little too much sleep;
A little folding of the hands, determines what you reap.
For poverty will show up like, a robber in the night;
And scarcity like one who’s armed, and ready for a fight.

Taken literally, one could say that these verses describe my attempt at organic gardening.  My garden was soon so overrun with weeds that it could hardly be distinguished from the surrounding field.  The overgrown garden in Proverbs 24 is obviously a warning against indolence and is intended to encourage us to work hard or else we will end up with nothing.  In other words, we reap what we sow, which pretty accurately describes my fall ‘harvest’ in 1974 of a few smallish potatoes.

But these verses hold a deeper application.  Namely, they can be understood as a metaphor for a soul in distress – a soul where weeds are unchecked and where there is no wall to protect it from invaders.  Agricultural metaphors appear throughout the Bible to anchor spiritual principles in terms familiar to an agrarian people.  Although in today’s world, we are less connected to the soil, the metaphors still resonate.  We have no difficulty in following Jesus’ metaphors, and their longer cousins, parables, about planting, growing, and harvesting that he used to explain the spiritual life.  Still, for those of us who are not gardeners, we can overlook some of what they have to offer.

Let me suggest three ways in which the soul is like a garden.

First, a garden is hard work, demanding constant care and attention.  Weeds, diseases, predators, and drought are ever-present threats to the untended garden, and are quick to gain a foothold if we are inattentive.   Similarly, soul work is hard work.  Hardly a day goes by when we are not faced with some physical or emotional problem that touches an underlying neurosis or pathology.  We allow these to run their course at the soul’s peril.  This idea is captured by Paul who wrote, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”  (Ephesians 4:26)  It’s easy to believe these words, but much harder to practice them.  When I am criticized, it can feel like a black fly bite; when I am cheated, it can feel like the sun burning my skin; and when I am offended it can feel like hot dry dust in my nose.

Humility, compassion, and forgiveness are hard.  These do not happen automatically – my automatic response is like that to my garden – follow my flesh.  This is why Jesus uses terms such as dying to oneself to describe the process.  And it is why the Christian life is one of ongoing growth and conversion, if you will.  Again in the words of Alan Jones, “Conversion is not a once and for all event, but a way of psychological and spiritual formation that takes a lifetime.  Often the great and first step is confused with the whole lifelong process.  Conversion experiences, life-changing though they may be, are but the first step on a long journey.”

Second, a garden grows through natural processes over which we have no control.  We can prepare the soil, plant the seeds, water, and cultivate.  But no matter how hard we try, we can never make the plant grow.  We cannot create any of the raw ingredients nor can we produce life despite our best efforts.  Natural life processes are the responsibility of God, who keeps his side of the bargain.  In much the same way soul work is not entirely up to me.  Indeed, without God it is impossible.  When we take steps to deny ourselves, to be less defensive and selfish, and to be more forgiving and generous, God works a miracle in our soul.

There is no getting around it, a bountiful harvest comes when we work cooperatively with God.  If we sow to please the Spirit, and persevere in doing what is right and good, then we will reap a harvest.  (Galatians 6:8-9).  And what is that harvest?  It is the spiritual fruit of, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  (Galatians 5:22-23)  God doesn’t produce spiritual fruit in us without our efforts, and our efforts avail us nothing without God.  On this, the Biblical record is clear.

Third, a garden takes time to grow.  Some plants like lettuce may yield a harvest after a matter of weeks.  Others, like rhubarb, several seasons.  And some fruit trees up to ten years.  In the spiritual realm we are an impatient people, preferring instant conversion – say a prayer and we’re done.  But this is simply not born out by Scripture or the experience of the ages.

My sister-in-law, Joanie, is a master gardener who not only believes in the organic lifestyle but lovingly practices it.  Every year she faces the same challenges I did in 1974, but with a different outlook and a radically different result.  Physically, it is no easier for her than it was for me, but she applies herself in a much different way.  Where I hated the dirt and the dust, she loves getting her hands in the soil and working the good earth.  Where I dreaded the heat of the sun, she revels at the warmth by remembering the long cold winter that preceded the spring.  I am pretty sure that she does not love the insect bites, but has learned to avoid and/or ignore them for the greater payoff of a bountiful harvest.

God promises a bountiful spiritual harvest for those who do the necessary soul work.  In the words of the prophet, “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.  The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.  You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”  (Isaiah 58:9-11)

S

**********

Saying 19

1  Do not be envious of those,
whose wickedness you see;
Do not associate with them,
or seek their company.

2  For there is violence in their hearts,
destruction in their eyes;
And from their lips there’s devilment,
deceitfulness and lies.

Saying 20

3  Through wisdom is a house put up,
so it will long endure;
By understanding it is made,
to always be secure.

4  Through knowledge every room inside,
is surely filled with care;
With riches that are beautiful,
and treasures bright and rare;

Saying 21

5  A warrior whose ways are wise,
has power, strength and might;
The one who knows and understands,
is strengthened for the fight.

6  For guidance is imperative,
if one must wage a war;
With many thoughtful counselors,
a victory is sure.

Saying 22

7  Now wisdom is too high for fools,
because their minds are weak;
And so when court is being held,
they do not try to speak.

Saying 23

8  The one devising evil plans,
and plotting wicked things;
Will be perceived as one who schemes,
and mischief making brings.

9  For devilish and foolish plans,
are sinful to devise;
And people hate the one who schemes,
who mocks whatever’s wise.

Saying 24

10  If you give up or fall apart,
when trouble comes along;
It surely demonstrates that you,
are really not so strong.

Saying 25

11  Be sure to rescue those in need –
those led away to die;
Yes, hold those staggering towards death,
don’t let them pass you by.

12  For if you say, “I did not know,”
remember there is One;
Who weighs the heart and knows your life,
repaying what you’ve done.

Saying 26

13  My child, find honey where you can,
for it is good to eat;
The drippings from the honeycomb,
upon your tongue are sweet.

14  Now wisdom’s also good for you,
it helps your soul feel right;
And if you get it you will have,
a future hope that’s bright.

Saying 27

15  Don’t lie in wait, you wicked one,
where righteous souls reside;
Don’t plunder or destroy their home,
and what they have inside.

16  Though seven times the righteous fall,
each time they’ll rise again;
Not so the wicked who will trip,
when crises strike at them.

Saying 28

17  Don’t gloat upon your enemies,
when fallen on the ground;
And when they stumble find no joy,
or let your heart abound.

18  For otherwise, the Lord will see,
and surely disapprove;
His anger then will turn from them,
His wrathfulness remove.

Saying 29

19  Don’t let the wicked cause you grief,
or let them worry you;
And don’t be envious of them,
no matter what they do.

20  For wicked people have no hope,
on which they can depend;
And like a lamp wick dampened out,
they too will meet their end.

Saying 30

21  My child have reverence for the Lord,
and fear the king as well;
Do not associate with those,
who rise up and rebel.

22  For rebels face destruction from,
the Lord and from the king;
And who can know what misery,
the two of them can bring?

Further Sayings of the Wise

23  Now here are sayings of the wise,
for living as you should:
The first is that inequity,
in judging is not good.

24  Whoever says to those with guilt,
“I find you innocent;”
Will be accursed by peoples’ cries,
and nations in dissent.

25  But those convicting criminals,
will know prosperity;
They’ll revel in delightfulness,
and blessings all can see.

***

26  A truthful answer spoken out,
with honesty and grace;
Is like a kiss upon the lips –
a delicate embrace.

***

27  Prepare your fields by plowing them,
and scattering your seeds;
And only then construct a house,
for your domestic needs.

***

28  Don’t testify without just cause,
against your neighbor’s sake;
And do not let your words deceive;
or ever falsehoods make.

29  Don’t say that, “I will do to them;
   what they have done to me;
I’ll pay them back for what they did,
   and act accordingly.”

***

30  I passed a lazy person’s field,
beyond a broken fence;
And by the vineyard of someone,
devoid of any sense.

31  Sharp thorns had sprung up everywhere,
and weeds were all around;
The stone wall that surrounded it,
was strewn about the ground.

32  I carefully considered all,
these things that I had seen;
And learned a simple lesson from,
what knowledge I could glean.

33  A little too much slumbering,
a little too much sleep;
A little folding of the hands,
determines what you reap.

34  For poverty will show up like,
a robber in the night;
And scarcity like one who’s armed,
and ready for a fight.

Proverbs 23

“My child, if it is in your heart, that wisdom comes to dwell; then joy and gladness will invade, and fill my heart as well.”  (Proverbs 23:15)

This is the twenty-third in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 23, preceded by a brief reflection in verse.

**********

I call your attention, to this my reflection, of Proverbs in part twenty-three.
These things that I mention, about this collection, are needless as you will agree.
Still I don’t think Solomon, would need some cobalamin, if he were to read what I write.
And hopefully you, will find your way through, while pondering these with delight.

Before I commence, to try to condense, my thinking of what these all mean.
I’ll firstly spell out, so there’s not a doubt, these Sayings will total thirteen.
The first to appear, as this will make clear, is Six just below in this queue.
The first five you see, are reckoned to be, in Proverbs in part twenty-two.

Saying Six

Don’t crave any offer, a ruler may proffer, to come to his table to eat.
It’s better you hold, a knife blade that’s cold, to threaten your throat like it’s meat.
For surely you’ll find, he’s not being kind, in what he’s attempting to do.
But rather his aim, is forming a claim, to what he’ll require of you.

Saying Seven

The next Saying in, will sound like a sin, to those who make riches their goal.
But straining for wealth, is harmful to health, while also eroding the soul.
For gold that sprouts feathers, without any tethers, can seem an impossible thing.
Still many agree, that treasures soon flee, like eagles when taking to wing.

Saying Eight

Don’t eat what a host, is offering most, when grudgingly brought into view.
He’s keeping a count – the total the amount – of all he is sharing with you.
Although you may think, when telling you ‘drink,’ that seemingly he is sincere.
But if you partake, your stomach will ache, and sickness will follow I fear.

Saying Nine

Now look all around, before you propound, any wisdom that’s at your command.
For lurking about, without any doubt, are some who will not understand.
I’m speaking of fools, who don’t have the tools, to comprehend words that are wise.
There’s no turning off, their tongues as they scoff, and criticize things they despise.

Saying Ten

Do not rearrange, or otherwise change, a marker constructed with stones.
And never trespass, or step on the grass, that any poor orphan child owns.
For there’s a Defender, a mighty contender, who’s hardy and powerfully strong.
He won’t be denied, but comes alongside, to fight against what you’ve done wrong.

Saying Eleven

The next Saying states, with simple mandates, some things that are good for your soul.
A sure place to start, is found in the heart, with discipline making you whole.
Another appears, with listening ears, receiving whatever is true.
When these things you try, and seek to apply, then wisdom you’ll surely accrue.

Saying Twelve

Now Saying Twelve seems, to go to extremes, in giving a child discipline.
It briefly describes, without diatribes, the way to chastise for a sin.
Suggesting a rod, in order to prod, is needed at times to coerce.
It says that the goal, is saving a soul, to keep it from something far worse.

Saying Thirteen

My child if you seek, and carefully keep, a heart in which wisdom can dwell;
Then my heart will know, and certainly grow, in happy contentment as well.
Indeed it will fill, my innermost will, with praises and joyful delight;
When what you convey, with words that you say, is true and unfailingly right.

Saying Fourteen

Don’t envy someone, for sins they have done, when going along their own way.
But honor the Lord, and with one accord, continue to fear Him all day.
For if you revere, the One who is dear, there’s hope that’s remaining for you.
And you’ll know for sure, what He has in store, will certainly never fall through.

Saying Fifteen

Now listen with care, these things that I share – let wisdom be always your source.
Make sure that your mind, and heart are inclined, to follow upon the right course.
Do not dissipate, or settle your fate, by drinking or eating unchecked.
For all such excess, produces a mess, and leaves you most horribly wrecked.

Saying Sixteen

Your parents deserve, the honor you serve, so turn not from them when they’re old.
Acquire the truth, in spite of your youth, so they’ll see your wisdom unfold.
When children are wise, it’s not a surprise, that father and mother rejoice.
And find that their days, have gladness that stays, and happiness shows in their voice.

Saying Seventeen

My son if you’re smart, you’ll give me your heart, and follow the things I have found –
That unfaithfulness, will end in a mess, is wisdom that always is sound.
By this we deduce, a woman who’s loose, is lying in wait for some prey.
A thief if you will, who’s using her skill, to try to tempt someone astray.

Saying Eighteen

O who has known pain, and suffered in vain, and felt their life slowly decline?
It’s those whose eyes stare, without any care, at many a bottle of wine.
For wine’s like a snake, whose bite makes you shake, no matter what ever you think.
And sorry to say, it’s tempting to stray, and sample just one final drink.

**********

Saying 6

1   When any ruler beckons you,
to have a bite or two;
Consider very carefully,
what’s now in front of you.

2  For if you’re one who tends to eat,
whatever’s in your sight;
Pretend a knife is at your throat,
to curb your appetite.

3  Don’t crave what rulers serve to you,
or hunger for their sweets;
Deceptive is their offered food –
illusive are their eats.

Saying 7

4   Don’t spend yourself in getting rich,
don’t labor hard for wealth;
But demonstrate some self-control –
be wise and check yourself.

5  No sooner have you looked at wealth,
then it is out of sight;
Like eagles that have spread their wings,
it suddenly takes flight.

Saying 8

6   Don’t eat the food of any host,
begrudging in his ways;
And do not crave the wondrous fare,
beguiling to your gaze.

7  For in his heart your host believes,
the cost is very dear;
Though he may tell you, “eat and drink,”
his heart is not sincere.

8  Then what you eat will make you sick,
so you will spit it out;
Your compliments will go to waste,
with this there is no doubt.

Saying 9

9   Don’t speak when there are fools around,
or talk so they will hear;
For they will scorn the prudent thoughts,
and wisdom that they hear.

Saying 10

10   Don’t move or rearrange the place,
of ancient boundary stones;
Or take a step upon the fields,
that any orphan owns.

11  For there is a Defender Kin,
who’s powerful and strong;
And he himself will take their side,
and fight against your wrong.

Saying 11

12  To sound instruction set your heart,
to discipline adhere;
To words of knowledge turn your ears,
so wisdom they will hear.

Saying 12

13  Don’t hesitate to discipline,
when children go astray;
For surely they will not succumb,
to punishment per se.

14  For striking children with a rod,
when discipline’s the goal;
Can save them from the kind of death,
that devastates the soul.

Saying 13

15  My child, if it is in your heart,
that wisdom comes to dwell;
Then joy and gladness will invade,
and fill my heart as well.

16  Indeed, my inmost being will,
rejoice with great delight;
Whenever what your lips convey,
unfailingly is right.

Saying 14

17  Don’t let your heart be envious,
of sinners and their way;
But honor and revere the Lord,
and fear Him all the day.

18  For surely there’s a future hope,
by fearing in the Lord;
A hope that will not be cut off,
for you this is assured.

Saying 15

19  My children, listen carefully –
let wisdom be your source;
Direct your mind and set your heart,
upon the proper course.

20  Don’t be like those who dissipate,
themselves on wine that’s sweet;
And don’t be like the gluttonous,
who gorge themselves on meat.

21  For those who drink and eat too much,
will come to poverty;
And drowsiness will cover them,
in ragged penury.

Saying 16

22  Your father gave you life, so hear,
his words as they unfold;
And don’t despise your mother’s life,
when she is grey and old.

23  Acquire truth despite the cost,
don’t let it slip away;
Buy wisdom and instruction too,
and insight everyday.

24  The father of a righteous child,
has joy that won’t abate;
For he who fathers one who’s wise,
will surely celebrate.

25  May gladness fill your parents’ hearts,
may both of them rejoice;
May she who bore and nurtured you,
give happiness a voice.

Saying 17

26  My son, please give your heart to me,
and keep me in your gaze;
O let your eyes watch carefully,
observing all my ways.

27  A prostitute is like a pit –
a sinking cavity;
A harlot like a narrow well,
from which you can’t get free.

28  For wantonness is like a thief,
that lies in wait for prey;
She multiplies unfaithfulness,
so men will go astray.

Saying 18

29  O who has sorrow, who has woe?
Who gripes of strife as well?
And who has bruises without cause,
and bloodshot eyes that swell?

30  It’s those who tarry far too long,
around a glass of wine;
And those who sample mixtures of,
the harvest of the vine.

31  Don’t let your eyes be drawn to wine,
when ruby red it glows;
Or when it sparkles in the cup,
and smoothly down it goes.

32  For in the end it’s like a snake,
that bites while in your grasp;
A deadly poison stinging you,
like venom from an asp.

33  And you’ll behold the oddest sights,
and see the strangest things;
Your mind will wander aimlessly,
with visions in the wings.

34  You’ll be like one asleep at sea –
on waters that are vast;
Like one who’s lying up above,
upon the highest mast.

35  You’ll say, “I did not feel their blows,
   so I’m not hurt, I think!
When will I wake from slumbering,
   to have just one more drink?”