“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)
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.
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