Proverbs 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

S

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Proverbs 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

S

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proverbs 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

S

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proverbs 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

S

**********

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proverbs 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

S

**********

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proverbs 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

S

**********

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

Proverbs 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

S

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Proverbs – Chapter 7

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

Proverbs 6

“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven things that are detestable to him …”  (Proverbs 6:16)

This is the sixth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 6, preceded by a brief reflection.

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Today I mark two anniversaries.  Seventy years since my birth and twenty years since professing faith in Jesus Christ.  I count myself blessed to be in a season of life where I have the space to reflect and write about my life and faith.  I do not take this for granted.  Nor do I take for granted those who have influenced and shaped my faith journey.  “No man is an island,” John Donne wrote, and no spiritual journey is untethered to others.  I am forever thankful for the people I know who are living authentic Christian lives.  For me, there is nothing more powerful than the witness of a life well-lived.  It is inspiring and encouraging to watch ordinary people living extraordinary lives.

One of the most intriguing aspects of watching others live out their faith, is how much unity there is despite the diversity in spiritual focus.  As followers of my blog know, I believe the pursuit of virtue is how I make sense of faith and life in the kingdom of God.  It is the primary lens through which I understand how to live an ordinary Christian life.  Not everyone around me has the same perspective.  Indeed, many of those who have inspired and shaped my faith journey frame their understanding of the Christian life differently.  For some, their faith journey is from the perspective of serving the poor, the oppressed, and the alien.  For others, it is from the perspective of sharing the good news through evangelism.  For still others, it is from the perspective of recovery.

There is a common thread that runs through all of these perspectives, which is that ours is an ethical faith.  The pursuit of virtue is understood as building our house on the rock of Jesus’ teachings (Matthew 7).  Serving the vulnerable is understood as caring for the least of these (Matthew 25).  Evangelism is understood as teaching obedience to Jesus’ commands (Matthew 28).  Recovery is understood as living out the Beatitudes (Matthew 5).  There is, of course, much more to all of these, but at their core is God’s call for us to live a moral life.  This call is found throughout Scripture.  It is revealed from God’s first command to Adam and Eve to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis), to Christ’s final triumph over the forces of evil and his final victory for all that is true, good, and beautiful (Revelation).

At almost every turn in the Bible, we read about an ethical God whose ways are based on love and respect for one another.  We read too about the righteous who intend to live a moral life by following his ways, and the ungodly who do not.  Certainly, this is the case in Proverbs, which is filled with ethical teachings.  The prevailing view about Proverbs seems to be that they are guidelines for godly living, but not necessarily commands.  For example, John MacArthur writes, “Proverbs are divine guidelines and wise observations, i.e. teaching underlying principles which are not always inflexible laws or absolute promises. These expressions of general truth generally do have ‘exceptions,’ due to the uncertainty of life and unpredictable behavior of fallen men. God does not guarantee uniform outcome or application for each proverb, but in studying them and applying them, one comes to contemplate the mind of God, His character, His attributes, His works, and His blessings.”

In a sense, it really doesn’t matter whether or not you consider Proverbs to be commands or simply guidelines, because either way they reveal the ethical nature of our faith.  Moreover, they instruct us in how to live a life that is pleasing to God – a fundamentally decent human existence that pursues what is right and rejects what is not.  For example, in Proverbs 6 there are teachings on money (1-5), sloth (6-11), wickedness (12-15), and adultery (20-35).

But Proverbs 6 contains an even more explicit teaching about God and the ethical nature of our faith.  Tucked away in the middle of the chapter are four iconic verses on conduct that the Lord hates.  “There are six things that the Lord hates, even seven things that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift to run to evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a person who spreads discord among family members.”  Proverbs 6:16-19) (New English Translation)

In short, the Lord hates:  the arrogant; liars; murderers; planners of evil; doers of evil; perjurers; and those who spread discord.  God not only hates them, but according to literal translations of verse 16, he also considers them to be an abomination.  “Abomination” in Hebrew means “a disgusting thing.”   The NIV renders the word as “detestable.”  Any way you slice it, these seven things God finds abhorrent.  Solomon’s father King David put it this way in Psalm 5.  “For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness; with you, evil people are not welcome.  The arrogant cannot stand in your presence.  You hate all who do wrong; you destroy those who tell lies.  The bloodthirsty and deceitful you, Lord, detest.”  (Psalm 5:4-6)

Jesus also addresses these in his teachings.  For example, in the Beatitudes, he presents virtues that are the positive opposites of many of these evils:  “Poor in spirit” is the opposite of pride.  “Hungering and thirsting after righteousness” is the opposite of planning and doing evil.  “Peacemaking” is the opposite of spreading discord.

Proverbs 6:16-19 is the clear teaching of Scripture on God’s view towards the wicked.  Regardless of how one frames the Christian life, this much is sure – all virtue, all healing, all justice, and all evangelism, if authentic, is rooted in moral living.  Jesus tells us quite simply that we will be known by our fruits.  “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.  Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn bushes, or grapes from briers.  A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.  For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”  (Luke 6:43-45)

This in no way diminishes the role of grace in our lives.  To the contrary, anyone who intentionally pursues a life of faith knows about weakness and failure, and the need for forgiveness and grace.  God is always extending his grace to those who will turn to receive it.  His grace keeps us humble and enables us to continue to do the good things he wants us to do (Ephesians 2:8-10).  Faith without obedience will keep us out of the kingdom of God (Matthew 7:21).  Indeed, faith without moral effort is dead (James 2:14-20).

In an increasingly troubled world, I am grateful to be surrounded by believers who are passionate about living an authentic faith.  To the extent that there is diversity in our perspectives on the Christian life, it is not the kind of diversity that divides us.  Rather, it the kind of diversity expressed in “E pluribus unum” (out of many one) that unites us as the body of Christ.  I am forever thankful for their witness.

S

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Proverbs – Chapter 6

1  My child, beware of promising
to back a neighbor’s loan –
By shaking hands to make a pledge
of something that you own.

2  Be careful with the things you say,
and promises you make;
For every word that you express
can snare you in its wake.

3  But once you’re in a neighbor’s hands,
appeal for clemency;
Make haste and plead to be released,
don’t rest until you’re free.

4  Don’t give your eyelids any sleep,
or settle in repose;
Allow no slumber for your eyes,
or even gently doze.

5  O free yourself like deer that run
beyond the hunter’s sight;
Or birds that flee the fowler’s net
by taking off to flight.

***

6  O sluggard, think about the ant,
don’t let it pass your gaze;
Learn wisdom and sagacity
by studying its ways.

7  The ant has no commanding chief
to tell it when to move;
Nor does it have an overlord
to help it to improve.

8  And yet, when summer time is here,
it finds what it can store;
And when the winds of harvest blow,
it piles up even more.

9  How long, O sluggard, will you sleep,
how long just lie around?
When will you ever rouse yourself,
and get up off the ground?

10  You take a little too much sleep,
you grab too long a nap;
You drop your hands to take a rest,
and fold them in your lap.

11  Because of so much lethargy,
you’re sure to wind up poor;
Like one who’s robbed of all they have,
and left with nothing more.

***

12  The wicked walk a twisted path –
a vile and worthless way;
A way that’s marked by crooked speech,
and perverse things they say.

13  The wicked wink maliciously
with eyes that denigrate;
Their feet send signals to beware,
their fingers instigate.

14  The wicked plot perversities
with evil in their heart;
They’re always stirring conflict up,
so peace will fall apart.

15  The wicked though will surely face
a swift calamity –
As instantly they’ll be destroyed
without a remedy.

***

16  The Lord has seven things he loathes,
and passionately hates;
These things he simply won’t abide,
and never tolerates.

17  The Lord hates eyes of haughty pride,
The Lord hates tongues that lie;
The Lord hates hands exacting blood
so guiltless people die.

18  The Lord hates hearts that plot and scheme
to wrongfully oppress;
The Lord hates feet that quickly run
to follow wickedness.

19  The Lord hates all false witnesses,
whose lies are not abjured;
The Lord hates those who stir up strife,
and bring about discord.

***

20  My child, embrace your father’s words,
give his commands their due;
And don’t forsake the many things
your mother teaches you.

21  Keep their instructions ever close,
and bind them on your heart;
O fasten them around your neck,
and don’t let them depart.

22  When walking they will guide your steps,
when sleeping guard your rest;
When waking they will speak to you,
like one who is addressed.

23  For these commandments are a lamp,
their teaching is a light;
Rebukes that come from discipline
give life that’s surely right.

24  They keep you from your neighbor’s spouse –
from one who’d have you sin;
And from a smooth and wayward tongue
that seeks to pull you in.

25  O do not lust within your heart
for beauty that you spy;
Or let yourself be mesmerized
by eyes that draw you nigh.

26  While whoring lowers what you’re worth
to just a loaf of bread;
Yet sleeping with another’s spouse
is worth your life instead.

27  Can anyone scoop fire up,
and hold it to their chest –
Without their clothing being burned
wherever it is pressed?

28  Can anyone remove their shoes,
and walk on burning coals –
Without the scorching of their heels,
and searing of their soles?

29  And so it is with those who sleep
with one who’s not their own;
For punishment will surely come,
because of what they’ve sown.

30  The world does not despise a thief
for stealing when in need;
For when one’s starving for some food,
it’s more than simple greed.

31  But even then, the penalty
is seven times the cost;
The payment will be satisfied,
though house and goods are lost.

32  But those who choose adultery
lack any common sense;
For surely they destroy themselves
because of their offense.

33  It’s certain they’ll be beaten up,
dishonored and disgraced;
The blot upon their character
will never be erased.

34  For spouses stirred by jealousy
will overflow with hate;
They will not spare the culpable
when they retaliate.

35  No compensation will suffice,
no bribe will reach their hand;
There is no gift acceptable,
despite it being grand.

Proverbs 5

“May you rejoice and love the one you married long ago.”  (Proverbs 5:18)

This is the fifth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  Today’s blog contains my rendering of Proverbs 5, preceded by a brief reflection.

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It was love at first sight when I stepped onto fifty acres of abandoned farmland in Palmyra, Maine, in June of 1973.  My search for rural property was over.  Situated at the end of an old town road, it opened up into roughly 15 acres of once cultivated fields surrounded by an encroaching forest.  There was no potable water, and the nearest power was about a half mile away.  But these seemed trivial matters compared to the promise of a bucolic life in such remote and beautiful country.  Love, it seems, sometimes blinds the eyes to reality.

And so, the purchase was made, and a year later in May of 1974, I moved to the property with plans to build a stone house and grow my own food.  I had more energy than time, more enthusiasm than plans, and more dreams than money.  Conditions were primitive – sleeping in a tent, hauling in water, and working with hand tools.  None of this deterred me and I pushed ahead – clearing brush and trees, putting in a garden, and hand digging a foundation.   I was encouraged to have a friend living on an adjoining property.  Still, as the weeks wore on, I felt increasingly lonely and unsure whether I could sustain this life on my own.  At the time, Pat, whom I had been dating for four years, was working at a summer camp in southern Maine.  One day in mid-July, we took a break from work and drove to the coast.  Sitting above the rocky shore with waves of the Atlantic crashing below, I marshalled all my courage and asked her to marry me.  For a moment, future lives held their breath as even the angels waited to hear her answer.  But, oh the joy when she said yes.  Little did either of us know the amazing adventure that lay ahead.

The first reality to hit me was that we would need more than a tent to live in.  My priorities quickly shifted, and I decided to build a simple one-room 16×20 foot cabin.  Making all haste, the structure was framed and closed in before autumn winds began to blow.  In the meantime, Pat and I started corresponding about plans for a wedding the following July.

I don’t remember exactly when Pat mentioned it, but at some point she made it very clear that power and running water were prerequisites to her living in the cabin – non-negotiables as it were.  The only problem was that I had no money for such “extras.”  Fortunately, power turned out to be fairly easy because the utility company did not charge to install poles and run an electric line.  Water was more challenging because drilling a well was the only real option, and that wasn’t cheap.  But once again fortune seemed to smile as my parents stepped in and gave us $1000 as a wedding gift for a well (a biblicalesque gesture to be sure).  At a cost of $10 per foot to drill, it seemed like we were home free.  However, all of this changed when the driller hit the hundred-foot mark and there was no water.  I was crushed, and for a couple of days I felt as if my entire future lay in the balance.  But then, in an act of grace, the driller continued on his own initiative (either because of pride in his work, or pity on an impecunious young man), and after another 40 feet on his own nickel, hit water at 140 feet.  Joy does not describe what I felt when the first rush of water exploded from the ground.  Water is life.  And for me, water also meant a married life together on the land.

Unless you have ever had to find your own water supply (or lived in an arid climate), you may not understand the religious fervor surrounding water.  They certainly know of this in the middle east, where water has shaped the culture for millennia.  It has always been the most precious of commodities.  The simple principle is “no water, no life.”  From the earliest days, the Israelites have been masters of water supplies:  digging wells, developing springs, building cisterns, and even knowing the value of dew.  And so, it should be no surprise that water is a powerful metaphor in Scripture, which Solomon uses to great effect in Proverbs 5.

On quick reading, Proverbs 5 seems all about avoiding adultery, which it is.  But almost hidden in the middle of the chapter are verses 15-18 in which we find water as a metaphor for the marriage union.

Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well.
Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares?
Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers.
May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth
.

These metaphors lose some of their punch for those who have not had to drill for their own water or live with the knowledge of how precious and essential it is for life.  But for those who have, the verses speak volumes.  I believe the water metaphor represents the sexual union between a man and woman.  Verse 15 is clear enough – “your own cistern and well” is husband and wife.  Verse 16 – “overflow into the public squares” is any tryst outside of marriage.  Verse 17 – “yours alone” is husband and wife.  Verse 18 – “fountain” is husband and wife.

The poetry of these metaphors is inspirational, but there is more.  At the conclusion of verse 18, Solomon tells us to “rejoice in the wife of your youth.”  Although written to his son, it is fairly applied to a daughter – “rejoice in the husband of your youth.”  What Solomon is saying here and in verse 19 (“may you ever be intoxicated by her love”) is to be grateful for your spouse.  Remember the way you have been served and loved, the kindnesses small and large, the sacrifices, all that you have received and be grateful.   Ronald Rolheiser writes, “Gratitude is the true reason for love, and when we try to root our love in anything else … it will invariably be more self-serving than life giving.”  (Sacred Fire, 248).  The opposite of gratitude is taking something for granted.  Whether it is water or a spouse, true love is grounded in gratitude.

The winter of 1974/75 was very hard.  Water and electricity were still months away, and a wood stove was my only source of heat.  A transformative moment occurred one bright and bitterly cold Saturday morning when I was washing dishes with water I had hauled in from a neighbor’s house and then heated on a camp stove.  Something in my mind snapped and I thought, “If I ever have hot running water again, I will never mind washing dishes.”  This has stayed with me to this day.  Not only am I the chief dishwasher in the family, but I still remember what it was like to be without hot running water.  My actions are indeed grounded in gratitude.

Increasingly, I try to do the same thing in my marriage with Pat.  I take the advice of Solomon and remember her as the “wife of my youth.”  I also remember her for all the in-between years – for her love of our children and extended family.  But mostly I remember her for her love and concern for me.  Even when we have a tiff, I try to remember and be grateful.  This is where my love takes root.

S

**********

1  My child, attend to every word
of wisdom I convey;
Incline your ear to understand
my insight for your way.

2  By this, discernment you’ll preserve,
discretion you’ll maintain;
Your lips will only speak the truth
of knowledge that you gain.

3  But lips of all adulterers,
drip honey oh so sweet;
Their words like olive oil flow
as smooth as they are fleet.

4  But underneath and in the end,
there’s bitterness untoward;
And danger that is far more sharp
than any two-edged sword.

5  Their feet pursue a deadly path
that go the way of death;
Their steps lead straight unto the grave,
where there is no more breath

6  Adulterers don’t ponder life,
or where their path may go;
Their ways are ever wandering,
but they don’t seem to know.

***

7  So now, my children, hear me well,
pay heed to what I stress;
Don’t turn aside from what I say,
or from my way digress.

8  Keep far away from those who tempt,
and from this path don’t veer;
Do not approach their dwelling place,
or ever venture near.

9  Beware, or your integrity
will surely slip away;
Your years will go to one who’s cruel,
and hates you more each day.

10  Mere strangers will consume the wealth
that once was held by you;
And all the labors of your hands
will go to someone new.

11  And when your life has reached the end,
what’s left of you will groan;
Your flesh and body fully spent –
consumed unto the bone.

12  Remorsefully, you’ll say these words –
   “I hated discipline;
O how my heart despised reproof
   at my recurring sin.”

13  “I would not listen to the voice
   of those instructing me;
Nor try obeying what they said,
   or heeding their decree.”

14  “And now I teeter on the brink
   from troubles that I face;
Within the congregation hall,
   there’s ruin and disgrace.”

***

15   Drink water from your private store,
the cistern that’s your own –
A flow of water from your well,
that no one else has known

16  Why should your springs be scattered wide,
without a thought or care;
Your streams of water left to flow
within the public square?

17  But let them be for just yourself,
retain them close to you;
Don’t give to strangers even once –
make sharing them taboo.

18  May blessings from your fountain spring,
and goodness from it flow;
May you rejoice and love the one
you married long ago.

19  My son, your wife’s a graceful doe
with breasts that satisfy;
May you be raptured by her charms,
and love her till you die.

20  Why find elation and delight
with one who’s not your own?
Why fall into a wayward tryst
with one you’ve scarcely known?

***

21  The Lord sees everything you do,
His eyes are on your ways;
He watches all the paths you take,
they’re all within his gaze.

22  For evil deeds of wicked souls
will catch them like a snare;
The cords of their iniquities
will tightly hold them there.

23  Because they have no discipline,
the wicked die away;
Because of their own foolishness,
their lives are led astray.

Proverbs 4

“I teach you wisdom and her ways in all that I profess; instructing as I’m leading you in paths of righteousness.”  (Proverbs 4:11)

This is the fourth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter.  Today’s blog contains my rendering of Proverbs 4, preceded by a brief reflection.

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Steve Jobs was one of the great entrepreneurs of our time.  From humble roots and a love of tinkering, he co-founded Apple Computer.  Combining a practical knowledge of electronics with marketing and design and later leadership and finance, he gave the world iMacs, iPhones, iPads, and iTunes.  He had the ability to call on knowledge from disparate fields and apply it in new and innovative ways.  Incidentally, he was worth over $10B when he died in 2011.  By almost any measure, Steve Jobs had wisdom.

Wisdom is highly esteemed in the Bible.  And Proverbs, of course, is the quintessential Biblical book about wisdom.  But is the wisdom that Solomon writes about in Proverbs of the same kind that was exemplified by Steve Jobs in his professional life?  Or for that matter, when any of us shows good judgment in the give and take of daily life, is this Biblical wisdom?  Or is the wisdom written about in Proverbs and elsewhere in the Bible something different?

We all desire wisdom – particularly when the alternative is foolishness.  We all want to be known as wise; no one wants to be seen a fool.  I remember the winter of 1977/78 when Pat and I were living in a tiny cabin in rural Maine while building a larger house on the property.  One day as I was in the cabin making window frames for the house, I decided to use the kitchen table to support strips of wood as I cut them with my power circular saw.  Predictably, I went too deep on one piece and cut a deep slash in our table.  This was not wise, nay, it was pure and simply dumb.  Pat was too kind to call me a fool, but that’s what I was.  Still, did this make me a Biblical fool?  Did my action reflect a lack of Biblical wisdom?

Proverbs doesn’t provide a definition of “Biblical wisdom,” per se, so we are left to figure it out more or less on our own.  A good starting place comes from Charles Spurgeon, the so-named “Prince of Preachers,” who almost 150 years ago wrote, “Wisdom is the right use of knowledge.  To know is not to be wise.  Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it.  There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool.  But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.”  As a general definition of wisdom, this is pretty good.  Still, the question remains as to whether this captures the meaning of wisdom as used in Scripture and specifically Proverbs.  And frankly, I’m not sure it does.

John Piper formulates a definition of Biblical or Godly Wisdom by starting with Jesus’ concluding words in the Sermon on the Mount, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon a rock.”  (Matthew 7:24)  From this, Piper proposes the following definition for Godly Wisdom: “hearing and doing God’s Word.”  But because not every circumstance is covered by God’s Word, Piper is compelled to add, “Wisdom must include a sensitive, mature judgment or discernment of how the fear of the Lord should work itself out in all the circumstances not specifically dealt with in the Bible.”

I find a somewhat different picture of Biblical wisdom emerging in Proverbs.  Generally speaking, verses in Proverbs are related to wisdom either in a generic sense, or by way of specific examples.  In chapter 4, generic verses are 1-10, 12-13, and 20-22, which involve listening to wisdom, seeking it out, and following it (1-7, 13, 20-21); and the rewards of doing so (8-10, 12, 22).  Specific examples are verses 11, 14-19, and 23-27.  In these, wisdom is depicted solely in moral terms.  Verse 11 is a key verse because in it Solomon specifically equates wisdom and righteousness.  “I teach you wisdom and her ways in all that I profess; instructing as I’m leading you in paths of righteousness.”  This conflation of wisdom and righteousness is found throughout.  In simple terms, wisdom is following the way of the righteous (18, 23, 25-27); and avoiding the way of the wicked (14-17, 19, 24).  For Solomon, wisdom and righteousness are one and the same (as are foolishness and wickedness).

Proverbs 4 is illustrative, but consistent with the two principal messages about wisdom found throughout all of Proverbs, namely, 1) Wisdom is important; and 2) Wisdom is demonstrated by righteousness or virtue.  This seems to be precisely what we read in the book of James, which probably has the best description of Biblical wisdom.  Who is wise and understanding among you?  Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.  But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.  Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.  For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.  But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  (James 3:13-17)

What James is saying is that those who harbor wickedness such as envy or pride in their hearts do not have Biblical wisdom. Whereas those who exhibit virtues that are pure, peace-loving, considerate, etc. have Biblical wisdom.  From this I conclude that Biblical wisdom is the same as Christian virtue, which means that the pursuit of Biblical wisdom is the pursuit of virtue.

Wisdom in all matters is a good thing.  No doubt what Steve Jobs accomplished in his life was the result of great wisdom.  But all wisdom is not Biblical wisdom.  Biblical wisdom is first and foremost a matter of whether we are living lives of virtue, and secondarily how we decide problems of an ethical and moral nature.

That said, I don’t want to put too fine a point on defining “Biblical wisdom” as virtue for several reasons.  1) For one thing, “Biblical” wisdom itself is merely a construct based on what is revealed in Proverbs.  Nowhere does Proverbs refer to “Biblical” wisdom or “Godly” wisdom, it is always just wisdom.  2) Moreover, even if the wisdom in Proverbs is a matter of virtue, which I believe it is, that doesn’t mean that the kind of secular wisdom demonstrated by Steve Jobs is unimportant.  Indeed, Jesus sent out his disciples with the caution to, “Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”  (Matthew 10:16)  Other translations say “as wise as serpents.”  It does us no credit to be foolish in our finances, health, work, or any of a myriad of non-moral matters we face daily.  3)  Finally, there are many matters of an ethical nature that do not involve a choice between good and evil, but between two matters more or less equally virtuous.  These are some of the hardest decisions we must make, and require great wisdom indeed.

S

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Proverbs 5

1  O listen, children, to the words
a father speaks to you;
Attend so insight you will gain,
and understanding too.

2  The precepts that I have are good,
the learning in them sound;
So don’t forsake these things I teach,
or what my words expound.

3  For I was once a child like you –
I was my father’s son;
My mother also cherished me –
her most beloved one.

4  My father said, “Cling to my words,
   and don’t let them depart;
Keep my commands and you will live
   if they are in your heart.”

“Get understanding for your path,
   get wisdom for your way;
Do not forget my words to you,
   or turn from what I say.”

6  “Do not abandon wisdom, child,
   and she will keep you whole;
Just always love and cherish her,
   and she will guard your soul.”

“The way of wisdom is supreme,
   so hold it close to you;
Get understanding for your way,
   whatever else you do.”

“Love wisdom like a special prize,
   and she will lift your name;
If you embrace and cherish her,
   she’ll honor you the same.”

“She’ll place a garland on your head –
   a wreath beyond compare;
She’ll give to you a noble crown –
   a diadem to wear.”

***

10  O hear, my child, these words I speak,
accept what they bestow;
For if you do, then many years
of life you’ll surely know.

11  I teach you wisdom and her ways
in all that I profess;
Instructing as I’m leading you
in paths of righteousness.

12  Now wisdom helps you when you walk,
so nothing holds you back;
You will not stumble when you run,
or trip upon your track.

13  Hold to instruction all you can,
don’t let it get away;
For it is surely life to you,
so guard it well today.

14  Don’t set your foot upon the path
where wicked people stalk;
Or ever follow in the way
where evildoers walk.

15  Avoid the pathway of the vile,
and on it do not tread;
Just turn your eyes and pass it by,
and go your way instead.

16  The wicked cannot find their rest
till evil they have done;
They find themselves deprived of sleep
until they’ve hurt someone.

17  They eat the bread of wickedness
until their gut is filled;
They drink the wine of violence,
and not a drop is spilled.

***

18  The pathway of the righteous soul
is like the morning the sun;
That shines more brilliant with the day
than when it’s just begun.

19  But wicked people walk a path
that’s darker than a tomb;
They do not know what causes them
to stumble in the gloom.

***

20  My child, please listen to my words,
attend to what I say;
O turn your ear to what I speak
to help you on your way.

21  Don’t let my words escape your sight,
or from your mind depart;
But keep them always close at hand,
forever in your heart.

22  These words are life for everyone
who finds them out at last;
They’re health for body and the flesh –
a healing unsurpassed.

23  O guard your heart above all else,
with all that you hold true;
For from it flows the springs of life,
and everything you do.

24  Avoid perverse and wayward speech,
and all that is a lie;
Eschew deceit and scheming talk,
don’t let it tarry nigh.

25  Look only forward with your eyes,
don’t let them deviate;
Direct your sight on what’s ahead,
and let your gaze be straight.

26  O ponder where your feet will go –
the paths that are secure;
Be steadfast and dependable,
so all your ways are sure.

27  Don’t ever turn this way or that,
not either left or right;
But keep your foot from evil ways,
and all that is not light.