God in the Book of Proverbs!
BACKGROUND TO THE BOOK.
Proverb in English means a short memorable saying that embodies some commonplace fact – ‘A stitch in time saves nine!’
The Hebrew word for proverb is much broader – sometimes short two-liners expanding up to what we might consider a discourse rather than a proverb.
The Book divides quite clearly into three sections:-
ch. 1 – 9 applying the teaching of the wise and avoiding adulterous relationships. Not unrelated, sexual unfaithfulness is supreme folly.
10 – 22:16 mostly one verse sayings broadly linked together but each saying complete in itself.
Recurrent themes are as follows:-
nature of wisdom
nature of righteousness
use of words
relationships in the community
22:17 – 31:31 mixed in form and content. Ending w. one final poem of 22 verses about the ‘ideal wife’ – ‘ Complete women’ ….
1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: (NIV)
Further on – chs. 30 and 31 contributions from Agur and Lemuel.
We know that some of this material predates Solomon – he is not the originator of all these proverbs but it likely that under his patronage as King of Israel that they were collected into this form.
As one takes the Book of Proverbs and casually reads through it one will find that it is a treasure trove of advice, counsel and warning about many issues.
Many of the proverbs are such that one would not be surprised to read them in the ‘Points to Ponder’ section of the Reader’s Digest.
If one reads the wisdom saying from other religions – in Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism etc. there are similar proverbs. Even secularists who may not believe in God at all would accept many of these proverbs.
The question that needs to be raised is this – ‘Is Proverbs about moral rules?’
1. IS PROVERBS ABOUT MORALISTIC RULES?
6 Many curry favour with a ruler,
and everyone is the friend of a man who gives gifts. (NIV)
8 Like a bird that strays from its nest
is a man who strays from his home. (NIV)
1 Do not boast about tomorrow,
for you do not know what a day may bring forth. (NIV)
16 If you find honey, eat just enough —
too much of it, and you will vomit. (NIV)
Many of these saying would be considered common-sense – you don’t have to be a believer in God – if you simply live by these moral rules and principles and treat others as you would have them treat you then you are assured of a good a prosperous life.
Work hard and live right and you will be successful – isn’t this what the proverbs are about asks the hostile reader – God is mentioned but you don’t need God – after all – “Man is the Master of his own destiny” – ‘If you want a helping hand look at the end of your arm!!’-
This is just a collection of Human wisdom – it is common-sense – God is mentioned simply because people are religious and it is part of human tradition.
Is this what the Book of Proverbs is about??
2. IS PROVERBS ABOUT MUTUAL RESPECT?
Probably one of the most well known verse in Proverbs among Christians is
10 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
Many outside the Church would agree that we should really have a respect for God – after all we do not want to get into his bad books. If you want a successful life then you had better ‘keep in with God’ …
There are many in our society who live like this.
Believe that there is a God out there somewhere – not too sure about where he is or who he is and we really don’t want to get too close to him for fear that he may interfere in of comfortable lifestyle. We want him to be there at christenings and weddings and funerals and to bail us out when we get into trouble but for the rest of the time he must stay in the background and allow us to get on and enjoy life!!
May be not just the people out there – that nebulous faceless somebody –
Maybe it is some of us in here!! We come to church and pay our respects to God on a Sunday – after all we don’t want to fall out with him –
It is an attitude of ‘God you keep your distance – don’t make too many demands and from time to time I will doff my cap to you!’
But despite what people might think and say about what the Book of Proverbs is about we have to let the book speak for itself –
It is not just about rules and respect – keeping in with God
Proverbs is clear that we are to live not ‘keeping in with God’ but ‘in keeping with God’!! [GR]
3. IS PROVERBS ABOUT MEANINGFUL RELATIONSHIP?
God is mentioned about 100 times in the book that has almost 950 verses – considering that he is mentioned twice in some verses it is not very many.
All but about 12 of those mentions uses the covenant name of God – Yahweh – the name that God used when he revealed himself to Moses –
What is the significance of this name? — It is a name that show that God is not distant and remote but he is a God who has entered into a close covenant relationship with his people –and it is this God who is speaking —
–NOT some distant benevolent deity who wants an occasional visit like some distant rich aunt who we keep occasional contact with in the hope that one day we will be the beneficiaries of their estate.
The writer of the Proverbs were those who knew this covenant God.
~ they had a real sense of sin –
There can only be a sense of sin when there is a sense of offending a holy God.
9 Who can say, “I have kept my heart pure;
I am clean and without sin”? (NIV)
6 Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for;
through the fear of the LORD a man avoids evil. (NIV)
13 He who conceals his sins does not prosper,
but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy. (NIV)
There is an acceptance that no-one is without sin and that sin must be atoned for – further there must be a confession of sin and a renunciation – a practical moving away from a sinful way of life.
~ ‘the fear of the Lord’ –
if there is a motto to the book of Proverbs it is this – but this ‘fear’ is more than healthy respect for the Almighty.
Two verses where this appears are
5 then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God. (NIV)
10 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (NIV)
In both these verses wisdom is linked – in fact – is almost synonymous which knowledge. But this is not an academic accumulation of facts – this is a very intimate knowledge
6 in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight. (NIV)
Lit. ‘know’ – God doesn’t want us to know him as we know a distant Monarch – he wants our relationship to him to be intimate – same word use to refer to a husband and wife knowing each other intimately [not only sexual knowing but that relationship where two people know each other well and are comfortable in each other presence]
This is the aim of the new covenant that God promised in the OT and which is available to all who know Christ.
34 No longer will a man teach his neighbour,
or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the LORD.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.” (NIV)
God takes us into his confidence —
32 for the LORD detests a perverse man
but takes the upright into his confidence. (NIV)
~ the fear of the lord involves trust –
For all its emphasis on commonsense [human wisdom] Proverbs exalts faith to a higher place –
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD and shun evil. (NIV)
We are not talking about blind, mindless faith – when you become a Christian you don’t throw your brain out the window –
‘Study to show yourself approved to God ..’
‘ .. by the renewing of your mind..’
But there comes a point where we don’t understand – God doesn’t tell us everything – but there are times when we need to say ‘Lord, I don’t know, I don’t understand but you have proved yourself and I trust you!’
Faith acknowledges that life’s plans are subject to God –
21 Many are the plans in a man’s heart,
but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. (NIV)
~ possessions / equipment guarantee nothing
31 The horse is made ready for the day of battle,
but victory rests with the LORD. (NIV)
We can’t ultimately rely on human resources – God will always have the final word!
~ human power / institutions guarantee nothing
25 Fear of man will prove to be a snare,
but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe. (NIV)
If we look to people for our final security and safety we will be disappointed – there comes a point where human ability to help runs out – your bank manager can no longer help — your doctor can no longer help – your friends and family , as much as they want to, cannot help —- without God there is no ultimate security.
~ not self-reliance but faith
19 So that your trust may be in the LORD,
I teach you today, even you. (NIV)
Don’t get the wrong impression – Faith is not a last resort when commonsense has run out – faith is to be a pattern of life!!
These everyday commonsense things, when they are in line with God’s thinking, are ‘God’s sense’ –
There is such a thing as God’s common grace that allows people, who might not even acknowledge him, to make right, commonsense decision – that is God’s general goodness ———-
Following God’s pattern is holy living is the pattern for life – we sometimes think of holiness or godliness as the exclusive property of super-saints who walk around with a sanctimonious look on their faces singing hymns and quoting scripture in 17C English.
NO! godliness is in the everyday things of life – these things that proverbs addresses – family life, business life, sexual relationships, community life, speech, …………… i.e. godliness does not come in celestial robes but in working clothes!!
Life lived by the principles of God – not cold impersonal laws but a living relationship with a who wants to be so involved in our lives that he sent Jesus to make such a relationship possible!!
God wants to takes his people and build godly character into them and to bring them to maturity – Proverbs might seem to contain a majority of commonsense things and little of what we might consider ‘spiritual advice’ but the everyday, hard facts of life are just as much a means of God grace as the so called ‘spiritual things’
A relationship with God that is patterned on his principles is what will carry us through this life and secure our eternal future.
How are we building our lives??
ILLUS.: Boat-builder – member of yacht club – build a yacht – spared no expense – wanted to have best boat in the club – best teak deck – best brass fittings – best sails – he wanted everyone to see what he had built –
Day came when finished – whole club assembled to see him sail out to sea – glowed at all the congratulations and approval – best boat club ever seen –
Sailed out in glorious sunshine – away from the waving crowd and into the ocean – a storm came up – yacht capsized and he was lost at sea – weeks later yacht washed up on beach – club members saw how foolish he was he had not built enough weigh into the keel – he was only concerned with what was above the water line – [GORDON MacDONALD]
How are you building your life? Your relationship between you and God that no-one else knows about – not even your spouse – are you building below that water line or just for show – what people can see – will you make it through the storms of life –
The storms will come — redundancy – a wayward child – a marriage break up – the death of a loved one — and if perchance you don’t suffer any of these things there is one storm you will have to face — DEATH! No-one can weather the storm of death unless he/she has a relationship with God through Jesus Christ because Christ is the only one who has been through the storm of death and beaten it – he did that for us so that in Him we could beat it also!
Proverbs shows us God’s pattern for life –
It is God’s “Sound sense for successful living!” [Stuart Briscoe]
Background to the Book
‘Proverb’ – broader than English meaning.
Book divides into three sections:-
ch. 1 – 9 applying wisdom
avoiding adulterous relationships
10 – 22:16 mostly one verse sayings
nature of wisdom
nature of righteousness
use of words
22:17 – 31:31 mixed in form and content one final poem – ‘ideal wife’
Solomon [not all original to him]
also Agur & Lemuel
IS PROVERBS ABOUT …
1. …MORALISTIC RULES?
keep the rules and you will succeed
“Man is the Master of his own destiny”
2. … MUTUAL RESPECT?
keeping in with God
in keeping with God
3. … MEANINGFUL RELATIONSHIP?
a real sense of sin
“the fear of the Lord”
trust / faith
not in human possessions
not in human power
BUT life’s plans subject to God’s pattern