Listen and Learn

Words of the Wise

17 Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise,
    and apply your heart to my knowledge,
18 for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you,
    if all of them are ready on your lips.
19 That your trust may be in the Lord,
    I have made them known to you today, even to you.
20 Have I not written for you thirty sayings
    of counsel and knowledge,
21 to make you know what is right and true,
    that you may give a true answer to those who sent you?

22 Do not rob the poor, because he is poor,
    or crush the afflicted at the gate,
23 for the Lord will plead their cause
    and rob of life those who rob them.
24 Make no friendship with a man given to anger,
    nor go with a wrathful man,
25 lest you learn his ways
    and entangle yourself in a snare.
26 Be not one of those who give pledges,
    who put up security for debts.
27 If you have nothing with which to pay,
    why should your bed be taken from under you?
28 Do not move the ancient landmark
    that your fathers have set.
29 Do you see a man skillful in his work?
    He will stand before kings;
    he will not stand before obscure men. – Proverbs 22:17-29 ESV

Verse 17 of chapter 22 begins a new section within the book of Proverbs that extends to chapter 22, verse 34, and contains 36 “sayings of the wise” (Proverbs 24:23a ESV). This collection of proverbial statements covers a wide range of topics and appears to be the work of a group of “wise men” or sages, as the title of this section suggests.

The Sayings of the Wise

The Hebrew word that is translated as “wise” in verse 17 most likely refers to a group of learned men or sages from which Solomon borrowed and adapted this collection of sayings.

“The plur. sages points to the existence of a special class of wise men, who were oral teachers or writers. The utterances of these men formed a distinct body of thought, part of which is preserved in the Book of Proverbs . . .” – Crawford H. Toy,  A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Proverbs

Solomon opens this new section with an introduction in which he conveys the purpose for his inclusion of these 30-plus sayings of the wise.

I have written thirty sayings for you,
    filled with advice and knowledge. – Proverbs 22:20 NLT

Solomon is not claiming to be the author of these wise sayings but he is simply stating that he has carefully collected and compiled them for the benefit of his readers. And he reminds them that the application of these truths to their lives will be of great benefit.

For it is good to keep these sayings in your heart
    and always ready on your lips.
I am teaching you today—yes, you—
    so you will trust in the Lord. – Proverbs 22:18-19 NLT

It seems quite evident that Solomon viewed these sayings as far more than the intelligent musings of mere men. No, he saw them as divinely inspired by God. He chose them for their godly wisdom and eternal value. There is some indication that Solomon’s original audience was his own offspring, particularly his sons. Throughout the book of Proverbs, he has repeatedly addressed his words to the male members of his household, calling them to listen and apply the words of wisdom he had collected. And in this section, he continues to focus his attention on his sons, begging them to consider carefully what he is trying to tell them so that they might be equipped with the truth.

Have I not written for you thirty sayings
    of counsel and knowledge,
to make you know what is right and true,
    that you may give a true answer to those who sent you? – Proverbs 22:20-21 ESV

Solomon knew that, as a father, the day would come when he have to kick his sons out of the nest so that they might begin their own lives. And he was fully aware that they would discover the world to be a far less friendly environment than the royal palace in which they were raised. As sons of the king, they had been raised in an atmosphere of comfort and privilege. They were accustomed to all the benefits that great power and wealth can offer. And as heirs of Solomon’s unprecedented fortune, they were each assured of a sizeable inheritance. They would be set for life. So, it is not surprising that the first few wisdom sayings have to do with financial matters. And the very first one deals with the relationship between the haves and the have-nots.

Don’t rob the poor just because you can,
    or exploit the needy in court.
For the Lord is their defender.
    He will ruin anyone who ruins them. – Proverbs 22:22-23 NLT

This has been a common theme in the book of Proverbs and reveals that the interaction between the rich and the poor was a problem in Solomon’s day. The down-and-out were despised by their more affluent neighbors. Poverty was considered to be a curse from God while wealth was viewed as a sign of His blessing. And Proverbs 14:20-21 reveals this viewpoint was not only inaccurate but in direct opposition to the will of God.

The poor is disliked even by his neighbor,
    but the rich has many friends.
Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner,
    but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.

God has a special place in His heart for the disadvantaged and destitute, and His children were to share His care and concern for them.

Those who mock the poor insult their Maker;
    those who rejoice at the misfortune of others will be punished. – Proverbs 17:5 NLT

If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord
    and he will repay you! – Proverbs 19:17 NLT

Solomon wanted his young sons to share God’s concern for the needy and not use their privilege and power as weapons to take advantage of the less fortunate. And sadly, some of Solomon’s own descendants would fail to heed his warnings and cause the people of Israel to line their pockets and pad their portfolios with the possessions of the poor. And God would have some strong words to level against them.

The Lord comes forward to pronounce judgment
    on the elders and rulers of his people:
“You have ruined Israel, my vineyard.
    Your houses are filled with things stolen from the poor.
How dare you crush my people,
    grinding the faces of the poor into the dust?”
    demands the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. – Isaiah 3:14-15 NLT

But the temptation to profit off the backs of the poor was not the only thing Solomon’s sons would need to avoid. They were going to need to know how to navigate the dangerous and sometimes deadly waters of relationships. As wealthy members of the community, they would never lack friends. Their influence and affluence would attract all kinds of individuals who coveted a place at their table and access to their wealth. As Proverbs 14:20 states: “the rich have many ‘friends.’”

So, Solomon warns his sons to choose their friends carefully, with special emphasis on those individuals who display anger issues.

Don’t befriend angry people
    or associate with hot-tempered people,
or you will learn to be like them
    and endanger your soul. – Proverbs 22:24-25 NLT

In his letter to the church in Corinth, the apostle Paul quoted a popular proverb of his day: “Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33 ESV). This truism is timeless and has proven its veracity over the centuries. Those who associate with angry people tend to become like them. It’s virtually impossible to hang out with immoral people and not become like them. And this is not the first time Solomon has warned his sons to avoid quick-tempered people like the plague.

A hot-tempered person starts fights;
    a cool-tempered person stops them. – Proverbs 15:18 NLT

People with understanding control their anger;
    a hot temper shows great foolishness. – Proverbs 14:29 NLT

Uncontrolled anger is a tell-tale characteristic of a fool, and a man of wisdom should avoid such people at all costs.

Next, Solomon shares a time-tested adage concerning friends and finances. As he has done elsewhere in the book of Proverbs, Solomon warns his sons against putting their financial reputation on the line for someone else.

Don’t agree to guarantee another person’s debt
    or put up security for someone else.
If you can’t pay it,
    even your bed will be snatched from under you. – Proverbs 22:26-27 NLT

All the way back in Proverbs 6, Solomon provided his sons with some strong words concerning the danger of co-signing on a loan for someone else.

My child, if you have put up security for a friend’s debt
    or agreed to guarantee the debt of a stranger—
if you have trapped yourself by your agreement
    and are caught by what you said—
follow my advice and save yourself,
    for you have placed yourself at your friend’s mercy.
Now swallow your pride;
    go and beg to have your name erased.
Don’t put it off; do it now!
    Don’t rest until you do. – Proverbs 6:1-4 NLT

It’s not difficult to sense Solomon’s strong feelings on this topic, and it’s likely that he had firsthand experience. He had probably learned the painful lesson that comes with putting your money and your reputation on the line for someone else’s behalf. Guaranteeing the loan of another person leaves you open to substantial loss – not just financially, but also relationally. Money can become a great source of division between friends. So, Solomon warns his sons to be wary. Their financial resources would make them easy prey. But just because they had the capacity to secure a friend’s debt didn’t mean they should.

Next, Solomon deals with the need for his sons to engage in ethical business practices. Once again, their wealth would provide them with influence and power and they would constantly be tempted to use both to get what they wanted. Money can make things happen, and Solomon knew that his sons would always face the temptation to use their resources unethically.

Don’t cheat your neighbor by moving the ancient boundary markers
    set up by previous generations. – Proverbs 22:28 NLT

Boundary markers were large stones that were used to delineate property rights. The picture that Solomon paints is of someone using their money to have those stones incrementally moved so that, over time, their property was enlarged. It was a subtle and sinister manipulation of the system to gain an unfair advantage over someone else. It was immoral, unethical, and unacceptable to God.

Cursed is anyone who steals property from a neighbor by moving a boundary marker. – Deuteronomy 27:17 NLT

Finally, Solomon encourages his sons to foster a habit of hard work. They were not to allow their affluence to produce an attitude of entitlement that manifested itself in laziness.

Do you see any truly competent workers?
    They will serve kings
    rather than working for ordinary people. – Proverbs 22:29 NLT

Those who are diligent are the ones who deserve recognition and reward, not the lazy and incompetent. The hardworking will end up garnering the attention of the powerful and influential. Solomon wanted his sons to be men of integrity and honor. He desired that they would be hardworking and reliable, rather than resting on their social standing and financial status. Solomon knew that affluence could be a curse as much as a blessing. Without the presence of wisdom, even privilege could become a real problem. So, Solomon provides his sons with a lengthy list of helpful and time-tested truths to guide their lives for years to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

It All Begins and Ends with God

1 A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
    and favor is better than silver or gold.
The rich and the poor meet together;
    the Lord is the Maker of them all.
The prudent sees danger and hides himself,
    but the simple go on and suffer for it.
The reward for humility and fear of the Lord
    is riches and honor and life.
Thorns and snares are in the way of the crooked;
    whoever guards his soul will keep far from them.
Train up a child in the way he should go;
    even when he is old he will not depart from it.
The rich rules over the poor,
    and the borrower is the slave of the lender.
Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
    and the rod of his fury will fail.
Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed,
    for he shares his bread with the poor.
10 Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out,
    and quarreling and abuse will cease.
11 He who loves purity of heart,
    and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend.
12 The eyes of the Lord keep watch over knowledge,
    but he overthrows the words of the traitor.
13 The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside!
    I shall be killed in the streets!”
14 The mouth of forbidden women is a deep pit;
    he with whom the Lord is angry will fall into it.
15 Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,
    but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.
16 Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth,
    or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.
– Proverbs 22:1-16 ESV

We live in a heterogeneous world that is filled with all kinds of people from a diverse range of economic, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds. And while technology and transportation advances have made the world smaller to some degree, there are still dramatic differences between the cultures and communities that populate this planet. Yet, despite those differences, Solomon would have us remember that we all share a common bond. We have all been created by God.

The rich and poor have this in common:
    The Lord made them both. – Proverbs 22:2 NLT

Regardless of our financial status, country of origin, religious affiliation, or ethnic makeup, we are all the handiwork of the same Creator-God, whether we recognize and honor him as such. Denying His existence does not alter the fact that He is the one who has given life to all humanity. And while the wisdom sayings collected by Solomon have stressed the stark differences between the foolish and the wise, there is an underlying theme that highlights our similarities.

All men long to live their lives in relative peace and security. They desire to get the most out of life during their relatively short time on this earth. But along with a common source of origin, we also share the mark of our sinful natures.

As the Scriptures say,

“No one is righteous—
    not even one.
No one is truly wise;
    no one is seeking God.
All have turned away;
    all have become useless.
No one does good,
    not a single one.” – Romans 3:10-12 NLT

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… – Romans 3:22-23 ESV

So, if Paul is right and no one is righteous or wise, how does anyone achieve a “good name” (verse 1)? If no one is seeking God, how can they ever expect to receive a “reward for humility and fear of the Lord” (verse 4)? What hope does anyone have to exhibit “a pure heart and gracious speech” if no one has the capacity to do good (verse 11)?

The answer to these perplexing questions is found in the One who made mankind in the first place. The Creator-God is also the Redeemer-God. He alone has the capacity to make the unrighteous righteous. The all-powerful God who formed the universe out of nothing can transform a sinful man into “a vessel for honor: sanctified, useful to the Master, and prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21 BSB).

God made mankind in His image and He deemed His creation as being very good. But sin marred what God had made and created an inseparable barrier between the Creator and His creation. Because of their decision to disobey God, Adam and Eve were cast from the garden He had made for them, and their progeny continued the pattern of transgressing His laws and distancing themselves from His presence. And the downward nature of their moral trajectory is recorded in the book of Genesis.

The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. – Genesis 6:5 NLT

God made the decision to destroy all mankind and begin again. He brought a devastating flood upon the earth, but spared one man and his family because “Noah found favor with the LORD” (Genesis 6:8 NLT). And Noah found favor with God because he “was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God” (Genesis 6:9 NLT).

God started over with Noah and his family. But by the time we get to the days of Solomon, the spiritual state of humanity was no better than before. Not much had changed. Even among the Israelites, the chosen people of God, sin and unrighteousness remained a serious problem. Man, when left to his own devices, had an insatiable appetite for disobeying God and living according to his own sinful desires.

Throughout the book of Proverbs, Solomon points his readers back to the source of their existence: God Almighty. He wanted them to understand that any hope they had of experiencing God’s covenant blessings would have to begin with dependence upon Him. The wisdom necessary for living a full and meaningful life was only available from God. And that wisdom was only accessible to those who showed reverence and respect for God. Unlike oxygen, which exists in the atmosphere and is freely available to all, godly wisdom is impossible to access without God’s help.

And without godly wisdom, any desire for a good name, riches, honor, and wealth will all remain out of reach. Of course, there are those who seem to experience these “blessings” without maintaining a fear of the Lord. This world is filled with excessively wealthy people who have no regard for God. There are plenty of people who enjoy good reputations and are honored for their achievements, yet they fail to give God the time of day.  And despite what Solomon says, not all “Corrupt people walk a thorny, treacherous road” (Proverbs 22:5 NLT). Some of them seem to have found the fast lane to fame and fortune.

So, what does Solomon mean when he states that “True humility and fear of the Lord lead to riches, honor, and long life” (Proverbs 22:4 NLT)? Does this verse contain the secret to success? Yes, it does, but we tend to put the focus on the wrong end of the verse.

We focus on the promise of “riches, honor, and long life.” We assume that because we believe in God, we have the first part of the verse down and automatically receive the “promises” it offers. As God’s people, we somehow believe that we are guaranteed the good life. And we even define what riches, honor, and long life should look like – all according to our perspective.

But the real point of this verse is contained in the description, “true humility and the fear of the Lord.” Those two things are critical and non-negotiable to receiving any blessings from God. They describe the life of the person who has a right relationship with God. They reveal the heart of the individual who loves God and shows Him the proper awe, reverence, and fear He deserves as the Almighty God of the Universe.

The humility spoken of in this verse is based on an understanding of who God is. In the face of God’s power, majesty, magnitude, intelligence, holiness, and complete righteousness, a humble person responds with an awareness of their own sinfulness, weakness, unfaithfulness, powerlessness, need, and unrighteousness. That awareness produces dependence. It results in a growing reliance upon God for ALL things, including not only salvation but our daily sanctification. It drives out self-righteousness and any thought that we somehow deserve the blessings of God. Humility is our response to God’s majesty and glory. It is “true” humility, not some kind of false self-abasement designed to impress others. It is real and the result of a growing awareness of just how great God really is.

Humility goes hand-in-hand with the fear of God. In Proverbs 9:10, Solomon reminds us that “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom.” When we learn to fear God, we grow in wisdom. We begin to realize just how much we need Him and all that He offers. We need His help in order to live the life He has called us to live on this fallen planet. We need His wisdom to navigate all the issues that face us each and every day. We need discernment, knowledge, discretion, and good old common sense – all of which come directly from God.

What Solomon is telling us is that any degree of riches, honor, and long life will come only as we learn to humble ourselves before the mighty hand of God. They will only come about if we learn to fear Him, honor Him, worship Him, and show Him the awe He so rightly deserves. But if we begin to worship riches, honor, and long life, we will miss the point altogether. We can easily make idols out of the blessings and miss the One who alone can provide them. That is NOT the fear of God.

We can find ourselves expecting God to give us happy homes, great jobs, good incomes, solid marriages, successful careers, obedient kids, and a host of other blessings. The problem is that many of us know nothing of true humility and the fear of God. We almost demand that He bless us, like the prodigal son who demanded that his father give him his inheritance. We display no love, no respect, no honor, and no fear.

In Proverbs 9, Solomon stated that the fear of God is the foundation of wisdom. In other words, it is the starting point, the very beginning of our quest for wisdom. It all begins with the fear of God. So, not until we fear God will we receive the wisdom we need that can help us succeed in life, marriage, parenting, work, and every other area of our lives. Proverbs 22:4 is not some kind of magic mantra that guarantees success. It is a reminder that the fear of the Lord is what should be the singular focus of our lives. Don’t obsess over the gifts, focus on the Giver. Make Him your highest priority. Make getting to know Him more important than getting things from Him. Then You will have true success.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

The Wisdom of Godly Reliance

16 One who wanders from the way of good sense
    will rest in the assembly of the dead.
17 Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man;
    he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.
18 The wicked is a ransom for the righteous,
    and the traitor for the upright.
19 It is better to live in a desert land
    than with a quarrelsome and fretful woman.
20 Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling,
    but a foolish man devours it.
21 Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness
    will find life, righteousness, and honor.
22 A wise man scales the city of the mighty
    and brings down the stronghold in which they trust.
23 Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue
    keeps himself out of trouble.
24 “Scoffer” is the name of the arrogant, haughty man
    who acts with arrogant pride.
25 The desire of the sluggard kills him,
    for his hands refuse to labor.
26 All day long he craves and craves,
    but the righteous gives and does not hold back.
27 The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination;
    how much more when he brings it with evil intent.
28 A false witness will perish,
    but the word of a man who hears will endure.
29 A wicked man puts on a bold face,
    but the upright gives thought to his ways.
30 No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel
    can avail against the Lord.
31 The horse is made ready for the day of battle,
    but the victory belongs to the Lord.
– Proverbs 21:16-31 ESV

A lack of common sense can have life-threatening consequences. A life characterized by conspicuous consumption and the pursuit of unbridled pleasure will likely end in poverty, not wealth. Those who are hostile toward God or men will receive their just punishment – in time. A quarrelsome and complaining spouse will end up living alone. The greedy will never be satisfied.

These are just a few of the pithy yet powerful truisms contained in the second half of Proverbs 21. Solomon has collected a seemingly endless number of simple one-liners that are intended to contrast the differences between the life habits of the foolish and the wise. These statements are not meant to be taken as prophetic or to be considered true in all cases. A life of foolishness doesn’t always end in death. Not all who spend money like it was water end up in poverty. There are plenty of people who pursue a life of hedonism and enjoy both pleasure and wealth.

So, what is the point of Solomon’s endless list of wise sayings? He is simply relaying all the time-proven truisms he has collected in order to provide his readers with a source of reliable and universally accepted principles or rules. These axioms are self-evident truths that are cross-cultural and timeless.

But what Solomon has added to the mix is an emphasis on Yahweh, the God of the Israelites. This is not simply a carefully curated list of universally accepted wisdom sayings; it is a divinely inspired assessment of what it means to live a holy, set-apart life. God has provided His people with the wisdom they need to leave behind their former lives of folly and wickedness. There is no reason for the child of God to continue making unwise decisions. They have no excuse for their lack of discernment. If they wrestle with greed or lust, it is not because they don’t know better. It is because they don’t know God as they should. They have lost their reverence for Him. They have abandoned their commitment to Him. In a sense, they have strayed from the way of the wise and entered the pathway of the foolish that leads to destruction.

Solomon is attempting to provide a stark and difficult-to-refute contrast between the two choices that every person has to make. But his target audience is the people of God. He is addressing those who should know better. Of all people, they should recognize the truth behind these statements because they have experienced them in real life. Ever since God had delivered the people of Israel out of their captivity in Egypt, He had showered them with His covenant blessings and demonstrated His unfailing love and faithfulness. Their forefathers had learned from first-hand experience the truths found in these simple statements.

The wise have wealth and luxury,
    but fools spend whatever they get.

Whoever pursues righteousness and unfailing love
    will find life, righteousness, and honor.

The wise conquer the city of the strong
    and level the fortress in which they trust. – Proverbs 21:20-22 NLT

Over the years, God had transformed the Israelites from a ragtag band of wandering pilgrims into one of the most powerful and prosperous nations on earth. Under the leadership of King David, God had turned the descendants of Abraham into a wealthy and influential nation of great renown.

God had blessed them greatly. And by the time David handed over the kingdom to his son, Solomon, it was a force to be reckoned with. Solomon inherited a kingdom of great power and wealth. David had expanded its borders and ushered in a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity. And all that Solomon had to do was remain faithful to God and lead his people to do the same. On his deathbed, David had conveyed his last words of wisdom and warning to Solomon.

“Take courage and be a man. Observe the requirements of the Lord your God, and follow all his ways. Keep the decrees, commands, regulations, and laws written in the Law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go. If you do this, then the Lord will keep the promise he made to me. He told me, ‘If your descendants live as they should and follow me faithfully with all their heart and soul, one of them will always sit on the throne of Israel.’” – 1 Kings 1:2-4 NLT

But while Solomon started out strong, he eventually strayed from the path of righteousness. He used his great wealth to satisfy his own lustful desires. He accumulated a harem that consisted of 700 wives and 300 concubines, all in violation of God’s command. He pursued pleasure and personal comfort. And he eventually compromised his faith and convictions by worshiping the false gods of his many wives. Solomon, who was one of the wisest men who ever lived, ended up being the poster boy for foolish and ungodly behavior. Yet, he longed to warn his people about the dangers of abandoning God and walking in the ways of the wicked. He knew from firsthand experience that the destiny of the fool was far from ideal. Those who refused to walk in integrity, humility, and the fear of the Lord would eventually find themselves standing at a dead end with nowhere else to go.

Solomon had learned the hard way that trusting God was the key to a fulfilled life. In fact, he ends this particular Proverb with the following lines:

No human wisdom or understanding or plan
    can stand against the Lord.

The horse is prepared for the day of battle,
    but the victory belongs to the Lord. Proverbs 21:30-31 NLT

I come from the do-it-yourself generation. We are self-sufficient, independent free agents who don’t need anyone or anything in our lives. We have been trained to pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps and deal with our problems on our own. We have been taught to gut it up and get it done. Even as believers we tend to have a lone wolf mentality that discounts our need for others, including God. We even seem to believe that our spiritual formation is our job. It’s all up to us. And some of us have gotten really good at living the Christian life without God. But at the end of the day, we have to learn that the victory belongs to the Lord. It is all up to Him.

Solomon had learned that bearing the title of “King” was not enough. Even possessing great wisdom was an insufficient source of help when dealing with the daily trials and troubles of life. Solomon was the one who wrote, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10 ESV). And he had borrowed this sentiment from one of the Psalms.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding. – Psalm 111:10 ESV

Like Solomon, we must learn that it is impossible to live the Christian life without God’s help or apart from His strength. Even all the pithy proverbs we have been reading are impossible to live out apart from Him. We can’t find wisdom without Him. We will never have understanding apart from Him. We will never really experience true success in life without God’s help. It is impossible to be godly without God.

But we do have our role to play in all of this. Just as verse 31 says, you have to prepare the horse for battle. You have to get ready for what is headed your way, but you also have to recognize that the outcome is completely up to God. We cannot dictate or determine outcomes. Even our best efforts and careful planning cannot guarantee success. Only God can do that. We can’t do it ourselves. We can’t live the Christian life alone or on our own.

A big part of living the Christian life is learning to trust God for the outcomes of life. We can do everything we know to do to raise godly children, but we are completely powerless when it comes to guaranteeing that outcome. We don’t have what it takes to produce godliness in our children. Only God can do that. But we are to do our part. We are to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Then we are to leave the results up to Him. We have to trust Him for the victory. We have to let Him fight our battles. We have to depend on Him, which requires that we stop trying so hard trying to be independent.

The victory is up to God. Do you believe that today or are you still trying to win your own battles in your own strength? God does not need your help. That doesn’t mean that God absolves you from all effort or involvement. You have your part to play and your job to do, but the outcome is always up to Him. Rest in that assurance. Prepare for battle knowing that He goes before you and will be behind you. The outcome is in His hands and it is assured.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

The X-Ray Vision of God

1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
    he turns it wherever he will.
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
    but the Lord weighs the heart.
To do righteousness and justice
    is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
Haughty eyes and a proud heart,
    the lamp of the wicked, are sin.
The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance,
    but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.
The getting of treasures by a lying tongue
    is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death.
The violence of the wicked will sweep them away,
    because they refuse to do what is just.
The way of the guilty is crooked,
    but the conduct of the pure is upright.
It is better to live in a corner of the housetop
    than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.
10 The soul of the wicked desires evil;
    his neighbor finds no mercy in his eyes.
11 When a scoffer is punished, the simple becomes wise;
    when a wise man is instructed, he gains knowledge.
12 The Righteous One observes the house of the wicked;
    he throws the wicked down to ruin.
13 Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor
    will himself call out and not be answered.
14 A gift in secret averts anger,
    and a concealed bribe, strong wrath.
15 When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous
    but terror to evildoers.
– Proverbs 21:1-15 ESV

As human beings, we can be the masters of deceit and deception. Over time we can learn the art of spin, controlling what others think about us and manipulating how they perceive us. In fact, how we’re perceived by others can become the most important thing about us. Our external persona becomes our pseudo-personality. Perception becomes reality. After a while, we can even begin to believe our own PR. We can convince ourselves that the facade we’ve erected is real, not imaginary – that the aura we give off is authentic, not self-manufactured and fake.

But while we may fool others and even ourselves with our Academy-Award-winning ways, God remains unconvinced and unimpressed. He looks right past our plastic facade and sees into the very recesses of our souls. He examines our hearts.

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
    but the Lord weighs the heart. – Proverbs 21:2 ESV

The Hebrew word that is translated as “weighs” is actually a term for measuring, as in a balance scale. God places our hearts on one side of the scale and measures its real worth based on something of equal weight or worth. He doesn’t take into account any of the excess exterior trappings we’ve spent so much time creating and cultivating. He goes right to the heart of the matter – literally. God takes a look at the condition of our hearts and determines who we really are. If we allow Him. And sadly, we quickly discover that, rather than being the measure of all things, we are being measured by a holy and righteous God.

God X-rays our hearts and reveals what’s really going on under the shiny surface of our lives. He exposes our pride, anger, and arrogance. He shows us our selfishness and self-centeredness.

Haughty eyes, a proud heart,
    and evil actions are all sin. – Proverbs 21:4 NLT

He exposes to us our fears, faithlessness, spiritual adultery, and embarrassing weaknesses.

The Righteous One knows what is going on in the homes of the wicked;
    he will bring disaster on them. – Proverbs 21:12 NLT

But like a doctor examining a patient, God’s goal is not just to expose sickness. He wants to bring about healing. He desires to refocus our attention away from the surface issues of life and on to the hard reality of our heart health. God longs to heal our hearts so that we might truly be what He desires for us to be.

Whoever pursues righteousness and unfailing love
    will find life, righteousness, and honor. – Proverbs 21:21 NLT

We can pursue wealth, pleasure, popularity, and a host of other things, but they will never deliver what we need. We can attempt to ignore our hearts and live in a fairy tale land of false identity and fake reality, but we will never find joy, peace, and contentment. So, God examines our hearts and then gives us the results. But He also provides us with a prescription and a remedy for healing. As the Great Physician, He knows how to heal our hearts and restore our souls. But it begins with a thorough examination and a correct, sometimes shocking diagnosis. Once we accept His assessment and place ourselves under His loving, capable hands, healing can begin. Our hearts can be made whole again. The facade can come down, the false identity can be removed, and the man or woman God designed us to be can begin to reveal itself – from the inside out. And a heart that is in the right condition can begin doing what God has deemed as right.

The Lord is more pleased when we do what is right and just
    than when we offer him sacrifices. – Proverbs 21:3 NLT

But sadly, a lot of us spend a lot of time trying to keep God pleased. We view Him as some kind of divine Santa Clause, who’s making a list, and checking it twice. He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. So, if we want to keep Him happy, we better get busy doing nice things. And that can translate into everything from having a quiet time to memorizing Scripture, or doing acts of service and going to a Bible study or on a short-term mission trip. We can even believe that giving more money to the church will put us in good standing with God. And while there’s nothing wrong with any of these things, we can easily turn them into actions that we believe will earn us brownie points with God. And in doing so, we miss the point. When we make them personal sacrifices we offer on behalf of God in the hopes that He will notice and reward us favorably, they lose their meaning and we lose our focus.

King David understood this concept very well. He wrote, “You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (Psalm 51:16-17 NLT).

While God had commanded the people of Israel to offer sacrifices, what He was really looking for was an obedient heart. Jesus had harsh words for the religious leaders in His day.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law — justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides!” – Matthew 23:23-24 NLT

These men were adept at keeping the law and of making the proper sacrifices, but their hearts were not right. They were skilled at keeping the letter of the law but were oblivious to the real point behind the law: Doing justice, mercy, and faith.

It wasn’t supposed to be about their ability to keep laws, but about the motivation of their hearts. They were doing what they were doing out of a sense of self-righteousness and in the hopes that what they did would somehow earn them credit with God. But as we read in Proverbs, God is more pleased when we do what is right and just than when we offer Him sacrifices. He is more focused on our hearts than our efforts. In the verse right before this one, Solomon writes, “People may be right in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their heart.”

God is able to see our inner motivation. He knows when we are doing what we are doing out of some sense of duty or simply in the hopes of earning His approval. The book of Micah contains these sobering words:

No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8 NLT

God’s desire is that our outer efforts be motivated by an inward transformation that He alone can bring about. As we submit to His authority over our lives and listen to the Holy Spirit’s direction, we begin to understand what it is that God would have us do. We begin to desire what He desires, love what He loves, and see the world as He sees it. We learn to walk in humility, not pride. We understand that our best efforts are never enough to earn points with God. He doesn’t need our sacrifices. He simply wants our hearts. And as He changes our hearts, we begin to do what is just and right. We act in ways that are in keeping with His heart and in accordance with His will. And He is pleased.

So much of what the book of Proverbs deals with has to do with outward conduct.

The way of the guilty is crooked,
    but the conduct of the pure is upright. – Proverbs 21:8 ESV

But it all begins in the heart.

The soul of the wicked desires evil;
    his neighbor finds no mercy in his eyes. – Proverbs 21:10 ESV

Ungodly behavior can show up in a variety of forms, from a wife who likes to quarrel to a husband with a lying tongue and an arrogant attitude. The wicked are everywhere. And they all share the same problem: They each have unhealthy and unholy hearts. And that is an ailment only God can heal.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

The Idiocy of Duplicity

16 Take a man’s garment when he has put up security for a stranger,
    and hold it in pledge when he puts up security for foreigners.
17 Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man,
    but afterward his mouth will be full of gravel.
18 Plans are established by counsel;
    by wise guidance wage war.
19 Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets;
    therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.
20 If one curses his father or his mother,
    his lamp will be put out in utter darkness.
21 An inheritance gained hastily in the beginning
    will not be blessed in the end.
22 Do not say, “I will repay evil”;
    wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.
23 Unequal weights are an abomination to the Lord,
    and false scales are not good.
24 A man’s steps are from the Lord;
    how then can man understand his way?
25 It is a snare to say rashly, “It is holy,”
    and to reflect only after making vows.
26 A wise king winnows the wicked
    and drives the wheel over them.
27 The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord,
    searching all his innermost parts.
28 Steadfast love and faithfulness preserve the king,
    and by steadfast love his throne is upheld.
29 The glory of young men is their strength,
    but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.
30 Blows that wound cleanse away evil;
    strokes make clean the innermost parts.
– Proverbs 20:16-30 ESV

What is the best way to treat fools? According to Solomon, carefully and cautiously. Associating with fools can be costly so the wise would do well to limit their exposure and risk. A person who lacks wisdom will make poor business decisions and then expect others to bail them out when things don’t turn out as expected. That’s because fools tend to lack common sense and tend to see life through rose-colored glasses. Doing business with a fool can be especially risky because their financial acumen can be suspect.

Get security from someone who guarantees a stranger’s debt.
    Get a deposit if he does it for foreigners. – Proverbs 20:16 NLT

Solomon warns that it is extremely unwise to do business with a man who pledges to guarantee the debt of someone he doesn’t even know. In the hopes of making a profit, he has made an unwise decision that has put his financial resources in jeopardy. And because it is highly unlikely that he will ever get the return he is expecting from his investment, it would make no sense to put your own financial well-being at risk. Solomon is so sure that the deal will go south, that he recommends that you demand something as collateral to cover your loss.

The point is that the fool makes a lousy business partner because he tends to be impulsive and lazy when it comes to developing an investment strategy. He is prone to fall for those get-rich-quick schemes that guarantee a hefty return but almost always fail to deliver. And in his lust for easy money, he tends to throw caution to the wind, even lending money to strangers and foreigners, who he may never see again.

Solomon even reveals the thought behind such a poor decision.

Stolen bread tastes sweet,
    but it turns to gravel in the mouth. – Proverbs 20:17 NLT

To the fool, strangers and foreigners appear to be easy marks. The very fact that they are seeking financial help from someone they don’t know reveals that they are desperate. And Solomon indicates that the fool thinks he can take advantage of their situation and score big by charging high-interest rates. After all, no one else is going to lend them money, so he has them over a barrel. And his lust for easy money forces him to make bad decisions. And while the hope of a tidy profit might be tempting, it will eventually come back to haunt him. In the unlikely event that he gets all his money back with interest, it will only increase his desire to do it again and, sooner or later, he will lose it all.

In contrast, Solomon recommends seeking wise counsel before making life-changing decisions.

Plans succeed through good counsel;
    don’t go to war without wise advice. – Proverbs 20:18 NLT

But fools tend to operate independently and autonomously. They reject the insight and input of others because they inevitably think that they know what is best. Their impulsiveness and stubbornness compel them to make decisions that can have long-term and potentially devastating outcomes.

Fools tend to have short-sighted perspectives, living with a get-it-all-while-you-can mindset. Rather than focusing on the future, they fixate on the here-and-now in a vain attempt to score big and live life large. They operate by the philosophy: He who dies with the most toys wins. But Solomon warns against such a short-sighted perspective.

An inheritance obtained too early in life
    is not a blessing in the end. – Proverbs 20:21 NLT

Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son provides ample proof of this proverb. An abundance of money does not make someone wise. Wealth can’t buy wisdom. And the individual who finds himself financially well-off but lacking in godly wisdom will almost always end up living by a set of standards that fly in the face of God’s revealed will for His people.

The Lord detests double standards;
    he is not pleased by dishonest scales. – Proverbs 20:23 NLT

Those who gain wealth but lack wisdom will find inevitably make decisions to cut corners ethically in order to maintain their preferred lifestyle. The fear of loss will drive them to make concessions and compromise their convictions. The thought of poverty will become a greater motivator than the fear of the Lord.

And Solomon warns that God can into the heart of every individual. Nothing can be hidden from His all-seeing eyes.

The Lord’s light penetrates the human spirit,
    exposing every hidden motive. – Proverbs 20:27 NLT

And when all is said and done, the most important thing about any man or woman is the condition of their heart. That is how God will judge every human being. And what is true for the most powerful is true for the least significant person on earth.

Unfailing love and faithfulness protect the king;
    his throne is made secure through love. – Proverbs 20:28 NLT

God could care less about a king’s power, wealth, and prominence. He doesn’t judge based on external factors such as success or significance. He looks for the signs of unfailing love and faithfulness. He seeks for evidence of covenant faithfulness and a healthy fear of His holiness. God doesn’t measure a man by his accomplishments. Instead, He looks for evidence of a humble heart and a reliant spirit. And Solomon reveals that God disciples those whom He loves so that they might live faithful lives the exhibit unfailing love.

Physical punishment cleanses away evil;
    such discipline purifies the heart. – Proverbs 20:30 NLT

And the wise gratefully accept the loving discipline of God because they understand that it produces godly lives. And the older they get, the more they recognize the loving nature of God’s interaction in their lives.

the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old. – Proverbs 20:29 NLT

One of the realities about dishonesty is that we may fool others, but we can never fool God. “The Lord’s light penetrates the human spirit, exposing every hidden motive” (Proverbs 20:27 NLT). God sees all. He knows all. He is aware of every occurrence of dishonesty in our lives. He knows when we lie. He is aware every time we withhold the truth in any form or in any way. He is never deceived by our deception. And He despises, dislikes, and disdains it when we attempt to cover up, hide, fake it, or live our lives dishonestly or deceptively. He is a God of truth. He longs to see His people live in integrity. The biblical concept of integrity is wholeness or completeness. It carries the idea of a life with no compartmentalization. There are no hidden areas. No skeletons in the closet. We live our lives in integrity before God when we recognize that He sees all and so we stop trying to hide anything from Him. We live wholly and holy before Him. No deceit, deception or dishonesty.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

External Influences

1 Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler,
    and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.
The terror of a king is like the growling of a lion;
    whoever provokes him to anger forfeits his life.
It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife,
    but every fool will be quarreling.
The sluggard does not plow in the autumn;
    he will seek at harvest and have nothing.
The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water,
    but a man of understanding will draw it out.
Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love,
    but a faithful man who can find?
The righteous who walks in his integrity—
    blessed are his children after him!
A king who sits on the throne of judgment
    winnows all evil with his eyes.
Who can say, “I have made my heart pure;
    I am clean from my sin”?
10 Unequal weights and unequal measures
    are both alike an abomination to the Lord.
11 Even a child makes himself known by his acts,
    by whether his conduct is pure and upright.
12 The hearing ear and the seeing eye,
    the Lord has made them both.
13 Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty;
    open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread.
14 “Bad, bad,” says the buyer,
    but when he goes away, then he boasts.
15 There is gold and abundance of costly stones,
    but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.
– Proverbs 20:1-15 ESV

“Ears to hear and eyes to see – both are gifts from the Lord.” – Proverbs 20:12 NLT

There are a lot of things that can impact the direction and quality of an individual’s life, and many of them are external in nature. In this proverb, Solomon begins by mentioning the detrimental influence that alcohol can have.

Wine produces mockers; alcohol leads to brawls.
    Those led astray by drink cannot be wise. – Proverbs 20:1 NLT

While the Scriptures don’t ban the consumption of alcohol outright, there are clear warnings as to its use and potential abuse. Here in the wisdom literature of Proverbs, we have an in-your-face warning included by Solomon that doesn’t mince words when it comes to the potential danger of alcohol. And he isn’t talking about distilled alcohol. No, he’s talking about the everyday, run-of-the-mill, average household wine that a Hebrew would consume.

He describes it as a mocker. Too much wine or alcohol in the system can turn anyone into an obnoxious, inebriated blowhard who is offensive to be around. The NET Bible puts it this way: “Excessive use of intoxicants excites the drinker to boisterous behavior and aggressive attitudes – it turns them into mockers and brawlers.”

You’ve seen them, been around them, and may have been there once or twice yourself. Alcohol clouds your senses, dulls your thinking, and distorts your perspective. The weak suddenly become strong, the timid feel braver, and the normally quiet ones become increasingly bolder. Inhibitions get tossed aside like a bottle cap and concern for decorum or reputation gets lost in the euphoric, alcohol-induced buzz. The Message has a not-so-subtle way of paraphrasing this verse. “Wine makes you mean, beer makes you quarrelsome – a staggering drunk is not much fun.” How sadly true.

But alcohol isn’t the only thing that can negatively influence an individual’s life. Solomon also mentions quarreling and strife.

Avoiding a fight is a mark of honor;
    only fools insist on quarreling. – Proverbs 20:3 NLT

The fact is, we don’t live our lives in isolation. We are constantly surrounded by other people who may not always agree with or even like us, which can easily lead to disagreements and the potential for strife. But while the temptation to defend our rights and state our minds might be strong, Solomon suggests that it would be better to avoid conflict at all costs. In fact, it is a mark of honor and a sign of wisdom. Only fools insist on escalating a conflict to the point that someone is going to get hurt, either emotionally or physically.

Another negative influence on a man’s life is the tendency toward laziness.

Those too lazy to plow in the right season
    will have no food at the harvest. – Proverbs 20:4 NLT

Essentially, Solomon is describing procrastination – the art of putting off until tomorrow what should rightfully be done today. Solomon was not a big fan of the procrastinator. In fact, in Proverbs 6, he describes this kind of individual as if he had one living in his own home.

But you, lazybones, how long will you sleep?
    When will you wake up?
A little extra sleep, a little more slumber,
    a little folding of the hands to rest—
then poverty will pounce on you like a bandit;
    scarcity will attack you like an armed robber. – Proverbs 6:9-11 NLT

But Solomon mentions another external temptation that we must avoid: The use of dishonest means to achieve personal gain.

False weights and unequal measures—
    the Lord detests double standards of every kind. – Proverbs 20:10 NLT

When the Proverbs talk about false weights and unequal measures, it is describing a form of double standard that is aimed at others. It is designed to take unfair advantage of another person by means of intentional deception. The image is that of a vendor using inaccurate weights and measures in order to make the buyer think he is getting more than he is paying for. It is using deception to gain an advantage. But Solomon warns that God is watching and He is totally opposed to such actions – especially among His people.

God hates hypocrisy, and so should we. Yet the double standard is not only tolerated in our society, it’s actually admired. It has become an art form. Living the lie and masquerading as something other than what we truly are has become commonplace – even among Christians. And while we may fool others by our pretense and pretending, we never fool God. He sees and knows all. He is not impressed by our outward displays of righteousness or our Oscar-worthy performances that impress the crowds around us. He can spot duplicity and deceit of all kinds – even when we are trying to trick others into believing we are righteous. God desires honesty and integrity among His people. He wants us to say what we mean and mean what we say. He wants us to keep our word and live in such a way that our behavior is a true indication of our hearts.

Dishonesty has no place in the life of a follower of Christ. Instead, “the godly walk with integrity” (Proverbs 20:7 NLT). The Hebrew word for integrity is tom, and it means wholeness or completeness. It can convey the idea of a simplicity of mind. It is a mind with no deceit, free from mischief and misrepresentation. A life of integrity is a life of wholeness, health, and soundness. To live with integrity as a believer is to live your WHOLE life in a holy manner. It is to give God complete control over every area of your life – not just the convenient ones.

In time, a life of duplicity will always be exposed.

Even children are known by the way they act,
    whether their conduct is pure, and whether it is right.Proverbs 20:11 NLT

As believers, we are to have one standard, not two. We are to live according to God’s righteous requirements, not our own. There is no place for a double standard in our lives. Yet, for many of us, duplicity is a daily companion. We have learned to live the lie, not intending to hurt those around us, but deceiving them all the same. When we act as if all is well and our lives are carefree, yet we are struggling with doubts and troubles of all kinds, we are being duplicitous. We are being dishonest. When we try to impress others with outward displays of spirituality, while on the inside we are wrestling with our beliefs, we are being duplicitous. When we preach to our kids about the importance of God and His Word, but we rarely spend time in it ourselves, we are being hypocrites. And our children are fine-tuned to spot hypocrisy in our lives.

God calls us to be honest, transparent, open, and above board in our relationships with one another. No lying, no deceit, no duplicity, no double standards. We are to be a people of integrity. Not faking it for the sake of those around us, but honestly and openly living our lives knowing that “the Lord’s light penetrates the human spirit, exposing every hidden motive” (Proverbs 20:27 NLT).

Solomon reminds us that we have been given two incredible gifts from God.

Ears to hear and eyes to see—
    both are gifts from the Lord. – Proverbs 20:12 NLT

But Solomon’s mention of sight and hearing has little to do with the ability to see and hear. He seems to know that there are far too many people who have good hearing and great eyesight but who might as well be deaf and blind. Their problem is a spiritual one. Their organs of sight and hearing are perfectly fine, but they are spiritually deaf and blind. God used this imagery on many occasions, telling the people of Judah, “Listen, you foolish and senseless people, with eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear” (Jeremiah 5:21 NLT). They were unable to see the greatness of God and unwilling to hear the voice of God.

While sight and hearing are both gifts from the Lord, how much greater is the gift of being able to see and hear spiritually. The ability to see life from God’s perspective and to clearly hear His voice is a gift of inestimable worth. Every Christ-follower has been equipped with these God-given senses of spiritual sight and hearing. As a result, we have the ability and responsibility to listen more and talk less. I think it’s interesting that speech is not listed as one of the gifts. We put a high value on what we say, but God seems to put a higher value on our capacity to listen – not only to Him but to what is being said around us. We need to train our ears to hear the pain and suffering in the world. We need to hear and discern the falsehood and lies masquerading as truth. We need to hear God speaking in the midst of all the noise around us. But to hear, we have to stop talking.

And we need to see more clearly the world as God sees it. We need His vision and insight. We need His perspective. It is easy to be fooled by the false images of this world. But things are not always as they appear. God gives us the ability to see clearly and truthfully. He alone can open our eyes to the reality of what is going on in the world. When we see clearly, we see Him at work. We know the value of His righteousness and the greatness of His power. We view the world through the lens of the future. And our vision of the world is not limited to the here-and-now. God has given us a glimpse into the future and we can see that He has a plan that He is working to perfection. The scenes of this present world are not the end of the story. We see the world through the eyes of God and know how the story ends.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Good Kids Gone Bad

17 Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord,
    and he will repay him for his deed.
18 Discipline your son, for there is hope;
    do not set your heart on putting him to death.
19 A man of great wrath will pay the penalty,
    for if you deliver him, you will only have to do it again.
20 Listen to advice and accept instruction,
    that you may gain wisdom in the future.
21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
    but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
22 What is desired in a man is steadfast love,
    and a poor man is better than a liar.
23 The fear of the Lord leads to life,
    and whoever has it rests satisfied;
    he will not be visited by harm.
24 The sluggard buries his hand in the dish
    and will not even bring it back to his mouth.
25 Strike a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence;
    reprove a man of understanding, and he will gain knowledge.
26 He who does violence to his father and chases away his mother
    is a son who brings shame and reproach.
27 Cease to hear instruction, my son,
    and you will stray from the words of knowledge.
28 A worthless witness mocks at justice,
    and the mouth of the wicked devours iniquity.
29 Condemnation is ready for scoffers,
    and beating for the backs of fools.
– Proverbs 19:17-29 ESV

A rebellious child. Nobody plans for one. But they don’t just happen either. At the same time, there is no magic elixir or five-step strategy that can guarantee you won’t have one. And while we must do all we can to discipline our children while they are young and attempt to raise them in a godly atmosphere, there is no assurance that our children will never stray, never disappoint us or never become an embarrassment and a public disgrace (Proverbs 19:26 NLT).

Solomon was a big proponent of godly discipline and instruction in a child’s early developmental years. One of the most frequently quoted and misunderstood verses in the entire book of Proverbs is found in chapter 22:

Train up a child in the way he should go;
    even when he is old he will not depart from it. – Proverbs 22:6 ESV

This verse is not meant to be a scriptural panacea, offering the guarantee of a godly child if you follow God’s prescribed parenting plan. This proverb simply teaches that, while our children are young and pliable, we must do all we can to teach them the truth of God’s Word and model for them the life of wisdom and righteousness that God desires. But as children grow older, they also grow increasingly more independent, until they reach that inevitable point at which they must determine and decide their own faith and fate. They will have to decide what they are going to do with all that they have been taught. What happens at that point has as much to do with their personality and temperament as anything else. Two children raised in the same home by the same parents and under the same set of rules can turn out completely different from one another – solely based on their personality profile.

That’s why Solomon provides the following admonition: “Discipline your children while there is hope. Otherwise you will ruin their lives” (Proverbs 19:18 NLT). The day may come when your adult child will no longer accept your instruction or submit to your discipline. It will be too late.

Every day, countless parents ask the pain-filled, guilt-ridden questions, “Where did we go wrong?” “What could we have done differently?” “How could we have prevented this from happening?” No doubt, those questions have answers. There are inevitably some things they could have done differently, better, or not at all. None of us are perfect parents. We all make mistakes. We sin against our children and, when it comes to their sins, we overlook some and overreact to others. We are inconsistent and non-perfect parents.

And there are those times when our children turn out differently than we had hoped or dreamed; not so much because of our shortcomings as parents but because of the choices our children made along the way. That’s why Solomon cries out to his sons to listen to his instruction. He begs them to listen to what he is trying to tell them about wisdom and the life of righteousness.

If you stop listening to instruction, my child,
    you will turn your back on knowledge.  – Proverbs 19:27 NLT

Get all the advice and instruction you can,
    so you will be wise the rest of your life. – Proverbs 19:20 NLT

But ultimately, every child must come to the point where they begin making their own choices and deciding what it is they believe. They must choose to listen to all that they have been taught and begin obeying it, not because they have to, but because they want to. Their faith must become a choice of the will, not an act of submission to their parent’s wishes.

Watching your son or daughter reject the faith you have tried to instill in them is a painful thing to endure. It is gut-wrenching. The word “violence” in verse 26 is meant to shock the reader. The Hebrew word means “to devastate, ruin or violently destroy.” This pictures a son or daughter who has done some serious damage to their father. It could be financially, physically, or even just emotionally. They have devastated their father. Their actions have brought him down and knocked the props out from under him. And they have managed to alienate and drive away their own mother. She wants nothing to do with her own child. This loving mother and father now find their child to be an embarrassment and a public disgrace. All their friends can stand back and watch as their adult child lives an ungodly and unrighteous life right in front of their eyes. And the fingers point, the gossip spreads, and the pity is poured out on these two poor souls who obviously failed at parenting. But that is not Solomon’s point. He is not condemning those whose children have rebelled and rejected the way of wisdom. He is simply stressing the vital importance of godly wisdom and instruction in their early years. It is a warning to remain steadfast and committed to godly parenting “while there is hope” (Proverbs 19:18 NLT).

At the end of the day, we must place our children in the hands of God. The psalmist reminds us that “Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him” (Psalm 127:3 NLT). And God views parents as stewards, not saviors. He does not expect us to produce godly children because only He can bestow righteousness. All we can do is teach them the truth of God’s Word and model for them a life of faith and godliness. Ultimately, they will have to choose for themselves. They are free-will creatures who must one day choose God and accept His will for their lives. Many do, but some do not.

That is why Solomon repeatedly stresses the positive outcomes of a godly life. He wants his own children to understand that way of wisdom has real benefits.

Loyalty makes a person attractive.
    It is better to be poor than dishonest. – Proverbs 19:22 NLT

Fear of the Lord leads to life,
    bringing security and protection from harm. – Proverbs 19:23 NLT

Get all the advice and instruction you can,
    so you will be wise the rest of your life. – Proverbs 19:20 NLT

Yet, not all children will heed Solomon’s advice or their parents’ instructions. They will choose the wrong path and, like the prodigal son, decide to waste their inheritance and their life. But like the father of the prodigal son, we must continue to pray for them and hope for their ultimate return. We must turn them over to God and ask Him to do what only He can do. He alone can soften their heart and convict them of their rebellion. Because their sin, while painful to us as parents, is ultimately against God. They are rejecting Him, not us. And only God can restore them to a right relationship with Himself. Nothing is impossible for Him.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

The Life of Integrity

Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity
    than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool.
Desire without knowledge is not good,
    and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way.
When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin,
    his heart rages against the Lord.
Wealth brings many new friends,
    but a poor man is deserted by his friend.
A false witness will not go unpunished,
    and he who breathes out lies will not escape.
Many seek the favor of a generous man,
    and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts.
All a poor man’s brothers hate him;
    how much more do his friends go far from him!
He pursues them with words, but does not have them.
Whoever gets sense loves his own soul;
    he who keeps understanding will discover good.
A false witness will not go unpunished,
    and he who breathes out lies will perish.
10 It is not fitting for a fool to live in luxury,
    much less for a slave to rule over princes.
11 Good sense makes one slow to anger,
    and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
12 A king’s wrath is like the growling of a lion,
    but his favor is like dew on the grass.
13 A foolish son is ruin to his father,
    and a wife’s quarreling is a continual dripping of rain.
14 House and wealth are inherited from fathers,
    but a prudent wife is from the Lord.
15 Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep,
    and an idle person will suffer hunger.
16 Whoever keeps the commandment keeps his life;
    he who despises his ways will die.
– Proverbs 19:1-16 ESV

What does a person of integrity look like? Our modern culture has diluted integrity down to a one-dimensional idea of honesty. If you tell the truth or keep your word, you’re referred to as a man of integrity. But the biblical view of integrity is so much deeper, fuller, and all-inclusive. And the Proverbs help us see what the life of a person of integrity looks like. Using comparisons and contrasts, it paints simple word pictures of what the person of integrity does and doesn’t do.

The biblical concept of integrity carries the idea of wholeness or completeness. A person of integrity is sound in mind, body, and spirit. Their life is well-integrated and non-compartmentalized, and lived entirely for God, with no parts held back. To live a life of integrity is to give God every aspect of my life, not just the convenient parts. And it is allowing God to transform every area of my life, including my speech, attitudes, and actions.

Solomon tells us over and over again that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. God is the source of all we need to live a godly, whole, and complete life. The person who refuses to acknowledge this reality is designated as a fool in the Proverbs, and a fool is simply one who actively spurns the ways and the will of God. The fool says there is no God or lives his life as if there were no God, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And the fool is one who hears God’s call but refuses to listen. As a result, his or her life is incomplete and lacking in wholeness. It exhibits a glaring lack of spiritual vitality and soundness.

According to Solomon, even a poor man can display integrity because it has little to do with material possessions or one’s position within society. Wealth can’t buy integrity. Power and prominence don’t naturally come equipped with integrity.

Wealth brings many new friends,
    but a poor man is deserted by his friend. – Proverbs 19:4 ESV

Money can buy a lot of friends, but when it runs out, so do they. And wealth is a poor substitute for integrity. The man who “has it all” may appear to be sound and whole, lacking in nothing, but without integrity, he is operating at a serious deficit.

Simply put, integrity is righteousness lived out. It is godliness made visible and tangible. When the wisdom, knowledge, and understanding we receive from God begin to influence our behavior and speech, others can see it and be influenced by it. Integrity makes us willing to do the right thing and suffer loss rather than lie in order to get ahead (Proverbs 19:1).

Without integrity, we tend to rush headlong into decisions, letting our enthusiasm drive our choices rather than wisdom.

Desire without knowledge is not good,
    and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way. – Proverbs 19:2 ESV

People of integrity still make mistakes, but when they do they refuse to blame God for the consequences. But “When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the Lord (Proverbs 19:3 ESV). Those without integrity or wholeness tend to make unhealthy choices and then refuse to take responsibility for the unpleasant outcomes they encounter.

People with integrity don’t practice “fake” friendships, pursuing relationships purely for what they can get out of them.

Many seek favors from a ruler;
    everyone is the friend of a person who gives gifts!

The relatives of the poor despise them;
    how much more will their friends avoid them!
Though the poor plead with them,
    their friends are gone. – Proverbs 19:6, 7 NLT

Instead, they view others through God’s eyes, loving the helpless and hopeless the same way He does.

If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord
    and he will repay you!
Proverbs 19:17 NLT

The integral life is marked by honesty and truth-telling at all times and at any cost.

A false witness will not go unpunished,
    nor will a liar escape. – Proverbs 19:5 NLT

A false witness will not go unpunished,
    and a liar will be destroyed. – Proverbs 15:9 NLT

A life of integrity is the only acceptable form of self-love because it ends up rewarding those who practice it with great benefits.

To acquire wisdom is to love yourself;
    people who cherish understanding will prosper. – Proverbs 19:8 NLT

A person of integrity lives their entire life for God, so they are less likely to get angry when offended or when things don’t go their way. They have a greater capacity to overlook a wrong committed because they understand the fallen nature of man. This God-given patience provides them with respect and protects them from harm.

Sensible people control their temper;
    they earn respect by overlooking wrongs.

The king’s anger is like a lion’s roar,
    but his favor is like dew on the grass. – Proverbs 19:11-12 NLT

Hot-tempered people must pay the penalty.
    If you rescue them once, you will have to do it again. – Proverbs 19:19 NLT

Integrity understands that God is sovereign and in control of all the affairs of life and, ultimately, His sees that His will is done.

Fathers can give their sons an inheritance of houses and wealth,
    but only the Lord can give an understanding wife. – Proverbs 19:14 NLT.

The integral life is marked by obedience to God, hard work, the constant pursuit of wisdom, and a fear of the Lord (Proverbs 19:15, 16, 20, 23, 24). Integrity encourages parents to create an atmosphere in their home where instruction is God-centered, and discipline is practiced in order to raise children who are God-fearing (Proverbs 19:18, 25, 26, 27, 29.

In the very first chapter of this book, Solomon provides his reason for compiling and cataloging all these words of wisdom.

Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline,
    to help them understand the insights of the wise.
Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives,
    to help them do what is right, just, and fair. – Proverbs 1:2-3 NLT

But then he adds, “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge” (Proverbs 19:7 NLT). It all starts with God. We must understand that only He can provide us the wisdom, insight, understanding, and discipline we need to live lives of integrity. We can’t manufacture these things on our own. No amount of money can buy them. They don’t come with success or social prominence. No, they are the byproducts of an integral or well-rounded life. Solomon was interested in helping people do what is right, just, and fair. But he knew that good behavior was impossible without a healthy reverence for God. He alone can provide the wisdom and discipline necessary to transform a person from the inside out. And when God transforms the heart, it shows up in tangible expressions of righteousness and godliness. When we put Him first and allow Him to guide and direct our lives, others will see the change taking place within us as it flows out from us. Our integrity will be visible to all those around us.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Friends and Fools

1 Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire;
    he breaks out against all sound judgment.
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
    but only in expressing his opinion.
When wickedness comes, contempt comes also,
    and with dishonor comes disgrace.
The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters;
    the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.
It is not good to be partial to the wicked
    or to deprive the righteous of justice.
A fool’s lips walk into a fight,
    and his mouth invites a beating.
A fool’s mouth is his ruin,
    and his lips are a snare to his soul.
The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels;
    they go down into the inner parts of the body.
Whoever is slack in his work
    is a brother to him who destroys.
10 The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
    the righteous man runs into it and is safe.
11 A rich man’s wealth is his strong city,
    and like a high wall in his imagination.
12 Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty,
    but humility comes before honor.
13 If one gives an answer before he hears,
    it is his folly and shame.
14 A man’s spirit will endure sickness,
    but a crushed spirit who can bear?
15 An intelligent heart acquires knowledge,
    and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.
16 A man’s gift makes room for him
    and brings him before the great.
17 The one who states his case first seems right,
    until the other comes and examines him.
18 The lot puts an end to quarrels
    and decides between powerful contenders.
19 A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city,
    and quarreling is like the bars of a castle.
20 From the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach is satisfied;
    he is satisfied by the yield of his lips.
21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
    and those who love it will eat its fruits.
22 He who finds a wife finds a good thing
    and obtains favor from the Lord.
23 The poor use entreaties,
    but the rich answer roughly.
24 A man of many companions may come to ruin,
    but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother
– Proverbs 18:1-24 ESV

Fools make lousy friends. Sure, they can be the life of the party and a lot of fun to be around but their lack of wisdom and discernment make them a poor choice for companionship. As verse one points out, fools are inherently selfish and self-centered, focusing most of their energy and thoughts on themselves.

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire;
    he breaks out against all sound judgment. – Proverbs 18:1 ESV

Fools can be manipulative, using others for their own self-aggrandizement. To a fool, people become little more than resources to be used and discarded. They have no real need for friends and even less desire for friendly counsel.

Fools have no interest in understanding;
    they only want to air their own opinions. – Proverbs 18:2 NLT

A true friend is willing to say the difficult things that need to be said. They point out our flaws and lovingly correct our failings. But a fool has no desire to have his faults exposed and the opinions of others are of no interest to him. In fact, he prefers the sound of his own voice.

Fools’ words get them into constant quarrels;
    they are asking for a beating.

The mouths of fools are their ruin;
    they trap themselves with their lips. – Proverbs 18:6-7 NLT

Fools tend to be combative and confrontational because they don’t like to have their point of view challenged or their way of life critiqued. Their subjective opinion always trumps objective truth. And they display a strong penchant for putting their mouth in gear before their brain is engaged.

Spouting off before listening to the facts
    is both shameful and foolish. – Proverbs 18:13 NLT

One of the lessons a fool finds difficult to learn is that his words have consequences. A fool finds it easy to speak his mind but fails to understand that his words can be damaging and deadly. Even the closest friends of a fool will find themselves suffering the withering onslaught of their tempestuous character.

An offended friend is harder to win back than a fortified city.
    Arguments separate friends like a gate locked with bars. – Proverbs 18:19 NLT

Because the fool lacks wisdom and discernment, his words can be devastatingly destructive. His impulsive knack for speaking his mind puts his wisdom deficit on full display for all to see. And, in the end, his words take their toll on all those around him.

The tongue can bring death or life;
    those who love to talk will reap the consequences. – Proverbs 18:21 NLT

Yet, Solomon reminds us that the opposite is equally true.

Wise words satisfy like a good meal;
    the right words bring satisfaction. Proverbs 18:20 NLT

So, why would anyone befriend a fool? What would possess someone to willingly associate with such a self-centered and narcissistic individual? The answer is that fools are typically charismatic and highly influential. They appear successful and popular. The biblical fool is rarely a stumbling, bumbling imbecile who suffers from a low IQ or a learning disability. They are usually intelligent and even highly successful. Their innate talent and persuasive powers can make them wealthy and well-liked. But somewhere along the way, the fool has rejected the idea of God.

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. – Psalm 14:1 ESV

Their foolishness stems from their refusal to fear and reverence God. Because they have determined to reject the reality of God, they are doomed to live their life without His wisdom. The fool is not ignorant but he is unenlightened and spiritually devoid of divine guidance. And that is what makes him such a lousy friend.

A fool is essentially godless and operating under his own power and according to his own fallen nature. Without God, he is destined to make unwise choices, pursue unrighteous ends, and do irreparable damage to all his relationships.

There are “friends” who destroy each other,
    but a real friend sticks closer than a brother. – Proverbs 18:24 NLT

Fools are fairweather friends. When the going gets tough, the fool gets going. In times of difficulty, a fool will bail on his friends and go into self-protective mode. But, according to Proverbs 17:17, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

Godly friends make great companions. When things heat up, they show up. In times of adversity, they prove the depth of their love by displaying their unfailing commitment to the relationship. Godly friends are faithful friends. They tend to mirror the character of God Himself. Wise friends have learned to trust in God. Through their own life experience, they have proven the faithfulness and reliability of God.

The name of the Lord is a strong fortress;
    the godly run to him and are safe. – Proverbs 18:10 NLT

In times of difficulty, a fool will place all his trust in his wealth and resources. He will make a god out of his

The rich think of their wealth as a strong defense;
    they imagine it to be a high wall of safety. – Proverbs 18:11 NLT

While a fool will abandon his friends and turn to his own resources for salvation, a wise friend will point the way to God. He knows from experience that God can be trusted even when times are tough. A wise friend encourages faithfulness. He models godliness. He promotes a life of obedience and trust in God. And Solomon goes on to point out that one of the greatest relationships a man can develop is that of a godly wife.

The man who finds a wife finds a treasure,
    and he receives favor from the Lord. – Proverbs 18:22 NLT

A godly mate is one of the greatest gifts that God can bestow on a man.

Who can find a virtuous and capable wife?
    She is more precious than rubies.
Her husband can trust her,
    and she will greatly enrich his life.
She brings him good, not harm,
    all the days of her life. – Proverbs 31:10-12 NLT

And a woman who finds a godly husband has received one of the most precious rewards that God can give. A godly marriage is only possible through the grace and mercy of God. He alone has the ability to perform math that can make two into one.

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” – Genesis 2:24 ESV

Two godly and wisdom-endowed individuals joined together by God in a permanent relationship that brings Him glory and honor. Two friends for life, blessed by their Creator with all that they need for living the godly life together. That is the essence of friendship on God’s terms. As Solomon would later record in the book of Ecclesiastes:

A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. – Ecclesiastes 4:12 NLT

Wise friends make great companions. But fools tend to make a fool out of everyone.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

A Fool for a King

16 Why should a fool have money in his hand to buy wisdom
    when he has no sense?
17 A friend loves at all times,
    and a brother is born for adversity.
18 One who lacks sense gives a pledge
    and puts up security in the presence of his neighbor.
19 Whoever loves transgression loves strife;
    he who makes his door high seeks destruction.
20 A man of crooked heart does not discover good,
    and one with a dishonest tongue falls into calamity.
21 He who sires a fool gets himself sorrow,
    and the father of a fool has no joy.
22 A joyful heart is good medicine,
    but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
23 The wicked accepts a bribe in secret
    to pervert the ways of justice.
24 The discerning sets his face toward wisdom,
    but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.
25 A foolish son is a grief to his father
    and bitterness to her who bore him.
26 To impose a fine on a righteous man is not good,
    nor to strike the noble for their uprightness.
27 Whoever restrains his words has knowledge,
    and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
28 Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;
    when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. 
– Proverbs 17:16-28 ESV

It is virtually impossible to read the book of Proverbs and not think of Paul’s assessment of fallen humanity:

Claiming to be wise, they became fools… – Romans 1:22 ESV

The fool as described in Proverbs is not a moronic half-wit with a low IQ. They are a fully functioning and contributing member of society. They can hold high office, run a business, marry and raise a family, and even become highly successful and financially well off. Fools are ubiquitous but, oftentimes, virtually indistinguishable. They’re practically everywhere and their influence on society is unquestionable. That’s why Solomon spends so much time describing the nature of their true character. He wants his readers to understand that these people are a threat to the social fabric of Israel.

The nation of Israel had been established by God as a theocracy. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a theocracy is a “government of a state by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided” (“Theocracy.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Jun. 2022).

The word theocracy is formed from two Greek words, theos (Greek for “God”) and -cracy (“rule, strength or government”). God had set apart the nation of Israel as His chosen people and He was to have been their King. For generations, God had faithfully led them and cared for them. He had delivered them from their captivity in Egypt and established them as a nation in the land of Canaan. He had given them His law to guide and direct their lives and provided them with the sacrificial system and the tabernacle so that they might have atonement for their sins when they failed to live up to His holy standards. But the day came when they rejected His rule and reign over their lives, demanding to have a human king instead.

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” – 1 Samuel 8:4-7 ESV

God gave them exactly what they had asked for – a king who would judge them like every other human king. He gave them King Saul, a man who would prove to be the epitome of a fool. He was good-looking, charismatic, a great warrior, and, seemingly, a natural-born leader.

There was a wealthy, influential man named Kish from the tribe of Benjamin. He was the son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, of the tribe of Benjamin. His son Saul was the most handsome man in Israel—head and shoulders taller than anyone else in the land. – 1 Samuel 9:1-2 NLT

While Saul’s reign began well, he proved to be a less-than-godly king. He was impulsive and impetuous, eventually disobeying the commands of God. And, for this reason, God chose to replace him with a young shepherd boy named David. Saul exhibited many of the characteristics of the fool as described in the book of Proverbs. He had been chosen by God to lead the people of Israel but he was to have done so as God’s authorized representative. His appointment as the king of Israel had been at God’s discretion and he was accountable for his actions. He had been given great authority and yet he abused that authority. Thinking himself to be wise, he became a fool.

And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” – 1 Samuel 13:13-14 ESV

Saul devolved into a foolish, petty sovereign whose actions became increasingly evil and out of step with the will of God. In a real sense, the God-appointed king of Israel became godless. He had power, authority, and access to God through the prophet Samuel, but Saul became increasingly distant and dangerously independent. He made impulsive and unwise decisions. He operated autonomously and used his God-ordained power as a means of solidifying his reign rather than caring for the people of Israel.

Saul provides a real-life example of the fool. He had been given everything but he ended up with nothing. This young man, who had come from a well-to-do family, had been chosen to lead the nation of Israel, answering directly to God Himself. But his great wealth couldn’t buy him the one thing he really needed: Wisdom.

Why should a fool have money in his hand to buy wisdom
    when he has no sense? – Proverbs 17:16 ESV

Saul had power but lacked wisdom. He wasn’t stupid, but he had no godly discernment. Saul became wise in his own mind, refusing to accept the input and even the discipline of the prophet of God. In time, Saul became unteachable and retractable, living increasingly more according to his own will rather than that of God.

Whoever loves transgression loves strife;
    he who makes his door high seeks destruction. – Proverbs 17:19 ESV

His obsession with power and authority became a stumbling block, causing him to sin against God. And he began to believe that his position as king would protect him from harm. The high walls of his palace and the power he wielded were all the security he needed – or so he thought.

A man of crooked heart does not discover good,
    and one with a dishonest tongue falls into calamity. – Proverbs 17:20 ESV

Saul would discover the truth of this proverb. The eventual outcome of his life was far from good. His propensity for lies and deception would catch up with him. And Saul’s father, Kish, would learn the truth behind the proverb:

He who sires a fool gets himself sorrow,
    and the father of a fool has no joy. – Proverbs 17:21 ESV

Saul’s life would not end well. His foolishness would eventually catch up to him and he would die an ignominious death.

The battle pressed hard against Saul, and the archers found him, and he was badly wounded by the archers. Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and mistreat me.” But his armor-bearer would not, for he feared greatly. Therefore Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. And when his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died with him. Thus Saul died, and his three sons, and his armor-bearer, and all his men, on the same day together. – 1 Samuel 31:3-6 ESV

Saul had failed to heed the truth of the proverb: “The discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth” (Proverbs 17:24 ESV). He had taken his eye off the prize of wisdom and had ended up seeking fame, fortune, power, and prominence instead. Somewhere along the way he had stopped fearing God and had lost his grip on wisdom. So, in time, Solomon became the foolish son who brought “grief to his father and bitterness to her who bore him” (Proverbs 17:25 ESV).

The God-appointed king of Israel became a fool, all because he lost his reverence for God. This good-looking and gifted young man squandered his opportunity to lead the people of Israel. He became wise in his own eyes and attempted to rule God’s people on his own terms. And the older he got, the more foolish he became, proving the veracity of the proverb: “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent” (Proverbs 17:28 ESV).

Saul lived the life of the fool and died a fool’s death. And his foolish choices had long-lasting ramifications. Sadly, his legacy of folly and pride did not die with him.

And when the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley and those beyond the Jordan saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their cities and fled. And the Philistines came and lived in them. – 1 Samuel 31:7 ESV

The folly of fools has a shelf-life. It lives long after they’re gone. And Solomon was living proof that the infectious nature of folly can be passed down from generation to generation. And the only antidote is the fear of the Lord.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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