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.

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