Hope in the Hereafter

16 Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. 17 I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. 18 I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. 19 For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. 20 All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? 22 So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him? Ecclesiastes 3:16-22 ESV

For Solomon, life had become little more than a never-ending cycle of unavoidable outcomes. Planting was followed by harvesting but eventually required that the whole laborious process begin again. Periods of peace would be interrupted by times of war. Efforts to build something of significance would only result in its eventual demolition. Seeking for something that was lost might result in finding it – only to lose it again. Feelings of love could give way to thoughts of hate. And ultimately, life would be trumped by death.

And as he notes in this passage, even while man lives, he experiences the inevitability of injustice. Where he expects to see righteousness rule and reign, he instead finds wickedness. Solomon describes life lived “under the sun” as a disappointing and difficult experience, and the only silver lining he can find in this dark cloud of despair is his belief that God will judge the righteous and the wicked. But it is likely that Solomon is not thinking of a future judgment related to the end of the world and the eternal state. He has his eyes fixed solidly on the here-and-now. Consider his closing statement in this passage. “Who can bring him [man] to see what will be after him?” (Ecclesiastes 3:22 ESV).

The idea of a future judgment was almost impossible for Solomon to fathom. His perspective was immersed in the present, bound by time, and hampered by his inability to see anything beyond the grave.

Two different times in this passage, Solomon uses the phrase, “I said in my heart.” This is a statement of deep reflection. He is wrestling with substantive issues, turning them over in his mind, and trying to come to some sort of resolution. He is attempting to use his wisdom to reconcile his many observations concerning life’s inequities and futile inevitabilities, and he draws some less-than-encouraging conclusions.

These verses are not random, off-the-cuff thoughts, but the well-reasoned reflections of a man who has spent countless hours struggling to resolve what he believes to be concerning contradictions. And yet, so much of what he has concluded is wrong. His views on life and man’s existence lack a divine perspective. Yes, he acknowledges the existence of God and even concedes the sovereignty of God over all things. But he views God as nothing more than a distant deity, far removed from everyday life, who stands in detached judgment over the affairs of man. In fact, when considering the human condition from his limited earthly perspective, Solomon concludes, “God proves to people that they are like animals” (Ecclesiastes 3:18 NLT).

That view of God fails to focus on His love, mercy, and grace and exposes Solomon’s  lack of an intimate and interpersonal relationship with the Almighty. While Solomon was the son of David, he did not share his father’s opinion about God. Compare the rather pessimistic conclusions of Solomon to those of his father.

But you, Lord, are a shield that protects me;
   you are my glory and the one who restores me.
To the Lord I cried out,
   and he answered me from his holy hill. – Psalm 3:3-4 NLT

You make me happier
   than those who have abundant grain and wine.
I will lie down and sleep peacefully,
   for you, Lord, make me safe and secure. – Psalm 4:7-8 NLT

But as for me, because of your great faithfulness I will enter your house;
I will bow down toward your holy temple as I worship you. – Psalm 5:7 NLT

David had a deep and abiding love for God and saw Him as intimately involved in the everyday affairs of his life. His God was personal and relatable, not distant and disconnected. But for Solomon, God was little more than a powerful, unseen force, directing the affairs of life and determining the destinies of men with a certain degree of detachment and disinterest. In fact, Solomon accuses God of using His divine power to prove to men that they are little better than beasts.
For people and animals share the same fate—both breathe and both must die. So people have no real advantage over the animals. How meaningless! – Ecclesiastes 3:19 NLT
Yet David had a remarkably different perspective.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
    and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
    and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
    and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth! – Psalm 8:3-9 ESV

David fully acknowledged the inferior nature of man when compared to the majesty of Almighty God but he also recognized man’s God-given status as the crowning achievement of creation.

Yet, all Solomon seemed to see was the fact that men were doomed to the same fate as animals. Death and decay await them both. And Solomon further expresses his dire outlook by asking the question, “who can prove that the human spirit goes up and the spirit of animals goes down into the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3:21 NLT).

In other words, what guarantee do we have that there is something out there after death? How do we know that there is any existence beyond the grave? You can begin to see why Solomon reached the conclusion, “there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can” (Ecclesiastes 3:12 NLT).

When he considered the fact that the wise and the foolish both end their lives in death, he concluded, “there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work” (Ecclesiastes 2:24 NLT).

Enjoy it while you can. That seems to be Solomon’s philosophy of life. Since he had no guarantee of what would happen after death, he was going to grab for all the gusto he could in this life. He resigned himself to the reality that this is all there is, which led him to say, “I saw that there is nothing better for people than to be happy in their work. That is our lot in life” (Ecclesiastes 3:22 NLT).

But notice that he has relegated all of life to this world. He displays no concept of eternity or the hereafter. Once again, a comparison of the mindset of Solomon with that of his own father reveals a startling disparity in their viewpoints. David repeatedly expressed his belief in the eternal nature of his relationship with God.

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever. – Psalm 23:6 NLT

I have asked the Lord for one thing—
   this is what I desire!
I want to live in the Lord’s house all the days of my life,
   so I can gaze at the splendor of the Lord
and contemplate in his temple. – Psalm 27:4 NLT

Let me live forever in your sanctuary, safe beneath the shelter of your wings! – Psalm 61:4 NLT

There is little doubt that life can be filled with injustices. We all know that death is inevitable and inescapable. But we have an assurance from God that all injustices will one day be rectified. It may not be in our lifetime, but we can rest assured that God will ultimately replace all wickedness with righteousness. He will mete out justice to all those who have lived their lives by taking advantage of the innocent and abusing the helpless. And while the fall brought the inescapable reality of death to God’s creation, He plans to redeem and restore all that He has made.

And for those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ, we have the assurance that our existence does not end with our death, because He died so that we might live. And nobody expresses this reality better than the apostle Paul.

For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now. Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance. – Romans 8:22-25 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

The Insatiable Thirst For More

1 I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man.

So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. 10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 ESV

Pleasure, laughter, wine, work, possessions. Solomon was on a quest. He was a man on a desperate search for meaning in life. Blessed by God with remarkable wisdom and abundant wealth, he found himself in the seemingly enviable position of being able to afford all that his heart could desire. But that was the problem. Enough was never enough. Despite all of his purchases, possessions, and pleasures, he remained discontent, lacking any sense of fulfillment or satisfaction.

So, he used his wisdom to investigate all the options available to him, and because of his great wealth and influence as king, there was little he could not acquire. And in this chapter, Solomon provides us with a glimpse into the somewhat hedonistic experiment that became his life.

One of the contributing factors to Solomon’s dilemma was likely the peace that marked his reign. Unlike his father, David, Solomon ruled during a time in Israel’s history when the nation enjoyed unprecedented peace and prosperity. The book of First Kings describes the situation.

The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They were very contented, with plenty to eat and drink. Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River in the north to the land of the Philistines and the border of Egypt in the south. The conquered peoples of those lands sent tribute money to Solomon and continued to serve him throughout his lifetime. – 1 Kings 4:20-21 NLT

Solomon’s dominion extended over all the kingdoms west of the Euphrates River, from Tiphsah to Gaza. And there was peace on all his borders. During the lifetime of Solomon, all of Judah and Israel lived in peace and safety. And from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, each family had its own home and garden.1 Kings 4:24-25 NLT

David had spent the entirety of his reign fighting the enemies of Israel and extending the borders of the nation, and his son inherited the kingdom he had established. That left Solomon with little to do, other than maintain what he had been given. So, he went on a building spree. He constructed an opulent palace for himself that took 13 years to complete. He also built a temple for Yahweh, in fulfillment of his father’s dream. But Solomon didn’t stop there.

It took Solomon twenty years to build the Lord’s Temple and his own royal palace. At the end of that time, Solomon turned his attention to rebuilding the towns that King Hiram had given him, and he settled Israelites in them.

Solomon also fought against the town of Hamath-zobah and conquered it. He rebuilt Tadmor in the wilderness and built towns in the region of Hamath as supply centers. He fortified the towns of Upper Beth-horon and Lower Beth-horon, rebuilding their walls and installing barred gates. He also rebuilt Baalath and other supply centers and constructed towns where his chariots and horses could be stationed. He built everything he desired in Jerusalem and Lebanon and throughout his entire realm. – 2 Chronicles 8:1-6 NLT

Solomon built. But none of these massive construction projects brought him lasting satisfaction. So, he set his sights on the pursuit of pleasure.

I said to myself, “Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the ‘good things’ in life.” But I found that this, too, was meaningless. – Ecclesiastes 2:1 NLT

This wasn’t a case of Solomon running headlong into a life of unbridled hedonism. His pleasure quest was well orchestrated and the byproduct of an inquiring mind. Like a scientist in search of a cure for a deadly disease, Solomon was looking for the source of man’s satisfaction and significance.

Being king was not enough. He had discovered that great wealth and unparalleled wisdom were insufficient sources for providing satisfaction. So, he attempted to fill the void with pleasure. He dabbled in wine, architecture, horticulture, and ranching. He purchased countless slaves to serve him and meet his every desire. He surrounded himself with concubines, literally hundreds of them, whose sole purpose in life was to satisfy his sensual desires. He filled his vaults with gold and silver and his palace with the sounds of singers.

Solomon was on a never-ending quest for meaning in life. And he lived by the motto: “Enough is never enough.” In fact, he stated, “Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors” (Ecclesiastes 2:10 NLT).

But none of it brought lasting satisfaction. He describes his efforts as producing nothing more than vanity or futility. It had no more profitable than trying to chase and capture the wind. It had all ended in a dead end of frustration and futility. His accumulation of material goods had left him surrounded by all the trappings of success, but the void in his life remained. He had hundreds of wives and concubines, thousands of slaves and servants, and countless admirers and courtiers, but Solomon was a lonely and discontented man.

It would be a mistake to assert that Solomon received no pleasure or satisfaction from the many things listed in this passage. He most certainly did. The sex was probably satisfying, for the moment. But the satisfaction didn’t last. The gold and silver made his extravagant lifestyle possible and brought him short periods of happiness, but no lasting joy. The palace in which he lived provided all the comforts he could ever desire, but it couldn’t make him content.

Solomon was learning the difficult life lesson that acquisition and accumulation are lousy substitutes for a vital relationship with God. Only He can satisfy our deepest longings and desires. The blessings of God are never intended to be a substitute for God. Somewhere along the way, Solomon had lost sight of his father’s warnings. Nearing the end of his life, David had given his son some final words of wisdom, encouraging him to remain faithful to God.

“I am going where everyone on earth must someday go. 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 2:2-4 NLT

And while the early years of Solomon’s reign were marked by faithfulness, it didn’t take long before he began to allow his wealth and power to turn him away from God. He became self-sufficient and self-reliant and began to fill his life with everything but God. He even began to worship other gods, the sad result of his marriages to hundreds of women from other cultures who brought their pagan idols with them.

Solomon forgot God and he lost sight of the fact that his wisdom and wealth had been gifts to him from God. The minute he began to think that he was a self-made man, he began his descent toward self-destruction. Yes, he maintained all the outward signs of success, portraying to all those around him the visible manifestations of extreme affluence. To everyone else, he looked like a man who had it all. He was handsome, wealthy, and powerful. He was admired and envied by all. Kings and queens found themselves jealous of his success, looking on in awestruck wonder at his many accomplishments and extensive political influence.

But it was all a facade, a house of cards. It added up to nothing and provided Solomon with no lasting satisfaction. This great king, like everyone else who has ever lived, was learning the painful lesson that possessions always end up possessing their owner. What we hope will deliver us, almost always ends up enslaving us. And thousands of years later, Jesus, a descendant of Solomon, would speak these powerful words of warning:

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. – Matthew 6:19-21 NLT

And the apostle Paul would echo the words of Jesus when he wrote to his young protege, Timothy.

Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life. – 1 Timothy 6:17-19 NLT

Solomon had taken his eyes off of God and made the fateful mistake of placing his hope in anything and everything but God. He found himself mired in a never-ending cycle of accumulation and acquisition that always ends in dissatisfaction. In his quest to know the meaning of life, Solomon forgot what it meant to know God, the author of life.

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. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Wine, Women, and Words

1 The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him:

What are you doing, my son? What are you doing, son of my womb?
    What are you doing, son of my vows?
Do not give your strength to women,
    your ways to those who destroy kings.
It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
    it is not for kings to drink wine,
    or for rulers to take strong drink,
lest they drink and forget what has been decreed
    and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.
Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,
    and wine to those in bitter distress;
let them drink and forget their poverty
    and remember their misery no more.
Open your mouth for the mute,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
    defend the rights of the poor and needy. – Proverbs 31:1-9 ESV

These proverbs are presented as the words of King Lemuel and the first nine verses come in the form of an oracle taught to him by his mother. The Hebrew word translated as “oracle” is maśśā’ and it refers to a message with a heavy burden. These are weighty or substantive teachings that were passed down from mother to son and then collected for distribution in Solomon’s book of Proverbs.

It would appear that Lemuel was a foreign king because his name appears nowhere in the chronicles of the kings of Israel of Judah. He could have been a proselyte to Judaism and, therefore, a worshiper of Yahweh. His mother, the former queen, could have been a descendant of Abraham or a convert to Judaism who passed down her faith to her young son. If the remainder of the chapter is biographical in nature and refers to Lemuel’s mother, it would be safe to say that she was a godly woman and had a tremendous influence on her son.

Verses 2-9 are the loving words of a mother to her son but they are rather unique in that they address the dangers facing a king. These words of warning come from someone who seems to have had firsthand experience in the matters she raises. As the former queen, it is likely that she had seen her husband, Lemuel’s father, struggle with these matters.

Her words are rather succinct and deal with three main topics: Women, wine, and words. She presents the first two as potential hazards to be avoided. It is not that either is particularly evil but that, for a king, they can prove to be dangerous and even deadly. Perhaps her husband had been a philanderer who allowed his love for women to destroy his marriage and weaken his kingdom.

Over the centuries, there has been repeated speculation that Lemuel was a pen name for Solomon. That would make the mother referred to in this chapter none other than Bathsheba. She would have had ample knowledge of the seductive influence that a woman can have on a man. And she knew what it was like to be the target of a man’s fatal attraction. After all, as a married woman, she had been seduced by King David and committed adultery with him. In an attempt to cover up the son their sin produced, David had Bathsheba’s husband murdered. He then took Bathsheba to be his wife and she bore him a son, the fruit of their adulterous affair. But that son died in infancy, a punishment from God for David’s transgression. Then God blessed Bathsheba with another son, Solomon.

And when Solomon grew up and ascended to the throne of his father, it would make sense that Bathsheba would express concern about his apparent weakness for women.

“What are you doing, my son? What are you doing, son of my womb?
    What are you doing, son of my vows?
Do not give your strength to women,
    your ways to those who destroy kings. – Proverbs 31:2-3 ESV

The book of 1 Kings paints a rather lurid picture of Solomon’s attraction to the opposite sex.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The LORD had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the LORD.

In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the LORD his God, as his father, David, had been. – 1 Kings 11:1-4 NLT

Whether Lemuel was Solomon’s pseudonym and the loving mother in this passage was Bathsheba is all nothing more than speculation. But the biography of Solomon provides ample evidence that the maternal counsel found in this passage is more than merited.

But she didn’t stop there. She also warned her son about the dangers of wine.

It is not for kings, O Lemuel, to guzzle wine.
    Rulers should not crave alcohol. – Proverbs 31:4 NLT

This loving mother seems to have firsthand experience with the dangers of alcohol. Perhaps she had watched Lemuel’s father struggle with controlling his consumption of wine and had seen how it had negatively impacted his ability to rule wisely. So, she pleads with her son to practice moderation and self-control. Notice her words. She does not forbid the use of alcohol but warns against its abuse. Lemuel is not to “guzzle” wine. He is not to “crave alcohol.” In other words, Lemuel is to avoid addictive behavior.

While the Scriptures do not completely prohibit the use of alcohol, there are plenty of verses that warn against it. And while there are some religious groups that abuse and misinterpret these verses, there are just as many that ignore them altogether.

In our desire to justify our use of alcohol, we tend to portray the Scriptures as seemingly silent on the topic. But repeatedly in the Book of Proverbs, we have seen Solomon warn his sons about the inherent dangers of alcohol consumption. In Proverbs 31, King Lemuel is warned against drinking to excess. This passage isn’t prohibiting the use of alcohol. In fact, in those days, to deny the use of alcohol in the court of a king would have been unheard of. It would have been absurd.

But excessive use of alcohol should be avoided at all times, especially by those who hold positions of responsibility and authority over the lives of others. The problem is that alcohol distorts the senses, muddies the mind, and can lead to poor decision-making. Whether you’re a king, national leader, company president, or a parent, the last thing you should want is to have your mind clouded by alcohol, rendering your judgment impaired and your ability to perform your responsibilities diminished.

There are far too many stories concerning wives whose husbands have struggled with a drinking problem. In many cases, these men were hard workers and loving husbands and fathers, who allowed alcohol to destroy their ability to lead and protect as they should. As Lemuel is warned, when they drink, they tend to make unwise decisions. They lose the capacity to think and rule wisely. Under the influence of alcohol, “they may forget the law and not give justice to the oppressed” (Proverbs 31:5 NLT).

They lose their moral bearings, their sense of right and wrong, and their understanding of justice. In the end, they make poor decisions that put their families at risk – financially, emotionally, and even physically. Alcohol in all its forms can be deadening and even deadly. Solomon warns us, “Wine produces mockers; alcohol leads to brawls. Those led astray by drink cannot be wise” (Proverbs 20:1 NLT). Here are a few of the other admonitions about wine and alcohol in the Book of Proverbs:

Those who love pleasure become poor;
    those who love wine and luxury will never be rich. – Proverbs 21:17 NLT

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

Don’t gaze at the wine, seeing how red it is,
    how it sparkles in the cup, how smoothly it goes down.
For in the end it bites like a poisonous snake;
    it stings like a viper.
You will see hallucinations,
    and you will say crazy things.
You will stagger like a sailor tossed at sea,
    clinging to a swaying mast. – Proverbs 23:30-34 NLT

In Proverbs, wine and mixed drinks are closely associated with the wicked and the immoral woman. It is almost always used in the sense of excess and over-indulgence. It appeals to the sensual side of man. It can dull our senses and feed the sinful side of our sensual nature.

There is a need for wisdom when it comes to the use of alcohol. We must be fully aware of its dangers. We must acknowledge its ability to impact and impair our judgment. It is a mind-altering, mood-enhancing substance that, if used wisely and appropriately, can have positive benefits. But it can also be misused and abused. It can destroy and divide. It can be used to escape reality and avoid responsibility. It can bring pleasure but it can also produce immoral behavior.

The final word of motherly advice has to do with words. Lemuel’s mother warns him to watch his tongue. Just as women and wine can have a negative influence, so can words. As a king, Lemuel wielded tremendous power. With a word, he could condemn or commend. He could use his authority for good or evil. So, she calls on her son to use his sovereign power to protect the less fortunate within his kingdom.

Open your mouth for the mute,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
    defend the rights of the poor and needy. – Proverbs 31:8-9 NLT

A wise king understands that he serves God and acts as a steward of His divine authority. God defends the downtrodden and disadvantaged and He expects His vice-regent to do the same. Lemuel’s mother wanted her son to use the power inherent in his words for the good of all. She longed for him to judge righteously and to rule wisely.

Women, wine, and words. These three simple topics have the capacity to make or break any man, especially a king. And Lemuel’s mother loved him enough to warn him to tread carefully with all three.

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. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Taming of the Tongue

17 Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own
    is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.
18 Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death
19 is the man who deceives his neighbor
    and says, “I am only joking!”
20 For lack of wood the fire goes out,
    and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.
21 As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire,
    so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.
22 The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels;
    they go down into the inner parts of the body.
23 Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel
    are fervent lips with an evil heart.
24 Whoever hates disguises himself with his lips
    and harbors deceit in his heart;
25 when he speaks graciously, believe him not,
    for there are seven abominations in his heart;
26 though his hatred be covered with deception,
    his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.
27 Whoever digs a pit will fall into it,
    and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.
28 A lying tongue hates its victims,
    and a flattering mouth works ruin.
– Proverbs 26:17-28 ESV

When I think of the Proverbs I can’t help but think about the fool. This collection of wise sayings from the pen of Solomon contains a large number of references to the fool and foolish behavior. It also mentions other behavior closely associated with the fool, such as laziness, lying, dishonesty, unreliability, and an uncontrolled tongue. Some of the things Solomon has to say about fools seem humorous when you read them, but they are meant to be taken seriously. “Honoring a fool is as foolish as tying a stone to a slingshot” (Proverbs 26:8 NLT). The image this Proverb conjures up is meant to be ridiculous and ludicrous. Nobody in their right mind would do something as silly as tying a stone to a sling. It makes no sense. It would serve no purpose. It would be a waste of time. And that’s exactly Solomon’s point. Showering honor on a fool is useless and will produce no beneficial results. As The Message paraphrases this verse, honoring a fool would be “like setting a mud brick on a marble column.” Absolutely ridiculous.

So why does Solomon have it out for fools? Why does he have such strong words of warning against foolish people and foolish behavior? Because he understands the danger they pose to themselves and to society. In Solomon’s mind, fools are the epitome of the person who lives their life as if there is no God. David, Solomon’s father, had warned him early on in life, “Only fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good” (Psalm 53:1 NLT). In the minds of David and Solomon, the fool was not some innocent, bumbling buffoon who just happened to be a few bricks short of a full load. No, fools were a danger to society because they failed to honor God with their lives. Fools were pariahs and a drain on society, because of their refusal to work and their tendency to excuse their laziness with lies. They didn’t carry their load and were not to be trusted or tolerated. In this section of chapter 26, the emphasis seems to be on their words, which were worthless because they refused to listen to the wisdom of God.

Fools are just as prevalent today as they were in Solomon’s day. But we have become so much more tolerant of them. We have fools in places of power and influence. We watch fools entertain us on TV and in the movies, then listen intently as they share their words of wisdom with us on everything from marriage to politics and religion. We idolize and envy them for their lifestyles of excess and hedonism. Our government is well-stocked with fools who use clever words and inspiring speeches to win over constituents and solidify their power base. Yet as Solomon warns:

Smooth words may hide a wicked heart,
    just as a pretty glaze covers a clay pot.

People may cover their hatred with pleasant words,
    but they’re deceiving you.
They pretend to be kind, but don’t believe them.
    Their hearts are full of many evils.Proverbs 26:23-25 NLT

And fools populate the body of Christ as well. Yes, you can be a believer in Jesus Christ and still live like a fool. A fool is simply someone who actively spurns the ways of God. He lives his life as if there is no God in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And the fool is one who hears God’s call but refuses to listen. The Christian fool is the man or woman who is spiritually lazy, avoiding the effort demanded to live according to God’s standards. They refuse to spend time in God’s Word, making up all kinds of excuses. They want the benefits of godliness without putting in any effort. They learn to cover what is really in their hearts with “smooth words.” They pretend to be something they’re not, and they are a danger to the body of Christ. Foolishness is the opposite of wisdom. It is the natural and unavoidable consequence of a life lived apart from the life-changing wisdom of God found in His Word. Avoid the fool at all costs. Avoid foolishness at all costs.

And do everything in your power and with the Holy Spirit’s help to avoid sounding like a fool. It’s amazing how much the Book of Proverbs has to say about the tongue, which is just another way of talking about what comes out of our mouths. From flattery to lying, gossip to arguing, and rumors to wise words, there are countless passages that warn us about watching what we say. But as challenging as it is to keep a close eye on our tongue and the words it produces, we must also be wary of the words others speak to us.

It is amazing just how susceptible we can be to the words of others. As human beings, we can be so desperate for praise that we become easy prey for those who have less-than-righteous objectives. We can easily be taken in by flattery and false praise, which can be a dangerous mistake to make.

Solomon warns us to look beyond the words themselves to the heart of the one speaking. Words can be used to hide true motives, disguise intent, and distract the hearer by telling them what they want to hear. Like colorful glaze used to cover a drab clay pot, smooth-sounding words may be just a cover up to dress up what’s really there.

These kinds of people know full well what they’re doing. They’re hiding what’s really in their hearts and attempting to make you think that all is well. This can happen between a husband and wife, a parent and child, two friends, or two fellow believers. The real danger is that because we can be so susceptible to smooth words, we end up soaking in what they’re saying like a dry sponge. We’re so desperate to hear words of praise and flattery that we fail to consider the source or think about the intent.

Solomon makes it clear that he is talking about those who have wicked hearts that are filled with evil. He is warning us against people who have a reputation for hatred and wrongdoing. And yet, we can find ourselves actually buying into their lies because we find their deceptive words so appealing. We can be so desirous of kind words, that we will accept from even the most suspect source. But Solomon warns, “Don’t believe them!”

They’re lying. They don’t believe what they’re saying and you shouldn’t either. Consider the source. Think carefully about the heart of the one praising you. “A lying tongue hates its victims, and flattering words cause ruin” (Proverbs 26:28 NLT). Do not allow your need for praise to numb you to the truth.

In Greek mythology, the Sirens were portrayed as dangerous and devious creatures, who usually took the form of beautiful women in distress and lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices. Casting caution to the wind and falling prey to the flattering cry of the Sirens, these seasoned sailors would steer their ships directly into the rocks along the coastline, resulting in their own deaths.

Remember, “They pretend to be kind, but don’t believe them. Their hearts are full of many evils” (Proverbs 26:25 NLT). The wisdom of God gives discernment. It opens our eyes to the truth. Without it, we will listen to the smooth words and be deceived by the glossy veneer. To our own detriment. Don’t listen to the Siren’s call.

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. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Apples of Gold in a Setting of Silver

11 A word fitly spoken
    is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
12 Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold
    is a wise reprover to a listening ear.
13 Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest
    is a faithful messenger to those who send him;
    he refreshes the soul of his masters.
14 Like clouds and wind without rain
    is a man who boasts of a gift he does not give.

15 With patience a ruler may be persuaded,
    and a soft tongue will break a bone.
16 If you have found honey, eat only enough for you,
    lest you have your fill of it and vomit it.
17 Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor’s house,
    lest he have his fill of you and hate you.
18 A man who bears false witness against his neighbor
    is like a war club, or a sword, or a sharp arrow.
19 Trusting in a treacherous man in time of trouble
    is like a bad tooth or a foot that slips.
20 Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart
    is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day,
    and like vinegar on soda.
21 If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,
    and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,
22 for you will heap burning coals on his head,
    and the Lord will reward you.
23 The north wind brings forth rain,
    and a backbiting tongue, angry looks.
24 It is better to live in a corner of the housetop
    than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.
25 Like cold water to a thirsty soul,
    so is good news from a far country.
26 Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain
    is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.
27 It is not good to eat much honey,
    nor is it glorious to seek one’s own glory.
28 A man without self-control
    is like a city broken into and left without walls. – Proverbs 25:11-28 ESV

This collection of Solomonic proverbs, compiled by King Hezekiah’s team of sages, seems to have a regal focus to it. As official employees of the king, these men put together a list of wise sayings that would have particular application to their employer. In other words, these were proverbs fit for a king. They were just the kind of timeless insights that Hezekiah would find beneficial as he attempted to lead the nation of Judah as God’s vice-regent.

Wisdom is not reserved for the wealthy and powerful but is available to anyone who fears the Lord. But it is an essential prerequisite for the man whom God has tasked with shepherding His flock. It was said of Solomon’s own father, that God “chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds…to shepherd Jacob his people” (Psalm 78:70-71 ESV). And that same Psalm goes on to say that “with upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand” (Psalm 78:72 ESV).

David was inherently wise because he had a heart for God. In fact, the Scriptures make it clear that David was chosen by God because of the disposition of his heart, not his resume of accomplishments.

“But God removed Saul and replaced him with David, a man about whom God said, ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart. He will do everything I want him to do.’” – Acts 13:22 NLT

When Samuel had been tasked with the unenviable job of finding a replacement for the disobedient King Saul, God had given his prophet the following selection criteria:

“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7 ESV

A heart-healthy king is also a wise king. He understands the ways of God. He longs to discover the hidden truths that God has concealed from the foolish and ungodly.

It is God’s privilege to conceal things
    and the king’s privilege to discover them. – Proverbs 25:2 NLT

So, this five-chapter section of the book of Proverbs is filled with additional wise sayings that had been vetted by King Hezekiah’s crack team of researchers. They had discovered proverbs that Solomon had originally collected but that had been lost or simply neglected over time.

An apt description of these sayings is found in verse 11 of this chapter.

Timely advice is lovely,
    like golden apples in a silver basket. – Proverbs 25:11 NLT

Though more than 250 years had passed since these proverbs had first been compiled by Solomon, they remained as relevant as ever. These were timeless truths that held never-fading value because they were of God.

Even divine insight that comes in the form of correction proves beneficial to anyone who will accept it as a gift from God.

To one who listens, valid criticism
    is like a gold earring or other gold jewelry. – Proverbs 25:12 NLT

These proverbs deal with practical, everyday issues that impact both kings and commoners. They contain insights into everything from finding someone you can trust to deliver important news (verse 13) to learning how to control your appetite (verse 16). It is almost as if the men who collected these sayings had King Hezekiah in mind when they compiled the final list. You can almost hear them saying, “This would be a good one for Hezekiah to hear.” Verse 19 is a perfect case in point.

Putting confidence in an unreliable person in times of trouble
    is like chewing with a broken tooth or walking on a lame foot. – Proverbs 25:19 NLT

This is just the kind of advice a king would need to hear. And because a king would never have a shortage of adversaries, verses 21-22 would be of particular help.

If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat.
    If they are thirsty, give them water to drink.
You will heap burning coals of shame on their heads,
    and the Lord will reward you. – Proverbs 25:21-22 NLT

And a king who acquiesced to the demands of the wicked or allowed the ungodly to influence his decisions would prove to be a risk to the nation’s well-being.

If the godly give in to the wicked,
    it’s like polluting a fountain or muddying a spring. – Proverbs 25:26 NLT

A man in Hezekiah’s position always faced the risk of having his reign contaminated by men of disreputable character. There would always be flatterers around who used their access to the king to promote their own agendas and pad their own pockets. So, a wise king would need to constrain his appetite for praise and practice self-control.

It’s not good to eat too much honey,
    and it’s not good to seek honors for yourself.

A person without self-control
    is like a city with broken-down walls. – Proverbs 25:27-28 NLT

Because “If the godly give in to the wicked, it’s like polluting a fountain or muddying a spring” (Proverbs 25:26 NLT). Wise sayings are only valuable if they are heeded and applied. Wisdom is of little use if it is not put into practical use. And a king who surrounds himself with the wrong kind of advisers will end up making the wrong kind of decisions. And there is no better illustration of this truth than the life of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon and the heir to his throne.

The book of 1 Kings records what happened after Solomon had died and his son, Rehoboam had taken over the leadership of his kingdom. He had inherited a divided kingdom and faced rebellion from the tribes in the north, so he gathered the people together in Shechem and heard their complaint.

“Your father was a hard master,” they said. “Lighten the harsh labor demands and heavy taxes that your father imposed on us. Then we will be your loyal subjects.” – 1 Kings 12:4 NLT

They were demanding that Rehoboam correct the excesses of his father and treat the people with greater honor and respect. So, in response, Rehoboam “discussed the matter with the older men who had counseled his father, Solomon” (1 Kings 12:6 NLT). He sought the advice of these older and wiser men, and they gave him their counsel.

“If you are willing to be a servant to these people today and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your loyal subjects.” – Proverbs 12:7 NLT

In a sense, these men offered up “apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11 ESV), but Rehoboam “Rehoboam rejected the advice of the older men and instead asked the opinion of the young men who had grown up with him and were now his advisers” (1 Kings 12:8 NLT). He refused to listen to take the wise counsel of his elders but instead to the more ear-tickling advice of his peers.

The young men replied, “This is what you should tell those complainers who want a lighter burden: ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist! Yes, my father laid heavy burdens on you, but I’m going to make them even heavier! My father beat you with whips, but I will beat you with scorpions!’”  – 1 Kings 11:10-11 NLT

And the unwise Rehoboam accepted the advice of his young friends, creating an immediate and irreparable disaster for his new kingship.

When all Israel realized that the king had refused to listen to them, they responded,

“Down with the dynasty of David!
    We have no interest in the son of Jesse.
Back to your homes, O Israel!
    Look out for your own house, O David!” – 1 Kings 12:16 NLT

Things did not turn out well for Rehoboam. He had been given the opportunity to do the right thing; to rule with wisdom and integrity, but he had chosen to take a different path. And rather than ruling over the 12 tribes of Israel as his father had done. he would end up with a kingdom consisting of two tribes: Judah and Benjamin. And the rest is history.

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. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Lessons for Leaders

1 These also are proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied.

It is the glory of God to conceal things,
    but the glory of kings is to search things out.
As the heavens for height, and the earth for depth,
    so the heart of kings is unsearchable.
Take away the dross from the silver,
    and the smith has material for a vessel;
take away the wicked from the presence of the king,
    and his throne will be established in righteousness.
Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence
    or stand in the place of the great,
for it is better to be told, “Come up here,”
    than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.

What your eyes have seen
    do not hastily bring into court,
for what will you do in the end,
    when your neighbor puts you to shame?
Argue your case with your neighbor himself,
    and do not reveal another’s secret,
10 lest he who hears you bring shame upon you,
    and your ill repute have no end. – Proverbs 25:1-10 ESV

Chapter 25 begins a new and somewhat controversial section of the book of Proverbs. The opening line identifies what follows as a group of proverbs compiled by “the men of Hezekiah king of Judah.”

King Hezekiah reigned over the southern kingdom of Judah from 715-686 B.C., some 250 years after God divided Solomon’s kingdom in half. During the latter years of his life, Solomon proved to be unfaithful to God, choosing to worship the idols of his many foreign wives.

So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods. – 1 Kings 11:6-8 ESV

As a result of Solomon’s disobedience, God declared that He was going to split the kingdom of Israel in two.

“Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant. Yet for the sake of David your father I will not do it in your days, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son. However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem that I have chosen.” – 1 Kings 11:10-13 ESV

Two and a half centuries later, Hezekiah would become the king of the southern kingdom of Judah. And he would prove to be one of the few godly kings that either the nation of Judah or the northern kingdom of Israel would ever experience.

[Hezekiah]…did what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. And every work that he undertook in the service of the house of God and in accordance with the law and the commandments, seeking his God, he did with all his heart, and prospered. – 2 Chronicles 31:20-21 ESV

According to verse one, a group of officials within King Hezekiah’s court was given the task of collecting additional wise sayings attributed to King Solomon and adding them to the book of Proverbs. This addendum extends from chapter 25 all the way through chapter 29. Over the years, there has been some scholarly debate as to the historical value of these five chapters. The questions concerning their veracity revolve around whether or not they can truly be attributed to Solomon. But verse one clearly claims that they are “proverbs of Solomon.”

What sets these sayings apart is their emphasis on the king and the comparisons made between his rule and reign and that of God. It would appear that these are still wise sayings that Solomon shared with his sons, but they were compiled by Hezekiah’s sages due to their obvious application to the king and his descendants.

The very first saying sets the tone for what is to follow by making a direct comparison between God, the all-powerful divine sovereign, and human kings.

It is the glory of God to conceal things,
    but the glory of kings is to search things out. – Proverbs 25:2 ESV

And all throughout the next five chapters, the sayings will maintain a sharp focus on the relationship between ruling and wisdom.

Remove the wicked from the king’s court,
    and his reign will be made secure by justice. – Proverbs 25:5 NLT

Don’t demand an audience with the king
    or push for a place among the great.
It’s better to wait for an invitation to the head table
    than to be sent away in public disgrace. – Proverbs 25:6-7 NLT

Know the state of your flocks,
    and put your heart into caring for your herds,
for riches don’t last forever,
    and the crown might not be passed to the next generation. – Proverbs 27:23-24 NLT

When there is moral rot within a nation, its government topples easily.
    But wise and knowledgeable leaders bring stability. – Proverbs 28:2 NLT

A wicked ruler is as dangerous to the poor
    as a roaring lion or an attacking bear.

A ruler with no understanding will oppress his people,
    but one who hates corruption will have a long life. – Proverbs 28:15-16 NLT

When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice.
    But when the wicked are in power, they groan. – Proverbs 29:2 NLT

The men who collected these sayings seemed to have been heavily influenced by their relationship with the king. This appendix to Solomon’s collection of proverbs contains wise sayings that have direct implications for not only Hezekiah but any ruler who might ascend to the throne and rule over God’s chosen people. They viewed the man who wore the crown as a God-appointed agent who served at Yahweh’s behest and was dependent upon godly wisdom to rule effectively.

In a real sense, the king was to be a visual representation of God. He was to model his rule and reign after that of the ultimate King and use his power and authority in such a way that the people were constantly reminded of God’s ultimate sovereignty. The king was to be a representative of God, acting on His behalf, administering His will, and caring for His flock. But from the very beginning, the people had desired a king other than God. In fact, they had demanded a human king who would stand in place of God. And God made the point painfully clear when He told the prophet, 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 8:7 ESV

Ultimately, the people wanted a human king, a powerful man who would provide them with protection and ensure their future security. And these proverbs collected by Hezekiah’s scribes and sages were intended to remind the king that his role was that of a representative of God, not His replacement. He would need wisdom, godly counsel, and an unwavering dependence upon the Almighty if his reign was to last and be effective.

It was the king’s duty to discover the deep and hidden things of God (verse 2). The king, as the divine representative, was to reflect the otherness or transcendence of God (verse 3). By listening to God and obeying His will, the king’s ways would in some ways be incomprehensible and difficult to understand. He would operate according to a different set of rules or standards. As Solomon recorded in a previous chapter, compiled some 250 years earlier:

The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the Lord;
    he guides it wherever he pleases. – Proverbs 21:1 ESV

It was essential that the king remain free from the influence of evil. He needed to quarantine his administration from wickedness in order to prevent contamination and potential corruption.

Remove the impurities from silver,
    and the sterling will be ready for the silversmith.
Remove the wicked from the king’s court,
    and his reign will be made secure by justice. – Proverbs 25:4-5 NLT

And the people were to treat the king with dignity and respect, affording him the same honor they would extend to God Himself.

Don’t demand an audience with the king
    or push for a place among the great.
It’s better to wait for an invitation to the head table
    than to be sent away in public disgrace. – Proverbs 25:6-7 NLT

The role of the king was God-ordained and the people were to treat the one who sat on the throne as having been placed there by God. It was the prophet, Daniel, who revealed the following words to Nebuchadnezzar, the powerful king of Babylon:

“Praise the name of God forever and ever,
    for he has all wisdom and power.
He controls the course of world events;
    he removes kings and sets up other kings.
He gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to the scholars.” – Daniel 2:20-21 NLT

And the apostle Paul would echo that same sentiment when he wrote to the believer in Rome who were living under the rule and reign of Caesar.

…all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. – Romans 12:1-2 NLT

In reality, there is and always has been just one King, who rules over all. Human kings are mere shadows of the one true King. They reflect His sovereignty but only in a flawed and incomplete way. Which is all the more reason that human kings need godly wisdom. Left to their own capacities, they will prove insufficient for the task. And hundreds of years earlier, a newly crowned and very young king Solomon, expressed his apprehension about serving as God’s vice-regent over the nation of Israel. He recognized his insufficiency and asked God for the one thing he would need to rule well and wisely.

“Now, O Lord my God, you have made me king instead of my father, David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted! Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?” – 1 Kings 3:7-9 NLT

Solomon had inherited a secure and powerful kingdom. He enjoyed wealth beyond belief. But he knew that those things would not be enough. What he really needed was wisdom. He understood that. in order to be successful in his role as king, he would need an understanding heart. He would need to be like his father, David, a man after God’s own heart. The success of his reign would be directly tied to the health of his relationship with God.

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. http://netbible.com 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. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Way of God Lived With God

1 The plans of the heart belong to man,
    but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.
All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,
    but the Lord weighs the spirit.
Commit your work to the Lord,
    and your plans will be established.
The Lord has made everything for its purpose,
    even the wicked for the day of trouble.
Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord;
    be assured, he will not go unpunished.
By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for,
    and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil.
When a man’s ways please the Lord,
    he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.
Better is a little with righteousness
    than great revenues with injustice.
The heart of man plans his way,
    but the Lord establishes his steps.
10 An oracle is on the lips of a king;
    his mouth does not sin in judgment.
11 A just balance and scales are the Lord’s;
    all the weights in the bag are his work.
12 It is an abomination to kings to do evil,
    for the throne is established by righteousness.
13 Righteous lips are the delight of a king,
    and he loves him who speaks what is right.
14 A king’s wrath is a messenger of death,
    and a wise man will appease it.
15 In the light of a king’s face there is life,
    and his favor is like the clouds that bring the spring rain.
– Proverbs 16:1-15 ESV

Notice how many times Solomon mentions a man’s ways, works, or plans.

We can make our own plans,
    but the Lord gives the right answer. – Proverbs 16:1 NLT

Commit your actions to the Lord,
    and your plans will succeed. – Proverbs 16:3 NLT

When a man’s ways please the Lord,
    he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. – Proverbs 16:7 ESV

We can make our plans,
    but the Lord determines our steps. – Proverbs 16:9 NLT

Wisdom isn’t just about what you know, but it also entails what you do with what you know. Even a man blessed with great wisdom can end up living like a fool if he fails to put all that knowledge to use. Wisdom is meant to be applied to daily life so that impacts our attitudes and actions.

While this Proverb appears to be a collection of disjointed one-liners that cover a variety of topics; on closer examination, there are two themes that run throughout the entire Proverb. One has to do with the path of our life and the plans we make to get where we think we’re supposed to go.

The other theme has to do with our speech or the words that come out of our mouths, and the impact they have on our lives and the lives of all those around us. The path we walk will end up affecting our speech and conduct. Throughout the Proverbs, life is pictured as a journey. It has a beginning and an end. There is a destination to life. And we are always thinking about where it is we’re going, how we’re going to get there, and why are journey is not turning out quite as we expected.

We make plans for our lives and those plans are ALWAYS influenced by something going on the inside as well as outside of ourselves. Jealousy, pride, self-centeredness, and the longing for power, possessions, and prominence can lead us down the wrong path. And choosing the errant path can have a huge impact on the way we live and the words we say.

This Proverb talks about wise speech, kind words, gossip, destructive words, righteous lips, and honest speech. The content of our speech is directly related to the conduct of our lives. Where we go will influence what we say. Foolish life choices will result in foolish words. But following the wise path will result in wise words.

So, who gets to decide the path of our lives? According to Solomon, we spend a lot of time trying to make arrangements and plans for the direction of our lives, but at the end of the day, God is the one who determines our steps.

A man may make designs for his way, but the Lord is the guide of his steps. – Proverbs 16:9 BBE

We may think we know what’s best for our lives, but only God truly knows how to get where we really need to go. In verse one, we read, “The intentions of the heart belong to a man, but the answer of the tongue comes from the Lord.”

This verse reminds us that we may arrange the contents of our minds and plan out all our thoughts, but it is God who gives us the capacity to put our thoughts into words. Plans become deeds. Thoughts become words. And both are related to the path we have chosen for our lives. We can choose to live our way or we can decide to live God’s way, to follow His path for our lives.

Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed. – Proverbs 16:3 NLT

Turn over the direction for your life to God. Allow Him to determine your path and you will discover it always leads in the right direction. Following His path not only leads to the right destination, but it also produces a life marked by godliness, wisdom, and righteousness. When it comes to choosing the right path for our lives, most of us have a lousy sense of direction.

There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death. – Proverbs 16:25 NLT

We need a GPS system. We need navigational assistance, and only God can provide it. Our way may seem right, but it will always turn out wrong. God’s way is the best way.

The highway of the upright is to turn away from evil; the one who guards his way safeguards his life. – Proverbs 16:17 NET

But there is more to life than simply choosing the right path. If we’re not careful, we can end up believing that, as long as we follow God’s will, all will be well. If we do things God’s way, we’ll never have to experience any trouble, trials, or tribulations.

“Unfailing love and faithfulness make atonement for sin. By fearing the Lord, people avoid evil.” – Proverbs 16:6 NLT

The entire book of Proverbs is like a compendium of sins, providing a running list of character traits and actions that flow from a life lived apart from God. It’s easy to read the book and simply walk away thinking that it’s up to us to choose a life of sin or a life of righteousness. It’s our responsibility to make the right choices and not the wrong ones. But NOT sinning will NOT make us righteous in God’s eyes. Not only that, according to the Scriptures, attempting to do righteous things will not win us brownie points with God either.

We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. – Isaiah 64:6 NLT

The apostle Paul reminds us, “As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous— not even one” (Romans 3:10 NLT). And where did he get that idea? From the pen of Solomon’s father, King David.

Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good! – Psalm 14:1 NLT

We can try and live a life marked by righteous deeds. We can attempt to say no to sin. But if we leave God out of the equation, we will inevitably fail. Man is incapable of living a righteous life on his own, and any attempts he makes to sin less will produce less-than-positive results. As is always the case throughout the book of Proverbs, the fear of the Lord is the key to avoiding sin and pleasing God. It all begins with our relationship with Him. In verse 6, we’re told that if we want to avoid sin, we have to fear God. It’s not about keeping a list of dos and don’ts. More good behavior and less bad behavior do not equal righteousness. That is NOT the formula for living a truly righteous, God-honoring life. But in this verse, we do get the answer or key to living a life that pleases God and allows us to avoid sin.

By fearing the Lord, people avoid sin. – Proverbs 16:6 NLT

But what does that mean? The NET Bible translates the first part of this verse, “Through loyal love and truth iniquity is appeased.” The word translated as “appeased” or “atoned for” in this verse means that God’s anger against sin is turned away and God views him as though he had not sinned.

God’s holiness and righteousness demand that he punishes sin. He is required by law to deal justly with sin, and the penalty for sin is death. But this verse tells us that if we come to God, expressing unfailing love and faithfulness to Him, which is another way of saying that we are repentant of our sin, the anger of God is appeased. Genuine repentance, demonstrated by loyalty and truthfulness, appeases the anger of God against one’s sin. But there is not a person alive who can truly atone for their own sin. Without the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, any attempt to atone for our own sins would be incomplete and insufficient to satisfy the just demands of God. Yet, because Jesus died in our place and took all our sins upon Himself, He was able to satisfy or appease God’s righteous wrath, so that God is now able to see us as righteous and sinless. Our sins were credited to Christ’s account and His righteousness was credited to ours.

Now, when we sin, we can repent by turning back to God in love and faithfulness, knowing that He will forgive any sin we commit because the debt has been paid in full by His Son on the cross. We can enjoy unbroken fellowship with God the Father simply by repenting of our sins and returning to Him. This attitude of humility and willing submission to Him is the fear of the Lord lived out in daily life, and it helps us avoid additional sin. Staying close to Him keeps us far from sin. When we stray from His presence, we get off the path He has determined for our lives and become easy prey for the enemy.

The Proverbs is not a list of righteous requirements we must keep in order to remain on good terms with God. It is a reminder that a life of holiness begins and ends with God. It begins and ends with a relationship with Him. He alone can make us holy. Recognizing our sins and repenting of them is how we show God we fear Him and acknowledge how much we need His help for staying on course. By fearing the Lord, people avoid sin. It all begins with God.

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. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

A Godly Inheritance

1 Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,
    and be attentive, that you may gain insight,
for I give you good precepts;
    do not forsake my teaching.
When I was a son with my father,
    tender, the only one in the sight of my mother,
he taught me and said to me,
“Let your heart hold fast my words;
    keep my commandments, and live.
Get wisdom; get insight;
    do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.
Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
    love her, and she will guard you.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
    and whatever you get, get insight.
Prize her highly, and she will exalt you;
    she will honor you if you embrace her.
She will place on your head a graceful garland;
    she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.”

10 Hear, my son, and accept my words,
    that the years of your life may be many.
11 I have taught you the way of wisdom;
    I have led you in the paths of uprightness.
12 When you walk, your step will not be hampered,
    and if you run, you will not stumble.
13 Keep hold of instruction; do not let go;
    guard her, for she is your life.
14 Do not enter the path of the wicked,
    and do not walk in the way of the evil.
15 Avoid it; do not go on it;
    turn away from it and pass on.
16 For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong;
    they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble.
17 For they eat the bread of wickedness
    and drink the wine of violence.
18 But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
    which shines brighter and brighter until full day.
19 The way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
    they do not know over what they stumble. – Proverbs 4:1-19 ESV

One of the things that makes wisdom so unique and invaluable is that it can be passed down from one generation to another. It is like a priceless heirloom that is willed from grandmother to granddaughter, or a valuable piece of property that becomes a permanent part of the family’s inheritance. While wisdom itself isn’t communicable or transferable, a love for wisdom can be. And a parent that models a lifestyle based on the wisdom of God creates a strong incentive for their children to do the same. Wise parents tend to raise wise children.

Solomon inherited his high regard for wisdom from his own father, King David. Solomon had grown up in the royal household and while his father had been renowned for his exploits as a warrior, David had also been a poet, musician, and a man well acquainted with wisdom. He had learned a great deal from God over his long and prosperous reign. And some of his thoughts concerning wisdom were recorded in his psalms.

The godly offer good counsel;
    they teach right from wrong.
They have made God’s law their own,
    so they will never slip from his path. – Psalm 37:30-31 NLT

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. – Psalm 51:6 ESV

There is little doubt that David passed along his love for wisdom to all his children, but he was particularly diligent about preparing Solomon, the designated successor to his throne. He knew from firsthand experience just how difficult the job of ruling and reigning as God’s shepherd could be. He was leaving Solomon a thriving kingdom and a well-stocked treasury. The majority of Israel’s enemies had been conquered and there would be little need for Solomon to worry about going to war. He could simply lead the nation into further prosperity and help encourage them to honor and reverence God.

But David knew that Solomon would need wisdom in order to lead well, and wisdom was accessible only from God Almighty. So, when David was nearing death, he called in his son and issued a series of wise warnings.

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 2:2-4 NLT

And David made sure that Solomon understood that wisdom was the byproduct of an intimate relationship with God.

“And Solomon, my son, learn to know the God of your ancestors intimately. Worship and serve him with your whole heart and a willing mind. For the Lord sees every heart and knows every plan and thought. If you seek him, you will find him. But if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.  So take this seriously. – 1 Chronicles 28:9-10 NLT

Yahweh and wisdom are inseparable. You can’t have one without the other. And, eventually, Solomon passed on this insight to his own son.

For I, too, was once my father’s son,
    tenderly loved as my mother’s only child.

My father taught me,
“Take my words to heart.
    Follow my commands, and you will live.
Get wisdom; develop good judgment.
    Don’t forget my words or turn away from them.
Don’t turn your back on wisdom, for she will protect you.
    Love her, and she will guard you. – Proverbs 4:3-6 NLT

Notice how Solomon’s description of wisdom mirrors David’s words concerning God. They are almost interchangeable. Solomon knew that his own wisdom had been a gift from God. When he had ascended the throne, God had visited Solomon in a dream and said to him, “Ask what I shall give you” (2 Chronicles 1:7 ESV). Amazingly, God was offering to grant whatever Solomon wished for. He could have asked God for anything. But Solomon’s response reveals that David had done a good job of inculcating a love for wisdom into his life.

“You have shown great and steadfast love to David my father, and have made me king in his place. O Lord God, let your word to David my father be now fulfilled, for you have made me king over a people as numerous as the dust of the earth. Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?” – 2 Chronicles 1:8-10 ESV

And God willingly and graciously granted Solomon’s request.

“Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may govern my people over whom I have made you king,  wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.” – 2 Chronicles 1:11-12 ESV

In a sense, Proverbs 4 contains Solomon’s last will and testament to his own son. He is passing on what had been down to him by his own father. For Solomon, a love for wisdom was the greatest gift he could leave his son.

Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do!
    And whatever else you do, develop good judgment.
If you prize wisdom, she will make you great.
    Embrace her, and she will honor you. – Proverbs 4:7-8 NLT

He was leaving him a well-established kingdom, great wealth, and a good name. He would lack for nothing – except wisdom. Because that was the one thing Solomon couldn’t put in a vault for posterity or place in his son’s hand like a scepter or crown. All Solomon could do was pass on his love and appreciation for the wisdom God had given him. And he reminded his son that he had done his best to share all that he had come to know about wisdom.

I have taught you the way of wisdom;
    I have led you in the paths of uprightness. – Proverbs 4:11 ESV

Now it was going to be up to his son to use his inheritance – wisely.

Keep hold of instruction; do not let go;
    guard her, for she is your life. – Proverbs 4:13 ESV

But Solomon knew that his son would face all kinds of temptations. His excessive wealth could make him self-sufficient and prideful, and lead him to no longer depend upon God. If he was not careful, his power could become an intoxicating brew that numbed his senses and blurred his spiritual vision. Rather than viewing his sovereignty as a gift from God, he could use it to abuse those under his care. That’s why Solomon strongly encourages his son to avoid taking the wrong path.

Do not enter the path of the wicked,
    and do not walk in the way of the evil.
Avoid it; do not go on it;
    turn away from it and pass on. – Proverbs 4:14-15 ESV

Life is a matter of daily decisions. Each of us faces a never-ending succession of choices that must be made. We can choose the right path of the wrong one. We can pursue God and, therefore, the way of wisdom, or we can walk the path of the unrighteous and find ourselves going deeper and deeper into the dark woods of despair and wickedness.

For evil people can’t sleep until they’ve done their evil deed for the day.
    They can’t rest until they’ve caused someone to stumble.
They eat the food of wickedness
    and drink the wine of violence! – Proverbs 4:16-17 NLT

Solomon greatly desired for his son to choose the right path – the way of righteousness, so he attempted to scare the “hell” out of him.

…the way of the wicked is like total darkness.
    They have no idea what they are stumbling over. – Proverbs 4:19 NLT

And he provided his son with a more attractive and preferable alternative.

The way of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn,
    which shines ever brighter until the full light of day. – Proverbs 4:18 NLT

Like any good parent, Solomon knew he couldn’t make his son choose the right path. All he could do was remind him of all that he had tried to pass along and encourage him to stay the course. It is not unlike the words of encouragement that Paul passed on to Timothy, his young “son” in the faith.

But you, Timothy, certainly know what I teach, and how I live, and what my purpose in life is. You know my faith, my patience, my love, and my endurance.

But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:10, 14-17 NLT

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. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

The Wisdom of God

The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:

To know wisdom and instruction,
    to understand words of insight,
to receive instruction in wise dealing,
    in righteousness, justice, and equity;
to give prudence to the simple,
    knowledge and discretion to the youth—
Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
    and the one who understands obtain guidance,
to understand a proverb and a saying,
    the words of the wise and their riddles.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:1-7 ESV

The Hebrew Bible takes the title for this book from the opening line: “The Proverbs of Solomon, the Son of David, King in Israel.” But that is somewhat of a misnomer because many of the proverbs contained within the book were not actually written by Solomon. Many of the proverbs bear his name and authorship, while others are the work of others, such as Agur (Proverbs 30), King Lemuel (Proverbs 31), and various unnamed “wise men.” If anything, Solomon played the dual role of contributor and editor, collecting and compiling the 31 proverbs into their current form. It seems that many of the wisdom sayings found in the book that bears his name were composed long before Solomon was born. Some of them can be traced to earlier Mesopotamian and Egyptian books of wisdom.

This collection of wisdom sayings was intended to provide the people of Israel with time-tested maxims that they could use to manage their lives and relationships.

“The Book of Proverbs is about godly wisdom, how to get it and how to use it. It’s about priorities and principles, not get-rich-quick schemes or success formulas. It tells you, not how to make a living, but how to be skillful in the lost art of making a life.” – Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Skillful

Throughout the book, the topic of wisdom is elevated to a place of prominence and ever personified as a woman calling out to anyone who would avail himself of the gifts she has to offer.

Listen as Wisdom calls out!
    Hear as understanding raises her voice!
On the hilltop along the road,
    she takes her stand at the crossroads.
By the gates at the entrance to the town,
    on the road leading in, she cries aloud,
“I call to you, to all of you!
    I raise my voice to all people.
You simple people, use good judgment.
    You foolish people, show some understanding.
Listen to me! For I have important things to tell you. – Proverbs 8:1-6 NLT

In the first seven proverbs, the messages they contain are written from the perspective of a loving father addressing his young son.

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction – Proverbs 1:8 ESV

My child, listen to what I say,
    and treasure my commands. – Proverbs 2:1 NLT

My son, do not forget my teaching,
    but let your heart keep my commandments – Proverbs 3:1 ESV

Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,
    and be attentive, that you may gain insight,
for I give you good precepts;
    do not forsake my teaching. – Proverbs 4:1-2 ESV

“In its basic form, the proverb is an ancient saying that takes wisdom and endows it with youthful vigor. In a few, piquant phrases the proverb capsulizes a practical idea or truth in such a way as to lift the common-place to a new level of mental consciousness. It reweaves the threadbare idea and shows the ordinary to be quite extraordinary.

“Fundamental to the proverbial form [genre] is the fact that it bears a truth that has been tested by time.” – C. Hassell Bullock, An Introduction to the Poetic Books of the Old Testament

Solomon had an affinity for this topic because he had been endowed by God with wisdom greater than that of any man who had ever lived.

And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all other men… – 1 Kings 4:29-31 ESV

And not only was Solomon wise, but he was also extremely wealthy and powerful. He had been born the privileged son of the powerful and popular King David. As the son of the king and the successor to his father’s throne, Solomon had been raised in the palace and surrounded by luxury. As he would later confess, his life was one of excess and unmitigated success.

I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire!

So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. – Ecclesiastes 2:4-10 ESV

After ascending to his father’s throne, Solomon became a man conflicted by his unparalleled wisdom and his insatiable desire to find meaning in life. He had everything and, yet, he remained unfulfilled. He would later admit, “I am wiser than any of the kings who ruled in Jerusalem before me. I have greater wisdom and knowledge than any of them” (Ecclesiastes 1:16 ESV), but this led him to lament, “The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief. To increase knowledge only increases sorrow” (Ecclesiastes 1:18 ESV).

Solomon grew to recognize that wisdom alone was insufficient. Wisdom unapplied was not only useless but futile. It led to frustration and a life of fruitlessness. So, Solomon went about collecting the wisdom of the ages and compiled it into a concise compendium designed to provide insight and meaning for life.

Solomon makes it perfectly clear why he took the time to pen the Proverbs.

Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and knowledge, 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. These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young…” – Proverbs 1:2-4 NLT

It sounds as if Solomon is putting together a self-help manual aimed at teaching people how to get smarter so that they can be more successful in life. But then he qualifies his purpose statement with a non-negotiable requirement. It all begins with a healthy fear of God. The Proverbs are not just a collection of wise and pithy statements designed to increase our wisdom and improve our lives, but they are a reminder to make God the focus of our lives. He is the sole source of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. He alone gives insight to the simple and knowledge and discernment to the young.

The wisdom described in the Proverbs is a byproduct of a relationship with God. It cannot be achieved any other way. Ignoring God will leave us ignorant. When Solomon says that fools despise wisdom and discipline, he is describing those who reject God. By turning their back on God and refusing to live according to His terms, they reject the very things they need to succeed in this life. They miss out on the wisdom, knowledge, and understanding He alone can provide. But it all begins with a fear of God. The NET Bible describes the fear of the Lord this way: “The fear of the Lord is the foundation for wisdom (9:10) and the discipline leading to wisdom (15:33). It is expressed in hatred of evil (8:13) and avoidance of sin (16:6), and so results in prolonged life (10:27; 19:23).”

The fear of the Lord is marked by an understanding of who God is – His holiness, righteousness, wrath, justice, power, sovereignty, love, grace, and mercy. To fear God is to show Him reverence and awe. It is an acknowledgment of His majesty and might. It is a recognition of His holiness and hatred of sin. A healthy fear of God prevents us from taking God for granted and treating Him with contempt.

Solomon describes those who refuse to fear God as simpleminded, mockers, and fools. “They hated knowledge and chose not to fear the Lord” (Proverbs 1:29 NLT). To refuse to fear God is to refuse all that God has to offer – including wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. Those who reject God “must eat the bitter fruit of living their own way, choking on their own schemes” (Proverbs 1:31 NLT). No one plans to live his life as a fool. Every person on the planet wants to live wisely and successfully. But unless they seek God and start with Him, they will never achieve their goal. “For simpletons turn away from me – to death. Fools are destroyed by their own complacency. But all who listen to me will live in peace, untroubled by fear of harm” (Proverbs 1:32-33 NLT). Wisdom is an attribute of God. He is all-knowing, all-wise. All that there is to know and understand is found in Him. Find Him and You will discover all you need to live a disciplined and successful life.

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. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.