Abuse of Authority

1 He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck,
    will suddenly be broken beyond healing.
When the righteous increase, the people rejoice,
    but when the wicked rule, the people groan.
He who loves wisdom makes his father glad,
    but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth.
By justice a king builds up the land,
    but he who exacts gifts tears it down.
A man who flatters his neighbor
    spreads a net for his feet.
An evil man is ensnared in his transgression,
    but a righteous man sings and rejoices.
A righteous man knows the rights of the poor;
    a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.
Scoffers set a city aflame,
    but the wise turn away wrath.
If a wise man has an argument with a fool,
    the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.
10 Bloodthirsty men hate one who is blameless
    and seek the life of the upright.
11 A fool gives full vent to his spirit,
    but a wise man quietly holds it back.
12 If a ruler listens to falsehood,
    all his officials will be wicked.
13 The poor man and the oppressor meet together;
    the Lord gives light to the eyes of both.
14 If a king faithfully judges the poor,
    his throne will be established forever. 
– Proverbs 29:1-14 ESV

This chapter continues the collection of wise sayings compiled by the officials of King Hezekiah (Proverbs 25:1). We know from 1 Kings 4:32, that Solomon “composed some 3,000 proverbs and wrote 1,005 songs.” Hezekiah’s royal scholars were assigned the task of finding additional proverbs written or edited by Solomon so that they might be added to the original collection. And while there appears to be no clear categorization of these supplemental proverbs, there does appear to be an underlying theme. Since the men who gathered and curated them were working for the king, the proverbs they chose to add have a distinct leadership tone to them.

They reflect an emphasis on the need for godly wisdom at the highest levels of administrative power.

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

All of these proverbs can be applied on a broad scale and are not solely applicable to kings and other authority figures. But it almost appears as if the men who collected these sayings were purposefully concentrating their efforts to find those proverbs that would make the greatest impact on their employer: The king.

A just king gives stability to his nation,
    but one who demands bribes destroys it. – Proverbs 29:4 NLT

The sheer number of references to rulers and kings would seem to indicate that there was a concerted effort to choose those proverbs that might influence King Hezekiah to rule wisely and ethically. It was to their benefit that the king behave in a manner that was in keeping with the will of God.

If a ruler pays attention to liars,
    all his advisers will be wicked. – Proverbs 29:12 NLT

If a king judges the poor fairly,
    his throne will last forever. – Proverbs 29:14 NLT

In a way, these men were acting as unofficial counselors to the king by providing him with advice in the form of these Solomonic sayings. As the king read each proverb, he would have been positively impacted by the wisdom found in them. And while many of these sayings have a positive tone to them, there are some that could easily come across as veiled criticism. Hezekiah’s officials must have realized that, with each negative proverb they included, they were at risk of offending their employer. But verse one would have reminded the king that criticism carried just as much weight as a compliment.

Whoever stubbornly refuses to accept criticism
    will suddenly be destroyed beyond recovery. – Proverbs 29:1 NLT

These proverbs have universal application and appeal because all of us long for power in some form or fashion. Any thought of being weak and powerless is naturally repulsive to us. And the truth is, we all wield some kind of authority over someone or something else. The question is – how do we handle power when we have it? Are we fair and just or do we display our power with pride, arrogance, and in an abusive manner?

Authority is a divine concept and God holds those in authority responsible for their actions. God gave Adam and Eve special responsibility to steward His creation. Abraham was given authority by God to serve as the progenitor of a great nation. And Moses was given authority to lead those very same people out of captivity and into freedom. The prophets were given authority to act as God’s spokespersons and proclaim His word to His rebellious people. God gave the disciples authority over demons, disease, and even death.

But all authority can be abused. We can utilize our positions of power or influence for good or bad. A parent can abuse their child, using their authority to destroy the heart and soul of the one they are to nurture and love. A boss can abuse their responsibility, taking advantage of his employees, and overworking them while he underpays them. Politicians and rulers can abuse their authority, ignoring the needs of their constituents in favor of maintaining their party’s power and their own position.

The godly care about the rights of the poor;
    the wicked don’t care at all. – Proverbs 29:7 NLT

The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about authority and this chapter is no exception. It reminds us that godly leadership is the best form of leadership because it produces positive benefits for its constituents (verse 2). But ungodly leadership produces pain and heartache for those who must bear up under it.

According to God, the kind of leadership or authority He is looking for is just, fair, compassionate, and caring. In other words, God expects those with authority over others to practice His brand of leadership. He wants them to lead the way He leads. That means we must lead through love. We must discipline on occasion, but always out of love. We must judge at times, but never in an unloving manner. We must guide and direct those under our care with love and not with anger.

Fools vent their anger,
    but the wise quietly hold it back. – Proverbs 29:12 NLT

Authority is a huge responsibility. Ultimately, those in authority will be held responsible by God for their actions. There’s no place for pride, selfishness, greed, or self-gain.

Those who hold positions of authority exist for the good of others. They hold the welfare of others in their hands, whether they lead a nation or a family. But ungodly, unethical leaders can use their influence to stir up trouble and cause dissent.

Mockers can get a whole town agitated,
    but the wise will calm anger. – Proverbs 29:8 NLT

People who hold positions of authority but who lack godly wisdom can be dangerous. They lack insight and are incapable of seeing the world the way God does. They view their power as a right and a privilege and fail to understand that they are no better than the people they oppress and abuse.

The poor and the oppressor have this in common—
    the Lord gives sight to the eyes of both. – Proverbs 29:13 NLT

Because they have no fear of God, they do not realize that He watches over the helpless, hopeless, innocent, and powerless. He will hold those in authority responsible for the manner in which they rule, judge, lead, care for, and protect those under their care. And anyone who holds a position of authority is wise to recognize and constantly remind themselves that God is the ultimate authority. He is the one who is in control of all things. All others report to Him. They owe their positions to Him. They get their right to rule from Him. So they should rule well and lead wisely. They should use their god-given authority responsibly.

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.

Cultivating True Community

1 Do not boast about tomorrow,
    for you do not know what a day may bring.
Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
    a stranger, and not your own lips.
A stone is heavy, and sand is weighty,
    but a fool’s provocation is heavier than both.
Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming,
    but who can stand before jealousy?
Better is open rebuke
    than hidden love.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
    profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
One who is full loathes honey,
    but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.
Like a bird that strays from its nest
    is a man who strays from his home.
Oil and perfume make the heart glad,
    and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.
10 Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend,
    and do not go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity.
Better is a neighbor who is near
    than a brother who is far away.
11 Be wise, my son, and make my heart glad,
    that I may answer him who reproaches me.
12 The prudent sees danger and hides himself,
    but the simple go on and suffer for it.
13 Take a man’s garment when he has put up security for a stranger,
    and hold it in pledge when he puts up security for an adulteress.
– Proverbs 27:1-13 ESV

Let’s face it. Relationships are messy. Living with others can be difficult at times. But there is a huge advantage to living in true biblical community. And the Proverbs have a lot to say about the impact of wisdom and foolishness on our relationships. While we can attempt to isolate ourselves from interaction with others, no one lives in a vacuum. And, whether we like it or not, we will eventually end up dealing with people from all walks of life and from every conceivable background. Even a few fools will cross our path as we navigate our way through life.

But this chapter continues to differentiate between the wise and the foolish, describing how each displays certain characteristics – some to be emulated and others to be avoided.

When it comes to relationships, a fool is self-centered, myopic, and tends to only think about himself. He lives his life with a certain level of insensitivity and never thinks about how his words and actions will impact those around him. In fact, he doesn’t even care. Because of their self-focused manner of life, fools tend to think too highly of themselves and have a distorted view of reality. That’s why the wise person should heed the following advice.

Don’t brag about tomorrow,
    since you don’t know what the day will bring

Let someone else praise you, not your own mouth—
    a stranger, not your own lips. – Proverbs 27:1-2 NLT

Instead, a man or woman of wisdom should readily accept their responsibility to care about and for those around them, and they should live accordingly.

Fools tend to leave a wake of disrupted relationships in their path. They are relationship wreckers who allow resentment, anger, and jealousy to wreak havoc on all those around them.

A stone is heavy and sand is weighty,
    but the resentment caused by a fool is even heavier.

Anger is cruel, and wrath is like a flood,
    but jealousy is even more dangerous. – Proverbs 27:3-4 NLT

Those who care about community understand that words are powerful. They know that there will be times when words of encouragement are needed, but also times when a word of warning or rebuke is necessary. In a healthy relationship, to withhold a much-deserved rebuke is as wrong as refusing to express our love verbally.

An open rebuke
    is better than hidden love!Proverbs 27:5 NLT).

While correction and criticism are never easy to receive, a true friend will care enough about us to tell us the hard truth.

Wounds from a sincere friend
    are better than many kisses from an enemy.Proverbs 27:6 NLT)

Fools make a habit of telling others what they want to hear. They use flattery to win others over but never truly mean what they say. And while a fool will butter someone up by telling them how wonderful they are, they will overlook the faults that are preventing that person from being who God wants them to be. False flattery is deadly. It puffs us up and gives us a false sense of confidence and feeds our self-righteousness. But a true friend will tell us the truth, even if it hurts.

As iron sharpens iron,
    so a friend sharpens a friend. – Proverbs 27:17 NLT

Friendships should involve some friction but it should be productive and not destructive. As we rub up against one another in our relationships there should be a certain give-and-take that allows us to push, prod, and pull each other towards increased righteousness.

But if we are honest, we have to admit that many of our relationships are shallow and dishonest. We refuse to speak the truth into one another’s lives. We openly tolerate godlessness and flatter one another with words of kindness when what we really need is a swift kick in the pants and a dose of reality.

The heartfelt counsel of a friend
    is as sweet as perfume and incense. – Proverbs 27:9 NLT

Yet, many of us are afraid to play hardball in our relationships because we fear what others may say about how we live our lives. We’re afraid that if we critique someone else’s life, it will leave the door open for them to return the favor. And, most likely, they will. But we should welcome it.

The truth is, most of us have no idea what we’re really like. We can’t see our faults and weaknesses. Our foolish friends will leave us thinking we don’t have any. But a true friend will point them out in a loving, caring way, and help us take steps to correct them. They are able to see the true condition of our hearts, something we can’t do on our own. ”

As a face is reflected in water,
    so the heart reflects the real person.Proverbs 27:19 NLT

We need one another. We need real relationships that produce real-life change. True biblical community is messy. It involves transparency, accountability, honesty, humility, patience and love. It takes work, but it is worth it. Cultivating true community has long-term, real-life benefits.

Never abandon a friend—
    either yours or your father’s.
When disaster strikes, you won’t have to ask your brother for assistance.
    It’s better to go to a neighbor than to a brother who lives far away. – Proverbs 27:10 NLT

You never know when you will need the help or counsel of a true friend. Life is full of all kinds of surprises and, in times of difficulty, you want to be surrounded by those who can step in and help. But you’ll want to make sure you’ve surrounded yourself with wise friends and not fools.

A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions.
    The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences. – Proverbs 27:12 NLT

Prepare for the inevitable setbacks in life and maintain ongoing relationships with people who can provide wise counsel when you need it. In times of difficulty, a few friends with wisdom are of far greater value than a host of fools who lack sense. Life is too short and relationships are too important to waste your time cultivating friendships with fools.

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.

Good Kids Gone Bad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friends and Fools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our All-Seeing, All-Knowing God

1 A soft answer turns away wrath,
    but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,
    but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
The eyes of the Lord are in every place,
    keeping watch on the evil and the good.
A gentle tongue is a tree of life,
    but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
A fool despises his father’s instruction,
    but whoever heeds reproof is prudent.
In the house of the righteous there is much treasure,
    but trouble befalls the income of the wicked.
The lips of the wise spread knowledge;
    not so the hearts of fools.
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,
    but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him.
The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,
    but he loves him who pursues righteousness.
10 There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way;
    whoever hates reproof will die.
11 Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord;
    how much more the hearts of the children of man!
12 A scoffer does not like to be reproved;
    he will not go to the wise.
13 A glad heart makes a cheerful face,
    but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.
14 The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge,
    but the mouths of fools feed on folly.
15 All the days of the afflicted are evil,
    but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast.
16 Better is a little with the fear of the Lord
    than great treasure and trouble with it.
17 Better is a dinner of herbs where love is
    than a fattened ox and hatred with it.
– Proverbs 15:1-17 ESV

When you apply pressure to a tube of toothpaste, what’s contained inside suddenly gets revealed. The once-hidden contents become visible for all to see. And the same concept applies to human beings. When we find ourselves under pressure, facing the difficulties and trials that come with life on this planet, the inner contents of our life suddenly get revealed. Our once-hidden fears get put on public display. The anger we kept so carefully concealed becomes visible for all to see and experience.

Not all fools are readily apparent. Some hide their foolishness behind a guise of respectability and apparent success. They carry themselves well and display an aura of sophistication and intelligence. But just put them under pressure and the fool inside comes out to play.

The tongue of the wise makes knowledge appealing, but the mouth of a fool belches out foolishness. – Proverbs 15:2 NLT

Jesus once said, “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a person. For out of the heart come evil ideas, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are the things that defile a person; it is not eating with unwashed hands that defiles a person” (Matthew 15:18-20 NLT).

When you boil it all down, all this talk about wisdom in the book of Proverbs is really about the condition of the heart. Verse 33 says, “Fear of the Lord teaches wisdom, humility precedes honor.” Fear of the Lord is a matter of the heart, not the head. It’s not about a cognitive understanding of or knowledge about God. The fear of the Lord manifests itself in a heart that is changed by what it sees, hears, and learns about God. It produces humility because the heart is awakened to the magnitude and majesty of God.

Fear of the Lord produces love because the heart is amazed that this great God would stoop down to show interest in the insignificant and unrighteous. Coming to grips with the reality of God changes our hearts and produces a change in our behavior and our words. In the passage above, Jesus teaches us that one of the greatest indicators of the level of our fear of the Lord and of our wisdom is what comes out of our mouths. The Proverbs spend a great deal of time dealing with the role our words play in both our relationship with God and with others.

Proverbs 15 talks about a gentle answer, harsh words, gentle words, evil words, the tongue, the mouth, lips, a fitting reply, saying the right thing, pure words, good news, and thinking carefully before speaking. What comes out of the mouth is so revealing. It indicates what’s in the heart. It is a window into our soul. We can try to fake it, attempting to fool everyone into thinking we’re filled with wisdom and righteousness,. But unexpectedly, when the pressure is on or our guard is down, the wrong words can spew out before we can stop them. We can react in anger. We can curse unexpectedly. We can respond negatively. We can gossip, slander, shout, ridicule, and verbally respond in a variety of destructive ways. And when we do, it reveals the true condition of our hearts.

The lips of the wise spread knowledge;
    not so the hearts of fools. – Proverbs 15:7 ESV

It exposes that we are more foolish than we are wise. We can blame our words on the circumstances or the pressure of the moment, but James makes it clear that the condition of our hearts is responsible for the quality of our words.

Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? Does a fig tree produces olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring. – James 3:11-12 NLT

Our words flow from an internal source. They are generated from within and they are simply a reflection of what is going on inside our hearts. James goes on to say, “If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good words with the humility that comes from wisdom” (James 3:13 NLT). He differentiates between godly wisdom and earthly wisdom.

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. – James 3:17-18 NLT

Our words are a byproduct of our wisdom. Our wisdom is a reflection of our hearts. Our hearts are radically changed by a healthy fear of God and a humble submission to Him. Watch carefully what comes out of your mouth when you get squeezed. It will provide a good indication of just how wise you really are. And, always remember that God is watching at all times.

The Lord is watching everywhere, keeping his eye on both the evil and the good. – Proverbs 15:3 NLT

It’s amazing what we will do when we think no one is watching. Anonymity can be anesthetizing. It can lull us into a sense of false security, making us believe we are free to do what we want to do just because nobody can see us. But as believers, the reality is that we’re always being watched. Even if no one else is around, we always have an audience of One. God is never unaware or disinterested in what we’re doing or how we are behaving. He never sleeps or takes a break. He is constantly watching us and assessing not only our actions but the motives behind them. He sees all and knows all. The Psalmist put it this way:

O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
    You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too great for me to understand!

I can never escape from your Spirit!
    I can never get away from your presence! – Psalms 139:1-7 NLT

That’s an amazing and somewhat intimidating thought, isn’t it? God knows our hearts, our thoughts, our actions, our attitudes – in short, He knows everything about us. He hears every word that comes out of our mouths and every thought that enters our minds. He knows our fears, hurts, heartaches, longings, disappointments, and dreams.

Even death and destruction hold no secrets from the Lord. How much more does he know the human heart. – Proverbs 15:11 NLT

There is nothing we can keep hidden or secret from God. So why do we try? Why do we mistakenly believe that just because we can fool our friends and family members, we can somehow fool God? There should be a certain comfort that comes from knowing that God knows. We don’t have to pretend. We don’t have to live in pretense, trying to trick God into believing we’re something we’re not. There is freedom that comes from knowing you are known. There is nothing to hide. Instead, there is only confession and an acceptance of God’s grace and forgiveness.

A big part of learning to fear God is understanding that He is all-knowing. It is an awareness that He is incapable of being deceived or hoodwinked. That awareness brings about an honest assessment of who we really are and an admission that we don’t measure up. It creates an increasing dependence on Him and ever-increasing transparency regarding our true spiritual condition. God sees our pride. He knows about the idols in our lives. He is fully aware of our fears and faults. He looks past our plastic facades and sees into our hearts. He is not impressed with our attempts at self-righteousness or swayed by our efforts at behavior modification.

He is watching, and He is waiting. He is waiting for us to give up the cover-up. Stop the pretense. Quit the pretending. Instead, He wants us to remember that all we do is for His glory. It is all to be done in His power. His strength is to be made evident in our weakness. God wants to produce in us what we cannot produce in ourselves. He is watching and He is waiting.

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.

Ignore at Your Own Peril

20 Wisdom cries aloud in the street,
    in the markets she raises her voice;
21 at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
    at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
    and fools hate knowledge?
23 If you turn at my reproof,
behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;
    I will make my words known to you.
24 Because I have called and you refused to listen,
    have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
25 because you have ignored all my counsel
    and would have none of my reproof,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity;
    I will mock when terror strikes you,
27 when terror strikes you like a storm
    and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
    when distress and anguish come upon you.
28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
    they will seek me diligently but will not find me.
29 Because they hated knowledge
    and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
30 would have none of my counsel
    and despised all my reproof,
31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
    and have their fill of their own devices.
32 For the simple are killed by their turning away,
    and the complacency of fools destroys them;
33 but whoever listens to me will dwell secure
    and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” Proverbs 1:20-33 ESV

In order to help his son grasp the vital importance of wisdom, Solomon attempts to bring the inanimate concept to life by personifying it as someone traversing the streets of a busy city, desperately trying to get the attention of all those mindlessly going about their daily lives.

Wisdom shouts in the streets.
    She cries out in the public square. – Proverbs 1:20 NLT

From one place to the next, this “woman” directs her cries to three distinct groups of people: simpletons, mockers, and fools. A simpleton is someone who is naive and dangerously open minded. They lack discernment and the ability to determine what is right or wrong. These kinds of people are prone to believe just about anything and, as a result, are easily misled. You might describe them as gullible or an easy mark. And “Wisdom” questions why they seem to be perfectly fine with their simpleminded ways.

“How long, you simpletons,
    will you insist on being simpleminded? – Proverbs 1:22 NLT

But they show no interest in anything “Wisdom” has to offer. They display no desire to grow up or wise up. They’re confidently content and, in many ways, even complacent. To their own detriment. Wisdom sadly states the folly of their ways:

“…simpletons turn away from me—to death.” – Proverbs 1:32 NLT

The next group Wisdom addresses are the scoffers or mockers. These are boastful and arrogant individuals who dismiss the counsel of others. They are full of themselves and convinced that they have nothing to learn from anyone else. And Wisdom confronts them with a question that is designed to expose their stubborn resistance to input from others. The NET Bible Study Notes describes them this way: “They are cynical and defiant freethinkers who ridicule the righteous and all for which they stand.”

These people are scornful and dismissive of anyone who might try to point them in the right direction. You might say that they’re too big for their britches or too high and mighty to accept the counsel of someone they deem as inferior to themselves. Wisdom describes them as those who  “would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof” (Proverbs 1:30 ESV). Because they think they know everything, they’re unteachable and, therefore, incorrigible. The Proverbs are full of less-than-flattering assessments of this particular group of people.

…a scoffer does not listen to rebuke. – Proverbs 13:1 ESV

Anyone who rebukes a mocker will get an insult in return…
So don’t bother correcting mockers; they will only hate you. – Proverbs 9:7-8 NLT

Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out,
    and quarreling and abuse will cease. – Proverbs 22:10 ESV

The third group Wisdom addresses are the fools. This term is used throughout the Proverbs, but in at least five different forms. In this case, Solomon uses the Hebrew word, kᵊsîl, which refers to a “stupid fellow, dullard, simpleton” (Outline of Biblical Usage). He doesn’t have a mental deficiency, but rather he suffers from a moral one. And his immoral behavior brings him satisfaction rather than shame.

This kind of fool rejects the discipline of parents or other authorities in his life. He seems stubbornly determined to make the wrong kinds of choices, even to his own detriment. His focus is on whatever brings him immediate pleasure. And he is to be avoided at all costs. Wisdom summarizes the fool by stating that he despises knowledge. He finds it repulsive and rejects it as unworthy of his time or effort. In fact, another Proverb declares that “to turn away from evil is an abomination to fools” (Proverbs 13:19 ESV).

That’s why Solomon portrays Wisdom as summarizing the sad but unavoidable outcome of the fool’s chosen path of life.

“For they hated knowledge
    and chose not to fear the Lord.
They rejected my advice
    and paid no attention when I corrected them.
Therefore, they must eat the bitter fruit of living their own way,
    choking on their own schemes.” – Proverbs 1:29-31 ESV

And the saddest part of all is that Wisdom has persistently called and pleaded with all three groups.

“Come and listen to my counsel.
I’ll share my heart with you
    and make you wise.” – Proverbs 1:23 NLT

But the simpleton, scoffer, and fool repeatedly reject the offer and seal their fate. When Wisdom calls, they refuse to come. When she reaches out, they pay her no attention. They arrogantly ignore her advice and spurn her counsel. And in each case, they make a choice to reject all that Wisdom has to offer. The simpleton could choose to become wise, but decides to remain just as he is. The scoffer could embrace all that Wisdom has to offer, but mocks her advice as unnecessary and unworthy of his attention. The fool could choose to learn and grow wise, but makes the painful choice to suffer the consequences of his folly.

So, eventually, the voice of Wisdom grows silent. She stops calling and offering. She stops pleading and promising. And sadly, the say comes when Wisdom stands back and witnesses the inevitable fall of the simpleton, scoffer, and fool.

“So I will laugh when you are in trouble!
    I will mock you when disaster overtakes you—
when calamity overtakes you like a storm,
    when disaster engulfs you like a cyclone,
    and anguish and distress overwhelm you.” – Proverbs 1:26-27 NLT

It is not that Wisdom takes joy in the fall of the wicked, but that the justice of God is always fulfilled. The opportunity to grow in wisdom was freely offered and summarily dismissed. The chance to benefit from all that God has promised was made available but rejected as worthless. And that bad choice has even worse consequences. And Wisdom reveals that the less-than-ideal outcomes facing all three are of their own choosing. They brought it on themselves.

“For the simple are killed by their turning away,
    and the complacency of fools destroys them…” – Proverbs 1:32 ESV

Yet, Solomon wants his son to know that there is hope. It doesn’t have to turn out poorly. The future doesn’t have to be bleak and marked by death and destruction. All he has to do is listen. That was Solomon’s original plea to his son.

“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,
    and forsake not your mother’s teaching,
for they are a graceful garland for your head
    and pendants for your neck.” – Proverbs 1:8-9 ESV

And what Solomon and his wife are offering their son is wisdom – the wisdom of the ages but, more importantly, the wisdom of God.

“…but whoever listens to me will dwell secure
    and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” – Proverbs 1:33 ESV

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.

 

Wisdom Without God Is Folly.

1 Who is like the wise?
    And who knows the interpretation of a thing?
A man’s wisdom makes his face shine,
    and the hardness of his face is changed.

I say: Keep the king’s command, because of God’s oath to him. Be not hasty to go from his presence. Do not take your stand in an evil cause, for he does whatever he pleases. For the word of the king is supreme, and who may say to him, “What are you doing?” Whoever keeps a command will know no evil thing, and the wise heart will know the proper time and the just way. For there is a time and a way for everything, although man’s trouble lies heavy on him. For he does not know what is to be, for who can tell him how it will be? No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death. There is no discharge from war, nor will wickedness deliver those who are given to it. Ecclesiastes 8:1-8 ESV

It shouldn’t be surprising that Solomon has a lot to say about wisdom. After all, he was known for his wisdom. In the early days of his reign, when given an opportunity by God to ask of Him whatever he wished, Solomon had asked for an “understanding heart” so he could govern the people of Israel well. And God responded, “Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies—I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have!” (1 Kings 3:11-12 NLT). And God followed through on His commitment, blessing Solomon with unsurpassed wisdom. Even when the queen of the nation of Sheba (modern-day Ethiopia) made a royal visit to Jerusalem, she was blown away by Solomon’s wisdom.
2 When she met with Solomon, she talked with him about everything she had on her mind. Solomon had answers for all her questions; nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her. When the queen of Sheba realized how very wise Solomon was, and when she saw the palace he had built, she was overwhelmed. – 1 Kings 10:2-5 NLT
Like everything else in his life, wisdom became an obsession for Solomon. Seemingly unsatisfied with what he had been given by God, he constantly pursued wisdom. He even wrote and collected wise proverbial statements and put them in a book. In this book, known as The Proverbs of Solomon, he describes wisdom as a woman calling out from the streets, attempting to get the attention of those who pass her by.

20 Wisdom shouts in the streets.
    She cries out in the public square.
21 She calls to the crowds along the main street,
    to those gathered in front of the city gate:
22 “How long, you simpletons,
    will you insist on being simpleminded?
How long will you mockers relish your mocking?
    How long will you fools hate knowledge?
23 Come and listen to my counsel.
I’ll share my heart with you
    and make you wise. – Proverbs 1:20-23 NLT

But everyone ignored her calls. They rejected her advice and shunned her correction. Nobody wanted what she had to offer. And as a result, they were left in their ignorance and complacency. But when the time came when wisdom was needed, she would be nowhere to be found. For Solomon, wisdom was a commodity worth pursuing. He even explained his purpose for writing his book of proverbs by stating:

Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline,
    to help them understand the insights of the wise.
Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives,
    to help them do what is right, just, and fair.
These proverbs will give insight to the simple,
    knowledge and discernment to the young. – Proverbs 1:2-4 NLT

Wisdom became one of many obsessions for Solomon. He pursued it with a vengeance, and never seemed to think he had enough of it. But it seems that he often forgot his own advice, failing to remember that “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7 NLT). The pursuit of wisdom without a healthy fear and worship of God is a futile effort. But too often, we make wisdom the focus of our attention, not God. And Solomon knew the benefits of wisdom. He had experienced them firsthand. Which is why he could sing the praises of a life of wisdom. “How wonderful to be wise, to analyze and interpret things. Wisdom lights up a person’s face, softening its harshness” (Ecclesiastes 8:1 NLT). 

And it’s interesting to note that in the following verses, Solomon provides those to whom he is writing a number of examples of what wisdom looks like in real life. But notice that they all have to do with their allegiance to the king. In other words, their faithful service to him.

He starts out with a not-so-subtle admonition to “Keep the king’s command.” This is the king telling his own people that if they’re wise, they’ll obey him. Sounds more like a threat than a recommendation to live wisely. While there is tremendous truth and wisdom in what Solomon has to say, it can’t help but come across as a bit self-serving. Yes, it makes sense for a servant of the king, someone who has made an oath to faithfully serve the king, to follow through on their commitment. It would be unwise to shirk your duty or to join in a plot to overthrow the king. It’s also a bit foolish to question the decisions of the king, because his word is final, and he has the power to enforce whatever he determines to do. If you obey him, you won’t be punished. The wise person will know when to speak up and when to shut up. He will understand that there’s a time and place for everything, even when facing trouble. And it’s our inability to control our words during times of difficulty that can get us in hot water. We say things we end up regretting. We express thoughts that haven’t been fully thought through. And hasty words spoken in the presence of the king can expose our folly and prove deadly. This thought sounds reminiscent of something Solomon said earlier in his book.

Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. – Ecclesiastes 5:2 ESV

The apostle Paul shared a similar word of counsel in his letter to the church in Colossae.

Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone. – Colossians 4:5-6 NLT

For Solomon, it simply made sense not to question the wishes of the king. Of course, since he was the king, we can somehow understand why he felt this way. As king, he had probably heard more than one citizen of his kingdom say to him, “What are you doing?” And he most likely found the tone of that question offensive and, its timing, unwise. No one likes to have his wisdom and authority questioned, especially the king. And Solomon appears to view his authority as supreme, almost all-knowing in nature. He states that the one who questions the king “does not know what is to be, for who can tell him how it will be?” (Ecclesiastes 8:7 ESV). This individual has no control over anything, including their day of death. Nobody can hold on to their spirit when the time comes for it to depart. Nobody can get out of their obligation to serve when conscripted for battle. They simply have to go. They must do their duty. And the one who chooses a life of evil will find himself hopelessly stuck, experiencing the inevitable outcome of his decision. There is a certain sense of fate in Solomon’s words. You can’t know the future, so you have no control over it. Which brings us back to Solomon’s earlier admonition: Keep the king’s command.

But what are we to do with this? How are we to take what Solomon says and apply it to our daily lives? I believe it is essential to read the book of Ecclesiastes with a clear understanding of the state affairs in Solomon’s life at the time of its writing. He is an old man, having served as king of Israel for a long period of time. He has not finished well. His kingdom is marred by the presence of many idols to false gods. He has repeatedly disobeyed God, marrying more than 700 different women and amassing a harem of 300 concubines. He has been unfaithful to Yahweh. And his unfaithfulness would ultimately lead to God ripping the kingdom from his hands and dividing it in two. Solomon was still a wise man when he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes. But it is safe to say that he no longer feared God as he once had. His wisdom had been marred by sin. His perspective had been skewed by his pessimistic take on life. There is a lot of truth in the words that Solomon speaks, but we must remove the gems of truth from the muck and mire of Solomon’s sin-distorted viewpoint. Wisdom is a good thing. Remaining faithful in your service to the king is solid and sound advice. The one thing that is missing is a recommendation to fear the Lord. To his credit, Solomon will weave that message into the verses that follow. But it seems that Solomon struggled with maintaining the vital connection between wisdom and the fear of God. At times, wisdom became a stand-alone for him. He seems to have applied to wisdom the same philosophy of life he used with everything else: More is better. There were occasions when he seemed to sincerely believe that wisdom was all you needed. But wisdom without a fear of God is useless. It too will prove futile and meaningless. It is our fear and reverence for God that gives wisdom its power. Knowing right from wrong, good from evil, and righteousness from wickedness, begins with knowing God. Being able to make good decisions stems from a solid understanding of who God is and what He expects of us. When we live to please God, we make wise decisions. When we live to please self, we end up living like fools and, as Solomon put it, eating our own flesh. In our effort to make it all about ourselves, we end up destroying ourselves.

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 Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Wisdom From God.

Then Abigail made haste and took two hundred loaves and two skins of wine and five sheep already prepared and five seahs of parched grain and a hundred clusters of raisins and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on donkeys. And she said to her young men, “Go on before me; behold, I come after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. And as she rode on the donkey and came down under cover of the mountain, behold, David and his men came down toward her, and she met them. Now David had said, “Surely in vain have I guarded all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belonged to him, and he has returned me evil for good. God do so to the enemies of David and more also, if by morning I leave so much as one male of all who belong to him.”

When Abigail saw David, she hurried and got down from the donkey and fell before David on her face and bowed to the ground. She fell at his feet and said, “On me alone, my lord, be the guilt. Please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant. Let not my lord regard this worthless fellow, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he. Nabal is his name, and folly is with him. But I your servant did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent. Now then, my lord, as the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, because the Lord has restrained you from bloodguilt and from saving with your own hand, now then let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be as Nabal. And now let this present that your servant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who follow my lord. Please forgive the trespass of your servant. For the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the Lord, and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live. If men rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the Lord your God. And the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling. And when the Lord has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you and has appointed you prince over Israel, my lord shall have no cause of grief or pangs of conscience for having shed blood without cause or for my lord working salvation himself. And when the Lord has dealt well with my lord, then remember your servant.” – 1 Samuel 25:18-31 ESV

In these verses, we are provided with a stark contrast between Nabal and Abigai, and it shows up in their speech, their choice of words. When Nabal had first encountered the men sent by David, he responded rashly and rather harshly.

“Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants these days who are breaking away from their masters. Shall I take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers and give it to men who come from I do not know where?” – 1 Samuel 25:10-11 ESV

Nabal treated David’s men with disrespect and dishonor. His words were flippant and filled with disdain. All the time that his shepherds had been tending his flocks in the wilderness of Paran, David and his men had provided protection. One of Nabal’s own shepherds confirmed this fact when he appealed to Abigail to intervene.

“These men have been very good to us, and we never suffered any harm from them. Nothing was stolen from us the whole time they were with us. In fact, day and night they were like a wall of protection to us and the sheep.” – 1 Samuel 25:15-16 NLT

And yet, Nabal refused to acknowledge any of this and treated David with contempt rather than showing him gratitude. He was a fool. He fit the biblical definition of a fool.

Wise words bring approval, but fools are destroyed by their own words. – Ecclesiastes 10:12 ESV

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

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

And Nabal was about to get a beating from David. In fact, David was planning on wiping out Nabal and every one of his men.

“A lot of good it did to help this fellow. We protected his flocks in the wilderness, and nothing he owned was lost or stolen. But he has repaid me evil for good. May God strike me and kill me if even one man of his household is still alive tomorrow morning!” – 1 Samuel 25:21-22 NLT

But wiser minds prevailed. Abigail, the wife of Nabal, when apprised of the situation, stepped in and determined to right the wrong her husband had done to David. This was probably not the first time she had been forced to intervene in her husband’s affairs. She is well aware of his reputation and, as his wife, she had first-hand experience with his foolishness. She was extremely blunt when describing him to David.

“I know Nabal is a wicked and ill-tempered man; please don’t pay any attention to him. He is a fool, just as his name suggests.” – 1 Samuel 25:25 NLT

But it was her words of reconciliation to David that provide us with the greatest insight into the difference between Abigail and her husband. Her words and actions were marked by wisdom and insight. And what she exhibited was far more than mere human intelligence. She was not just a smart woman. She was a godly woman.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
    and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. – Proverbs 9:10 ESV

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

Abigail was wise because she was godly. She feared the Lord. She saw the hand of God at work in the life of David. God had provided her with insight into the circumstances surrounding David’s life. While Nabal saw David simply as a man on the run, a fugitive from justice; Abigail saw him as the next king of Israel.

“The Lord will surely reward you with a lasting dynasty, for you are fighting the Lord’s battles.” – 1 Samuel 25:28 NLT

When the Lord has done all he promised and has made you leader of Israel,  don’t let this be a blemish on your record. – 1 Samuel 25:30-31 NLT

Abigail was not just buttering David up, stroking his ego in an attempt to get on his good side. She had divine insight from God. She had been given wisdom from God that enabled her to assess the situation and recognize that David, as God’s hand-picked successor to Saul, would not want to do anything that would blemish his future reputation or dishonor the name of God. Her words and actions reveal her wisdom.

From a wise mind comes wise speech;
    the words of the wise are persuasive.

Kind words are like honey —
    sweet to the soul and healthy for the body. – Proverbs 16:23-24 NLT

Every aspect of Abigail’s handling of this delicate and dangerous situation reveals a divinely inspired understanding of human nature and the keys to the successful mitigation of difficult circumstances. Her provision of food for David’s men and her choice of words for David’s ears were both divinely inspired. One of the most insightful things Abigail did that day was to get David to see things from God’s perspective. She knew David would be upset, and rightfully so. She fully understood how her husband’s foolish actions and words would cause David to take offense and be tempted to seek revenge. But what would God have David do? She wanted David to understand that God was working through her to prevent the unnecessary slaughter of innocent people, an action that would place a permanent blight on David’s reputation. It is impossible to think about this fact and not fast-forward to a future event in David’s life when he failed to heed the words of Abigail.

“When the Lord has done all he promised and has made you leader of Israel, don’t let this be a blemish on your record. Then your conscience won’t have to bear the staggering burden of needless bloodshed and vengeance.” – 1 Samuel 25:30-31 NLT

Years later, after David had become the king of Israel, he would have an affair with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his soldiers. And when she became pregnant with his child, he would arrange for her husband, Uriah, to be exposed to enemy fire on the front lines, in order that he could legally take Bathsheba as his wife. And he would know what it was like for his conscience to bear the staggering burden of needless bloodshed.

The words of Abigail were wise because they were godly. And they were godly because they came from the mouth of a godly woman. And we will see that David was going to recognize the hand of God in the actions of Abigail. His God would use this woman to accomplish His will regarding David.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Fear Foolishness.

When David’s young men came, they said all this to Nabal in the name of David, and then they waited. And Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants these days who are breaking away from their masters. Shall I take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers and give it to men who come from I do not know where?” So David’s young men turned away and came back and told him all this. And David said to his men, “Every man strap on his sword!” And every man of them strapped on his sword. David also strapped on his sword. And about four hundred men went up after David, while two hundred remained with the baggage.

But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “Behold, David sent messengers out of the wilderness to greet our master, and he railed at them. Yet the men were very good to us, and we suffered no harm, and we did not miss anything when we were in the fields, as long as we went with them. They were a wall to us both by night and by day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep. Now therefore know this and consider what you should do, for harm is determined against our master and against all his house, and he is such a worthless man that one cannot speak to him.” – 1 Samuel 25:9-17 ESV

We discover in these verses that Nabal was a man who lived up to his name, which happened to mean “fool”. He had all the classic characteristics of a biblical fool.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
    but a wise man listens to advice. – Proverbs 12:15 ESV

The wise don’t make a show of their knowledge,
    but fools broadcast their foolishness. – Proverbs 12:23 NLT

Short-tempered people do foolish things… – Proverbs 14:17 NLT

He was arrogant, full of himself, quick-tempered, resistant to counsel, and ignorant of the consequences of his behavior. He treated David, a mighty warrior, as if he were a nobody. He showed him no honor or respect. He looked down his nose at him, foolishly saying, “Who does this son of Jesse think he is? There are lots of servants these days who run away from their masters. Should I take my bread and my water and my meat that I’ve slaughtered for my shearers and give it to a band of outlaws who come from who knows where?” (1 Samuel 25:10-11 NLT). He knew exactly who David was. Even the Philistines had heard about David’s reputation as a mighty warrior. But Nabal, knowing that David was a man on the run, made a very foolish decision to treat David with disrespect and disdain.

One of Nabal’s shepherds, when he had witnessed what his foolish master had done, ran and told Abigail, Nabal’s wife. Even his words reveal the depth of Nabal’s problem: “he is such a worthless man that one cannot speak to him” (1 Samuel 25:17 ESV). Nabal’s foolishness ran so deep that he could not even recognize the folly and danger of his own actions. And he was totally resistant to the wise counsel of those around him who might have been able to protect him had he only listened.

What would have possessed Nabal to act so foolishly and risk the wrath of someone as powerful as David? We have to remember that, according to the Bible, foolishness is not a mental or psychological problem, it is spiritual. At the heart of Nabal’s folly was lack of respect for and fear of God. He had placed himself at the center of his own life, making himself his own god and arbiter of his own fate. Ultimately, foolishness is the lack of wisdom. And Psalm 111 tells us:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
    all those who practice it have a good understanding. – Psalm 111:19 ESV

Scripture repeatedly warns us that a person who denies, ignores, or neglects God lacks wisdom and inevitably displays the characteristics of a fool.

  • He acts thoughtlessly: He gives little or no thought to God; refusing to consider the truth about God. His treatment of others is simply a byproduct of his lack of thought regarding God’s holiness and judgment.
  • He becomes dull-minded:  When a man fails to consider God, his mind becomes dulled by the things of this world. He begins to lose the ability to see clearly, having his spiritual vision clouded by materialism, success, comfort, and pleasure. not being sharp in his thoughts about God. His mind becomes intoxicated with the things of this world and he sluggish toward God.
    • He becomes senseless: A man who neglects God finds himself lacking in wisdom and acting contrary to good common sense. Because he is deficient in his thoughts about God, he becomes in his ability to think clearly and sensibly. He may be smart and successful, but he will be plagued by senseless decision-making and the harmful outcomes it brings.
    • He will be without understanding: Because he fails to grasp or comprehend God; he will end up with wrong conclusions or thoughts about God. He will wrongly assume that God is not there or that God does not care about what he is doing. He will make godless decisions because he is essentially living a God-less life.
    • He will exhibit an ignorance of God: He won’t truly know God. Because he has left God out of his thought processes, he will display behavior that reveals his faulty understand of God. He won’t fear God’s holiness. He won’t worry about God’s judgment. He won’t seek God’s wisdom. He won’t see a need for God’s forgiveness.
    • He will be unwise: Without God in his life, he will lack wisdom. If fact, regardless of what he tries to do, he will act contrary to wisdom. His behavior will make sense to him, but it will actually lead to dangerous and foolish outcomes.

These characteristics, while true of the lost, should be especially scary to the believer, because any of us can exhibit these same qualities at any time. All it takes is for us to neglect God in our lives, to fail to fear Him and treat Him with the honor, respect and worship He is due. When we leave God out of our lives, we open up the door to foolishness. Foolishness if nothing more than a lack of wisdom and, as the psalmist said, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Nabal was a fool because Nabal was ungodly. If he didn’t fear God, why in the world would he fear David? If he was willing to treat God with disrespect, what would prevent him from treating David the same way?

It is interesting to note that, in the Proverbs, there are five different types of fools mentioned. They seem to run on a continuum, moving from bad to worse. There is the simple fool, the silly fool, the sensual fool, the scornful fool and the stubborn fool. Each is characterized by a different Hebrew word. The last one, the stubborn fool, is the word, “nâbâl”, which just happens to be the name of the character in our story.

According to the Proverbs, this is the most dangerous type of fool. A stubborn fool rejects God and His ways. He is self-confident and close-minded. He is his own god, freely gratifying his own sin nature. It is his goal to draw as many others as possible into following his ways. His actions tend to impact all those around him, just as Nabal’s actions were going to result in the deaths of all those around him. The Proverbs make it clear that only God can reprove a stubborn fool. And we will see in the story that, while David had a heart for God, he ran the risk of acting foolishly himself. He was going to let the foolish actions of Nabal cause him to respond in a godless, foolish way. But wiser heads would prevail.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

No Brag. Just Fact.

I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would but as a fool. Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face.  To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!

But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. – 2 Corinthians 11:16-28 ESV

Paul is about to do something that everything in his being wants to resist. He is about to boast. And he feels like a fool for doing so. But he feels compelled to do so in order to wake up the Corinthians and to get them to see the stupidity of their logic. Paul’s adversaries are constantly boasting of their own reputations and qualifications. They have set themselves up as somehow superior to Paul. So, against his better judgment, Paul decides to play their game of one-upmanship. He begs the Corinthians to “accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little” (2 Corinthians 11:16 ESV). And he sarcastically explains that, “Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast” (2 Corinthians 11:18 ESV). He accuses the Corinthians of being “so wise”, and yet allowing themselves to be enslaved, devoured, taken advantage of, easily impressed, and humiliated, like being slapped in the face in public. 

And since they seem to be attracted by the boasting of his adversaries, Paul decides to play their game, all the while admitting, “I am speaking as a fool” (2 Corinthians 11:21 ESV). Paul is much more comfortable and at home with his weaknesses. He sees them as assets, not liabilities. In the very next chapter, Paul will write, “That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10 NLT). But at this point in the letter, he is attempting to show the Corinthians the foolishness of their obsession with qualifications and outward appearances. So he gives them a rather exhaustive outline of his credentials, matching his critics line by line. These “false apostles” bragged of being pure-blooded, Aramaic, speaking Hebrews. Well, so was Paul. They boasted of being Israelites, part of the chosen people of God. So was Paul. They claimed they could trace their roots all the way back to Abraham. So could Paul. And they had presented themselves as servants of Christ. But Paul flatly asserts that he is a better one, and then goes on to explain why – all the while admitting that his words sounded like those of someone who has lost his mind.

Paul says, “I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again” (2 Corinthians 11:23 NLT). Then he gives specific details regarding his claims, explaining that he has been lashed, beaten, shipwrecked, stoned and left for dead, faced threats from rivers, robbers, the Jews, and even the Gentiles. He has been in danger in cities, the wilderness, at sea, and now, from these false “brothers”. He knows what it feels like to work hard, experience sleepless nights, go without food and water, nearly freeze to death, and face the daily pressure that came with being responsible for all the churches he had helped to start. And all of this was due to his commitment to his calling as an apostle of Jesus Christ. He suffered because he was faithful to his commission, given to him directly by Jesus. If the Corinthians were looking for someone who had the proper qualifications for being an apostle, they need look no further than Paul. He had the scars to prove it. His resume, while not pretty, was a powerful statement of his calling and commitment. When many other men would have given up and walked away, Paul had continued to stay the course, fight the good fight, and run the race – all the way to the end.

While Paul hates the fact that he is having to boast, he is doing so for a good reason. He wants the Corinthians to wake up and smell the coffee. In their “wisdom” they were bearing with fools. They were listening to these false apostles and giving their words credence, all based on nothing more than their self-proclaimed qualifications. These men had no track record of service to the Lord. They had played no part in bringing the gospel to the Corinthians and, if anything, were actually undermining all the work that Paul had poured into them. They were preaching a different gospel, another Jesus and  offering a different Spirit than the one the Corinthians had received at salvation. This was dangerous stuff. Paul knew that their work among the Corinthians would be deadly, if not stopped in its tracks. So he resorted to boasting. He lowered himself to their level, only in order to expose them for what they really were: charlatans and liars. Paul cared for the Corinthians. He was willing to die for them, in necessary. He would gladly take a bullet, or a stone, for them. And he was not above being seen as a fool if it helped them see the folly of their ways.