A Little Folly Goes a Long Way

1 Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a stench;
    so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.
A wise man’s heart inclines him to the right,
    but a fool’s heart to the left.
Even when the fool walks on the road, he lacks sense,
    and he says to everyone that he is a fool.
If the anger of the ruler rises against you, do not leave your place,
    for calmness will lay great offenses to rest.

There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, as it were an error proceeding from the ruler: folly is set in many high places, and the rich sit in a low place. I have seen slaves on horses, and princes walking on the ground like slaves. Ecclesiastes 10:1-7 ESV

There is little doubt that Solomon was a big fan of wisdom. He knew first-hand the value that wisdom could afford a man. But he also knew that wisdom has its limits. In the world in which he lived, there was no one who possessed perfect wisdom. Even he, the wisest man who ever lived, had made foolish mistakes. Despite the vast amount of God-given wisdom he possessed, he had ended up violating the commands of God. During his long life, he had made many unwise decisions that had left an indelible mark on his life and his reign as king.

That seems to be his point in verse 1, where he uses the metaphor of a fly in the ointment. The ointment Solomon had in mind was most likely olive oil, which was used as both a perfume and a healing agent. Like wisdom, the ointment was intended to have a positive effect, acting as a sweet-smelling perfume or a health-inducing medicine. But one dead fly could turn the positive properties of ointment into a diseased-filled, stench-producing product that was of no good to anyone. In the same way, one foolish act can destroy years of wise decision-making. The damaging effects of even a modicum of foolish behavior are immeasurable. It doesn’t take much. And Paul used a similar metaphor when he warned against the impact of false teaching on the church.

This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough! – Galatians 5:9 NLT

There are two ways we can look at Ecclesiastes 10:1. The first is that a wise person can destroy their reputation for wisdom by making one foolish decision. It can become like a fly in the ointment, quickly nullifying the years of beneficial value established by living a life of wisdom. But it can also refer to the impact one fool can have on a family, community, or nation. All it takes is a single individual making one foolish decision to destroy years of wise counsel and leadership. And interestingly enough, Solomon’s own foolish decisions would eventually reap devastating consequences for the nation of Israel. The kingdom his father David had established would end up divided in half and would never regain its former glory. The book of 1 Kings provides a description of Solomon’s fly-in-the-ointment failure that led to God’s removal of him as king and the division of the Davidic Kingdom.

The Lord was very angry with Solomon, for his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. He had warned Solomon specifically about worshiping other gods, but Solomon did not listen to the Lord’s command. So now the Lord said to him, “Since you have not kept my covenant and have disobeyed my decrees, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your servants. But for the sake of your father, David, I will not do this while you are still alive. I will take the kingdom away from your son. And even so, I will not take away the entire kingdom; I will let him be king of one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, my chosen city.” – 1 Kings 11:9-13 NLT

And perhaps it was because Solomon had seen the error of his ways, even if a bit too late, that he spoke so often and so highly of wisdom. He knew that godly wisdom was a deterrent to poor decision-making because it led its adherents down the right path.

But the path of the righteous is like the bright morning light,
growing brighter and brighter until full day.
The way of the wicked is like gloomy darkness;
they do not know what they stumble over. – Proverbs 4:18-19 NLT

Solomon knew that a fool, devoid of godly wisdom, would allow his deceived heart to lead him down the wrong path. And it’s not difficult to spot a fool, because the course of his life gives ample proof that his decision-making is godless and unrighteous.

Even when the fool walks on the road, he lacks sense,
    and he says to everyone that he is a fool. – Ecclesiastes 10:3 ESV

He’s unable to hide his foolishness because his life choices provide glaring evidence of his lack of wisdom. And Solomon provides a real-life example that contrasts the actions of a fool with those of a wise man.

If the anger of the ruler rises against you, do not leave your place,
    for calmness will lay great offenses to rest. – Ecclesiastes 10:4 ESV

If you find that someone in authority is angry with you, don’t act like a fool and impulsively quit. Instead, respond with wisdom, remaining calm and allowing your superior time to cool off. Use self-control. Don’t allow foolish pride to dictate your response and determine your fate.

This is not a guarantee that the ruler will calm down. It doesn’t mean that your wise response will necessarily produce the right reaction from the one who is angry and acting unjustly. But a wise person will not allow the foolish behavior of another to infect and affect their own behavior.

The truth is, there are sometimes fools sitting in places of authority who wield great power. That seems to be Solomon’s point when he writes, “folly is set in many high places, and the rich sit in a low place” (Ecclesiastes 10:6 ESV). The sad reality is that the undeserving and unqualified are sometimes rewarded with positions of power where they rule over those with greater skills and proven track records of success. Solomon refers to them as “rich”, but the Hebrew word can refer to someone who is honorable and noble. In other words, they are someone of worth and character who finds themselves placed in an inferior position and having to submit to the authority of a fool. Solomon describes this sad state of affairs as an evil under the sun. But it’s just a reality of life.

Like Solomon, we live in a world that is sometimes topsy-turvy, where everything appears to be just the opposite of what it should be. In his day, he put this incongruity in visual terms, describing the disturbing sight of “slaves on horses, and princes walking on the ground like slaves” (Ecclesiastes 10:7 ESV).

This was just further proof of the injustice and inequities that abound in this life. And we see the same thing in our day. How many times have we witnessed the promotion of a less-qualified individual for a position of prominence in our company? How often have we seen the undeserving fast-tracked to promotion while the more gifted and talented are overlooked? We have experienced this kind of injustice ourselves. But the fact that it happens doesn’t disqualify the value of wisdom over folly. It’s simply proof of the pervasive presence of sin in the world. 

The prophet Isaiah provides us with a glimpse into the mindset that permeates our fallen world.

What sorrow for those who say
    that evil is good and good is evil,
that dark is light and light is dark,
    that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.
What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes
    and think themselves so clever. – Isaiah 5:20-21 NLT

What an apt description of the world in which we live. And it was true in Solomon’s day as well. It is the nature of life in a world where godlessness has produced a pandemic of foolishness. And while wisdom is essential and to be desired above all else, wisdom alone cannot rectify the problem we face in this world. As Solomon so aptly put it in Proverbs 1:7: “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

Without a knowledge of God and a reverence for who He is, humanity lacks the ability to understand right from wrong, truth from falsehood, good from evil, and righteousness from wickedness. Without God, mankind invariably turns to human wisdom, which always proves insufficient and incapable of providing reliable help in navigating through life. The apostle Paul gives us a wonderful description of the difference between worldly wisdom and that which comes from God.

Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. As the Scriptures say,

“He traps the wise
    in the snare of their own cleverness.”

And again,

“The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise;
    he knows they are worthless.” – 1 Corinthians 3:18-20 NLT

Surviving in this world requires wisdom, but it must be wisdom that is founded on a relationship with God Almighty. The wisdom we need must be based on who He is and what He desires. Without Him, our wisdom becomes folly. Apart from God, man’s wisdom always proves insufficient and inadequate to comprehend the dangers of a fallen world and a foolish heart.

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

Learning to Trust the Ways of God

All this I observed while applying my heart to all that is done under the sun, when man had power over man to his hurt.

10 Then I saw the wicked buried. They used to go in and out of the holy place and were praised in the city where they had done such things. This also is vanity. 11 Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil. 12 Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him. 13 But it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God.

14 There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity. 15 And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.

16 When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth, how neither day nor night do one’s eyes see sleep, 17 then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out. Ecclesiastes 8:9-17 ESV

In this life, things don’t always turn out the way we think they should. The righteous suffer and the wicked prosper. Good people experience a lot of bad things. And, far too often, bad people seem to come out on top. Solomon is wise enough to know that, in the end, everybody dies. But some wicked people can spend their whole lives fooling others into thinking they were actually good and godly people who lived religious lives. So, when they die, they receive the unmerited praise and honor of men.

I have seen wicked people buried with honor. Yet they were the very ones who frequented the Temple and are now praised in the same city where they committed their crimes! This, too, is meaningless. – Ecclesiastes 8:10 NLT

They lived a lie, and in death, they receive unwarranted admiration. As far as Solomon is concerned, this is just another proof of the vanity and futility of life. At the time of death, good people get forgotten, while the wicked get a parade in their honor.

When Solomon mentions the wicked, he is not just speaking of the godless and immoral. He is referring to those who hurt others, abusing and taking advantage of them. They are the oppressors he mentioned in chapter four.

Again, I observed all the oppression that takes place under the sun. I saw the tears of the oppressed, with no one to comfort them. The oppressors have great power, and their victims are helpless. – Ecclesiastes 4:1 NLT

These people don’t commit their wicked deeds in a vacuum. Their behavior inevitably impacts the lives of those around them. There are always victims involved because wickedness is an equal-opportunity destroyer. And sadly, it is usually the innocent who end up suffering because of the lifestyle choices of the wicked. For Solomon, the actions of the wicked against the innocent are just another example of life’s meaninglessness.

I have thought deeply about all that goes on here under the sun, where people have the power to hurt each other. – Ecclesiastes 8:9 NLT

Prostitution and human sex trafficking destroy the lives of countless individuals every year. The drug cartels line their pockets with cash paid out by those seeking yet another high in a hopeless attempt to escape the lows of life. Abusive husbands have abused wives. Rapists have victims. Con artists have their marks. Bullies have the helpless. Liars have the naive and gullible. The powerful have the defenseless. The list goes on and on. And when the wicked see that they can get away with whatever it is they do, they feel emboldened to do more. Solomon put it this way: “When a crime is not punished quickly, people feel it is safe to do wrong” (Ecclesiastes 8:11 NLT). 

But Solomon introduces a vital point of clarification. Even though the wicked may appear to escape any retribution or justice, he knows that eventually, there will be payback. He has confidence that God’s justice will one day be meted out on all those who have made wickedness their lifestyle.

it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God. – Ecclesiastes 8:13 ESV

From our perspective, it may appear as if the wicked just keep on sinning, committing evil after evil, with no apparent consequences. It can even seem as if they live charmed lives, marked by longevity and free from accountability. But Solomon knows that it is those who fear God who will prosper in the long run. They may not experience it in this life, but our righteous God will one day ensure that all is made right. In the meantime, we have to live with the incongruous reality that things don’t always add up in this life. It is full of contradictions and apparent paradoxes. This is why Solomon observes:

good people are often treated as though they were wicked, and wicked people are often treated as though they were good. – Ecclesiastes 8:14 NLT

It can feel so meaningless and futile. And trying to make sense of it all is about as productive as chasing the wind. You get nowhere. You expend a lot of energy but have nothing to show for it in the end. So, Solomon simply concludes. “I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 8:15 NLT).

Is this advice from Solomon wise? Does it even make sense? It may sound appealing but just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t necessarily mean it’s godly counsel. This isn’t the first time that Solomon has reached this conclusion and passed it on to his readers. He offered up the same basic conclusion back in chapter five.

Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. – Ecclesiastes 5:18 NLT

He said virtually the same thing in chapter two, verse 24. He repeated it in chapter three, verses 12-13, and then again, here in chapter five. Eat, drink and enjoy your work. Eat, drink and be joyful. What’s Solomon saying and how should we take his advice?

He is not advising a life of hedonism and self-centered pleasure. He is not advocating unbridled self-satisfaction. But he is suggesting that there are joys associated with hard work and diligent effort in this life. We get to reap the rewards of our work. We can enjoy the warmth and safety of the home our labor helped to we helped to provide. We can take advantage of the many material blessings that God allows us to enjoy as a result of our work. Unlike a slave, who receives no personal benefit from his labors, but must watch the rewards be consumed by his master, we can enjoy the fruit of our effort. We can find joy in a job well done and the benefits it offers. And Solomon would have us remember that “To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God” (Ecclesiastes 8:20 NLT).

We may not have much, but what we do have, we should appreciate and view as a gift from God. The ability to find joy in our labor is something God supplies, and it comes from having a healthy reverence for God. If you despise your job and resent the time you spend having to work for a living, you are essentially expressing to God your ungratefulness for His provision. Your job is not good enough. The benefits it provides are not sufficient enough. So, rather than joy, you express resentment and disappointment. You begin to look at the apparent prosperity of the wicked and question the goodness of God. This can lead to an unhealthy preoccupation with the past that produces a ledger of God’s failures to provide for you. This can lead to a lack of fear of God. And this can result in a failure to show Him reverence, honor, glory, or gratitude.

A big part of learning to fear God is learning to trust Him. It is coming to grips with who He is and who we are in comparison. He is God. He is sovereign, all-knowing, and all-powerful. He is not wise; He is wisdom itself. He knows what is best. He always does what is right. Moses expressed it this way:

I will proclaim the name of the Lord;
    how glorious is our God!
He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect.
    Everything he does is just and fair.
He is a faithful God who does no wrong;
    how just and upright he is! – Deuteronomy 32:3-4 NLT

Yes, there are many things in this life that appear unfair and unjust. There are paradoxes and incongruities galore. Our circumstances may scream to us that God is nowhere to be found, but the Scriptures tell us something radically different. He is always there. The wicked may appear to get away with murder, both literally and figuratively, but God is still in control. He has a plan. He will do what is just and fair. He can do no wrong. And if we could learn to view life through the lens of God’s transcendent power, glory, goodness, and love, we would be better able to enjoy our lives on this planet – in spite of the seeming contradictions and incongruities that surround us.

Solomon realized that “no one can discover everything God is doing under the sun. Not even the wisest people discover everything, no matter what they claim” (Ecclesiastes 8:17 NLT). God’s ways are not our ways. His sovereign plans are sometimes a mystery to us, but they are always righteous and good. Attempting to judge the faithfulness of God based on the incongruous circumstances of life is a dangerous game to play. The apostle Paul warned against presumptuous behavior.

Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” – Romans 9:20 NLT

And Paul borrowed his analogy from the prophet Isaiah.

How foolish can you be?
    He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay!
Should the created thing say of the one who made it,
    “He didn’t make me”?
Does a jar ever say,
    “The potter who made me is stupid”? – Isaiah 29:16 NLT

Both men believed it was ludicrous for a mere man to question the goodness of God just because life had not turned out as expected. For Isaiah, it was ridiculous for the creature to question the Creator. The one who was made had no right to call into question the integrity and righteousness of his Maker.

…can the ax boast greater power than the person who uses it? Is the saw greater than the person who saws? Can a rod strike unless a hand moves it? Can a wooden cane walk by itself? – Isaiah 10:15 NLT

In the end, Solomon recognized his inability to understand the ways of God. No amount of wisdom would ever explain the vagaries of life and the mysteries of God’s ways. And it was the apostle Paul who succinctly summed up the lesson that Solomon was learning.

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!

For who can know the Lord’s thoughts?
    Who knows enough to give him advice?
And who has given him so much
    that he needs to pay it back?

For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen. – Romans 11:33-36 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.

Missing the Forest for the Trees

15 In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. 16 Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? 17 Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? 18 It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.

19 Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.

20 Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.

21 Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. 22 Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.

23 All this I have tested by wisdom. I said, “I will be wise,” but it was far from me. 24 That which has been is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out?

25 I turned my heart to know and to search out and to seek wisdom and the scheme of things, and to know the wickedness of folly and the foolishness that is madness. 26 And I find something more bitter than death: the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God escapes her, but the sinner is taken by her. 27 Behold, this is what I found, says the Preacher, while adding one thing to another to find the scheme of things— 28 which my soul has sought repeatedly, but I have not found. One man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found. 29 See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes. Ecclesiastes 7:15-29 ESV

Don’t be too righteous, but don’t be too wicked. Don’t be too wise, but don’t be too foolish. That sounds like strange advice, doesn’t it? It comes across like Solomon is recommending a life of mediocrity – a middle-of-the-road kind of mentality that avoids the ditches on either side. His assessment is that the righteous die in spite of their righteousness and the wicked succeed in spite of their wickedness. So, he recommends avoiding the extremes and fearing  God instead.

What Solomon seems to be saying is that a man will end up disappointed if he pursues righteousness and wisdom thinking they will provide him with a long and prosperous life, free from trouble and trials. A life of righteousness, marked by wisdom is no guarantee of immunity from difficulty. Good people still suffer and die. Wise people still make dumb decisions. But at the same time, Solomon warns that a life of wickedness may bring you a semblance of pleasure and happiness, but you’ll end up paying for it in the long run. This leads him to conclude: “Pay attention to these instructions, for anyone who fears God will avoid both extremes” (Ecclesiastes 7:18 NLT).

It’s important that we not misunderstand or misinterpret what Solomon is saying. He is not diminishing the importance of righteousness or wisdom. He knows that both are essential and, when pursued properly, honoring to God. He even acknowledges that “One wise person is stronger than ten leading citizens of a town!” (Ecclesiastes 7:19 NLT). A wise person possesses an inner strength that provides protection from the effects of adversity. It provides a form of self-reliance and security that is preferable to dependence upon outside sources.   

But wisdom has its limits. So does righteousness. There is no one who is all-wise. There is no one who is fully righteous.

Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins. – Ecclesiastes 7:20 NLT

That’s not exactly a revelation, but it’s so important that we recognize and come to grips with the truth it proclaims. In this lifetime, we will never experience unvarnished righteousness. We will never be completely holy and sinless. So, while righteousness is a worthy and worthwhile pursuit, we must remember that it will never keep us from suffering. Or to put it another way, no amount of righteousness in your life will protect you from pain and suffering. The righteous and wicked both experience difficulties in life. In fact, sometimes it appears as if the righteous suffer more than the wicked. The prophet Jeremiah took pains to share his frustration with this disturbing reality to God Himself.

Lord, you always give me justice
    when I bring a case before you.
So let me bring you this complaint:
Why are the wicked so prosperous?
    Why are evil people so happy?
You have planted them,
    and they have taken root and prospered.
Your name is on their lips,
    but you are far from their hearts. – Jeremiah 12:1-2 NLT

From our earth-bound perspective, it can sometimes appear as if the wicked are being blessed by God. They seem happy and content. Their lives appear to be relatively free from pain and marked by prosperity. But as the saying goes, “Looks can be deceiving.” Solomon had lived long enough to realize that the righteous and the wicked both experience their fair share of suffering. No amount of wisdom can guarantee a trouble-free life. This was a man who had pursued wisdom in a vain attempt to make sense of the incongruities and inequities of life.

And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. – Ecclesiastes 1:13-14 ESV

Solomon had been blessed by God with greater wisdom than any other living man. But he had not been satisfied. Instead, he spent years trying to acquire even more wisdom. It became an obsession. For Solomon, the accumulation of wisdom had become the end-game, rather than recognition and reverence for the One who made wisdom possible.

In his commentary on the book of Ecclesiastes, J. S. Wright describes wisdom as “not the knowledge of accumulated facts but the inner strength that comes from a God-instructed conscience” (J. S. Wright, Ecclesiastes). John Piper describes wisdom as “that practical knowledge of how to attain true and lasting happiness. It begins with the fear of the Lord and consists in humbly hearing and doing God’s will perceived both in Scripture and in the unique circumstances of the moment” (John Piper, desiringgod.org, “Get Wisdom”).

Solomon knew and understood the importance of wisdom, so he went out of his way to get his hands on it. But it seems as if he treated it as just another commodity, like gold, silver, horses, houses, chariots, and servants. As John Piper stated, the fear of the Lord is central to getting the full advantage of wisdom. And, of all people, Solomon should have understood that truth. After all, it was he who included the following proverb in his well-known collection:

Fear of the LORD is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment. – Proverbs 9:10 NLT

But despite his awareness of this truth, Solomon’s self-obsessed accumulation of wisdom left him less than satisfied.

I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind. – Ecclesiastes 1:16-17 ESV

Solomon had lived a long life. He had accomplished much and enjoyed all the perks that came with his achievements. And while he could put abundant wisdom at the top of his long list of assets, he still found himself operating in the red.

I have always tried my best to let wisdom guide my thoughts and actions. I said to myself, “I am determined to be wise.” But it didn’t work. Wisdom is always distant and difficult to find. I searched everywhere, determined to find wisdom and to understand the reason for things. I was determined to prove to myself that wickedness is stupid and that foolishness is madness. – Ecclesiastes 7:23-25 NLT

Despite his superior intelligence, the only conclusion Solomon could reach was that wisdom was an antidote to foolishness. It was like a vaccine that protected one against infection from folly.

I searched everywhere, determined to find wisdom and to understand the reason for things. I was determined to prove to myself that wickedness is stupid and that foolishness is madness. – Ecclesiastes 7:25 NLT

To Solomon, wisdom was nothing more than a panacea against a life of foolishness. He even characterizes folly as a seductive woman.

I discovered that a seductive woman is a trap more bitter than death. Her passion is a snare, and her soft hands are chains. Those who are pleasing to God will escape her, but sinners will be caught in her snare. – Ecclesiastes 7:26 NLT

And Solomon was somewhat of an expert when it came to seductive women. He was addicted to them. You don’t amass 700 wives and 300 concubines without some kind of a physical and psychological obsession with the opposite sex. And so, when Solomon attempted to describe the attractive nature of folly and the life of foolishness, he tended to use the familiar allure of a promiscuous woman.

For the lips of an immoral woman are as sweet as honey,
    and her mouth is smoother than oil.
But in the end she is as bitter as poison,
    as dangerous as a double-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death;
    her steps lead straight to the grave.
For she cares nothing about the path to life.
    She staggers down a crooked trail and doesn’t realize it. – Proverbs 5:3-6 NLT

Solomon knew that a life of foolishness could be highly appealing, but also extremely deadly. It was an equal-opportunity trap that ensnared both men and women. In fact, when he makes the statement, “Only one out of a thousand men is virtuous”, he uses the Hebrew word adam, which can be translated as “man” but is actually a generic term referring to both sexes. Foolishness is not a male-dominated trait. Every human being, regardless of gender, class, educational status, or social standing, is susceptible to the allure of foolishness.

Yet, in verse 28, Solomon seems to be saying that only men can be virtuous.

I have not found what I was looking for. Only one out of a thousand men is virtuous, but not one woman! – Ecclesiastes 7:28 NLT

It would seem that his use of the term “woman” in the second half of this verse is a direct reference to the seductive woman in verse 26. He is stating that folly is never virtuous. The individual who pursues a life of foolishness will never discover virtue or righteousness. Wisdom can prevent us from succumbing to folly’s temptation, but folly will never produce wisdom or result in a life of righteousness. This is why Solomon closes out this chapter by saying, “God created people to be virtuous, but they have each turned to follow their own downward path” (Ecclesiastes 7:29 NLT). God created men and women to live righteously. But ever since the fall, humanity has made a habit of following a divergent path, pursuing darkness rather than light.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning or foundation of wisdom. But pursuing wisdom without a healthy reverence for God simply turns it into a commodity to be coveted and acquired. It becomes the objective rather than a relationship with God. Instead of viewing wisdom as a gift from God, designed to help us live in obedience to Him, we make it our end goal. Wisdom becomes nothing more than a tool to make us smarter, wealthier, healthier, and happier.

Solomon had spent decades in search of the meaning of life. And, in his relentless quest, he had tried wisdom and wickedness, viewing both as potential doorways to his desired destination. But God and a healthy reverence for Him were, and still are, the only ways for a man or woman to discover their true purpose in life and enjoy their days “under the sun.”

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 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.

The X-Ray Vision of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it all begins in the heart.

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

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

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

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

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

The Heart of the Matter

1 Better is a dry morsel with quiet
    than a house full of feasting with strife.
A servant who deals wisely will rule over a son who acts shamefully
    and will share the inheritance as one of the brothers.
The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold,
    and the Lord tests hearts.
An evildoer listens to wicked lips,
    and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue.
Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker;
    he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished.
Grandchildren are the crown of the aged,
    and the glory of children is their fathers.
Fine speech is not becoming to a fool;
    still less is false speech to a prince.
A bribe is like a magic stone in the eyes of the one who gives it;
    wherever he turns he prospers.
Whoever covers an offense seeks love,
    but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.
10 A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding
    than a hundred blows into a fool.
11 An evil man seeks only rebellion,
    and a cruel messenger will be sent against him.
12 Let a man meet a she-bear robbed of her cubs
    rather than a fool in his folly.
13 If anyone returns evil for good,
    evil will not depart from his house.
14 The beginning of strife is like letting out water,
    so quit before the quarrel breaks out.
15 He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous
    are both alike an abomination to the Lord.
– Proverbs 17:1-15 ESV

At first glance, the book of Proverbs seems to be all about good behavior versus bad behavior. It contrasts the life of a wise person with that of a foolish person, and it would appear that we are to choose one over the other. Solomon seems to suggest that we must make the decision as to which set of behaviors will characterize our lives. But there is an underlying assumption that Solomon goes back to time and time again. There is an important ingredient required, without which none of us will ever be able to enjoy a life marked by consistently good behavior. He hints at it in verse 3.

Fire tests the purity of silver and gold,
    but the Lord tests the heart. – Proverbs 17:3 NLT

The source for ALL behavior, good or bad, is the heart. In the Hebrew mind, the heart referred to the inner man. It was the seat of his mind, will, desires, and emotions. The heart is what drives us. Our behavior is a direct reflection of our hearts. But here’s the problem.

The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve. – Jeremiah 17:9-10 NLT

Our hearts are wicked. Our desires are naturally skewed toward evil, all as a result of the fall. Good behavior is achievable, but it is impossible to maintain long-term. It is not natural for us to do what is good because our hearts are bad. So any good behavior we attempt is short-lived because it is manufactured in the flesh. Yes, we may fool one another with our acts of compassion and deeds of apparent righteousness, but God knows our hearts.

Solomon describes a house full of feasting and conflict (verse 1). He laments the fate of a disgraceful son who forfeits his inheritance to a faithful servant (verse 2). He warns that those with evil intentions tend to surround themselves with like-minded individuals who provide evil advice (verse 4). The unwise tend to mock the poor and “rejoice at the misfortune of others” (verse 5). A fool may attempt to disguise his ignorance with eloquent words but, in time, the truth of his condition will become known to all.

God warned Samuel the prophet,  “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 NLT). We may even be able to fool ourselves into thinking we are good, because of all the “good things” we do. But Solomon gives us the bad news:

People may be right in their own eyes,
    but the Lord examines their heart.

The Lord is more pleased when we do what is right and just
    than when we offer him sacrifices.Proverbs 21:2-3 NLT

Good behavior is only possible when our hearts are good. And none of us can produce a good heart apart from the intervention of God in our lives. He must change our hearts before we can see a change in our behavior. Jesus said, “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart” (Matthew 12:35 NLT).

A good heart is the work of God, not man. It is not a case of behavior modification, but heart transformation, which only God can accomplish. So when Solomon describes wrong-doers, liars, mockers, fools, the wicked, the unjust, quarrelers, the crooked, and deceivers, he is simply listing characteristics that naturally flow from a heart that remains unchanged.

Wisdom, love, common sense, understanding, and friendship are all the characteristics of a heart committed to and under the control of God. And with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, God provided a means by which sinful humanity can live in keeping with His divine will and righteous commands. Paul describes it this way:

So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit. – Ephesians 5:15-18 NLT

He told the Galatian Christians, “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires” (Galatians 5:16-17 NLT).

And then he described what the fruit of a life lived under God’s control looks like: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT).

It all begins in and flows from the heart, and only God can transform the heart. Reading the book of Proverbs should remind us that the behavior God desires from us is unnatural and impossible for us. We can’t do it without Him.

Without God’s assistance, sinful men and women will continue to behave like fools. And while they may appear to find success in their chosen way of life, God will judge them according to the condition of their hearts. Solomon indicates that it is only right for a fool to receive a hundred lashes as punishment for his crimes (verse 10). He should get what he deserves. And the evil person who eagerly seeks rebellion (verse 11) shouldn’t be surprised when the wickedness of his heart is exposed and his defiance is dealt with.

Yet, the good news is that because of the love of God as expressed through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross, we can live new lives because we have new hearts that are being daily transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Word of God reveals our need for God.

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. – Hebrews 4:12 NLT

If you find your life more characterized by the negative characteristics outlined in Proverbs 17, thank God for showing you the true condition of your heart and ask Him to renew His work of transformation. Confess that you can’t change your behavior without His help. Submit to His Spirit’s control. Let Him produce in you what you can’t produce on your own.

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.

Better By Far

16 How much better to get wisdom than gold!
    To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.
17 The highway of the upright turns aside from evil;
    whoever guards his way preserves his life.
18 Pride goes before destruction,
    and a haughty spirit before a fall.
19 It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor
    than to divide the spoil with the proud.
20 Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good,
    and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.
21 The wise of heart is called discerning,
    and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.
22 Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it,
    but the instruction of fools is folly.
23 The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious
    and adds persuasiveness to his lips.
24 Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
    sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
25 There is a way that seems right to a man,
    but its end is the way to death.
26 A worker’s appetite works for him;
    his mouth urges him on.
27 A worthless man plots evil,
    and his speech[d] is like a scorching fire.
28 A dishonest man spreads strife,
    and a whisperer separates close friends.
29 A man of violence entices his neighbor
    and leads him in a way that is not good.
30 Whoever winks his eyes plans dishonest things;
    he who purses his lips brings evil to pass.
31 Gray hair is a crown of glory;
    it is gained in a righteous life.
32 Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
    and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
33 The lot is cast into the lap,
    but its every decision is from the Lord..
– Proverbs 16:16-33 ESV

According to Solomon, the way of wisdom is simply better. While it can’t offer the guarantee of a trouble-free life, it can provide a far better outcome than the alternative. Just consider how many times Solomon pronounces the life of godliness as better than any other available option.

Better to have little, with godliness,
    than to be rich and dishonest.
Proverbs 16:8 NLT

How much better to get wisdom than gold,
    and good judgment than silver! – Proverbs 16:16 NLT

Better to live humbly with the poor
    than to share plunder with the proud. – Proverbs 16:19 NLT

Better to be patient than powerful;
    better to have self-control than to conquer a city. – Proverbs 19:32 NLT

There are simply some things that are better than others. But who gets to choose? According to Solomon, God determines the value of one thing over another. He establishes the relative worth of one action as opposed to another. As is so often the case in the book of Proverbs, in this chapter, Solomon uses comparison to get his point across.

He contrasts poverty with wealth and deems it better to have little than much. But he inserts a qualifier because, by themselves, these two conditions are amoral. They are neither wrong nor right, just or unjust. The qualifier has to do with the spiritual condition of the individual in each case. It is better to have little AND be godly than to be rich AND dishonest. The presence of godliness in the life of the impoverished person automatically improves the condition of his life. Logic would suggest that an abundance of wealth can help to improve life, but Solomon states that wealth gained by dishonest means adds little to the life of its possessor. It brings no satisfaction. It can assuage the appetite, but not the soul.

Solomon goes on to say that it is actually better to get wisdom than gold, and good judgment than silver (Proverbs 16:16). As has been made perfectly clear throughout the book of Proverbs, wisdom and good judgment are only available from God and require determination and dedication to acquire. We must search for them like we would hidden treasure. They must be a priority and a passion in our lives. Their value is far beyond that of riches of any kind. To put it simply: They’re just better.

And as if to further drive home his original point, Solomon tells us it is “better to live humbly with the poor than to share plunder with the proud” (Proverbs 16:19 NLT). Now while the qualifier is less clear, his comparison of these two types of lifestyles goes beyond mere poverty and wealth. It has much more to do with the condition of the heart. One is humble while the other is proud. Our friendships should be based more on the condition of the heart than the quality of our lifestyle.  We should be more concerned about the spiritual state of the ones with whom we associate than their financial health.

Far too often, the prominent and financially well-off have earned their wealth through less-than-righteous means. They may have taken advantage of the less fortunate to line their own pockets. They could have cut corners or broken laws to obtain their ill-gotten gains. Solomon even describes their wealth as plunder, as if has been stolen. And he describes their attitude about it all as prideful and arrogant. Somehow, they have conned the system and improved their financial position at the expense of others, and they’re proud of their accomplishments. And Solomon suggests that a life of destitution lived among the righteous poor would be far better in the end.

Solomon provides two final comparisons wrapped up in one verse.

Better to be patient than powerful;
    better to have self-control than to conquer a city. – Proverbs 16:32 NLT

Once again, the emphasis is on character, specifically patience and self-control. While God is not mentioned in these verses, it is clearly He who establishes the basis of these comparative clauses. God values patience over power, and self-control over what appears to be success.

Man tends to judge by externals, while God looks at the heart. He examines the motives. We see that clearly in verse 2:

People may be pure in their own eyes,
    but the Lord examines their motives.

God values godliness, justice, wisdom, good judgment, humility, patience, and self-control because each of these things is given by Him. They are not man-made or self-manufactured. They are evidence of a life lived in dependence upon God. And therefore, they are better. The world puts little to no value on any of them. Instead, the world determines the value of anything based solely on results. It bases value on externals and determines worth based on effectiveness. But God judges by different criteria and, at the end of the day, He alone determines which is better and best.

Those who choose to leave God out of their lives will only supplant Him with a god or gods of their own choosing. If they refuse to worship and fear Him, they will only end up bowing down to something or someone else. In many cases, they become prideful, thinking of themselves as the masters of their own fate and the captains of their own souls. But Solomon provides a sobering warning to these self-adulating, narcissistic fools:

Pride goes before destruction,
    and haughtiness before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18 NLT

The godless are really just God-less. They lack a healthy reverence for God Almighty and so they end up replacing Him with gods of their own making. In their pride and arrogance, they have chosen to pursue a path that leads away from God and far from the wisdom only He can provide. And while that path may lead to wealth, popularity, and power, it ultimately ends in death.

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

And as they make their way, they leave a wake of destruction in their path.

Scoundrels create trouble;
    their words are a destructive blaze.

A troublemaker plants seeds of strife;
    gossip separates the best of friends.

Violent people mislead their companions,
    leading them down a harmful path.

With narrowed eyes, people plot evil;
   with a smirk, they plan their mischief. – Proverbs 16:30 NLT

They have determined to take their own path and to live their lives according to their own terms. Having left God out of the picture, they end up taking the credit for their own success. But little do they know that their fate is far from self-determined. Their autonomy is a sham. Their aspirations for self-rule and sovereignty are a pipe dream. Because, at the end of the day, it is still God who determines their fate.

The lot is cast into the lap,
    but its every decision is from the Lord. – Proverbs 16:33 ESV

Life is not about chance. Our future is not based on fate, karma, or some form of kismet. Human beings tend to think that life is a game of chance where we roll the dice and take whatever comes our way. Some of us are fortunate enough to roll a lucky seven while others end up with snake eyes or craps. But Solomon reminds us, “We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall” (Proverbs 16:33 NLT).

The wise recognize the hand of God in all of life. They understand that He alone is sovereign. They know that He determines the affairs of men and He dictates the rules by which we conduct our lives on this planet. And Solomon points out that those who seek to live according to God’s terms will be blessed.

Those who listen to instruction will prosper;
    those who trust the Lord will be joyful. – Proverbs 16:22 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.

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.

Life Lived On God’s Terms

13 Even in laughter the heart may ache,
    and the end of joy may be grief.
14 The backslider in heart will be filled with the fruit of his ways,
    and a good man will be filled with the fruit of his ways.
15 The simple believes everything,
    but the prudent gives thought to his steps.
16 wise One is cautious and turns away from evil,
    but a fool is reckless and careless.
17 A man of quick temper acts foolishly,
    and a man of evil devices is hated.
18 The simple inherit folly,
    but the prudent are crowned with knowledge.
19 The evil bow down before the good,
    the wicked at the gates of the righteous.
20 The poor is disliked even by his neighbor,
    but the rich has many friends.
21 Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner,
    but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.
22 Do they not go astray who devise evil?
    Those who devise good meet steadfast love and faithfulness.
23 In all toil there is profit,
    but mere talk tends only to poverty.
– Proverbs 14:13-23 ESV

Life can be tumultuous and uncertain. It is filled with peaks and valleys, highs and lows, and a wide range of disparate experiences that can make your head spin. And without godly wisdom, it will be difficult to make sense of it all. The diversity and seeming inequality of our life experiences can create an inner dissonance that is difficult to resolve. But wisdom can bring clarity and a sense of meaning to it all.

For instance, the wise person understands that laughter, while beneficial, can never fully alleviate pain and suffering. It is a temporary fix that can lift one’s spirits for a time but will never fully assuage the hurt and heartache that can accompany life in a fallen world. That’s why Solomon points out, “Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains.

Laughter can make difficult times more bearable but it can’t change circumstances. As the proverb says, it can conceal a heavy heart, but it can’t heal one. Laughter may make you forget your troubles, but it can’t make them go away. There is nothing wrong with laughter. It is a gift from God. I think God has a sense of humor but laughter was never meant to serve as a replacement for guilt, a narcotic to deaden our pain, or an entertaining diversion to replace the joy and peace that can only come from God.

Think about how many times you’ve found yourself down in the dumps and turned on the TV in an attempt to find something that might make you laugh. Or you’ve gone to a movie to forget about your cares, if just for an hour or so. For a few brief moments, you were able to forget about your problems and laugh. But when the TV show ends or the movie is over, you find yourself right back where you started. Nothing has changed. “When the laughter ends, the grief remains.”

Wisdom recognizes that God is the ultimate answer to our sorrow, weariness, lack of fulfillment, and longing for purpose in life. The person who makes God his highest priority will be rewarded for seeking to live according to His will (verse 14. The godly will know how to live prudently, conducting his life with discernment that is based on the wisdom of God (verse 15). The wise know the value of turning away from (verse 16) and have the God-given capacity to refrain from anger that produces foolish and sometimes fatal outcomes (verses 17-18).

In the end, the godly will come out on top. The wise will live to see righteousness win. It may not happen in this life but, eventually, the way of the wise will prove to be the victorious way.

Evil people will bow before good people;
    the wicked will bow at the gates of the godly. – Proverbs 14:19 NLT

When God’s grand plan of redemption is complete and His Son returns to establish His earthly Kingdom, the wicked will find themselves bowing down before Christ and having to confess that He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever!” – Revelation 5:13 BSB

Wisdom wins. The way of the righteous will culminate with the will of the Father bringing about the worship of His Son by all mankind. Even those destined for an eternity separated from God will be forced to acknowledge the sovereignty of His Son, Jesus Christ. And as the children of God, we will find ourselves enjoying our undeserved yet privileged position as fellow heirs of Christ in the coming Kingdom.

In this life, we have to witness the gross injustices that are part and parcel of a fallen world. The poor find themselves despised because of their poverty. Not only do they lack worldly goods but they find friends to be in short supply. But the wealthy seem to have no shortage of treasures or admirers. But it will not always be that way. One day, justice will be served and all the wrongs will be righted. The injustices will be dealt with once and for all.

But in the meantime, Solomon calls us to practice justice to the best of our ability. Rather than despise our impoverished neighbors, we are to love and care for them (verse 21). While the wicked makes plan to do evil, the wise come up with ways to do good. They use their God-given capacity to seek the well-being of others to display steadfast love and faithfulness to all (verse 22). They practice selflessness. They demonsrate compassion. They model the character of God to both the godly and the godless. And because they are doing the will of God, their efforts pay off (verse 23). Their reward is the blessing of God. He extends His grace, mercy, and love to His children so that they might continue to serve as His conduits of divine blessing to all those around them.

The book of Proverbs is all about two paths or ways of life. One is committed to living life according to God’s terms, while the other is pictured as the self-made, self-reliant, self-directed individual who rejects God’s way as the best way. The Proverbs are not presenting two equally viable alternatives to living life. You can’t expect to choose either option and get the same results. In the end, it all goes back to the fear of God. “Those who follow the right path fear the Lord; those who take the wrong path despise him” (Proverbs 14:2 NLT). The fear of the Lord is all about humility in the face of God’s glory. It is an awareness of His majesty, holiness, and power and our own inadequacy. Only a fool would look at God and decide to run his own life because he knows better. Only a self-consumed egomaniac would reject God’s way for his own, arrogantly thumbing his nose in the face of God and stubbornly walking right into destruction. “The wise are cautious and avoid danger, fools plunge ahead with reckless confidence” (Proverbs 14:16 NLT).

Man is so prideful that he would rather suffer the consequences that come with self-rule than give up his precious autonomy. It reminds me of the lyrics to the song made famous by Frank Sinatra, “I Did It My Way.” That song could be the official anthem of the human race. We stand before God and shout, “I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption. I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway. And more, much more than this, I did it my way.” Doing it our way is more important to most of us than doing it the right way. We will stubbornly cling to our right to be wrong. We will painfully pound our heads against the wall of God’s righteousness rather than submit to His will and accept His way as the only right way to live. And in doing so, we miss out on His love, mercy, grace, and divine plan for a better life. Our obsession with self-rule ends up in our own self-destruction.

The closing lines of the song, “I Did It My Way” are sobering and provide a very insightful look at the stubbornness of sin.

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows and did it my way! Yes, it was my way

What a sad picture of the foolishness of man. Rather than kneel before God and admit His majesty and power, men would rather stand tall and take the blows – all so they could do it their way. They find God’s way restrictive and stifling. His offer of peace, rest, and salvation from sin appear unattractive and even unnecessary to them. They are deceived by the offers of this world and the lies of the enemy. They choose compromise over conviction every time. Jesus told us it would be this way. He warned us that few would choose the path God offers. “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it” (Matthew 7:13-14 NLT). The way God provides IS restrictive, narrow, and demanding. It demands that you abandon your own way and go His. It requires that you trust God’s way as the right way. It unapologetically expects you to fear God and humbly, dependently follow Him, believing He knows what’s best for your life. You can do it your way or you can kneel before God and do it His way.

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

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

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