Proverbs 11:14-18

In Proverbs 11:14-18 Solomon begins by giving us a picture of the power of leadership.  “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” People need leadership and guidance. Elsewhere we know scripture tells us that ‘without vision, the people perish’. God has given systems and structures of authority, and those in leadership need to be able to give wise counsel. Leadership is vital to help people, organizations and governments move forward.  But Solomon is quick to remind us that there is great value and safety in receiving opinion and input from the abundance of counselors. No man or woman has all the wisdom, and getting input from many can work well to bring greater wisdom and safety in decisions.  There is danger in following one voice, unless that voice is God!

Solomon reminds us that we should never promise to pay the debts of a stranger.  It should never be a surprise if that goes bad.  “Whoever puts up security for a stranger will surely suffer harm, but he who hates striking hands in pledge is secure.” We do need to take responsibility for our own debts and be sure we are being faithful and prudent in honoring that to which we commit.  There is a view by some that borrowing beyond one’s means is acceptable, and that there are ways the system allows you to walk away from those debts.  But we need to be sure we don’t overextend and create a bad reputation because we fail to honor our pledge.

Solomon next compares graciousness and violence.  “A gracious woman gets honor, and violent men get riches.” A mark of a truly gracious woman is that she carries with herself a sense of honor and dignity. Character and honor are important to the gracious woman, but all the ruthless care about is riches. Wealth is their god. They will pursue it at all costs.  Solomon compares graciousness and violence to show the polar opposite of the two.  A gracious person will protect their honor and reputation with the same strength and intensity as a violent (or strong in some other translations) will pursue their own obsession with money.  The contrast made is extremely strong.

He continues to compare and contrast as he talks about kindness versus cruelty.  “A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself.” Another word for ‘kind’ here is mercy.  God will give mercy to those who show mercy on those in their patch.  But the one who is unmerciful and cruel to others will find that it comes back to himself in that same way. The measure they use for others will also be measured to them. He continues by comparing wickedness and righteousness, a common theme in the Proverbs. “The wicked earns deceptive wages, but one who sows righteousness gets a sure reward.” When someone works with deception and dishonesty, it is evidence of wickedness. The wise and honest person knows that work must be done in a way marked by honesty and integrity. It is those who work in righteousness that are rewarded for their good work!

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Proverbs 11:11-13

In Proverbs 11:11-13 Solomon gives hope to the righteous, but warning to the wicked.  “The righteous is delivered from trouble, and the wicked walks into it instead.” God promises deliverance to His righteous ones. Whatever trouble they experience in this life is only temporary, and they will see His deliverance in this life and especially in the life to come.  The outlook for the wicked is very different.  They don’t have relief ahead. One way wickedness is expressed is with the mouth.  “With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered.” One of the identifying marks of the godless man is that they destroy people with their words. Sincere love looks to build others up, not to destroy them.

God gives favor among men with His righteous ones and the community rejoices when they are blessed. He often places them in places of influence, trust and power. “When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness. By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is overthrown.” As much as the community rejoices over the blessing of the righteous, they also celebrate the end of the wicked. When good comes to the upright, it is good for the entire community. Their blessing and prosperity extends beyond themselves. But the words of the wicked can even destroy a city, leading to its overthrow.

This kind of interaction extends beyond the macro to the micro – meaning it comes down to the individual level.  When one belittles his neighbor, it isn’t evidence of superior wisdom and discernment, but a failure of true wisdom. “Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent. Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.” As your mother probably told you – sometimes remaining silent is the right response.  My father often said it is better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool that to open it and remove all doubt.

We often forget the power of our words.  Just because we know something doesn’t mean we need to say it.  Men and women of wisdom or understanding recognize there is a time and place to hold back one’s outrage or frustration.  Slander is never the appropriate response to anything that happens.  A slanderer loves the power and intrigue of revealing secrets. For them, such secrets are a form of power that they use for their own advancement. They hold it over the head of someone else.  A trustworthy and wise person knows there is an appropriate time to conceal a matter. There are times when love and wisdom guide to privacy.

Proverbs 11:1-7

In Proverbs 11:1-7 Solomon begins by saying “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight.” The term abomination was reserved for terrible, horrific things. This shows just how deeply God cares about simple honesty and fairness. But the balance to abomination is offset to the same degree in that He has delight in just and fair business practices. Scripture is very clear that God resists the proud.  Solomon reinforces that here. “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” There is great wisdom in humility because it recognizes the truth about God and the truth about self, especially in relation to others.  Humility is a foundational part of wisdom.

Along with humility, God loves integrity. “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.” The man or woman who lives with integrity – a trustworthy life lived without shame or secrets – is recognized as upright and will have their integrity to guide them. Solomon contrasts integrity with crookedness.  He reminds us that the false and crooked ways of the unfaithful will bring those who practice them to destruction.  Some believe money can resolve all things, but that’s not God’s plan.  “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.” We can and should use our present earthly wealth to store up treasure in heaven.

The blameless man or woman finds some rest in the confidence that God’s guiding eye is upon the righteous. “The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight, but the wicked falls by his own wickedness. The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the treacherous are taken captive by their lust.” The wicked man or woman has no such confidence. God does not need to specially intervene in the fall of the wicked; he can fall by his own wickedness. The upright will have their reward. As the upright are delivered, the unfaithful will be caught – and by their own lust they will receive the penalty of their own unfaithful desires.

The wicked man often expects blessing and goodness, but that expectation will perish when they die and face the judgment that is coming to all of us. “When the wicked dies, his hope will perish, and the expectation of wealth perishes too.” Money won’t provide any cover, even though people think they can buy their way out of judgment. Hope was not made for the wicked; and yet they are the very people that most abound in it! They hope to be saved, and get at last to the kingdom of God.  But when they stand before the judgment seat, their wicked ways will cause their hope to be dashed and they will fail to reach their desire to be saved.  Wickedness crashes at judgment.

Proverbs 10:24-32

In Proverbs 10:24-32 Solomon reminds us that the wicked man or woman knows that all is not right, and that their day of accountability will come. They live in fear and these fears will one day come upon them. “What the wicked dreads will come upon him, but the desire of the righteous will be granted. When the tempest passes, the wicked is no more, but the righteous is established forever.” In contrast, the righteous man or woman also has a sense of what is to come, and is rightly filled with optimism and hope. Their godly desire will be granted and they will experience God’s blessing and righteousness. And just like the illustration used of the wise man who built his house upon the rock, the righteous man has a firm, everlasting foundation and can withstand the whirlwind and storm.

Solomon tells us that being lazy has consequences. The idea is of constant and extreme irritation, and to disappointed expectation. “Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to those who send him.”  Sounds irritating, doesn’t it?  But the one who sends a lazy man to do the work will be irritated by their laziness and lack of concern for hard work. The sense is that the lazy man irritates his managers more than himself. The sluggard can disappoint and provoke his master. So we must ensure that we are not sluggards to our heavenly Master.  God is not so willing to allow us to be sluggards in relation to His commands.

The one who fears and honors God will enjoy the blessing of a longer life. Sinful habits, guilt, and ungodly anxiety all take years from one’s life. “The fear of the Lord prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be short. The hope of the righteous brings joy, but the expectation of the wicked will perish.” One of the many prices that the wicked man or woman must pay is a shorter time on earth because of those choices. God’s path is blessing and goodness for those who follow it. “The way of the Lord is a stronghold to the blameless, but destruction to evildoers. The righteous will never be removed, but the wicked will not dwell in the land.”

But that path leads those who do evil to destruction.  God wins the battle between good and evil.  Those who do evil will never dwell in God’s presence.  He moves them out.  God’s righteous men and women are known for the wisdom they speak. A person’s heart is often revealed by their words. “The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off. The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse.” There is a sense of discernment in what the righteous say.  They know what is acceptable and pleasing to God, but the wicked have no filter and spew perverse words and hurtful language.  And they will be punished and cut off some day as a result of their poor decisions.

Proverbs 10:19-23

In Proverbs 10:19-23 Solomon continues teaching us about the difference between righteousness and wickedness.  He begins by reminding us that our words can get us into trouble.  “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” For many people, the more they talk the more they will sin. There is much more potential sin in talking than in listening. It is hard to control our words.  But words matter, they matter a lot.  And we have to figure out how to keep them in check.  Our mother’s advice – ‘if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything’ – certainly does align with Solomon’s advice.

What we say to one another is very important. “The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is of little worth. The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense.” The words that the righteous one speaks are full of goodness and benefit, like choice silver. For many people, the greatest riches they treasure in their heart are the kind and encouraging things others have said to them.  I’m sure you, like me, can think of some of those precious things that others have said that made your day.  But the other side is true as well.  A heart filled with wickedness often speaks words that cut down and destroy.  And the impact on the fool is severe.

There are many who have been blessed with riches and are wise enough to receive those riches as God’s blessing. They understand that every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes from the One who is owner of all, and designer of the world we live in.  We are a little part of God’s economy – it is His world and His plans are what happen “The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.“ To receive riches from God is to be blessed; to have riches without the sorrow that often come with them is an even greater blessing.  Riches, and in particular money, can be a root of evil.  So being blessed must be balanced with the responsibility to recognize the source and keep it in perspective.

Solomon tells us that the fool regards evil as entertainment, or as sport. Not only does he do it for enjoyment, but there is also a competitive aspect to evil among fools, with each trying to outdo the other. “Doing wrong is like a joke to a fool, but wisdom is pleasure to a man of understanding.” The man or woman of wisdom sees evil for what it is and avoids it. A wise person puts his efforts into understanding and sharing that with those in his patch.  Fools destroy those around them with evil, but the wise build up and encourage those they touch with God’s wisdom which leads to blessing and righteousness.  What a stark contrast.

Proverbs 10:11-18

In Proverbs 10:11-18 Solomon reminds us that a righteous man or woman speaks life-giving words, most often to others and sometimes to one’s self. “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.” The wicked brings harm and hurt with their words. They take away life. We make a choice as to how we will impact those in our patch, which will directly affect us as well.  He further contrasts hate and love. “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” We could say this is true in two senses, in that love covers the sins of others, and that love covers the sins of the one who loves. Hatred brings trouble, but love brings healing.

When a person has wisdom, it will be found on their lips. The words they speak reveal the wisdom they possess. “On the lips of him who has understanding, wisdom is found, but a rod is for the back of him who lacks sense.” But wisdom isn’t possessed by all, and when it isn’t, there is a much different approach to directing life.  The ones who lack wisdom must be corrected by pain, represented by a rod used to strike those who misbehave. Wisdom takes knowledge and makes it accessible for the future. This can be done in many ways – memorization, note taking, and the use of modern digital technology. “The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near.”

A rich man’s wealth is his strong city; the poverty of the poor is their ruin.” This principle observes that wealth gives a measure of protection and provision in this world.  It can be a life and world changer. But poverty puts the poor man at a great disadvantage, sometimes leading to their destruction. This is a plain recognition of the power of wealth, and the paralysis of poverty. Wealth may become a curse, but poverty can lead to destruction. “The wage of the righteous leads to life, the gain of the wicked to sin.” For the righteous, labor is life-giving and leads to life. They understand that our calling to co-labor with God is a life-giving gift.  For the wicked it is sin that leads to judgment, exactly the opposite outcome.

No one likes to be corrected, so the alternative is to listen to wisdom and obey. Wisdom and instruction must not only be gained, but also kept. Doing so will bring life. “Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.” Those who reject or refuse correction will cause themselves and those in their patch to go astray.  We impact each other.  How we respond to God’s truth matters.  It common for those who are motived by hatred to hide their motivation and therefore lie. In our modern day, very few people will ever admit to the sin of hatred. “The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool.” They spread false and unsupported accusations against others. That person is a fool, because God knows all and will judge righteously.

Proverbs 10:7-10

In Proverbs 10:7-10 Solomon continues talking about the blessing of righteousness. “The memory of the righteous is a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot.” Scripture has a great example of this in Hebrews 11 where the faith hall of fame is called out.  Righteousness is remembered and filled with blessing, but wickedness is not remembered beyond the time it exists.  We have two outcomes possible from life – righteousness which yields blessing – or wickedness which yields rottenness.  We all choose what that ending will be for us as individuals.  It is a choice.  We determine if we will be remembered for our righteousness or forgotten in our rottenness.

Wisdom gives us the humility to listen and to learn.  “The wise of heart will receive commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin.” If we are wise, we’ll pursue wisdom and hear it.  But if we are not, we’ll push it aside and fall.  Those who reject wisdom are often very vocal about themselves and their own thinking.  And that brings them to destruction.  When we walk with nothing to hide, we walk in integrity.  Integrity is really all about what we do when we think no one is looking.  The folly in that is that God is always looking and sees all, in fact knows all, before we even to it.  But integrity means a life free from sin and compromise.  There is no fear of discovery.

When we walk in integrity, we have a secure path.  There is no need to hide or cover anything up. “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.” If we choose the other path – the path of crookedness – it is only a matter of time before it is revealed.  Jesus made that clear in Matt. 10:26 when he said ‘there is nothing covered that will not be revealed”.  There are no secrets that will remain such.  And certainly, the thought that we pulled something that God is unaware of is absolutely not true.  God knows all, sees all and will deal with all that we choose to do in life.

Solomon gets very detailed about wickedness when he goes after winking.  “Whoever winks the eye causes trouble, but a babbling fool will come to ruin.” The wink he speaks of is a person who has secrets and cunning plans behind it.  Does it mean that all winking is evil?  I don’t think that is the message here, but the motivation behind our wink, or our words, or our actions for that matter, are what truly matter.  If our heart is set on evil or wickedness, then it will lead to ruin.  The fool just continues to babble his own thoughts and words until he falls flat on his face due to his own choices.

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