Proverbs 26:17-23

In Proverbs 26:17-23 Solomon moves from the sluggard to those who sin by the words that come from their mouth. Some find it irresistible to get involved in the disputes of other people. The quarrel doesn’t really belong to them, but they makes it their own. The Hebrew verb literally means ‘become excited’…someone who gets angry over the fight of another. Jesus knew when to not get involved in another’s dispute and taught about it to His disciples. “Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.” It is a foolish and dangerous thing to take a dog by the ears. Once one does, it’s hard to let go without getting bit, and the dog never appreciates it.

Solomon next paints the picture of a wild warrior who leaves a trail of destruction and is a madman. It may be physical, or emotional, or even spiritual destruction, but this person creates fear and havoc among those around him. “Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I am only joking!” But the man who plays tricks on others, deceiving them, and covering it by saying, “I was only joking!” is also a danger to others—and a very unwelcome companion. Making threats and causing fear is not a laughing matter.

He next talks about the wisdom of keeping quiet when there is potential for a quarrel. It is not possible for one person to quarrel by themselves, at least not a normal person. It takes two to tango, or to quarrel. Just as wood fuels a fire, so the quarreler or gossiper fuels strife. The fire won’t continue to burn without the wood, and the strife won’t continue when the words stop. “For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases. As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife. The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.” We can become consumed with getting the latest gossip which will penetrate deeply and cause conflict in our soul and with those around us.

Solomon next moves on to talk about a person who uses their charisma to cover their evil heart. He is really talking about someone with a bad mouth and a worse heart. There are people who are able to speak with power and persuasion, but they have a wicked heart. The effect of their wicked heart is made much more effective because of their smooth and controlling words. “Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel are fervent lips with an evil heart.” This is an example of something that looks good on the outside; but is worthless on the inside. So the man Solomon talked about may attract people with his words, but inside he is filled with evil.

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Proverbs 26:13-16

In Proverbs 26:13-16 Solomon begins a series of statements around sluggards. In scripture, the word for sluggard is often translated as lazy too. The lazy man will create any excuse to avoid work. A lion in the road was a virtual impossibility in Biblical times. The lazy man shows creative talent (imagining not only a lion, but a fierce lion) and a form of work, but it is dedicated to the effort of avoiding work. “The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the road! There is a lion in the streets!” Often in life, it takes more effort to get out of doing what is needed than to simply get after it and get it done.

Solomon moves from creative storytelling to escape work, to the reality that a sluggard doesn’t get up and get to work. The only way a door can turn is on its hinges. The only turning the lazy man does is on his bed. Ross wrote “The humor in this verse is based on the analogy with a door—it moves but goes nowhere. Likewise the sluggard is hinged to his bed.” “As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed.” In order to live life, we have to get up and move. Lying in bed is not a way to accomplish things. The sluggard may twist and turn, but he finds a way to stay put so he doesn’t have to lift a finger.

But Solomon goes further in explaining the fact that a real sluggard won’t even do the things needed to take care of himself. Even simple things like eating and taking care of his house are too much for a sluggard to do. The lack of energy and initiative in the lazy man is so profound that he can’t or won’t properly care for his personal needs. “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth.” Unfortunately, the lazy person doesn’t even see their own situation.  They are unaware that they are in fact living at a level far below what God intended or created.

Solomon continues by making it clear that while the sluggard may not truly understand their situation, they do wrongly believe that they are wise, and sometimes believe they are smarter than everyone else because they attempt to function without really ever doing much, just avoiding work and the rest of the world around them. The lazy man may lack energy and initiative, but he doesn’t lack a high opinion of himself. He considers himself smarter than seven men who can answer sensibly. The lazy man has great confidence in his own abilities, but never seems to accomplish much. “The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly.” The lazy man makes it very clear he thinks he is genius – as seven is the perfect number and the lazy man believes he is wiser than all!

Proverbs 26:6-12

has Solomon continuing to define a fool. He chooses to do it by comparing the fool to things the reader can relate to. He uses a series of “like the” statements, to colorfully explain the nature of the fool:

  • Whoever sends a message by the hand of a fool cuts off his own feet and drinks violence.
  • Like a lame man’s legs, which hang useless, is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
  • Like one who binds the stone in the sling is one who gives honor to a fool.
  • Like a thorn that goes up into the hand of a drunkard is a proverb in the mouth of fools.”

These are absurd illustrations, but they contrast a fool with things that make a point. Most readers can relate to just how much a fool is a real problem.

Solomon continues his comparison by comparing a fool to an archer who can’t control where his arrows fly. There is no indication that the archer is blindfolded or anything more than just careless and foolish. The problem is that those kinds of actions are not harmless but rather can cause wounds or death.  We have to resist having fools around as they can create significant damage. “Like an archer who wounds everyone is one who hires a passing fool or drunkard.” God’s guidance and governing over all things extends to the fool and the transgressor. He will make sure they get what is due, as both their hire and their wages. God is in control, even over those who are not necessarily following Him.

Solomon next compares a fool to something that is somewhat repulsive to us – a dog returning to his vomit. A fool will not change their ways apart from a dramatic transformation. Just as it is in the dog’s nature to return to his own vomit, it is the fool’s nature to repeat his folly. Peter illustrates the repulsive nature of a sinner returning to their sin in his writing. “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.”  Bridges wrote “We naturally turn away from this sight. Would that we had the same disgust at the sin that it so graphically portrays.” We need to be sure we aren’t foolish when it comes to sin.  We have to be sure not to make the same mistake a fool does.

But Solomon then gives us perspective on pride versus foolishness. He’s railed on just how bad it is to be a fool.  But here he makes it even more of a distinction against anyone who thinks they are wise. Despite the severe treatment of the fool, Solomon thought of a man in even worse danger—the proud man, the one wise in his own eyes. This is a special type of folly, one that will never learn the ways of wisdom. “Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” The peril is a very subtle one. We are prone to be wise in our own mind, without knowing that we are doing it. A simple question can help detect it. Do we fail to seek divine guidance in any undertaking because we do not feel a need for it; In other words, we are wise in our own little world and don’t feel like we need God’s input or direction. That is a sign of pride.

Proverbs 26:1-5

In Proverbs 26:1-5 Solomon gives us some contrast between honor and those who are a fool. These things are out of place and in an economic disaster for a field full of grain being grown in the field. We’ve experienced it on the farm multiple times, and they are always disasters of bad timing leading to a significant financial disaster. “Like snow in summer or rain in harvest, so honor is not fitting for a fool.” The culture today tends to highlight a fool, almost as a good thing.  But Solomon is clear, fools have no place in being honored as the outcome of their actions, and ultimately their life, will not end well.

Solomon tackles the topic of a curse.  He uses a couple birds that flitter around and don’t typically stop to rest on a branch of a tree but just flitter from here to there. In that day, people attempted to put curses on others with the intent of causing harm.  And some just went around attempting to do it to many in their patch. “Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, a curse that is causeless does not alight.” But no human has the ability to put a curse on another.  God alone controls outcomes. In the same way that a bird will fly without landing, so a curse that someone makes without God’s power will do nothing. If someone pronounces a curse it does not have magical properties; there must be cause before God for it have any power.

Solomon again tackles the way to deal with fools.  Many just want to ignore, or try to ignore the continual effort of a fool to disrupt society or individual lives. This proverb, with its two different examples, is written for us in two capacities: as people dealing with fools, and as potential fools ourselves. “A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the back of fools.” The response for a fool in both cases, either someone else or ourself, is something that causes attention. There is an instrument appropriate for these animals. There are instruments that fit the fool: a whip to try and guide, a bridle to try and steer, and a rod for the fool’s back if nothing else works. What they will not learn from the words of wisdom they must learn through the infliction of pain.

And reasoning with a fool just isn’t going to work. When a fool pours forth his foolishness, it is often right to not answer them. Sometimes contending with a fool can make one just like the fool. You typically can’t reason with them or correct their thinking. “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” But sometimes you need to make a response. In those times the right thing is to answer a fool. Sometimes a wise answer to a fool will expose his folly and prevent him from becoming wise in his own eyes. We have to exercise discernment to know when to remain quiet versus when to speak up.

Proverbs 25:25-28

In Proverbs 25:25-28 Solomon reminds us how impactful the sharing of good news can be. When a person is weary, a gift of cold water is greatly refreshing. Soul in this proverb is used in same sense as most other proverbs, as a reference to the whole person and life, not only the inner spiritual aspect of a person. “Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.” When we receive good news, especially from a far country, it brings great and life-giving refreshment. This applies to good news of many types, not the least of which is the gospel, that good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ to rescue all who put their trust in Him.

Solomon has talked about integrity and the need to stand strong in numerous parts of his book of wisdom. Sometimes it is true that a righteous man stumbles and falters. We are all imperfect sinners and prone to royally messing up. This is always sad, but even more so when it happens before the wicked, in the view of those who reject God and His wisdom. “Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.” Instead of the clarity and life-giving property of clean, clear water; a compromised life is like a dirty pool. It gives no life, no clarity, no refreshment, and no help. It only frustrates the purpose of water in that context.

He tells us that we need to moderate what and how we eat. We have to learn to practice control in every area of life, even when it comes to good things. Honey is an example of one of God’s great gifts. In the world of Solomon’s day sweets were rare and nothing was sweeter than honey. Yet, overindulgence in even a good gift like honey is not good. Self-control must be practiced even with good things. “It is not good to eat much honey, nor is it glorious to seek one’s own glory.” Glory can be a good thing, and it is part of God’s promise to the believer. Yet to seek one’s own glory is not good; it is not glory at all. We should seek God’s glory and not worry about our own glory.

Solomon ends this chapter with another thought on self-control. It is such an important character trait. There are many who have so little self-control that it can be said that they have no rule over their own spirit. The world, the flesh, or the devil rule over such people, and not the spirit of self-control that is part of the fruit of the Spirit. “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” A city broken down, a city without walls has no defense and is vulnerable to every attack. It has no security, stability, and can protect nothing valuable. This shows the terrible cost of having no rule over one’s own spirit.

Proverbs 25:20-24

In Proverbs 25:20-24 Solomon warns us that people can definitely impact us. Some people and their actions are especially troublesome and can drag us down. They bring discomfort (like leaving one without a garment in cold weather) and constant agitation (like vinegar on soda). We have to be careful who we hang out with. “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda.” We also have to be sensitive to those in our patch. The one who treats the heavy heart without sensitivity brings discomfort and can cause pain. If songs are sung to a heavy heart, they should be sung quietly and with respect to how they will impact those who hear.

He reminds us to share with those less fortunate. That is true even for those who may be enemies. The Bible commands us to demonstrate love and care even to our enemy. Human nature would tell us to hate our enemy, but the Bible tells us to love our enemies and to do it practically. “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.” Why treat enemies well? Commentators debate if this is a good things or a harsh thing, if this is something good in the eyes of your enemy or not. Most likely it refers to a burning conviction that our kindness places on our enemy. Or, some think it refers to the practice of lending coals from a fire to help a neighbor start his or her own—an appreciated act of kindness. Either way, we can destroy our enemy by making him our friend, and the Lord will reward you.

Solomon takes an apparent detour to talk about the weather. But in reality, he mentioned this as an example of cause and effect. The north wind blows, and it brings forth rain. There are results to the decisions we make and the action swe take. “The north wind brings forth rain, and a backbiting tongue, angry looks.” That is particularly true around relationships. Those who speak ill of others with a backbiting tongue will provoke an angry response from others. This is a matter of cause and effect, just like the north wind bringing forth rain. When we do something, there will be some sort of returned action. How we treat those around us matters.

Solomon again reminds us how important harmony is in our homes. The corner of a housetop is not a great place to live. It is small, confined, and exposed to the elements because it is on the roof. Yet in some circumstances the corner of a housetop is a better place to live. “It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.” Solomon repeats his wisdom about relationships at home. To have the whole house but live in constant conflict with a contentious woman or man is misery. The same principle would be true of your kids. One would be better off in a more humble living situation and have peace in the home. Sometimes this conflict is related to the stuff we accumulate. We have to work on building the right environment at home.

Proverbs 25:15-19

In Proverbs 25:15-19 Solomon begins by talking about how to persuade those in power. Bottom line, it is through patience and consistency. History is rich with examples. Our self-control and patience can persuade great men to our cause, even a ruler. William Wilberforce persuaded the leaders of the British Empire to outlaw slavery through long forbearance and dedication to his righteous cause. “With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone.” The patient, gentle words of a wise man or can have a great impact over a long period of time. Such words can have bone-breaking power. We need to be persistent in how we share and make our requests, not with force or threats, but with patience and gentleness.

Good things come to us regularly. In this case, Solomon talks about finding honey, something sweet and desirable to consume. But if someone has found honey—something good and wonderful to find—the honey should be enjoyed, but you should eat only as much as you need. Gluttony is not the proper response to finding blessing from God. “If you have found honey, eat only enough for you, lest you have your fill of it and vomit it.” If something good (honey) is eaten beyond what one needs, if we fill ourselves with it beyond reason, then it may cause an unpleasant reaction (vomit) and we will lose the good thing we thought we gained. Overindulgence in good things is harmful and counter productive. Moderation is the key to receiving every good and perfect gift.

Solomon reminds us not to wear out our welcome with friends that open their doors to us. It is normal for neighbors to visit one another, but such hospitality should not be abused. Hospitality is a gift God wants us to extend, but it needs to come with some semblance of control. “Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor’s house, lest he have his fill of you and hate you.” If we abuse hospitality, it may quickly vanish. The wise man will be sensitive to the likelihood that a neighbor may become weary of their presence. Since good neighborly relationships make life much better, this is an important principle of wisdom. Don’t go overboard without communicating and understanding the welcome you have been given.

Solomon next reminds us that integrity and truthfulness are important character qualities.  Many proverbs speak against the man who bears false witness. This liar, whether in the court of law or common conversation, does great damage. He is like a club, a sword, and a sharp arrow. It is not a small sin to bear false witness against a neighbor. “A man who bears false witness against his neighbor is like a war club, or a sword, or a sharp arrow. Trusting in a treacherous man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth or a foot that slips.” The man who bears false witness is often also the unfaithful man in time of trouble. In one aspect he brings pain, in the other aspect he is a pain. The unfaithful man is useless and like a persistent, debilitating pain.

 

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