Archive for the ‘Proverbs’ Category

Proverbs 31:26-31

In Proverbs 31:26-31 King Lemuel’s mother continues with her expose on the excellent wife. She begins by describing a woman filled with wisdom. She is a beautiful person on the inside. She has what is often described and valued in the Book of Proverbs—wise speech and words that show the law of kindness. Both her deliberate speech (she opens her mouth) and her spontaneous words (on her tongue) are marked by wisdom and kindness. “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” This is one of the most important characteristics of this woman who with all her eminence and excellence, was of a meek and quiet spirit.

She is observant of her family and what they are doing. The choice to watch so carefully means that she does not choose to sit idly by or being consumed by her own selfish ways. “She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.” Trapp wrote “She hath an oar in every boat, an eye in every business; she spies and pries into her children’s and servants’ carriages, and exacts of them strict conversation and growth in godliness: she overlooks the whole family no otherwise than if she were in a watch tower.”  She is paying attention to everyone and everything all the time.

A woman of such character and wisdom rightfully receives the blessings and praises of her family. Both her children and her husband not only see, but also speak of the blessedness of the woman who brings such blessing to their household. This is not only a description of the excellent wife, but also an exhortation to children and a husband to bless and praise the mother and wife of godly character. “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Her husband praises his wife with words that encourage, reward, and nourish her. Every home can have a wife and mother that stands apart like this excellent wife; then every husband can legitimately feel “I’ve got the best wife” and children feel, “We have the best mom.”

King Lemuel’s mother noted the passing nature of outer beauty and the deceitful nature of manipulative charm. In contrast, a woman who fears the Lord has beauty that does not pass and charm that does not deceive. “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.” Proverbs begins with a strong connection between wisdom and the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7). Here the collection ends describing the excellent wife as being filled with the wisdom, beauty, and charm that marks a woman who fears the Lord.

Proverbs 31:21-25

In Proverbs 31:21-25 King Lemuel’s mother continues to define the excellent wife. She has the wisdom, diligence, and preparation to ready her household for all kinds of challenges and adversity. Her fear of the Lord and the wisdom that flows from it invites God’s blessing, even being able to clothe all her household in prestigious scarlet. “She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet.” Some wonder why scarlet clothing would be connected to the fact that she is not afraid of snow for her household. It has been suggested that the scarlet color of the clothing makes her children easy to find but that is not likely since it doesn’t snow much in this area.

She is a talented seamstress and can make what is needed for her family. With God’s blessing on her wisdom and diligence, the excellent wife makes good things for herself, and enjoys personal marks of God’s material blessing on her family since her coverings are of fine linen and the royal color purple. “She makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple.” Purple dye was costly because it comes from a seashell off the Phoenician coast and is connected with those who have wealth and luxury.

She is a loving and supportive wife who lives with respect and honor for her husband, who is known by those around them. She sees such a blessing on her family and household as her husband is esteemed and honored among the elders of the land. All this is the blessing of God that often comes to the wife who walks in virtue, wisdom, and the fear of the Lord. “Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land.” He is married to a woman who is held in high esteem. And her complete management of household affairs gives him time to devote himself to the interests of the community.

Besides caring for her family, she also is able to make more than they need and sell the excess. She cares deeply for her family, but her mind and vision goes beyond them to the outside world where she does good for herself and her family. “She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant.” Her willingness to sell some for the sake of her family shows that her first priority isn’t in what is in her closet or what she wears. “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.” When it comes to character, she is one of the best dressed, clothed with strength and honor, so that she shall rejoice not only in the present day, but also in time to come.

Proverbs 31:13-20

In Proverbs 31:13-20 King Lemuel’s mother continues to educate him on an excellent wife. Using wonderful poetic images, she described not the resume of a godly woman, but life-like examples of the busy, hard working, and creative character of the virtuous wife. A woman who attempted to complete each of these tasks would be exhausted and potentially discouraged. Yet her character can be evident in a wise and godly woman’s life in its own way. “She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.” She knows how to seek and find things that are necessary resources for her family and home.

Next an excellent wife is compared to a merchant ship. An excellent wife provides food for her family and home after the pattern of a merchant ship, which operates on time and with hard work. If required, she even rises while it is yet night to either get or prepare food for her household. “She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar. She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens.” It wasn’t uncommon for many families in Biblical times to have servants or hired workers. The excellent wife wisely manages and cares for those who work for her too, showing her compassion and care even beyond her immediate family.

The next area that is called out is that of making a business decision – to buy some land and plant it. The excellent wife is forward thinking, combining her creativity with hard work. She thoughtfully (considers) invests and uses the profits to better her family and their future, in this case by planting a vineyard. “She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.” What is described here is a lot of hard work. But she is willing to go beyond the bare necessities and do things that may be challenging, but will produce a good return.

The excellent wife is noted for her strength. “She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong.” She is wise and experienced enough to get good materials and merchandise for her home. Her wisdom teaches her to buy oil for her lamp, of such quality that it burns through the night and does not go out. “She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night.” She knows how to use the tools and technology available to manage the home well. “She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle.” And she is a woman of compassion who helps those around her. “She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.”

Proverbs 31:10-12

In Proverbs 31:10-12 Lemuel’s mother speaks to him about the qualities of a virtuous wife. This passage is traditionally understood as being addressed to women but is more accurately spoken by a woman to a man so he could know the character and potential character of a good wife before marriage, and value and praise his wife for her virtuous character once married. It is primarily a search-list for a man, and only secondarily a check-list for a woman. It describes the kind of wife the Christian man should pray for and seek after. It also gives a guide, a goal for the Christian woman, showing the kind of character she can have as she fears and follows the Lord.

The passage also reminds the Christian man that he must walk in the fear and wisdom of God so that he will be worthy of and compatible with such a virtuous woman. “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” She is called an excellent wife, not because only married women can have these qualities, but because this is marriage guidance from a mother to a son. The virtuous woman can be single or married, but each will have particular ways their excellence is expressed, either in their singleness or as family. Coming at the end of the collection of proverbs, one might say that this is a strong woman – and her greatest strength is her wisdom, rooted in the fear of the Lord.

The woman described in the rest of the chapter is rare and valuable, but her value (worth) is greater than what she does. Her value or worth should not be reduced to performance of these qualities; she is excellent before she acts in that way. The excellent wife not only has the trust of her husband, but it is safely given to her. Her character is trustworthy, filled with integrity. She will speak, act, and live with wisdom – and therefore God’s blessing will be on their home. “The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.” A foolish woman who can’t be trusted, takes some measure of blessing away from the home, and this is often seen financially or materially.

In God’s plan, husband and wife bring each other gain. It is not a burden to be married, but brings blessing in great measure. We gave seen in previous Proverbs that a bad wife creates chaos and harm. But not a good one… “She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.”  The opposite is also true; an excellent wife does her husband good and not evil, and she continues to be a blessing all the days of her life. The sense is that her goodness and faithful character becomes deeper and greater through the passing years while her commitment to her husband’s well-being is constant.

Proverbs 31:4-9

In Proverbs 31:4-9 King Lemuel is warned about the potential impact of alcohol. “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.”  Kings and those who lead should avoid alcohol (intoxicating drink). This idea is repeated three times for emphasis. Though the Bible does see a potential blessing in wine it is a dangerous blessing that must be carefully managed and for many (such as kings and leaders), voluntarily set aside. The guidance then moves to the ‘why’.

The responsibilities of leaders are so great that it is essential that they not be impaired in judgment or abilities in any way. This principle is true not only for kings, but for leaders of any type, including and especially those who consider themselves leaders among God’s people today. Poole wrote “drunkenness deprives a man of the use of reason; by which alone men can distinguish between right and wrong.” If we are going to lead, we have to act responsibly and certainly how we address alcohol or other things that can be addictive and impair our judgment must be controlled and managed.

King Lemeul’s mother did share a couple appropriate places for alcohol to be provided freely. “Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.” First, she thought of the condemned criminal who needs to be numbed by strong drink on his way to execution. Second, she thought of those who are bitter of heart, who could drink and forget his poverty and remember his misery no more. King Lemuel’s mother understood that strong drink, wine, and other intoxicants take away from a person’s performance and excellence which is why leaders need to avoid being impacted by it.

She then goes on to remind King Lemeul that one of his roles as a leader is to protect the defenseless. “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” The idea is that there are those who can’t speak for themselves, to defend themselves in a court of law or in less formal circumstances. The wise and godly man or woman will speak for the speechless, and take up the cause of the defenseless. We should plead the cause of the poor and needy who have trouble properly defending themselves.

Proverbs 31:1-3

In Proverbs 31:1-3 the pen is passed to King Lemuel and his mother. As with Agur in Proverbs 30, we don’t know anything about King Lemuel. He is not in any recorded list of the kings of Judah or Israel, so he was probably a pagan king who put his trust in Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel, and through the fear of the LORD learned wisdom. “The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him.” The name Lemuel means, belonging to God. There was no king of Israel (or Judah) with this name, so either he was a foreign king, or it is a pen name for the author.

King Lemuel seemed to understand like Solomon and Agur that his words were an utterance, a prophecy or revelation, from God. And perhaps like Timothy, he was raised by a godly mother who taught him to fear the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom.  He recalls the words that his mother had asked him. “What are you doing, my son? What are you doing, son of my womb? What are you doing, son of my vows?”  She obviously has a deep connection to her son. There is a progression of her connection from son to womb to vows – reverse order from the past to the present.

In her words, she addresses him in three distinct ways:

  1. My son – her current relationship with him
  2. Son of my womb – having given birth to him
  3. Son of my vows – regarding her promises and commitments to God about him

While we don’t know for sure, her vow likely is related to a vow she made to God that if He gave her a son, she would dedicate him and bring him up in a way that he would live according to God’s laws and point him to God’s wisdom.

She then warns him about protecting his strength. “Do not give your strength to women, your ways to those who destroy kings.” The practice of sexual immorality and sex obsession gives away a man’s strength, in the sense of his spiritual strength, his self-respect, his self-control, his example and standing in the community. Solomon certainly learned this the hard way, as did his father David, along with Sampson and others in scripture. Lemuel’s mother also warned him that sexual and romantic obsession could also destroy kings. David’s lust for Bathsheba made him callous toward justice and cost Uriah his life, and Solomon’s many sexual partners made him callous toward pure and undefiled religion and incapable of real love.

Proverbs 30:24-33

In Proverbs 30:24-33 Agur gives us another list – this time of things on earth that are little but mighty. Agur looked to the world of animals and noted four small animals, yet they are exceedingly wise. No human trained them in their wisdom; they are truly taught of God – and so we may also be. Size doesn’t determine wisdom. There are big fools and those who are small and not just wise, but exceedingly so. Agur listed these four examples which each teach a principle of wisdom. “Four things on earth are small, but they are exceedingly wise: the ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer; the rock badgers are a people not mighty, yet they make their homes in the cliffs; the locusts have no king, yet all of them march in rank; the lizard you can take in your hands, yet it is in kings’ palaces.”

His list is:

  1. The ants – Ants are small and don’t have much strength compared to a person or a large animal. Their wisdom is shown in that they prepare their food in the summer. They work in the time when work can be done, and aren’t lazy or procrastinators. Hard work can overcome individual weakness.
  2. The rock badgers – The rock badgers don’t have the speed or strength to stand against a large predator, especially one with sharp teeth. But they wisely make their homes in the cliffs and make the strength of the rock their own strength. Find refuge among the strong.
  3. The locusts – The locusts don’t seem to have any kind of appointed leadership or structure. Yet they have the wisdom to advance in ranks, overwhelming anything that is in their way. If the locusts fought against themselves, they would get nowhere. They fight against the vegetation that they consume. Teamwork can win the day.
  4. The lizard – The lizard isn’t loved, but it wisely uses its skill and unique abilities to go anywhere it wants to, even in king’s palaces. Using your gifts and unique skills can take you anywhere.

Agur then goes on to share four examples of majesty. For the fourth time in his brief collection of proverbs, Agur used the three-and-four structure to explain four wonderful things, four examples of majesty. “Three things are stately in their tread; four are stately in their stride: the lion, which is mightiest among beasts and does not turn back before any; the strutting rooster, the he-goat, and a king whose army is with him. If you have been foolish, exalting yourself, or if you have been devising evil, put your hand on your mouth. For pressing milk produces curds, pressing the nose produces blood, and pressing anger produces strife.”

His list is:

  1. The lion – The first example is given a brief explanation. A lion has respect from all other animals, moves swiftly, and never retreats (does not turn back before any). Courage displays majesty.
  2. The strutting rooster – This is also translated greyhound in some versions – the word is unclear in the original text. In either case the animal struts about exhibiting its majesty.
  3. The he-goat – When we think of the stubborn persistence of the male goat, we see majesty.
  4. The King whose army is with him – When we think of the power and determination of a king whose troops are with him, marches with force, trampling on his conquered foes. In that we see majesty.

Each of these moves with majestic pace, swiftly, stubbornly, or powerfully. Agur dvises his readers to not be foolish in exalting yourself. Instead, follow what James wisely told us to do: Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. If you start to exalt yourself, put your hand on your mouth.

Proverbs 30:20-23

In Proverbs 30:20-23 Agur gives some wisdom to his own son just like Solomon has done. And while he uses a woman as his example, it applies to man equally as well. In fact, the reality is that all of us are guilty of sin, whether it happens in this way as adultery, or any number of other sinful choices we might make. “This is the way of an adulteress: she eats and wipes her mouth and says, “I have done no wrong.”” Since this woman is characterized by her adultery, her eating here is a tasteful reference to her sin of adultery. She satisfies her hunger for adultery, then (according to this poetic picture) casually wipes her mouth and considers herself blameless.

That’s the sad reality of how many of us view sin. We make choices to violate God’s laws and his plan for our lives, and then turn around and treat it like no big deal – like nothing is wrong. This adulterous woman represents many who sin against God, their marriage, their family, their community, their partner in adultery, and their own bodies yet consider it no wickedness at all. We deceive ourselves when we think God doesn’t care. We sin and then think we can just go on living without a care and certainly without a sense of guilt. Unfortunately we will stand before God someday and give account, and then sin will not be ignored or treated as unimportant.

Agur goes on to call out four unbearable things that trouble the earth and are fundamentally just not right. He gives a very detailed list. “Under three things the earth trembles; under four it cannot bear up: a slave when he becomes king, and a fool when he is filled with food; an unloved woman when she gets a husband, and a maidservant when she displaces her mistress.” Here they are in more detail:

  1. A slave when he becomes king and reigns. Agur is referring to a man with a self-focused mind, who thought and lived as a slave instead of a free man. It is unbearable when such a man reigns because he has no training or understanding how to rule well. He did not mean a man with a servant’s heart like Jesus or a slave like Joseph who rose to power through wisdom.
  2. A fool when he is filled with food. When a fool is satisfied, it only rewards his folly and gives him the energy and the resources to be even more foolish. Agur tells us this is unbearable.

Agur continues his list of unbearable things:

  1. An unloved woman when she gets a husband. Other translations call her a hateful woman. This is unbearable because the hateful woman should never be able to find a husband, and there seems to be an injustice when she does. It is also unbearable for her husband and her family, to live with a hateful woman. It points to a quarrelsome, unlovable woman whom society rejects, the opposite of a prudent wife.
  2. A maidservant when she displaces her mistress. This is similar to the previously described servant when he takes over and reigns. When the social order is upset and unworthy ones dominate the culture, it becomes unbearable. She behaves in a way that makes the whole family uneasy. A great example is the case of Hagar, the maidservant of Sarah, who had a defined place but chose to use it for her own desires.

Proverbs 30:15-20

In Proverbs 30:15-20 Agur points out four things that are never satisfied. He was frustrated that people were never content – never had enough. The thought of the generation that greedily devours everything made Agur consider that there were four things that could never be satisfied. “The leech has two daughters; “Give” and “Give,” they cry. Three things are never satisfied; four never say, “Enough”: Sheol, the barren womb, the land never satisfied with water, and the fire that never says, “Enough.” The eye that mocks a father and scorns to obey a mother will be picked out by the ravens of the valley and eaten by the vultures.”

Here are the four things Agur lists:

  1. Sheol (the grave), the barren womb – The dead never stop dying and the grave of humanity never seems to be filled. The barren womb feels the ache of its emptiness and what is often felt like an unfulfilled purpose.
  2. The land never satisfied – The earth seems to continually drink and absorb the water poured out upon it, and fire will burn as long as there is fuel to burn. These all are examples of things that never seem to say, “Enough!”
  3. The eye that mocks a father – This eye belongs to the fool, the one who mocks and disobeys father and mother. This upsets the social order and sets the generations in conflict.
  4. The ravens of the valley – Agur used a vivid poetic description to tell of the ruin waiting for the child who mocks and scorns their parents. This fool was blind in his mocking and disobedience; this poetic image tells of a fit penalty for someone so morally and spiritually blind.

Agur then changes gears. He had just shared four things where we are never satisfied and always seeking more. Now he gives us four things too wonderful. Agur gave no advice in the proverb, but reminded us all that there are things that are too wonderful for our complete understanding, things we should simply be amazed at and a bit humbled in the presence of. “Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a virgin. This is the way of an adulteress: she eats and wipes her mouth and says, “I have done no wrong.”

Agur gave his list of four amazing things:

  1. The way of an eagle – The flight of a majestic eagle amazes us with its power, height, and grace.
  2. The way of a serpent on a rock – The serpent suns itself on the rock, yet is ready to flee at the slightest disturbance – and can slither itself over hard and sharp rock without injury!
  3. The way of a ship on high seas – A ship is so small in the midst of the sea, yet it virtually conquers the sea by using it as a road for travel and trade.
  4. The way of a man with a virgin – The power of young love and its desire seems that it would overwhelm both a man and a virgin, but they marry and make a productive life together.

Do these four things have anything in common? Guzik notes:

  • All four things are visible for a while, then hidden.
  • All four things progress without leaving a trace.
  • All four things have a mysterious means of progress or motivation.
  • All four things move in the domain of something else.

The four deal with things that can be difficult to deal with – air, rock, sea, and young women. There are things that are beyond our ability to truly comprehend. We merely need to trust God to lead.

Proverbs 30:7-14

In Proverbs 30:7-14 Agur shares his prayer request to God. These verses contain a wise and humble prayer from Agur. He earnestly asked God for two things, and he wanted to receive them on this side of eternity, not after he was gone. “Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” He asks two simple things:

  1. Remove falsehood and lying
  2. Have neither poverty or riches

Agur first asked for personal integrity. He wanted to be a man marked by truth, and not by falsehood and lies. Knowing God is a God of truth he didn’t want such deception anywhere near him. Agur’s second request was to have neither great poverty nor great riches. He wanted to be satisfied with God’s provision in his life. He wants to have enough. But the request is about more than merely food. It includes love and fellowship and relationship. Agur wanted neither poverty nor riches out of concern that either extreme might lead him to profane the name of God. He did not want to arrogantly deny God because he felt he was so rich he didn’t need God. He did not want to be so poor that he would use poverty as an excuse to sin.

He goes on to remind us that we should not speak poorly of others. This proverb has to do with harsh, unfair criticism (malign) spoken to another about a third party not present. It shouldn’t be done, and doing it without the knowledge of the one spoken against makes it even worse. If it is wrong to do this in regard to a servant, it is even worse to do it against someone else. “Do not slander a servant to his master, lest he curse you and you be held guilty.” The one spoken against may rightfully speak a curse against the one who secretly talks about others. The curse may in fact come to pass if the one who maligns is found guilty of the offense.

Agur then reminds us of the importance of honoring our parents. It’s not an option, but rather a command. “There are those who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers. There are those who are clean in their own eyes but are not washed of their filth. There are those – how lofty are their eyes, how high their eyelids lift! There are those whose teeth are swords, whose fangs are knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, the needy from among mankind.” He defines generations with common actions:

  1. Those who curse their fathers and mothers – disobeys God’s command and sows seeds of conflict that will grow into a bitter harvest of personal and community strife.
  2. Those who are clean in their own eyes – blind to their own sinful need will never be washed from its filthiness. When we ignore or cover our sin, it never gets resolved.
  3. Those who are lofty in their own eyes – walks in pride and arrogance will experience God’s resistance, because God resists the proud.
  4. Those who have teeth like swords – filled with greed devours everything as if their teeth were swords and their fangs like knives. They devour the poor from off the earth and can never be satisfied.
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