Friday, January 2, 2015

Proverbs 2:1-22 “On Living Wisely!” - Appropriate Words for the End of the Year”

Never has our world  been more in need of wisdom , and  never has  it been more foolish  than now. I say this  as  we have now more people  inhabiting this planet than ever  before in history.  The night before last as I was  writing this   the world clock on the internet  stood at over 7.2 billion people [1].  Roughly 360 000 people were born  on that day and  roughly 148 000  died on that day .
The Industrial Revolution of the 1800’s brought about a tremendous  change  in world  population. Whereas it had taken all of human history until 1800 for  the world population to reach one billion, the second billion was achieved in only 130 years (1930), the third billion in less than 30 years later (1959), the fourth billion in 15 years (1974), and the fifth billion in only 13 years (1987).  During the 20th century alone, the population in the world has grown from 1.65 billion to 6 billion!  In 1970, there were roughly half as many people in the world as there are now. 

From  these statistics we see that as  more and more sinners are born,  the potential  for more and more foolishness  exists!  Crowds are not known  to be wise . We see it in the Bible in Jesus’ day , as fickle crowds shout  “Hallelujah” at the beginning of the week and “crucify Him” at the end of the week.  We see it  in our own day, as  crowds are manipulated . We see  that  dictators ( i.e. one man!) hold entire nations captive. We see  how  ungodly role models  in the  film and music industry  hold the minds of many  people captive . We have eyes  to see , but we do not see; we have ears to hear, but we do not hear. Brothers and sisters , we need  God given wisdom in these  days  as  we come to the end of 2014. We need to be careful to come to right conclusions  as to what we observe . We need to  be careful  as to   who we uncritically  listen to.  We need God’s wisdom for these days   and for such  wisdom we must turn to  God’s word , and especially   we must  turn  to the book of Proverbs, which  is classified as  ‘ wisdom literature’  of the Bible .[2]  

The theme of Proverbs is found in  Proverbs 1:7“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge. Fools despise wisdom and instruction.

A proverb is a timeless truth in the form of a simple illustration that exposes a fundamental reality of life.  The book  of  Proverbs is probably  the most practical book in the Old Testament  teaching  us to  think and act  wisely in all sorts of situations .   This  includes  instruction on wisdom and folly, the  nature  of righteousness  and wickedness ; it deals with the use of  the tongue, with  pride and humility,  with marital relations and  family, with  laziness and work, poverty and wealth, friends and neighbors, anger and strife,  life and death and so on . Proverbs touches upon every facet of human relationships, and its principles transcend the boundaries  of time and culture. 

Wisdom as a Treasure

Chapter 2 speaks  about  the blessings that wisdom brings into our life. Here Solomon  speaks  to “his son” – perhaps  Rehoboam who became his successor. Solomon was privileged to  have received a heart and mind and understanding of knowledge and wisdom from God (2 Chronicles 1). He was able  to write down  God’s thoughts for our benefit under the supervision of the Holy Spirit , and  so when he writes to his son,  by way of   application   we know that  God also  speaks to us here as  His  children[3]. It is not Solomon’s  own wisdom that is  dispensed here . No!  He  speaks of   a wisdom that is from God , and as such it is   absolutely true,   infallible , and precious,  profound ,  leaving  us  to search  and meditate  and mine into its depths .
The difficulty of obtaining wisdom 2:1-5
But here is the problem. Wisdom does not come  easy or naturally. Even though wisdom shouts at us from  every street corner (1:20), by nature (i.e  our sinful nature  fuelled by pride and self- centeredness)    we are not inclined to listen to  wisdom (1: 24). By nature  we are  inclined  to folly.    By nature we  are inclined to  be  simple  (see  1:22) .

The person who wants  wisdom  has to work hard  to obtain  it,    in  the same  way in which  a miner searches for silver and gold (2:4). The ear has  to be trained to hear and distinguish  true wisdom. The heart  must be  inclined to understanding (2:2).  This takes discipline . We must never assume  that what  we hear and see is  truth . It needs to be analyzed in the light of the wisdom from God -  the Word of God. In this regard  we note that  wisdom requires prayerfulness – “yes , if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding  …” – that is prayer ! Wisdom  does not come through common sense  or through academic pursuit. There are many ‘educated fools’   that have a technical  understanding of things, but who are not truly wise.   True wisdom begins with   an understanding of  God’s revelation to us ,  prayerfully digested –  studying that  which the Bible reveals, and then praying  over that truth, seeking  true  understanding.   Charles Bridges in his commentary on Proverbs says [4] :
“Without this spirit of prayer, there may be attention and earnestness, yet not one spiritual impression upon the conscience, not one ray of Divine light in the soul. Earthly wisdom is gained by study; heavenly wisdom by prayer. Study may form a Biblical scholar; prayer puts the heart under a heavenly tutorage, and therefore forms the wise and spiritual Christian. The Word first comes into the ears; then it enters into the heart; there it is safely hid; thence rises the cry, the lifting up of the voice….  We look for no other inspiration than Divine grace to make His Word clear and impressive. Every verse read and meditated on furnishes material for prayer. Every text prayed over opens a mine of “unsearchable riches,” with a light from above, more  clear and full than the most intelligent exposition.

But prayer must not stand in the stead of diligence.[5] Let it rather give energy to it. The miner’s indefatigable pains; his invincible resolution; his untiring perseverance; seeking, searching for hidden treasures—such must be our searching into the sacred storehouse. To read instead of “searching the Scriptures,” is only to skim the surface, and gather up a few superficial notions. The rule of success is—Dig up and down the field; and if the search be discouraging, dig again. The patient industry of perusal and re-perusal will open the embosomed treasure ….Thus let us daily explore “the length, and the breadth, and the depth” of our boundless stores, until we be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:18, 19).  This habit of living in the element of Scripture is invaluable. To be filled from this Divine treasury; to have large portions of the Word daily passing through the mind; gives us a firmer grasp and a more suitable and diversified application of it…
The mere reader often scarcely knows where to begin, and he performs the routine without any definite object. His knowledge therefore must be scanty and ineffective. Nor is the neglect of this habit less hurtful to the Church. All fundamental errors and heresies in the Church may be traced to this source—“Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures” (Matt. 22:29). They are mostly based on partial or disjointed statements of truth. Truth separated from truth becomes error. But the mind prayerfully occupied in the search of Divine truth, crying and lifting up the voice, will never fail to discern the two great principles of godliness: the fear and the knowledge of God. There is no … disappointment in this search.... Never has apostasy from the faith been connected with a prayerful and diligent study of the Word of God.

The Giver of wisdom 2:6-8

When  you search after wisdom , you need to understand that it is only God that  can give you true wisdom: “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding…” (2:6)   Those who seek Him  to them He gives sound wisdom (2:7). He   protects those that seek to  walk in integrity (2:7). Those that seek  and fear the LORD (i.e. the saints - Heb. hasidim, loyal sons of the covenant) are guarded  and watched over (2:8).    The bottomline is this : Only through an intimate relationship with  the LORD  can a person be truly wise and experience the true blessings of wisdom.

The Fruit of  Wisdom  2: 9 -22

Wisdom safeguards a person morally. When a person submits him or herself to God,  the ways of the wicked will lose some of their attractiveness.  The wise person will be able to understand   the way of evil and where it leads to  (2:12); the wise person will avoid   men that engage in perverted speech  (2:12). They will learn to avoid  those  that forsake the paths of uprightness  and who walk in the paths of darkness (2:13). They will avoid those  that  who rejoice in doing evil  or rejoice in the perverseness of evil  (2:14) . They will avoid   crooked and devious men. (2:15)
Verses  16-19  deal with  a frequent theme in Proverbs -  that of the ‘forbidden  woman’  - the adulteress (2:16) who uses smooth  or flattering words (see also  5:3). Nowhere is caution thrown  to the wind  more than in this area. How many young people  are trapped in this moral  swamp , and   who have to go on living with regrets .  Solomon  clearly sees that this  woman is  outside the circle of his  proper relations . The truth about  this woman  is that  from God’s perspective she has  left  her  “covenant companion” (2:17). She has  forsaken her own marriage covenant (Mal. 2:14). Entering into a relationship  with such a woman has devastating spiritual consequences.  Parents do  well to instruct their young ones  in the danger  of these  devastating relationships (e.g.  the letter from a pastor  to his daughter  as  she enters into courtship )  and pray regularly for them that they may not fall into temptation !

This chapter ends by contrasting the ends of the wicked and the righteous (see 2:21-22).
This then is  a call from the Word of God  to  examine ourselves at the end of 2014 . Which kind of wisdom do you choose to live by ?  Do you live by your own sense of  moral right and wrong? Do you  live by instinct or gut feeling? Do you listen to  others  uncritically ? Do you perhaps not listen to anyone at all ?

The Word of God has been given to you as a source of true wisdom . But remember  that reading  the Bible   is not enough . You must meditate upon the Word and  make sure that you digest  those truths and that you ensure  that you  live by them . Living by the truth is not  easy , but it certainly ultimately pays handsome rewards  as we are assured in the Scriptures  that the upright  will inhabit the land .  The upright are those that  fear the Lord ! Amen 

[2] Wisdom  books of the Bible : Job , Psalms , Proverbs, Ecclesiastes  and Song of songs
[3] See Hebrews 12
[4] Charles Bridges : Geneva Series of Commentaries  ( Banner of Truth) p.  14
[5] Ora et labora (Latin)  - i.e. pray and work! 

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