The Good Wife
Proverbs 31: A good woman is hard to find, and worth more than diamonds.
The final portion of Proverbs is called the “Hymn to a Good Wife.” Apparently, it comes from the mother of someone called King Lemuel. His identity is another of those minor mysteries. Some people think that Solomon is actually speaking of himself and the words of wisdom come from Bathsheba. However, that appears to only be based on a desire to keep this “all in the family.” Others say that the final chapter of Proverbs is from the same fellow who gave us the second to the last chapter, good old Agur Ben Yakeh — another person we know nothing about. Again, this is just stuff that has no major significance but is interesting to think about. I can’t help but smile when I realize that the much quoted tribute to a good wife was probably written by a woman! Still, it is nice to see such positive words about women who love and serve their family; women who make a difference in this world for their loved ones and for God. After all, if not for this passage, what would preachers use for a text on Mother’s Day? (I’m kidding, I’m kidding!)
Take Away: If you’ve found a “good woman” treat her right and thank God for her!
Good old Agur Ben Yakeh
Proverbs 30: There is no God…I can do anything I want!
Some of the final pages of Proverbs are attributed to Agur Ben Yakeh. Aside from the name and that he is from a town or country called Massa we’re pretty much in the dark about him. The name, I’m told, doesn’t appear to be Israelite, but is more Arab sounding. Of course, Solomon rules a vast empire and has friendly relations with many countries. It may be that Agur Ben Yakeh is considered to be a very wise man in his home country and that Solomon agrees, collecting his sayings and including him in his book of Proverbs. However, there’s a bit of a problem with this idea because the nation of Israel alone worships Jehovah God at this time. Clearly, the words of Agur Ben Yakeh are those of a worshiper of God. I know these little things are often of more interest to me than to others, but it is kind of fun to think about this ancient mystery. If the identity of Ben Yakeh is mysterious, his opening proverb is pretty straight forward. He isn’t impressed by people who doubt the existence of God. They may think they can ignore God and his commandments but when they do it isn’t the commandments that get broken! The wise man says “every promise of God proves true.” He warns those who doubt that to reconsider, warning, “he might take you to task and show up your lies.” The day’s coming when everyone will believe in God. After all, we’ll stand before him in Judgment. Those who doubt will be convinced, but for them, it will be too late. The One they have doubted and ignored, will “take them to task.”
Take Away: Sooner or later everyone will believe in God – it’s better to be part of the “sooner” crowd.
Do you want fries with that?
Proverbs 29: If you let people treat you like a doormat, you’ll be quite forgotten in the end.
Not long ago we stopped off at a fast food restaurant for a quick burger. I was taken with the quiet confidence and good nature of the young lady who took our order. The job she’s doing isn’t the highest paying, but she’s doing it with real class. Like many people who are “flipping burgers” that job is just a temporary stopping point for her along the way. The point of this proverb isn’t that we’re to demand respect, refusing to be anyone’s doormat. Instead, it’s that we’re to do whatever it is we do with excellence and pride and that will, in itself, demand respect. Those who think they’re “saving” their best for some dream job and just “getting by,” giving the least effort possible in some temporary place in life, are the ones who are accepting the “doormat” position in life. That young lady who was asking “would you like to super-size that order?” gets it and I seriously doubt she’s in danger of being forgotten in the end.
Take Away: A person can do whatever they do with class – and when they do, people take note.
No one way praying allowed
Proverbs 28: God has no use for the prayers of people who won’t listen to him.
I believe in prayer and consider myself to be a prayer learner. I’ve read books about it, talked about it, and practiced it. I’ve learned that there are different ways to pray. For instance, a person can kneel by their bedside or sit in an easy chair with a cup of coffee or write out a prayer or take a “prayer walk.” These and several other approaches are good ways to pray. One deal breaker to prayer is what is stated in this proverb: one way praying. Prayer is intended to be a conversation with God. It isn’t about my airing my list of wants and concerns while God patiently stands by like the waitress in a restaurant taking an order. I’ve found that, generally speaking, it’s my perspective that’s changed in prayer. The wise man of the proverbs reminds me of the conversational nature of prayer. Of course, there’s another aspect of “listening” here. When I spend time in the Presence of God and he does speak I’m to listen to what he says. That is, I’m to take it to heart and move forward in obedience. Often, I’ve found, God intends to use me in answer to my own prayers. He has work for me to do and, no matter how fervently I continue to pray, nothing will come of it until I start listening to what the Lord’s saying to me.
Take Away: Often, the Lord intends to use us in answer to our own prayers
Proverbs 27: You use steel to sharpen steel, and one friend sharpens another.
I’ve visited several internet forums and have seen this proverb quoted once in a while. Sometimes it’s used in an appropriate way and other times it is just an excuse for arguing. Having been raised in the church I’ve seen people banging one another on the head with their Bibles enough to know that all religious debate is not “sharpening.” In fact, bludgeoning someone with Scripture probably is somewhat dulling. Often on the internet, debate consists of two stubborn people posturing and talking past one another. Of course, such arguments aren’t limited to the internet. For sharpening to take place the participants have to be willing to actually engage one another: “I already know what I think, but I want to understand what you think.” A real key here is the “friend” factor. I know that the word “friend” is missing from the original language, but I do think that the concept is assumed. A stranger only wants to win the debate. However, a friend cares more about me than he cares about proving himself right. It’s only in that kind of relationship that this proverb works. As I deal with some issue with a person who I know cares about me personally, I’m “sharpened.” Who knows, maybe he’s sharpened too.
Take Away: Friendship, mutual respect, open-mindedness – these are keys to having a “sharpening” disagreement.
Running out of wood can be a good thing
Proverbs 26: When you run out of wood, the fire goes out; when the gossip ends, the quarrel dies down.
As a pastor I have a pretty strong influence on what happens at church. There is, I suppose, always the chance that someone will attempt to take control of a church service but that’s unlikely. I have the main say concerning the order of worship and, of course, what is said in the sermon. However, what happens “out there” during the week is out of my control. Because of that, all the efforts on Sunday to create a loving, supportive family of God can be derailed if that same crowd spends the week fanning the flames of division. Knowing this is humbling to me and it reminds me that I’m not nearly as influential in my own church as I think I am. However, it also reminds me that my greatest resource is not my leadership ability. Instead, my greatest Resource is the One I serve. It’s my desire that the Lord will help me to love people even when they’re behaving in ways that cause pain. I want to personally set an example of how a sanctified Christian conducts himself, to help people who tend to gossip understand that there’s an underlying spiritual issue, and to pray that the Lord will exhaust their supply of “wood” sooner and not later that the church might be united in love for Christ and one another.
Take Away: Some issues will simply die out and go away if we stop fanning the flames.
Before you take that leap
Proverbs 25: Don’t jump to conclusions — there may be a perfectly good explanation for what you just saw.
This proverb reminds me of a story a good friend told me about himself. This pastor was visiting a lady, not one of his church members, who was at an advanced age. She asked him if he would take her to the store and the pharmacy to pick up a few things. He agreed. This lady had consumed a can of beer as part of her daily routine all her life. Apparently, along with needing some other items, she had run out of her supply of beer, so that was one of the items on her short shopping list. When she got back into the car, before he knew it, she popped the top on a can, remarking, “Whew, I need this!” He took her to the pharmacy down the street, and, once again, before he knew it, she thrust the open can into his hand, saying, “Hold this while I pick up my prescription.” He was sitting there in the car, holding an open can of beer when it seemed the Lord laughingly spoke to him, “Walter, I don’t want you to ever judge anyone by mere appearances again.” Had anyone who knew him walked by the car at that moment, word would have spread like wildfire that the Nazarene pastor was not only drinking — but was drinking and driving!
Take Away: As Jesus said, “judge not.”
Rescue the perishing
Proverbs 24: Rescue the perishing; don’t hesitate to step in and help.
Fanny Crosby wrote the missionary song that’s based on this proverb. Many a missionary service of years gone by has featured her song “Rescue the Perishing.” Would that the lives of God’s people feature it’s message in this day! The immediate assumption of the proverb is that there are those who are, indeed, perishing. In some cases it’s quite clear that people are in trouble. Their lives are unraveling and it’s plain that things can’t continue as they are. In other cases it takes insight to see what’s happening. People are living ordinary lives and pretty much keeping things together. However, spiritually speaking, they too are perishing. When Jesus stated his mission he gave it in terms of “rescue” saying he came to “seek and to save that which was lost.” As I consider this proverb, I’m challenged to join Jesus in that mission. “Rescue the perishing, care for the dying. Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.”
Take Away: As followers of Jesus we need to join him in his mission to rescue the perishing.
Trust in God, not in chance
Proverbs 22: Don’t gamble on the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, hocking your house against a lucky chance.
From the middle of Proverbs 22 through most of chapter 24 we’re given a list of thirty wise sayings collected by Solomon. In fact, this is the first of three such collections, the last being some of Solomon’s own gems. Clearly this wise man is not only a source of wisdom but is a collector of it too. The proverb concerning gambling catches my eye today as gambling is everywhere in our culture. Several states have turned to casinos as an answer to financial shortfalls. Also, there are many state sponsored lotteries. It isn’t unusual to be approached by someone selling raffle tickets in support of some worthy cause. (If I think it is truly worthy, I make a donation but decline taking a ticket.) When I turn on the TV I find shows about poker games. It’s clear that our society is awash with gambling. This isn’t how people of faith are supposed to operate. My hope isn’t that by taking a chance I can get hold of the money of other people who have taken the same chance. The life of faith isn’t about getting all I can from anywhere I can. Rather than gambling on my future by guessing the right lotto numbers I can stake my future on the solid rock of God’s faithfulness to me. Jesus said it’s impossible to serve both God and money. In this proverb, I see the wisdom of avoiding the gambling trap.
Take Away: Our hope is in the Lord, not in picking the right lotto numbers.
Giving my best, depending on a dependable God
Proverbs 21: Do your best, prepare for the worst — then trust God to bring victory.
At one time Jesus is ministering to thousands of people in a remote place. As the day turns to evening some of the disciples think Jesus ought to dismiss the people so they can go home and get something to eat. Jesus replies, “You give them something to eat.” How often do I see a need and then go to the Lord with instructions I think he ought to follow to meet that need? How often does God respond with, “You do it”? My first instinct is to reply, “Well, Lord, you know this is more than I can do, so it’s up to you. I’ll just go find a comfortable spot and watch you in action.” That’s never what the Lord wants me to do. When I see a need, this proverb instructs me to think and plan and make the effort to deal with it. However, at the same time, I’m to keep my eyes on him. In the incident from our Lord’s ministry, it’s actually Jesus who provides the food while the disciples are simply given the responsibility of distributing it. In light of this proverb, I’m reminded that the Lord expects me to get involved and give my best to the situation. At the same time though, I’m to remember that if I’m going to make a real difference I need to depend on a dependable God.
Take Away: The Lord expects us to get involved in meeting the needs I see.