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COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF PROVERBS: PART EIGHT

SERMON PRESENTED ON 03-19-16

       Today we will discuss the last of the seven things God hates as recorded in Proverbs 16:19.  God hates a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

       Proverbs 6:16-19: There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood,  a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

       Proverbs 6:19: “and one who sows discord among brethren” (New King James Version: NKJV)

       Proverbs 6:19: “and a person who spreads discord among family members” (New English Translation: NET).

       Proverbs 6:19: “and one who spreads strife among brothers” (NEW American Standard: NAS).

       Dissension, discord, strife; these are all words that describe disharmony.  God intends for is to live in harmony with each other which is to say we are to live in peace. Here is what Paul wrote to the Roman Christians and what Peter wrote to Christians scattered abroad.

       Romans 12:16-18: Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

       1 Peter 3:8-9: Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

       As can be seen from the Scriptures, it is God’s will that we live in harmony with one another.  Yet disharmony, characterized by dissension, discord and strife, is ubiquitous in human behavior including the behavior of many who call themselves Christians.  Dissension, discord and strife are at the root of much of the evil that exists in the world.

       It all began in the Garden of Eden where disharmony developed between God and man. Rather than unequivocally submitting to the will of their creator, Adam and Eve created disharmony between themselves and God by behaving contrary to the command God had given them to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This disharmonious behavior led to dire consequences for Adam and Eve and was followed by disharmony between their two sons Cain and Able which led to dire consequences for them as well. 

       It is evident from Scripture that God wants us to live in harmony with Him and with each other. We saw in the various renderings of Proverbs 6:19 that different translators render the Hebrew as either dissension, discord or strife. All three renderings appear to be reasonable translations of the Hebrew in this passage but there is some difference in how these words are understood in English.  Here are the English dictionary definitions of dissension, discord and strife.

       Dissension is disagreement that causes people to argue about something that is important to them.  A dissension is a disagreement, or difference of opinion.  Discord is defined in a similar manner but implies active quarreling or conflict resulting from the discord.  Strife is defined as very angry or violent disagreement between two or more people or groups.

       Based on these definitions, it would appear that dissension is to simply argue for ones point of view.  Discord and strife describe disagreement that leads to conflict.  It would appear that when Solomon writes that God hates a man who stirs up dissension among brothers he is not saying God hates disagreement as such but that God hates a man that disagrees to the point of creating an adversarial climate between brothers.  It is the use of disagreement to create conflict between people or groups of people that God hates.

       It is apparent the kind of dissension God hates is the kind that is stirred up with the intent of causing discord and strife.  It is dissension caused by an angry spirit. It is dissension generated by an express intention of creating trouble.  Solomon uses the same Hebrew word the NIV translators rendered dissension in Proverbs 6:19 about a dozen times more throughput the book of Proverbs.  By context it can be seen he is using it in the context of creating an adversarial situation.

        Proverbs 6:14: He who plots evil with deceit in his heart-- he always stirs up dissension.

        Proverbs 10:12: Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs.

       Proverbs 15:18: A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel.

       Proverbs 16:28: A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.

       Proverbs 28:25: A greedy man stirs up dissension, but he who trusts in the LORD will prosper.

       Proverbs 29:22: An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins.

       In view of the context in which we see the Hebrew rendered dissension in the NIV rendering of these passages, a better rendering of the Hebrew in Proverbs 6:19, as well as all the other passages using this word, may be to use the word discord or strife which is what you see in other translations.  Discord or strife better reflect what God hates.  It is apparent God does not hate dissension (disagreement) in and of itself but He hates what disagreement can lead to if not handled in the right way.

       Let’s proceed with our discussion by first examining the matter of dissension which we saw in English has the basic definition of to disagree or argue ones point of view.  The first disagreement recorded in Scripture is found in the Garden of Eden. 

       Its apparent Adam and Eve disagreed with God as to His command to not eat of the tree of good and evil.  We have no record of the two of them discussing their disagreement with God.  We have no record of them arguing their point of view regarding eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  All we are told is that they ate of the tree and in so doing behaved contrary to God’s will and were punished for their sin.

       Here we learn several important things about what God allows as to human behavior.  We learn that God allows us the freedom to disagree with Him.  We also learn that God allows such disagreement to lead to disobeying His will. Most importantly, we learn that allowing disagreement with God to result in disobeying His will is to commit sin which leads to a disharmonious relationship with God. God wants us to be in harmony with Him as much as He wants us to be in harmony with each other.

       Adam and Eve not only disagreed with God but acted on that disagreement by eating from the forbidden tree.  They failed to realize God is sovereign and while He allows us humans to disagree with him he fully expects us to recognize His sovereignty which is to submit to his will.

       God is sovereign.  Scriptures shows God to be the Supreme Most High God, above all others god’s and powers. All other power is derived from God.  God is the source of all power and authority.  It is God who defines right and wrong. While it is true that God gives us the power to not only disagree with Him but to behave contrary to his will, we must understand that God is not obligated to us for anything while we are totally obligated to God for everything and in the final analysis we are obligated to recognize God’s sovereignty and agree with whatever His will turns out to be.

       We see this principle clearly at work in prayer.  When we make requests to God for a healing or some other intervention, we must always do so with the understanding that it may or may not be God’s will to grant our request and we need to accept and agree with that decision not to grant our request.  When we ask for a healing or intervention it obviously is our will that we be granted our request.  It may not, however, be God’s will.  God is not obligated to grant our request.  As His created Beings we are obligated to accept and agree with his will even if runs contrary to our will.

       We see in the NT that Jesus asked God that if it was possible to remove from Him the ordeal of the crucifixion.  Yet Jesus said not my will but your will be done.  It is our obligation to be in harmony with the will of our creator.  We see this principle at work in various Scriptural examples.

       We have the account in Daniel were Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were implored by King Nebuchadnezzar to worship the image he had erected and if they refused to do so they would be thrown into the fiery furnace.  Here is their reply.

       Daniel 3:16-18: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."

       Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego fully recognized that God could rescue them and were apparently pretty confident He would.  They also recognized that God is sovereign and in his sovereign providence He may decide not to rescue them. While I am sure it was their will that God rescue them, it is apparent they would agree with whatever God decided.  They would maintain harmony with God in submitting to His will regardless of what that will was.    

       We have the example of David and the son born to him and Bathsheba.  We know this son was born of an adulteress relationship and God had informed David through the prophet Samuel that the child would die.  David didn’t agree with the decision.  

       2 Samuel 12:15-16: After Nathan had gone home, the LORD struck the child that Uriah's wife had borne to David, and he became ill. David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground. 

       David did not agree with God that the child should die.  There was in a sense dissension between God and David on this issue. David vigorously argued for his belief that the child should live. Remember we earlier saw that dissension is a disagreement or difference of opinion.  David had a different opinion from that of God’s on the issue of his child dying.  But once David saw that God’s will was set on this issue, he stopped petitioning God to let the child live and accepted God’s will on this matter.

       2 Samuel 12:20-23: Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate. His servants asked him, "Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!" He answered, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, `Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.'

       You notice that after the child died, David “went into the house of the LORD and worshiped.”  David didn’t hold a grudge against God for not meeting his request to have the child live. Despite David not agreeing with God as to the fate of His child, David never allowed such disagreement to destabilize his relationship with God.  He maintained harmony with God despite the outcome of this issue not being what David wanted.  David understood God is sovereign and His will should not be questioned once the evidence shows His will is set.        

       It should also be noted that when David reflected on his fasting and weeping he thought, `Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.'  The lesson we learn here is that we don’t now what God will do in any given situation. We don’t know what the will of God is in any given circumstance.  All we can do is appeal to God’s mercy.  David said God may be gracious to him.  God has the option of extending grace or not extending grace.  All we can do in time of need is to petition God to extend His grace and mercy and then accept his decision whatever such decision may be.  In so doing we live in harmony with God. 

       We have examples in Scripture of God changing His mind at times.  This means it was his will to do one thing and yet He did something else in response to a human request.  We have the incident of Israel worshiping the golden calf in the desert when Moses didn’t return from Mount Sinai in a timely manner.  God became very angry with Israel and said the following to Moses:   

       Exodus 32:9; "I have seen these people," the LORD said to Moses, "and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation."

       At that moment in time it appears God’s will was to destroy Israel and start over again with Moses.  Moses could have said sure Lord.  I am at your service.  I agree with you that these people should be destroyed and I will do whatever is your will.  This is not what we see however. We see Moses disagreeing with the will of God.  

       Exodus 32:11-12:  But Moses sought the favor of the LORD his God. "O LORD," he said, "why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, `It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth'? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.  Verse 14:  Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

       Moses argued for his position regarding God’s desire to wipe out Israel and start all over with Him.  Moses could have been lifted up with pride and said, “Sure Lord, let’s get rid of these sinners and let me be the one through whom you do your work.  But Moses didn’t do that and he prevailed in changing God’s mind. As David had done in the matter of his dying son, Moses appealed to God’s mercy. In the case of David, God maintained his position and the child died.  In the case of Moses, God changed His mind. We have another great Scriptural example of God changing His will in response to a human request.

       2 Kings 20:1-5: In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, "This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover." Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD,  "Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes." And Hezekiah wept bitterly. Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him: "Go back and tell Hezekiah, the leader of my people, `This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the LORD.

       We humans always have the option of seeking the favor of God just as David, Moses and Hezekiah did.  In the case of David, God held firm to his position.  In the case of Moses and Hezekiah God actually changed His position.   Even when things look pretty bleak and it doesn’t appear God is going to respond to us in the manner we would like, as did David, we need to seek the mercy of God until we know for sure what His ultimate will is.  As we have seen, God does change His will at times.  This being said, we must always be ready to agree with whatever the ultimate will of God is and not become bitter over a request we make that isn’t fulfilled.  We must always be in harmony with God’s ultimate will in any given circumstance. 

       Having covered the matter of dissension or disagreement between God and man let’s return to proverbs 6 and our passage of the day.  Solomon writes that God hates a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.  As I covered earlier, it may be best to render the Hebrew as discord or strife.

       The key phrase here is “stirs up.”  If dissension or discord is to be defined as disagreement, there is always going to be disagreement in the human experience.  As already demonstrated, humans are seen as at times disagreeing with God and God doesn’t appear to show that as being wrong as long as in the end man has full respect for and agreement with whatever the ultimate will of God is on any given issue or in any given circumstance. 

       If dissension or discord is to be defined as to disagree, then dissension or discord is not something bad in and of itself.  However, when disagreement is stirred up by hatred, by a hot temper, by jealousies or by anger, this is when it becomes unacceptable in God’s sight.  That is when it falls within the category of the seven things God hates. 

       If disagreements are facilitated in a mature manner, such disagreements can lead to a better understanding of the dynamics of an issue.  But when mutual respect is abandoned and people become visceral in their disagreements on an issue that is when dissension becomes a problem.  We are seeing a lot of such visceral interaction in the current political debates.

       It is a man stirring up dissension among brothers to divide them and create doubts and fear that God hates.  As already discussed, since the Hebrew word translated dissension in Proverbs can also be translated strife, strife may be the best translation of the Hebrew as it better reflects the kind of behavior that Solomon says God hates. As we saw earlier, strife is defined as very angry or violent disagreement between two or more people or groups.  It is this kind of disagreement that is to be avoided.

       Anyone who argues for his opinion on a matter with the intention of stirring others up or dividing members of a group is engaging in behavior that is contrary to harmony between brethren.  We have just recently seen this at some political rallies where those of a different opinion have tried to disrupt the proceedings not by mature interaction but by violent reaction.

       In the first century Apostle Paul had to deal with Jews who would infiltrate Christian meetings and cause a stir in trying to change the thinking of those present.  In Acts 13 we have the account of Paul in Antioch addressing the people on the Sabbath at a synagogue.  As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. It’s recorded that on the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. It’s recorded that the word of the Lord spread through the whole region.  But what do we find happening?

       Acts 13:50:  But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region.

       Jews stirring up the people and sowing discord and strife was a constant challenge as the Christian church was developing in the first century.  Here are a few more examples. 

       Acts 1:1-2: At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed. But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.

       Acts 17:12-13: Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.  When the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, they went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up.

       Now if these Jews would have entered into a sincere and forthright discussion of the issues at hand and engaged Paul and the Christians in a civil and mature debate, I am sure Paul would have welcomed such debate and simply let the chips fall where they may.  But that wasn’t their approach.  There approach was to not just disagree but to be disagreeable.  There approach was to create an adversarial environment and stir up the people.  

       This is the kind of behavior God hates.  This kind of behavior leads to anger and violence.  This kind of behavior is contrary to the law of love.  It is contrary to the Golden Rule.  It is contrary to the harmony that God wants to exist between human Beings. Let’s close with a couple of Scriptures I quoted at the top of this sermon.

       Romans 12:16-18: Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

       1 Peter 3:8-9: Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

PART NINE