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COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF PROVERBS: PART EIGHTEEN

SERMON PRESENTED ON 10-08-16

       Today we will continue to explore the thoughts and observations of Solomon as expressed in the many proverbs he wrote.  Last time we concluded with an review of Proverbs 18:24, where Solomon wrote that “a man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”  We will now continue in our journey through Proverbs beginning with chapter 19.  As we move forward, many of the proverbs will be repeating principles that we have already covered in our discussion of previous proverbs.  This being the case, I will consider only those proverbs that are new to our discussion.  In the case of Proverbs 19 there is just one saying that I have not already dealt with in some manner and that is Proverbs 19:2 

       Proverbs 19:2: It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.

       All one has to do is look at the history of social, political and religious movements to understand the validity of this proverb.  How often have people, with great zeal, got behind a social, political or religious cause or movement without carefully examining the dynamics that make up and define such cause or movement. How many people have fallen for the rhetoric of leaders who promise great things only to discover that such promises were based on false premises, outright lies or simply turn out to be unpractical and unachievable?

       What this proverb teaches us is to be slow in supporting a cause. This proverb teaches us to be careful and cautious about jumping on the bandwagon of a movement.  The old saying that haste makes waste can certainly be applied here.  Before getting behind a cause or movement we should always carefully examine the validity of what is being presented. We should always ask whether what is presented to us is practical, prudent and possible.  Above all, we should always measure the dynamics of a cause or movement against the behavioral standards God has established for us as revealed in Scripture. 

       While it is certainly not wrong to have zeal for a cause or principle, it is critical that such zeal is based on knowledge that such cause or principle is based on truth.  Failure to establish the truth of a matter before jumping on the bandwagon of support for such matter can have devastating results.

       Hitler convinced many Germans that their Arian background was superior to all other ethnic backgrounds on the face of the earth which gave them the right to rule over their European neighbors and eventually the world.  Many bought into his arguments and supported the war effort based on the belief Hitler was telling the truth.  We all know how that turned out.

       Sometimes it is leadership that is railroaded into making a hasty decision by the very people they are responsible for leading.  We have a good example of this in what happened during the time of Moses and the Israelites.  We read inExodus 24 that Moses went up on Mount Sinai and was there for forty days and forty nights during which time God gave him a great deal of instruction as to how Israel was to behave before God.  It was at this time God wrote the Ten Commandments on two tablets of stone.

       Well, the people became restless after Moses hadn’t returned for forty days and they talked Aaron into making an idol and allowing them to engage in idolatrous worship.  Aaron, rather than standing his ground and carefully looking at the consequences of granting the wishes of the people, not only allowed them to become idolatrous but actually facilitated their great sin.

       Exodus 32:1-4: When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, "Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him." Aaron answered them, "Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me." So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt."

       It has always amazed my how quickly Israel forgot the extraordinary manner in which God brought them out of Egypt.  How quickly they were willing to write off Moses who, as God’s agent, had facilitated their deliverance from slavery. The simply failed to consider what they had just recently experienced and made a hasty decision and in so doing, lost their way as the proverb speaks of.  Well, we all know how that turned out.  Here is what happened.

       Exodus 32:25-28: Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, "Whoever is for the LORD, come to me." And all the Levites rallied to him. Then he said to them, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: `Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.'" The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died.

       Rather than determining why Moses had not come down from the mountain, the people, including their leadership, simple reacted to the situation and apparently assumed Moses was not coming back.  They then proceeded to act on their assumptions and the results were disastrous. We see this kind of behavior in modern day riots where people get all riled up about something based on limited knowledge or downright false information. 

       It would be good for us to keep Proverb 19:2 in mind when we are approached to support a cause or join a movement.  This is especially true at the present time as we are being bombarded with political rhetoric in an election year. Let’s now move to Proverbs 20:1.

       Proverbs 20:1: Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise (NIV).

       Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise (KJV).

       Wine is a mocker, intoxicating drink arouses brawling, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise (NKJV).

       The Hebrew rendered “wine” is yayin and means fermented fruit of the vine.  The Hebrew rendered “fermented drink” is sheker and means an intoxicant, or as Strong’s Lexicon puts it, an intensely alcoholic liquor.”  The KJV renders sheker as “strong drink,” while the NKJV renders sheker as “intoxicating drink.”  Most translations render sheker as “strong drink which appears to best reflect the meaning of the Hebrew word.  I am not sure why the NIV translators render Sheker as “beer” 

       Now some religious groups take a proverb like this and use it to support their contention that we should not drink alcoholic beverages.  As a boy I grew up in the Pentecostal Church where the drinking of alcoholic beverages was prohibited.  It was considered sin.  The leadership of that church was zealous in promoting prohibition against the use of alcoholic beverages.  Upon investigation, however, such prohibition is another example of the first part of Proverbs 19:2, “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge” because as it turns out, there is no Scriptural prohibition against ingesting alcoholic beverages.  In fact just the opposite is true.

       While drunkenness is considered sin in the Scriptures, the Scriptures also make it clear that the drinking of alcoholic beverages is allowed.  As is sometimes the case with human thinking, getting rid of the thing is confused with misuse of the thing.

       Misuse of alcohol can lead to drunkenness which can lead to horrific accidents, abuse, unruly behavior and a host of health problems.  This, however, does not mean ingesting alcohol in and of itself is a bad thing. This does not make use of alcohol a sin in and of itself.  The thing called sex can be misused.  Sexual behavior such as fornication and adultery are clearly seen as sin in Scripture.  Promiscuous sex can lead to a variety of problems including sexually transmitted diseases. Does this make sex an evil in and of itself?  I think we all know the answer to that question.

       When Solomon says “Wine is a mocker and strong drink is raging,” he is not condemning the use of wine and strong drink.  This is made clear by his next statement, “whoever is led astray by them is not wise.”  The problem is not the thing, in this case wine and strong drink, but the misuse of the thing.  To be led astray by wine and strong drink is to over indulge and allow the alcohol to affect your behavior.

       Solomon would have been aware of overindulgence being a problem by simple reading some of what Moses wrote.  In Genesis 9:21 we see Noah getting drunk by drinking two much wine which led to a problem between Noah and his grandson Canaan. In Genesis 19 we see Lot getting drunk on wine and having sex with his two daughters.

       On the other hand, Solomon would also have been aware from reading Moses that wine is seen as a blessing for Israel if they are loyal to God and live by His laws.

       Deuteronomy 7:13: He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land--your grain, new wine (yayin) and oil--the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land that he swore to your forefathers to give you.

       It should be evident that Solomon is not speaking against ingesting wine or strong drink but against over indulgence. Solomon would have been very aware of the Scriptural instruction to actually enjoy the fruit of the vine and strong drink.  In instructions Moses gave Israel as to their keeping of the Feast of Tabernacles He said this.

       Deuteronomy 14:24-26: But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice.

       It is interesting that in Proverbs 31, the writer, who apparently is not Solomon but a King named Lemuel, is reflecting on what his mother told him about wine and strong drink.

       Proverbs 31:4-7: It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted. Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more (KJV).

       The implication here is that it is not wrong for kings or princes to drink wine or strong drink but to be careful not to over indulge which could result in them forgetting the law and perverting judgement.  We all know that over indulgence of alcoholic beverages can lead to mudded thought and bad decisions.

       It is interesting, however, that there is advice given here to give strong drink to those who are dying and wine to those of heavy heart as a means of numbing oneself from physical or psychological pain.  While it certainly isn’t recommended that one escape from ones troubles in a bottle of booze, alcohol can be used to relieve stress and to give momentary relief from the troubles of life.  One must be careful; however, that booze doesn’t become a crutch to lean on and an escape mechanism to avoid facing whatever it is that is causing despair.  To use alcohol in this manner can lead to series problems.

       After my father-in-law died, my mother-in-law took to drinking on a regular basis.  She didn’t get drink but drank just enough to take the edge off.  After a couple of years of this behavior she developed cirrhosis of the liver and died. 

       In the NT we see Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding. The Greek for wine in this account is oinos which is equivalent to the Hebrew yayin and simply means fermented fruit of the vine.  That fermented fruit of the vine is the meaning of oinos is made evident by the context in which this word is found.  Those at the wedding commented that the best wine was saved for last.  I don’t think such comment would have been made about grape juice.  Jesus said that men don’t pour new wine into old wineskins because it would burst the wineskins. Why would it burst the wineskins?  Because it is fermenting

       Matthew 9:17: Neither do men pour new wine (Greek: oinos) into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved."

       In Paul’s first letter to Timothy he instructs that deacons are not to indulge in much wine which is to say that it’s OK to drink wine, just don’t overdo it.  Paul also instructed Timothy to drink wine as a remedy for his frequent illnesses.

       It should be apparent from Scripture that it is not wrong to drink alcoholic beverages.  Solomon’s proverb is simple telling us that if you are going to drink alcoholic beverages do so with the knowledge that too much is not wise and can lead to series problems.  Let’s now look at one more proverb for today.

       Proverbs 20:14: "It's no good, it's no good!" says the buyer; then off he goes and boasts about his purchase.

       Here Solomon is reflecting on what in some cultures is common behavior exhibited between a buyer and seller.  A seller typically wants to get as much as he can for the product he is selling and the buyer wants to pay as little as possible for the product.  A buyer will talk down the value of the product he is buying even to the point of devaluing the product below that of what he knows it is worth.  If the seller agrees to sell the product at a much reduced cost, that buyer may walk away thanking he out smarted the seller and even brag to others about the deal he finagled.

       While not common in our culture, haggling back and forth on the price of a product is common in other cultures.  I still remember when Barb and I took our honeymoon in Mexico and we were shopping for sliver jewelry in Taxco, a town around a hundred miles southwest of Mexico City. At the time Taxco was considered the sliver capitol of the world as its primary business was mining silver and converting such silver into jewelry.  I remember haggling back and forth over the price of some jewelry we were interested in and I believe I did the same in purchasing a portrait in Monterey which is the first large city you reach when driving into Mexico from the US.  In some cultures, haggling over the price of something is simply the way it is done.

       I still remember an experience I had in Israel when I was there some years ago to participate in an archeological dig at Megiddo which is around 40 miles north of Jerusalem.  I had arrived in Israel a few days before I was scheduled to be at the dig so I stayed at a hotel near the Old City of Jerusalem and walked to the Old City with map in hand to do a self guided tour.  An Arab gentleman saw me looking at my map and came over and literally grabbed the map out of my hand and announced he was a tour guide and would like to take me on a tour through the city promising to get me into places I would not be able to see on my own.

       When I asked him what this would cost, he raised his hands and told me not to worry about the cost suggesting it would be reasonable.  With some trepidation, I took him up on his offer and after a couple of hours of walking around the Old city and visiting its four sectors the tour came to an end and then the fun began.

       He still won’t tell me what I owed him so I offered him $20.00. He threw up his hands in the air to indicate he couldn’t accept that.  The way he acted, I at first thought he was saying it was two much.  What he was really saying was that I was insulting him by offering him only twenty bucks.  He was looking for a hundred dollars or more.  Well, I wasn’t about to pay him that kind of money so the haggling began. We went back and forth on different amounts and he tried to illicit my sympathies by saying how poor the Arab people were. When that didn’t work, he offered me what he called a student rate which also was a lot more than I was willing to pay.

       Finally I had enough of this guy and told him its twenty dollars or nothing and began to walk away.  He quickly grabbed the twenty dollars out of my hand and went off in a big huff.  I don’t know to this day what the tour was actually worth but in reading Solomon’s proverb it certainly brought back vivid memories of the experience. 

        I don’t now whether Solomon is making a moral value judgement in Proverbs 20:14 or is just making an observation as to how some people interact when buying and selling.  If he is making a moral judgement it would be that there should be honesty practiced between a buyer and seller and one should not try to rip the other one off.  Such honesty is incorporated in the Golden Rule that Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

       Matthew 7:12: So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

       The principle expressed in what has become known as the Golden Rule is found in the writings of many cultures both modern and ancient.  For example, in ancient Egyptian papyrus we find it written, "That which you hate to be done to you, do not do to another."  Confucius wrote in 500 BC to “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself."  The Greek philosopher Isocrates who lived in the fifth century BC wrote: "Do not do to others that which angers you when they do it to you.” 

       What is interesting is that when Jesus expressed this principle in the Sermon on the Mount, he said it summed up the Law and the Prophets.  He was saying that all that is written in the Law and all that was written by the Prophets has its basis in this one rule. Humans are to treat each other in the same manner they wish to be treated.  

      For Jesus to make a statement that summarizes the Law and the Prophets is to make a statement of extraordinary significance.  We are talking here about the Torah, the revered law given to Moses at Mount Sinai.  We are talking here about the great amount of rhetoric delivered by dozens of prophets throughout Israel’s history.    

       In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is dealing with the moral law.  He is dealing with how we are to relate to one another.  Jesus makes a single statement as to how we are to relate to others and says this is what the law and the prophets are all about.  This is the bottom line.  This is what I have been teaching you on this mountain side.  This is what Moses taught you.  This is what the prophets taught you.  All those laws, all those rules in the Torah, all those warnings and instructions from the prophets are summed up in one regulation.  “Do to others as you would have them do to you,”

       Jesus is saying, look at yourself.  How do you want to be treated?  How do you want people to relate to you?  You want respect?  Then respect others.  You want help in time of need?  Then help others in their time of need.  You want people to have compassion for you when you’re hurting?  Then show compassion for others who are hurting.  You want people to be honest with you?  Then don’t lie to them.  You want your children to honor you?  Then you better show honor to your parents.  You want others to value your life?  Well you better value theirs.  You see how the law is summed up in this single regulation? 

       Thousands of books have been written dealing with how we humans need to relate to each other.  Thousands of speeches are given every year around the world dealing with the moral and ethical issues of human interrelations. Yet it all boils down to “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  It all boils down to identifying how we want to be treated and then doing the same to others. 

       The moral law of the Torah established a standard of behavior.  In many ways it simply reiterated what had been taught since creation as to approved human relations.  We see prohibition against murder in the incident with Cain and Able.  The Torah law has many regulations dealing with compensation.  The understanding is that things in life are going to happen that will cause injury or loss to someone and that someone must be made whole by the person who inflicted the damage. 

       The Torah law provided for appropriate compensation for accidents, mistakes, oversights and lawlessness.  These laws are seen by Jesus as summed up in doing to others as we would have them do unto us.  These laws were implemented in order to compensate for the hurt, loss or inconvenience that the actions of one party bestowed upon another.  If you were hurt, suffered a loss or experienced a significant inconvenience because of the behavior of someone else, you were expected to be treated by the person who caused the problem as that person would expect to be treated if it was they who experienced the problem. The Torah law was in essence teaching the same thing Jesus was teaching.  Treat others as you expect to be treated in any given situation. 

       There are many parallels in twenty-first century society to those regulations we see under the Old Covenant.  We may do things different but the principles involved are the same.  We carry auto insurance to cover the costs of injury and damage in case of an auto accident.  Unless one is very wealthy and can cover the costs associated with an accident, it is a practice of the Golden Rule to carry auto insurance so a victim of an accident can be properly compensated.  Failure to carry auto insurance is failure to practice the Golden Rule.       

             To repeat what I said earlier, I don’t now whether Solomon is making a moral value judgement in Proverbs 20:14 or is just making an observation as to how some people interact when buying and selling.  If he is making a moral judgement it would be that there should be honesty practiced between a buyer and seller and one should not try to rip the other one off.  Such expression of honesty is to practice the Golden Rule.  If the Arab tour guide would have just told me what he charges I could have made an informed decision and we could have avoided the hassle over compensation that ensued. 

       May we awaken every morning with the Golden rule on our mind and conduct ourselves throughout the day accordingly.  

PART NINETEEN