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COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF PROVERBS: PART FIFTEEN

SERMON PRESENTED ON  07-30-16

      Last week we continued in our series on the book of Proverbs by offering commentary on Proverbs 12:2-18.  Today we will continue in Proverbs 12 beginning at verse 19.

       Proverbs 12:19:  Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.

       Solomon appears to be saying that the words of truth are reliable and will stand the test of time.  Lying words, on the other hand, while they may be efficacious for a time, will eventually be identified as being untruthful and exposed for what they are.

       Much lying is to protect oneself from the negative consequences of wrong behavior. We see this in courts of law all the time where defendants will lie about their whereabouts at the time a crime was committed for which they are being tried.  Lying to avoid punishment is very common among children and adults will often lie for the same reason. Lying is often done to gain the advantage in applying for a job or simply to elevate ones self in the eyes of others.  It is this kind of lying that is generally seen in Scripture as wrong behavior.  God wants us to take responsibility for our behavior even if it means having to face real or perceived negative consequences.

       We are all familiar with the account of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 6 where they lied to Peter about the amount of their donation to the church. Their apparent motive was to look good in the eyes of the Apostles and others within the developing Christian community and so they made it look like they contributed more than they actually did. The Holy Spirit revealed to Peter that these two were lying and the consequences for them is that they died of fright on the spot.  In their case a lying tongue truly did last but a moment.

       There is an interesting account in 2 Kings 5 of a lie being found out quickly with some pretty divesting consequences.  It involves the story of Elisha and a man named Naaman and another man named Gehazi.   

       Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was looked upon as a great man and highly respected by the King of Aram. The Scriptures instruct that it was through Naaman that YHWH had given victory to Aram in battle.  He was considered a valiant soldier but he had leprosy.

       As it turns out, Naaman found out about the prophet Elisha and visited him in hopes of being cured of his leprosy.  Elisha told him to wash himself seven times in the Jordan River and he would be cured.  Naaman did this and was cured.  Now Naaman had brought with him some very expensive gifts which he wanted to give Elisha as virtual payment for the healing.  These gifts included clothing and both sliver and gold.  Though Naaman urged Elisha, Elisha would take nothing and so Naaman started to return to his homeland with his gifts still in hand.  This is where the man named Gehazi enters the picture.

       2 Kings 5:20-27: Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said to himself, "My master was too easy on Naaman, this Aramean, by not accepting from him what he brought. As surely as the LORD lives, I will run after him and get something from him." So Gehazi hurried after Naaman. When Naaman saw him running toward him, he got down from the chariot to meet him. "Is everything all right?" he asked. "Everything is all right," Gehazi answered. (Here comes lie number one) "My master sent me to say, (Here comes lie number two) `Two young men from the company of the prophets have just come to me from the hill country of Ephraim. Please give them a talent of silver and two sets of clothing.'" "By all means, take two talents," said Naaman. He urged Gehazi to accept them, and then tied up the two talents of silver in two bags, with two sets of clothing. He gave them to two of his servants, and they carried them ahead of Gehazi. When Gehazi came to the hill, he took the things from the servants and put them away in the house. He sent the men away and they left. Then he went in and stood before his master Elisha.   "Where have you been, Gehazi?" Elisha asked. (Here comes the third lie).  "Your servant didn't go anywhere," Gehazi answered. But Elisha said to him, "Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to take money, or to accept clothes, olive groves, vineyards, flocks, herds, or menservants and maidservants? Naaman's leprosy will cling to you and to your descendants forever." Then Gehazi went from Elisha's presence and he was leprous, as white as snow.

       The thing about lying is that one lie often leads to another which leads to another.  Lying can become habitual in that it becomes so pervasive in ones behavior that it is done without even thinking about it.  It becomes chronic.  Once a person is found out to be a liar, that person’s creditability is ruined and it is very difficult to gain back creditability ones it is destroyed.  Many a politician has learned that over the years.

       Now it could be concluded that lying is sometimes justified if it saves ones life or the lives of others.  We are all familiar with the OT account of Rahab lying to the government authorizes as to the whereabouts of the Israeli spies for which she was commended as being righteous.  In other words, she did the right thing in this particular situation.

       In the first chapter of Exodus, we have the Egyptian Pharaoh telling the Hebrew midwives to kill the children they helped deliver if the child was a boy.  It’s recorded that the midwives feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt told them to do, they let the boys live.  When the Pharaoh inquired of the midwives why they didn’t follow his orders they replied that the Hebrew women were vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrived. 

       It is apparent the midwives lied to the Pharaoh about why the boys were not being killed. They lied to the Pharaoh in order to save their own lives from the Pharaoh’s wrath for not killing the male babies.  It is evident they didn’t kill the male babies not because they didn’t arrive in time but because they feared God and knew it would be wrong to kill the babies.  It’s recorded that because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.

       Exodus 1:20-21: So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous.  And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.

       It is apparent God justified their lying to the Pharaoh because it achieved a greater good in saving the lives of the midwives so they could continue to prevent the male babies from being killed.  During World War 2, a number of Jews were saved from death by those who hid them and lied to the German authorities when questioned.  Well known theologian R.C. Sproul once commented on the question of lying to protect life and wrote that a murderer does not have the right to be told the truth in the pursuit of his crime.

       If I had to lie to save my life or the life of someone else, I would probably do so since there appears to be Scriptural precedent for doing so under such circumstances.  However, there maybe consequences to pay.

       There is an interesting story in Joshua chapter 9 as to a group of people lying to save their lives and the lives of their countrymen only to be found out and suffer the consequences that ensued.  Joshua, as head of the armies of Israel, had defeated Jericho and Ai. These victories had struck fear into the hearts of other nations.  Some people of Gibeon, a city of the Hivites, had heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai and they resorted to a ruse in an attempt to save their lives.  They appeared before Joshua and his men with donkeys loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended.

       The men put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy.  They told Joshua that they had come from a distant country and that is why they looked as disheveled as they did. They sought to make a treaty with the Israelites.  Though Joshua was skeptical, he bought into their ruse and agreed to make a treaty of peace with them only to find out later that they were neighbors and part of the group of nations the Israelites were suppose to destroy.

       Joshua 9:15-16:  Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath. Three days after they made the treaty with the Gibeonites, the Israelites heard that they were neighbors, living near them.

       So now the Israelites had a problem.  They couldn’t attack them because the leaders of Israel had sworn on oath to them that they would not attack them.

       Joshua 9:18-20: But the Israelites did not attack them, because the leaders of the assembly had sworn an oath to them by the LORD, the God of Israel.  The whole assembly grumbled against the leaders, but all the leaders answered, "We have given them our oath by the LORD, the God of Israel, and we cannot touch them now. This is what we will do to them: We will let them live, so that wrath will not fall on us for breaking the oath we swore to them."

       So what happened is that the Israelites allowed them to live but essentially made them slaves to Israel.

       Joshua 9: 22-26: Then Joshua summoned the Gibeonites and said, "Why did you deceive us by saying, `We live a long way from you,' while actually you live near us? You are now under a curse: You will never cease to serve as woodcutters and water carriers for the house of my God." They answered Joshua, "Your servants were clearly told how the LORD your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you the whole land and to wipe out all its inhabitants from before you. So we feared for our lives because of you, and that is why we did this.  We are now in your hands. Do to us whatever seems good and right to you."  So Joshua saved them from the Israelites, and they did not kill them. That day he made the Gibeonites woodcutters and water carriers for the community and for the altar of the LORD at the place the LORD would choose. And that is what they are to this day.

       While the Hivites living in Gibeon may have saved their lives by lying to the Israelites as to their identity, they did end up paying a hefty penalty in that they became virtual slaves to Israel.  While lying may be justified in some circumstances, telling the truth is emphasized throughout the Scriptures as a basic requirement under the law of God.  In a previous sermon in this series on Proverbs, we coved this issue in depth.  Telling the truth is critical to having a proper relationship with God.

       Proverbs 12:22: The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.

       Psalm 15:1-2:  LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart.

       As covered in Part Five of this series, it would appear that lying in order to obtain a righteous result may be acceptable to God in some circumstances.  We must be careful, however, to not fall into the trap of what is called situation ethics.  Situation ethics is where we allow the situation to dictate how we behave.  This is a dangerous way to behave as it allows us to be the arbitrator of right and wrong.  We are not the arbitrator of right and wrong.  God is.  God is the one who defines right and wrong.  It is God who has set the ethical and moral standards by which we should live.  It is because of situation ethics and what is called moral relativism that we have the mess we have in the world.

       Let’s now move to Proverbs 13 where we will find a number of Proverbs dealing with issues we have already addressed in discussing other Proverbs.  There are, however, a few Proverbs in this chapter that raise issues we haven’t discussed so I will limit our discussion of Proverbs 13 to those particular Proverbs. Let’s begin with 13:11.

       Proverbs 13:11: Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow.

       Wealth gained quickly will dwindle away, but the one who gathers it little by little will become rich (NET).

       The NET rendering of the Hebrew word translated “dishonest money” in the NIV better fits the parallelism seen in this Proverb.  While money obtained dishonestly often does rapidly dwindle away, wealth gained quickly even in an honest manner often is quickly lost in contrast to wealth gained little by little over a period of time. 

       We all have heard stories of people who have won the lottery and within a short period of time they have spent the money they won, sometimes to the tune of multiple millions of dollars.

       Evelyn Adams, a New Jersey native and two time winner of the lottery, blew through it all.  Evelyn gambled a lot of her 5.4 million dollar pay day away playing slots in Atlantic City and now lives in a trailer.

       Michael Carroll, a resident of Great Britain won a jackpot of approximately $15 million in US money back in 2002.  By 2010 he was hoping to get his old job back as a garbage man. At first, Carroll lavished gifts on friends and family, but soon started spending on cocaine, parties, cars, and, at one point, up to four prostitutes a day.  In eight years he blew through 15 million dollars. 

       A number of professional athletes over the years have made big money during their playing days only to end up in poverty after their playing days are over because they failed to wisely use their money to prepare for their future.

       A person who gathers wealth little by little in most cases has to work for such wealth over a long period of time and therefore will have a much greater respect for its value and protect it and be prudent as to how it is used.

       Proverbs 13:12: Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

       The Hebrew word rendered “hope” has the basic meaning of “to go slowly.”  We humans tend to want things to go rapidly.  We want things to happen immediately.  We don’t like to wait.  When we hope for something to occur and it doesn’t happen soon or it is slow to occur, we can become despondent and downhearted. This is especially true of hoping for relief or deliverance from a problem that is causing us physical and/or psychological stress and pain.  When suffering from a health problem, especially if it involves pain, we want relief immediately if not sooner.  When relief comes it is like a tree of life in that we again feel like it is good to be alive whereas we were not so sure while still waiting for our hope to be fulfilled.

       As is true of a number of Solomon’s Proverbs, He is not here teaching any great moral principle or ethical standard.  He simple appears to be making an observation as to human behavior. 

       Proverbs 13:22-23: A good man leaves an inheritance for his children's children, but a sinner's wealth is stored up for the righteous.  A poor man's field may produce abundant food, but injustice sweeps it away.

       Throughout the Proverbs we see Solomon extolling the virtues of working hard for what you have and not failing to share with others in need.  Leaving an inheritance for ones grandchildren is just another example of Solomon teaching circumspection in how wealth is handled and passed on to others.  It is simply the righteous thing to do to be circumspect in how one handles what one has been given.  The wicked are those who increase their wealth though taking advantage of others and Solomon sees their wealth ending up in the hands of the righteous. He makes a similar observation in Proverbs 28:8.

       Proverbs 28:8: He who increases his wealth by exorbitant interest amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor.

       Moving on to Proverbs 14 we again see a number of observations that Solomon makes about human behavior.  Hidden in many of these observations are lessons we can learn which will help us to properly order our own behavior and consequently experience a happier more successful and trouble free life.  Let’s look at just some of these Proverbs in chapter 14.

       Proverbs 14:3: A fool's talk brings a rod to his back, but the lips of the wise protect them.

       Here Solomon is simply observing that a person who utters stupid words will experience chastisement of one kind or another while a person who utters wise words will not experience such chastisement.  His wise words will protect him.

       Proverbs 14:15: A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.

       Here Solomon reflects on how people believe things without checking the facts while others will be prudent in thinking about what is presented to him and insure that the information is valid.  In the present campaigns for president of the United States, there is going to be a great deal of rhetoric about all kinds of issues.  There will be some verifiable truth presented and some verifiable error presented as truth.  If Solomon were with us today he would probably say that the simple person will not take the time or put forth the effort to distinguish between truth and error presented as truth while the prudent person will question what is said and do the necessary research to determine truth from error.

       Proverbs 14:20-21: The poor are shunned even by their neighbors, but the rich have many friends.  He who despises his neighbor sins, but blessed is he who is kind to the needy.

       Proverbs 14:31: He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.

       Proverbs 19:4: Wealth brings many friends, but a poor man's friend deserts him.

       Proverbs 19:7: A poor man is shunned by all his relatives-- how much more do his friends avoid him! Though he pursues them with pleading, they are nowhere to be found.

       Here again Solomon is making an observation of human behavior.  He certainly is not approving of the poor being shunned by their neighbors but is showing that people will tend to avoid having social interaction with people that are seen as being needy.  Some may do this because they don’t want to get involved in their neighbors problems or feel obligated to help them.  Some simple don’t want to be seen as associating with those of lower economic or social status as this is seen as somehow diminishing their standing in the community.

       Solomon says this kind of behavior is sin.  The way of righteousness is to help the poor.  Helping the poor is strongly emphasized under both the Old and New Covenants.  Solomon indicates that those who fail to help the poor will themselves not be helped in time of need.

       Proverbs 21:13: If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.

       Proverbs 28:27: He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.

       As seen in Proverbs 14:20 and 19:4, Solomon shows a contrast in how the poor are treated as opposed to the rich. Solomon says the rich have many friends. People like to be seen with people of wealth and high social status.  It somehow is felt to enhance their own status in the community.   We have all been around those who are name droppers, people who will refer to notables in the society who they claim to know or have an association with.  This somehow makes them to look important.   Solomon was brilliant at identifying the little quirks in human behavior. 

       Before we leave Proverbs 14, I want to draw attention to one additional verse which we in our fellowship history have used many, many times.

       Proverbs 14:12: There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.

       This is another one of Solomon’s observational statements.  Solomon looked around at human behavior just as we do today.  He saw the many pursuits of man with many of them resulting in negative consequences including death. Just as in Solomon’s day, we see man doing many things that appear right in his eyes but the result is ruin,

       The reason for this should be obvious to us as Christians.  Man looks at things through his own eyes rather than God’s eyes.   God sees things through the eyes of His Law, through the eyes of the behavioral standards He has established.  As I have said before, people keep praying for peace.  People hold prayer vigils to pray for an end to violence.  I don’t know what people expect God to do.  He has given us the Laws that govern human behavior.  He has revealed to us the way to peace but we seem to by oblivious to that way and instead go about seeking some kind of DIvine intervention to bring peace and stop the violence.

             Television personality Steve Harvey has a daily talk show in the afternoon and he recently had a two part series on the gun violence in Chicago.  Steve is originally from Chicago.  After viewing these programs and hearing Steve asking for impute on this issue I sent the following message to his face book page. 

        Steve: I have watched with interest your series on the gun violence in Chicago.  There is an Old Testament Proverb that says: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12)     

       The reason for this should be obvious.  Man looks at things through his own eyes rather than God’s eyes.   God sees things through the eyes of His Law, through the eyes of the behavioral standards He has established for man.  People keep praying for peace.  People hold prayer vigils to pray for an end to violence.  I don’t know what people expect God to do.  He has given us the Laws that govern human behavior.  He has revealed to us the way to peace but we seem to be oblivious to that way and instead go about seeking some kind of DIvine intervention to bring peace and stop the violence.        

       I’m reminded of the story about the guy standing on the roof of his house with flood waters all around and praying to God to save him.  I boat comes by and the man is invited inside but says no because he is waiting for God to save him.  A helicopter comes by to draw the man out of the water but he refuses and says God is going to save him.  The waters keep rising and the man drowns.  

       We are drowning as a society because we have failed to see the solutions to our problems that are right in front of our face.  The God given Law of Love provides all the behavioral standards we need to produce peace.  Yet all we hear about is that we need more police, stricter gun laws, more jobs, more social programs, more this and more that.  We hear next to nothing about the need for adherence to the moral Law that God has established.  We hear a lot about rights and little about responsibilities.  Until our nation as a whole begins practicing the moral Law God has established, we are not going to see any significant change in society.  Things will just continue to get worse.

       “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”  We need to abandon that way and embrace God’s way.  Only then will we experience peace and the end to the violence that we seek.

 PART SIXTEEN