After setting aside my series on the book of Proverbs to deal with other issues in my last two sermons, today we will return to Proverbs for sermon number 14 in this series.  Last time we spent the entire sermon time discussing Proverbs 12:1 where Solomon writes that “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.”

       Beginning in verse two of Proverbs 12 and continuing to the end of this chapter we find Solomon eclectically addressing a number of issues by offering pithy little observations about various human behaviors.  To this point in this series I have been expounding in some depth on various of the Proverbs but today I thought I would simply read through the miscellaneous seemingly unrelated proverbs that we find in chapter 12 and offer brief commentary on them as we go along.  If anyone has an insight that they would like to share on any one of these Proverbs please do so.  I have no problem in having an interactive sermon.

       Proverbs 12:2: A good man obtains favor from the LORD, but the LORD condemns a crafty man.

       The NIV translator’s use of the word “crafty” is from a Hebrew word that means to have a wicked or evil plan.  Most English translations render this passage as a man of evil devices that God condemns.  The New English Translation renders the verse this way:

       A good person obtains favor from the Lord, but the Lord condemns a person with wicked schemes (NET).

       Our God is a righteous God.  To be righteous is to do what is right.  God is the ultimate definer of what is right. God defines what righteousness is and He expects us to embrace righteousness and incorporate it in all that we think, say and do.  The Biblical Scriptures reveal what righteousness is.

       God has provided us with parameters of behavior and has instructed us to walk within those parameters.  When we walk within the behavioral parameters God has established, God looks upon us as being good.  When we walk contrary to righteousness we walk wickedly and God declares wicked behavior as wrong behavior as opposed to right behavior. The Hebrew rendered “condemns” in this passage has the basic meaning of declaring something as wrong.

       God declares all unrighteous behavior as wrong behavior.  It is our responsibility to identify what God has established as righteous behavior and thus identify all behavior outside of what God has established as righteousness as wrong behavior. 

       In the aftermath of the shooting of police officers in Dallas many prayer vigils have been held around the country to seek God’s help in facilitating change in the way we humans relate to one another.  What appears to be often overlooked is that God has established moral/ethical standards that if paid attention too and embraced, would go a long way in preventing the kinds of behavior that has created the tensions so prevalent in human society.  The pathway to peaceful human relations is clearly spelled out in Scripture.  It simply is righteousness versus wickedness.

       Proverbs 12:3: A man cannot be established through wickedness, but the righteous cannot be uprooted.

       The Hebrew word rendered “established” means to be erect, to stand perpendicular.  Foot notes to this passage in the NET Bible speak of being established as referring to finding permanent security before God and that only righteousness can do that.  The New Revised Standard Version renders this passage in this manner:

       Proverbs 12:3; No one finds security by wickedness, but the root of the righteous will never be moved (NRSV).

       Solomon appears to be saying that wicked behavior is not going to provide a solid foundation upon which to build ones life.  It is only through righteous behavior that one can become firmly rooted.  Righteous behavior establishes righteous character that cannot be moved because its roots go deep.  The New Living Translation of this verse renders it this way:

       Proverbs 12:3: Wickedness never brings stability, but the godly have deep roots (NLT).

       We find in Scripture the righteous compared to a tree that is firmly rooted and produces fruit and does not wither.  Here are a few examples of this usage in Scripture. 

       Psalm 1:1-3: Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

       Psalm 92:12-13: The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God.

       Avoiding the counsel of the wicked and standing in the way of sinners is to steer clear of unrighteous behavior.  To be righteous is to delight in the law of God and to meditate on it day and night.  To mediate on the law of God is to have God’s law always in our consciousness and sub-consciousness.  In so doing our behavior will be consistency driven by God’s law instead of the influences of worldly society.  A tree planted by a stream of water is being constantly nourished and thrives because of such nourishment.  In meditating on the way of righteousness we experience a steady feed of spiritual nourishment which facilitates righteous behavior.

      Proverbs 12:4: A wife of noble character is her husband's crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones.

       Here Solomon reflects on how a wife of good character causes her husband to be looked upon with greater respect and admiration while a wife of low character can cause disgrace which Solomon analogizes to decay of the bones. This analogy is very descriptive.  If the bones decay the entire body is destabilized.  It is the bones that give structure to the body. 

       In Proverbs 12:3 we read that a man cannot be established through wickedness where the Hebrew word rendered “established” means to be erect or to stand perpendicular.  If the bones decay we can’t stand erect, we can’t be perpendicular. When the bones thin as in osteoporosis, the structure of the body becomes weak and bone fractures can occur causing a great deal of discomfort.

       Solomon is saying that a disgraceful wife can cause a man to be weak and experience a great deal of discomfort.  I would think that the reverse of this is also true.   A disgraceful man can cause a wife to experience great discomfort and this has occurred many times throughout the course of history.  In Proverbs 12, Solomon speaks of a wife of noble character.  In Proverbs 31 we read about what a wife of noble character is like and what that means to her husband.

       Proverbs 31:1 indicates Solomon was not the author of this passage in Proverbs but it was written by a king named Lemuel (lem-oo-ale') who is shown to receive what is written from his mother.

       Proverbs 31:1-2: The sayings of King Lemuel--an oracle his mother taught him: "O my son, O son of my womb, O son of my vows,

       Nothing is known about this king other than what is mentioned here in Proverbs.  Some Jewish legend identifies this king as Solomon and that he received what he wrote here from his mother Bathsheba.  However, there is no solid evidence that Bathsheba is the source of what is written in Proverbs 31 or that Solomon is the author of this passage.

       Some scholars have argued that the section of Proverbs 31 dealing with a wife of noble character is a poem summarizing the value of wisdom which is discussed repeatedly in Proverbs.  The NET Bible foot notes Proverbs 31: 9-31 in the following manner:

       The book of Proverbs comes to a close with this poem about the noble wife. A careful reading of the poem will show that it is extolling godly wisdom that is beneficial to the family and the society. Traditionally it has been interpreted as a paradigm for godly women. And while that is valid in part, there is much more here. The poem captures all the themes of wisdom that have been presented in the book and arranges them in this portrait of the ideal woman.

       Whatever the original intent of the author of Proverbs 31 was, the fact remains that it fits well as an elaboration of what Solomon wrote in Proverbs 12:4 about a  wife of noble character being her husband's crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones.  Here is what we find in Proverbs 31.

       Proverbs 31:10-12: A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.

       Proverbs 31 12-31 then provides numerous examples of the things a wife of noble character does.  Here are a few of those things:

       She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family. She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.  She is clothed with strength and dignity.  She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.

       Back in 1970, country music artist Marty Robins wrote and recorded a song entitled “My Woman, My Woman, My Wife." It became a big hit and Marty won a Grammy for best country song of the year.  Like Proverbs 31, the words of this song reflect upon the value of a wife of noble character.

Hands that are strong but wrinkled
Doing work that never gets done
Hair, that's lost some of the beauty
By too many hours in the sun

Eyes, that show some disappointment
And there's been quite a lot in her life
She's the foundation I lean on
My woman, my woman, my wife

Everyday has been uphill
Oh, we climb but we can't reach the top
I'm weak and I'm easily discouraged
She just smiles when I want to stop

Lips, that are weary but tender
With love, that strengthens my life
A saint, in a dress made of gingham
My woman, my woman, my wife.

       This is a beautiful song that could be inserted into Proverbs 31 and added to the extolling of a noble wife that is her husbands crown as Solomon wrote in Proverbs 12:4. Let's now move to Proverbs 12: 5-8.

       Proverbs 12:5-8:  The plans of the righteous are just, but the advice of the wicked is deceitful. The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood, but the speech of the upright rescues them. Wicked men are overthrown and are no more, but the house of the righteous stands firm. A man is praised according to his wisdom, but men with warped minds are despised.

       These four statements taken as a whole simply point out that there is great disparity between the behaviors of the righteous and the behaviors of the unrighteous. The wicked give deceitful advice, behave in ways that result in bloodshed and are warped in their thinking. The righteous are the opposite of this.  The righteous are just in how they relate to others and do what they can to prevent bloodshed. A man of wisdom elicits praise but men of warped thinking are reviled.

       Proverbs 12:9:  Better to be a nobody and yet have a servant than pretend to be somebody and have no food.

       Better is a person of humble standing who nevertheless has a servant, than one who pretends to be somebody important yet has no food (NET).

       In sports the phrase is sometimes used about a sports team or a particular athlete as to whether they are a contender or a pretender.  A contender is a team or athlete who has been advertised as being good and turns out to really be good.  A pretender is a team or athlete that is advertised as being good and turns out to be marginal or just not very good. 

       We have all known people who in the game of life are contenders or pretenders.  A contender is a person who quietly goes about his business without drawing attention to himself and accomplishes many things without being in any way ostentatious about what he does.  A pretender is just that, a pretender. He pretends to be somebody he is not. He puts on an act which is what the Hebrew word translated “important” in the NET translations actually means.     

       Such persons, rather than owning up to their deficiencies and seeking the help of others when in need, a pretender will try to make you think he is OK when he isn’t.  A pretender would rather starve than admit he can’t put food on the table which is the point Solomon is making.  A corollary Proverb to 12:9 is 13:7.

       Proverbs 13:7: One man pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.

       There are people who pretend to be rich.  They may have a big house, a boat, an expensive car or two and yet are so deeply in debt that they are always a step away from loosing everything to their creditors who really are the owners of what they pretend to have as their own.  Then there are those who pretend to be poor and are wealthy.  We have all heard the stories of someone who was living in virtual poverty only to find out upon their death they had hundreds of thousands of dollars stashed away.

       Both these types of behaviors are unhealthy and should be avoided. Both these kinds of behaviors are fraudulent.  People that live in these ways are living a lie and we know that lying is behavior contrary to righteousness. 

       Proverbs 12:10: A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.

       Here Solomon appears to be making a comparison.  A righteous man is concerned about taking care of others, even his animals.  He has empathy for all living things.  He helps others out of a sense of duty and has genuine concern for the welfare of others.  A wicked man will have ulterior motives in helping someone else.  He will help someone to receive something in return or to gain some kind of advantage over someone else. From that perspective, even his kind acts are evil because there is evil intent behind his actions.  It’s the, I will rub your back if you will rub my back philosophy.  You see this in politics all the time. You will see a lot of this in the upcoming political campaigns.

       The message here is that we should help and serve one another not to receive something in return but because we have genuine concern for the welfare of one another.  Paul, in his letter to the Romans, said that love must be sincere (Romans 12:9). The Greek word translated sincere is a word that means to be unfeigned. Our expressions of love and concern for others should never occur from ulterior motives.  Our expressions of love and concern should always be done in the context of wanting to achieve the greatest good for the other person.

       Proverbs 12:11:   He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment.   

       Why does Solomon contrast working the land to have abundant food with chasing after fantasies?  It appears Solomon is contrasting work in general as the pathway to having things with the person who tries to have things by not working but instead acquire things through following get rich quick schemes.  A habitual gambler would be that type of person.  The NET translation renders Proverbs 12:11 in this manner:

       Proverbs 12:11: The one who works his field will have plenty of food, but whoever chases daydreams lacks wisdom (NET).

       The Hebrew word here rendered as “daydreams” has the basic meaning of empty or vain things.  The term refers to worthless pursuits in an effort to make money.  Other translations render this word as “empty dreams,” “useless project,” and so forth.  Solomon is saying that if you work hard you will be able to provide for yourself and not put yourself at risk of failing to meet your needs by engaging in activities that have a low probability in providing a return for your efforts.

       For the past 50 years I have taken Solomon’s statement about working the fields to provide plenty of food seriously and every year we are able to fill our freezer with organic produce which we harvest from our organic garden.  We have already put 21 packages of beets, 20 packages of green beans and 7 packages of broccoli in the freezer from this year’s garden with a lot more produce yet to come.   

       Proverbs 12:12-16: The wicked desire the plunder of evil men, but the root of the righteous flourishes. An evil man is trapped by his sinful talk, but a righteous man escapes trouble. From the fruit of his lips a man is filled with good things as surely as the work of his hands rewards him. The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice. A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.

       These five proverbs are pretty much providing one overriding principle. If you follow the way of righteousness your will prosper and avoid a lot of trouble.  The wicked look to attain things through unlawful means while the righteous live by the rules.  Sinful talk, which often involves lying, often leads to self incrimination and calls into question ones trustworthiness.  An honest person who makes it a habit to tell the truth avoids trouble.  Solomon points out that what we say is as important as what we do.  A person can accomplish a lot of good things in life and all it takes is a misspoken word or two and all the good is quickly forgotten.

       Solomon points out that a fool tends not to listen to the advice of others.  Failure to consider the advice of others often leads to behavior that one is sorry for.  How many times have people said,” If I had only listened to so and so I wouldn’t be in the mess I’m in.”  Now listening to the advice of so and so doesn’t mean you have to take their advice because their advice may be flawed.  A wise man, however, will consider advice from others and therefore be able to make a more informed decision. 

       Solomon says a fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.  Just think of the trouble that could be avoided if this proverb was consistently followed.  How may people quickly react to an annoyance, especially an insult, with the consequences being conflict of one kind or another?  How many assaults and murders had occurred by a failure to behave according to this proverb?  

       On the news the other day there was a segment on the tremendous increase in road rage in recent years. People react violently to real or perceived annoyances while driving. Drivers of cars have run over motorcyclists because of perceived annoyances.  People in the left lane who didn’t move over to allow a driver to pass have been rammed into and had their lives put at risk to say nothing of the damage to their car and the perpetrators car.  People have shot at each other over perceived annoyances while driving. 

       There is the old adage of counting to 10 before reacting.  That is good advice.  We often react without thinking.  Counting to 10 provides some thinking time.  It also provides a cooling off period.  Better yet, it is often prudent to overlook an insult and simply walk away.  It takes a lot more control and character to do that than to immediately react to an insult which often leads to violence.  

       Solomon is not necessarily saying we should ignore an insult.  The NET Bible points out that the Hebrew word here means to cover in the sense of ignoring or biding ones time. The point being made is not that one never responds to an insult but carefully considers the dynamics of a situation and then responds in a measured way if a response is necessary at all.  Such an approach will often defuse what could become a very volatile situation if reactions to a perceived insult or annoyance occur without thinking.  When we react to an perceived insult or annoyance without thinking, we often are reckless in the words we use.

       We have all heard the saying “sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.”   That statement is only provisionally true in that words may not physically hurt a person but they can lead to sticks and stones which in today’s world means guns and knives hurting a person badly.  Words can also bring about tremendous physiological harm. 

       Proverbs 12:18:  Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.   

       In a previous sermon in this series we covered in some detail the role of the tongue in human relations so I won’t cover that ground again.  Suffice I to say, reckless words lead to much of the conflict we see in society.  It is the responsibility of us all to do all we can to avoid reckless words and utter words of healing, words that promote peace and tranquility.