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COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF PROVERBS: PART SEVEN

SERMON PRESENTED ON 03-12-16

       As you know, I have been systemically going through the Proverbs and discussing the wisdom that is revealed in this book.  For the past several sermons in this series we have been going through the seven things God hates.   

       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.

       So far we have discussed haughty eyes, a lying tongue which included a false witness who pours out lies and last time we discussed the matter of hands that shed innocent blood.  Today we will move on to “a heart that devises wicked schemes and feet that are quick to rush into evil.” Next week we will finish this section of Proverbs with a discussion of those who stir up dissension among brothers.

       We will consider “a heart that devises wicked schemes and feet that are quick to rush into evil.” together because as we all know, rushing into evil often follows devising wicked schemes.  The two pretty much go together.  Devising wicked schemes is, in itself, evil and when wicked schemes are acted upon they result in the manifestation of evil.

       Wicked schemes are the precursor to evil behavior.  Wicked schemes often lead to committing a series of sins.  Sin is piled upon sin. In sermon three of this series we considered Solomon’s polemic against adultery and I used David’s adulterous relationship with Bathsheba as an example of how one sin leads to another.  

       David’s adventure began when he coveted another mans wife.  His covetousness led to his committing adultery with Bathsheba.  Bathsheba became pregnant and David tried to cover up the affair by framing Uriah by making it look as though it was Uriah who got Bathsheba pregnant.  When Uriah doesn’t take the bait and refuses to sleep with his wife while on military duty, David sets up Uriah to be killed in battle and creates collateral damage when other of his soldiers are unnecessarily killed as well.  Then to save face, he excuses the deaths of Uriah and other of his soldiers as simply the time and chance of war. 

       David had effectively committed five sins; covetousness, adultery, deceit, murder and more deceit.  It all began with a wicked scheme.  The scheme was to get Bathsheba into bed with him.  The result was feet quick to rush into evil. The evil was the affair with Bathsheba and all the collateral damage that this affair generated. 

       Now we could give examples of any number of wicked schemes as such schemes are rampant within our world.  However, we need not go any further than to the Scriptures themselves for examples of the devising of wicked schemes and how such schemes led to feet running to evil.  A classic example is the account of Daniel and the lions den.  We have this account in Daniel chapter six.

       We find that the Persian king Darius set over his kingdom a hundred and twenty satraps. Over them were set three administrators, of whom Daniel was one.  Because Daniel distinguished himself above the other two administrators’ and all the satraps, the king thought to set Daniel over his entire kingdom. 

       Daniel 6:3: Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.

       Well this didn’t set very well with the other two administrators and the satraps.  So they began to scheme.  They began to look for some flaw in Daniels character or fine something they could accuse him of in the performance of his duties.

       Daniel 6:4: At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.

       So what were they going to do?  Not leaving well enough alone and not being able to find any fault in Daniel’s conduct of governmental affairs, they began to plan a wicked scheme.

       Daniel 6:5: Finally these men said, "We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God."

       They began to scheme a plan to use Daniel’s religious beliefs against him.  They persuaded King Darius to issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next thirty days, except to the King, shall be thrown into the lions' den.  They further persuaded the King to put the decree in writing so that it cannot be altered.  The law of the Medes and Persians did not allow for a decree in writing to be altered or repealed.  Well, this apparently appealed to the Kings vanity and the King not only issued the decree but put the decree in writing so it could not be rescinded as was required by the law of the Medes and Persians.   

       The wicked scheme appeared to be working well. Daniel continued to pray to God three times a day and he did not, of course, pray to King Darius.

       Daniel 6:10: Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.

       It looks as thought Daniel was playing right into the hand of their wicked scheme. The Scripture shows these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help.  So they went straight to the king with what I am sure they thought would result in the success of their wicked scheme.

       Daniel 6:12-"Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or man except to you, O king, would be thrown into the lions' den?"   The king answered, "The decree stands--in accordance with the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed." Then they said to the king, "Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day."

       They probably thought they would be rid of Daniel once and for all.  However, when the king heard this, he was greatly distressed and he was determined to rescue Daniel.  He made every effort until sundown to save him.  The king was unto the scheme that was hatched by his jealous administrators.  The king now realized what they were up to. He realized he had been deceived by his administrators.  But the king had a problem.  The king was bound to the law of the Medes and Persians,

       Daniel 6:15-16: Then the men went as a group to the king and said to him, "Remember, O king, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed." So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions' den. The king said to Daniel, "May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!"

       We all know the rest of the story.  The scheme failed.  God protected Daniel from the lions and all those responsible for the scheme to remove Daniel from power were themselves thrown into the lions den along with their families.  The lions had a feast day after all.  

       So here we have a great example of hearts devising wicked schemes and feet that were quick to rush into evil. In this case the scheme was turned on its head and the evil that was directed toward an innocent man was redirected to the schemers.

       We have another great Biblical example of a heart devising wicked schemes leading to feet that are quick to rush into evil.  We have the interesting account of a scheme to exterminate all the Jews living in the Persian Empire during the reign of King Xerxes.

       King Xerxes had honored a man named Haman by elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles.  The king further commanded that all the royal officials at the king's gate kneel down and pay honor to Haman. Now a Jew by the name of Mordecai also served at the Kings gate but he would not kneel down or pay honor to Haman. We pick up the story in Esther, chapter three.

       Esther 3:-6:  Then the royal officials at the king's gate asked Mordecai, "Why do you disobey the king's command?" Day after day they spoke to him but he refused to comply. Therefore they told Haman about it to see whether Mordecai's behavior would be tolerated, for he had told them he was a Jew. When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged. Yet having learned who Mordecai's people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai's people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes.

       As is often the case, the impetus behind a wicked scheme is somebody having their feelings hurt and so they want to punish those who are responsible for the hurt feelings.  In the case of Haman, he was so enraged that Mordecai wouldn’t bow down to him that he not only wanted to get rid of the Jew Mordecai but get rid of the entire Jewish population of Persia. So Haman devised a wicked scheme. 

       Esther 3:8-9: Then Haman said to King Xerxes, "There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose customs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king's laws; it is not in the king's best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will put ten thousand talents of silver into the royal treasury for the men who carry out this business." 

       Well the king bought into this idea and approved the scheme.  The king even told Haman to keep the money for himself.  So dispatches were sent out by couriers to all the provinces in Xerxes kingdom with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews including the young and old, women and little children.  The goods of the Jews were to be confiscated.  This decree was to be carried out on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar.  

       Well it so happened that the women Esther had been chosen by Xerxes to be his queen.  Esther was a Jew and a relative of Mordecai.  Mordecai got word to Esther as to the decree that had gone out to kill all the Jews.  Mordecai begged her to take this matter to the king and implore the king to resend the order.  However there was problem with this request.  Under the rules of the kingdom, a queen could not present herself to the king unless the king called for her. The kingdom rules called for the death of the queen if she should take it upon herself to appear before the king.  So what was Easter to do?  This is what Esther did.

       Esther 4:15-17:   Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: "Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish."  So Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther's instructions.

       As it turns out, Esther had devised a scheme of her own except in this case it was a righteous scheme to counter the wicked scheme of Haman.  On the third day of the fast, Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the palace, in front of the king's hall. The king was sitting on his royal throne and facing the entrance to the hall.  Seeing Queen Esther standing in the court, he beckoned her to come into the throne room.  The king asked what he could do for her.

       What Esther requested was that the king together with Haman, come to a banquet that Esther had prepared.  The king was pleased with this request and ordered that Haman be brought in at once to join the king and Esther for the banquet.

       During the banquet, the king and Haman were drinking wine and apparently enjoying themselves.  The king sensed there was something else Esther wanted besides the invite to the banquet.  So he asked her what it was she wanted and promised to give it to her even up to half the kingdom. Here was Esther’s request.

       Esther 5:7-8:   Esther replied, "My petition and my request is this: If the king regards me with favor and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet I will prepare for them. Then I will answer the king's question."

       So Esther wants the king and Haman to share another meal the next day at which time Esther will make her request.  Chapter 5 records that Haman went out from the first banquet happy and in high spirits.  I’m sure he was feeling pretty good about himself having been invited by the Queen to two banquets in two days.  But on leaving the palace he passed by Mordecai at the king's gate and observed that he neither rose nor showed fear toward him.  Haman was again filled with rage against Mordecai.

       Scripture shows Haman went home to his wife and friends and boasted to them about his vast wealth, his many sons, and all the ways the king had honored him and how he had elevated him above the other nobles and officials.  Haman then brags about being the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the king to the banquet she gave and how she has invited him along with the king to another banquet the next day.  But he also complains about Mordecai not giving him honor and bowing down to him.

       His wife and friends tell him to have a gallows built, seventy-five feet high, and to ask the king in the morning to have Mordecai hanged on it.  His wife tells Haman to then join with the king and queen for dinner and be happy.  Haman was delighted at this suggestion and proceeded to have the gallows built.

       Well as it turned out, the king had trouble sleeping that night and called for record books of his reign to be brought in and read to him.  It was found in the reading that at some point in the past the Jew Mordecai had exposed two of the king's officers who had conspired to assassinate King Xerxes.  The king then asked what honor and recognition has Mordecai received for this.  It was found that nothing had been done for Mordecai. Let the scriptures tell the rest of the story.

       Esther 6:4-12:  The king said, "Who is in the court?" Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the palace to speak to the king about hanging Mordecai on the gallows he had erected for him. His attendants answered, "Haman is standing in the court."   "Bring him in," the king ordered. When Haman entered, the king asked him, "What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?"   Now Haman thought to himself, "Who is there that the king would rather honor than me?"  So he answered the king, "For the man the king delights to honor, have them bring a royal robe the king has worn and a horse the king has ridden, one with a royal crest placed on its head.  Then let the robe and horse be entrusted to one of the king's most noble princes. Let them robe the man the king delights to honor, and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, `This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!'"  "Go at once," the king commanded Haman. "Get the robe and the horse and do just as you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king's gate. Do not neglect anything you have recommended."  So Haman got the robe and the horse. He robed Mordecai, and led him on horseback through the city streets, proclaiming before him, "This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!"  Afterward Mordecai returned to the king's gate. But Haman rushed home, with his head covered in grief.

       The story concludes with Haman attending the banquet Esther had prepared for Haman and the King and it was at this banquet Esther tells the king of the scheme to kill all the Jews and begs the king to spare her people.  She also exposes Haman as the man behind this scheme.

       Esther 7:7-10:  The king got up in a rage, left his wine and went out into the palace garden. But Haman, realizing that the king had already decided his fate, stayed behind to beg Queen Esther for his life. Just as the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet hall, Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was reclining.  The king exclaimed, "Will he even molest the queen while she is with me in the house?"   As soon as the word left the king's mouth, they covered Haman's face.  Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs attending the king, said, "A gallows seventy-five feet high stands by Haman's house. He had it made for Mordecai, who spoke up to help the king."  The king said, "Hang him on it!" So they hanged Haman on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the king's fury subsided.

       Haman got his just due for his scheming.  Not only did he get hung, his sons were also killed and various other enemies of the Jews were killed.  This victory of the Jews over the scheming of Haman and his associates is celebrated to this very day as the Feast of Purim

       This story provides several lessons.  First of all it reflects what Solomon said about a heart devising wicked schemes and feet being quick to rush into evil.  Haman devised a wicked scheme that if carried out would have resulted in the murder of thousands of Jews.  In this case, God responded with a righteous scheme that resulted in Haman’s wicked scheme being thwarted.

       A second lesson that can be learned from this account is that pride does indeed go before a fall. Haman was so filled with himself that he assumed that when the king offered to bestow honor upon a man the king delights in, that man must be himself, Haman.  Haman automatically assumed the honor being considered was for him.  When Haman found it was for Mordecai, he was totally crushed.

       We discussed in an earlier sermon in this series Solomon’s personification of wisdom.  Proverbs 1:30-31 speaks of not exercising wisdom with the result being that we are filled with the fruit of our own schemes.

       Proverbs 1:30-31:  since they would not accept my (wisdoms) advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.

       Haman, as was true of Daniel’s accusers and David with his affair with Bathsheba, failed to allow wisdom to direct their thinking and consequently their thinking led to wicked schemes and subsequently to wicked behavior.  Their wicked scheming backfired on them and they truly experienced the fruit of their own scheming.  David bitterly repented of his wicked scheming and was forgiven but still had to deal with the negative consequences of his behavior.  Daniel’s accusers and Haman didn’t fair so well. Wicked scheming is condemned throughout the scriptures.  Here are a couple more scriptures that point that out.

       Exodus 21:14 But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death.

       Psalm 10:2: In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises.

       As can be seen, wicked scheming that leads to evil behavior are of the seven things Solomon records that God hates.  Since God hates these things so should we.  Unfortunately, this gives us a lot to hate.  Wicked scheming is ubiquitous in human behavior.  It is present in the work place, in government, in politics, in religion and in the family.   Scheming that is aimed at falsely accusing or discrediting someone is wicked scheming.  Scheming that is designed to injure someone psychologically, physically or spiritually is wicked scheming. 

       Wicked scheming runs contrary to the law of love. It runs contrary to the golden rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Wicked scheming results in behavior that is destructive. Much of the crime we see in society is the result of wicked scheming.  A person may scheme how to rob a business or burglarize a home.  A person may scheme a murder.  When such schemes are acted upon, we have feet running to evil.  The result is an evil act that negatively impacts the lives of others.

       Let us strive to avoid wicked scheming and the behavior it generates.  Let us strive to live the law of love in all we think do and say.  In doing so we will be able to avoid two more of the things God hates.

PART EIGHT