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COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF PROVERBS: PART SEVENTEEN

SERMON PRESENTED ON 09-10-16

       Today we will continue to explore the thoughts and observations of Solomon as expressed in the many proverbs he wrote.  Last week we concluded with an expose’ of Proverbs 17:5 where Solomon writes that those who mock the poor show contempt for God and those who  gloat over disaster will not go unpunished.  We now return to chapter 17 of Proverbs by drawing attention to verse 8.

       Proverbs 17:8: A bribe is a charm to the one who gives it; wherever he turns, he succeeds.

       As I have pointed out several times in this series, Solomon, in providing the proverbs, is often reflecting on human behavior as it is and not necessarily commenting on the right or wrong of such behavior.  For example, we should not conclude from this proverb that bribery is an acceptable behavior even though the proverb suggests that those who practice bribery are successful.

       Bribery is generally defined as the offering, the giving, the receiving or the soliciting of something of value for the sole purpose of gaining an advantage or influencing the action of someone. 

       There should be little doubt that those who practice bribery often do experience a measure of success although if found out, they can experience a great reversal in their fortunes where their initial success turns into failure.  We have an example of both success and failure involving bribery in what happened in regard to the 2002 Winter Olympics

       Back in 2000, two officials of the Utah committee that was responsible for trying to have Salt Lake City selected for the 2002 Winter Olympics were charged with paying an official of the U.S. Olympic Committee to influence members of the International Olympic Committee to select Salt Lake City to host the 2002 Winter Games.  The official who received the bribes later pleaded guilty to several criminal charges including the accepting of a bribe.  This matter resulted in ten members of the International Olympic Committee either resigning or being expelled from the organization. However, Salt Lake City was selected for the 2002 Olympics and what role the bribes placed in that selection is still being debated.  

       We know from the Scriptures that bribery is condemned.  When the Israelites gathered at Mount Sinai and were given the Ten Commandants, we see Moses giving then a great deal of additional instruction as to how they were to conduct themselves. This instruction is found in Exodus chapters 20 through 23 and includes instruction to not accept a bribe, which is repeated in Deuteronomy 16.

       Exodus 23:8: Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous.

       Deuteronomy 16:19: Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous.

       The giving and receiving of bribes is associated with dishonest gain and perversion of justice. When Samuel became old and no longer able to rule Israel during the time of the judges, he appointed his sons as judges over Israel.  His sons turned out to be unrighteous judges who accepted bribes from those appearing before them.  Thus justice was perverted.

       1 Samuel 8:3: But his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.

       That Solomon is not by any stretch of the imagination promoting bribery as a good thing in Proverbs 17:8 is made manifest by what he says in Proverbs 17:23.

       Proverbs 17:23: A wicked man accepts a bribe in secret to pervert the course of justice.     

       Throughout Scripture bribery is associated with injustice and partiality.  It is especially condemned relative to preventing the administration of justice.  A judge or any person responsible for facilitating a just outcome in a legal case is to avoid bribery at all costs. There is much reference in Scripture to treating people equally when it comes to administrating justice and insuring that the facts of a case are presented objectively and in an unbiased manner. 

       Proverbs 17:15: Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent-- the LORD detests them both.

       Proverbs 18:5: It is not good to be partial to the wicked or to deprive the innocent of justice.

       When Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, appointed judges to rule throughout Judah and make judicial decisions, here is what he told them:

       2 Chronicles 1:6-7: "Consider carefully what you do, because you are not judging for man but for the LORD, who is with you whenever you give a verdict. Now let the fear of the LORD be upon you. Judge carefully, for with the LORD our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery.

       This instruction is applicable to each and every one of us.  When we make judgements we should always seek to know and understand the objective facts of a matter and then make an unbiased, impartial decision.  We should never allow ourselves to be influenced by factors extraneous to the matter we are dealing with and use such extraneous factors in reaching a decision.  By extraneous factors I am referring to factors that are not directly relevant to the matter we are judging.   Let’s now move to Proverbs 17:9 here Solomon deals with a different matter.

       Proverbs 17:9:  He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.

       Solomon is not saying we should ignore the sin another person commits. What he is saying is that we shouldn’t go around spreading the word to anyone who will listen that so and so did such and such.  That is not how you love someone.  You love sinners by encouraging them to make whatever changes are necessary to discontinue sinning and in so doing you express genuine love for their welfare which is what love is all about.  The Hebrew word rendered “covers” means to hide and in Proverbs 11:13 is rendered conceal

       Proverbs 11:13: A talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter (NKJV).

       In contrast to protecting one from having their sins advertised to all who will listen, Solomon writes another proverb that exhorts a sinner to confess their sins and turn from them. Here we find the same Hebrew word rendered conceal which means to hide. 

       Proverbs 28:13:  He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.

       Confession of sin is foundational to the Christian walk.  The Scriptures define sin as missing the mark.  It is God who sets the mark.  He sets the mark by revealing to us the approved way to behave.  Any behavior contrary to the mark He has set is sin and sin must be confessed and repented of.

       Our responsibility is to study the Scriptures to determine what the mark is and then dedicate ourselves to hitting the mark on a consistent basis.  Will we always hit the mark?  No we won’t. But that is where confession comes in. If we fail to confess sin there won’t be any repentance which means there won’t be any change.  Failure to confess our sin is tantamount to hiding our sin.

       Solomon wrote that those who confess their sin will find mercy.  To fine mercy is to find forgiveness.  In first John chapter one, the Apostle wrote that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 

       Some read what Apostle James instructed in James chapter five and conclude that sin must be publically confessed in order for such sin to be forgiven. Is it necessary to publically confess sin in order to have sin forgiven?

       James 5:16: Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

       As the preceding verses in James chapter 5 shows, the instruction to confess sins to each other is in the context of seeking physical healing and may be limited to that context.  James does not appear to be establishing a directive to Christians to publically confess every sin they commit.  

       While there are examples of public confession of sins throughout the Scriptures, especially in the OT, I could not find anything in Scripture that mandates public confession of sin as necessary in order to receive forgiveness of sin.  What is required for sins to be forgiven is faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Expression of faith in the death and resurrection of Christ presumes confession and repentance of sin.

       To acknowledge the need for salvation from the consequences of sin is to acknowledge sin is a problem.  When one acknowledges sin is a problem one is essentially confessing that sin.  Whether this is done in private or in public is not important.  What is important is that acknowledgement of ones sin is made before God in conjunction with placing faith in the redemptive act of Christ.  Paul summed up this process when he said the following:

       Acts 20:21: I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. 

       Most of the other principles seen in the remaining proverbs in chapter 17 we have already seen presented in other proverbs which we have already discussed in previous sermons in this series.  The same is true of Chapter 18.  However, there is one proverb in chapter 18 I want to discuss before we move on and that is Proverbs 18:24.

       Proverbs 18:24: A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (NIV).

       Before I discuss this proverb, it should be noted that the KJV and NKJV render the first part of this verse quite differently.

       A man that hath friends must show himself friendly (KJV).

       A man who has friends must himself be friendly (NKJV).

       In reading through scholarly commentary on this issue, the consensus is that the KJ and NKJ renderings are erroneous. The Hebrew here should not be translated in this manner.  One commentator, who went into some depth as to the Hebrew construction of this passage, concluded that the NIV translators have the best rendering of the Hebrew of this passage.  This particular commentator wrote that he was frustrated with ministers who use the KJ rendering to preach sermons on how we must be friendly to have friends when this is not what Solomon is at all talking about.

       So what is Solomon talking about,  The point Solomon appears to be making here is that even though you may have many friends, this doesn’t guarantee any or all of them will be there for you in a time of need.  We have all heard stories of people who were abandoned by their friends and even family when they fell from grace due to an indiscretion of some kind on their part.  These are often referred to as fair weather friends.  When things are going well there is plenty of love to go around.  When things are not going well, those thought to be good friends suddenly disappear from view.  The RSV rendering of this passage says it this way:

       There are friends who pretend to be friends, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. 

       You often see this in the world of sports.  There are the fair weather fans who will support the team as long as they are doing well.  When the team falls on hard times the support disappears.  Wisconsin seems to be an exception to this phenomenon.  Even though the Brewers are quite mediocre at present, they still draw a lot more fans to Miller Park than most other Major League teams that are struggling.   When it comes to the Packers, they fill Lambeau Field regardless of how the team is doing.

       You commonly see the phenomenon of fair weather friends in the world of politics.  When a politician is winning elections and has a high approval rating, he or she will have many people supporting them.  When they are defeated in an election or their approval rating drops, all of a sudden many who were thought to be friends abandon their hero and shift their allegiance to someone else.

       This is also true in the world of religion.  Various religious leaders have fallen from grace over the years and have seen their religious empires disappear almost over night.  We all remember the demise of Garner Ted Armstrong after revelations about sexual improprieties.  Some years ago Jimmy Swaggart who had a large television ministry saw that ministry dissipate in a matter of weeks following his admission to having an adulterous relationship.   He lost multiple thousands of supporters even though he publically asked for forgiveness for his indiscretions.   Jimmy has rebounded from that low point in his life and now has his own TV network.  

       Another area you see this is in the entertainment field.  A singer can be on top of the world with hit after hit and multiple thousands of fans paying homage to the singer’s notoriety.  Yet all this adulation can disappear virtually overnight over some real or imaged miscue by the performer.  This phenomenon of having friends when you are on top and losing them when you are struggling is alluded to in several of the proverbs.

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

       Proverbs 19:6:  Many curry favor with a ruler, and everyone is the friend of a man who gives gifts.

       Fair weather friends are there for you when all is going well and when they feel they are receiving some benefit from being your friend.  When such benefit is no longer there, a fair weather friend disappears.

       Solomon speaks of a friend that sticks closer than a brother. Usually brothers stick close to each other and will standup for each other.  But even family cannot always be depended upon to be there for each other during a time of need.  We all know of dysfunctional family’s where there is little love between siblings.  Solomon reflected on this with a proverb.

       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.

      The kind of friend that sticks closer than a brother is the kind of friend who will be there for you regardless of the issues you may be having.  This is the kind of friend who will sacrifice his time and give of his resources to help you regardless of the circumstances you may find yourself in.  There is a great Scriptural example of this kind of friendship in the story of David and Jonathan.

       Jonathan was a son of Saul.  Saul was the first king over Israel.  Jonathan became a strong, successful military leader in his father’s army, especially in Israel’s continuing battles with the Philistines.  After Saul had disobeyed God in not totally destroying the Amalekites, God rejected Saul as king over Israel and the process began through the prophet Samuel to select a new king.  This selection led to the appointment of David as the next king of Israel.

       In the mean time, Saul continued to be king over Israel but the spirit of God left Saul and Saul began to have some psychological problems.  Saul’s attendants looked for some one who was an accomplished harp player who could come and provide music to relax Saul.  That someone turned out to be David.  It may seem hard to image the worrier David as an accomplished harp player but apparently he was.

       So David was summoned to came to Saul and enter into his service. Saul liked David very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers.  Whenever Saul would experience a problem, David would play his harp and Saul would feel better.

       As time went on, the Philistines once again gathered their forces and prepared for war with Israel.  Israel responded by gathering there forces to resist the Philistines.  The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with a valley between them.

       Now the Philistines had a great warrior named Goliath. He was over nine feet tall.  Rather than have an all out war with Israel, the Philistines sent Goliath to challenge Israel to send a man of their army to fight one on one with Goliath.  Goliath said that if he is able to fight and kill me, the Philistines would become the subjects of Israel.  On the other hand if Goliath kills the Israelite, Israel would become subjects of the Philistines.  This was an interesting proposition to say the least.  All the cards were in favor of the Philistines as there was no one in the army of Israel that could match the stature of Goliath.  Israel knew this and the man Goliath frightened Israel considerably.

       Goliath came out every morning for forty days with the same challenge. For forty days Goliath asked that Israel send someone out to fight him one on one.  In the meantime, both armies were gearing up for war.  Now David was splitting time between attending to Saul’s needs and spending time looking after his father Jesse’s sheep.  Jesse’s three oldest sons where in Saul’s army.  So Jesse sent David to where the army was gathered to deliver some provisions to his three sons.

       When David arrived, Israel and the Philistines were preparing their respective forces to begin to battle one another.  David found his brothers and while speaking to them, Goliath made his usual appearance to again challenge a man of Israel to fight him one on one.  Well, David heard the challenge and volunteered to fight Goliath.  You all know the rest of the story.  David killed Goliath by using a sling shot.  Well actually the stone from the sling shot didn’t kill Goliath, it just knocked him out.  Scripture shows David killed Goliath with Goliath’s own sword and then cut off his head. 

       1 Samuel 17:51: David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine's sword and drew it from the scabbard. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.   When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran.

       Therefore David ran, and stood upon the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of the sheath thereof, and slew him, and cut off his head therewith. And when the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they fled (KJV).

       David returned to Jerusalem with Goliath’s head and from that time onward lived at the palace and became a close friend of Saul’s son Jonathan.

       1 Samuel 18:4-1:  After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself. From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return to his father's house. And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.

       As the Scriptures show, Saul became very jealous of David and tried to kill him a number of times.  Saul even told his son Jonathan to kill David but Jonathan alerted David to what his Father wanted to do and Jonathan defended David before his Father Saul.  At one point Saul tried to kill his son Jonathan for defending and protecting David from Saul’s wrath.  Scripture shows Jonathan went to great lengths to protect David from his Father’s attempts to kill him even though by doing so he was putting his own life in danger.

       As time went on, war continued between Israel and the Philistines and Jonathan and several other sons of Saul were killed in battle.  Saul also was killed.  While David mourned for both Saul and Jonathan, it is clear David had great affection for Jonathan.

       2 Samuel 1:26: I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women.

       While Jonathan was not a blood brother to David, he was a friend that became closer than a brother and the relationship between David and Jonathan gives attestation to what Solomon wrote about a friend who sticks closer than a brother.  Next time we will continue in Proverbs, chapter 19.

PART EIGHTEEN