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COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF PROVERBS: PART THIRTY-FOUR

SERMON PRESENTED ON 09-02-17

       Two weeks ago we discussed four different Proverbs that all deal with the premise that when the wicked rise to power the people suffer but when the wicked perish, the righteous thrive. In discussing this issue, we got through Proverbs 28 and as far as Proverbs 29, verse two.  In looking through the remainder of Proverbs 29, it became evident to me that the rest of this chapter deals with issues that we have already discussed in our review of other Proverbs.  As I have pointed out several times during this series, Solomon deals with the same issue or similar issues in multiple Proverbs. 

       For example, In Proverbs 29, verses 15 and 17, Solomon deals with the discipline of children.  Solomon also deals with this issue in Proverbs chapters 13, 22 and 23, all of which I discussed in depth in sermon number 13 of this series given in June of last year.  In that sermon I spent much of the sermon time dealing with the issue of corporal punishment and discipline of children in general. 

       Since I have already covered this issue and other issues raised by Solomon in the Proverbs of chapter 29, we will begin today by going straight to Proverbs 30 which means we have two remaining chapters to cover in this series.

       Proverbs 30:1: The sayings of Agur (aw-goor) son of Jakeh (yaw-keh)--an oracle: This man declared to Ithiel (eeth-ee-ale), to Ithiel and to Ucal (oo-kawl):

       When we began this series in October of 2015, I discussed how the book of Proverbs came about and how most of the proverbs contained in this collection appear to be from Solomon. Chapter one verse one of Proverbs identifies the proverbs as being of Solomon.  Chapter 10 also begins with the phrase, “The proverbs of Solomon.”  Chapter 25 begins with the phrase, “These are more proverbs of Solomon.”

       As pointed out in my first sermon in this series, not all the proverbs in this collection appear to be from Solomon.  In Proverbs 22:17 and 24:23 the writer speaks of “sayings of the wise” which may indicate sayings of other wise men are included in this collection.  Some scholars have noted that 30 sayings of the wise in Proverbs 22:17 to 24:32 contain similarities to 30 sections of an Egyptian document of instruction that was contemporary with the time of Solomon. 

       In addition to the “sayings of the wise” possibly being associated with sayings other than those of Solomon, we also find in chapter 30 writings attributed to a person named Agur (aw-goor) son of Jakeh (yaw-keh).  There has been much scholarly discussion as to who these people are.  The old synagogue tradition is that Solomon is the author of all the Proverbs which includes Proverbs 30. This tradition derives from the fact that the book of Proverbs begins with the writer saying, “The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel.”  It is believed this introduction instructs that all 31 chapters of this book were written by Solomon. 

       Some scholars have suggested that the words, Agur (aw-goor) son of Jake (yaw-keh) are an allegorical designation of Solomon. Jerome’s Latin translation of the Hebrew Scriptures called the Vulgate is believed to support this tradition.

      The words of the collector, the son of the vomiter: the vision of the man who has God with him, and who is fortified by God dwelling with him (Vulgate).

       The “collector” is seen to be Solomon and the word “vomiter” is said to represent David. This is just one of several perspectives offered by scholars as to who Agur (aw-goor) son of Jakeh (yaw-keh are.  The reality is that there is no definitive identification from Scripture or secular sources as to who these people are.  Most commentaries I consulted on this issue conclude that what is written in Proverbs 30 are not the words of Solomon.  It is believed Solomon would not have made the statements found in verses 2 &3 of chapter 30.

       Proverbs 30: 2-3: "I am the most ignorant of men; I do not have a man's understanding. I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy One (NIV).      

       Surely I am more brutish than any other human being, and I do not have human understanding (NET).

       In footnotes to this passage in the NET translation, we are instructed that the Hebrew construction here is expressing a comparison between being a man and being lower than a man. The RSV renders it this way.

       Surely I am too stupid to be a man. I have not the understanding of a man. I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy One (RSV).

       Those who believe this was written by Solomon believe he is comparing himself with God and compared to God he sees himself as being less than a man. This, however, is a minority view.  Most scholars do not believe Solomon would say such a thing.

       We know Solomon was considered the wise’s man on earth at the time and all indications are that he had knowledge of the holy one. He knew God had given him great wisdom and appeared to have a good relationship with God at least at the beginning of his reign. Therefore it is unlikely he would have made the statements about himself as seen in verses 2&3.  Also, scholars have identified Proverbs 30 as revealing a different style of writing compared to other of the Proverbs and the type of content also appears different from that of the other Proverbs. 

       So with this brief introduction to this chapter, let’s take a look at some of what is written here and see what we can learn from these writings.  Learning from the Proverbs and learning from the Scriptures in general should be the major reason we meet here every week.  While social interaction, singing praises to God, participating in intercessory prayer and having a cup of coffee and some cookies after the service are all part of our weekly get-to gathers, hopefully the gaining of Scriptural knowledge, understanding and wisdom is the main reason we come together.

       When I began this series, I quoted Proverbs 1:1-6.  These verses give us the reasons for the process we have been going through in what now is the 34th sermon in this series on the Proverbs. 

       Proverbs 1:1-6: The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young—let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance--for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise.

       Attaining to wisdom and disciple, understanding words of insight, acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right, just and fair.  These are the reasons we study the Proverbs. So with that being said, let’s see what Proverbs 30 has to offer us.  We will continue with verse four were the writer asks five questions.

       Proverbs 30:4: Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands? Who has wrapped up the waters in his cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and the name of his son? Tell me if you know!

      The writer of proverbs 30 began by seeing himself as being less than a man and not having knowledge of the holy.  He now appears to further emphasize the great gulf that exists between who and what God is and what man is and how it is impossible to really grasp who and what God is compared to man.   

       The questions being asked here are packed with the use of figurative language.  Just as Tracy last week spoke of the use of the phrase “it is raining cats and dogs” to signify it is raining hard, the writer here uses figurative speech to show the superiority of God over man.  The questioner is asking what humans have ever done any of these things with the clear implication that only God can do these things. “Gathering the wind in the hallow of his hand, wrapping up the waters in his cloak and establishing the ends of the earth are all ways of describing how God is the power behind all things.  We see Job making similar use of figurative language to describe the awesomeness of God.

       Job 26:7-14: He spreads out the northern [skies] over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing. He wraps up the waters in his clouds, yet the clouds do not burst under their weight. He covers the face of the full moon, spreading his clouds over it. He marks out the horizon on the face of the waters for a boundary between light and darkness. The pillars of the heavens quake, aghast at his rebuke. By his power he churned up the sea; by his wisdom he cut Rahab to pieces. By his breath the skies became fair; his hand pierced the gliding serpent.  And these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?"

       Returning to Proverbs 30:4, we find the writer concludes his list of questions by asking, “What is his name, and the name of his son? Tell me if you know!  There has been considerable speculation as to what is meant by, “the name of his son.”  Some Christian theologians believe this is a reference to the pre-incarnate Jesus.  The Jewish Midrash identifies the son in this passage as representing Israel.  The Midrash is an ancient commentary on part of the Hebrew Scriptures that is based on Jewish methods of interpretation.  Some copies of the Septuagint have rendered the Hebrew word for son in the plural making it sons possibly suggesting a reference to angels.  Angles are referenced several times in the OT as sons of God. 

       The reality is that we can’t be sure what the writer meant by the statement, and the name of his son? so we will move on.

       Proverbs 30: 5: Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

       Every word of God is purified; he is like a shield for those who take refuge in him (NET)

    The NET translation has an informative footnote to this passage.  It speaks of the text here using an implied comparison which is a figure of speech known as hypocatastasis.  It compares the perfection of every word from God with some precious metal that has been refined and purified.  Psalm 12:6 is given as a reference.

       Psalm 12:6: The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.

       The point being made is that God’s word is completely trustworthy. Like silver tried in the fire to remove all impurities, so God’s word has no impurities. It has no defects or flaws. No falsehood can be found in God’s word and His word cannot be falsified. Scripture says God cannot lie.  God cannot lie because he defines what is true.  When God says something is true, it is true in a universal sense. It is intrinsically true. It cannot be falsified. 

       We humans often make statements or believe things that we believe are true. Then somebody comes along and presents evidence that falsifies what we thought was the truth and we end up with egg on our face as the old saying goes. God can never end up with egg on His face.  What God speaks and believes can never be falsified.  God defines right and true belief.  God’s word is synonymous with truth.  Jesus is quoted as saying God’s word is truth. 

       The second half of Proverbs 30:5 gives us the significance of God’s word being perfect.  We are told because God’s word is perfect; we can take refuge in God and He becomes our shield to protect us. Now let’s move on to verse six.

       Proverbs 30:6: Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.

       The NET footnote to this passage points out that the form of the verb translated liar means to be deceptive and consequently shown or proved to be a liar. The teaching here is that since the word of God is pure, do not corrupt it by editing it to reflect your own opinions or desires.  

       We are not talking here about misinterpretation as such but willfully and knowingly changing what God has said in an attempt to promote ones own agenda.  Several years ago I gave a comprehensive sermon on the issue of homosexual behavior and showed how homosexual Christian ministers twist Scriptural passages that clearly condemn homosexual behavior to say they don’t. Words are added or subtracted to change the meaning of Scriptures that clearly condemn homosexual behavior.  That is the kind of thing being spoken of here.

       The teaching here in Proverbs is we are not to add to what is clearly revealed by God. This issue is addressed elsewhere in Scriptures as well.

       Deuteronomy 4:2:  Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.

       Deuteronomy 12:32: See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it.

       Revelation 22:18-19: I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

       Some have used passages such as these to prohibit any and all worship behavior that is not explicitly seen as commanded by God or in some manner seen as the word of God. In our World Wide Church of God days we used the passages in Deuteronomy to support out non-observance of Christmas and Easter.

        This, however, is not what is being taught in these passages.  These passages show that when God specifically commands something or prophecies events that are to come to pass, we are not to in any way add or subtract from  those specific commands or prophecies. We are not to alter them in any way.  In the case of the Deuteronomy passages, God did not want Israel to any way add too or subtract from the specific commands he had given them. This did not mean they couldn’t add a worship behavior that was outside the context of what God had commanded. 

       In the book of Esther we find the Jews being victorious over their enemies and establishing a day of celebration where they thanked God, feasted and exchanged gifts among themselves.  This celebration is still observed and is known as the feast of Purim. This was something the Jews did that was not related to the commands given at Sinai and we see no indication God condemned it. 

       The Maccabees, in celebration of their victory over Antiochus in the second century BC, established the Feast of Dedication to thank God for leading them to victory.  We see this feast being celebrated during the time of Christ as recorded in John 10:22 and it continues to this very day as Hanukkah.  This is not something God commanded; neither do we see God condemning it.

       These examples clearly show that God has not put us in a straight jacket as to worship behavior. God allows us latitude as to how we worship him provided we don’t add to or subtract from clear commands.  For example there is little Scriptural guidance as to how we are to conduct a worship service.  Some do it one way and others do it another way. God allows us flexibility here as He does in many areas of life. 

       In the case of the Revelation passage, God’s warning was specific to what had been prophesied in the Revelation and not the whole of Scripture as some contend.   

       Proverbs 30:7-9:   "Two things I ask of you, O LORD; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, `Who is the LORD?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.

       This passage pretty much confirms that Chapter 30 is not the writings of Solomon. Solomon had asked for wisdom and God gave him not only wisdom but great wealth as well.  The writer here is asking to be given only his daily bread and to avoid poverty or riches.  As the writer indicates, riches can lead to becoming self satisfied and forgetful as to the true source of all things. Poverty can lead to a life of crime.  The writer is asking that God grant him the middle ground which will make it more probable that he will be responsive to the will of God.

       The writer now makes observations about life that are very much like some of the observations Solomon makes in his proverbs,

       Proverbs 30:11-14:  "There are those who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers; those who are pure in their own eyes and yet are not cleansed of their filth; those whose eyes are ever so haughty, whose glances are so disdainful; those whose teeth are swords and whose jaws are set with knives to devour the poor from the earth, the needy from among mankind.

        This list of behaviors pretty much sums up the conduct of a self-centered, self-absorbed person who cares little about the lives of others and is only out to enhance his own pleasures and satisfactions. Such a person cares little if at all about how his behavior impacts the lives of others. Such a person disrespects his parents.  Such a person fails to honor the very ones who labored and sacrificed to give them what they have.  They see themselves as clean and fail to identify the dirt that others plainly see in them. 

       They move about with haughty eyes.  The Hebrew here means to walk about with eyelids lifted up.  This is viewed as a gesture of arrogance and contempt or disdain for others.  

       Teeth like swords and jaws set with knives is descriptive of a person who uses words to belittle others, deceive others into believing a lie or swindle others out of their life savings.  Such a person sees the poor as venerable and has no qualms about taking full advantage of their venerability. 

       Unfortunately, there are two many of these kinds of people in society trying to take advantage of other people.  You can well believe there will be shysters taking advantage of the people devastated by the floods in Texas. There already are reports of this happening.  Every time there is a disaster of some kind there are people like those described in Proverbs 30 who will swoop in and rip off those in need.        

       How many phones calls do you get every week where someone is trying to talk you into giving to the cause they are promoting?  Unfortunately many of these causes are fraudulent in that very little if any of the money given gets to the people they claim to be helping.  I get calls from various agencies claiming to be helping our nation’s military veterans.  I have checked out some of these agencies only to find out very little of the money actually goes to meet the needs of veterans.  Most of it goes to those making the phone calls.  

       What is really sad about this that after a while people stop giving to any of these organizations because you just don’t know who you can trust.  There are websites you can go to check out the legitimacy of these agencies.

       The timeshare resale industry is notorious for taking advantage of people trying desperately to get rid of their timeshare.  They call you saying they have someone interested in buying your timeshare and ask that you pay them a certain amount of upfront money for the processing of the sale and then when you do, you never hear from them again or they will string you along for months until you simply give up.  These resale liars make hundreds of thousands of dollars making promises that never materialize.

       The use of various physiological ploys is common in salespeople trying to sell you something that you don’t need.  I had a guy come to the door the other day trying to convince me I needed his pest control service to get rid of ants and others critters in my house.  When I told him I didn’t have ants or other critters in my house to any extant he then switched to trying to convince me I needed his services to get rid of ants out side my house.  He pointed in the direction of a half dozen or so other homes down the street that he claimed had hired him for his services and since he was going to be in the neighborhood, he might as well do my house too. 

       This is a physiological ploy called the herd effect.  Someone tries to convince you that a number of others are doing it so you should do it too.  The object is to make you think that if a bunch of others are doing it, it must be worthwhile and you would be stupid if you didn’t take advantage of this opportunity.  I seriously doubt the pest control guy was telling me the truth when he said he had lined up all these other home owners to use his service.

       All this type of thing is in some way reflective of the mentality and behavior described in the Proverbs passage under consideration.  It all boils down to people not following the Golden Rule and conducting themselves according to the Law of Love. All such behaviors are contrary to the will of God and yet these are all behaviors that are common to humanity and have been common to humanity since creation.

Communion:

       The scriptures indicate God has allowed for man to experience sin so man can experience His grace.  It is apparent God intended that man would sin, earn the wages of sin which God established as eternal death and then have mercy on His human creation by providing deliverance from eternal death through the man Jesus.  Here are some Scriptures that indicate this.

       Romans 11:32: For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

       Romans 5:21: The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

        John 3:17: For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

       1 John 2:2: He (Jesus) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

       1 John 4:14: And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world

       1 Timothy 2:3-6: This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men.

        In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, in chapter five, he writes that Christ died for all, and therefore all died.  In other words we all die in Christ and since Christ was resurrected from the dead we all rise with Him as well as Paul points out in other of His writings. 

       Paul also wrote to the Corinthians that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

       So as we come to the table to partake of the bread and wine, let us not just absent mindedly partake of these elements but let us focus on what these elements represent.  They represent Christ dying to pay the penalty for sin and as Paul wrote, we die with Christ in that our penalty for sin is wiped out and we become the righteousness of God.

PART THIRTY-FIVE