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COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF PROVERBS: PART THIRTY-ONE

SERMON PRESENTED ON 07-22-17

 

       Today will be sermon number 31 in my series on the Book of Proverbs.  This has been the longest series I have done and we still have 5 chapters to go. I personally have found this journey through Proverbs very instructive and I hope you have as well.  Two weeks ago we concluded with a proverb from chapter 26 where Solomon deals with the issue of being quarrelsome, an issue Solomon deals with several times throughout the Proverbs.  Today I hope to cover four different Proverbs and I want to begin with a Proverb that has often been cited when someone feels they have been positively influenced by the behavior or expressed thoughts of another person.   

Proverb #1

       Proverbs 27:17: As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.

       While this proverb is usually applied to the written or verbally expressed thoughts of one person positively impacting the way another person may view an issue, this Proverb can also be applied to how non verbal behavior of one person can positively influence the behavior of another.  Some English renderings apply the Proverb in this manner.

       Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend (KJV).

       Iron sharpeneth iron; So a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend (ASV).

       To sharpen another’s countenance is to influence how they appear. It could involve influencing how they conduct themselves.  For example, by setting a righteous example in the presence of others, one may, without saying a word, be able to influence how others behave.  It can result in others changing their behavior to reflect the behavior of the righteous person.

       Iron is sharpened by rubbing one piece of iron against another piece of iron. We have all experienced rubbing someone the wrong way.  The message of this Proverb is to rub people the right way and in so doing we sharpen the other person.

       By rubbing a person in the right way we can make them feel better about themselves which is then reflected in their outward appearance.  There countenance is changed.  There are many ways this can be done. This can be done by complementing someone on something they may have recently accomplished.  This can be done by helping someone in time of need.  The consistent teaching of Scripture is that we help one another and when we do, that can certainly sharpen the countenance of those being helped.

       As already mentioned, this Proverb is often used to describe someone having their thoughts sharpened by someone else as to how a particular issue is understood or perceived.

       When this proverb is used to demonstrate how one person’s thoughts can be sharpened by another persons thinking, this doesn’t necessarily mean the one whose thoughts are being sharpened ends up agreeing with the one providing the sharpening. This Proverb is not about agreement or disagreement.  It’s about enhancing the thinking ability of another person.  One person can sharpen another person without their being agreement as to the dynamics of the issue involved.  Let me give you a personal example.

       For a number of years I have been involved with what we in the group simple refer to as a “Discussion Group.”   This group meets twice a month at a little church in Vernon Wisconsin.  There are around a dozen of us who get together and discuss various Scriptural issues in great depth.  There certainly is diversity of thought expressed in these meetings and it goes without saying that we don’t all agree on the conclusions offered regarding the various issues we discuss.         However, this discussion group is an example of iron sharpening iron.  Let me provide an example of how that is the case.

       A number of years ago we tackled the issue of predestination versus free will.  As some here may recall, about five or six years ago, maybe longer, I gave a sermon on Calvinism versus Arminianism.  John Calvin was a sixteenth century theologian who taught that God predestinates everything that happens including all human behavior.  Those who follow his teachings to this very day are referred to as Calvinists.  Also in the sixteenth century lived a theologian by the name of Jacob Arminius who challenged Calvin and taught that while some things are predestined, most things happen as a result of time and chance and most human behavior results from the exercise of free will.  Those who believe most human behavior is the result of making choices through the exercise of free will are often referred to as Arminians.

       In the Discussion Group I’m apart of are some very strong Calvinists. I being a believer in freewill went head to head with the Calvinists in a discussion that dragged on for over a year and a half.  Remember, we meet twice a month.  So, as you can see, this was a lengthy discussion.  Well the Calvinists in the group are still Calvinists and I am still a believer in free will.

       However, I felt this lengthy discussion benefitted me greatly. It gave me great insight into the reasoning of Calvinists and why they take the position they do. When I had given my sermon on Calvinism versus Arminianism some years ago I used that sermon material to publish to my website a one part essay on the issue or predestination and free will.  After nearly two years of Discussion Group discussions on this issue, my one part website essay became an eight part series.

       I felt the principle of iron sharpening iron really manifested itself here resulting in me being able to write a rather comprehensive eight part series of essays on this issue.  If it wasn’t for the iron sharpening iron experience I had regarding predestination and free will, this eight part series would never have materialized.  Due to iron continuing to sharpen iron in this group, this process has been repeated a number of times relative to other topics we have discussed.

       So to repeat, iron sharpening iron when applied to the sharing of thoughts and perspectives, doesn’t necessarily mean agreement.  After all, when you rub two pieces of iron together you get friction.  Friction produces heat.  I can guarantee we had some heated discussion at times regarding the matter of free will and predestination.

       Fortunately, the men and women that make up this group all understand the principle of disagreeing without being disagreeable, being argumentative without becoming quarrelsome, an issue we discussed two weeks ago. So despite our differences we maintain friendship.  I just two weeks ago performed a wedding for a member of the group who is a Calvinist. I being on the opposite side of the issue didn’t keep him from asking me to do his wedding.  

       So let’s keep this Proverb in mind and realize we can and do influence the behavior of others as we rub shoulders with them.  As Solomon wrote, iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another or as some renderings have it, sharpens the countenance of another.

Proverb #2

       Proverbs 27:23-27: Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds; for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations. When the hay is removed and new growth appears and the grass from the hills is gathered in, the lambs will provide you with clothing, and the goats with the price of a field. You will have plenty of goats' milk to feed you and your family and to nourish your servant girls.

       The principle being expressed here is that we need to take care of what we have and not assume that the things that allow us to go on from day to day will just continue to be as they are without our maintaining them.  We should not take for granted the things we need to sustain ourselves and our families. We need to practice preventive maintenance if we want the things that sustain us to remain viable.   

       When Solomon speaks of knowing the condition of ones flocks and herds for such riches do not last forever, we can easily apply that to knowing the condition of our house, our car, our employment status and the list can go on and on.  A failure to know the condition of such things can result in problems occurring that it may be too late to correct.

       For example, when you are employed, your employer will have certain expectations of how you should be performing on the job.  If you fail to recognize those expectations for what they are and just go merrily along thinking everything is OK, you may find yourself being called into the bosses office some morning and told your services are no longer needed.

       Being aware of what is expected of us is important whether it be our employment, our responsibilities as a parent, a wife or husband or whatever.  We all need to do the occasional reality check to see if we are properly meeting our responsibilities.  This is especially true of our walk with God. There are expectations involved in our walk with God and God’s son Christ Jesus.  There is the expectation of living the Law of love which includes adhering to the Golden Rule.  There is the expectation of walking humbly before God.  We covered this in some detail some weeks ago in a two sermons discussing several Proverbs dealing with the matter of humility.   

       Solomon wrote that, “When the hay is removed and new growth appears and the grass from the hills is gathered in, the lambs will provide you with clothing, and the goats with the price of a field. You will have plenty of goats' milk to feed you and your family and to nourish your servant girls.”

       This is literally true. Solomon is saying that when you harvest the hay, there will be food for the farm animals and those animals will in turn provide you with clothing and food.  But for this to happen, you have to gather in the hay.  If you don’t gather in the hay, there won’t be food for the animals and you won’t have the animals to provide for you and sustain you.

       The lesson we learn here is that without the proper preparation, we won’t obtain the anticipated benefits.  While it is true that the Scriptures teach God will supply all our needs, it should be evident that He does so within the context of providing the ways and means to supplying our needs and than leaves it up to us to properly utilize those ways and means.

Proverb #3

       Proverbs 28:2: When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers, but a man of understanding and knowledge maintains order (NIV).

       For the transgression of a land many are the princes thereof: but by a man of understanding and knowledge the state thereof shall be prolonged (KJV).

      When a country is rebellious it has many princes, but by someone who is discerning and knowledgeable order is maintained (NET).

       The general consensus of the commentators on this Proverb is that Solomon is reflecting on how nations of people who tend to be rebellious and in general behave sinfully experience a great deal of turnover in leadership.  Dissatisfaction with existing leadership results in uprisings that lead to the overthrow of existing leaders who are then replaced with other leaders who are often overthrown in short order as well.  Such leaders are overthrown because they fail to demonstrate the ability to maintain order.

       While this interpretation appears reasonable in terms of the general English renderings of this Proverb which are taken from the Masoretic Hebrew manuscripts, it is interesting that the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) renders this Proverb in a manner that is not associated with the rebellion of people leading to changeable leadership.  This rendering simply speaks of quarrels generated by a violent man which can then be remedied by a man of discernment. It is believed the Septuagint translators were using a different Hebrew text when translating this Proverb.     

       It is the fault of a violent man that quarrels start, but they are settled by a man of discernment.

       With either the common English rendering or the Septuagint rendering, we see that where a man is discerning, knowledgeable and governs with understanding and genuine concern for the people, it can go a long way toward stabilizing a nation and maintaining order. 

       When David and Solomon were Kings over Israel, there was reasonable order.  After Solomon died his son Rehoboam became King.  Rehoboam didn’t exercise discernment and treat the people fairly.  This resulted in a rebellion that led to ten of the tribes succeeding from the United Kingdom and forming a separate northern kingdom of Israel.   

       If you look at the history of both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel, you see a people that failed to be obedient to God and a people that experienced numerous changes in leadership with much of that leadership unable to turn the people back to righteousness and often the leadership itself being a part of the problem by behaving unrighteously. 

       However, every so often, a leader came to power that possessed the apparent discernment, knowledge; understanding and wisdom to turn the people back to God and maintain reasonable order.  Hezekiah was such a leader.  He followed in the footsteps of his father Ahaz, king of the southern kingdom of Judah. The reign of Ahaz had been a disaster. His lack of righteous leadership created all sorts of trouble for Judah.  His son Hezekiah apparently learned from seeing his father’s misrule and determined to turn things around.

       2 Kings 18: 1-6: In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Hezekiah son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother's name was Abijah daughter of Zechariah. He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan - nekh-oosh-tawn')  Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the LORD and did not cease to follow him; he kept the commands the LORD had given Moses.

       It is evident Hezekiah was a strong leader who knew what to do to stabilize the Kingdom of Judah. There’s no doubt he experienced resistance to the reforms he introduced.  Anytime a new leader appears on the seen and begins to make significant changes from what the people are use to, you can be assured there will be resistance. Ahaz had promoted pagan worship practices. Hezekiah was replacing all that with a return to worshiping the one true God. 

       It is interesting that the Israelites were burning incense to the bronze snake Moses had made. This bronze snake had been made several hundred years before the time of Hezekiah.  You may remember the story.  The Israelites were traveling in the desert, grew impatient and began to speak against God and against Moses.  As punishment, God sent venomous snakes among them that bit the people and many of them died.  The people then came to Moses and repented of their sin and pleaded with Moses to ask God to take the snakes away.  God instructed Moses to make a bronze snake and put it up on a pole.  Anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the snake on the pole and live.

       Apparently the people had concluded there was some lingering efficacy in the bronze snake to heal them and it became an object of worship.  This lifting up of the snake on a pole in the wilderness is used as a analogy to Jesus being lifted up on a cross.  Just as viewing and acknowledging the snake on the pole in the desert saved Israelites bitten by snakes from physical death, so looking to Jesus saves us from eternal death. 

       John 3:14-16: Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

       We could analogize this even further in that we have all been bitten so to speak by sin.  It is only through the sacrifice of Christ we can be delivered from the bite of sin and avoid the death that comes as a result of that bite.   

       The lesson we can learn from the Proverb we have been considering is that strong discerning leadership, based in righteousness and acknowledgement of God as sovereign in and over our lives can go a long ways to resolving conflict, whether it be between just several individuals or an entire nation.

Proverb #4

       Proverbs 28:3: A ruler who oppresses the poor is like a driving rain that leaves no crops (NIV). 

       This Proverb exemplifies how translators sometimes translate words not according to what they see but according to what they believe. The NIV translators have here translated the Hebrew word ruwsh (roosh) as ruler.  Roosh does not in any sense of the word mean ruler.  This word means to be poor or destitute as any Hebrew Lexicon will show.  The Masoretic Hebrew Manuscripts from which the OT is generally translated reads “a poor man” and most English translations show this to be the case. I looked at dozens of translations of this proverb and except for a few, they all render ruwsh as “poor man.”

       A poor man that oppresseth the poor is like a sweeping rain which leaveth no food (KJV).

       A needy man that oppresseth the poor Is like a sweeping rain which leaveth no food (ASV).

       A poor man who oppresses the poor is a beating rain that leaves no food (RSV)

       A poor man who oppresses the lowly Is like a driving rain which leaves no food (NSA)

       A poor man who oppresses the poor is a beating rain that leaves no food (ESV)

       A poor person who oppresses the weak is like a driving rain without food (NET).

       So why do the NIV translators render ruwsh as ruler when this Hebrew word has no such meaning?  It’s apparent that the NIV translators believed a poor man could not oppress another poor man.  The poor in Proverbs are seen as being oppressed and not as being the oppressor.  This is pretty much true throughout the Scriptures.

       Therefore, it apparently was assumed that the word ruwsh in the Masoretic text is incorrect.  There is a Hebrew word with a slightly different spelling (rasha) that means “a wicked ruler.”  It was assumed that this was the word used by Solomon and not the word ruwsh. It is interesting that the Septuagint renders this Proverb in the following manner.

       A courageous man oppresses the poor with impieties.

       We don’t know why the Septuagint translators rendered this Proverb in this manner. 

       So what is the correct rendering?  We can’t be sure.  The majority view is that the Hebrew ruwhs is correct and we need to look at this Proverb as telling us that Solomon is talking about a poor man oppressing another poor man.  Various commentators give examples of how this can be the case.  History shows that poor men have risen to power only to then oppress the poor over which they now rule. Is this what Solomon was talking about?  One commentator I read related this to Jesus’ parable of the unjust servant.

       Matthew 18:23: Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. "The servant fell on his knees before him. `Be patient with me,' he begged, `and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii.  He grabbed him and began to choke him. `Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. "His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, `Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' "But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.

       The assumption made here is that the servant who refused to cancel the debt of a fellow servant was a poor man who after having his debt forgiven refused to forgive the debt of a fellow poor man and thus can be seen as oppressing this other poor man.  The Greek translated “servant” in this parable is doulos which has the general meaning of slave. However this word does not relate to ones economic status per se but to ones status in relation to another person. Throughout the NT Christians are seen as doulos of God. This does not necessarily mean a monetarily poor doulos’ of God.   

       So using this parable to support the belief that the proverb is dealing with the poor oppressing the poor may be without merit. 

      So how are we to understand this Proverb?  If the standard translation is correct, Solomon appears to be talking about a poor man oppressing another poor man.  If the NIV translators are correct, Solomon is talking about a wicket ruler oppressing the poor. In any case, the poor are being oppressed and Solomon likens this to a driving rain that leaves no crops or food.

       I have planted gardens for the past 50 years and I know a thing or two about driving rains wiping out a crop.  Over the years I have had crops battered by wind driven torrential rains that have left my plants tattered and torn.  Just this spring this happened to some extent.  I raise many of my plants indoors and plant them in the garden the first part of May to about the middle of May.  May started out pleasant enough this year so I planed my seedlings as usual. 

        Now young plants take a while to establish themselves in the soil.  Their leaves are very tender and there roots are shallow.  They need a couple of weeks to establish themselves and become acclimated to their being moved from a controlled environment to the whimsical nature of the out of doors weather.

       As you may remember, about the third week of May we had a week of high winds and some driving rain.  I lost a number of squash plants, some broccoli plants; several pepper plants, cucumber plants and more. The plants that survived were set back because of broken leaves and stems.   

       I can clearly understand Solomon analogizing the oppression of the poor by whoever it is done as “a driving rain that leaves no crops or food.”  Generally a person is considered poor because he has very little in the way of earthly possessions.  Those possessions he does have are seemly never enough to meet his needs.  By Solomon saying such oppression is analogous to a driving rain that leaves no crops is to say the little the poor has is now being taken away. 

       We see this often in war torn countries where it is the poor who have little to begin with now have what little they have left removed from them.  As Christians it is our duty to be of service to the poor as much as we can.

       During His ministry, a man came up to Jesus and asked what he must do to enter eternal life.  One of the things Jesus told him was to give to the poor.  Another time during His ministry, Jesus instructed that when we throw a party, we should invite the poor.  When the gentile Cornelius was visited by an angel and told Peter would visit him and preach the Gospel to him, its recorded it was because of Cornelius’ prayers and gifts to the poor that he was being singled out.  Paul took up collections for the poor in Jerusalem.

       Looking after the poor is a basic requirement of being a Christian. It is part of what defines a Christian.  If we can take anything at all from Solomon’s proverb, it is that we should do all we can to prevent that figurative driving rain that wipes out crops to negatively affect the poor.

PART THIRTY-TWO