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COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF PROVERBS: PART THIRTY-TWO

SERMON PRESENTED ON 08-05-17

       Today will be sermon number 32 in my series on the Book of Proverbs.  Two weeks ago we concluded with a proverb from chapter 28 where Solomon deals with the issue of oppression of the poor.  Today I hope to cover three different Proverbs and I want to begin with Proverbs 28:4.

       Proverbs 28:4-5: Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law resist them.  Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully.

       When Solomon speaks of the law he is most likely referring to the package of law delivered to Moses at Mount Sinai, a law that became known as the Law of Moses.  What was delivered to Moses was a very comprehensive body of law that was designed to keep the Israelites in a right relationship with God and with their fellow man.  The Ten Commandments were foundational to the Mosaic Law.

       Built upon these ten rules for right behavior was a rather large body of religious, civil, social and moral law that was designed to regulate the lives of the people in such manner that they would prosper and live in peace. These laws covered everything from farming methods and dietary guidelines to the way clothes were to be made. A rather complicated sacrificial system was established to maintain a proper relationship with God.

       The Mosaic Law was designed to provide the means to resolve conflicts in a peaceful and just manner. Many laws were established to govern the resolution of interactional problems so that problems could be resolved fairly.

       God provided Israel with a set of laws that if followed would set Israel apart from all other nations.  Obedience to this law would provide all that was necessary to ensure a peaceful smooth running society where people lived in harmony with both God and man.  It appears it was God’s intention to have.  Israel be a beacon of light to the other nations.  They were to demonstrate to the other nations that their God and the way of life he had established for them was the pathway to peace and prosperity.

       We know from the Biblical history of Israel that this righteous body of law was routinely ignored. The law was forsaken much of the time and as Solomon noted, this gave praise to the wicked. Solomon is saying that those who forsook the law elevated behavior that was contrary to God’s will.  It was injurious to God’s desire to have Israel be a beacon of righteousness to the world.  By forsaking the law, wickedness is elevated and when wickedness is elevated it can become the norm and is no longer looked upon as wicked behavior.

       Solomon wrote that “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully."  Here Solomon provides the key to avoiding the elevation of wickedness and failing to understand justice.  It all has to do with seeking God. Wickedness prevails because people don’t seek God.  Injustice prevails because people don’t seek God.  Seeking God involves seeking to understand his will for us and then doing all we can to carry out His will in our lives.

       What we should learn from Solomon here is that the pathway to avoiding wickedness and embracing justice is to seek God which means to diligently search the Scriptures to identify the rules of behavior He has established for us and then embrace those rules which means we put them into practice.

       The English word embrace is interesting in that it’s synonyms with “to hug, cuddle and hold close.”  This is how we should be reacting to the rules of behavior God has established or us.   We should be hugging them, cuddling them and holding close to them.  This is the pathway to insuring we are avoiding the elevation of wickedness and avoiding injustice.  This is also the pathway to God responding to our prayers.

       Proverbs 28:9: If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable.

       Now granted it, Solomon is writing within the context of Old Covenant law. This great body of law was abolished at the cross.  However, it was replaced with a new body of law called the New Covenant.  Many of the regulations seen in the Old Covenant law are not seen in the New Covenant. The Old Covenant was a covenant specific to the people of Israel and was designed to regulate nearly every aspect of their lives. That Covenant was repeatedly broken by Israel after Israel had initially agreed to abide by this law.  

       The New Covenant law is not just applicable to Israel.  It is applicable to all peoples. Now New Covenant law does not direct you to rest your farmland every seven years, regulate the kind of materials you can use to make clothing or require you to wear tassels on your garments.  It was these kinds of things Old Covenant law was very heavy on.

       New Covenant law is heavy on how we treat each other.  While a law written in stone was foundational to the Old Covenant, a law written in our hearts called the Law of Love is foundational to the New Covenant.  This law is spelled out in detail in the teachings of Jesus, the writings of Paul and other NT authors.  This law instructs us to love our neighbor as ourselves and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.  Turning a deaf ear to this law will result in the same consequences that turning a deaf ear to the Law of Moses produced. 

       So Solomon’s warning in Proverbs 28:9 is just as applicable to us today as it was to those living under the Old Covenant.  

Proverb #2

       Proverbs 28:8: He who increases his wealth by exorbitant interest amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor.

       Before we get into the specifics of this Proverb, let’s look at what the Scriptures have to say about lending money for the purpose of acquiring interest or what is commonly seen in Scripture as usury.  Is it permissible under God’s Law to practice usury?  Solomon speaks of increasing wealth by exorbitant interest. Taken alone, this Scripture implies that reasonable interest is OK, just don’t make it exorbitant.  Let’s explore this matter further.

       Exodus 22:25: "If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest. 

       The Hebrew word rendered “needy” means poor and is translated “poor” in most English translations. The instruction here is not to charge a poor Israelite interest on a loan.  Since this instruction involves lending to a poor person who is an Israelite, it could be deduced that a moneylender would normally charge interest when lending money to an Israelite who isn’t poor but simple needs some money to maybe start a business or whatever. Leviticus sheds additional light on this issue.

       Leviticus 25: 36-37: If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you. Do not take interest of any kind from him, but fear your God, so that your countryman may continue to live among you.  You must not lend him money at interest or sell him food at a profit.

       Let’s now look at the instructions provided in Deuteronomy regarding this issue.  

       Deuteronomy 23:19:  "You shall not lend upon interest to your brother, interest on money, interest on victuals, interest on anything that is lent for interest (RSV).

       Here it appears the instruction not to lend for interest applied to all Israelites and not just the poor.  It applies to not only money but anything that you might loan to a brother. In Ezekiel 18 and Psalm 15, we see a righteous man defined as a man who does not lend at interest.

       Ezekiel 18:8: does not lend at interest or take any increase, withholds his hand from iniquity, executes true justice between man and man.

       Psalm 15:5: who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.

         In looking at the various OT Scriptures that bear on this issue, it appears that lending money at interest to a fellow Israelite under any circumstances was not permitted.  You noticed I said to a fellow Israelite.  Every Scripture we have looked at pertains to lending to a brother within the community of Israel.  The instruction in Exodus speaks of lending money to “my people” which means people in the community of Israel.  On the other hand, it was perfectly OK to lend money at interest to people outside the community of Israel.

       Deuteronomy 23:20: You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a brother Israelite, so that the LORD your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess.

       Earlier I discussed how the Old Covenant pertained to Israel and Israel alone. It was a special relationship that God established with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  The Laws of the Covenant with Israel did not extend to the Gentile nations who by and large did not recognize the God of Israel as the one true God.  They consequently did not acknowledge the Laws of Israel’s covenant with this God. Therefore, Israel did not have to extend the restrictions contained in their Law to the Gentiles.

       So what about usury under the New Covenant?  Is it OK to lend money to a brother in Christ at interest?  We don’t have any direct teaching on this issue in the NT but we do have some guidelines. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said this:  

       Matthew 5:42:  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

       Luke 6:34-35: And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even `sinners' lend to `sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

       While this teaching does not address the issue of interest, it does instruct we are to be willing to help those in need even to the point of giving to our enemy without expecting to get anything back. This instruction may be hard to swallow for many of us.  We are not inclined to love our enemies let alone lend them things without expecting to get what we lend back.  But this is the teaching of Jesus, the Son of God.

       Around 10 years ago I gave a 26 part series of sermons on the Sermon on the Mount. In that series I discussed Matthew 5:42 and related passages in some depth.  This material is on my website for those interested.

       In the parable of the talents, Jesus reprimands the servant who was given two talents and did nothing with them.  Jesus tells him he should have put the money in the bank and drawn interest.  While this is a parable given to demonstrate we are to be fruitful with what God gives us, it does use the imagery of investing money in the bank for the express purpose of making more money. In placing money in a bank you are virtually lending the bank money and asking the bank to pay you for the privilege of using your money.

       In looking at the Scriptures that touch on this issue in the NT, it appears that lending money with the intention of making money is permitted and even encourage.  However, we also see that we are not to take advantage of the poor and we are to be liberal in our giving to those in need and not expect anything back.  The overriding principle in Scripture is that we do not exploit the poor but do all we can to help them in their time of need.

       We began this discussion by looking Solomon’s statement as recorded in Proverbs 28:8 where he says, “He who increases his wealth by exorbitant interest amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor." This Proverb is best explained by another Proverb found in 22:22-23.

       Proverbs 22:22-23: Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the LORD will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them.

      As I pointed out in my previous sermon in this series, God takes a dim view of those who exploit and oppress the poor. They will receive due recompense for their sinful behavior as pointed out in this Proverb.  Solomon addresses the issue of giving to the poor often in the Proverbs.  He often contrasts the status of those who give to the poor with those who don’t give to the poor.  Let’s close out our discussion of Solomon’s Proverbs about the poor by citing three additional observations he makes regarding this issue.

       Proverbs 28: 27: He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.

       Proverbs 29:7: The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.

       Proverbs 29:14: If a king judges the poor with fairness, his throne will always be secure.

       As can be seen, Solomon was very conscious of practicing fairness and justice toward the poor.  Some may feel justified in not giving to the poor by concluding they are poor because they are lazy, don’t want to work, don’t want to put forth the effort to education themselves and so forth.  This certainly is true in some cases and Solomon addresses this issue as well.

       However, the Scriptures don’t distinguish between helping the poor who are poor because of their lack of effort. The Scriptures simply teach that a dynamic of righteousness is helping the poor.   In the next Proverb we will consider, Solomon addresses the issue of being poor because of a failure to face life realistically.

Proverb #3

       Proverbs 28:19: He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty.

       He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty (RSV). 

       The one who works his land will be satisfied with food, but whoever chases daydreams will have his fill of poverty (NET).

       Here we see the contrast between the person who is diligent in working the land to produce a crop and the person who either doesn’t work or is always looking for a quick pathway to wealth and never really finding it.  While there is the occasional person who wins the lottery or is successful at the casino, the vast majority of people will have to work a meaningful job to make ends meet.  The person who fails to realize this and goes through life constantly looking for that magic opportunity to come along to get rich quick more often than not ends up living a life of mediocrity at best and object poverty at worse. 

       Being in the business I am in, I have been exposed to dozens of multi-level companies during the past 32 years selling various nutritional products.  These companies often promise you will be able to retire in just a few short years and the money will just keep rolling in.  

       As you probably know, Multi-level companies require that you sign up distributors who then sign up other distributors who sign up other distributors so that you can produce a huge downline of distributors selling product.  When product is sold, everyone in the downline gets a cut of the profits.  While there is good money to be made in Multi-levels, the vast majority of people who get involved make very little money and often end up with a basement full of unsold product and eventually drop out of the program.  Those that are successful in multi-level find they have to work very hard at it and constantly sign up new people to replace those who drop out. 

       The sad part is that some people become multi-level junkies. They become addicted to participating in multi-level marketing. They are forever looking for that magical product or company that will make all their dreams come true.  Over the years I have known people like that.  In some cases I have had the same person try to interest me in a different multi-level several times in the course of a single year.  They would go to a meeting and become all excited and try to convince me that this was the one.  This was the one opportunity that is going to allow me to retire in a year or two.  This was the one opportunity that will get me a new car, free vacation or some other major incentive being offered.

      Sad to say, most who get involved in these ventures don’t retire in a few years, don’t qualify for that new car and don’t make anywhere near the money promised in the meeting they attended.  As Solomon wrote, it’s a chasing after fantasies.

       Some people become casino junkies.  They spend countless hours playing the slots, blackjack or some other game hoping to make it big and take home a wheel barrel full of money.  People who become addicted to gambling often end up in poverty.  They end up being poor and in need of assistance from others. 

       Solomon said that “He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty.”  I have been working the land for some 50 years and Barb and I eat the produce of our organic garden throughout the year.  So I can personally identify with this Proverb.

       However, working the land can be a metaphor for any kind of productive word. God intends for us to be productive and provide for ourselves and our families. Therefore, it is wise to not put undue stock into get rich quick ventures.  While such ventures will bring wealth to some people, they don’t for most and to be fooled into thinking that they will, demonstrates a lack of judgement as Solomon points out in a very similar Proverb.  

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

Communion:

       It has become our tradition to on the first Saturday of the month to partake of the bread and wine in commutation of the death of Jesus.  I earlier spoke of the transition that took place from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant at the time of Jesus’ death.  I want to say a little more about that before we proceed in taking the bread and wine. 

       The author of the letter to the Hebrews provides a great overview of the covenantal transition that took place as a result of the death of Jesus.  In Chapter 9, the writer speaks of how the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. He goes on to explain in some detail the manner in which the tabernacle was set up.  He tells of the High Priest entering the inner room once a year with the blood of slain animals which was offered for the sins of the people. The writer then instructs that this offering of the blood of an animal did not permanently remove the people’s sins. The writer goes on to show how Jesus came as high priest and went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made.    

              The writer goes on to explain how a will only goes into effect when someone dies. He sees the covenants established by God to be very much like a will which requires a death in order to be implemented. This is why even the Old Covenant was put into effect by Moses killing a calf and sprinkling its blood on the scroll and all those things associated with the sanctuary worship.  The writer explains how the Law required that nearly everything having to do with the tabernacle rituals had to be cleansed with blood and that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

       The writer goes on to explain that it was necessary for the earthly copies of the heavenly things be purified through the shedding of the blood of animals but that the heavenly things upon which the earthly things were patterned were cleansed with the blood of Christ.

       Hebrew 9:14-15  How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance--now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

       Hebrews 9:24: For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence.

       The writer is making the point that Christ has replaced the Levitical high priest and the entire Old Covenant system with a new covenant that allows for permanent forgiveness of sin as opposed to the provisional removal of sin under the Old Covenant.  The Scriptures teach that life is in the blood and when the blood is shed, life dies.  Jesus lost his life when His blood was shed.  Jesus didn’t stay dead, however.  The Father resurrected Jesus to eternal life and because of this we also can be resurrected to eternal life.  It all began, however with Jesus being willing to give up his life and pay our penalty for sin. 

       We should be very grateful for that and hopefully with a grateful heart we now participate in the communion ceremony.

PART THIRTY-THREE