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COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF PROVERBS: PART TWENTY

SERMON PRESENTED ON 11-12-16

       Last week we began and concluded with a review of Proverbs 20:14.  As you may remember, a discussion of this proverb led to an entire sermon based on this one proverb.  That won’t be the case today.   Today we will continue in Chapter 20 and discuss four different proverbs found in this chapter and then we will move on to chapter 21 next time we get together.

Proverb #1

      Proverbs 20:18: Make plans by seeking advice; if you wage war, obtain     guidance.        

      Every purpose is established by counsel: and with good advice make war (KJV).

      Plans are established by counsel; by wise guidance wage war (RSV). 

      Prepare plans by consultation, and make war by wise guidance (ASV).

       I don’t expect that any of us will be planning a war anytime soon but for those who are in positions of governmental authority it is absolutely essential to obtain wise guidance and a lot of it before committing the citizens they govern to a war.  Any head of a country who declares war against another county should only do so after having sought out the counsel of those both for and against such war. As far as is possible, all reasons for and against war should be considered and, even more importantly, the consequences of either going to war or refraining from going to war must be carefully examined.

       Throughout history, the consequences of war are not always considered and then when the war is over, there are many unanticipated consequences that linger on for years and in some cases result in situations that are far worse than what led to the decision to go to war in the first place.

       Many wars over the course of history have not been born of careful guidance and counseling but have resulted from a knee jerk reaction to a real or imaged offense.  Many wars have been fought not of necessity, but of a desire for dominion, power, or because of just plain greed. Many wars could have been avoided throughout history if Solomon’s advice to seek wise guidance would have been heeded.  Solomon deals with this issue in a couple of other Proverbs.

       Proverbs 11:14: For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisers make victory sure.

       Proverbs 24:6: For waging war you need guidance, and for victory many advisers.

       Here Solomon instructs that it is essential to have a number of advisors when planning a war.  While none of us will be planning a war any time soon, we all will be making plans to do this, that or something else.  Solomon’s admonition to seek advice from a number of sources when making plans is sound advice whether it be in planning a war or planning important events in our personal lives.

       While it may not be necessary to always seek advice when planning something, it is prudent to seek advice when plans entail decisions that have life long ramifications.  Choosing a career, planning a marriage, deciding to have children, buying a house, starting a business and similar plans are best made within the context of wise counseling and guidance.  You notice I said wise counseling and guidance.  It is not always easy to find wise counseling and guidance.  Therefore it is probably best to seek out a variety of thoughts on any given plan.

       Proverbs 15:22: Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.

       Solomon wrote that seeking the input of many advisers is a pathway to successful planning.  Seeking the counsel and guidance of God should always be the first advisor we go to.  God has given us access to His Spirit.  Paul wrote to Timothy that the Spirit of God is a spirit power, love, and a sound mind as this passage is rendered by the King James translators.  When faced with important decisions, we need to ask for guidance and counsel from God first and foremost.  God can always lead us to sources for sound advice relative to a particular matter.  Solomon wrote a number of Proverbs dealing with the issue of seeking advice.  Here are a few more.

       Proverbs 12:15: The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.

       Proverbs 19:20: Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.

       It should obvious that the prudent thing to do when faced with an important decision is to seek the counsel of others.

Proverb #2

       Proverbs 20:19 A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much (NIV).

       The one who goes about gossiping reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with someone who is always opening his mouth (NET).

       The Hebrew word rendered “gossip” and “gossiping” in this proverb means a slanderer and is so rendered in some translations.  The Hebrew word is spelled rakiyl in English and is pronounced (raw-keel). One commentator I read wrote that the word does not necessarily mean intentional or malicious slander but simply a person who talks too much.  That is why some translations render the Hebrew as “gossip” or gossiper as opposed to using the word slanderer. A gossip is a person that likes to spread information about someone, usually irrespective of whether such information is true or false.  Here are some additional proverbs Solomon wrote on the issue of slander where the Hebrew raw-keel is translated into the English word “gossip” as seen in the NIV translation.

       Proverbs 11:13: A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.

       Proverbs 16:28:  A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.

       Proverbs 18:8: The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man's inmost parts.

       So what is Solomon talking about here?  Is he talking about gossip as we generally understand that word in English or is he talking about slander as we generally understand that word in English?  Well we could go either way.

       The basic dictionary definition of slander is to purposely make a false statement or accusation against someone that causes others to have a bad opinion of that someone.  The basic dictionary definition of gossip is the sharing of personal information about the behavior of others without their approval or consent.  As already stated, such information may or may not be entirely factual.  While slander is always wrong as it is the purposeful dissemination of false information to purposely discredit someone, is gossip always wrong?  

       To repeat, when knowingly false information about someone is shared with others, it becomes slander as slander is to knowingly make false statements about someone with the intention of making them look bad.  We saw a good deal of slander during the recent political campaign. Statements where made by one candidate toward another that were patently false in an effort to discredit the other candidate.

       We also saw during the campaign a good deal of gossip as that word is commonly understood.  We heard statements directed at candidates that were true or at least partly true and yet were statements that the candidates would rather not have seen made about them as these statements raised questions about their worthiness to be running for political office.  By definition, these statements could be called gossip as gossip is defined as sharing information about someone without their approval or consent.  While gossip may be factual, it can be damaging to the reputation of the person the gossip is about.  So should we engage in gossip?    

       While slander is always wrong, is gossip, as we have seen it defined, always wrong?  For example, in a democracy such as ours, there is a need for transparency so that citizens can make informed decisions when voting.  Such transparency often requires the revealing of information that politicians would rather not have revealed.  This may also be true in many other areas of life where a failure to reveal information about the behavior of someone else may allow a bad situation to go uncorrected. 

       We have those who are called whistle blowers in government, as well as the private sector, who come forth with information about co-workers that may be very damaging to the image and livelihood of such co-workers but may lead to uncovering corruption or some other behavior that is damaging to others. We have criminals that provide information on the criminal activity of other criminals that results in getting such criminals off the street thus providing for the safety of the public.  Those who provide such incriminating information are sometimes referred to as being a snitch.  Is it OK to be a snitch?     

       Solomon wrote that “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much.  He also wrote “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.”  He wrote that “a gossip separates close friends.”  Solomon is saying a raw-keel (the Hebrew translated “gossip” here) is a person who betrays a confidence, that is, reveals information that one would rather not have revealed and it may be best to avoid such a person. Therefore, it would appear Solomon is talking more about gossip as we understand that word rather then outright slander.  However, it is possible Solomon was thinking in terms of outright slander as well.

       Let’s return to the Hebrew word that is translated “gossip” in these passages.  The word is pronounced (raw-keel). The Gesenius Hebrew/Chaldee Lexicon defines raw-keel as slander or detraction. We already saw that slander is the making of false statements about someone that causes people to have a bad opinion of someone.  Detraction has a similar meaning and is the act of disparaging or belittling the reputation or worth of a person.

       In Leviticus 19, YHWH speaks through Moses and instructs Israel in verse one to be holy because YHWH their God is holy.  YHWH then proceeds to give a great deal of behavioral instruction, including a number of “do not’s” One of the “do not’s” is found in verse 16.

       Leviticus 19:16: Do not go about spreading slander (rakiyl) among your people.

       In Jeremiah 6, we see the prophet speaking against Israel and saying, “They are all hardened rebels, going about to slander (rakiyl). They are bronze and iron; they all act corruptly” (Jeremiah 6:28).  In Ezekiel 22, the prophet is speaking against Israel and says, “In you are slanderous (rakiyl)   men bent on shedding blood” (Ezekiel 22:9).

       As can be seen, the Hebrew raw-keel is here translated slander which as we have already discussed is to purposely make a false statement or accusation against someone that causes others to have a bad opinion of that someone. It is apparent this is the kind of behavior that is being condemned in these passages of Scripture.   

       Since raw-keel is being used in these passages in a very condemning manner, it is obvious slander, as we understand that word in our language, is what is being considered here.  This being the case, it may be more in line with the usage of this Hebrew word in the passages we just covered to render raw-keel as slander in the Proverb passages as well.  A number of English translations render raw-keel as tail-bearer in Proverbs 20:19. This rendering comes closer to the meaning of raw-keel as being one who slanders.  A tail-bearer is usually seen as one who spreads false information about someone else. 

       So what about being a gossip as we understand that word in our English language. Since gossip can be the spreading of true information about someone, is that OK?  Is it OK to spread true information about others without their consent or approval?  Here is where we have to be careful.  We all share information about others. We do this all the time and we don’t first get consent or approval to do so. What should be the guiding principle governing gossip?

       What is most important is our intent.  What is our reason for sharing information about others?  Are we sharing information out of concern for the welfare of another person or are we sharing information to make someone look bad because we simply don’t like them?  If we share information about someone to make them look bad, are we doing so in an effort to protect others from harm or danger that we feel could incur from this persons behavior or do we simply enjoy spreading dirt about someone?  Motive is a key dynamic when sharing information about another person.  A Proverb to keep in mind here is this:

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

       As a general rule, we should not be sharing information about someone that is going to place that someone in a bad light.  On the other hand, there is a time and place to be a whistle blower when a greater good may be accomplished by such action.  The difficult part is determining the right time, place and reason. This can be difficult.

       As you may remember, some time back a man named Edward Snowden, a tech specialist who was working as a contracted employee for the National Security Agency (NSA), leaked details about a classified US surveillance program that was able to spy on Americans in some pretty personal ways.  Some hailed what he did as a necessary act of exposing what the US government was able to do to American citizens.  Others felt this was a criminal act that warranted his arrest and imprisonment.  This issue is still being debated while Snowden is apparently hiding out some place in Russia.

       There is an interesting Biblical story in the book of Esther about a whistle blowing situation which very possibly saved the life of king Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush around 486 BC.  The story that unfolds in the first three chapters of Esther is that Xerxes and his queen Vashti were both giving huge banquets for the leaders and even the common people of the various provinces over which Xerxes ruled. 

       At a certain point during these many weeks of continuous celebrations, Xerxes called for Queen Vashti to be brought to a banquet the king was hosting at the time so he could show off her beauty.  It is said that she was very beautiful.  Vashti refused to come.  So the king took counsel with his advisers as to what should be done.  The matter was discussed at length and the general consensus was that if she wasn’t punished for her refusal to appear before the king, all the wives of all the nobles throughout all the provinces would treat their husbands in the same manner.  So it was recommended to the king that she be banished.  

       Esther 1:19:  “Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes. Also let the king give her royal position to someone else who is better than she.

       The king followed the advice of his counselors and banished Vashti and set about looking for a new queen.  Living in the area of the palace and apparently working as a gate keeper was a Jew named Mordecai who had been carried into captivity from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.  Mordecai had a cousin known as Esther who apparently was very beautiful and whom Mordecai had taken to be his own daughter when her father and mother died.

       As the story goes, Esther became one of many women who were considered to be the new Queen and Esther was the one chosen by Xerxes. In the mean time, Mordecai continued to be a gate keeper at the king's gate along with several others of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway.  Two of these officers became angry with the king and conspired to assassinate Xerxes.  Here’s what happened. 

       Esther 2:22-23: But Mordecai found out about the plot and told Queen Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai. And when the report was investigated and found to be true, the two officials were hanged on a gallows.  All this was recorded in the book of the annals in the presence of the king. 

       Now Mordecai was apparently part of group of gate keepers who all knew each other and may even had hung out together.  The point is that when a situation arose where the behavior of two of the gatekeepers became a threat to the safety of the king, Mordecai blew the whistle and tattled on the two gatekeepers who were planning no good against the king. 

       Now Mordecai may have been motivated by a desire to protect his adopted daughter the queen.  After all if the king was killed, so might be the queen.  It is recorded that Esther reported that it was Mordecai who had made the discovery of the assassination attempt.  As the story goes on, the fact that this was reported in the book of the annals in the present of the king later becomes very important in saving the Jews living under Xerxes rule from all being killed.

       The bottom line here is that the sharing of information about the behavior of others must be based on the Golden Rule which states that we are to do unto others as we would have then do unto us.  I am sure Mordecai would have wanted someone to tip him off if someone was planning to kill him. 

       The proverb in 17:9 says “He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends” It would appear that this relates to offences that are not a danger to others.  The Golden Rule should be our guiding principle when sharing information about others.  If we don’t want such information spread about us, we probably shouldn’t be spreading it about others.  However, there are exceptions to this rule when it comes to exposing evil to protect others from harm.  Now let’s move on to our third parable for today.

Proverb #3

       Proverbs 20:21: An inheritance quickly gained at the beginning will not be blessed at the end.

       This parable teaches the principle that one must be mature enough to intelligently handle an inheritance so such inheritance provides a lasting benefit.  The primary Biblical example of this proverb at work is the parable of the prodigal son.  We don’t ordinarily use the word prodigal in our day to day conversation but it is a word that means to be wasteful, extravagant, reckless and uncontrolled. 

       In Luke 15, we have Jesus telling the story of the prodigal son.  He tells of a man who had two sons. The younger son requested that his father give him his share of the estate now rather than latter.   So the father divided his property between the two sons. It wasn’t long before the younger son got together all that was given to him and he set off for a distant country where he squandered his wealth in wild living.

       After he had spent everything he had been given he began to be in need. So he hired himself out to pig farmer who had him feed his pigs.  When he finally realized what had happened to him and how he mishandled his inheritance, he returned to his father who welcomed him with open arms.

       The point of the parable is not so much the squandered inheritance but the fact his father welcomed him with open arms.  The parable is teaching how our heavenly Father is willing to receive us upon are willingness to repent of sin.  But this parable also shows how an early inheritance can be squandered if one is unprepared to properly handle such inheritance.  Now let’s consider the fourth and final parable for today.

Proverb # 4

       Proverbs 20:25:  It is a trap for a man to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider his vows.

       How often we humans quickly and easily commit to doing something only to discover later that we do not have the wherewithal to complete the task or we find that we have promised something without thinking it through and considering the ramifications of what we promised.  A classic example of this is found in the book of Judges.

       Judges 11:30-31: And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD: "If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD's, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering."

       Well Jephthah was successful in war with the Ammonites.  Scripture records that YHWH gave them into his hands. It’s recorded that twenty towns of the Ammonites were devastated. Here’s what happened when Jephthah returned home from defeating the Ammonites.

       Judges 11:34-35: When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, "Oh! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the LORD that I cannot break."

       While it is unclear from the remainder of this account whether Jephthah actually sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering as he had vowed, it is obvious from this account that he realized he had made a rash promise to God that placed him in a very difficult position to say the least.  The Scriptures make it clear that God does not take kindly to failing to fulfill a vow.

       Deuteronomy 23:21-23:  "When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it; for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and it would be sin to you.  "But if you abstain from vowing, it shall not be sin to you.  "That which has gone from your lips you shall keep and perform, for you voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God what you have promised with your mouth.

       Ecclesiastes 5:4-5: When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; for He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed. It is better not to vow than to vow and not pay.

       It is apparent from the Scriptures that if you are going to make a vow or promise to God, you better fulfill it.  Many Christians have bargained with God in promising to do such and such if God would heal them or get them out of some jam they are in.  When a healing does take place or they are delivered from a problem they often struggle to fulfill their promise to God or completely forget about it.  As already seen, Scripture shows God does not take kindly to broken promises.

       What this proverb teaches us is that we must be careful to think before we act.  We should be diligent to consider the consequences of a promise we make and determine beforehand if we have what it takes to fulfill such promise.  As we see in Ecclesiastes, “It is better not to vow than to vow and not pay.”

PART TWENTY-0NE