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COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF PROVERBS: PART TWENTY-NINE

                                                 SERMON PRESENTED ON 06-17-17  

       We concluded last week by giving a number of pointers as to how you can implement the lesson of Proverbs 25:19 where Solomon instructs that we should not often set foot in our neighbor's house because our neighbor may get too much of us and may end up hating us.  We will now move on to Proverbs 25:18-20.

       Proverbs 25:18-20: Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow is the man who gives false testimony against his neighbor. Like a bad tooth or a lame foot is reliance on the unfaithful in times of trouble. Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.

       I love the analogies Solomon uses to describe what it is like to be falsely accused of something or to deal with an unfaithful friend in times of trouble. He graphically gets across the negative impact that is caused by unrighteous behavior, either ours or that of others.  We can all image the pain associated with being hit by a club or being pierced by a sword or sharp arrow.  Solomon wants us to virtually feel such pain so that we understand the consequences of giving false testimony and pledge to never do so. 

       Solomon talks about a bad tooth and a lame foot.  We know how painful a bad tooth can be and how a lame foot can interfere with our mobility. Solomon wants us to understand the psychological and possibly physical pain generated by the behavior of an unfaithful friend and make us realize the importance of being a faithful friend. 

       Solomon talks about taking away ones garment on a cold day.  Now that would not be pleasant.  We would become cold in a hurry.  Pouring vinegar on soda would not produce a very pleasant taste.  Solomon analogies these two experiences to singing songs in the presence of one who has a heavy heart.  The implication is that someone with a heavy heart isn’t in the mood for singing or being sung too.  In Ecclesiastes 3:4, Solomon wrote that there is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.  The implication is that a time of mourning does not equate with a time of laughing or dancing.  Neither is it a time for singing when one is experiencing a heavy heart.

       However, while this may be generally the case, it may not always be true. Here is where we need to exercise good judgement.  Funerals are events where the presence of heavy hearts is a virtual given. Friends and family are usually sad at the passing of a loved one. However, funerals are also events where the life of the loved one is often celebrated in uplifting discourse and the singing of uplifting songs.

       When I did Dave Henry’s funeral last month, while there was heaviness of heart at the passing of Dave, His wife Toni wanted an uplifting and joyous memorial service celebrating Dave’s life.  This included the singing of songs and even playing a recording of Dave singing “I’m Just a Flag Weaving American” from our performance of the musical “I Love America.”  In this case the singing of songs at a time of heaviness of heart was welcome and agreed upon in advance.

       The same was true of Roger Vavra’s memorial service several weeks ago where there was the expression of joy in reviewing his very active and rewarding life.  Several songs were sung that reflected on Roger’s way of thinking about things and the life he lived. 

       So while it may not be appropriate to sing songs and promote merriment when someone is experiencing a heavy heart, it may be appropriate to do so when those with the heavy heart desire this to be the case.

       Let’s continue now to look at more pithy sayings from the pen of Solomon.

       Proverbs 25:26: Like a muddied spring or a polluted well is a righteous man who gives way to the wicked.

       The commentaries on this Proverb are rather interesting in that this Proverb is looked at from several perspectives. On the surface, this Proverb appears to be speaking of a righteous man who compromises the moral and ethical standards he is known to live by. It would appear such person allows himself to be led astray by evil doers.  The analogy to a muddied spring or a polluted well is graphic. 

       If you are thirsty and come to a spring or a well only to find it polluted, it is very disappointing.  It is akin to seeking the advice or help of a man known for having high moral standards and being of high integrity only to find out this man isn’t that anymore because he has allowed himself to be influenced by those lacking integrity and moral standards.   

       However, there is another way of looking at this Proverb.  Some commentators see the Hebrew construction of this passage as allowing for the meaning to be that a righteous man’s standing in the community is reduced by the actions of the wicked and not that he has compromised his righteousness by accommodating the wicked.  

       The NET translation footnotes this Proverb in this manner:  “The line may refer to the loss of social standing and position by the righteous due to the plots of the wicked – just as someone muddied the water, someone made the righteous slip from his place.”

       Whichever is the correct intent of this Proverb, the imagery of a mudded spring or polluted well to describe a righteous man who has compromised his righteousness or had it compromised by the actions of others is striking indeed. 

       Let’s finish chapter 25 of Proverbs by looking at the last verse of this chapter. 

       Proverbs 25:28: Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.

       Here is another example of Solomon using an easy to visualize event to describe a harmful human behavior.  We can all visualize a crumbling broken down wall. In the case of a city wall, it is there to offer protection for the city. It is there to keep an enemy from entering the city.  If the wall becomes broken, the city becomes susceptible to danger.

       A wall can be used to keep soil from eroding and causing a washout.  You often see sea walls built to keep water from inundating the land.  I have a wall of stone protecting a portion of my driveway from falling into a flower bed.  That wall is beginning to crumble. Our motor home sits on top of the driveway where the wall is.  I am afraid that some day I am going to find my motor home in the flower bed.  If my wall supporting my driveway should fall it has the potential to cause a lot of damage. 

       A man who lacks self-control is like a broken wall in so much that such a person not only can generate damage to others, but also brings damage to himself.  Lacking self-control can lead to all sorts of damaging interactional problems.  Lack of self-control often leads to violent behavior characterized by fights and even murder.  Lack of self-control can lead to property damage.  Look what happens in cases of road rage where somebody totally loses it and bangs there car into another car or worse yet fires shots at the other car and/or driver.  Just the other day somebody got all upset at a motorcycle driver over some indiscretion and got out of his car and went over and threw the mans motorcycle to the ground in a fit of rage.

       Not only does a lack of self-control cause damage to and for others, it also damages the person lacking the self-control. It’s interesting that the Hebrew word ruwach is used here in conjunction with the word control.  Ruwach is rendered spirit throughout the OT.  Solomon is talking about not having control over your spirit.  Other translations better show this.

       Proverbs 25:28:  He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls (KJV).

       He whose spirit is without restraint Is like a city that is broken down and without walls (RSV).

       The NET translation footnotes this Proverb with the following:

       , “A person whose spirit (רוּחַ, ruakh) “lacks restraint” is one who is given to outbursts of passion, who lacks self-control  This person has no natural defenses but reveals his true nature all the time. The proverb is stating that without self-control a person is vulnerable, like a city without defenses.”

       What is being said here is that a person who fails to control his spirit, like a city with broken walls, opens himself up to all sorts of problems. A person who allows road rage to consume him and acts out his rage in destroying property or injuring another person is going to pay the penalty of being punished with a heavy fine and/or jail time. 

       Failure to control our spirit can cause damage to ourselves as much if not more than damage to someone else.  Therefore, it may be wise to keep this Proverb in mind when a situation arises that prompts us to lose control of our spirit. We may want to visualize that broken wall Solomon speaks of.

       Let’s now turn to Proverbs 26.  In Proverbs 26, Solomon continues to use picturesque language to get across lessons and principles that we can use to guide us through life.

       Proverbs 26:1: Like snow in summer or rain in harvest, honor is not fitting for a fool.

       Proverbs 26:8: Like tying a stone in a sling is the giving of honor to a fool.

       We certainly don’t want to see snow in summer. Snow in summer would mean temperatures below freezing.  Temperatures below freezing could destroy crops, cause damage to trees, shrubs and flowers and make a day at the beach not very pleasant.  Two much rain during harvest time can make it difficult if not impossible to bring in the crops. Tying a stone in a sling would prevent the sling working as a sling shot.  If David had tied the stone to his sling he would not have killed Goliath.  Solomon analogies this to giving honor to a fool.

       Solomon sees incongruities in nature as equivalent to bestowing honor upon a fool.  Just as snow in the summer and rain during harvest is not a normal working of nature, neither is it fitting to honor someone that by his or her behavior has demonstrated a lack of qualification for such honor. The NET translation footnotes this Proverb in the following manner:

       “Honor” in this passage probably means respect, external recognition of worth, accolades, advancement to high position, etc. All of these would be out of place with a fool; so the sage is warning against elevating or acclaiming those who are worthless.”

       Proverbs 26:2: Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow, an undeserved curse does not come to rest.

       In reading the various commentaries on this Proverb, it appears that what Solomon is saying is that just as a bird aimlessly fluttering or darting about fails to land in any specific place, so an undeserved curse will have no effect upon the person it is directed toward. Other translations make this meaning more evident.

        As the bird by wandering, as the swallow by flying, so the curse causeless shall not come (KJV).

       As the sparrow in her wandering, as the swallow in her flying, So the curse that is causeless alighteth not (ASV).

       Some commentators see in the Hebrew construction of this Proverb the indication that not only will a underserved curse have no affect on the recipient of the curse but the intent of the curse will come back upon the person who uttered the curse.  While this is a possible understanding of this Proverb it is not definitive.

       Proverbs 26:4-5: Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.

       On the surface there appears to be a contradiction here.  Solomon says not to answer a fool according to his folly and then says to answer a fool according to his folly.  Biblical scholars have puzzled over this passage with different views presented as to what Solomon was saying here. 

       The answer that appears most probable is that we shouldn’t answer a fool by taking the same approach the fool takes in saying what he is saying.  He may be assuming the thing to be proved. He may be providing information that is irrelevant to what is being discussed. He may be offering up non sequitur arguments where the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises offered.  In other words, don’t use the fool’s methodology in responding to him.  Don’t think like the fool you answering.

       Instead, consider the fool’s line of argument or attack and answer him accordingly. Carefully consider what he has to say and then systematically with sound evidence proceed to dismantle his arguments.  If you don’t do this and fail to respond to the fool, he will think his position is valid and consider himself wise.  Even worse, he may spread his false notions to others and if they are unsuspecting they will accept what the fool has to say and snowball effect takes place where false information continues to spread. 

       Entire social, political and religious systems have developed based on falsehood because a fool wasn’t stopped in his tracks and was allowed to spread misinformation.  Now answering the folly of a fool may not change the fool’s mind but then again it might

       Proverbs 14:33:   Wisdom reposes in the heart of the discerning and even among fools she lets herself be known.  

       Regardless of whether the fool changes his position, it is best we make an effort to change a fool’s way of thinking so he knows his position isn’t acceptable to us and others.  It may prevent the fool from spreading his false or maybe even dangerous position.

       In Proverbs 26: 5-16, Solomon provides a number of pithy sayings about the problematic behavior of a fool and then switches to describing the behavior of a sluggard.  We covered the sluggard issue in a previous sermon in this series I will skip on down to verse 17.

       Proverbs 26:17: Like one who seizes a dog by the ears is a passer-by who meddles in a quarrel not his own.

       Has anyone here ever pulled on a dog’s ears?  If you have, shame on you.  Dogs don’t like that.  They often will snap at you if you do such a thing and rightly so.  Solomon analogizes this to meddling in someone else’s quarrel.  To do so can result in one or both of the parties involved in the quarrel turning on you with the result not being very pretty.

       The Hebrew word translated “meddles” means “to put oneself in a fury” or “become furious.”  Many English translations reflect the Latin rendering of the Hebrew which favors using the word “meddle.”  However, the Hebrew means “become furious” and some translations reflect that.

       Like one who grabs a wild dog by the ears, so is the person passing by who becomes furious over a quarrel not his own (NET).

       Regardless of how it’s translated, the message is that it is not wise to get involved in someone else’s quarrel or argument.  But, what if you see the quarrel escalating into violence?  Here is where you have to exercise caution and good judgement.  You may need to intervene to save someone from an assault.  On the other hand, you may end up getting assaulted.  Unless you are confident you are able to intervene without creating an even more dangerous situation, you may want to stay out of the altercation and simply call 911. 

       Several years ago, Milwaukee’s Mayor Tom Barret was at the Wisconsin State Fair and was walking to his car after leaving the fair when he came across a man and women have a serious altercation where the man was assaulting the women.  Mayor Barret intervened to try and help the women and was himself assaulted and suffered some serious injures. 

       In this day of rampant criminal activity and unrestrained violence, often involving guns and other weapons, it may be the better part of discretion to avoid personal involvement in an altercation and simple call 911 if it is determined there is an assault or potential for an assault in association with a argument or quarrel.

       Proverbs 26:18-19: Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows is a man who deceives his neighbor and says, "I was only joking!"

       When someone behaves in a manner that deceives another and then when the deception is realized says he was only joking it is usually a lie.  He is saying he was only joking because he his deceiving behavior has been discovered as being deceptive and now he is trying to cover his tracks by saying he was only joking. 

       There has been any number of cases over the years where someone brandished a knife or a gun in a public setting only to claim he was only joking. He wasn’t intending to harm anyone.  Even if he wasn’t intending to harm anyone, those around him don’t now that and will perceive his behavior as a threat to their safety. 

       Not only will such behavior be viewed as a threat to public safety but some of that public may react in ways that result in the perpetrator of the deception being attacked or killed.  We all know of situations were someone waved a gun or other weapon in front of police and were shot.  Even if there wasn’t intent to use the gun or the weapon, the police don’t now that and must react accordingly.

       It simply isn’t wise to act deceptively with your neighbor.  Perception is everything in life.  How we are perceived determines how others respond to us.  If we behave in ways that result in a positive response from our neighbor only to have it later determined our behavior was a deception, it’s like shooting arrows into our neighbors heart.  Our neighbor thought one thing of us only to find out what he perceived was based on a deception. Then if such deception is compounded by saying “I was only joking.” It makes matters only worse. 

       Solomon is not talking here about joking around with each other where it is mutually understood that no harm is intended. He is talking about intent to mislead someone to obtain a desired result and when such deception is discovered the perpetrator of the deception passes it off as a joke.  This is not the way to behave toward our neighbor.  This kind of behavior is contrary to the law of love. It is contrary to the Golden Rule. 

       The lesson we learn from this proverb is to always treat out neighbor with integrity and respect and never intentionally mislead him and worse yet pass it off as being a joke. 

       There are several other Proverbs in Chapter 26 that have to do with deception. Let’s take a brief look at them and in so doing close out chapter 26 in our series on the Proverbs.

       Proverbs 26 20-22: Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.  The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man's inmost parts. 

       Gossip often involves deception because gossip often involves the spreading of lies. Where intentional or unintentional, lies are often ingrained in gossip and the more the gossip is spread the greater the lies become.

       We have all played the gossip game.  This is where one person starts with a statement about something and whispers it to the next person who whispers it to the next person and so on.  By the time the information is whispered to the last person in the room and revealed to the group it is hardly recognizable from what the person said that started the whispering. 

       Well gossip is like that.  Even if the original information is true, that information begins to change as word is spread from one person to another and deception is the outcome. If the deception is discovered it can lead to quarrels.  Yet people do like to gossip.  Solomon says the words of gossip are like choice morsels. People relish gossip.  Look at all the gossip magazines you see at your supermarket checkout counter.  

       The lesson we can learn here is that before we spread the word about anything or anybody, we better be sure we have all the original facts and have verified them to be true before we share them with others.  

       Proverbs 26:24-25: A malicious man disguises himself with his lips, but in his heart he harbors deceit. Though his speech is charming, do not believe him, for seven abominations fill his heart.

       This Proverb is also about deception. A deceiver often appears to be quite believable. Hitler appeared very believable to thousands of Germans.  Castro came across as believable to many Cubans.  I recently read a book entitled, “Deadly Medicine and Organized Crime.”  This book provided considerable evidence to inform the reader that advertising of pharmaceuticals is rifle with deceptive information. 

       I know it can be a chore to question everything. But in order to avoid being deceived; approaching much or what we are told with a little skepticism may be our best defense against falling prey to deceit.  This is especially true when it comes to considering the rhetoric of politicians, and in general the rhetoric of the advertizing industry. 

        Our journey through Proverbs has been very illuminating in that the illustrations Solomon offers should help us to better visualize the consequences of wicked behaviors.  Next time, we will begin with Proverbs 27.  We have five more chapters to go on our journey through Proverbs.  I hope this journey has been profitable.   

PART THIRTY