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COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF PROVERBS: PART TWENTY-TWO

SERMON PRESENTED ON 01-14-17

       Last time we got together was December 24 when I departed from my series on the book of Proverbs and gave a sermon appropriate to the season in discussing the various views as to what was the Star of Bethlehem that led the Magi to Bethlehem.  Today we will return to Proverbs and continue discussing the writings of Solomon.  I hope to cover three Proverbs today. Last time we were in Proverbs I spent the entire sermon time discussing Proverbs 21:2 and 3  where Solomon wrote that, “All a man's ways seem right to him, but the LORD weighs the heart,” and verse 2,  “To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.” 

       As I continued looking at the Proverbs in Chapter 21, I found many of them to be quite self explanatory and I don’t feel they require any further exposition.  I also find that Solomon repeats some Proverbs and/or the thoughts contained in such Proverbs.   Therefore, as we proceed with this series, I will comment only on those proverbs I feel could use some additional explanation or where there is opportunity to tie their meaning to more of what the Scriptures have to say on a particular issue.    Today we will begin by looking at Proverbs 21:4.

       Proverbs 21:4: Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin!

       The Hebrew word translated lamp has the basic meaning of to illuminate.  This word can be used of a literal lamp or it can be used in a figurative sense.  We see this word used in a figurative sense throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.  This is certainly how it is being used in Proverbs 21:4. 

       To illuminate something is to throw a light on it.  Haughty eyes and a proud heart illuminate sinful behavior. Such behavior is seen as the lamp or the illumination of the wicked.  The wicked are seen as shinning forth sinful behavior.  Their actions shed light on how they think and what their core beliefs are. Scripture shows that eventually the illumination of wicked behavior catches up with a person and the lamp is snuffed out.

       Job 18:5-7:  “The lamp of the wicked is snuffed out; the flame of his fire stops burning. The light in his tent becomes dark; the lamp beside him goes out.  The vigor of his step is weakened; his own schemes throw him down.

       Proverbs 13:9: The light of the righteous shines brightly, but the lamp of the wicked is snuffed out.

       Proverbs 24:20: for the evil man has no future hope, and the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out.

       It is instructive that we see in Scripture the concept of a lamp also used to teach that God and His word is a lamp to us and that we are to be a beacon of righteous illumination in the world.  There is a song we sometimes sing during Praise and Worship that says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and light unto my path.”  That phrase is taken from one of the songs David wrote.

       Psalm 119:105: Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

       David saw the word of God as a lamp to his feet and a light to his path.  These are metaphors for saying God’s word illuminates the way we are to relate to God and to each other.  God’s word is a lamp in that it illuminates the pathway to righteousness.  

       2 Samuel 22:29: You are my lamp, O LORD; the LORD turns my darkness into light.

       Proverbs 6:20-23: My son, keep your father's commands and do not forsake your mother's teaching. Bind them upon your heart forever; fasten them around your neck.  When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you.    For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life,

       The prophet Samuel saw God as a lamp that turns darkness into light.  Solomon uses the lamp metaphor to show that teaching we receive from our parents can be a lamp because such teaching can illuminate the pathway to correct behavior. It can throw light on the proper way to conduct ourselves and in so doing correct and discipline us when we fall into unrighteousness behavior.  Unfortunately, some parents are a wicked lamp to their children and instead of teaching them righteousness, they teach them the way of wickedness. 

       Solomon saw the lamp of YHWH as the pathway to turning darkness into light and Solomon saw the teaching of righteous parents as a lamp creating light.        

       The concept of being a lamp to radiate light is used in Scripture to project an image, behavior or message that can be recognized by others as something to be copied.  A lamp is used metaphorically in Scripture to be of such nature as to persuade others to share in the light it gives and live lives in harmony with what such light has to offer. Jesus said John the Baptist was a lamp that brought light. What was the light John brought?

       John 5:35: John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.

       John preached a message of coming judgement and a call to repentance and turning back to God.  He spoke of the coming of Christ and is said to have prepared the way for God’s anointed to appear.  John’s lamp must have burned very bright as it is recorded that people went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Due to his preaching they confessed their sins which means John made them to recognize the error of their ways and their need for change.  We could use a John the Baptist or two in our day and age to bring people to see the error of their ways. 

       Jesus said He was the light of the world.  While His being a light involved becoming our Saviour, His being a light also involved His setting a righteous example and teaching the way of righteousness to others. In speaking of Jesus, Matthew records in 4:16 that the people living in darkness saw a great light and on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light had dawned.  Jesus plainly said He was the light of the world. 

       John 8:12: "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

       Light and darkness are often contrasted in Scripture and the contrast is that of righteousness versus unrighteousness. Jesus, as the light of the world, radiated the way of righteousness.  Jesus was the Son of God.  John wrote in his first letter that God is pure light.  In God there is no darkness at all. 

       1 John 1:5-7: This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

       This statement of John’s is very instructive.  To walk in light is to walk as Jesus walked. Jesus walked in perfect righteousness and in so doing was seen as the light of the world.  Jesus perfectly illuminated the light of God.  John said we are to walk in the light that is God and if we do so we have fellowship with God and with one another.  If we do so the blood of the Son of God purifies us from sin.  While we know we will not walk perfectly before God and be a perfect light, our daily goal is to be the brightest light we can be.

       I said earlier we could use a few John the Baptists in the world.  In a very real sense, we all can be a John the Baptist. John the Baptist was seen as a light. Jesus is seen as a light. Jesus instructed that we be a lamp and in so doing radiate light to those around us.

       Matthew 5:14-16: "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

       Notice how we are to be a light.  Jesus said “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds."  We become a light by exhibiting good works.  We do this by practicing the law of love.  We do unto others as we would have them do unto us.  We help those in need.  We bear the fruit of light.  Paul defines what it means to live in the light.

       Ephesians 5:8-9: For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth).

       To live in the light is to produce the fruit that such light is made of, goodness, righteousness and truth.  This is the opposite of darkness which Scripture uses as a metaphor for evil, sinfulness and falsehood.  When Solomon writes of the lamp of the wicked, it is akin to talking about a black light.  You probably have all seen black lights.  They create a very dark shade of light.  They virtually illuminate darkness.  God doesn’t want us to be a black light.  He wants us to be a brilliant white light that impacts the behavior of others. 

       In a prophecy found in Daniel chapter 12, the prophet speaks of a time of resurrection and makes the following statement

       Daniel 12:3: Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.  

       You will notice that Daniel speaks of shinning like the brightness of the heavens within the context of leading many to righteousness. Being a light is tied to leading others to righteousness.  This is what John the Baptist did, this is what Jesus did and this is what we are to do. 

Proverb #2

       Proverbs 21:5-13 are pretty self explanatory so I won’t spend time discussing them.  Proverbs 21:14 may raise some questions so we will take a closer look at this proverb.

       Proverbs 21:14:  A gift given in secret soothes anger, and a bribe concealed in the cloak pacifies great wrath.

       I think we can easily understand that a gift given to someone who is angry with you can soothe their anger.  While some may consider such a gift as bribery and reject it accordingly, the giving of a gift to assuage anger is not bribery as such. Bribery is usually seen as an attempt to influence the behavior of someone so that someone will make a favorable decision on behalf of the person giving the bribe.

       A Judge may take a gift from a defendant in a court case and thus rule in the defendants favor even though the defendant is guilty as charged and should be punished.  A politician may take a gift from a lobbyist which is given by the lobbyist for no other reason but to influence the politicians vote on a matter important to the lobbyist.  I suspect this goes on all the time in government and all levels. 

       This being said, what does Solomon mean in saying, “a bribe concealed in the cloak pacifies great wrath?  Is he saying bribery is OK if it results in pacifying great wrath?

       In a sermon given on 09-10-16, I discussed in some detail the issue of bribery in relation to Proverbs 17:8, where Solomon writes that  “A bribe is a charm to the one who gives it; wherever he turns, he succeeds.”

       I explained that Solomon was not condoning bribery in making this statement.  I showed how Scripture condemns bribery.  When the Israelites gathered at Mount Sinai and were given the Ten Commandants, we see Moses giving then a great deal of additional instruction as to how they were to conduct themselves. This instruction is found in Exodus chapters 20 through 23 and includes instruction to not accept a bribe, which is repeated in Deuteronomy 16.

       Exodus 23:8: Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous.

       Deuteronomy 16:19: Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous.

       The giving and receiving of bribes is associated with dishonest gain and perversion of justice. When Samuel became old and no longer able to rule Israel during the time of the judges, he appointed his sons as judges over Israel.  His sons turned out to be unrighteous judges who accepted bribes from those appearing before them.  Thus justice was perverted.

       So this being the case, what are we to make of Solomon saying, “a bribe concealed in the cloak pacifies great wrath?  That Solomon is not by any stretch of the imagination promoting bribery as a good thing is made manifest by what he says in Proverbs 17:23.

       Proverbs 17:23: A wicked man accepts a bribe in secret to pervert the course of justice.     

       Throughout Scripture bribery is associated with injustice and partiality.  It is especially condemned relative to preventing the administration of justice.  A judge or any person responsible for facilitating a just outcome in a legal case is to avoid bribery at all costs. There is much reference in Scripture to treating people equally when it comes to administrating justice and insuring that the facts of a case are presented objectively and in an unbiased manner.  

       This all being said, how do we interpret Solomon’s statement in Proverbs 21:14 that “a bribe concealed in the cloak pacifies great wrath”?  Is a bribe OK if it pacifies great wrath?  Let’s take another look at this Proverb.

       Proverbs 21:14:  A gift given in secret soothes anger, and a bribe concealed in the cloak pacifies great wrath.

       The key to understanding this passage may be the context in which it is found.  Solomon is not talking here about accepting a gift to pervert justice or to give undue advantage to someone.  He is talking about using a gift to assuage anger.  The Hebrew word translated “bribe” in this passage is shochad which has the general meaning of bribery, gift, present or reward.  The context of Proverbs 21:14 is the diminishment of anger.  Solomon may simply be saying that if the giving of a gift pacifies anger, it’s OK to use a gift in this manner.  Some translators of this passage apparently see it this way and have chosen to render shochad as “present” in this passage.      

        A gift in secret pacifieth anger; And a present in the bosom, strong wrath (ASV).

       Anger is mollified by a covert gift, raging fury by a present under cover of the cloak (NJB).

       This discussion of Proverbs 21:14 demonstrates how difficult translation can be.  Translation involves not only trying to match the meaning of a word or phrase in one language with the meaning of a word or phrase in another language, it also involves trying to determine the intent behind what a person wrote.  This can lead to some very disparate renderings of a Biblical passage.  

       For example, in John Gill’s Commentary, Gill points out that the Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic language renderings of Proverbs 21:14 are based on a totally different perspective as to what Solomon was saying in this passage.  These translations render the second part of this passage in this manner

       "he that spareth gifts stirreth up strong wrath".

       Here the perspective is that Solomon was saying that a gift held back from a person who expects it is their right to have will become very angry if such gift is withheld.  As can be seen, this is a very different perspective than that general found in English renderings of this passage.

Proverb #3

       The remaining Proverbs in Chapter 21 are self explanatory so I won’t address them.  I will now turn to Proverbs 22:2.

       Proverbs 22:2: Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all.

       Several years ago I gave a sermon on the issue of predestination.  I discussed Calvinism verses Arminianism. The theologian John Calvin taught that God predestines everything that happens, whereas theologian Jacob Arminius taught that free will is the dominate dynamic as to why things happen the way they do.

       Proverbs 22:2 is one of the Scriptures used by Calvinists to support their view. They will look at Proverbs 22:2 and say that God makes some people rich and others he makes poor. Donald Trump is rich because God made him that way and the street person living at the mission in downtown Milwaukee is poor because God made him that way.

       Is Solomon saying YHWH makes some rich and others He makes poor?   No he is not.  As I discussed and demonstrated from Scripture in my sermon on predestination and free will, it is apparent God does predestinate the outcome of some events.  To predestinate is to predetermine the outcome of something and manipulate events to accomplish such outcome. There certainly is evidence for predestination in Scripture.

       It is also apparent, however, that a major dynamic that God has predestinated is the dynamic of freewill.  We humans have been given the ability to choose between alternatives.  Most of human activity and experience appears to result from the exercise of freewill.  While God may at times interfere with our exercise of freewill to accomplish a certain purpose, all evidence points to God allowing us to freely make choices and live by the consequences of the choices we make.

       Some try to tie 1 Samuel 2:7 to Proverbs 22:2 as evidence that God makes the rich, rich and the poor, poor.

       1 Samuel 2:7: The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts.

       Yes God does do this at times.  But look at the context. YHWH sends poverty and wealth to humble and exalt.  Nebuchadnezzar is a good example of God exalting someone, humbling them and then exalting them again.  The book of Daniel records that God gave Nebuchadnezzar great wealth and authority as king over Babylon but when Nebuchadnezzar failed to give God the glory for what he had been given, God took it all away and for seven years Nebuchadnezzar was a crazy man living in the fields with the animals eating grass.   When he came to his senses and realized God as the source of what he formally had, God exalted him to his previous position. 

       However, there is no Scriptural reason to believe God does this kind of thing with every human on earth.  In general, people become rich or poor as a result of the fortuitous dynamics of life such as education, environment, the presence or absence of opportunity and simply the free willed choices we all make.

       Therefore, when Solomon writes that, “Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all,"  Solomon is not talking about YHWH making the rich, rich and the poor, poor. He is simply saying that whether a person is rich or poor, God is their creator.  God is the source of all human life.  However, what we do with that life has a great deal to do with our exercise of the freewill God has given us and the choices that ensue from that freewill.

PART TWENTY-THREE