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COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF PROVERBS: PART TWO

SERMON PRESENTED ON 11-14-15

       Three weeks ago I began a series on the book of Proverbs.  We briefly discussed how the book of Proverbs came to be and how the major theme that runs throughout this book is the attainment of knowledge and understanding and the wisdom to properly use such knowledge and understanding.

       In general, Proverbs describe the consequences of human behavior, either good or bad.  This is what we largely see in the proverbs attributed to Solomon.  Many of Solomon’s proverbs express a contrast between good and bad behavior.  In many of the proverbs Solomon uses figurative language to get a point across.  As we will see in studying the proverbs of Solomon, he uses a great deal of figurative language such as analogy, metaphor and rhetorical exaggeration (hyperbole) to make his points.   Use of analogy is showing something to be like something else.  It involves drawing parallels and making comparisons.

       Metaphor is using the non-literal to represent the literal.  Metaphor often uses symbols to represent the real thing. Hyperbole is the use of language in exaggerated ways to make a point.  Hyperbole takes the use of metaphor to a higher lever.  We will need to be aware of these three types of figurative language used by Solomon as we move through the Proverbs.

       As discussed last time, Solomon emphasizes that knowledge; understanding and wisdom begin with fearing God.  Last time I gave several examples of what it means to fear God. I mentioned last time that we find in the Scriptures around 300 references to fearing God.  Basically to fear God is to honor God by doing all we can to be obedient to His will.  The strong message we see Solomon giving throughout the Proverbs is that if we put God first in our lives and truly dedicate ourselves to obeying Him, the wise application of knowledge and understanding will follow from such submission and obedience.

       The first two chapters and part of chapter three are largely dedicated to showing the value of knowledge, understanding and wisdom and how these three sisters are predicated on our fearing God.  We discussed these tree sisters in some detail last time. Today we will continue our examination of the Proverbs by turning to the latter part of chapter three.  In the latter part of chapter three, Solomon begins to get into some specifics of how we are to behave.  He lists five “Do Not’s.”        

       Proverbs 3:27-31: Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, "Come back later; I'll give it tomorrow"-- when you now have it with you. Do not plot harm against your neighbor, who lives trustfully near you. Do not accuse a man for no reason-- when he has done you no harm.  Do not envy a violent man or choose any of his ways.

       Let’s begin with the first two “Do Not’s” since they are tied together, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, "Come back later; I'll give it tomorrow"-- when you now have it with you. 

       A number of translations render the first verse as “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due.  The NET translation renders it “Do not withhold good from those who need it.”  The Hebrew translated “good” has a wide range of meaning and appears to indicate all things good.

       Solomon appears to be simply saying that if someone is in need and you have the wherewithal to fulfill such need you better do it.  There also may be implication here as to paying a proper wage to those who work for you as some of the renderings of this passage suggest by rendering the Hebrew as, “to whom it is due.”  We certainly see in Scripture that proper behavior toward the needy and the wage earner is a behavior that is expected of an obedient servant of God.

       Galatians 6:10: Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

       James 2:15-16: Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?

       James 5:4: Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.

       Giving to the needy and paying a just wage for work done is an assumed behavior for those who wish to behave righteously.  Here, however, is where knowledge, understanding and wisdom come in.  For example, if someone comes up to you and asks for money to buy food for his family and it is apparent to you this person is not interested in buying food for his family but in buying that next snort of cocaine or that next shot of whiskey, you may not want to give such person any money.  Now it may not always be easy to determine the real intent of such individual. Here is where wisdom comes in.

       You could offer to take such person to the closest grocery store and buy him some food.  If he doesn’t want to do that you probably have your answer as to his intentions with your money.

       We must understand, however, that if we suspect there to be a legitimate need and we have the ability to fulfill such need, we better do so.  We better not put it off by saying, “I’ll do it tomorrow.”  As the proverb says: Do not say to your neighbor, "Come back later; I'll give it tomorrow"-- when you now have it with you.  

       Helping the needy should be a focus in our Christian walk.  But here, like in all areas of life, we must employ the three sisters of knowledge, understanding and wisdom.  There are many voices crying out for donations to dozens of causes.  We all get solicitations in the mail and on the phone to send or give money for this or that cause.  It is important we investigate the organization asking for money before making a contribution.  Unfortunately there have and presently are charity groups that take your money and don’t use it in the way they advertise.

       This being said, we should not allow the existence of bogus charity organizations to be used as an excuse to never contribute to the needs of others.  The proverb says   “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it.”  Our responsibility is to identify those who deserve it and act accordingly.

       The next two “Do Not’s” are associated with each other so we will consider them together.

       Proverbs 3:29-30: Do not plot harm against your neighbor, who lives trustfully near you. Do not accuse a man for no reason-- when he has done you no harm. 

       The immediate question that can be asked here is why would you plot harm against a trusting neighbor?  Why would you accuse a man for no reason?  Why would Solomon have to warn against such behavior?  Because it happens.  It happens because we judge people wrongly.

       Say a new family moves in next door to you and you hear the parents screaming at their children, getting easily upset over the minutest of things and generally showing a great deal of dysfunction as a family.  While these new neighbors reach out to you and want to be friendly, you shun them and show you want nothing to do with them.  You judge them to be some kind of misfits that need to be avoided.  While you don’t plot any physical harm against them you inflict psychological harm by refusing to have anything to do with them.  This kind of stuff happens.

       The family in this example hasn’t done you wrong.  They haven’t done anything to your property.  They haven’t yelled at you or accused you of anything.  Yet you have concluded they are trash, so to speak, and have treated them accordingly.  Now if you would have reached out to them you would have discovered they are both recovering alcohols who twice a week attend AA meetings.  You would have discovered they have a lot of anger issues they are dealing with and have had a rough ride to this point in their lives.

       The example I just gave you is based in part on a real life situation that Barb and I experienced some years ago.  When we were living in Milwaukee, the house next door to the east of us was sold and a new family moved in.  The family was rough around the edges as the saying goes and the father yelled at their children a great deal.  Contrary to the example I just gave, we reached out to them and even baby sat their children.  In the process of getting to know them we learned they were recovering alcoholics, attended AA meetings twice a week and were dealing with a lot of issues in their lives.  Several years later when we decided to move and put up a sign showing our house was for sale, Tom came over and expressed to me great disappointment that we were moving saying we were the first neighbors he ever got along with.  We got along with Tom and Lynn because we developed knowledge and understanding of their situation and related to them accordingly.  Others that had Tom and Lynn as neighbors apparently didn’t do that.

       Getting to know people where they are at is critical to establishing positive relationships.  We all have issues we are dealing with that may affect how we relate to others and deal with situations.  Doing our best to understand each others problems can go a long way toward preventing conflict.

       The fifth “Do Not” is where Solomon says “Do not envy a violent man or choose any of his ways.  Why would you envy a violent man in the first place?

       In its footnotes to this verse, the NET translation explains that the Hebrew word translated violent refers to physical violence, social injustice, harsh treatment, wild ruthlessness, injurious words, hatred, and general rudeness.  Why would anyone want to be like that?  You be surprised.  It is men like that who sometimes become wealthy, influential and powerful.  Because of this, they are actually looked up to.  Historically there have been any numbers of violent people who have attained greatness in the eyes of their followers.  Look at the many political and military leaders of history.  A number of them have been violent, manipulative, harsh and ruthless in their drive to accomplish what they set out to accomplish.  Hitler is a good example of a ruthless, violent man.  Yet look how many people adored him and probably pictured themselves as being like him.  

       Solomon instructs us to not envy such a person, not choose his ways, not  gain wealth, influence or notoriety by practicing physical violence or use injurious words, be rude, ruthless and hateful. That is not the behavior of a righteous man.  The behavior of a righteous man is to do all one can to facilitate the welfare of others.  In other words, practicing the Golden Rule. 

       In Proverbs chapter three and four, Solomon appears to be speaking to his sons and exhorting them to listen to him and follow what he instructs.  Now Solomon’s sons were probably no different than most sons.  Don’t our children by the time they are 10 or 12 know everything?  Often they think they do and therefore they don’t always seriously consider what we tell them as being important or even correct.  Now sometimes we may not give our children the best advice. After all, the advice we sometimes give is often based on our own experiences which may be flawed.

       Solomon, however, was considered the wised man alive at the time.  Now whether his sons knew or understood this we don’t know.  But we understand this because this is what the Scripture reveals.  Since chapters three and four are largely exhortations by Solomon to his sons to listen and embrace wisdom we will move ahead into chapter five where Solomon returns to providing specific instruction on how to behave and begins with reflection on adultery.

       Proverbs 5:3-6: For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave. She gives no thought to the way of life; her paths are crooked, but she knows it not.

       The present infidelity rate in America is around 41%.  The present divorce rate in America for a first marriage is 41%.  You think there might be a connection between infidelity and divorce.  The present divorce rate for a second marriage is 60% and a third marriage is 73%.

       While there are multiple reasons why marriage break-ups occur, infidelity is one of the most notable reasons divorce takes place.  Infidelity shatters trust between spouses and destroys the intimacy that sexual union between married couples is meant to achieve.  We know. The 7th commandment prohibits adultery.  Adultery is used metaphorically by the prophets to show how Israel went after false God’s and broke trust between her and the one true God.  Solomon instructs that adultery destroys a man and I would add a woman as well. He instructs his sons to run the other way when confronted with enticement of an adulteress.

       Proverbs 6:32: But a man who commits adultery lacks judgment; whoever does so destroys himself.

       Proverbs 5:7-9: Now then, my sons, listen to me; do not turn aside from what I say. Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your best strength to others and your years to one who is cruel.

       Now one could conclude Solomon was a hypocrite in instructing against adultery.  Didn’t Solomon have 700 wives and 300 concubines?

       1 Kings 11:1-4: King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh's daughter--Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, "You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods." Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.

       Solomon was considered a man of great wisdom. One could ask how wise was that?  Isn’t Solomon behaving contrary to what he instructs his sons about adultery? While it could be argued that Solomon’s 700 wives were marriages and therefore the law against adultery doesn’t apply, it would appear having sexual relations with 300 concubines did constitute adultery.  Solomon was not married to his concubine.

       Solomon not only had many wives, he had 300 concubines.  Concubines were female slaves.  They were indentured servants and were acquired primarily for sexual purposes.  Solomon must have had some libido.

       Before Israel entered the Promised Land, God, through Moses, gave them specific instructions as to how to conduct themselves and how any future king of theirs should conduct himself.  Part of the instruction pertaining to a king was that he must not take many wives.

       Deuteronomy 17:17: He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray.

       So how do we explain Solomon’s martial/sexual behavior in view of the instruction we see him giving in the Proverbs?  A possible explanation may be found in another writing attributed to Solomon, the book of Ecclesiastes.

       In Ecclesiastes chapter 2, Solomon writes, “I thought in my heart, "Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good." But that also proved to be meaningless."  He then goes on to describe all the things he had done including his acquisition of a harem.  He then draws this conclusion

       Ecclesiastes 2:11: Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

       In reading through the book of Ecclesiastes, one gets the impression Solomon was using himself as a kind of experiment to see if he could identify what it is that brings fulfillment and satisfaction in life.  He used pleasure as the measuring stick for determining fulfillment and satisfaction and this proved to be the wrong approach.  While he experienced delight in all that he had accomplished, he found in the end that such delight was very fleeting and he was always looking for something else to do that he hoped would bring him happiness. 

       It very well may be that Solomon wrote the Proverbs after he had experienced all he writes about in Ecclesiastes.  As we all know, wisdom comes with age. Much of the wisdom expressed in the Proverbs may be an expression of what Solomon had learned through experience.   

        Another explanation for Solomon’s departure from the ideal God set before him is simply the pulls of the flesh which often trump ones understanding of what is right and blunts the exercise of wisdom.  Look at how many Christian ministers have been brought down by adultery and other sexual missteps.  A prime example is the evangelist Jimmy Swaggart.  Swaggart at one point in his ministry was the most watched religious program on television.  Jimmy had a huge following.  Then he publically admitted to having an affair and his ministry empire dissolved overnight although he has significantly rebounded in recent years.

       Swaggart railed against adultery and other sexual sins in his sermons.  He obviously knew God’s will regarding marriage, adultery, fornication and sexuality in general.  Yet he succumbed to the pulls of the flesh like we all do from time to time.   Solomon certainly knew what God wanted of him relative to marriage.  He must have known of what God had revealed to Moses as recorded in Deuteronomy 17 that a king was not to take many wives.

       It is interesting that the instruction was for a king not to take many wives.  Some interpret this to mean it was OK to have more than one wife. To at least have some wives as opposed to just one wife.  Just don’t go wild and acquire many wives.  Others see in this instruction a prohibition against having more than one wife.   We know Jacob had several wives. Gideon was used in a mighty way by God to save Israel from the Midianites and yet it is recorded He had many wives (Judges 8:30).  The righteous king Joash had two wives.  Abijah, a king of Judah, had 14 wives.  In reading through first and second Samuel and 1 Chronicles 3 it is apparent David had multiple wives. Is having more than one wife OK with God?  In Deuteronomy we see regulations pertaining to those having more than one wife.

       Deuteronomy 21:15-16: If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love.

       Do such regulations as these tell us it is OK with God to practice polygamy?  We do not see in Scripture an overt prohibition against having multiple wives. As seen in Deuteronomy, there are actual regulations governing polygamist relationships.

       Is having more than one wife or for that matter a wife having more than one husband OK with God.  There have been Christian groups throughout history who have practiced polygamy based on their belief that having multiple wives is OK with God.  In their early years the Mormons practiced polygamy and then after much persecution over the matter outlawed it in 1890.  However, there are offshoots of the Mormon Church who still practice polygamy. Is polygamy OK with God?  

    While we don’t see in Scripture an overt prohibition against polygamy, neither do we see in Scripture any overt permission for having multiple wives.  What we see in Scripture is a tremendous amount of human behavior on display.  In OT times that behavior included the practice of having multiple wives on the part of some men including men who were leaders in Israel.  Did God approve of these polygamist relationships?

       We must be careful not to confuse approval with allowance.  God gives us free will and allows us to make decisions as to our behavior.  In OT times polygamy was a common cultural practice and it is apparent that men often choose to take on more than one wife. This being the case, God even provided some regulatory instruction relative to polygamist relationships.  However, it is apparent from the Scriptures that God’s intention from the beginning was for marriage to be a monogamous relationship.  Let’s look at a few Scriptures that bear on this issue.

       Matthew 19:3-6: Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?"  "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator `made them male and female,' and said, `For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh' ? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

       1 Corinthians 6:16: Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, "The two will become one flesh."

       The phrase male and female is a statement of sexuality.  Jesus goes on to say, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh,” God is talking about sexual union.  Paul makes it clear that to engage in sexual intercourse is to become one flesh.

       It is sexual union that produces oneness between a husband and wife.  There is no evidence in Scripture that God intended for a man to become one with multiple fleshes.  Everywhere in his letters where Paul discusses sexual relations or marriage he discusses it within the context of one man and one woman. Here is just one of several examples I could give. 

       1 Corinthians 7:2-3: But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband.

       Solomon’s multiple marriages and his relationship with multiple concubines is not what God intended for Solomon.  This was all Solomon’s doing in his quest for pleasure.  More than anything else it was these multiple marriages that brought Solomon down and ruined his kingdom as Scripture shows.  Apparently in his old age Solomon realized the error of his ways and we see him instructing his sons to avoid sexual misconduct.

       We must be careful not to use behaviors we see in Scripture that are not overtly condemned, as being OK with God.  We must always look to the whole of Scripture to learn what the will of God is on any particular issue.

PART THREE