“Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all the unfortunate. open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.” – Proverbs 31:8-9 (NASB)
The last chapter of Proverbs is made up of two poems which are generally attributed to a person named King Lemuel. The more familiar is the second one called “The Excellent Wife” verses 10-31. The first is “The Wise King” verses 2-9. We don’t know much about King Lemuel, other than what is revealed in Proverbs 31. The name Lemuel means “for God” or “devoted to God.” Based on this one passage we know that Lemuel was a king, he had a wise mother, and he wrote some poetry. Many commentators have surmised that Lemuel is actually King Solomon—in which case the mother would be Bathsheba. Others suggest King Hezekiah or that Lemuel and his mother are characters created Solomon as a picture of an ideal king and queen mother. The counsel from King Lemuel’s mother is good advice for any leader of men. Plead for those who cannot plead their own case, namely those who are otherwise ruined by their condition of weakness. A country’s leaders duty was to righteously uphold the case of the helpless in both physical (v. 6) and material (v. 9). May the Lord grant us many rulers like King Lemuel heeding this advice.
“Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar.” – Proverbs 30:5-6 (NASB)
These are “the words of Agur the son of Jakeh the oracle.” We can only suggest that Agur was an otherwise unknown sage who could have been a student or teacher of wisdom at the time of Solomon. The words are identified as an oracle which was often used of the words of a prophet. The verses or proverbs we’ve selected compare the certainty of God’s revelation and the uncertainty of our speculation of what God’s words mean. Stating that every word of God is ‘tested’ is literally translated ‘tried’ in verse 5. The same teaching comes to us in Psalm 12:6 “The words of the Lord are pure words; As silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times.” Proverbs 30:6 delivers a powerful affirmation on the inspired nature of God’s canonical Word to Israel. To add to or subtract from God’s Word is to deny God as the standard of truth. The same instruction and warning are given in Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32. It is a first and frequent practice of false teachers to modify the words of God. The Bible concludes with the warning again in Revelation 22:18-19 with a more dire warning.
“A man who hardens his neck after much reproof will suddenly be broken beyond remedy.” – Proverbs 29:1 (NASB)
It was during the reign of King Hezekiah that 137 proverbs spoken by Solomon were copied into the collection in chapters 25–29. Solomon warns us of the danger of fighting God’s will in our life. Resistance can leave us useless. In Exodus 4:21 is the first mention of a heart being hardened. The Lord’s direct and personal involvement in the affairs of men to accomplish His purposes is revealed when God informed Moses what would happen with Pharaoh. Pharaoh was also warned that his own refusal would bring judgment on him (Exodus 4:23). God told Moses that Pharaoh would certainly refuse* (Exodus 3:19). In the letter to the Romans the Apostle Paul used this hardening as an example of God’s enigmatic will and absolute power to intervene as He chooses, yet never without loss of personal responsibility for actions taken (Romans 9:16–18). The theological conundrum posed by such interplay of God’s acting and Pharaoh’s acting can only be resolved by accepting the Biblical record as it stands and by taking affirmative refuge in the omniscience and omnipotence of God who planned and delivered Israel from Egypt, and in so doing also judged Pharaoh’s sinfulness.
* This interplay between God’s hardening and Pharaoh’s hardening his heart must be kept in balance. Ten times (Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17) the historical record notes specifically that God hardened the king’s heart, and ten times (Exodus 7:13, 14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34, 35; 13:15) the record indicates Pharaoh hardened his own heart.
“When a land transgresses, it has many rulers, but with a man of understanding and knowledge, its stability will long continue.” – Proverbs 28:2 (ESV)
Another promise that warns of bad actions. This is meant for the land or country ruled by unrighteous leaders. Unrighteousness in a nation produces political instability, with many vying for power. The tenure of each leader is shortened. But wisdom promotes social order and long rule. Poor leadership creates instability on a national level. This is not only true in the current state of most countries today but it has been true over the centuries before and since these proverbs were written. Avarice leads to greed for power and control. False promises abound to the point that the people of a land cease to trust what their leadership says. Does any of this sound familiar these days? There is a promise that is good and true in the second part of the proverb. We can acknowledge God’s hand in the perpetuation of the state led by men of understanding and knowledge. The long and prosperous reigns of the kings of Judah – the Southern Kingdom are strongly contrasted with the records of Israel after the ten tribes split and formed the Northern Kingdom where not a single king is called Good.
“The crucible is for silver and the furnace for gold, and each is tested by the praise accorded him.” – Proverbs 27:21 (NASB)
Praise is enjoyable often sought after as a means to shape bolster our self-image and confirm that we have what we desire from others. It is a part of our natural man to desire acclimation and approval from others. Some seek it diligently and strategically and others take it as it comes and do not live for it. No matter, we each find it very difficult to perform before others without doing the self-evaluation on “how we did.” We want to be found worthwhile, capable and proficient to do our assigned tasks. We do not attain excellence every time and sometimes we flop miserably. With our proverb today is another with a similar lesson. Proverbs 27:19; “As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects man.” Not only do we seek affirmation from our peers and the congregations but we seek it from ourselves. Our hearts reflect what we are. Looking for acceptance and even celebrity status is like spending too much time in front of a mirror fretting over our appearance. The looking glass will only return what we really are just as our heart reveal our true motivations.
“Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows and death, so is the man who deceives his neighbor, and says, “Was I not joking?” For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down.” – Proverbs 26:18-20 (NASB)
Perhaps we can recognize in today’s proverb verses the effect of the anonymity that social media provides. It is too easy for one to be reckless with our words and when challenged claim “this is sarcasm.” The wild and reckless archer is referred to first in verse 10 and is a picture a troublemaker. After deceiving his neighbor he tries to duck responsibility when accused by saying “I was only joking.” But that is humor in bad taste. Deceptive words and harsh conversation, like deadly arrows, the damage to another’s reputation has already been done and rarely can be recovered. Our promise is a warning against the damage course jesting or speaking in sarcastic or disingenuous form. Rather we are encouraged to act wisely and to not add any fuel to a simmering temper and so let hard feeling calm down. Even more, keep it close to our chests and not give it the wings of gossip by whispering it in hushed tones. The better way to respond is to not employ a busy tongue which makes trouble where it does not find any.
“If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the Lord will reward you.” – Proverbs 25:21-22 (NASB)
Today the Proverb we look at may likely be one of the more familiar and frequently heard. The Apostle Paul quotes this in Romans 12:13 as part of his instruction for us to not seek revenge for wrongs. It is better Paul says to “leave room for the wrath of God.” What is our promise for today? It is the promise of a reward we receive by choosing a ‘better way,’ a way God has given to us on how we should be dealing with the conflicts others bring into our life. The heathen code of morals doe not contain this perfection of love. Ultimately every system concedes to selfishness which is found in the heart of every person. The common principle was to love those that love us. Enemies were expected and it was hatred and revenge that was understood by all while this principle of “heaping hot coals,” through an expression of love, resulting in an enemy’s softening was not understood. This principal was taught by Jesus as how to live ‘Kingdom life’ in Matthew 5:43-48.
“My son, fear the Lord and the king; Do not associate with those who are given to change, for their calamity will rise suddenly, And who knows the ruin that comes from both of them?” – Proverbs 24:21-22 (NASB)
What are we to do when we find in Scripture directions and instructions that seem unreasonable? Are we to think that “surely it doesn’t really mean that” and go on creating an adapted meaning that fits our reason? No. Today’s passage instructs us to fear the LORD (No problem with that is there?) and the king! This is identifying our responsibility to whoever, by any title, is our head of state. Our independence naturally kicks against submission. We hear the cry for the sovereignty of the people. As the picture of those manipulators has been drawn to life nearly two thousand years ago—“walking after the flesh—despising government—presumptuous, self-willed—not afraid to speak evil of dignities.” Such men love change for the sake of change. The leaders of the parties disturb the public peace, by promising changes, however without any assurance of fulfillment.* Loyalty to the king is proper because he is the agent of the Lord’s wisdom—believe it or not; (Deuteronomy 17:14–20; Romans 13:1–7). That loyalty includes having no part with rebels who seek to subvert or overthrow the king (“change”). Peter draws on this verse in his call to good citizenship in 1 Peter 1:17; 2:17.
* Charles Bridges, An Exposition of the Book of Proverbs, (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1865), 387.
Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it. When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings like an eagle that flies toward the heavens.” – Proverbs 23:4-5 (NASB)
The precepts of a Christian life can be found clearly in Scripture. All it takes is to pay attention to what is there, to what we read in the Bible, and examine carefully with Scripture what we hear and read elsewhere. It is not rare for a teaching to be found contrary to explicit truth in the Word of God. Today’s passage is one such time or example. There is an overwhelming flood of false teaching we call the ‘prosperity gospel.’ It teaches that wealth is evidence of blessing and is available to any who will ‘claim it.’ It is not wrong or evil to be wealthy and to work hard and be rewarded with bountiful returns. God does provide abundance to his children but when he does, we are to use our abundance to glorify God. So, today we have a Proverb that gives us a specific caution and the reason for the caution. The wearisome pursuit of prosperity wealth style should not even be considered as a goal in life. Why? Because all things rich and poor are temporary. Here today, it’ll be gone tomorrow and we can’t take it with us when we leave this earth.
“Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise, and apply your mind to my knowledge; For it will be pleasant if you keep them within you, that they may be ready on your lips. So that your trust may be in the Lord, I have taught you today, even you. Have I not written to you excellent things of counsels and knowledge, To make you know the certainty of the words of truth that you may correctly answer him who sent you? ” – Proverbs 22:17-21 (NASB)
Our longer than usual passage today is reminiscent of 2:1-5; and 5:1-2. It cautions us to be alert to hear and speak the wisdom of God. It is within human nature, which is fallen and without hope apart from God, that we will tend to disregard the words of the wise and even the words we read in our Scripture. The term in verse 20; excellent things, is literally “chief proverbs.” These verses which make up our passage is an introductory section of exhortation. What follows are a collection of words for the wise worshiper of God. The instruction “Incline your ear” is better translated “Bow down your ear,” Just as we might lean in and bow down to hear an elder person offer good words of advice or instruction and so that we will catch all that they have to say. Such words from God that follow and continue through Proverbs 24 are words of value and words we should heed with all diligence. If we do, there are many promised delivered to us as well as many warnings and cautions.