A proverb is a self contained unit that presents a capsule of truth about life, the world, and the way God works. The Book of Proverbs contains many hundreds of these sayings of the wise. They are written in Hebrew poetic style and there are a number of varieties of parallel units. By this I mean the second line of the proverbs restates the first in slightly different terms. Both lines say close to the same thing but the second point or restatement drives the point home. There are also parallels where the second line expresses the thought negatively, but once again it reinforces the positive idea. And there are parallels where the second line completes the thought of the first. Here the two lines are incomplete without each other. Often these proverbs use bold imagery. Sometimes they state what is obvious to all, and sometimes they reveal what cannot be seen by direct observation. A proverb is memorable and transferable. For instance a modern parable would be like saying a stitch in time saves nine. This comes from the knowledge that fixing a lose thread when it first begins to loosen saves the trouble or resewing the whole seam later. This is a short statement that is easy to remember, and the meaning can be used in other circumstances as well.
The Hebrew proverb typically compares a principle with an ordinary human experience to illustrate its truth. For example proverbs 21:7 speaks of the love of wine and oil to illustrate the danger of indulging in luxury. Everyone has a felt desire to have the best. This proverb does not say having nice things is wrong. It reminds us that having the best of everything should not be our primary focus. Concrete examples in the proverbs encourage us to see the truth of the proverb and apply it to our lives. As we read, it is important to keep in mind that most proverbs are generalizations, not promises or predictions for the future. They report what we observe to be true most often, or what we can reasonably expect God to do. All of them rely on the assumption that final outcomes include eternity…which is another way to say that things might not turn out the way we had hoped for in this life. In keeping with this, the verbs used in most proverbs use a tense that depicts actions repeated regularly, indicating that proverbs should be treated as guidelines.
One of the words we saw a lot in the reading for today was righteousness. This is typically contrasted with the wicked or foolish in proverbs. Righteousness can refer to many things. It can mean conforming to an ethical or moral standard. It occurs in reference to honorable business dealings and proper speech. The term is often used in relation to one’s standing with legal authorities, either human or divine. The word is frequently found in the context of other legal terms such as judgement or justice. Righteousness, judgement, and justice are declared to be the foundation of God’s throne, and it is associated with our deliverance. This is the context in which we find the name for the Lord; the Lord is Our Righteousness. Righteousness is synonymous with rightness or being upright, and it is considered an attribute that implies a person has been judged as leading a life that is pleasing to God. And from the psalms we read that many things identify a righteous person. These include being happy, not walking in the counsel of the wicked, not standing in the path of sinners or sitting in the seat of scoffers. One who is righteous delights in the law of the Lord and they meditate on God’s law day and night. This comes from Psalm 1.
Those who obey the wisdom taught in God’s Word are often much better at handling what the world throws at them. But proverbs is not a collection of formulas for success that we use as we please. When the writer of proverbs wrote all of these he spoke of the wise and the foolish. There is wisdom and folly. But folly here does not mean stupidity and the woman Folly is not a moron. Both of these are references to sin. From 10:1-22:26 the terms wisdom, understanding, integrity, and knowledge are synonymous references to holiness. Their opposites, fool, folly, simple, mocker, quarrelsome and others refer to wickedness. So a foolish person is not slow or stupid. They are reckless and scoundrels. A mocker is not just disdainful but a rebel against wisdom. So, following God’s wisdom is a full time endeavor. Firstly His Word works in our hearts and transforms our character. Once that happens we can become the kind of people God can guide and bless. And if we are concerned with making a life then we need Godly character. This is why the words righteous and righteousness are found so many times in the Book of Proverbs.
Wisdom leads in the way of righteousness (8:20), and in the way of righteousness is life (12:28). The prospect of the righteous is joy but the hopes of the wicked come to nothing (10:28). The wicked have hopes but they are false hopes. But when we trust in the Lord, our hope is real, life giving, and it leads to eternity. True righteousness isn’t just toeing the line and obeying rules. In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us that it is possible for anyone of us to obey the law outwardly even while we are cultivating sin within. The way for us to be righteous before God is to trust Jesus Christ and receive His righteousness as God’s free gift. And when people are right with God, He leads them in the right paths (4:11) and teaches them right things (8:6). Then our hearts and minds are filled with right thoughts (12:5), and our lips speak right words (21:16). Our work is then right (21:8) because God works in us and through us to accomplish His will (Philippians 2:12-13).
Looking back over what we have read so far in Proverbs we have seen that the way of wisdom is similar to a pilgrim walking a path. And, when we follow God’s wisdom, He protects, directs, and perfects our path. God wants badly for us to walk in the way of goodness and walk in the paths of righteousness (2:20). Not only are we invited to walk in the path of righteousness but we are also cautioned to avoid the evil men who would have us leave the paths of righteousness to walk in the ways of darkness (2:13). There have been stories of road signs at intersections in rural America that say be careful what rut you take, you will be in it a long time. God has allowed us to choose which path we will take, that of righteousness or that of the wicked. There are many blessings that come to those who have chosen to walk the path of righteousness.
First of all we will experience God’s direction (11:5). God will direct the paths of those who choose to trust and obey (3:5-6). God wants His children to know His will (Acts 22:14) and enjoy doing it (Ephesians 6:6). But the Lord only reveals His will to those who are willing to obey it (John 7:17). When we walk the path of God’s righteousness we will experience deliverance (11:6). This does not guarantee smooth sailing and no challenges in life. We will have our share of troubles and challenges but the Lord has promised that everything will be worked out for good (Romans 8:28). When we experience challenges the Lord hears and acts (Psalm 34:17). Being obedient and walking the path of righteousness means that our eyes are focused on things that will not lead to trouble for us. We may know suffering but God will walk with us through it all (12:13).
Volumes have been written about the path of righteousness and the Lord’s righteousness. Suffice it to say that of all the choices we have, this is one of the most important. God has allowed to decide if we will choose a life in and with Him or if we will choose to reject Him. The choice is ours but the consequences are vastly different. I don’t know about you but the words a from Joshua come to mind here; “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W