Our reading for today takes us back to the proverbs of King Solomon. But, these were not recorded during his reign. It was during the reign of King Hezekiah (728-686 BC) that wise men collected these proverbs of Solomon and added them to the collection. There are a couple of observations that can be made here. First of all, the wisdom tradition concerning Solomon was prodigious. We read in 1 Kings 4:32 that during his lifetime, King Solomon spoke 3,000 proverbs and his songs numbered 1,005. The fact that King Hezekiah’s wise men compiled more of Solomon’s proverbs shows that Israel’s interest in wisdom was much stronger in times of relative peace. They were also more popular when there was a vital royal court life in Jerusalem. Third, Hezekiah’s involvement in the collecting of Solomon’s proverbs was a mark of the strength of his rule. And we see Hezekiah working to restore Solomon’s glory as one of Israel’s greatest kings.
Chapter 25 begins with instruction for young men who might be entering royal service. Solomon tells them that some things cannot be understood, including the king’s sometimes mysterious reasoning. Because there are so many random proverbs in this reading I am going to touch on just a few of them. So, here goes. Silver is valuable only after the impurities are removed. That means the wickedness needs to be removed from the king for his throne to be rightly established. In other words, the king’s court can do justice when the wicked people are removed. A little bit of evil can spoil much good. In this reading we find some proverbs that Jesus used when He was teaching. Chapter 25:6-7 can be found in Luke 14:11. Here Solomon tells us that the best way to gain an audience with the king, a wise person will approach with humility and not pride. We can go back to Proverbs 16:18 to see what happens to one who is filled with pride. “Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Jesus used this to tell the religious authorities to not exalt themselves. Knowing your place is a recurring theme in the Bible. It is humiliating to be told to remove yourself from a seat of honor. Jesus spoke of a need for deference. And the reference to ‘whom your eyes have seen’ is a reminder that there was a custom in the ancient world to never look directly into the eyes of a superior unless told to do so.
Again in chapter 25 we see words that Jesus used. When we arrive at verses 21-22 we are reminded to give our enemies food and drink. Contrary to expectation, compassion toward an enemy is more effective than anger. We find Jesus using these words in Matthew 5:43-48. This is part of the Sermon on The Mount. Jesus tells us, “You have heard it said you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. “ My father would say you can catch more flies with honey that you can with vinegar. Solomon is saying that when we do nice things for our enemies it may well cause our enemies to feel shame. And heaping coals of fire on someone’s head speaks of God’s judgement. In the ancient Near East to heap burning coals on someone’s head was terrible punishment, and it was reserved for the wicked. Solomon could have painted this picture as one of kindness in that though this would be painful, the consequences might win an enemy over. There was also an Egyptian ritual of expiation (making amends) where a guilty person, as a sign of repentance, carried a basin of glowing coals on their head. So, Solomon could also be saying that in returning good for evil, and so expressing kindness to an enemy, a person might motivate that adversary to repent or change.
Some proverbs are more than a bit confusing. Take, for instance, Proverbs 16:4-5. Proverbs are often context sensitive. Whether or not to answer the foolish argument depends on what kind of fool and what kind of situation. The phrase according to his folly appears twice as a play on words with two shades of meaning. On the one hand, it means avoid the temptation to stoop to their level; that is don’t use their methods because then you will be like them. On the other hand, it means avoid the temptation to ignore them all together; that is respond in some way or another or they will think themselves wise in their own eyes when they aren’t. And, their folly will get worse. Another topic of proverbs for Solomon was people who are lazy. Chapter 26:13-15 speaks to this along with many other places, like Proverbs 22:13. These proverbs about those who are lazy seem to have a can you top this quality about them that provides comic relief. The lazy person is the object of many jokes in scripture, and this set of verses has several. Each one belittles laziness and the many outrageous excuses people use to justify their laziness.
The following verse speaks to getting involved in other people’s business. The problem with taking a dog by the ears is that the dog will not like it, and may well bite. The same is true of getting involved where we don’t belong. People might not bite but they may snap!
In 26:24-26 we are reminded that people are not always what we see. Many of us wear masks of one kind or another because we do not want anyone to see what we are thinking or feeling. Here Solomon tells us that sometimes people hide evil attitudes and wicked intentions through flattery. In the end, the true hatred of smooth talkers will be exposed. A person who hates says one thing but stores up anger within. This anger grows and festers and there is a point where it can no longer be contained. It has been said that being angry at someone is like drinking poison and expecting that other person to die. The person who hides may find that their hatred hurts them. And in a life where there is so much falsehood, eventually no one will believe them no matter how gracious and truthful they may be at times. Solomon also reminds us that their wickedness will be revealed before the assembly. When we find ourselves lamenting the unfairness of the prosperity of the wicked we need to keep Psalm 73:16-17 in mind. Their end will more than compensate them for the evil they have done.
Many may have recognized Proverbs 27:17, “iron sharpens iron.” Some of our wisdom comes from interactions, often critical, with a good friend, teacher or even pastor. We could translate this “Let iron sharpen iron, also as let a person sharpen their friend.” We grow from interactions with one another. Verses 23-27 speak of and affirm diligence and describe its practical rewards. The model Solomon uses is that of a farmer who cares for his flocks and herds. If he diligently cares for them, in time they will care for him. Agricultural property can provide food and a living from generation to generation. However, these resources require continuous labor and attention or they disappear like riches that are not tended to. The law is important to Solomon in the Book of Proverbs. Chapter 28:4-5 reminds us that without the law, there is chaos, and because of that the wicked flourish. Evil people seek gain by breaking the law. But justice ensures that they are punished and the righteous are rewarded. When a person abandons God’s law they lose all sense of right and they wind up praising the wicked. We know that true justice comes from God, but the ungodly have trouble understanding it. This is why the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. If we do not fear the Lord, if there is no awe, reverence, or respect for Him we will not know Him and we will not have wisdom.
Another reminder for us from Solomon is the issue of pride. Chapter 28:25-26 tells us that one of the causes of strife is pride. But if we trust in the Lord we will know blessings. Our security can only come from trusting the Lord and not relying on ourselves. Those who are greedy fight to control circumstances so as to gain riches. Trusting the Lord allows the wise to face life calmly and, ironically to experience prosperity. The one who walks in wisdom listens to the advice of others but those who trust in their own knowledge and insights show themselves to be foolish. There are a couple of nuggets in chapter 29 as well. We begin with righteousness in authority. People respond to good governance and justice. But justice is not served by bribes, either giving or receiving them. Good government is not established that way either. A just king looks out for the rights of others but a ruler who is willing to accept bribes is using his office strictly for his own personal gain. And finally, verses 15-17. The words rod and rebuke both speak of correction or discipline. An undisciplined child shames everyone, especially their parents. And verse 17 places the burden of correction on the parents. Wisdom is not instinctive. It must be taught, and the wise will accept divine guidance from God’s law, the guide to His will. When there is no revelation, no Word from God, people flounder. True happiness is discovered within the constraints of revelation, in the counsel of the Savior. There are many more proverbs. This is just a smattering, but they will give you a flavor of what Solomon and others were speaking about.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W