Friday, February 18, 2011

Living in Wisdom, part 2

Visiting the library is a regular feature of our family outings on Saturdays. We load up the back of the van with bags packed to near bursting capacity with books and movies checked out on previous visits and leave again with newly discovered blocks of paper. There is this really neat display right when you walk in the door of newly acquired books, but I have to hustle by them because I want to read every single one of them. Of course, it does not help that that is only the first floor of four, and little displays like little islands populated by tomes young and old, each cry out as I walk past, “Read me! Take me home with you!”

Ok, that one looks interesting. I pick it up, survey the cover, note the author. I flip the book over, looking for a reason that will convince me to read. Just a picture of the author on the back? 98% chance I won’t read it. A synopsis? More of a chance than a list of reviews, unless there are names I recognize. I flip the book open looking for something to tell me what the book is about. I look for an introduction, a preface. Now we are getting somewhere because here I am likely to be convinced to spend my time with this author. Give me a reason to read and tell me what it is about.

The author of the Old Testament book of Proverbs was inspired to do much the same thing. We have already noted the first six verses, where the author tells us why we should read Proverbs. Now we are going to look more closely at what the book is about. Verse 7 basically tells us what is going to be covered all the way through the end of Chapter 2. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7) The book of Job is the oldest book of the Bible and in Chapter 28 there is an ancient and beautiful discussion that fits perfectly in this place.

The statement of verse 7 concerning the fear of the Lord as the beginning of knowledge is so important that it appears again Proverbs chapter 9, verse 10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” There is a point of clarification here that explains exactly what the “fear of the Lord” is: it is knowledge of The Holy One. If one desires to even get started with knowledge and how to use it, one must first have intimate acquaintance with the Holy One, the LORD. This means we must recognize Him as awesome. I was reminded recently of how small the word “awesome” has become: we say, “Those shoes are ‘awesome.’” No, they are not. God is awesome. He deserves such extreme and high reverence that everything else pales—He is incomparable and so completely “other” from everything else: He is the Creator. We get an idea of what this awesome fear is like when we look at Moses who “hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” (Exodus 3:6). If you can’t see what Moses saw, take a look at God’s perfect standard in the Ten Commandments and see how you measure up. “But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” (Isaiah 8:13)

Another aspect to consider here is to understand that those who fear the LORD are loyal to Him, bound up with Him, serve Him and walk in His ways, are faithful to Him, being obedient to His commands. (Psalms 33:18; 118:4; Ecclesiastes 12:13, to name a few) Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep my commands.” (John 14:15). Have you always loved God, every day of your life?

The writer of Proverbs sets up a contrast in verse 7: there are those who fear the LORD and there are fools who despise wisdom and instruction; in other words, there are those who do not fear the LORD. How would you recognize a person like this? Interestingly, the writer makes an appeal to make certain that the one sitting at his feet (as it were) is not a fool (verses 8-9):

  • The not-fool will hear his father’s instruction and will not cast off and walk away from his mother’s teaching. The fool is a quitter, a deserter; 
  • The not-fool is decorated with a garland, a wreath, a trophy, a crown and necklaces. The picture is one who has a “long neck”; in other words, he can hold his head high, not out of pride, but out of a clear conscience from being guilt-free having obeyed.
Charles Bridges (1794 - 1869) observes: "Why then do multitudes around us despise wisdom and instruction?  Because, the beginning of wisdom--'the fear of God'--is not before their eyes (Psalm 36:1).  They know not its value.  They scorn its obligation.  Wise they may be in their own sight.  But surely God here gives them their right name."

Have you always obeyed your parents? Was there ever a time when you felt that your father was full of hot air? Have you ever rolled your eyes when your parents were talking to you?

Remember how we noticed that a “simple” person is one who is easily enticed? Notice verse 10: “my son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.” We are all susceptible to temptation, but we don’t have to give in. This is one of the great blessings of being a follower of Christ and a do-er of His Word: we are saved not merely from the penalty of sin (that is, hell) but we are also saved from the power of sin! We don’t have to consent to sin! So if someone comes along with a proposition you can’t refuse, refuse it!

The enticement of sinners in this case is explained in verses 11-14: they want to murder and steal—and they don’t have to have a reason other than their own covetousness! Notice how they say, “Let us lie in wait for blood, let us ambush the innocent without cause.” These people are convinced they can take on hell itself with even more hellish behavior and take whatever they want. Here’s the truth of the matter: fast-forward to verse 18: “they lie in wait for their own blood; the ambush their own lives.” This is self-destruction. Every person who seeks to gain by doing violence loses his life. What profit is there to gain the whole world and lose the soul?

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