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Lecture 7: The purpose of a godly character (2:12-22)
- Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse,
- who have left the straight paths to walk in dark ways?
- who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil,
- whose paths are crooked and who are devious in their ways.
- Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman, from the wayward woman with her seductive words,
- who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God.
- Surely her house leads down to death and her paths to the spirits of the dead.
- None who go to her return or attain the paths of life.
- Thus you will walk in the ways of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous.
- For the upright will live in the land, and the blameless will remain in it;
- but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the unfaithful will be torn from it.
I. The Purpose of a Godly Character 2:12-22
A. Further Review on Conditions
For the production of the Godly character; there are the conditions of storing up, pay attention, call out and seek. These lead to the consequences of the religious education and ethical education. We also noted that it is alternating parallelism between the religious education of 5-8 and the ethical education of 9-11 and the alternating is A B C and A’ B’ C’. So the A is a summary statement in verse 5, which has to do with a religious education; you will find the Fear of the Lord, the knowledge of God and theology. That matches verse 9 of the ethics; then you will understand what is right and just and fair. These are ethical terms. The summary statement is now substantiated for it gives the reason why this religious education and ethical education occurs. So the summary begins with verse 5, understand and verse 9, understand. And the next talks about wisdom and knowledge. In verse 10, you have wisdom and knowledge. In verse 6 this is coming from the mouth of God and in verse 10 that wisdom and knowledge is now entering into your heart. This is due to accepting, storing up, paying attention, crying out and seeking and therefore in that physiological stay, the spiritual reality of God enters into your heart and therefore you know God and your character is formed so that you understand the Fear of the Lord. Then he prepares you for the second half and the point of that is to see that the Lord is going to protect you. He is going to stand behind this and then your character is going to protect you and so you have a double protection as seen verse 7b and 8, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones. So it is God who is guarding you and protecting you. Verse 11 is the parallel, the C’, discretion will protect you and understanding will guard you. Notice the Chiasm that is being used that ties these two things together and the reversal in verse 8, it guards and protects and in verse 11, it protects and guards. It is like a double protection. I think the two are inseparable and operative at the same time.
B. The Word of God
This person I knew had memorized the Quran in Arabic because he wanted to have the word of god. He memorized it but he didn’t speak Arabic nor understand what he had memorized. He thought he had the word of god (Allah), for the Muslim the word of god (Allah) are the words in Arabic as that to them is god’s language. For us the Word of God is the message with Hebrew and English only being symbiotic signs, the representation of the message; so the Word of God is not so much the words as the content and substance of what is being communicated. This is to the extent that your target language represents signs as much as the Hebrew language are representing. Therefore, we can say that the English translation is the Word of God. There are things that we have no taste for because of what God has put into our hearts. It is as if sin of such things and Godliness in our hearts cannot dwell together. Proverbs 4:18 relates to this as it reads, the path of the righteous is like the morning sun shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble. It is new every day; thus if we let this newness, the Word of God enter us daily; it will not allow the dirtiness and ugliness of the world to dwell with it. This is growth in God.
There is the safeguard from wicked men. Here again, we get alternating parallelism. Part A represents the summary purpose in deliverance from wicked men; a description of this follows of the wicked man and his path. And then in V 16 there is a summary of the wicked woman and its description and a description of her path. So it is an A B and C again. Let us look at A, the purpose of the wicked men. Verse 12, it says that wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse. The phrase, ‘of wicked men’ is in 1:8 and 1:10 -19. There are words that entice a person that will get some harmless soul. They haven’t done us any harm but we are going to plunder them, taking everything they have from them. The ways wicked men and their words are seen in 1:10-19, especially 1:10-14. Notice, those who have left the straight paths in order to walk in the dark ways, they have abandoned their covenant community. Because they are of the circumcised, they are leaving the straight paths they have been taught. It assumes a different kind of a culture. For our culture, the pagan never had an inheritance to walk in that way. They delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil. This reminds me of Romans 1:18 where the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They rejoice in the evil of today’s television shows and laugh at adultery and immorality taking place before your eyes. They delight in it. In CS Lewis, he argues that children know right from wrong and they’ll say that is not fair; where did that come from? Children do have a conscience. One such program about where does the discrimination between good and bad begin? It was done by a psychologist from Yale University. They had children under one year old and they had two teddy bears; one would plunder the other and the other teddy bear was very kind. They figured out that they could tell which teddy bear the children would like by the one they watched. The children quickly turned away from the bad teddy bear and watched the good teddy bear. They changed the age level to three months old and the same thing happened. Another document written to the youth of Israel who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in evil; in the context at marriageable age as instructed in the covenant community, I think it may be applicable to all people. I suspect that he has in mind the covenant community and those who the lesson is for is nominal Israel.
D. Paths of Death
So their paths are crooked and devious in their ways in verse 2:15. Parallel to that, Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman, from the wayward woman with her seductive words. Notice that she has left here covenant ways. In this case, she had been a married woman and probably married to a covenant keeping husband. It says that she left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God. So it seems here that she had made a commitment and now prefers free sex; this is apostasy. This could also be the same with the youth, first having been with the community but now turned their back on it. Sadly in verse 18, we see that her path leads to death and her paths to the spirits of the dead. The Hebrew word here refers to the realm of the dead. It seems to me that here, the spirits of the dead are still alive. I think that this is a bit misleading. Maved is death in Hebrew and refi’een is also dead or the community of the dead who inhabit death. Brown says that the etymology of refi’een is unclear. These references depict corpses in a grave. But if you say that Sheol is the grave, which denotes something else. The Jordan River in the summer is very small. So Sheol symbolizes death in the wilderness. So it carries a connotation more than a physical river. But Sheol also contrasts between the life on the earth and the death under the earth. It denotes something more than the physical, it’s symbolic. So I think that the Hebrew word, refi’een represents not only corpses but the whole realm, a place that you don’t want to be. We have the summary statement and the conclusion starting in verse ‘20 Thus you will walk in the ways of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous. 21 For the upright will live in the land, and the blameless will remain in it; 22 but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the unfaithful will be torn from it. This is morally good, it’s beautiful and beneficial. So the upright belong to the land of the living. We will discuss in the next lecture whether or not there is life beyond death in Proverbs or does this mean, you will live longer but death will destroy you. I believe that the final word is not death, but instead life. But for the wicked the final word is death. The land symbolizes life but Sheol symbolizes death. So this is the second lesson by the parent. It gives us the key to achieving the book’s preamble.
II. Do the Proverbs Promise Too Much? 3:1-12
My son, do not forget my teaching, and let your heart guard my commands,
for they will add length of days and years of life and bring you shalom [peace and prosperity].
- Let hesed and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, [write them on the tablet of your heart; cf. 7:3].
- Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.
- Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
- in all your ways know him, and he will make your paths yashar [straight and smooth].
- Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.
- Let there be healing to your body [lit., “navel”] and nourishment [refreshment] to your bones.
- Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops;
- then your granaries will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.
- Do not despise, my son, the LORD's discipline, and do not resent his rebuke,
- because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.
A. Health, Wealth and Prosperity?
There are Admonitions and conditions along with argumentation and promises in the introduction of this 3rd lesson. There are human obligations along with divine obligations. In keeping my commands you will have life and peace. And by keeping unfailing love you will find favor with God and people. The body of the lesson is summarized by trusting, fearing and to honor God with a final admonition to not reject discipline. But its heavenly promises seems detached from earth’s realities. And I think the promise of health, wealth and prosperity can be misleading. It is false doctrine and also can create a crisis with faith. It is not that simplistic. Proverbs of health are not to be interpreted as prophecies or promises, they are probabilities. We have in Book of Job and Ecclesiastes (A meaning behind this word is a collections of proverbs). Ecclesiastes also means Koheleth or gatherer, but traditionally translated as ‘Teacher’ or ‘Preacher.’ In Proverbs 3:1 we have ‘Torah’ as teaching and commands are ‘mitsvah.’ This is catechism teaching but there are also commands that need to be obeyed. Verse 2, for they will add length of days and years of life and bring you shalom [peace and prosperity]. Shalom means harmony. Harmony with God, people and creation and if everything is in harmony there will be peace and no war. If people are in harmony with one another, they are not going to war with one another. If everything is in harmony, then there will be prosperity. So Shalom contains both ideas of peace and prosperity. Joseph said to his brothers before he died, ‘this is the hesed you will show me.’ It means help, kindness, mercy and loyal love. You help a person that cannot help themselves.
B. Hesed or kindness
This is used in the Book of Ruth where Naomi uses this word of Boaz to explain his lavish act of kindness in 1:8b, ‘May the Lord show you kindness.’ Naomi identified with Elimelek whose name was Boaz. In faith Naomi goes back to Judah with Ruth claiming Naomi’s people were her people and Naomi’s God was her God. Ruth identifies not only with God but with the people because she knows the God of the Hebrews was Yahweh. Her hesed was better than his, because she was loyal to the family. Boaz is willing to sacrifice for the deceased relative; this is grace. This is shown by the relative who should have done it, didn’t because that relative didn’t want to spend the money. Interestingly, the near kinsman isn’t named because he is trying to preserve his name. Note that the hesed is very subjective to the individual and that is why it is usually connected with faithfulness or emeth. You can’t demand it but it is something that you can count on. Hesed and emeth go together; it is kindness and faithfulness. The emeth person is the person you trust, he or she is faithful and you can count on them. This is the faith of Christ; he is both hesed and emeth.
You are taking these proverbs which are teaching you to help the helpless to be reliable in society and you bind these teaching around your neck as shown in verse 3. This is a figure of speech as it is an inter-posit juxtaposition of semantic domain. Inter-posit means that they don’t go together or opposite. Commands of hesed are of a spiritual quality. In juxtaposed, it is put together with a physical activity of binding. That doesn’t fit but when I have that inter-posit of words belong to different spheres where one in spiritual and one is physical, I know then that I have a figure of speech. Then you have to figure out exactly what your figure of speech is of which, there are about twenty two figures of speech. This is what makes poetry. But what is this faithfulness that I’m binding around my neck? The context is first saying, do not forget my teaching. Then in verse 4, ‘then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.’ I think that this exegesis is how you understand Hebrew. Hebrew is not paradigms or vocabulary of which contains the donkey word of learning the language. The real joy is the interpretation and really thinking about words. Verse 5, Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding in all your ways know him, and he will make your paths yashar [straight and smooth]. Yashar is a geometric term and we don’t know whether it is straight or vertical or smooth. To know him in verse 6 is difficult to translate. The word ‘know’ means to resonate and whatever my path is, I resonate with God in what I am doing. We have the word in Psalm 1:6, ‘for the Lord knows the way of the righteous but the way of the wicked leads to be destruction. The NIV use the word ‘watches over’ instead of knows. This means that the Lord’s spirit empathizes; intuitively it relates to that, God is there and he is eternal and he is resonating that way whereas the way of the wicked, God is alienated from the way of the wicked which has to perish.
C. First Fruits
Verse 7 says ‘do not be wise in your own eyes,’ which means to be autonomous; ‘and fear the LORD and shun evil.’ Verse 8 and 9 says, ‘this will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. Honor the LORD with your wealth, and the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. New wine is the strongest wine, the un-pressed wine. Verse 11 says, ‘Do not despise, my son, the LORD's discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.’ The construction is very different from chapter 2 where you had the conditions in verses 1 – 4 and then you had the consequences of religious education. In this poem we have couplets; we have the conditions in the odd verse and we have the promises. I divided it up into admonitions which really describe covenant relationships with God taking on obligations. In the odd verses, we have the human obligations in the covenant relationship and in the even verses we have the divine obligations in the covenant relationship. The even verses are admonitions or commandments which are conditions as well. The divine obligation presents the argument of why you should keep the admonitions and they are the promises that go with it. The first one is the human obligation of not forgetting and guarding my command. The promise adds length of days and years of life and brings you Shalom. Long life by itself is not necessarily good as you can have evil days within a long life but it will also bring you peace. You keep unfailing love in verse 3 along with faithfulness. Instead of talking about righteousness, justice and equity, it is unfailing love to those who are needy. ‘Write them on the tablet of you heart,’ seems to be a direct quote from 7:3 that a scribe added here to modify it. It breaks up the structure of the piece. This is an interpellation by a scribe. We have the divine obligation which is favor by God. Verse 4 reminds us of the verse in the New Testament about Jesus who grew in statue and in favor with God and man. The unfailing love is the substance of the commands.
D. Trust, Fear and Honor the Lord
The next three verses deal with the LORD which is the body of this poem. Because you have trust in the Lord in verse 5 and then Fear the Lord in verse 7 and then honor the Lord in verse 9. If you trust the Lord you are not going to stumble, your paths will be made straight. In fearing the Lord, submit yourself to what God has revealed to you. This in turn will bring health. There will be healing to your body and nourishment and refreshment to you soul. Bones in verse 8 refers to the psychological health as David said, ‘let my bones rejoice’ in Psalm 51. So it is talking about physical and psychological health here. In verse 9, honor means ‘weight’; if something has weight, it has value and dignity. In honoring a person, you give them dignity and significance in the community so that when you in giving money for example, you are giving yourself. Job says in reference to this, ‘skin for skin.’ All my possessions have been taken away and the only thing that is left is my skin; skin in place of skin. When I give my wealth to the Lord, I am giving my skin to the Lord; I am actually giving myself to the Lord. My life depends upon the Lord and I’m going to do this to honor him. As far as first fruits, in the case of Jericho, the first city, being the first city, it uniquely belonged to God because it was the first fruits of their victory. It was dedicated to God. As you give, God in turn rewards you; your barns will be filled to overflowing and your vats will brim over with new wine. Verses 11 and 12 don’t fit very well as they are assuming discipline while the others are saying, do not forget, trust, fear and honor the Lord. And it seem to me verses 11 and 12 says, if you don’t do these things, then don’t despise the Lord’s discipline and don’t resent his rebuke because he is trying to bring you back to this situation where he can bless you. I think that this is the logic that is going on. God wants to put you in a position where he can bless you so that you can keep a covenant relationship and experience the joy in it. I am reading a lot between the lines but I have to ask myself why this is here. This is a brief look of these verses and in regards to verses 5 and 6 which are so often memorized and quoted, we will deal with that in the conclusion of the lecture on this topic