When the Bible Meets Life

As I was reading Proverbs 28 this morning, two verses stood out.

When the righteous triumph, there is great glory,
    but when the wicked rise, people hide themselves.

Proverbs 28:12 ESV

Like a roaring lion or a charging bear
    is a wicked ruler over a poor people.

Proverbs 28:15 ESV

When I read these verses my mind could not avoid the connection to this weekend’s news of the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. “… when the wicked rise, people hide themselves,” is a perfect description of the conditions within the areas overtaken by ISIS. In an effort to survive under the rule of ISIS, thousands of people submitted and did their best to simply keep out of sight. Through the years of ISIS domination of the area reports would leak, describing the underground market for cigarettes, which were forbidden by ISIS. There were also reports of an underground communication network that was used to warn of the location of ISIS monitors moving about looking for those who might not be living according to ISIS standards. The people truly hid themselves to survive.

A roaring lion and charging bear are images of power and force. In verse 15, these images describe what it is like when a wicked person rules over a poor people. The rule of Abu Bakr Al-Badhdadi and ISIS could not be described more clearly than power and force. Whether that be demonstrated by the piles of severed heads of their victims put on display. As if to say, “this could happen to you.” Or, the infamous execution videos of their victims dressed in orange jumpsuits published by ISIS propaganda forces. Or, the brutal treatment of women, including kidnapping, rape, and murder, by ISIS soldiers from the lowest rank all the way to the top.

The Bible should not be regarded as an old book for a past generation. It’s a living book as relevant as today’s news. More relevant, actually.

That’s Odd and Destructive

Like snow in summer or rain in harvest,
    so honor is not fitting for a fool.

Proverbs 26:1 ESV

Snow in the summer is odd. Rain during the harvest is destructive. Why would the writer use these two word pictures to say that it is not fitting to offer honor to a fool?

First, it’s odd to bestow honor on a fool. In Proverbs, the fool is the one who is unwise and destructive in action, spirit, or attitude. Why would you heap honor on that person? Honor is rightly reserved for that which is good or excellent. The Super Bowl MVP gets a trophy, not the player with the worst statistics on the losing team. The kid who wins the spelling bee by correctly spelling “scherenschnitte”* receives the scholarship, not the kid who misspelled “dog” in the first round. This is intuitive; it makes sense, naturally.

Second, honoring a fool for his foolishness is not only odd, it’s destructive. Farmers race to get the crops in ahead of the rain during harvest season because of the potential harm to the crop, both in the field and in the barn. Among other things, late rain can stimulate mold growth, which can make its way up the stalk, destroying the corn or grain. A wet harvest can also require extra labor to dry the crop or risk loss of the crop due to mold and mildew while the crops are being stored.

Honoring a fool is destructive because it encourages the fool to continue his foolishness. Why would a man seek wisdom when he is being honored as a fool? Social media may be the most appropriate illustration of this principle. Outrageous behavior or speech is rewarded with likes and shares. And, rather than curb their outrageous behavior, people think … “I can outdo that. Let’s see how many likes I can get.”

Questions:

1. In what ways has my foolishness been honored? Did that honor move me toward godliness or away from godliness?

2. In what ways do I honor fools? Does that move others toward or away from godliness?

3. How has this passage helped me to see a better way?

* 13-year-old Vanya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kansas, was declared co-champion of the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee after correctly spelling “scherenschnitte.” She shared the honor with 14-year-old Gokul Venkatachalam of Chesterfield, Missouri, who correctly spelled “nunatak.”

A Golden Outcome

Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold
    is a wise reprover to a listening ear.

Proverbs 25:12 ESV

The writer mentions two parties in this verse, the speaker and the listener, and both have an important part in the relationship.

The speaker is described as wise, and his words are corrective. And, though it is not stated specifically the speaker has a willingness to engage another who, given the context, is not doing something correctly. Thus, we could summarize the speaker’s qualities as wisdom and willingness.

In a similar way, the listener demonstrates a willingness to be engaged and corrected by another person, which demonstrates his own wisdom. We can say this with confidence, though it is not explicitly mentioned in this verse, because elsewhere in Proverbs, such a person is described as wise. For example, 10:1 says, “A wise son hears his father’s instruction ….”

The word picture used to illustrate these two people is a gold ring or a gold ornament. These items are used to add value or enhance someone or something else. Thus, the wise reprover adds value to the wise listener. In other words, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).

Questions:

1. In what way are you preparing yourself to be a wise reprover? How do you build your credibility to offer reproof to another person.

2. Do you have a listening ear, one that accepts correction? When was the last time you received correction/instruction from another person? Did you receive that correction happily or begrudgingly? In what way can you improve in this area?

Take the Long View

Fret not yourself because of evildoers,
    and be not envious of the wicked,
for the evil man has no future;
    the lamp of the wicked will be put out.

Proverbs 24:19-20 ESV

Wise parents teach their children the value of the long view, especially when their emotions typically overrule their reason. We can see things our kids can’t. “Be patient, and let’s see how this works out,” we might encourage them in a moment of crisis. “You may not think you need that now, but you will when you go to college … or get a job,” we may warn them when they don’t see the value in a particular course or assignment. “If you spend your money on that, it will be that much longer before you can buy that car,” we remind them at that moment when money is burning a hole in their pocket and they feel like they have to buy something. There are a variety of ways to say, “Take the long view.”

Here, the writer reminds us to “take the long view.” For those worrying that evildoers will ultimately triumph, don’t. For those thinking the wicked have it best, don’t. In those Genesis 3 to Revelation 20 moments, it’s easy to lose heart or focus … or hope. Do you ever wonder why those who pursue evil seem to succeed? You are not alone. In the words of some Old Testament prophets: “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?” (Jeremiah 12:1) “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” (Habakkuk 1:13)

God answers Jeremiah and Habbakuk and you and me with a three word phrase throughout the Old Testament: “in that day.” This phrase, occurring more than 60 times (see list below), indicates a day of reckoning is coming. Take the long view because things will not always be as they are now. “In that day, … when all things will be made right” is the idea being conveyed. This is what the writer of Proverbs is conveying as well: “for the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out” (24:20).

Don’t lose heart; take the long view. Perhaps spending time in Revelation 20-22 would be helpful in giving meaning to the “long view.”

Questions:

  1. In what circumstances are you most tempted to take a short view of life or circumstances?
  2. In what way(s) could you encourage someone who is tempted to fret because of evildoers, or someone who is envious of the wicked?

NOTE: The phrase “in that day” occurs in:

Amos 8:3,9,13, 9:11

Isaiah 2:11,17,20, 3:7,18, 4:1,2, 5:30, 7:18,20,21,23, 10:20,27, 11:10,11, 12:1,4, 17:4,7,9, 19:16,18,19,21,23,24, 20:6, 22:8,20,25, 24:21, 25:9, 26:1, 27:1,2,12,13, 28:5, 29:18, 30:23, 31:7, 52:6

Jeremiah 4:9, 30:8, 48:41, 49:22,26, 50:30

Ezekiel 38:14,18

Hosea 1:5, 2:16,18,21

Joel 3:18

Obadiah 8

Micah 2:4, 4:6, 5:10, 7:12

Zechariah 2:11, 3:10

An Eternal Perspective

Let not your heart envy sinners,
    but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day.
Surely there is a future,
    and your hope will not be cut off.

Proverbs 23:17-18

Here, the writer encourages his reader to take the long, eternal perspective. The natural tendency is to desire that which we can see. And in this case, the implication is to chase whatever it is that sinners have or are doing. Maybe it’s wealth. Prestige, perhaps. Whatever it is, the writer says, Don’t long for that! It’s here today, gone tomorrow. It’s temporal (see Ecclesiastes 1:3-4, Hebrews 11:24-25).

In contrast, we are encouraged to continue trusting, by faith, in the Lord.

The New Testament shares this same theme:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1

Hebrews 11 continues, “By faith …

  • we understand that the universe was created by the word of God
  • Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Can
  • Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death
  • Noah built an ark
  • Sarah received power to conceive
  • Abraham offered Isaac on the altar
  • Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau
  • Jacob, while dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph
  • Moses left Egypt
  • the people crossed the Red Sea
  • the walls of Jericho fell …”

What is to be gained for those who fear the Lord rather than envy the sinner? A hope and future that will not be cut off (Proverbs 23:18).

Questions:

What do you envy about sinners, in general, or a specific sinner?

Why is that, whatever it is, more inviting than a future that will not be cut off?