Proverbs 25:6-7

“Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence

    or stand in the place of the great,

for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’

    than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.”

Proverbs 25:6-7

This is a great reminder to be humble. Rather than elevate ourselves, only to be humbled by someone else, it is better to humble ourselves. Then, if others choose to do so, they may elevate us.

Jesus touched on this, too.

“Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 14:7-11 ESV

Note the punchline in verse 11: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

How are you doing in the humility department, today?

Proverbs 23:10-11

“Do not move an ancient landmark

    or enter the fields of the fatherless,

11 for their Redeemer is strong;

    he will plead their cause against you.”

Proverbs 23:10-11 ESV

Verse 10 is a clear-cut prohibition about doing wrong to the fatherless. This echoes the many other places in Scripture where God reveals his heart toward the vulnerable. Here, the warning not to move a landmark speaks to the effort to cheat another out of his land. The prohibition doesn’t stop there, for it prohibits the very entry into an orphan’s field. The implication seems to be that by entering the fields of the vulnerable one is showing an indication of intent to harm.

Beware of breaking the prohibition in verse 10 because “God in his holy habitation” is “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows” (Psalm 68:5). This kinda reminds me of the playground threat, “My dad can beat up your dad.” Except, this warning may be closer to “My dad will beat up you.”

When I was about 6 years old, a 17 or 18 year-old from the next neighborhood thought he would try his hand at roughing me up. When my dad – who was neither a brawler nor a big man – caught wind of it, he took up my cause in a very serious way. I didn’t see it all, but I do have a clear memory of my dad lying on top of the tough guy with his shirt collar tightly wound in my dad’s hand to prevent escape. My dad quietly but convincingly warned him of the serious consequence of ever coming near me again. “Don’t even think about coming near my son!” dad warned as he released him. The bully scampered off to his own neighborhood.

Verse 11 warns the reader of how God will respond to those who seek to harm the orphan, “he will plead their cause against you.” Some may ask, what does it mean that the Redeemer will “plead their cause against you”? Psalm 149:6 answers that question, “The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.”

The command in Exodus 22:22-24 is a bit more explicit: “You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. 23 If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, 24 and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless.” In other words, if you mistreat orphans, I will make your kids orphans.

What is your heart toward the orphan?

Proverbs 22:5

“Thorns and snares are in the way of the crooked;

  whoever guards his soul will keep far from them.”

Proverbs 22:5 ESV

A quick read of this proverb in English may give the wrong impression, which is that thorns and snares stand against the crooked. In other words, the thorns and snares act as defense mechanisms, similar to barbed wire. However, the writer is actually saying that the path of the crooked is littered with thorns and snares. Thus, the one who is not crooked (i.e., the one who is wise) will guard his soul.

I often tell my students that we can learn something from anyone. And by anyone, I mean anyone. “What about the meth head?” some might cleverly offer as if to say, “You can’t learn anything from a person so far gone.” There are different kinds of lessons in life, those things we should do and those things we shouldn’t do. Sometimes we can learn what not to do by understanding why a person is surrounded by thorns and snares (or destruction and disaster). Once we figure out what set that person on that path, we can avoid that path by avoiding the entry ramps that lead to it.

But we have to be careful that this avoidance is not simply a mental exercise. The temptations of the soul are heart matters. “I could never be tempted by that” can be a really dangerous statement that doesn’t seem to take into account the wiles of the devil or the human proclivity to sin. I, too, have a list of things that I don’t think could actually tempt me. But how many people who have found themselves sitting under a pile of disaster have said, “I never could have imagined being in this situation.” I’m reminded of an old saying,

“There ain’t no horse that can’t be rode, and there ain’t no cowboy that can’t be throwed.”

Beware. Beware. Beware. Guard your soul, lest your way be littered with thorns and snares.

Proverbs 21:13

“Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor

   will himself call out and not be answered.”

Proverbs 21:13 ESV

Here, the author uses “personal risk” to motivate the reader to hear the cry of the poor. Often it is easy to dismiss the suffering of others … until it happens to me.

This proverb reminds me of an English form poem that captures the sentiments of a 1946 speech written and delivered by German Lutheran pastor and theologian Martin Niemöller who was released from Dachau by the Allied forces in 1945.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Who are you overlooking because you haven’t experienced their hardship?

Proverbs 19:1

“Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity

  than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool.”

Proverbs 19:1 ESV

Note here, the connection between integrity and wisdom. In this case, this connection is presented in contrast as integrity vs. fool.

The words “better is a poor person” are counterintuitive in a consumer-driven culture where more, particularly wealth, is considered better. But the writer is not, as some might misunderstand, saying “poor is better.” He qualifies the type of poor person who is better. That is, the poor person who “walks in his integrity.” The point here isn’t being poor or rich, it is being honest.

Since the goal is integrity, the author is saying – again, in contrast to worldly ideals of wealth and power – being poor with integrity is better than any other state of being without integrity. The writer says exactly this in Proverbs 28:6 (ESV), “Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways.”

Now, to close the loop on the contrast between integrity and fool, I should say that integrity is a matter of wisdom. Thus, those who lack integrity also lack wisdom. In other words, those who lack integrity are fools.

What is your commitment to wisdom? Can you be satisfied to be “a poor man who walks in his integrity,” rather than “a rich man who is crooked in his ways”? Or, is wealth – or worldly comfort – more important to you than integrity? To check yourself, examine the areas where you are willing to cut corners.

Lord, help us to examine our hearts accurately and to be so committed to integrity that we can be satisfied with living in poverty IF we have integrity.

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