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 22:16

“Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth,

  or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.”

Proverbs 22:16 ESV

Many may say there is no way this proverb can be true even if you hold the position that proverbs are not iron clad guarantees, but rather generally true or good principles for life. And the reason the critics say this is “because it so contradicts what I see; there are so many obvious examples of rich people oppressing poor people to increase their own wealth and of rich people giving to other rich people, then dying with lots of money.” So, what’s the answer?

The reader must recognize that God looks at things differently than humans generally do. That is to say God recognizes, even values non-material things like integrity and character and soul. Those things are real, but you can’t reach out and touch them. This is illustrated in 1 Samuel 16:7, “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.'” That God looks on the heart (non-material) and not on the outward appearance (material) is the reason Proverbs 28:6, for example, can certainly be true even though it feels untrue when the bills are piling up: “Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways” (ESV). Understanding that we are both physical and spiritual beings is not only a challenge at times, it is an important key to understanding the book of Proverbs.

Now, back to our original verse: “Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.” It seems that this proverb is saying the person will come to a poverty of soul not necessarily a poverty of the pocketbook. This type of behavior leads to or reveals an impoverished soul.

Lord, please help me to see thing as you see them, to not be so focused on material things that I don’t give true consideration of matters of the soul.

Proverbs 22:10

“Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out,

    and quarreling and abuse will cease.”

Proverbs 22:10 ESV

This proverb is as straightforward as they get. If you understand the word scoffer, everything else follows. To scoff is to speak derisively or to mock something or someone. Thus, get rid of the one who mocks and things will calm down.

A word to the mocker: Be careful that mocking does not become your character. The journey is very short between being disenchanted with one thing to being disenchanted with everything. If your response to a single dissatisfaction is to scoff at that person with whom you disagree, very frequently, that becomes your modus operandi with all people (or situations). Perhaps you’ve heard the saying “A little leaven, leavens the whole lump.” In this case, scorn or derision is like leaven.

The apostle Paul offers a dire warning to those whose character is one of what he calls “works of the flesh.” In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul’s list includes, among other things, strife, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, and divisions. These particular “works of the flesh” are the kinds of things that surround the scoffer. What was Paul’s warning? “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

The contrast that Paul offers, beginning in vs. 22, is the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit includes love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Lord, help me to see my tendencies to scorn those with whom I disagree. Then, help me fight against that tendency, guarding my heart from scorn and derision. And rather than scorn and derision, may I bring forth fruit of the Spirit.

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