Proverbs 29:8

Scoffers set a city aflame,

    but the wise turn away wrath.

Proverbs 29:8 ESV

This verse reminds me of the experience of Paul in Thessalonica and Berea in Acts 17. Paul and Silas entered the synagogue in Thessalonica and reasoned with them for 3 sabbaths (17:2). Their teaching resulted in a number of people (Jews and Greeks) believing. “But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd” (17:5). In other words, the city was aflame because of the scoffers.

Paul and Barnabas slipped out of Thessalonica by night (17:10) and headed to Berea. Eventually, word got back to the Jews in Thessalonica that Paul and Silas were teaching in Berea, “they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds” (17:13).

On a smaller or more localized scale, scoffing can set a home or family aflame. Thus, the warning is equally valid. Derision, mocking, and sarcasm are typical signs of scoffing. So it makes sense that a home or city could be set aflame when scoffers have a sense of freedom to scoff. If this is you, beware.

Proverbs 29:4

“By justice a king builds up the land,

  but he who exacts gifts tears it down.”

Proverbs 29:4 ESV

This proverb is directed toward leaders, and I think it is very applicable in the modern world. Note first the positive effect of justice. Justice is foundational to a functioning society. People appreciate having a sense of fairness. On the other hand, discontent – even rebellion – grows within the hearts of citizens when they perceive there to be a lack of justice in the land. That injustice may be the result of what appears to be a two-tiered justice system (i.e., “the system is rigged against the little guy”) or what appears to be a too harsh or too lenient justice system.

The second clause is the negative extension of the first. Here the king is under consideration, so modern day politicians would do well to pay attention. It seems to me that there is more at play here than simply receiving a gift. Should the king, for example, simply refuse birthday cards and gifts so as not to tear down his kingdom? It depends on whether those gifts influence the king toward injustice. In modern language we are talking about things like bribes, kickbacks, and payoffs that tilt the king’s favor toward one group, resulting in injustice toward another. This behavior also enriches the king on the backs of others.

Wise leaders demonstrate their wisdom by offering justice.

Proverbs 29:1

“He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck,

    will suddenly be broken beyond healing.”

Proverbs 29:1 ESV

This proverb provides the visual imagery of Proverbs 13:1, “A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.”

Thinking of a potter has helped me understand the imagery in this proverb. Most of us have probably seen a potter take a blob of clay, plop it onto a wheel, and begin to shape it. Round and round the piece goes as the potter presses his thumb to move the clay. Think of his thumb as the reproof or correction. As the clay receives the corrective thumb of the potter, it begins to take shape into something usable. To the degree that the clay does not receive the potter’s shaping, to that degree it remains a blob of clay.

If you’ve seen a potter working on a wheel, you’ve probably seen him put a bit of water on the clay to keep it moist and malleable. In other words, as long as the clay is moist, it can be shaped. Though it naturally resists being shaped, it can still be shaped. However, as the clay dries it becomes more risky to make changes. But, at a certain point, the clay is too dry and hardened to be changed at all. Any effort to shape the dry, hardened clay, will break it. Each time a fool resists correction, he dries a bit and becomes more susceptible to breaking.

I don’t think the potter and clay imagery is perfect, but it has helped me to visualize the danger of being a fool, one who does not listen to rebuke.

Lord, soften my heart that I may not only receive correction, but be shaped into a vessel fit for your use.

Proverbs 29:11

“A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.”

Proverbs 29:11 ESV

How often do you “blow your lid”? How frequently do you say something like, “You don’t understand, I just have to vent”? According to this proverb, if that is your pattern, you may be a fool. Or, at least, foolish in that moment. On the other hand, if you maintain your composure and are measured in difficult circumstances, that is an indication of the presence of wisdom.

This does not remove any emotion from life. If the building is on fire, please yell, “FIRE!!” But, let’s not make a big thing out of a small thing in order to give some measure of justification to our foolishness. For example, if the restaurant is currently out of vanilla ice cream, there’s no need to ask for the manager or let everyone within earshot know how upset you are that there is no vanilla ice cream. If you do, you are a fool. Wisdom says, “Let it go.”

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