On day two, we paused for a moment to consider the structure of the book of Proverbs. As we are now heading into that section of the book that most people are familiar with, it seems like a good idea to consider that layout again.
The first nine chapters we’ve just completed are extended descriptions of wisdom, largely in story form with instructions from a parent to a child, often using images of “Lady Wisdom” and “Woman Folly.” They are there to explain two pathways, one that leads to a wise and good life, and one that leads to destruction. And these first nine chapters are there to help us see why we should care about chapters ten through thirty-one, which contain all the individual sayings of wisdom for which the book is famous.
A couple of reminders as you begin your journey reading these individual sayings of wisdom. First, remember that not all of them are promises or guarantees. If you read them that way, you will very quickly find yourself arguing with their validity, maybe having experienced the opposite of what they say to be true. Rather, in general, they are highly probable possibilities of what will happen if you follow the path of wisdom they provide. Second, most of the sayings are made up of two lines, with the second line providing a contrasting statement that strengthens the idea found in the first, providing a solid snippet of wisdom.
When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
(Prov. 10:19, English Standard Version)
See how the second line supports and enforces the first?
One of the tools I have close at hand when studying the Scriptures is a good commentary, often by a dead guy (or gal), who will help me interact with and glean from the text. I’ve always been amazed how just a few dollars will allow me unfettered access to wise scholars across the ages of Christendom. Today I pulled out Charles Bridges’s work on Proverbs. Here is what came from his meditation on this brief saying:
Hypocrisy and slander are not the only sins of the tongue. Indeed, considering the corrupt spring from which they flow we cannot think of words, much less when words are many, without sin.
There is the sin of egotism. Our own mouth praises us, but no one else (Prov. 27:2). We love to hear ourselves talk and to present our own judgments intrusively.
There is also the sin of vain babbling. The fool talks forever about nothing, not because he is full, but because he is empty; not in order to give instruction, but for the pure love of talking. This wantonness is a sin of the flesh, trifling with the most responsible talent, when “conversation is,” as Bishop Butler rightly says, “merely the exercise of the tongue; no other human faculty has any place in it. One meets with people in the world who never seem to have made the wise man’s observation that ‘there is a time to keep silence.’ These times, one would think, should be easily discerned by everybody; namely, when a man has nothing to say, or nothing but what is better unsaid.”
The government of the tongue is, therefore, a searching test of the soundness of our religion. Since the sin is linked to many … words, it is surely wise to hold our tongue—not in silence, but in caution; to weigh our words before uttering them; never speaking except when we have something to say; speaking only just enough; considering the time, the person, and the circumstances. “Light words weigh heavy in God’s balance” (Nicholls).
Never let us think of these sins as anything less than the nails that pierced our Lord’s hands and feet. Thus we will become like the one who holds his tongue (see also Psalm 141:3).
Or, in other words,
Too much talk leads to sin.
Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.
(Proverbs 10:19, New Living Translation)
Thank you for this fresh, wise reminder of the power of words, which is to say, the power of our tongues. Our words can heal or destroy, give life or give death. They can set the world ablaze. So help us Father, by the power of your Holy Spirit. Make us quick to listen, and slow to speak. Take control over what we say, place a guard upon our lips, that we might be prudent today.
Yes, and very amen, in Jesus’ name.
Pursuing the wise and good life with you,
Proverbs Thirty-One Day Reading Plan
August 14: Proverbs ch. 1
Aug. 15: ch. 2
Aug. 16: ch. 3
Aug. 17: ch. 4
Aug. 18: ch. 5
Aug. 19: Grace Day
Aug. 20: ch. 6
Aug. 21: ch. 7
Aug. 22: ch. 8
Aug. 23: ch. 9
Aug. 24: ch. 10
Aug. 25: ch. 11
Aug. 26: Grace Day
Aug. 27: ch. 12
Aug. 28: ch. 13
Aug. 29: ch. 14
Aug. 30: ch. 15
Aug. 31: ch. 16
Sept. 1: ch. 17
Sept. 2: Grace Day
Sept. 3: ch. 18
Sept. 4: ch. 19
Sept. 5: ch. 20
Sept. 6: ch. 21
Sept. 7: ch. 22
Sept. 8: ch. 23
Sept. 9: Grace Day
Sept. 10: ch. 24
Sept. 11: ch. 25
Sept. 12: ch. 26
Sept. 13: ch. 27
Sept. 14: ch. 28
Sept. 15: ch. 29
Sept. 16: Grace Day
Sept. 17: ch. 30
Sept. 18: ch. 31
Day Twenty-Six: A Morning Conversation With King Solomon
A conversation that happened this morning as I came upon a visitor in our fireplace room….
Day Nineteen: God Chose Her, Not You
The doctrine of God’s rule and reign in and over all things comes crashing into the human conception of the self-made man. We are tempted to think we have so much to do with our happinesses. But the wisdom found from James speaks a wakefulness into the pondering of our circumstances—the good gifts we have come not from our own hands, but by the grace and providence of our heavenly Father. And the wisdom of Solomon makes clear—one of man’s greatest gifts is something only God can give, an understanding wife.
Day Seventeen: The Great Gain Of Godly Contentment
We live in a world where the temptation is constant to believe the amount of our wealth and possessions directly translates to our joy and happiness. The Bible, once again, confronts our culture and holds out another possibility. Namely, “better” does not imply “more,” “bigger,” or “expensive.” It suggests that the reason you still haven’t found what you are looking for is because you’ve been searching in all the wrong places. Wisdom opens our eyes and hearts to deeper wells of contentment.
Day Fifteen: I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me
I always feel like somebody's watching me. And I have no privacy. Woh, I always feel like somebody's watching me. Tell me is it just a dream? So sang Rockwell in the dawning of my high school years back in 1984. All the cool kids were singing it at the time, and its the tune that sprang to mind when I read this similar sentiment this morning: Yahweh is watching everywhere, keeping his eye on both the evil and the good. (Proverbs 15:3, New Living Translation)
Day Fourteen: Death By Living
For those of us desirous to live a good life, we’ve known since the very beginning of this book that it begins with a healthy awe, reverence, and trembling before the God of the universe whose name is Yahweh (Proverbs 1:7). And here we are again reminded that this humble posture before the Holy One is a fountain overflowing with life.
Day Thirteen: You Can’t Always Get What You Want
One of the key assumptions we’ve been working with as we make our way through the wisdom literature is that God has hardwired wisdom into the way creation (and the creatures within it…us) operates. It was there at the beginning. It’s the inner logic of everything, and the secret code for how it works. (see Proverbs 8:22-31)
Day Eleven: A Pig Is Still A Pig
Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion. (Proverbs 11:22, English Standard Version) “Well…I never!” she replied to the King. Reading this proverb, it seems highly probable to me, given the stories of King Solomon and all the women in his life (1 Kings 11:3), that this was probably a proverb born from experience. He comes along a beautiful woman, of high social standing, of influence and power; but in his interactions with her, he begins to see her true self shining through all her external adornments. She has no discretion—she is a woman of loose and dissolute conversation, her mind and conscience are defiled. There’s a beauty for the eye, but the corruption of her character slowly transforms how Solomon sees her, and no amount of jewelry will cover that up.
Day Twenty-Nine: Please—Quietly Hold Your Tongue
Anger. noun. “a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.” (New Oxford American Dictionary) As I entered day twenty-nine of Proverbs this morning, and came to 29:11, it struck me that this book has quite a bit to say about anger, strife, wrath, quarreling, fights, and rage. It is a theme that Solomon keeps coming back to, probably because he knows that it is a theme woven through humanity and history. Sometimes the best way to see a theme is to pull on that string so all the wisdom he has offered comes together for our observation. The accumulation helps us feel the weight of it.