13:23 Poverty Through Injustice

July 10th, 2011

A poor man’s field may produce abundant food, but injustice sweeps it away. Proverbs 13:23

Sebastian Vranx (1573-1643): Soliders plundering a farmhouse.

During the Thirty Years’ War, many Germans starved to death. Marauding armies moved across the country again and again seizing whatever food the peasants produced. Many became so discouraged they stopped planting. Injustice had swept prosperity away.

Economies falter from injustice, too. When government policies rob hard-earned profits from businessmen to funnel to their allies and supporters—or to the idle—production drops. “What is the use?” businessmen may think, and move their money to safer havens.

So far from being unjust, Jesus honored the smallest contribution of the weakest saint. He noticed the widow who gave her last tiny coin, and He promised reward to anyone who even gives just giving a cup of water to one of his brethren “for my name’s sake.”

22:3 Taking Cover

June 26th, 2011

A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished. Proverbs 22:3, 27:12.

A Disguised Calvin flies from Paris.

This consideration must be important for God has caused it to be repeated twice in almost identical form in the book of Proverbs.

The Bible is rich with examples of men of faith who saw trouble coming and took action to secure themselves. Noah built an ark and saved himself and his family. David fled from Saul. Elijah hid near Sidon. Jeremiah and Baruch concealed themselves in expectation the King of Judah would seek their lives. When the angel released Peter from prison, the apostle first told the church he was released, and then went somewhere else.

Examples from Christian history are abundant, too. As the Romans encircled Jerusalem in AD69, Christians fled, believing Christ’s prophetic warning, and escaped with their lives. In the next century, Polycarp changed his hiding place twice before capture and martyrdom. In the following century, Cyprian brought vituperation upon himself because he hid during a great persecution (although he later died a martyr). The family of Macrina the Elder (Mother of Sts. Basil and Gregory) hid in a forest. Calvin fled Paris disguised as a peasant farmer to escape the inquisition. Many more examples could be given.

Even the Lord Jesus moved to a safer place at least once to escape threats. An account is given in John 10:39ff, which shows that when the Jews tried to seize him, he escaped and crossed the Jordan.

The most important application for this teaching is that we must repent (Mark 6:12) and hide ourselves in Christ Jesus (Colossians 3:3) to escape the coming wrath of God (John 3:36) which must overtake all who ignore warning and reject God’s mercy.

Proverbs 27:4 Who Can Stand Before Jealousy?

June 19th, 2011

Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy? Proverbs 27:4

Christina Forsyth

Christina Forsyth was a successful missionary to the Xolobe people in Africa. As a young woman, she fell in love with a young banker. His responsibilities took him to India but the two promised to write one another. Christina wrote. No personal letters came back.

Years passed. Eventually she became engaged to another man. Shortly before her wedding, the banker friend, who was back in England, heard the news and rode down to see her. Why had she never answered his letters? he asked. For her part she wondered why he had not responded to her? They came to the painful recognition that someone in Christina’s household, jealous of their happiness, had intercepted their correspondence.

Jealousy is indeed an insidious trait. It has led to terrible betrayals in secular and sacred history. Some Bible characters who suffered because of it were Joseph, whose brothers sought to destroy him out of envy, Hannah, whose rival taunted her with childlessness, and David, who was hated and harrassed by Saul. Joseph and David were types of Christ.

When the Jewish leaders brought Christ before Pilate, the Roman governor discerned that their motive was not a passion for justice but because they were jealous of Jesus (Mark 15:10).

The beautiful thing about each of these records is that God brought good out of the jealousy. Had Christina married her banker, she would not have been widowed in Africa nor turned her hand to the hard work among the Xolobe. Had Joseph not been sold by his brothers, he would not have been in Egypt to work their rescue. Had Hannah not been so provoked by the rival wife, she might never have prayed for a son or received Samuel. Had David not been pursued by Saul, we would not have had many rich illustrations of faith and powerful psalms. Had Jesus not been put to death out of envy, where would be our salvation?

15:18 Angry or Calm?

June 12th, 2011

A wrathful man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger allays contention. Proverbs 15:18

Quarreling men

Christian astronomer and apologist Hugh Ross tells that following one of his talks, an angry man, who had avoided the lecture itself, began ranting at the start of the question and answer period. The tension in the room rose as this man, who described himself as an atheist, gushed hostility.

By calmly and prayerfully answering with facts, Ross deflected the man’s antagonism and was able to share the gospel.

Christ also deflected antagonism by remaining calm. There were times when his enemies tried to trap him; he answered wisely and then left them speechless, and the argument was at an end, when he posed questions to them that they could not answer.

However, one of the most astonishing incidents did not develop as Christ’s enemies expected. The Jewish Council had sent soldiers to arrest him, but the men returned empty handed. Asked why, they replied simply, “Never man spoke as this man spoke.” Contention was deflected because the Lord had calmly proceeded with the work given him by the Father.

Ancient Landmarks

June 5th, 2011

Do not move an ancient landmark or enter the fields of the fatherless, for their Redeemer is strong; he will plead their cause against you. Proverbs 23:10-11

Israel's flag.

This weekend Palestinian and Arab peoples are throwing themselves against the fences of Israel to take its land which they claim as theirs. Year after year passes and it seems there will never be peace in the Mideast. And in fact there will not, as long as men refuse to acknowledge in practical terms that there is a God who intervenes in human affairs—who sets the boundaries of nations and demands allegiance to his Christ.

In Deuteronomy 32:8 we are told that “When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of man, He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel.” In Psalm 74:17 we are told “You [God] have established all the boundaries of the earth; You have made summer and winter.” The land of Israel was given to Abraham in promise and to his progeny in acreage. Under Joshua theirs was a supernaturally-aided conquest but, as foretold by Moses, they were twice cast from the land and twice restored to it (many of them orphans this second time, after the holocaust). The problem of the Mideast, then, is a matter of men rejecting the word of God.

Those who stand against Israel must ultimately fail, because God remembers the ancient landmark, will plead their cause—and has a mighty arm. Let the nations be warned—God will laugh to scorn those who defy him and will ultimately deliver his people. (Psalm 2)

This glorious redemption cannot come however until conditions have forced Israel also to accept the teaching of God’s word. To this day the people of Israel have refused to accept Jesus Christ as their Messiah, and until they do, peace cannot come, for He is their peace and ours. (Ephesians 2:11-22)

25:11 Witty Retorts

May 15th, 2011

A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. Proverbs 25:11

Denarius with the image of Tiberius Caesar.

Denarius with the image of Tiberius Caesar.

If you are like me, you think of the perfect reply long after you need it. Then you kick yourself and groan, “That is what I should have said.”

Some people seem to always have an apt reply on their tongue. Francis Bacon used to study clever retorts in advance so that he might drop them when predictable topics arose.

My own appreciation is reserved for those who deliver their retorts more spontaneously. One slam-dunk that sticks in my mind is that of the sparkling Quaker girl Mary Pryor, who, when pressured to marry a rich old man, was told, “Why, you could eat gold!” She replied, “But I would find it hard to digest,” and married a poor but honest fellow-believer.

One of the wittiest replies of church history was that of Erasmus when Frederick the Wise asked him if Luther was in error. He thought a few moments and answered, “He has erred in two things: He has attacked the pope in his crown and the monks in their bellies.”

Neither of these examples shine like the replies of Jesus. For example, when a broad hint was dropped that he was illigitimate, Jesus did not protest his mother’s innocence, but in his reply pointed his detractors to the more relevant question, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?” (John 8).

When the Pharisees and Herodians buttered him up (Mark 12) in an attempt to trap him with a question about taxes, he responded, “Why are you trying to trap me? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

And they were amazed at him, as we also should be. His replies were indeed apples of gold in settings of silver.

Proverbs 1:24-28 Mocked in Calamity

April 17th, 2011

Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded, because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you, when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices. For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them… — Proverbs 1:24-28.

On his death bed a man I know of became uneasy. I learned later that he began to fear the eternity he had scoffed at all his life. He had reared his daughter without fear of the Lord, and was now in her hands. When a relative suggested that a minister should be called to speak with the man about his soul, the daughter flatly refused, saying that he had never wanted anything to do with Christianity while he was healthy and she wasn’t going to flout his wishes now that he was faltering. This man brought his own doom upon himself and died without solace.

Jesus warned the people of his generation again and again, and his word still speaks to us today. What is our answer to his claims on us? The day will come when the stone the builders rejected will crush them.

21:31 God’s Role in Victory

March 13th, 2011

Alexander Nevsky prays

Alexander Nevsky praying before battle

The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but deliverance is of the Lord. Proverbs 21:31.

The victor in any battle is not always the strongest on paper. In the thirteenth century the Swedes landed a fine army in Russia only to be routed by Alexander Nevsky who led an impossible and unexpected march through swamps to surprise them. Philip prepared his mighty Armada over many months, only to see it destroyed in a few weeks, as much by contrary winds and his over-heavy hand as by English fireboats and cannonades. Haughty British commanders assured their king they would roll up the American opposition in weeks, but after years of mixed success, finally surrendered. Plucky Finns braved the might of the Soviet Union to retain their national independence. With the aid of relentless propaganda from the American press and the international left, Vietnam defeated the United States, whose technological superiority ultimately did not prevail.

Israel’s 20th-century victories against numerically superior foes are legendary, and support a conviction that God has miraculously intervened in that nation’s conflicts.

The Lord also prevailed in what seemed to be his greatest defeat. His whole life was a preparation for the cross. When Jesus died that Friday, it appeared Satan had triumphed. But on the third day God delivered his Son from death with heavenly power, turning Satan’s victory to ashes and converting the cross into our symbol of everlasting hope.

17:15 A Dilemma of Justice

November 21st, 2010

He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord. Proverbs 17:15

Christ bore our penalty.

Citizens are rightly outraged when judges don’t do their job. When one slaps a child molester on the wrist or excuses a murderer on a technicality; when one buckles before a rich playboy or releases a thug who has some powerful organization behind him, everyone recognizes justice has miscarried. We grumble and protest.

Nonetheless there is a widespread expectation that God ought to let all of us (except maybe a few Hitlers and Stalins) off the hook. No matter how we have slighted him for idols, blasphemed him with doubts, perjured ourselves before him, stolen his glory, hated his righteousness, not a few of us think it unfair of him to punish us for what we’ve done. We forget that because he is infinite, any sin against him is infinite and deserves infinite punishment; and we resent the knowledge that he has prepared a place of such punishment.

God is pure and holy. He hates the smallest sin. He cannot justify the wicked. He cannot condemn the just. Yet from the first he had promised to provide salvation for us. That gave rise to a dilemma. How could he be just and yet justify the wicked?

His solution became the most astonishing fact of all history. He himself became a man and took man’s punishment. This was no light thing. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit had enjoyed an unbroken communion of love through all eternity. When Christ became sin for us, that communion was destroyed. God had, in effect, torn himself in two, a spiritual agony that makes the physical misery of the cross pale by comparison.

14:10 Heart Secrets

September 26th, 2010

Andrew Murray

Andrew Murray

The heart knows its own bitterness, and a stranger does not share its joy. Proverbs 14:10.

In one of his sermons, Keith Daniel tells how the godly Andrew Murray in his old age fell flat in the street.

So greatly did South Africans respect this holy man, that a silence fell upon all who saw what happened. Was he having a heart attack? A stroke? Under pressure from a policeman, Murray hesitantly explained that his collapse had been because for the first time in many years he had lost his sense of the presence of God.

Who, standing by, would have guessed that?

This led me to a meditation. What is the most significant day in all eternity?

Not the day of creation.

Not the day the universe dissolves.

Not judgment day.

It was the day God in effect tore himself in two when he broke communion with himself because of our sin, and Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This was the most profound day in heaven or on earth. We may never be able to fully understand the agony of that moment, nor the joy that followed Christ’s restoration.

Oh God, although unable to penetrate your heart fully, may we comprehend something of this and never take Good Friday or communion lightly again.

3:1-2 Long Life

September 19th, 2010

My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity. Proverbs 3:1,2.

Science confirms this proverb. A careful study made in 1999 by Robert A. Hummer et al showed that people who attend church or synagogue regularly more than once a week live longer—on average 7.5 years longer.

Part of this may be due to the fact that belief changes conduct. Changed conduct often leads to greater peace, financial prosperity, and self-control. John Wesley is said to have mourned over his new converts, lamenting that they would now prosper, giving up wicked and costly habits, and prosperity would make them grow cold toward God.

Life on earth may be lengthened by faith practices. Faith in Christ leads to far more than a few years longer on earth, however. It leads to eternal life. “Truly, truly, I say to you, He that hears my word, and believes on him that sent me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death to life.”

19:29 Beatings for Fools

September 12th, 2010

The Flagellation of our Lord Jesus by William-Adophe Bouguereau (1880).

Penalties are prepared for scoffers, and beatings for the backs of fools. —Proverbs 19:29

Caning is a punishment seldom used in America these days although common to Western countries up to a century ago. In other parts of the world it is still used. Singapore, for example, employs caning—a fact brought to the attention of Americans in 1994 with the punishment of an American teenager accused of vandalism and theft.

That corporal punishment, properly applied, can restrain lawless and foolish behavior was generally conceded until the last century. I know that the fear of a spanking kept me from much wrong-doing as a child, although it did nothing to eradicate my sin desires.

God has penalties for those who mock and rebel against him. The more light we have, the greater our penalties. As Jesus told his listeners “And that servant, who knew his master’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes” (Luke 12:47).

In his compassion for us, God does not make his true children bear the penalty of their sin. Christ took that penalty for us. As we are told in a Messianic prophecy: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was on him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

19:11 Patient Lalla

September 5th, 2010

The Lost Prince

The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger and his glory is to overlook an offense. Proverbs 19:11

One of the most beautiful incidents I have seen in any movie involves the behavior of Lalla, who is rearing John, the epileptic son of George V and Mary in The Lost Prince.

Frustrated at the restrictions and training forced upon him, John’s brother George lashes out against Lalla with cruel words, the gist of which is that all her efforts are futile. Instead of reacting sharply, Lalla pulls the boy to her and kisses the top of his head soothingly. In that gesture was something of the spirit of Christ who from the cross begged forgiveness for those who had nailed him there.

14:1 Wise and Foolish Women

August 29th, 2010

The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish pulls it down with her own hands. Proverbs 14:1

Gulag prisoners at work, courtesy of wikipedia.

Georgi Vins tells of Christian wives who made dangerous trips of thousands of kilometers to visit their husbands imprisoned for their testimony to Christ in Siberia. Non-christian prisoners were astonished. Their godless wives did not brave distance to visit them. In fact, many divorced them; others did not even bother with that formality but informed their husbands they were living with other men. What is even more astonishing, the Christian women did not reproach their husbands for the hardships which had befallen themselves and their children because of their husbands’ arrests. Even those women who were never to see their husbands again maintained godly homes for their children.

This is owing to Christ. Such is his power in relationships that the contrast between a marriage of convenience and a marriage of true Christians can be enormous. Christianity elevated the status of women. For instance, by likening marriage to the relationship between Christ and the church, Christianity gave women a higher status than was normal in ancient societies. Anyone who studies anthropology and archaeology with honesty cannot help but notice the different status of women in non-Christian societies and in Christian.

16:21 Facilitating Learning

August 15th, 2010

Comenius

Jan Amos Comenius, innovative educator.

The wise in heart shall be called prudent: and the sweetness of the lips increases learning. Proverbs 16:21

In one of her poems, Emily Dickenson wrote, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” I always interpreted this to mean to tell the truth but through simile, metaphor or other artistic devices that make knowledge more memorable and palatable—sweet lips that increase learning.

Centuries before Dickenson, the notable Christian educator Jan Amos Comenius had adopted a similar principle. He developed the first graded textbooks. These included pictures to make their content more memorable, a tactic followed by educators ever since.

Jesus also used the “slant” technique. He spoke in pithy parables and word illustrations, sarcasm, hyperbole, parallelism and other literary devices aimed to help his learners retain his word, including similes and metaphors. The results are some of the most memorable statements in all of literature, showing great wisdom and vividly illustrating the truths he wished to impart. He was the master exemplar of this proverb.

12:22 Lying Lips, Truthful Speakers

August 8th, 2010

John F. Kennedy

Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord: but they that deal truly are his delight. Proverbs 12:22.

When John F. Kennedy was president, he had Ambassador Stevenson present fake photos to “prove” the Bay of Pigs was not a CIA action but the work of disaffected Cubans. The photos were quickly exposed as forgeries. Adlai Stevenson, who had been misinformed by the White House, was publicly humiliated and the United States embarrassed.

Politicians are notorious for their lies, but are by no means the only liars. Every adulterer who tries to keep his affairs secret from his wife is in the same category and so are newsmen and newswomen who fake their stories, ignore crucial details, or spin events to make them mean the opposite of what they really mean. Businesses which promise quality that is lacking in their products are liars. Moviemakers who ignore the consequences of sin also practice deception. All such falsehood is an abomination to God. It suppresses the truth.

When God showed the world through Jesus Christ how He would behave as a man, one of his chief characteristics was truth. Thus Jesus went so far as to declare, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” and asserted to Pilate, “For this reason I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” Little wonder that God called from heaven, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.

19:14 Prudent Wife

July 18th, 2010

Anne H. Judson, prudent wife.

Houses and riches are the inheritance of fathers: and a prudent wife is from the Lord. Proverbs 19:14.

When Adoniram Judson became a Christian, his father, a minister, immediately had visions of him becoming a notable pastor in the United States. Adoniram grievously disappointed him. He told his father he was leaving it all to go to India.

Shortly before sailing in 1812, Adoniram married Anne Hasseltine, a young woman who had been a socialite before her conversion. They wound up in Burma, where Adoniram was imprisoned and tortured. Although a new mother, Anne exhausted herself to preserve his life and succor him. She died soon after his release.

Adoniram could have taken the course his father wanted. Instead he took a harder path, on which he was accompanied by a wife from the Lord. The pair became household names in America.

Everything of the Father belongs to Christ. He also is preparing himself a bride without spot or wrinkle, a prudent wife.

15:6 Revenues vs. Treasures

July 4th, 2010

Jonathan and Sarah Edwards, happy couple.

In the house of the righteous is much treasure, but in the revenues of the wicked is trouble. Proverbs 15:6.

When worldly church-goers hear the word “treasure,” they immediately assume the gold and silver kind are meant; but the person who knows Christ understands that something else is intended—treasures of love, joy, justice, wisdom, and peace. Christian homes, armies, societies and nations are distinguished by such treasures. Often physical treasures follow, too, because people who live well-regulated and honest lives tend to husband natural resources wisely and increase them.

For an example of a home filled with spiritual treasure, one can look to Jonathan and Sarah Edwards. The beauty of their affections and their godly oversight of their children were recorded by contemporaries. Evangelist George Whitefield was so impressed with the love he saw between the pair that he promptly determined to marry himself. His ill-advised union was not so happy.

One of the chief treasures of the Christian is contentment. The revenues that the wicked extract (often by unjust methods) do not bring them much happiness, not least because they constantly crave more and are never satisfied.

Christians enjoy spiritual treasures others can only crave. This is possible because of Jesus, “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3) and who “became poor so that we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).” The deposit he has left us is the Holy Spirit, who resides in us, whom Paul likens to those clay pots in which the people of the Middle East stored documents and gems they wished to preserve.

18:3 Pursuing the World’s Contempt

June 27th, 2010

The glory is departing.


When the wicked comes, then comes also contempt, and with ignominy reproach. Proverbs 18:3.

Although it is doubtful more than 5 or 10% of Americans have ever been heart-Christians, there have been times when the Judeo-Christian ethic exerted considerable control over the United States. Other nations admired and looked up to us then and sought to imitate our ways.

This is much less true today, for we have become a people that chases every kind of sin, excess and folly. Where once we strove for political and spiritual freedom, today the urge of the masses is for sexual pleasure, degenerate music, vampirism and the occult. We pile excess upon excess and spend money we do not have as though there will never be a reckoning. The Muslims call us the Great Satan and much of the world holds us in contempt.

We have rejected Christ as king, and have lost all restraint. Jesus still calls us to take up our cross daily, warning that anyone who wants to save his life will lose it, but those who lose it for his sake save it. A wicked nation plugs its ears and pursues another round of self-indulgence. How can these once noble states escape reproach when such is the face we turn to the world?

8:27 In Synch with the Creator

June 20th, 2010

Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking in a NASA photo.

When he prepared the heavens I [wisdom] was there; when he set a compass upon the face of the depth. Proverbs 8:27.

I hope I never forget the thrill of insight I experienced as I read Stephen Hawking’s Brief History of Time. Hawking was one of the great physicists of our age. In Brief History he showed that just a tiny bit of matter less and our universe would have blown apart at creation. A tiny bit more, and it would have collapsed on itself. The amount is so tiny that Christian astronomer Hugh Ross holds up a dime to demonstrate how much we are talking about. Imagine—one dime’s worth of matter is all that stands between a habitable and inhabitable universe. My thrill was because I recognized God at work.

Likewise, science is showing us that many, many things must be just right for the earth to support human life. It has to be the right size, with the right orbit around the right kind of star, in the right region of the right kind of galaxy, with exactly right proportions of carbon and water, metals and gases. Two hundred or more factors are now known which have to be right for a planet to support carbon-based life (the only possible kind in our universe). The discovery of over three hundred planets around other stars in the last decade has shown us just how difficult it is to find those “just right” conditions together in one place at one time. Truly we see God’s wisdom at work in fashioning our world.

This is Jesus’ doing. Scripture is unequivocal that everything we see was made through Christ and for him. Indeed, it is he who is speaking as wisdom personified in Proverbs 8:22-36. The lesson of this is that if anyone of us is not living for him, we are out of synch with the purpose of the universe we live in.