Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 3, The Man Among The Myrtle Trees: Zechariah's First Vision

"On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, the month of Shebat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo." (Zechariah 1:7) This vision comes to Zechariah about three months after the Lord calls him to be a prophet to the nation.

"During the night I had a vision, and there before me was a man mounted on a red horse. He was standing among the myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind him were red, brown, and white horses." (Zechariah 1:8) This type of imagery would have been familiar to anyone under Persian rule, as Judah was at that time. Persian rulers kept companies of horses and riders roaming the kingdom at all times in order to watch over their territories and the people in them. Since Zechariah's primary theme is that the King and His kingdom are coming, this imagery is quite significant. Darius the king of Persia has secured protection for the Jewish people as they rebuild the temple, and he has even helped to supply their needs, but he is not the king who has sent emissaries to check on the work. Though he has promised to defend their right to rebuild, Darius is not going to be angry with these people if they fail to complete the project for their God. He is not emotionally or spiritually invested in this endeavor. But another King is, and He has sent emissaries on horseback to check on the work. The rebuilding of the temple is kingdom work...His kingdom work. Here is Someone who is emotionally and spiritually invested in this project which, as we learned yesterday, has fallen drastically behind.

"I asked, 'What are these, my lord?' The angel who was talking with me answered, 'I will show you what they are.'" (Zechariah 1:9) Here we learn that there is an angel leading Zechariah through his vision, so we now have two characters: an angel and the man among the myrtle trees. It's not unusual in the Scriptures to find an angel by the side of the person experiencing visions. When we studied the book of Daniel we found him receiving the interpretations of his visions from an angel, and when we studied the book of Revelation we found an angel guiding the Apostle John through his visions.

"Then the man standing among the myrtle trees explained, 'They are the ones the Lord has sent to go throughout the earth.' And they reported to the angel of the Lord who was standing among the myrtle trees, 'We have gone throughout the earth and found the whole earth at rest and at peace.'" (Zechariah 1:10-11) In some of my commentaries I found the opinion that this angel of the Lord represents a Christophany: an Old Testament vision of the pre-incarnate Christ. But we cannot be certain of this. There are portions of the Old Testament in which a good case can be made for the "angel of the Lord" being Christ, but there are other portions where it would be quite a stretch to interpret the verses this way. In Zechariah's vision we may have to be content with not knowing the exact identity of either the angel or the man among the myrtle trees.

We would expect it to be good news that the earth is at rest and at peace, but we will find that the angel is distressed at this news. The entire region under Darius' rule was indeed enjoying a time of stability. The Persian Empire was at its peak during the reign of this man who was not in line for the throne but who overthrew the usurper Guamata who tried to pass himself off as a son of Cyrus the Great upon the death of Cyrus' son Cambyses. Darius was the son of Hystaspes, a satrap appointed by Cyrus, and he quickly quelled any rebellion against his rule. As we learned yesterday, he secured protection for the Jewish people to rebuild the temple without interference from their enemies. So the fact that the region is at rest, and the Jews have been given the peace to rebuild but have not rebuilt, causes the angel to cry out in distress. "Then the angel of the Lord said, 'Lord Almighty, how long will You withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which You have been angry with these seventy years?' So the Lord spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me." (Zechariah 1:12-13) The seventy years predicted for the captivity are finished. They have been finished for some time, but much of the land still lies in ruins. Zechariah called the people to repentance and, as we studied yesterday, many answered this call. The Lord invited them to return to Him, promising He would also return to them. The angel now asks when the Lord intends to return. How long before He comforts Judah? How long before He rebuilds His people both literally and spiritually?

"Then the angel who was speaking to me said, Proclaim this word: This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, and I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they went too far with the punishment.' Therefore this is what the Lord says: 'I will return to Jerusalem with mercy, and there My house will be rebuilt. And the measuring line will be stretched out over Jerusalem,' declares the Lord Almighty. 'Proclaim further: This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'My towns will again overflow with prosperity, and the Lord will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.'" (Zechariah 1:14-17) The angel interprets for Zechariah what he has heard from the Lord. The Lord is saying, "Do not fear. I will keep every promise ever made to My people. I will punish your enemies. I will build you up. As I promised in the days prior to the captivity, through My servant the prophet Jeremiah, 'In the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are deserted, inhabited by neither people nor animals, there will be heard once more the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, and the voices of those who bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord, saying, 'Give thanks to the Lord Almighty, for the Lord is good; His love endures forever.' For I will restore the fortunes of the land as they were before,' says the Lord." (Jeremiah 33:10b-11) This is why Zechariah says these words are "kind and comforting". God re-affirms His covenant with His people. He restates His promises to rebuild the nation, and God has never broken a promise.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 2, Return To The Lord

Yesterday we learned the time period in which the prophet Zechariah lived. We know little else about him, other than that he was the son of Berekiah and the grandson of Iddo. Berekiah and Iddo were common Old Testament names. A prophet named Iddo is found in the Chronicles, and although he lived too far back in time to be Zechariah's grandfather, he could have been an ancestor of Zechariah. In Ezra 5:1 we find Zechariah referred to as "a descendant of Iddo", so it's possible Iddo was a family name and that the spirit of prophecy ran deep in Zechariah's family line.

Zechariah begins his ministry the same way John the Baptist later will: with a call to repentance. "The Lord was very angry with your ancestors. Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Returns to Me,' declares the Lord Almighty, 'and I will return to you,' says the Lord Almighty." (Zechariah 1:2) He reminds the people that the Lord was angry with the idolatry and hypocrisy of their ancestors. These things led to the fall of the nation of Israel to Assyria and the fall of the nation of Judah to Babylon. Now the Judean exiles are back in their homeland, presented with a fresh start. Zechariah warns, "Don't make the same mistakes your ancestors made! Keep in mind that it didn't work out so well for them. The captivity of sin should be completely foreign and alien to the children of God, but if you fall back into it, the Lord is able to send you into literal captivity to a foreign land, just as He did with your ancestors."

The people of Zechariah's day were not bowing down to false idols, but difficult circumstances had caused them to lose their sense of purpose in regard to the rebuilding of the temple. The intense opposition that came against them would have been enough to make anyone want to quit. Quitting would have been excusable except, as both Haggai and Zechariah point out, their purpose was a divine purpose. The rebuilding of the temple should have been the first priority, a goal that nothing should have been allowed to hinder. This is the current problem in their lives and this is why Zechariah begins with such a stern warning. The prophet Haggai, a contemporary of Zechariah, uses the whole first chapter of his book to admonish the people for their neglect of the temple. They have built houses for themselves and have planted crops and have been getting on with their own lives while the temple lies in ruins. They are in danger of putting themselves before God, which is a form of idolatry. They must attend to God's temple first so they will always remember to put God first. Then they will be able to courageously say, as David did, "I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken." (Psalm 16:8) They need the visible landmark of the temple in their midst to remind them that God is in their midst and that He alone is their source of security.

Zechariah continues, "Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.' But they would not listen or pay attention to Me, declares the Lord. Where are your ancestors now? And the prophets, do they live forever? But did not My words and My decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your ancestors?" (Zechariah 1:4-6a) He points out that their ancestors rejected the warnings of the prophets to their own peril. The things the prophets predicted came to pass when the people refused to repent. The Lord's word stood the test of time, though their ancestors and the prophets have passed on. God did what He said He would do if His people did not turn back to Him. He is still capable in Zechariah's day of bringing woe and captivity upon them if they don't give Him their whole hearts. He is still capable of this in our own day.

"Then they repented and said, 'The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as He determined to do.'" (Zechariah 1:6b) Many of the people repented at the words of Zechariah. They agreed with his assessment that their forefathers sinned and that they reaped the rewards of their sin. They agreed that they too had sinned in not getting on with what God commanded them to do.

In our own lives, just as in the lives of the people of Zechariah's time, our sins aren't just what we do, but what we don't do. As Jesus' brother James points out, "If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them." (James 4:17) Zechariah's people knew they were commanded to build the temple but they had not done it. What good things has the Lord commanded us to do that we have not done?

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Zechariah's Vision Of The King. Day 1, Introduction

Who is Zechariah, the prophet to whom the Lord entrusted a vision of the coming King? The Bible introduces him like this, "In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo." (Zechariah 1:1)

Now we know the time period in which he lived. It was during the reign of Darius 1 Hystaspes, otherwise known as Darius the Great, the third Persian king of the Achaemenid Empire. Darius followed Cyrus the Great and Cyrus' son Cambyses, and he reigned from 522 BC to 486 BC. (This Darius is not to be confused with Darius the Mede from the book of Daniel.) As we learned from our study of Daniel, Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered the Babylonian Empire and granted the captive Jews the freedom to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and their homeland.

Cyrus, however, did not allow the Jews to re-establish their own monarchy. He intended for Palestine to remain subject to him, but he did not want to supply the manpower to rebuild the region which the Babylonians had so horribly devastated. So he gave the Jews permission to return and supplied the resources for them to begin the work. Rather than allowing them to have their own king, Cyrus appointed Zerubbabel, a prince of the line of David, governor of Judea. The books of Nehemiah and Ezra describe the difficulties the Jews encountered while trying to rebuild and the opposition that came against them. Over time they lost their enthusiasm and neglected to complete the construction of the temple. Ezra tells us that due to the extreme opposition of the enemies of the Jews, "Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia." (Ezra 4:24)

What happened in the second year of the reign of Darius that caused the work to suddenly take a giant leap forward? For one thing, the Lord raised up men like Haggai and Zechariah to admonish the people for their lack of enthusiasm and to encourage them in their efforts. For another thing, while the people were getting their hearts right again, the Lord put a stop to the opposition of the people of the Trans-Euphrates. These people sent a letter to Darius questioning the authority of the Jews to rebuild the region, asking him to make certain whether Cyrus the Great had indeed given them permission to do so. Cyrus was a fantastic record-keeper, and Darius' men found in the archives a scroll upon which Cyrus had written his decree to allow the Jews to return to their land and rebuild the temple. So Darius ordered, "Do not interfere with the work on this temple of God. Let the governor of the Jews and the Jewish elders rebuild this house of God on its site." (Ezra 6:7) In addition, Darius decreed that these men of the Trans-Euphrates were to assist the Jews in their efforts. The orders of Cyrus the Great were to be carried out, and woe to anyone who hindered the work, for Darius declared, "May God, who has caused His name to dwell there, overthrow any king or people who lifts a hand to change this decree or to destroy this temple in Jerusalem. I Darius have decreed it. Let it be carried out with diligence." (Ezra 6:12)

It is at that time that the temple project has new life breathed into it. "So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo." (Ezra 6:14a) Zechariah, whose name means "the Lord remembers", had returned from Babylon with the appointed governor Zerubabbel and more than 42,000 exiles to restore the temple and the nation. In the second year of the reign of Darius, in the fall of the year, the word of the Lord comes to Zechariah. The Lord appoints him a prophet to the people at around the same time He appoints Haggai a prophet to the people. But he grants each of these men a different message. The Lord gives Haggai the task of stirring up the hearts of the people to return to the work, while He gives Zechariah the task of stirring up the hearts of the people to return to the Lord. The people had failed to fully carry out either of these commissions. Zechariah will begin his ministry by crying out to the people, "Return to the Lord and He will return to you!"

Zechariah must help the people get their hearts right with the Lord, for the King is coming, and His people must be ready to receive Him.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 100, The Woman Of Valor, Part Three

We conclude our study of the woman of valor, and the book of Proverbs, today. I want to thank you for spending these one hundred days with me in the word of God! I promise you it won't be wasted. God will honor our devotion to His word and He will use it in our lives in some marvelous ways.

We are looking at the final portion of Chapter 31 which describes the woman of valor, the godly woman, the type of woman every single man should be looking for when he starts thinking about getting married. We've already learned she's a smart businesswoman whose husband trusts her to make financial decisions of her own. He supports her goals in life just as she supports his. Since her main goal in life is to help her family prosper in every way, we find her always at work doing good for her household, whether that work is in the home or outside the home.

"She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks." (Proverbs 31:17) This woman keeps herself fit, not so she can measure up to society's standards of beauty, but so she can be healthy enough to do all that she needs to do and wants to do. This verse makes a very important point for all girls and women, in that the main goal of fitness should be taking care of the bodies God gave us.

I hit my teen years at about the time when "thin was in". Curvy models were out of style. All the actresses and models of the 1980s were skinny as a rail and they have been ever since. I've had an unhealthy obsession with thinness for most of my life, then I hit my 40s and found it was taking twice as much effort with exercise and diet to get half the results. In desperation to boost my metabolism, I started weight training several times a week. That's when the Lord unexpectedly taught me something new concerning what fitness is all about. I can now take more pleasure in feeling strong than in worrying about the numbers on the scale. I've decided to focus on how it feels to be able to work harder and to have more endurance and energy during the day than whether I can still fit into a particular size. I believe the woman of Proverbs 31 focused on her health and strength rather than her weight or waist measurement. I picture her with her sleeves rolled up, biceps flexing as she grinds grain or kneads bread or weaves clothes. She's not worried about being a size zero; she's concerned only with keeping her body fit and healthy so she can enjoy the work and the fun activities in her life. We will all be much happier if we accept God's definition of beauty and fitness rather than society's definition. A godly woman who loves and serves the Lord is the most beautiful creature on earth.

"She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers." (Proverbs 31:18-19) Even at home in the evening this woman is not idle. She lights the lamp when it gets dark and continues with her tasks.

Her trading is so profitable that she is able to help those less fortunate. "She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy." (Proverbs 31:20)

"When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple." (Proverbs 31:21-22) She makes warm and beautiful clothes and bed coverings for her family. The items she makes are both practical and attractive. Like most women, she enjoys having beautiful things in her house and wearing pretty clothes. There's nothing wrong with that as long as we don't become shallow and vain, caught up in a form of idolatry that values possessions more than godliness.

Next we learn that her husband has a fine reputation in the community, and the author indicates her husband owes much of his success to her. "Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land." (Proverbs 31:23) You've probably heard the saying, "Behind every successful man is a woman," and the husband in Proverbs 31 is respected in his community because of the woman who supports and encourages him. He is able to be successful because she is a faithful, trustworthy, and godly woman. Likewise, she is able to be successful because he supports and encourages her. He's a faithful, trustworthy, and godly man.

"She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness." (Proverbs 31:24-27) She trust in the Lord and doesn't fear the future. She knows the word of God and is able to impart wise instruction to her children. She is always available for her children: being involved with their activities, knowing all their friends, and showing interest in the daily happenings of their lives.

"Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: 'Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.'" (Proverbs 31:28) The children of this loving mother absolutely adore her. Her husband does too. He can't believe his luck in being the man who won her hand in marriage, happily exclaiming, "I have the best wife in the whole world!"

"Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate." (Proverbs 31:30-31) The world may look only at the outward man, but the Lord looks on the heart. He is pleased with this godly woman who honors His name and obeys His word. He invites everyone in her home and community to praise her character, for she deserves recognition. She is beautiful in the sight of the Lord and in the eyes of her husband, children, and neighbors. If we are going to try and model ourselves on anyone, it should be this woman, not some celebrity on the cover of a magazine. There is no woman more fit than the one who takes care of herself so that she can take care of others and be able to work for the kingdom of God. There is no woman more beautiful than the one who glows from within because of the love and security she has found in her Savior.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 99, The Woman Of Valor, Part Two

The author concluded yesterday by telling young men that a woman of valor is far more valuable than rubies. This is because, "Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life." (Proverbs 31:11-12) This woman can be trusted with anything. Her husband has no worries she will be unfaithful to him or that she will be wasteful with money or resources. He can go about his duties in the confidence that she is going about hers. Both participants in this marriage feel secure in their relationship and are true helpmates to each other.

The woman of Chapter 31 is not a lady of leisure. She has servants, but she works as hard as anyone else in her household. "She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands." (Proverbs 31:13) She doesn't get up in the morning and sigh heavily and say, "Oh no! Look at all this work I have to do!" The author says she works "with eager hands". She enjoys performing the work the Lord has given her to do.

"She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar." (Proverbs 31:14) The health of her family is of concern to her, so she seeks out the best marketplaces. She isn't afraid of trying something new and she regularly purchases exotic foods from other countries. A varied diet is a healthy diet. This woman enjoys serving delicious and nutritious meals to her household.

"She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants." (Proverbs 31:15) How many of you ladies get up before daylight to start taking care of your household? There's no virtue in laziness, as Solomon has told us again and again in the book of Proverbs. The woman in this chapter gets up and gets on with it. This is what many of us ladies do and what many of our mothers did. I remember my mother getting up every morning well before daylight to cook breakfast and to pack my dad's lunch for work and to get me ready for school. I don't ever recall her complaining about any of it. She simply did what needed to be done. I think this is a quality I most admire in other women: the determination to do what needs to be done. We won't always feel like doing everything that needs to be done. It won't always be convenient. It certainly won't always be easy. But a woman of valor will press on anyway. My mother has gone on to be with the Lord, but she used to say that willpower is one of the most important virtues a person can possess, and the older I get the more I  agree with her. Nothing much would ever get done if we all waited til we felt like doing it. We might as well get up and get on with it.

The woman of Proverbs 31 also works outside the home. "She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard." (Proverbs 31:16) She's a businesswoman. She is smart and recognizes a good deal when she sees it. She knows how to make her ventures profitable. The author tells us she does these things "out of her own earnings", which means she does her part to add to the finances of the household. We will learn tomorrow that she runs a profitable trading business and that this business earns enough to help keep the household running, plus there is enough left over for her to give to the poor.

We often make the mistake of picturing wives of ancient times doing nothing but cooking and having babies, but in reality they did so much more. We see the woman of valor in Proverbs 31 enjoying the freedom to work in the home, to work outside the home, and to volunteer in her community. Her husband is not restricting her activities. She's not the type to make rash decisions or to invest money unwisely, therefore her husband trusts her implicitly. If she thinks something is a good deal, it is a good deal. If she wants to run a trading business from home, he's all for it. He supports her goals in life just as she supports his. We see an equality in their relationship. The author will not come out and expressly say that this husband and wife are very happy together, but we know they are. As we will learn in tomorrow's study, she does everything she can to encourage him and uphold his reputation in the community. She's the woman behind the man and he knows he wouldn't be as successful as he is without her. At the same time, she knows she wouldn't be as successful as she is without him, because he encourages her to be all she can be and he takes great pride in her accomplishments. This is the portrait of a beautiful relationship, a true partnership, just as the Lord intended marriage to be.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 98, The Woman Of Valor, Part 1

We begin the final section of Chapter 31, and the final chapter of the book of Proverbs. It's unclear whether the mother who was giving advice to her son in the first portion of this chapter is still the person who is speaking. Some Bible scholars say yes, while others think Solomon wrote the passage.

Up until now we've found Solomon speaking about women without virtue. He warned his son against visiting prostitutes and against listening to the smooth words of the adulterous wife. He cautioned against marrying a woman who is argumentative and nagging. He seems to have had a poor opinion of the character of most women, or at least the women of his acquaintance. Those of you who studied Ecclesiastes with us may recall Solomon observing, "I found one upright men among a thousand, but not one upright woman among them all." (Ecclesiastes 7:28) We know Solomon had a thousand wives and concubines, and if he did not find even one of these women to be upright in character, this is probably because he shunned the godly women of his own culture to marry foreign women who worshiped false gods. He was a man unlucky in love, but he only had himself to blame.

Whether Solomon wrote this passage, or whether this is the advice of King Lemuel's mother, it's beneficial for both men and women. Single men can use it as a guidebook for choosing a wife of noble character. Married men can praise their wives for being honorable and industrious like the woman in this chapter. Single women can use this chapter as premarital advice for how to conduct themselves as a wife and mother and career woman in the future. Married women can use it as a checklist to see whether they are adhering to the spirit of this chapter when it comes to behavior in the home and in the workplace. The woman of Chapter 31 is no shrinking violet, no meek and mousy woman who fades into the background. She is confident and courageous. She works both in the home and outside the home. She thinks for herself while at the same time keeping the best interests of her husband and children at heart. She adds to the fine reputation of her husband and helps him to be all he can be. She watches over her children and is aware of everything going on in their lives. She is known and admired in the community. But most of all she fears the Lord and obeys His word.

Most of our Bibles will title this passage "The Wife Of Noble Character" or "The Virtuous Woman". But in the original Hebrew it is "The Woman Of Valor". My thesaurus says valor means "boldness, courage, determination, endurance, enterprise, fearlessness, fortitude, heroism, invincibility, lion-heartedness, power, self-confidence, and spirit". Apparently the early church fathers felt these qualities didn't sound feminine enough for a godly wife, so the word which is otherwise translated "valor" when it's applied to men in the Bible was amended to "virtuous". I believe the Lord said what He meant to say when He called this honorable woman a woman of valor, and that's because it takes courage to be a woman of God. It calls for valor to stand for what is right and to be willing to swim against the stream. We need spiritual muscle to make it in this world, and as we study the woman of valor in Chapter 31 we find she is strong in body and in mind and in spirit.

"A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies." (Proverbs 31:10) This is not the type of woman a man can just bump into anywhere. He has to search for her. He has to carefully consider the qualities of the women he meets or goes out with. He must consult God's will in his choice of wife. As Solomon so wisely advised his son, "A prudent wife is from the Lord". (Proverbs 19:14) A man should prayerfully make certain that the woman he's interested in marrying is the right woman for him according to the will of God.

The author is saying something like this to the young man who is looking for a wife, "A mighty woman of valor is hard to find, and you should be looking for her in the right places. She's worth waiting for. Don't settle for less than God's best for your life. A woman like this will be more valuable to you than all the wealth you could possibly accumulate. She will be a true helpmate and friend."

The woman of Chapter 31 is going to sound a bit like Superwoman to us, but aren't all godly women Superwomen? We aren't perfect, and neither was the woman of Chapter 31, although the author does not point out any of her faults. Her power comes from knowing the Lord, just as ours does. Her confidence comes from knowing God is behind her. We will find her happily laughing at the future without any fear because God also goes before her. In Christ, we can all be women of valor!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 97, A Mother's Advice

Today we begin the final chapter of Proverbs and in it we find the advice of a loving mother to her son. We do not know who this son, Lemuel, is. Some scholars have attempted to equate Lemuel with Solomon and the mother with Bathsheba, but the original text contains some Chaldean characters which would likely not have been used in the time of Solomon. Other scholars believe Lemuel is a pet name King Hezekiah's mother used for him. This is possible, since we know Hezekiah made a collection of Solomon's sayings, and since this Lemuel is said to be a king. Still other commentators think the first section of Chapter 31 is an allegory, a little story about a fictional mother and son. No matter who Lemuel was, or who his mother was, we find some advice in this passage which is good for anyone, and especially for anyone who holds a position of leadership.

"The sayings of King Lemuel---an inspired utterance his mother taught him. Listen, my son! Listen, son of my womb! Do not spend your strength on women, your vigor on those who ruin kings." (Proverbs 31:1-3) Many a man has been brought low by illicit relations with women. We've seen politicians lose their careers because of affairs. We've seen church leaders and evangelists disgraced because of relationships they conducted outside of their marriages. Lemuel's mother knows what she's talking about when she tells her son that running after women ruins kings. Look what happened to King David when he chased another man's wife. Think about how far Solomon drifted from the Lord when he lusted after and married an outrageous number of women. Consider what happened to Samson because he had an insatiable appetite for Philistine women. The Bible is full of stories of men who made unwise choices where women are concerned. Lemuel's mother knows that mighty men may survive the battlefield only to be vanquished in their private lives.

"It is not for kings, Lemuel---it is not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights. Let beer be for those who are perishing, wine for those who are in anguish! Let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more." (Proverbs 31:4-7) The king must keep his wits about him. Alcohol is another thing that has ruined many a man (and woman). The king's mother counsels, "Save beer and wine for those who are ill and in pain, and for those whose hearts are broken. Think of it as medicine. But you, my son, are strong and in the prime of life. You must be sober. You must set an example. You must be capable at all times of making wise decisions."

"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy." (Proverbs 31:8-9) To be the champion of the needy is to be like the Lord, for David says of Him, "Who is like You, Lord? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them." (Psalm 35:10) And, "He stand at the right hand of the needy, to save their lives from those who would condemn them." (Psalm 109:31) And, "I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy." (Psalm 140:12) Lemuel's mother advises him to be a godly king. He is to care for the poor and needy. He is to avenge those who have been unfairly treated. In other words, he is to model himself after the King of kings. He is to look upon his subjects as the Lord would look upon them, and he is to love them as the Lord loves them. The Apostle John spoke on this same subject of loving our fellow man in 1 John 4:20-21, and we will conclude with his words, "Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister."