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."

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 96, Don't Play The Fool

We conclude the sayings of Agur today.

"There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, 'Enough!': the grave, the barren womb, land, which is never satisfied with water, and fire, which never says, 'Enough!'" (Proverbs 30:15b-16) Agur spoke about greed yesterday, and today he compares the greed of mankind with other things that are never satisfied. A greedy spirit will never say, 'Enough!'

"The eye that mocks a father, that scorns an aged mother, will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, will be eaten by the vultures." (Proverbs 30:17) Agur is threatening the one who disrespects his parents with a fate considered worse than death in ancient times: having one's body remain unburied. This often happened to criminals, who were left hanging so that the citizens could see what happens to lawbreakers. Agur correctly believes that the person who has no respect for the authority of parents will have no respect for any authority.

"There are three things that are too amazing for me, four that I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock. the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a young woman." (Proverbs 30:18-19) This passage is a bit confusing, but several of the commentaries I studied give it a sinister note, saying that Agur is speaking of things that leave no trace behind. The eagle, the snake, and the ship leave no path behind them to let us know they were ever there. And apparently Agur is saying in the final sentence that virginity is difficult to prove or disprove. He's asking, "Who can say whether this particular man and woman slept together? It's not written on their faces. No more than the eagle leaves a trail behind it in the sky can we be certain of anyone's purity."

The reason scholars believe that's what Agur means by "a man with a young woman" is because our next verse deals with sexual immorality. "This is the way of an adulterous woman: She eats and wipes her mouth and says, 'I've done nothing wrong.'" (Proverbs 30:20) He compares casual sexuality with the eating of a meal. We eat a meal and then go on with our lives, thinking little of it. He says the person with low morals has the same attitude toward intercourse with someone else's spouse. They treat such a sin as casually as the satisfying of the stomach's hunger, committing their act and going about their business as if they've done nothing wrong.

"Under three things the earth trembles, under four it cannot bear up: a servant who becomes king, a godless fool who gets plenty to eat, a contemptible woman who gets married, and a servant who displaces her mistress." (Proverbs 30:21-23) Agur mentions several incidents of unfair promotion and of the types of people who will become unbearably conceited by their new status in life. As Solomon once said, "Honor is not fitting for a fool." (Proverbs 26:1b)

"Four things on earth are small, yet they are extremely wise: Ants are creatures of little strength, yet they store up their food in the summer; hyraxes are creatures of little power, yet they make their home in the crags; locusts have no king, yet they advance together in ranks; a lizard can be caught with the hand, yet it is found in king's palaces." (Proverbs 30:24-28) God has built instincts into these creatures. He has also built something into mankind which yearns for fellowship with Him. Let's at least be as smart as these bugs and reptiles and do what we were made to do. Our destiny is to know our Creator; let's not miss our destiny!

"There are three things that are stately in their stride, four that move with stately bearing: a lion, mighty among beasts, who retreats before nothing; a strutting rooster, a he-goat, and a king secure against revolt." (Proverbs 30:29-31) These four are confident in their power. I'm reminded of what Solomon said earlier in the book of Proverbs, "The righteous are as bold as a lion." (Proverbs 28:1b) We, as Christians, can walk securely in the power of our God. This is not a prideful confidence, but a grateful confidence. The prophet Isaiah made this promise to the people of God, "The Lord will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard." (Isaiah 52:12b) Our God is so mighty that at the same time He can go before us into battle and protect us from attack from behind. He surrounds us on every side, therefore we can boldly say what David said, "The Lord is my light and my salvation---whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life---of whom shall I be afraid?" Psalm 27:1)

Agur concludes his writings with these words, "If you play the fool and exalt yourself, or if you plan evil, clap your hand over your mouth! For as churning cream produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife." (Proverbs 30:32-33) It's inevitable that trouble will ensue if we stir up anger, if we are gossips and talebearers and busybodies. Agur says, "Cover your mouth! Don't say something that will start an argument. Don't devise wickedness in your heart to pit one person against another." The Apostle Paul said that discord is one of the symptoms of living according to the flesh and not according to the Spirit. (Galatians 5:19-21) We are not walking in a way that honors our Savior when we enjoy stirring things up, and this is why Agur cautions us, "Don't play the fool!" Ah, this Agur is a man after Solomon's own heart! If Solomon's sayings could be summed up under one theme, I think it would be, "Don't play the fool!" Solomon would say, "Don't mess up your life by living it apart from God. Don't separate yourself from the wisdom and the power that comes from living in fellowship with the Lord."

Monday, September 11, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 95, Defiled From Within

Today we continue on with the sayings of a man named Agur. We don't know anything about him except from this one chapter of the Bible, but this one chapter is enough to tell us he was a godly man. In yesterday's passage he spoke about not being brilliant enough to understand everything about the Lord. He doesn't have a doctorate degree in theology, he doesn't have the highest IQ on the planet, and he isn't the wisest man on earth like Solomon. But he knows the Lord, and because he knows the Lord, the Holy Spirit has instructed him with these wise proverbs which he passes on to us. 

"Do not slander a servant to their master, or they will curse you, and you will pay for it." (Proverbs 30:10) To slander someone is to accuse them of something, usually falsely. It's an attack on their character. Agur warns, "Be careful about accusing a man's servant of wrongdoing, especially when it isn't true. This curse will fall back on your own head when you are proven a liar. Besides, it's not your business to meddle in the relationship between master and servant." 

This is particularly wise advice for anyone who dares to slander the servant of God. The Apostle Paul cautioned against passing judgment against those who have accepted Christ as their Redeemer, "Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand." (Romans 14:4) The Lord has promised to avenge every servant of His who has been slandered, and this happens to be one of my favorite verses because it assures us that God is always watching out for His servants, "'No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from Me,' declares the Lord." (Isaiah 54:17) 

"There are those who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers; those who are pure in their own eyes and yet are not cleansed of their filth; those whose eyes are ever so haughty, whose glances are so disdainful; those whose teeth are swords and whose jaws are set with knives to devour the poor from the earth and the needy from mankind." (Proverbs 30:10-14) Agur points out some distressing trends he's observed in his generation, and we can observe these same trends in our own times. There are those who have no respect for their parents or for authority figures of any kind. They believe it's fine to do anything they want, and that there really is no right or wrong, and that they have the right to pursue their desires no matter who it hurts. They speak sharp words that cut others to the quick and they have no compassion on the poor and needy. 

We can only expect these conditions to worsen as we near the end times, as the Apostle Paul points out, "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God---having a form of godliness but denying its power." (2 Timothy 3:1-5a)

"The leech has two daughters. 'Give! Give!' they cry." (Proverbs 30:15) Agur compares the person who is greedy and driven by selfish ambition to a leech who sucks blood until it's ready to burst and still wants more. Solomon says of greed, "Death and destruction are never satisfied, and neither are human eyes." (Proverbs 27:20) The Lord Jesus said that greed is one of the character flaws that defiles us. He was criticized for not observing ceremonial washing before eating, and He countered the accusations of the hypocritical Pharisees and teachers of the law by saying, "What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For it is from within, from a person's heart, that evil thoughts come---sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person." (Mark 7:20-23) 

As we continue Chapter 30 we will find Agur discussing several of these defiling things that Jesus mentions. He will discuss flaws of the human heart that cause us to constantly crave more, even if it belongs to someone else. He will talk about those who are disrespectful to parents, those who are sexually immoral and refuse to admit their wrong, those who are foolish but have risen to high positions, and those who consumed with pride in themselves. All of these are attitudes that defile us, as the Lord Jesus warned. As servants of God we must not live this way, for it gives unbelievers grounds to accuse us and a reason to reject Christ because we have set such a poor example of what being a Christian means.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 94, What Is His Son's Name?

Chapter 30 contains the sayings of a man named Agur, a man who is not known outside of the book of Proverbs. Some scholars believe he may have lived during the reign of King Hezekiah, since we just concluded a section of Solomon's sayings that were collected by Hezekiah. All we know about Agur is that he was a man of humble character whose words are said to be inspired, and we can safely conclude that his words were inspired by the Holy Spirit, for he received an Old Testament vision of the Son of God. The chapter begins, "The sayings of Agur son of Jakeh---an inspired utterance." (Proverbs 30:1)

"This man's utterance to Ithiel: 'I am weary, God, but I can prevail. Surely I am only a brute, not a man; I do not have human understanding. I have not learned wisdom, nor have I attained to the knowledge of the Holy One." (Proverbs 30:2-3) We don't know the identity of Ithiel, either, but he may have been the man who wrote down the words of Agur. Agur expresses his utter inability to understand the awesome nature of God. He is not the only man of the Bible to speak with such humility. Job, after God finally spoke to him, said, "Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know...My ears had heard of You but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:3b,5-6) David knew he was incapable of comprehending all of God's plans, so he purposed in his heart to trust in the Lord even when he didn't understand, "I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me." (Psalm 131:1b) Agur is saying, "I believe in God. I can't describe Him. I can't understand everything about Him. I am so lowly and He is so mighty. I can never hope to know everything about Him while I live in this flesh."

He now reveals his belief that no one truly knows God and that no one but God's Son can reveal Him to us. "Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Whose hands have gathered up the wind? Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is the name of his Son? Surely you know!" (Proverbs 30:4) The Apostle John, when affirming the deity of Jesus Christ, said, "No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made Him known." (John 1:18) Agur is asking, "Who can reveal God to me? Who can make Him known to me? Who can bring Him down to my level so I can understand Him and have fellowship with Him?" This Old Testament believer had only a shadowy idea of the coming incarnation, but the Apostle John lived in a time when Christ had become living flesh and had dwelt among men. John says, "No man has ever seen Almighty God. But we have seen the Son. The Son has revealed God to us. He has made Him known to us. In Christ, God came down to our level so we could understand Him and have fellowship with Him." Jesus confirmed the truth of this by saying, "Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father." (John 14:9)

"Every word of God is flawless; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words, or He will rebuke you and prove you a liar." (Proverbs 30:5-6) The word of God is perfect and whole. There is nothing we can add to it. Additions made by man can only corrupt the Scriptures, which is why such a stern warning is given at the end of the book of Revelation regarding the prophecies contained in it, "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll." (Revelation 22:18-19) God is indescribably holy and the word of God is indescribably holy. The Lord performed all the work of salvation and there's nothing we can add to it. My works didn't save me; the works of Christ saved me. There's nothing I can do to make myself more saved. In the same way, the word of God needs nothing from me. Adding the traditions or rituals of man to it will only pervert it and perhaps keep our fellow man from coming to the truth of the salvation that is by faith alone.

We conclude today's portion of Chapter 30 with this beautiful prayer, "Two things I ask of You, Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown You and say, 'Who is the Lord?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God." (Proverbs 30:7-9) This man Agur loves the Lord. He claims the Lord as his own, calling Him "my God". He prays about his heart's desire, which is to live a life that honors his God. He fears becoming false and hypocritical, so he asks the Lord to help him to remain an honest man. He has seen people become lifted up in pride as their riches increase, so he tells the Lord only to provide what he needs. He has also seen people become hungry enough to steal, so he asks the Lord not to allow him to be in want. In all things and in every way Agur intends to honor the name of God.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 93, Fear God, Not Man

Solomon discusses several miscellaneous subjects today, and he instructs us to fear God more than man.

"Pride brings a person low, but the lowly in spirit gain honor." (Proverbs 29:23) If we need an example of this, we don't need to look any further than the Lord Jesus, who is "meek and lowly of heart" (Matthew 11:29), but who has been "exalted to the highest place" (Philippians 2:9). If we want to be like Him we must submit ourselves to God, having the same attitude the Lord Jesus had. The Lord honors a humble spirit, but He resists the proud. (James 4:6)

"The accomplices of thieves are their own enemies; they are put under oath and dare not testify." (Proverbs 29:24) In other words, with friends like these you don't need enemies. A wicked man will choose friends as wicked as he is, and their character can't be trusted anymore than his own character can be trusted.

"Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe." (Proverbs 29:25) How many wrong things have we agreed to because we were afraid of what someone would think about us or say about us? How many times have we cared more about man's opinion than God's opinion? Our duty is to obey our God. He is the one we will stand before someday to give an account for our lives. It won't matter then what our neighbors or friends thought about us. Solomon says, "It's a trap to care too much about what others think of us, or to fear man more than we fear God. We need to obey God, and if some people don't want to have anything to do with us because of our faith, that's fine. The righteous life is not a popularity contest. Stand for what you believe in."

"Many seek an audience with a ruler, but it is from the Lord that one gets justice." (Proverbs 29:26) Solomon's wisdom came from the Lord, so he could be making the statement that when a person brings his case before a godly judge, it's really the Lord who is securing justice. But I think he also makes another point here, because we don't always get justice from our legal system. The courts are run by men and women who are imperfect. We can trust God to set things straight in His court even if no court of man gets it right. Many a murderer or criminal has gone free because of a lack of enough evidence to convict, but God saw their crimes and they will someday have to answer to Him.

"The righteous detest the dishonest; the wicked detest the upright." (Proverbs 29:27) You may have heard the saying, "oil and water don't mix". Neither do the righteous and the wicked. They are opposites of each other, as the Apostle Paul said, "What do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?" (2 Corinthians 6:14b) Wickedness desires to have its way, and righteousness desires to have its way. We find here the principle of not being unequally yoked together. Believers should marry believers. Business owners who are believers should only take on partners who are a believers. If not, there's always going to be a struggle.

Tomorrow we begin our final two chapters of the book of Proverbs. Chapter 30 is a section to itself and is attributed to a man named Agur who was a collector of wise sayings. Chapter 31 deals with the wife of noble character. This is a great chapter for women, but men can learn a lot from it too. Single men will learn what to look for in a godly wife; men who are already married can read about attributes they can praise in the godly character of their wives. When we conclude the book of Proverbs we hope to do a study on the prophetic book of Zechariah.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 92, Discipline And Self-Control

The king talks about discipline and self-control today. He speaks of the importance of instructing those we are responsible for, such as our children and our employees. He reminds us how important it is that we take godly instruction to heart and maintain self-control.

"Discipline your children, and they will give you peace; they will bring you the delights you desire." (Proverbs 29:17) He says, "Bring your children up in the right way. Teach them how to be godly men and women. They will be a delight to you as you grow older."

"Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds instruction." (Proverbs 29:18) The Lord has spoken to mankind in a number of ways, as the author of Hebrews points out, "In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at various times and in many ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son." (Hebrews 1:1-2a) God has had His faithful ones in every age who took heed to the words of those sent by Him. Solomon declares, "Blessed is the one who hears God's word and takes it to heart!" If the Old Testament saints were blessed by obeying the instructions given to them by prophets of old, how much more are we blessed in our generation when we obey the instructions given to us by God's only Son?

"Servants cannot be corrected by mere words; though they understand, they will not respond." (Proverbs 29:19) Some have suggested Solomon is saying it's alright to beat servants who are reluctant to obey, and such a practice would have been common in ancient times, but I don't think we can conclude from this one verse that Solomon believed in hitting his servants. He doesn't strike me as a violent person. He's a man who took a dim view of laziness, so we can be pretty certain he rewarded the servants who performed their jobs faithfully, while he probably reprimanded or removed privileges from servants who slacked off on their work. In our own times an attitude of insubordination in the workplace is dealt with by reprimanding the person or even demoting or firing them, so I'm sure Solomon had similar procedures in place to deal with employees who didn't perform up to standard. If he had intended to say it was okay to beat his servants, he was capable of saying so plainly, but he doesn't.

"Do you see someone who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for them." (Proverbs 29:20) Solomon has discussed this subject several times. It's imperative that we take time to think before we speak. He says, "It's more likely for a spiritually reprobate man to become righteous than for someone who speaks in haste to learn from his mistakes. The one who never thinks before he speaks is always going to be in trouble."

"A servant pampered from youth will turn out to be insolent." (Proverbs 29:21) The king believes in keeping the hierarchy intact. He's noticed that if he treats his servants like family members they begin to behave like they own the place. They start to ignore his orders. Anyone who has ever been the boss at work will know what he means. The boss should be respectful and friendly to employees while avoiding becoming so chummy with them that employees begin to behave disrespectfully. It's hard to give instructions to someone you've treated like family or to reprimand them when needed. The king says, "Be kind and considerate to employees; just don't let them forget you're the boss."

"An angry person stirs up conflict, and a hot-tempered person commits many sins." (Proverbs 29:22) A person who harbors a spirit of anger stirs up conflict wherever he goes. He keeps things unsettled at home. He causes arguments at work. He brings discord into the church. He can't get along with his neighbors. Anger has a way of leading us into many sins, as Solomon cautions. Self-control is the goal of the Christian. If we give way to our emotions we will be indistinguishable from unbelievers. Then what influence will we have on those who don't know Christ? They will look at us and say, "She looks just like me! He does the same things I do! How would I benefit by following Jesus? As far as I can tell, these Christians aren't any better than I am."

We have to go out into the world every day and interact with people, so let's keep in mind that we are ambassadors of Christ. We must practice self-control. We can't yell at our server in the restaurant or be hateful in the checkout line or scream at our co-worker for making a mistake. You probably remember several years back when all the merchandise came out with "WWJD" (What Would Jesus Do?) on it. Unfortunately that became such a common catchphrase that it almost of lost its meaning, but it's a valid question we should be asking ourselves all the time. When we're driving in heavy traffic and somebody cuts over in front of us, what would Jesus do? When the server gets our order wrong, what would Jesus do? When our co-worker speaks to us disrespectfully, what would Jesus do? When a friend says something that hurts our feelings, what would Jesus do? When interacting with unbelievers who scorn us for our faith, what would Jesus do?

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 91, Corruption In High Places

Solomon talks about corruption in the highest places of government, but he also talks about justice in the highest court of all.

"If a ruler listens to lies, all his officials become wicked." (Proverbs 29:12) The leader sets the example. If he sets a wicked example, his officials will become casual about sin.

"The poor and the oppressor have this in common: The Lord gives sight to the eyes of both." (Proverbs 29:13) In Proverbs 22:2 Solomon reminded us that the Lord is the Maker of both the rich and the poor. Time and again he has counseled us not to treat people differently according to how much money or influence they have. He appears to be saying something like, "We all have the same Maker...and the same Judge. Be careful how you treat your fellow man."

"If a king judges the poor with fairness, his throne will be established forever." (Proverbs 29:14) The wicked may prosper for a time, but as the history of the kings of Israel and Judah shows us, the line of the wicked will eventually be cut off. A day of judgment is coming, even if it seems to us it's slow in coming.

"A rod and a reprimand impart wisdom, but a child left undisciplined disgraces its mother." (Proverbs 29:15) Solomon observes, "What a disgrace it is to be a neglectful parent! It's a huge responsibility to bring up children and you must take it seriously and perform your duties in the fear of the Lord. Your job is to impart wisdom to your children and provide a sound spiritual and moral foundation for their lives. Then they will grow up to be the godly leaders of tomorrow."

"When the wicked thrive, so does sin, but the righteous will see their downfall." (Proverbs 29:16) This verse builds on verses 12 and 14. When the wicked come to power they often influence others to fall in with their schemes. Sin thrives when a wicked ruler reigns. "But never fear," Solomon counsels the righteous, "because their day is coming. Not only will judgment rush in upon them, but the Lord will allow you to see it happen so you will know He is faithful to His promises." We don't know who wrote Psalm 92, but its author assures us that the Lord brings about the downfall of the wicked and allows us to witness it, "Though the wicked spring up like grass and all evildoers flourish, they will be destroyed forever...My eyes have seen the defeat of my adversaries; my ears have heard the rout of my wicked foes." (Psalm 92:7,11) Throughout history, court trials have generally been open to the public. So have sentencing hearings and executions. This is because it's human nature to want to see justice carried out. Allowing the citizens to see justice in action helps the people to feel their elected officials are doing their jobs. Solomon knows we need to know God is carrying out justice too, so he reassures us that not only will God avenge us, but He will make sure we know about it when it happens.

There is corruption in high places in this world. There always has been. There always will be until the Lord Jesus Christ reigns over the earth as our eternal King. But we need not fret, for justice is in high places too...in the highest court there is: the court of our holy God.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 90, In Your Anger Do Not Sin

Solomon's main theme in today's study is the foolishness of lashing out in anger. There will be things in this world that make us angry, but there are ways to handle our anger and to make changes in our society without harming those around us.

"By justice a king gives a country stability, but those who are greedy for bribes tear it down." (Proverbs 29:4) Solomon loathes the idea of bribes. He's spoken on this subject before. When a ruler can be bribed to make incorrect rulings, the poor suffer. Cases get decided on the basis of who has the most money, not on who is in the right.

"Those who flatter their neighbors are spreading nets for their feet." (Proverbs 29:5) There's nothing wrong with bestowing a genuine compliment or giving credit where credit is due. But we ought to beware anyone who always seems to be gushing with praise for us. (After all, we can't be that great all the time!) The one who constantly tries to flatter us may be intending to deceive us. And if their goal is not to deceive us, it could be they are looking for someone with whom to develop an unhealthy type of co-dependent friendship. Either way, we need to be on guard whenever anyone flatters us extravagantly. They are using flattery in order to meet hidden needs of their own.

"Evildoers are snared by their own sin, but the righteous shout for joy and are glad." (Proverbs 29:6) What a beautiful verse for believers! Solomon contrasts the slavery of sin with the freedom of being forgiven and redeemed. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free." (Galatians 5:1a) We are to rejoice in the freedom we have in Christ. We are to possess it wholly. We don't need to go around with our chins hanging in the dust, shuffling our feet and sighing and saying, "Woe is me!" We are a free people. What a shame and disgrace it is if we don't enjoy the freedom our Savior bought for us!

Again we see Solomon stating his concern for the poor, "The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern." (Proverbs 29:7) It would have been easy for a wealthy and powerful man of privilege like Solomon to shrug his shoulders at injustice and turn a blind eye to the plight of the poor. But he cared deeply for the needy. He judged court cases according to the evidence, scorning bribes and refusing to treat one person differently than another because of their wealth or social standing.

"Mockers stir up a city, but the wise turn away anger." (Proverbs 29:8) Solomon reminds us that we aren't behaving wisely when we give way to rage. Lately in our country there's a different protest going on somewhere almost every day, and if people want to assemble peacefully, they have that right. I'm not saying that many of their concerns aren't legitimate or that they shouldn't speak out against things they feel are wrong. Thankfully, we live in a free country where our people are free to make their opinions known. Our constitution gives us "the right of the people to peacefully assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances". But these assemblies aren't always peaceful, and Solomon would say something like, "Don't stir up strife in the city by committing lawless acts. Don't give vent to your anger by assaulting those who disagree with you or by destroying property or by blocking traffic and interfering with the peace and safety of those around you. The wise person is able to control his emotions. There are better ways to get your point across and get the laws changed than by resorting to violence."

In Solomon's opinion it's a foolish person who gives full reign to his anger. "If a wise person goes to court with a fool, the fool rages and scoffs, and there is no peace. The bloodthirsty hate a person of integrity and seek to kill the upright. Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end." (Proverbs 29:9-11) Nothing will make us look foolish any faster than screaming and cursing, stomping around and throwing things and turning all red in the face and losing our cool.

There are going to be circumstances that make us feel angry. This is inevitable in a fallen world, and feelings of anger are not necessarily sinful in themselves. It's what we do with our anger that can be sinful. There are going to be injustices that could easily throw us into a rage, but the Apostle Paul, a man who suffered a great deal of injustice, cautions us, "In your anger do not sin." (Ephesians 4:26) It's possible to be righteously angry at something that's wrong without giving in to rage and falling into sin. There are other, and better, ways of handling problems. There are occasions in the Scriptures where we find Jesus experiencing righteous anger and indignation at things that were wrong, but He never physically attacked a person He disagreed with. He never incited a riot or looted property or shouted obscenities in the streets. As the prophet Isaiah said when he foresaw the advent of Christ, "He will not shout or cry out, or raise His voice in the streets." (Isaiah 42:2)

We always find Jesus in complete control of His words and actions, even in the face of injustice. If we are going to attract an unbelieving world to Him, we must learn to handle our anger. We can't lash out angrily at our neighbor today and hope to have him let us share the gospel with him tomorrow. There are wise ways to handle our anger and they do not involve harming those around us or preventing them from living in peace. As the old saying goes, "Two wrongs don't make a right," and it doesn't solve anything when we fall into sin while trying to fight injustice.

We all get angry. Solomon never said we couldn't get angry. The Apostle Paul never said we couldn't get angry. These men of the Bible are telling us we can be angry without sinning at the same time.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 89, The Folly Of Rejecting Rebukes

Today Solomon talks about greed, about the foolishness in trusting in oneself instead of in God, about good rulers and wicked rulers, and about the foolishness of being stubborn and rejecting godly rebukes.

"The greedy stir up conflict, but those who trust in the Lord will prosper." (Proverbs 28:25) It's ironic that the one who most wants to have peace of mind, and seeks to gain it through wealth, is the least likely to find what he seeks. But the one who trusts the Lord prospers spiritually, mentally, and even materially in the sense that his needs will be met.

"Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe." (Proverbs 28:26) David Gresham, stepson of theologian and Christian novelist C.S. Lewis, once said that while living in rebellion toward God he made himself the god of his life. He stated that the one who makes himself a god has a fool for a god. Solomon is saying the same thing here.

"Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses." (Proverbs 28:27) Solomon expects the Lord to see generosity to the poor and to reward the giver. The one who is able to help the poor but does not will be hated in the community.

"When the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding; but when the wicked perish, the righteous thrive." (Proverbs 28:28) We can see the truth of this in the history of Israel and Judah. A good ruler was a blessing to the people, and they enjoyed prosperity under godly kings. But at times, because of their rebelliousness, God allowed wicked kings to ascend to the throne in order to discipline them. The prophet Daniel said in Daniel 2:21, "He deposes kings and raises up others," displaying his belief that all rulers are ordained by God and are used by Him to suit His purposes. At times it may be God's will to allow a wicked ruler to sit on the throne; at other times it's His will to raise up a godly leader. But it was Daniel's belief that God is sovereign over all these matters and that no one holds the scepter unless God allows it.

"Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed---without remedy." (Proverbs 29:1) Solomon counsels, "Don't be stubborn. If you refuse to listen to correction time and time again, you will find yourself in trouble so deep you won't ever be able to get out of it." He's seen it happen in his own court. Some of the same lawbreakers have been brought before him again and again, with their crimes escalating in severity, until suddenly they commit a crime worthy of life in prison or capital punishment. This happened because they remained stiff-necked after many rebukes. The day came when Solomon had to hand down a harsh sentence. He believes God, the holy Judge, has a limit as to how many times He will keep trying to reason with one who scorns Him and that there will come a point when He will allow that person to have their own way. This is when they will reap the consequences of their rebellion.

"When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan." (Proverbs 29:2) He rephrases his observation from Proverbs 28:28.

The king now reminds his son how to make him proud, "A man who loves wisdom brings joy to his father, but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth." (Proverbs 29:3) On several previous occasions we've found Solomon warning his son about excess and debauchery. These things lead to ruin. They lead to the ruin of a person's life and usually to the ruin of his finances too. Solomon has also spoken about the importance of choosing friends wisely. He knows riotous and unwise friends will have a bad influence on his son. So he says, "Stay away from those who frequent the houses of ill repute. Stay away from the gang who hangs out at the bar every night. Stay away from those who plot mischief. You may think you will be a good influence on them, but these situations often go the other way. They will put pressure on you to be just like them. They will say, 'Let's go out to the strip club tonight,' or, 'Let's rob that old man's house while he's out of town,' or, 'If you want to be cool you'll come to the party with us and drink til you pass out.' No, my son, avoid men such as these. Love wisdom. Spurn evil. Be a godly man of principles."

The king knows he will not live forever, so he wants to leave helpful proverbs behind to guide his son's life. He won't always be there in person to remind his son to live for the Lord. He won't be able to point out areas in which his son is drifting from the Lord, so he tries his best to instill godly principles in him while he can. Solomon himself made many mistakes in his youth and middle age and he doesn't want his son to make the same mistakes. He doesn't want you or me to make them either.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 88, Twisting God's Commandments To Suit Ourselves

Solomon discusses greed, laziness, and disobedience today. We take a look at how it's possible to twist God's laws in order to satisfy our own greedy cravings.

"Like a roaring lion or a charging bear is a wicked ruler over a helpless people. A tyrannical ruler practices extortion, but one who hates ill-gotten gain will enjoy a long reign." (Proverbs 28:15-16) A tyrannical ruler preys on his own people. He harms the ones he should be protecting.

"Anyone tormented by the guilt of murder will seek refuge in the grave; let no one hold them back." (Proverbs 28:17) The king cautions, "Let no one give aid to the murderer who is running from his crimes! Do not harbor a fugitive. He will try to hide from his crimes until the day of his death, but don't be a party to his deception."

"The one whose walk is blameless is kept safe, but the one whose ways are perverse will fall into the pit." (Proverbs 28:18) Most of the troubles the wicked endure are self-inflicted. Their manner of living brings harsh consequences into their lives. But Solomon reminds his people that if they are law-abiding citizens they won't have to fear what the wicked fear. If they obey the laws of the government they will be able to live in peace and go about their business. If they obey the laws of God they will have peace with Him. Their mode of living will naturally allow them to avoid most of the troubles that come into the lives of criminals and the spiritually corrupt.

"Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty. A faithful person will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished." (Proverbs 28:19-20) We studied a similar statement in Chapter 12 when Solomon basically warned us to be practical and keep our heads out of the clouds. He is a man who deplores laziness and who admires industriousness. He says, "Go about your work faithfully. Stop getting caught up in get-rich-quick schemes. The chances of those schemes working our for you are slim, but the chances of raising a good harvest are great. Be honest and work hard and the Lord will reward you."

Again Solomon reminds us that it's wrong to show partiality to a person because of their wealth or social standing or political position. "To show partiality is not good---yet a person will do wrong for a piece of bread." (Proverbs 28:21) He says, "Some of you are so easily bribed to do wrong! You don't even hold out for silver or gold; you'd betray your own mother for a piece of bread. Where is your integrity? Where is your sense of right and wrong?"

"The stingy are eager to get rich and are unaware that poverty awaits them." (Proverbs 28:22) God's economy is different than man's economy. Our carnal natures tell us to hoard up for ourselves, but God commands us to be rich toward others. Solomon previously predicted a poor outcome for those who are stingy and greedy, "One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty." (Proverbs 11:24) The author of Psalm 112 agrees, "Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely, who conduct their affairs with justice." (v. 5)

"Whoever rebukes a person will in the end gain favor rather than one who has a flattering tongue." (Proverbs 28:23) Solomon discussed this subject in our study last week, saying, "Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses." Proverbs 27:6) A true friend will be concerned if they see us going wrong, but one who cares nothing for our well-being will flatter us with empty words like these, "You have to follow your heart and it's nobody's business how you live your life. Do what makes you happy! There's nothing wrong with going after what you want."

"Whoever robs their father and mother and says, 'It's not wrong,' is partner to one who destroys." (Proverbs 28:24) The Lord Jesus condemned this hypocritical attitude while speaking to the Pharisees and teachers of the law in Mark 7:9-13. One of the ten commandments orders us to honor our fathers and mothers, yet the religious leaders of Israel had made a loophole law that allowed them to avoid supporting their elderly parents. They could say to their father and mother, "I'm sorry, I would like to give you some money and help you out, but I've promised it to the Lord's work. I've devoted this money to the temple." This was hypocritical because if they were truly doing the Lord's work they would have been obeying His commandment to honor their parents, but they had come up with a way to appear pious while breaking God's laws.

Partial obedience is the same thing as disobedience. Jesus' fellow Israelites were commanded to bring their tithes to the temple and were encouraged to devote other offerings according to their ability, but this did not negate their duty to their families. As the Apostle Paul pointed out in a letter to Timothy, "Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." (1 Timothy 5:8) The Lord's brother James criticized those who were stingy and hard-hearted toward their relatives and toward those of the family of God, "Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?" (James 2:16)

Solomon, Paul, and James are all warning us not to twist the laws of God to suit our own greedy natures. We can't pick and choose which of God's commandments we are going to keep and which we are going to ignore. Solomon warns us it won't go well with us if we deny compassion to our fellow man, for so many of God's commandments and laws have to do with loving our neighbors as ourselves. The Lord Jesus once said that the entire law and all the sermons of the prophets could be summed up like this: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind...Love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:37b,39b) If we love God above all else, we will naturally want to obey Him. If we love our neighbors as ourselves, we will naturally want to be good to them. This is a life that honors our God and which adheres to the spirit of all the law and all the commandments.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 87, Blessed Is The One Who Trembles Before God

Solomon speaks on the subject of holy living today. Holy living begins with the fear of God.

"A discerning son heeds instruction, but a companion of gluttons disgraces his father." (Proverbs 28:7) Solomon says, "Son, if you're wise, you'll take my counsel to heart. Don't live an empty life full of partying and debauchery. That will bring shame to me."

"Whoever increases wealth by taking interest or profit from the poor amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor." (Proverbs 28:8) Again we see Solomon's compassion on the poor. He warns, "If you've gotten rich by oppressing the poor, you're simply piling up riches for someone else, because the Lord will take from you what you've gained dishonestly."

"If anyone turns a deaf ear to my instruction, even their prayers are detestable." (Proverbs 28:9) I prefer the way the KJV renders this verse, "He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination." In the NIV Solomon calls his counsel "my instruction" rather than "the law", although I don't think there's any contradiction here. Solomon is teaching lessons from God's law, so to ignore his instruction is to ignore the Lord's instruction. He is performing a role similar to a church pastor or Sunday school teacher who is faithfully relating God's holy word to the assembly. He asks, "Do you think God wants to hear your prayers while you scorn His word? If you have no regard for Him, why should He have regard for your requests? Get right with the Lord! Then His ears will be open to your cries."

Next he pronounces woe upon the one who leads the righteous astray. "Whoever leads the upright along an evil path will fall into their own trap, but the blameless will receive a good inheritance." (Proverbs 28:10) There are those who would love to see the righteous fall away from Christ, but theirs is a double portion of judgment. It's bad enough to enjoy living in sin oneself, but it's especially perverse to want to drag others down into it.

"The rich are wise in their own eyes; one who is poor and discerning sees how deluded they are." (Proverbs 28:11) The one who trusts in his wealth instead of trusting in God ends up prideful and conceited. Because this person has no material need that has not been met, he scoffs at the idea of having spiritual needs that only God can meet. But Solomon points out that the poor don't have to worry about having the blinders of wealth over their eyes. They see things as they really are. They depend on God for their daily bread and they know they need a Helper.

"When the righteous triumph, there is great elation; but when the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding." (Proverbs 28:12) Imagine if the nations of the world were led by men and women of Christ, who honored the word of God, who loved their fellow man, and who obeyed the Scriptures! We could expect far more peace and prosperity under such leadership, just as the nations of Israel and Judah enjoyed more peace and prosperity when they had godly leadership. The Bible doesn't say for nothing that "blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord". (Psalm 33:12)

"Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy." (Proverbs 28:13) Amen! Thank God for the mercy He extends when we are sorry for our sins! As we see in verse 13, repentance is not merely the confession of sin, but the turning away from it. Solomon says we must both confess and renounce our sin.

We might be able to conceal our sins from our fellow man, but we won't be able to conceal them from God. Since He knows about them anyway, why not come clean with Him? Solomon's father David desperately tried to hide his sins of adultery and murder, and he probably thought he was going to get away with his crimes, but the Lord who knows all things revealed David's sins to the prophet Nathan, who came to him and rebuked him for them. It was at that point that David stopped living in denial and confessed to Nathan, "I have sinned against the Lord." (2 Samuel 12:13a) This is when David cried out to God, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin." (Psalm 51:1-2) These are the words of a man whose heart is broken over his sins. He appeals to the only One who can make him clean again. He confesses his sins to God and renounces them, receiving mercy. How do we know David truly renounced his sins? Because we never find him committing these same sins again. He didn't tell the Lord he was sorry only to go back out and do the same old things. David never wanted to be that far from God again or to be burdened down with such a heavy load of guilt. It wasn't worth it.

Sin never is worth the price we pay for it. When David spied Bathsheba taking a bath on a warm summer night, he wouldn't have believed us if we'd told him he was going to end up with another man's blood on his hands. Sin always lies to us. It promises things it can never deliver. As my pastor often says, it will take you farther than you ever wanted to go and it will cost you more than you ever wanted to pay. Solomon agrees, concluding today's passage with this sage advice, "Blessed is the one who always trembles before God, but whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble." (Proverbs 28:13)

We must never lose our sense of awe and reverence for a holy God. There's a danger in our times of thinking of Him as our buddy, of getting too chummy with the Maker of the universe, and of being too casual about the laws of this righteous Judge. This is the God who created everything out of nothing just by speaking the word! He could take everything out of existence, including us, with just one word from His mouth. Yes, He can be a friend to us. Yes, He can be a father to the fatherless. Yes, He can be the defender of the widow and the orphan. But He's also holy! He cannot bless sin. David found that out. Solomon learned the same lesson, and so did many men and women of the Bible. God is holy. Blessed is the one who trembles at His word.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 86, The One Who Became Poor For Us

Chapter 28 begins with a verse that always encourages me in my faith, "The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion." (Proverbs 28:1) The godless man lives in constant uncertainty. What can he cling to in an unpredictable world? What can be counted on? Who can he trust? There's an undercurrent of fear running through his mind and a sense of impending doom. But the godly man has the unchanging hand of the Lord to cling to, and he has the promises of a Savior who said He'd never leave us or forsake us, and he has the assurance of his salvation in Christ. This is a firm and unshakable foundation, which is why King David praised the Lord by saying, "Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from Him. Truly He is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will never be shaken." (Psalm 62:1-2) The godly flee at the first sign of trouble, even imaginary trouble. But the righteous are able to turn and face danger head-on, knowing their help is in God. This is why we who belong to the Lord can boldly proclaim, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging." (Psalm 46:1-3) The ungodly person cries, "The sky is falling!", even when no danger is on the horizon. But the godly person calmly states, "Even if the world falls apart, my God is with me."

"When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers, but a ruler with discernment and knowledge maintains order." (Proverbs 28:2) We only have to look at the history of the kings of Israel to see the truth of this verse illustrated. Both David and Solomon ruled a long time over the united twelve tribes of Israel, but then the ten northern tribes broke loose during the reign of Solomon's son Rehoboam. Their chosen king, Jeroboam, feared the people would turn their allegiance away from him if allowed to go up to Jerusalem to worship at the temple, so he set up replacement shrines containing golden calves at Dan and Bethel. Israel began to fall away from the one true God, becoming rebellious toward Him. Just as Solomon predicted, the country that is rebellious has many rulers. In its latter years there was a succession of short-reigning kings over the ten northern tribes of Israel. The instability of the nation began with a leader who lacked godly discernment and order, and things went downhill from there. The two southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin, which became known simply as the nation of Judah, enjoyed a more stable government for a longer period of time because it took Judah longer to fall into apostasy than it took Israel. Judah had several rulers who possessed godly discernment and knowledge; therefore it wasn't until about one hundred and fifty years after the fall of Israel to Assyria that Judah fell to Babylon.

Solomon has something to say about rulers who have no compassion on the needy. "A ruler who oppresses the poor is like a driving rain that leaves no crops." (Proverbs 28:3) Crops need rain, but they don't need torrential rain. Flash floods are able to wash all the sown seeds and the tender young plants out of the ground, causing there to be no harvest. Solomon points out, "A king who takes advantage of the poor and needy is just as much of a disaster as a destructive flood. A man like that is taking the food right out of people's mouths. What a shame and disgrace he is!" I think we ought to stop and give Solomon credit for all the compassion he's shown for the poor in the book of Proverbs. A man like him, who grew up with power and wealth, could easily have turned a blind eye to the fate of the needy. He could have been callous and uncaring, but instead we find him with a tender heart toward those less fortunate. He has often spoken of defending the poor in court and of not treating the poor with less respect than the wealthy and of taking care of those who are needy. It's a credit to him and to the godly upbringing he received that he never allowed his wealth and position to make him hard-hearted.

I think the reason he has a heart for the poor can be explained by this verse, "Evildoers do not understand what is right, but those who seek the Lord understand it fully." (Proverbs 28:5) Solomon grew up with King David as his father, a man who loved the Lord with all his heart. He saw faith in action through the way David trusted in the Lord, and he understood repentance and redemption from the events of his father's life. Solomon was taught the word of God and he was familiar with all the laws of God. He wandered from the Lord for a good part of his life, but in his older years he came back to Him, seeking in the Lord a remedy for the emptiness in his soul. So now Solomon can say, "Those who seek the Lord know what is right. The Lord commands us to care about the poor and needy and about the widow and the orphan."

Solomon learned this next lesson from experience, "Better the poor whose walk is blameless than the rich whose ways are perverse." (Proverbs 28:6) Solomon's wealth was never able to provide him with peace of mind. It couldn't secure his salvation. It couldn't satisfy the deep longing in his soul. It couldn't fill up the empty hours of the night when he walked the floor in sleeplessness, saying to himself, "Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!" (Ecclesiastes 1:2) He knows now that peace with the Lord matters more than all the gold and silver in the world, so he can attest, "I'd rather be poor and know the Lord than to be rich and be lost in my sins." Or, as the Lord Jesus put it, "What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?" (Mark 8:36)

Whether we have much or little by the world's standards, we are rich beyond all measure if we know the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing can compare to such a fortune! Nothing can compete with such stunning and undeserved mercy! "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich." (2 Corinthians 8:9) This is a King who has compassion on the poor, for no one is more poverty-stricken than the one who is lost and undone. This is a King who has so much love for the needy that He forfeited everything He had to lift us out of the ash heap of sin and crown us as the children of the most high God. He didn't want the treasures of heaven if He couldn't share them with us! Therefore He has made us co-heirs with Him of all the riches of our God. Christ, the holy and sinless Son of God, invites us to share His inheritance with Him. How rich we are through the One who made Himself poor for us!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Counseled By The King: The Proverbs Of Solomon. Day 85, The Test Of Character

Solomon makes several profound statements today about human character. We learn that the true test of our character is not adversity, but praise and recognition.

"Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are human eyes." (Proverbs 27:20) Earlier in the week we found Solomon pointing out that it's possible to have too much of a good thing, but he also knows it's the carnal nature of man to believe it's impossible to have too much. The flesh craves more money or more possessions or more relationships or more renown. Solomon has lived long enough to know how greedy and covetous human nature is. He once lived a life of excess himself, denying himself nothing he desired, only to be left empty and broken and nearly suicidal. He's learned that our eyes find far more satisfaction when we keep them focused on the Lord rather than on the world. This world makes a lot of promises to us that it will never keep, assuring us that a different job or a different spouse or more money or better clothes or a flashier car is all we need to finally be satisfied. If the wealthiest man who may ever have lived found all these things lacking, I think we can take his word for it that fortune and fame won't make us happy. Nothing will make us happy if we leave the Lord out of our lives as Solomon once did.

"The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but people are tested by their praise." (Proverbs 27:21) I can't recall ever being quite so impressed before with the brilliance of this verse. Just as heat reveals how much dross is contained in a piece of precious metal, our character is revealed by how we respond to praise. How do we react when we receive recognition and promotion? Do these things bring out the best in us or the worst in us? Do we remain humble, thanking the good Lord for all He's allowed us to accomplish? Or do we become puffed up with pride and begin to think of ourselves as a pretty big deal? We wouldn't ordinarily consider praise from others as a testing or a form of temptation, but I believe Solomon is right on the money when he appears to view it as a better test of character than adversity. Adversity has a tendency to bring us closer to our God, while honor and renown have the potential to carry us farther from Him.

A perfect example of this is Solomon's father David. When we read the Scriptures we find him a more godly and more humble man during his years of adversity than during his years as king. It wasn't until after he became king of Israel that he committed the most shocking sins of his life, and this is because he fell for the world's lies. It's because he began to believe in his own mighty reputation. He became prideful over his authority and believed he didn't owe an answer to anyone. But he owed an answer to Almighty God, to the God who took him out of the sheepfold and placed a crown on his head and made him leader of His chosen people. So Solomon says, "Don't believe your own press! The world can praise you all it wants, but this is ultimately meaningless. Where will all these false friends and hangers-on be when trouble comes? They will desert you faster than rats will jump out of a sinking ship. The only praise we should ever truly desire is for God to say to us, 'Well done, good and faithful servant'."

"Though you grind a fool in a mortar, grinding them like grain with a pestle, you will not remove their folly from them." (Proverbs 27:22) Grain is ground to separate the edible parts from the inedible parts, and Solomon has judged enough court cases to know that some folks can't seem to be separated from their tendency to do wrong. He's seen some of the same people time and again in court because they never learn their lesson. He throws his hands up and declares, "I don't know what it would take to get through to them! Applying the law and passing sentences on them doesn't work. They don't appear to be affected by having to suffer the social, familial, or financial consequences of their actions. Nothing seems to make any difference to them." I want to point out that where man's help fails, God's help begins. All of us probably know at least one person who never seems to learn from mistakes and who keeps falling deeper and deeper into sin. We don't know anything more we can say or do to try and help them. But what is impossible for us is possible with God. He is the changer of hearts. We may have to give up hope in our own ability to help a person turn their life around, but we should never give up hope in God's ability.

Solomon concludes today by reminding us to be good stewards of everything God has blessed us with. "Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds; for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations. When the hay is removed and new growth appears and the grass from the hills is gathered in, the lambs will provide you with clothing, and the goats with the price of a field. You will have plenty of goats' milk to feed your family and to nourish your female servants." (Proverbs 27:23-27) If we don't take care of what God has already given us, why should He bless us with more? Furthermore, He never promised us lives of ease and idleness. We have to maintain our homes and lands and livestock and possessions. There is always work to be done when we own anything, and what ungrateful children we would be if we didn't care for and protect our blessings from God. We are not entitled to anything; we owe everything to the love and mercy of a holy God who had compassion on us even in our weak and sinful state. Let's thank Him today for all our blessings and let's work hard to nurture and protect all that He's given us.