Biblical Wisdom

Walk with the Wise | Proverbs 13:20

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise,
but the companion of fools will suffer harm.

Proverbs 13:20 ESV

 

Wisdom, the skill of living, can be found in walking among the wise. Choosing to associate with wise people will inevitably lead to wisdom.

Why is this?

The heart dwells wherever the feet traverse. Movements, actions, habits have direct relevance to the status of the heart. Listening to worshipful music (or better yet, singing worshipful music) causes the heart to follow in worship. The path is not always instantaneous, but it is present. Companions, the voices and messages that ring in one’s ears throughout the day, are often foolish.

I often consume frivolous YouTube videos and podcasts, and they nudge me ever so slightly toward harm. They draw my soul away from the wisdom of God. They pull my thoughts and desires toward things that do not contribute to my eternal joy.

This isn’t to say that I cannot enjoy entertainment in this life. The question is whether such entertainment is ultimately contributing to my growth in godly wisdom. Few things are more entertaining to me than diving again into the worlds of Middle Earth or Narnia. Yet these stories do not merely provide an escape from reality; instead, they offer valuable insight into many biblical truths.

So many voices are screaming to be heard. They each long to be my companion. To be wise, I must walk with the wise. Ultimately, of course, this means that I must walk with Christ. His Word above all else must daily be my delight and the meditation of my heart.

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Biblical Wisdom

Choose Wisdom | Proverbs 9

We now conclude our study through Proverbs’ introduction. Our text brings to close the messages and themes of the first nine chapters, while also inviting us to dive into the collection of proverbs that follow. In many ways, this chapter is an expanded and illustrated explanation of Proverbs 1:7. Two paths in life are before us: the path of wisdom and the path of folly. Here Wisdom and Folly are personified as women throwing lavish feasts and extending to us an invitation to join them. Each of us will ultimately dine with one or the other, so which will you choose?

TWO INVITATIONS // VERSES 1-6 & 13-18

Notice that there are eighteen verses in this chapter, and as such, it divides very nicely into three sections of six verses each. The poetic symmetry is astounding, and I will attempt to highlight this structure as we walk through our study of it. Verses 1-6 and 13-18 are reflexive of each other. The former is Lady Wisdom’s invitation to join her feast, while the latter is Folly’s counter invitation. Thus, we will compare and contrast these two feasts first before diving into Lady Wisdom’s final teaching to us in verses 7-12.

Notice first that verses 1-2 and 13-14 describe the context of their respective feasts. Wisdom’s house has seven pillars[1]. The beasts have been slaughtered. The wine is mixed. The table is set. Woman Folly, however, is loud, seductive, and vapid. She knows nothing (meaning that she does not possess true wisdom and knowledge), yet she sits at the door of her house, beckoning everyone to dine with her.

The primary difference between these two sets of verses is that Folly’s character is described rather than her feast being offered. This is essential because Proverbs has yet to introduce us to this personification of folly. We’ve already been given two speeches from Lady Wisdom in chapter 1 and chapter 8, but we haven’t met Woman Folly until now. We have, however, seen glimpses of her through the lens of the Adulteress. Indeed, we could view the Adulteress as the exemplary disciple of Woman Folly in the same way that the Noble Wife in chapter 31 is model follower of Lady Wisdom.

Next, verses 3-6 and 15-18 are the invitations to the paralleling feasts. Indeed, verses 4 and 16 are nearly identical to one another. Both women are targeting the same audience of those who are simple and lack sense. As we discussed previously, the person who lacks sense is a fool. He is one who is not following God’s wisdom but is, instead, wise in his own eyes. Or, as the phrase could be translated literally, the fool lacks heart. Following our own wisdom always results in the loss of our heart, the core of who we are. The simple, on the other hand, are those who are staggering between wisdom and folly. They are not outright fools, but neither are they wise. This, of course, means that throughout this life we will perpetually be simple to some degree. Each day certainly presents us with a renewed opportunity to choose wisdom or folly. These duel invitations also point to this constant limbo of life. Lady Wisdom calls out the simple and fools to come join her feast, to leave their foolish ways and embrace her path of life. Yet Woman Folly is always constantly wooing them to stay with her. As long as we are still breathing, we must constantly reject folly and choose wisdom.

Yet in verse 15 we learn that Folly is also calling out to another group: those who are walking straight on their way. This could mean two things. First, it could mean those who are presently walking down the path of wisdom, showing that she is actively hunting the wise. Second, it could be describing those who are unsuspecting. Either way she is being portrayed as a predator, whereas Wisdom is painted as offering nourishment to the weary.

Notice also the difference in how these women are calling us to join their feasts. Folly stands at the door of her house and cries out herself. Lady Wisdom, however, sends out her young woman to summon us. Why is this difference significant? The young woman who carry the message of Lady Wisdom are her disciples. Folly, though, has no disciples. She killed them all. Her previous guests are now dead, stored “in the depths of Sheol” (v. 18). When we consider that sin is embodiment and essence of folly, this makes complete sense. Sin’s allure is a promise that is never fulfilled. Sin promises a banquet, but it only yields death. Still, it continues to deceive. It continues to ensnare.

We, however, are called to be Lady Wisdom’s young women. We are meant to be her disciples, calling others to join us in her feast. The feast of Lady Wisdom is an actual feast, with other people and everything. Our very invitation is intended to be proof of the reality of the banquet. God chooses to let us take part in the expansion of His kingdom, in the invitation to His wisdom.

Both Wisdom and Folly are also offering bread and drink, our two primary elements of daily sustenance. This is highly symbolic for how we need wisdom only a daily basis. Just as we need food and water to sustain us, so we also require God’s wisdom to keep us on His path. Furthermore, God’s wisdom is a feast indeed. It connects us to one another, uniting us around the LORD. Indeed, community is an essential aspect of God’s wisdom. Community is necessity for wisdom.

Folly, however, cannot offer a feast. Her guests are dead, so there is no fellowship. She has no community to present; therefore, she invites us to partake in stolen water and secret bread. Sin can never build community and fellowship. It can only divide, isolate, and destroy. Folly and sin, therefore, thrive in isolation. Separating oneself from other believers is an invitation to folly and sin.

The ultimate difference between these two invitations is, of course, that Wisdom is calling us to life while Folly is beckoning us to death. Once again, this is yet another various of the two paths that every person must choose between. Jesus called them the narrow and broad roads. Here in Proverbs they have been the paths of wisdom and folly. Now they are presented as invitations to two feasts, one of life and one of death.

The question then that we should be left with after reading these two invitations is: how do we accept Wisdom and reject Folly? Thankfully, Lady Wisdom answers this question in verses 7-12.

LADY WISDOM’S TEACHING // VERSES 7-12

I’ve placed these verses last because I believe the chiastic structure of chapter is pointing toward them as the central focus of our text. As noted in the introduction, these six verses seem to be a reflection upon the thesis verse of Proverbs: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (1:7).

Verses 7-9 are essentially an expanded view of the second half of Proverbs 1:7. These verses contrast the wise man with a scoffer, and the primary difference between them is teachability. A wise man loves reproof and instruction because they increase his wisdom. Correcting a scoffer, however, incurs their hatred and violence. Teachability is necessary for wisdom because wisdom comes through teaching. In fact, teachability could in many ways be used as a synonym for humility. Being teachable requires acknowledging the limits of one’s own understanding. Scoffers, however, are unteachable because they are proud. They are confident in their own knowledge and reject anything that challenges them.

What makes this difference between someone who is teachable, then, and someone who is a scoffer? Verse 10 gives us the answer: the fear of the LORD. Proverbs 3:5-6 is perhaps the great display of what fearing the LORD looks like: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

Fearing God means seeing God as God. True humility and teachability begin here. If we will not be taught by the Creator of all things, how can we truly be taught anything? Indeed, wise teachability does not mean that we allow ourselves to be taught by anyone. Paul, after all, warned the Colossians to avoid being held captive by philosophies and empty deceits. We must be guarded against the lies that prevail throughout the world, yet when God speaks, we must listen. And we must obey. The very purpose of God’s inspired Word is to teach us, correct us, reprove us, and train us in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

The epitome of foolishness is thinking that our few decades of experience make us wiser than God the Creator. Yet that is the very essence of sin. Whenever we sin, we declare that we are more knowledgeable than He who is omniscient. Fearing God, however, turns us from this foolish path of sin. It makes us teachable to God’s perfect instruction.

Verse 11 reminds us of another benefit of wisdom. By wisdom, our days will be multiplied, and years added to one’s life. As we previously discussed, this is generally true in the physical sense. Wisdom often prolongs life if for no other reason than it teaches us to avoid the dangerous practices of folly. Ultimately, however, it is true eternally. Those who follow God’s wisdom will have their days multiplied without end as we dwell forever with God.

Finally, verse 12 concludes with a final warning that is a perfect note on which to conclude our study through these opening chapters of Proverbs. “If you are wise, you are wise for yourself; if you scoff, you alone will bear it.” This is reminder that the choice between wisdom and folly is given to the individual.

No one can choose wisdom for you. You alone must obtain it, and if you instead choose to scoff, you alone will bear that consequence. You cannot rely upon the pedigree of your family or of your church. You either embrace Christ and His wisdom or you do not. God has called you to love wisdom, to fear Him. Community is certainly crucial for helping us continue choosing wisdom, but ultimately the decision is ours alone to make.

Consider the sobering reality of this choose. One day we will each stand before God, naked, bare, and alone. Before His holiness, our greatest deeds of righteousness will be truly seen as nothing more than filthy rags in His presence. On that day, we will either hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant” or “Depart from me, I never knew you”. The wise will enter into Wisdom itself, while the scoffs will bear away their scoffing.

This is the weight behind these two feasts, these two invitations. The choice between wisdom and folly is an eternal one. It has many consequences on this present life, but its ultimate consequence is our eternal joy or eternal suffering. Biblical wisdom, therefore, is not optional; it is how we know God!

In fact, Jesus Himself invites us to a feast in the same vein as Lady Wisdom. In John 7:37-38, we read: “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

Furthermore, John’s Revelation ends with this message from Jesus: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (22:16-17).

The feast of wisdom, the feast of Jesus Christ, is free to whomever will humble himself to come. May we come to His banquet. May we be sustained by His body as our bread and His blood as our drink. May Jesus be our wisdom as we follow wherever He leads. Furthermore, may we be His Bride who calls out for others to come. May we be the young women whom Lady Wisdom sends to the highest places in town, calling for the simple and fools to leave their simple ways and live. May we proclaim the wisdom of gospel to those ensnared by folly around us.


[1] Many theologians offer differing interpretations concerning what exactly the seven pillars represent. Since their suggestions are all speculative, I would offer that, since seven is a number often associated with God, they indicate that her house is built and established upon the wisdom of God.

Biblical Wisdom

Wisdom Speaks | Proverbs 8

Does not wisdom call?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud:
“To you, O men, I call,
and my cry is to the children of man.
O simple ones, learn prudence;
O fools, learn sense.
Hear, for I will speak noble things,
and from my lips will come what is right,
for my mouth will utter truth;
wickedness is an abomination to my lips.
All the words of my mouth are righteous;
there is nothing twisted or crooked in them.
They are all straight to him who understands,
and right to those who find knowledge.
Take my instruction instead of silver,
and knowledge rather than choice gold,
for wisdom is better than jewels,
and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.

“I, wisdom, dwell with prudence,
and I find knowledge and discretion.
The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
and perverted speech I hate.
I have counsel and sound wisdom;
I have insight; I have strength.
By me kings reign,
and rulers decree what is just;
by me princes rule,
and nobles, all who govern justly. 
I love those who love me,
and those who seek me diligently find me.
Riches and honor are with me,
enduring wealth and righteousness.
My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold,
and my yield than choice silver.
I walk in the way of righteousness,
in the paths of justice,
granting an inheritance to those who love me,
and filling their treasuries.

“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, 
the first of his acts of old.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth,
before he had made the earth with its fields,
or the first of the dust of the world.
When he established the heavens, I was there;
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master workman,
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the children of man.

“And now, O sons, listen to me:
blessed are those who keep my ways.
Hear instruction and be wise,
and do not neglect it.
Blessed is the one who listens to me,
watching daily at my gates,
waiting beside my doors.
For whoever finds me finds life
and obtains favor from the Lord,
but he who fails to find me injures himself;
all who that me love death.”

Proverbs 8 ESV

 

Chapter five through seven stand as dire warnings against sin, particularly the sin of sexual immorality. Solomon gave such extensive warnings because the dangers are far too real and immanent to ignore. But now the ancient Israelite returns to the plea for us to find wisdom. Last seen in chapter one, Lady Wisdom returns for the final two chapters of Proverbs’ introduction. To properly understand this chapter, we must remember that Lady Wisdom is Solomon’s poetic personification of the abstract concept of wisdom. He uses this literary device to further emphasize the necessity of obtaining wisdom at all costs.

THE CALL OF WISDOM // VERSES 1-11

The chapter opens with two rhetorical questions. Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice? The answer, of course, is that she does. The final section of chapter one consisted of Lady Wisdom’s first address to the readers. In fact, verses 2-3 give a setting for this speech that runs parallel with her previous speech. Proverbs 1:20-21 described Lady Wisdom as a street preacher, crying out in the streets to anyone who would listen. The same is true here as well. She positions herself on the heights where her voice might travel further. She stands at the crossroads, gates, and city entrances, knowing that traffic will be heavy there. She goes to densely populated areas and cries out. In verses 4-5, she makes known her intended audience, the children of man, which is to say all of humanity. Verse 5 cites a more specific target for her words: the simple and the fools. We have already established who the fools and simple are. They are both without wisdom. The fool is in sin’s grasp, and the simple is in danger of becoming a fool. Yet Lady Wisdom calls out to these groups specifically, that they would learn prudence and sense. We should take heart upon reading these verses. Even if we are simple or foolish, there is still hope. God’s wisdom goes out to all people.

The glorious truth that God’s wisdom calls to everyone demands that we listen carefully. If this message is truly for all of humanity, we must diligently hear it. And this is precisely what Lady Wisdom calls us to do: hear. That is our command. God has spoken; we must listen. Accordingly, verses 6-11 tell us why we should hear. Verses 6-7 describe Wisdom’s speech as noble and true. Verses 8-9 describe Wisdom’s words as righteous and straight. And verses 10-11 describe Wisdom’s teachings as better than gold, silver, or whatever we may desire. Together these verses are reinforcing the necessity of hearing (and obeying) Wisdom’s teaching.

THE CHARACTERISTICS OF WISDOM // VERSES 12-21

As a nerdy history buff, I have a great appreciation for historians. They do the tremendously difficult work of learning and interpreting the lives of people they will (often) never meet. In order to do this well, a biographer (for example) will tend to rely as much as possible on the actual words of the person being studied. They do this because the greatest earthly authority on a person is that same person. For this very reason, verses 12-31 are particularly wonderful in Proverbs. Herein Lady Wisdom first describes herself (vv. 12-21) and then recounts a short autobiography (vv. 22-31).

Wisdom’s characteristics, as presented here, are also benefits to us whenever we possess wisdom. There are several distinct characteristics and benefits of wisdom presented here, so we will briskly walk through them. First, wisdom dwells with prudence, and she finds knowledge and discretion (v. 12). Prudence, a wise understanding of how the world works, walks hand-in-hand with wisdom. It is also worthy noting that craftiness, in many ways, is the ungodly foil of prudence. Both are forms of being street-wise, but craftiness seeks exploitation while prudence seeks God’s glorification. Knowledge, the accumulating of information, and discretion, the ability to develop and enact wise plans, are both outflows of wisdom. Of course, this is not to say that wisdom must always proceed knowledge. Knowledge, in fact, often proceeds wisdom. The point, instead, is that knowledge and these variously related attributes are all intricately connected to wisdom. Gain wisdom, and you gain knowledge, prudence, and discretion as well. To simplify: wisdom comes with many benefits.

Second, the fear of the LORD, which is wisdom’s beginning (9:9), is also the hatred of evil (v. 13). Because wisdom understands that God is worthy to be feared, wisdom despises wickedness. There can be no other way. Evil is an abomination to God; therefore, we cannot both fear Him and love (or even tolerate) evil. We simply cannot love God and remain apathetic to sin. Do you, therefore, hate sin?

Third, wisdom is necessary for righteous and just leadership (vv. 14-16). Counsel, sound wisdom, insight, and strength are benefits that accompany wisdom, and they are also qualities that are essential for leaders. But verses 15-16 provide an even greater benefit of wisdom upon leaders: it keeps them just. True wisdom guides toward righteous and just decisions.

Fourth, Lady Wisdom loves those who love her (v. 17). This is a wonderful promise for us to cling to. When we love and value wisdom, she loves us in return. When we diligently seek her, she will be found. But the inverse is also a tragic rebuke. If all who seek wisdom find it, then fools do not have wisdom simply because they refuse to seek after it.

Fifth, many riches are found in wisdom (vv. 18-21). Wealth often follows wisdom, as do honor and righteousness. But notice that the true treasure of wisdom is not material wealth because the fruit of wisdom is better than gold. What could possibly be better than gold and silver? The way of righteous is far more valuable than all the riches of this world. Wisdom takes us down the godly path, which leads to a true inheritance, full of treasures. Wisdom, by causing us to fear God, points us to the supreme Treasure. Jesus also affirmed this (and appealed to wisdom in gaining lasting treasure) in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 6:19-21 | Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

WISDOM’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY // VERSES 22-31

Lady Wisdom, having described her attributes, proceeds now to tell her autobiography. We have already read a short version of the story in Proverbs 3:19-20, but now wisdom provides a lengthier meditation upon her existence. The bulk of this autobiographical poem is meant to emphasize wisdom’s preeminence. Plenty of debate has been waged regarding the exact translation of possessed in verse 22. Many theologians hold that Lady Wisdom is actually pre-incarnate Jesus, so possessed makes more sense than fathered or created, which are possible translations. I have already discussed this issue from Proverbs 3:19-20, but I will reiterate it simply here. I do not believe that Lady Wisdom is Jesus. Many cite 1 Corinthians 1:23-24, where Jesus is called the wisdom of God, as evidence that the concept of wisdom in Proverbs is Christ. While I certainly affirm that Jesus is wisdom (which means that wisdom is an attribute of Jesus that He perfectly embodies), I do not believe that wisdom is Jesus. Once again, it is the same principle as saying that God is love, but love is not God. God is love because it is an attribute of His nature and He fully embodies love. But love, as an idea, is not God. We do not worship love; we worship God. Likewise, we do not worship wisdom; we worship Jesus. Again, I am not arguing that theologians who view wisdom as Jesus are heretical. That is not the case at all. But I do firmly believe that the safer and more biblical interpretation is that wisdom in Proverbs is an attribute of God and a principle upon which He ordered creation.

Wisdom as a principle (or perhaps we might say law or rule) upon which God ordered creation is the subject of these verses. Obviously, the primary emphasis of these verses is that wisdom was with God at the beginning of creation. But why is that significant? Buzzell provides, what I believe, is the best answer: “If God involved wisdom in His creative work, then certainly people need wisdom” (923)! If wisdom was with God creation and God even used wisdom to create the world, we should leap at the chance to partake in that wisdom.

FIND WISDOM; FIND LIFE // VERSES 32-36

In this final section of the chapter, Lady Wisdom reiterates the commands that Solomon has issued throughout the previous chapters. She even takes up calling the readers of Proverbs sons. What follows is a twofold pronouncement of blessing (vv. 32, 34), where the first is followed by a command and the second is followed by promise/warning. With nearly eight chapters behind us, these could be seen as Lady Wisdom’s closing words (with chapter nine providing the transition into the collection of proverbs). They certainly sum up the overall message of the Proverbs’ introduction; let us, therefore, obey Lady Wisdom by listening diligently to her.

The first declaration of blessing is to those who keep wisdom’s ways, meaning those who follow and obey wisdom. The command (v. 33) follows suit, calling us to hear instruction, be wise, and not neglect wisdom. Remember that God’s wisdom is ultimately found in His Word; therefore, hearing instruction is primarily a call to hear and obey the Scriptures. Of course, godly instruction can come from other sources, but we receive the teaching of wisdom first and foremost via the Bible. The second proclamation of blessing is fittingly to those who listen to wisdom, watching at her gates and waiting beside her doors. This describes someone who is actively looking and waiting for wisdom. The Bereans are a good example of this, of whom Luke wrote: “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Let us too receive God’s wisdom and His Word with eagerness. How then are you keeping God’s Word? Are you actively listening for it? How has Proverbs’ repeated emphasis of this issue changed the way you read the Bible?

As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, it is important to remember that the movement of revival came from people longing to know God’s Word. That hunger for the Bible proceeded the actual reformers. MacCulloch writes about the revival of preaching in the centuries leading to the Reformation: “Surviving sermon texts suggest that sermons were long, and since there was then little seating in church, there must have been a popular appetite for absorbing ideas and biblical stories which overcame physical discomfort” (p. 31). Let us always strive to be a people whose love for God’s Word always triumphs over our physical discomfort.

Verses 35-36 close the chapter with a dichotic promise/warning. He who finds wisdom finds life, but those who hate wisdom love death (in many ways, this premise will be expanded in chapter nine, where we will be invited to feast with either Lady Wisdom or Lady Folly). The point here is that obtaining wisdom is not a secondary matter; it is life or death. Yes, life may function better with wisdom, but wisdom is far more valuable than helping life go smoothly. Wisdom means fearing God, loving and submitting to Him and His designs and instructions. We cannot follow Christ without wisdom because the very act of following Christ is wise. Conversely, denying Christ is the ultimate act of foolishness because it rejects trusting God in favor of leaning upon our own understanding. Be wise, therefore, and find life and favor in the LORD.

Biblical Wisdom

The Seduction of Adultery | Proverbs 7

My son, keep my words
and treasure up my commandments with you;
keep my commandments and live;
keep my teaching as the apple of your eye;
bind them on your fingers;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”
and call insight your intimate friend,
to keep you from the forbidden woman,
from the adulteress with her smooth words.

For at the window of my house
I have looked out through my lattice,
and I have seen among the simple,
I have perceived among the youths,
a young man lacking sense,
passing along the street near her corner,
taking the road to her house
in the twilight, in the evening,
at the time of night and darkness.

And behold, the woman meets him,
dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart. 
She is loud and wayward;
her feet do not stay at home;
now in the street, now in the market,
and at every corner she lies in wait.
She seizes him and kisses him,
and with bold face she says to him,
“I had to offer sacrifices, 
and today I have paid my vows;
so now I have come out to meet you,
to seek you eagerly, and I have found you.
I have spread my couch with coverings,
colored linens from Egyptian linen;
I have perfumed my bed with myrrh,
aloes, and cinnamon.
Come, let us take our fill of love till morning;
let us delight ourselves with love.
For my husband is not at home;
he has gone on a long journey;
he took a bag of money with him;
at full moon he will come home.”

With much seductive speech she persuades him;
with her smooth talk she compels him.
All at once he follows her,
as an ox goes to the slaughter,
or as a stag is caught fast 
till an arrow pierces its liver;
as a bird rushes into a snare;
he does not know that it will cost him his life.

And now, O sons, listen to me,
and be attentive to the words of my mouth.
Let not your heart turn aside to her ways;
do not stray into her paths,
for many a victim has she laid low,
and all her slain are a mighty throng.
Her house is the way to Sheol,
going down to the chambers of death.

Proverbs 7 ESV

 

Having spent three weeks discussing sexual immorality, we return to that subject for the final time in this series. In chapter five, we met the Adulteress and were warned to guard against her. In six, we learned the cost of giving in to her. Now in seven, we read how she seduces those without sense into their own destruction. We know that sin (and sexual sin particularly) is always a temptation, so as we study a temptation in action, let us learn from the follow of the young man in this chapter.

TREASURE THE WORD // VERSES 1-5

Once again, Solomon begins his next paternal speech by reinforcing the importance of being saturated in the Scriptures. By now, this command is quite repetitive. He is, after all, urging the same thing over and over again. Why does the wise king feel the need to continue repeating himself? Repetition means pay attention. He keeps repeating himself because he knows that we are really listening. We hear the commands, understanding them intellectually, but we rarely ever actually apply them to our lives. We hear and murmur our agreement, only to continue living life as normal. Being a book of wisdom, Proverbs is attempting to answer this problem by hitting the same topic again and again. Therefore, instead of wondering why we have to read the same thing again, we should ask ourselves how we can better obey these commands?

Like our last study, Solomon provides a similar lead-up to the primary warning against sexual immorality. Verses 1-4 reissue the command to cling to God’s Word, and verse 5 transitions the discussion by emphasizing again that doing so will keep us from the Adulteress.

The first four verses use similar wordings as seen before. For example, the command to write the commandments on the tablet of your heart is a restatement from Proverbs 3:3. But there is also new language being applied here. Verse 1 pleads for us the treasure the commandments. The word treasure is the same one used in Psalm 119:11 as stored: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” The idea of these verses is the same. We should store God’s Word within our hearts as though we are hoarding treasure of supreme value. Verse 2 likely continues this thought as well. The phrase apple of your eye is actually the pupil of your eye in Hebrew. The connotation is, therefore, not entirely identical to our English idiom. The apple of one’s eye is someone’s most prized possession. This meaning is certainly found here, as we have seen. But when we think of this phrase as being the pupil of one’s eye, we gain another layer of meaning. The eye is easily one of the body’s most valued organs, but it is also one of the most delicate. We are, then, quick to guard our eyes. In this same sense, we should value and guard God’s Word closely. It is, after all, far more valuable than even our physical vision.

We must keep it as our life: Keep my commandments and live (v. 2), not only, “Keep them, and you shall live;” but, “Keep them as you would your life, as those that cannot live without them.” It would be death to a good man to be deprived of the word of God, for by it he lives, and not by bread alone (Henry, 968).

Furthermore, verse 4 urges us to be intimately acquainted with wisdom. Wisdom being our sister is probably not a reference to a familial relationship but a marital one. In Song of Solomon, we find Solomon frequently calling his bride his sister. Strange as that language may be to us, the connotation was not incestuous at all; instead, it was meant to emphasize the closeness and intimacy of the couple’s relationship. Thus, as with our spouse, we should actively pursue and court wisdom.

In verse 5, Solomon concludes this chapters introduction with a similar statement made in verse 24 of chapter 6, that holding fast and treasuring God’s Word will keep you from the Adulteress. The verse is also nearly an identical reprisal of verse 16 of chapter 2. As Solomon sets a scene for us of how temptation plays out, let us continue to remember that God Himself as revealed in His Scriptures is our only hope of overcoming the temptations of sin in life.

A SEDUCTION OBSERVED // VERSES 6-23

The contents of this chapter are fitting for Solomon’s final treatment on sexual immorality within Proverb’s introductory chapters. These verses, which form the bulk of the chapter, present before us a scenario of a man falling into the Adulteress’ trap. We are, thus, able to watch the temptation happen and glean warnings to help us fend off sin whenever it comes for us. We should also note that while Solomon is particularly exemplifying the temptation toward sexual sin, the principles and ideas here apply to all temptation to sin.

Verses 6-9 set the scene. Solomon is envisioning himself as watching this scenario play out in the street below his home. Windows in that time were typically reserved for the second flood in order to dissuade burglars. He sees a young man, who is presently among the simple (recall that the simple are not yet wise or foolish), but he lacks sense. He walks near her corner, passing by her house, in the dark cloak of night. This is not a man who is lost. He knows who she is. He knows where to find her. He knows her reputation. He is not coming in the middle of the day when he might be seen. No, he is covering himself in darkness. He has removed the natural barriers against his sin, taking away the precautions around him.

This is often how we find ourselves in sin. We look back in disbelief that we could ever commit such acts, but temptation rarely comes out of thin air. Most frequently, whether conscious or not, we place ourselves into the path of temptation. We flirt the line, wondering how close we can get without actually sinning, yet the flirtation with sin is sin. It still reveals the depravity and wickedness of our hearts. We are often like this young man. We pray for the LORD to give us deliverance from our sin, but we keep walking by her house at night. We refuse to forsake our comforts in the war against sin. Jesus warned that sin is serious enough to warrant severing your own arm or gouging out your eye to stop it. Of course, Jesus is not issuing a literal command or else none of us would have hands or eyes anymore, and yes, we know that the battle is ultimately waged in the heart. But Jesus’ point is to actually fight your sin! Cut it off at the source. If you keep falling into internet pornography, maybe you don’t need the internet for awhile. If you can’t control your appetite, it might be wise to avoid snack food for a time. If you wrestle with reading the Word, try putting the Bible on the nightstand instead of your phone. Sin is ultimately a problem of the heart, but we should still fight it in action wherever that might be. Bring it into the light of day and fight it.

Verses 10-20 describe the actual act of seduction. Loud, seductive, and dressed as a prostitute, she comes to greet the young man. She grabs him and immediately kisses him. She then invites him to come into her home, explaining that everything is ready and that her husband will not be home for some time.

There are plenty of observations to note from these verses. First, notice that she is the doing all the actions and speaking. Lest we are tempted to think of the young man as a victim, we would do well to recall that he was looking for this whenever he consciously passed by her home. Sin did not just happen to him; he put himself in this situation. We cannot place ourselves in the path of sin, and then believe ourselves innocent whenever it grabs hold.

Second, the Adulteress claims to have just returned from offering sacrifices (v. 14). There is some debate regarding whether these sacrifices were made to the LORD or to idols. Given the seduction aspect of the passage, it seems evident that she offered a kind of peace offering to the LORD as described in Leviticus 7:11-18. This type of sacrifice would be fitting here since the leftover meat was supposed to be eaten on the same day. Therefore, she is not only assuring him that she is in good standing with God, but she is wooing him to her home with a feast. Beware of those who use religion as a pretense to lure others into sin.

Third, she flatters him by saying that she has been eagerly seeking him (v. 15). This flattery is deceptive at every level. She has not been looking for him specifically, but for anyone like him who lacks sense. Sin often promises exclusivity. It promises us that we are different and special. Sin feeds our ego and pride. God, on the other hand, repeatedly reveals our sins and faults. Why then would we not flee God and run to sin? The great irony is that sin promises to make us into gods but ultimately robs us of our humanity, while God glaringly reveals our humanity in all of its faults but still proclaims us to be the bearers of His image.

Fourth, she covers her couch in fine linens and scented them with costly perfumes (vv. 16-17). The linens and perfumes serve two functions: first, to make the young man feel as special as royalty and second, to further please his senses. The first function continues the flattery of verse 15, and the temporary pleasantness of sin has been discussed in our study of Proverbs 5:1-6.

Fifth, she pleads with him to delight with her in their love (v. 18). I find this verse one of the most fascinating in our entire study of Proverbs 1-9. The concept of love is quite popular today. Upon hearing the Obergefell decision, social media exploded with #LoveWins. Rob Bell questioned the existence of hell based upon the same phrase. The Beatles were all to prophetic when they said that love is all you need. The phrase love is love continues to pop up, representing the idea that love is the inherent and ultimate good of humanity. For Christians who strongly value love, this all should be great. God is love, right (1 John 4:8)? And didn’t Paul say that love is greater than even faith and hope (1 Corinthians 13:13)? Indeed. Unfortunately, what keeps us from participating in the revelries of love is that the Christian concept of love is quite different from the world’s.

Our world’s conception of love is intimately tied acceptance and approval. They view love through a humanistic lens, where the supremacy of individual autonomy is primary dogma. An individual’s concept of self is the highest good; therefore, only things which affirm your identity are loving. Urban Dictionary’s most popular definition for the phrase love is love displays this mentality well: “It’s not about the sex or gender of the person but how they treat you! So, as long as you’re getting the love and affection that you need to be happy in love then it doesn’t and/or shouldn’t matter what gender is loving you.”

This flies in the face of biblical love. We uphold that God is love, but love is not God. This means that God is ultimate, not love. Love proceeds from God, and He gives it its form and definition. Love is simply an attribute of God; therefore, we cannot know or have love apart from the One who perfect embodies love. How then does God love? God’s love is most gloriously displayed in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. On the cross, the LORD’s steadfast love was made known as Jesus died in our place. Although completely without sin, Jesus took our sin upon Himself, no matter how heinous. The love of God as displayed in the cross, therefore, is utterly selfless. Jesus poured Himself out for us, even though we absolutely did not deserve it. As imitators of God, we are called to love with this same sort of selfless love. God’s love places other’s needs above one’s own. This is the complete opposite of our present culture.

It is also important to note that contrary to the popular opinion, God does not ultimately desire our happiness, personality, or self-actualization. Instead, God’s love is longs for us to experience the true joy of knowing Him rather than the fleeting and damning pleasures of sin. God’s Word (as we continue to see in Proverbs) is full of warnings against sin. God loves us by rescuing us from sin by the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. To divorce the love of God from the declaration that sin is sin tramples upon the gospel. Godly love cannot affirm that which kills.

Unfortunately, many Christians have forsaken the biblical love for today’s cultural love. Proverbs repeatedly warns against the sinful foolishness of refusing loving reproof and discipline. “Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you” (9:8). “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid” (12:1). “Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored” (13:18). “Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence” (15:32). Cultural love refuses to bend self for anyone; biblical love is always teachable, ready to submit to God’s will in all things.

This verse, however, should remind us that the redefinition of love is not new. The Adulteress reassures the young man that they are only loving one another. She is using a twisted conception of love to justify her sin. Truly Solomon was right to say later in his life that there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

Sixth, she completes her seduction by calming his fears of being caught (vv. 19-20). Obviously, his primary concern would be to have the Adulteress’ husband find them. He would be furious and “not spare when he takes revenge” (6:34). But her husband is away until full moon, so there is no need to worry. Sin thrives under the veil of secrecy, but God sees (5:21).

Verses 21-23 describe the actual committing of the sin. Her seductive speech pays off. She compels him to follow her. Solomon then presents us with three analogies of the young man. He is like an ox being led to the slaughter. He is like a stag caught in a trap until it is slain with an arrow to the liver. He is like a bird trapped in a snare. The message is clear: just as the ignorance of animals leads to their slaughter, so the fool kills himself with sin. He may intellectually know that sinning will cost him his life, but he has no applied knowledge, no wisdom. He voluntarily kills himself.

A FINAL WARNING AGAINST THE ADULTERESS // VERSES 24-27

Tied to the final statement of verse 23, Solomon issues one final warning against the Adulteress. Do not turn aside to her! Do not stray into her paths! The young man is not her first victim, nor will he be the last. A mighty throng have been slain by the Adulteress. Do not think, therefore, that you are exempt from falling into her wiles and charm. Her way goes to Sheol. Sin never fails to lead directly to hell.

The only way to escape from sin is by remembering its ultimate destination, and to do this, we must be attentive to God’s Word. A seminary professor named Howard Hendricks did a two-year study of full-time clergy who fell into an adulterous relationship (Kell). After interviewing 246 men, he narrowed down “four common characteristics of their lives: 1) None of the men was involved in any kind of real accountability, 2) each of the men had all but ceased having a daily time of personal prayer, Bible reading, and worship, 3) more than 80 percent of the men became sexually involved with the other woman after spending significant time with her, often in counseling situations, and 4) without exception, each of the 246 had been convinced that sort of fall ‘would never happen to me.’”

Each of those four characteristics is significant, but the one I find most telling is their lack of time in the Word and in prayer. They ceased being attentive to God’s Word, and they fell into sin. This is what Solomon is warning against. Treasuring and storing the Scriptures in our heart helps to keep us from falling into sin (Psalm 119:11). The Adulteress devoured the young man, but the psalmist gives him the way out: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:9-11). Notice that the psalmist puts his ultimate hope in God’s ability to preserve him from sin, but he intends to actively commit himself to God’s Word. This must be our response to sin. Only God can keep us from sin, but we are still not excused from devoting ourselves to the Scriptures.

Biblical Wisdom

Debt, Sloth, & Discord | Proverbs 6:1-19

My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor,
have given your pledge for a stranger,
if you are snared in the words of your mouth,
caught in the words of your mouth,
then do this, my son, and save yourself,
for you have come into the hand of your neighbor:
go, hasten, and plead urgently with your neighbor.
Give your eyes no sleep
and your eyelids no slumber;
save yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, 
like a bird from the hand of the fowler.

Go to the ant, O sluggard;
consider her ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief,
officer, or ruler,
she prepares her bread pin summer
and gathers her food in harvest.
How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.

A worthless person, a wicked man,
goes about with crooked speech,
winks with his eyes, signals with his feet,
points with his finger,
with perverted heart devises evil,
continually sowing discord;
therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly;
in a moment he will be broken beyond healing.

There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers.

Proverbs 6:1-19 ESV

 

Taking a break from his assault against sexual immorality, Solomon now proceeds to give us three warnings: of the danger of providing surety and against sluggard and the sower of discord. At first, these three dangers may appear to be unrelated, but as the ancient author is prone to do, the three pleas increase in severity and danger. The danger of lending credit to someone else is a noble but foolish action, slothfulness is the foolishness of inaction, and the sower of discord is actively seeking to cause strife and chaos.

THE DANGER OF DEBT // VERSES 1-5

Let’s be honest, debt is absolutely no fun. Anyone who has a significant amount of debt knows how true the words of Proverbs 22:7 are: “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is a slave to the lender.” Being in debt feels like a rain cloud is perpetually over your head. Because of this knowledge and even God’s refusal to allow the Israelites to exact interest on their loans, many debate the morality of the debt in general. Unfortunately for us (though fortunately for me), general debt is not what Solomon has in mind in these verses; instead, he is narrowing down upon one particular form of debt: pledging surety for someone else.

Verse 1 gives us the required information and the if portion of the if-then statement. The action in view is providing security or a pledge for your neighbor or a stranger. Providing security means pledging surety or offering up your finances or line of credit for someone else. Verse 2 calls this act being snared or caught in the words of your mouth. This promise is a trap, like one set for an animal. Verses 3-5 then inform us how to escape from this trap: go, hasten, and plead urgently with your neighbor. The strength of the three commands (go, hasten, and plead) sufficiently display the urgency of the matter, but Solomon adds the word urgently in order to make sure we understand the gravity of this situation. Pledging security for someone else places you in their hand. You are at their mercy. Therefore, Solomon says to do whatever you must do to get out of that situation. In fact, verse 5 compares the situation to a gazelle fleeing from a hunter. The message is clear: flee like your life depends on it because it does!

The commands here are necessarily vague because no two situations will be identical. Solomon is simply attempting to emphasize to us the deadly seriousness of the matter. But let us ask two more questions before we move on: 1) does this apply to all debt situations, and 2) does this mean that we are never to cosign loans or anything such as that? First, this does not necessarily apply to all debt situations, but it certainly can. Dave Ramsey uses these verses to describe his gazelle-like intensity for escaping debt. That mentality is definitely wise but not necessarily demanded in every situation. Second, Solomon is not saying that all cosigning is foolish. Notice that verse 1 describes putting up security for your neighbor or a stranger. Tying your finances or credit to someone else is always a risk, but it is downright foolish when you do not know the other person.

THE ANTI-SLOTH ANT // VERSES 6-11

Solomon now moves from the well-intended but foolish action to the danger of inaction. Here the ancient king speaks to the Sluggard, the slothful person who refuses to work. He calls his attention to the ant, demanding that he learn from her. Without an overseer looking over her shoulder, the ant gathers food and works diligently. The Sluggard, on the other hand, is pictured as a sleeping the day away. He creates excuses in verse 10, saying that it is only a little sleep, only a little rest. But poverty will befall him like a robber.

The application of these verses is near infinite, and I find the sin of sloth to be deceptively present in both my life and the society at large. I will, therefore, do my best to make sense of my scattered thoughts regarding this sin.

First, the sin of sloth is the refusal to do God-glorifying work. Adam was given work in Eden (Genesis 1:28), so work is not a byproduct of sin. Work is difficult and not always fruitful because of sin, but God designed us for work. By denying work, the Sluggard is, thus, denying his role as an image-bearer of God. We should never denigrate the sinfulness of sloth by assuming that it is merely laziness. No, it is, at heart, a rejection of God’s designed order for creation.

Second, because sloth rejects the godliness of work, slothfulness is problem of worship. We worship God whenever we joyfully embrace what He has ordained for and commanded of us. We withhold worship whenever we disobey God’s commands and designs. Paul displays the importance of this in his warning and exhortation to the Thessalonians:

2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 | Now we command you, brothers, sin the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

The Thessalonians were wrestling against the sin of sloth (or idleness). Many in the church were refusing to work (likely waiting for Christ’s return). Paul, therefore, gives them the command if anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. He even encourages them to keep away from those who refuse to obey this command (thereby issuing church discipline).

Third, let us view three areas where the slothfulness is found: intellectual sloth, spiritual sloth, and the slothfulness of busyness.

Our society may still (generally) value physical labor, but it is increasingly leaving behind intellectual labor. Leigh Bortins states that “overall, the same percentage of Americans read Common Sense in the late 1770s that watch the Super Bowl today” (p. 29)! Intellectual laziness is not a matter of intelligence but of work. The human mind is capable of far more than we give it credit for and so is the “common” man. Remember that Jesus chose such common men to be the foundation of the church. Peter and John were simple fishermen, but under the power of the Holy Spirit, the religious intellectuals of their day “perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Of course, both men authored books of Scripture that reveal this boldness. We must remember, therefore, that the Bible is not for scholars but the everyman. The riches of God’s Word are not vaulted to all but the theologian. The New Testament was written in Koine Greek (that is, common Greek), and it was scandalous in the First Century because it did not target the elites of society first and foremost. Christianity has always attracted and educated the lower classes of societies.

Our intellectual sloth is made evident in politics. Neil Postman uses the debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas to accentuate how far cultural literacy has declined. The structure of these debates was for Candidate #1 to deliver an hour long speech, Candidate #2 would then provide an hour and a half rebuttal, and finally Candidate #1 would close with his half-hour counter-rebuttal.

Consider two quotations of Lincoln and Douglas from these debates.

At one point during his speech, Douglas was met with a particularly lengthy applause to which he responded: “My friends, silence will be more acceptable to me in the discussion of these questions than applause. I desire to address myself to your judgment, your understanding, and your consciences, and not to your passions or your enthusiasms” (p. 45).

And here is a sampling of how Lincoln spoke during these debates: “It will readily occur to you that I cannot, in half an hour, notice all the things that so able a man as Judge Douglas can say in an hour and a half; and I hope, therefore, if there be anything that he has said upon which you would like to hear something from me, but which I omit to comment upon, you will bear in mind that it would be expecting an impossibility for me to cover his whole ground” (p. 46).

This form of speaking is no longer the norm. Once more, the problem is not intelligence itself. Lincoln and Douglas were speaking to labors. The problem is with our expectations and efforts. We demand that expositions of the God’s Word be no longer than an hour, so how could we bear to focus on political discourse for an hour and a half! New English translations of the Bible continue to appear, promising to be translated into more readable language, but the problem with our Bible comprehension is not with the translations but with how the authors write. The letters of the New Testament, for example, are densely-constructed logical arguments, and we wrestle to connect each dot of reasoning because our minds are used to news-segment-sized nuggets of thought. We cannot understand the Bible because we are intellectually lazy.

And to be fair, a significant portion of this problem arrives from not being educated properly. When our education system expects us most of us to fail, we will tend to do just that. It is all about expectations. Bortins states as much: “Parents have forgotten that a century ago, the average nine-year-old worked hard enough to earn his or her own way in life. I wish every child had a life so blessed with ease that he thought loading the dishes into a dishwasher was hard work, but that is not reality. Parents need to stop believing excuses from poor Johnny that learning is too hard, or that he can’t pay attention, or that practicing penmanship is boring, or that math is repetitive. Tough. Life is repetitive. We are crippling our children’s brains instead of providing the extensive mental exercise they need for normal development. Mental exercise with a core of quality material is comparable to physical exercise with a healthy diet.”

But slothfulness is not merely physical or intellectual, we can still be lazy and idle spiritually. Spiritual sloth means being slothful to the things of God. Primarily, we see this in our reading of Scripture and prayer, which we tend to devote little (if any) time toward. But is there anything more important or necessary than hearing from and speaking to God? Yet we tend to place them low on our list of priorities.

Douglas Wilson discusses the importance of recognizing our spiritual sloth in his book, The Seven Deadlies:

The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason” (Prov. 26:16). The condition of the contemporary church is exactly this—the result of spiritual sloth. We are wise in our own conceits. Like the church in Laodicea (Rev. 3:14–22), we think we can see, but we are blind. We think we are rich, but we are poor with regard to the things of God. We are impoverished and the worst thing is that we don’t know we are impoverished. We don’t have an understanding that this is our condition. Part of the reason is pressure from the unbelieving culture that is around us and our failure to withstand the pressure. In times of cultural deterioration, pressure is always applied to invert the moral order. Isaiah 5:20 says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.” The world has always had lazy people, but historically they were always recognized as such. We live in a time when this sluggard-mentality is treated as something that should be praised. In 1950, the average fourteen-year-old kid had a vocabulary of 25,000 words. Today, the average kid has a vocabulary of 10,000 words, four of which appear to be cable, X-Box, Netflix, and dude. But how is this up and coming generation of the ignorati described to us in our public discourse?—street-smart, savvy, irreverent, and refreshing. Industry and diligence are mocked, and the baseball hat on backwards is the mark of a sage. We praise the lazy and exalt the sluggard. We do this even though we know that God mocks the ungodly, the lazy and those who refuse to work for what they desire. This means laziness is a sign of contempt for God.

Spiritual sloth can also be found in our inability to wake up in the morning. Solomon directly ties the refusal to rise from bed to the sin of sloth. Greg Morse wrote a wonderful article on desiringgod.org called The Great Wall of Cotton: Why We Hit Snooze on God about this very issue. The entire thing is worth reading, but I will cite a portion here to capture his main idea.

We slept in because we had forgotten who bids us to rise. The God we snoozed was puny, uninteresting, unworthy — not the God of the Bible. The God we snoozed seemed so distant, so unaware, so cold. So, we rolled over in our warm beds and resumed sleeping. But the God who summons his people from their slumber is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is worthy of our wakefulness. We rise when friends call. Scramble to attention if our boss rings. And yet, far too often we roll over when our Best Friend, our only Savior, our truest Love knocks on our doors each morning. We provoke our jealous Husband with the scraps of our day, throwing him our spare devotion as stale breadcrumbs are thrown at pigeons in the park. He is God. He deserves our firstfruits, not our microwaved leftovers.  He can ask, “Why do you call me ‘Lord’ and not rise when I bid you? Why do you call me ‘Teacher’ and not sit daily at my feet? Why do you call me ‘Husband’ and not seek my tender embrace?” The burning ones of heaven cannot look at him — none yawn or fall asleep in his presence. The God we draw near to is the God of Revelation 5. As the Lamb ascends his throne, all of heaven screams, “Worthy!” (Revelation 5:9, 12). This scene is not one for sleeping infants or adults. What must this heavenly host think when they peer over the edge of heaven and see us lie in bed, as if dead, before him? This is not the holy deadness that resulted from John meeting with the exalted Christ whose chest shone with a golden sash, eyes burned like flames of fire, and whose voice thundered like the flood of many waters (Revelation 1:12–17). No, they see the deadness of Eutychus who, when Paul preached into the night, sank into a deep sleep, fell from his windowsill, and plummeted to his death (Acts 20:9).  How shocking it must be for heaven to be lost in fierce worship of God, and then to see many of us — his blood-bought people — daily meet him with a tap of a button and a rolling over.

Just as physical sloth tends to create poverty, so spiritual sloth causes spiritual poverty. Why is our society morally decadent, but our consciences are dulled to the pervasive dangers around us? In our spiritual sloth, we do not first seek God’s kingdom. We, therefore, need not wonder why everything else is falling apart. If all things will be added to us when the kingdom is sought primarily, the converse is also true: all things will collapse around us whenever we seek other things instead.

Finally, the notion of sloth does not merely apply to idleness but also to busyness. Idleness is a sinful counterfeit of God-glorifying rest. Rest is worship; idleness is not. Rest is found in coming to Christ; idleness is found in self-gratifying pursuits. But the same is also true of work and busyness. Busyness is a sinful counterfeit of God-glorifying work. Work is worship; busyness is not. Work is accomplished only when we are working from the knowledge that Jesus worked perfectly in our place. Busyness is legalism in action. Busyness is sinful because it is a denial of God’s sovereignty. It is the act of living as if God is not in control and so we must attempt to take life by its reins. Busyness is a rejection of God, while work is a glorifying act of worship. This means that work and rest are innately bound together, as are busyness and idleness.

Work and rest, as acts of worship, create a cycle of joy and renewal. Busyness and idleness, however, form a cycle of cynicism and decay. And it very much is a cycle. We busy ourselves in order to prove our worth and value, only to collapse into idleness when we reach the end of our strength and will. We attempt to do everything, only to accomplish nothing. We fill each slot of our calendar in search of desperate productivity, only to waste our lives. Once again, the problem is worship. Busyness and idleness do not seek first God’s kingdom (Matthew 6:33); therefore, they are frivolous and trivial actions. The man of God worships the LORD by submitting even menial tasks to God’s glory and kingdom, and he truly rests by coming to God for relief from the weariness of life.

Tony Reinke speaks about this busy laziness as an epidemic of our society:

The slothful zombie may live a very busy life, but he does just enough to get things done, so he can get back to enjoying his comforts. Duties are what he performs, but comfort is what he craves. The zombie lives his routine in a fog, sleepwalking between weekends. Frederick Buechner writes this of the zombie: “Sloth is not to be confused with laziness. A slothful man may be a very busy man. He is a man who goes through the motions, who flies on automatic pilot. Like a man with a bad head cold, he has mostly lost his sense of taste and smell . . . people come and go, but through glazed eyes he hardly notices them. He is letting things run their course. He is getting through his life.” Richard John Neuhaus defines contemporary sloth as “evenings without number obliterated by television, evenings neither of entertainment nor of education, but a narcotic defense against time and duty.” This is sloth at its deadly best: trying to preserve personal comforts through the candy of endless amusements. Sloth is a chronic quest for worldly comfort that compounds boredom — boredom with God, boredom with people, boredom with life. The most common species of slothfulness is “lazy busy” — a full schedule endured in a spiritual haze, begrudging interruptions, resenting needy people, driven by a craving for the next comfort. It is epidemic in our day.

Reinke goes on to call sloth “a craving for personal comfort at all costs.” It is this self-centeredness that kills. The Sluggard cannot worship God, even when he is busy because he is too focused upon himself. The call to the slothful, therefore, is not to work harder; rather, the Sluggard must submit both his work and rest to God.

A SOWER OF DISCORD // VERSES 12-19

We have seen foolish but well-intended actions and also the foolishness of inaction. Solomon now presents to us the foolishness of malicious actions. Verses 12-19 concern the worthless person (literally a person without value). This person is worthless because he devotes himself to worthless endeavors. In fact, these verses poetically emphasize how this man’s entire body and heart are devoted to evil. His mouth pours forth crooked speech and lies, his eyes are prideful and sly, his feet are quick to run to sin, his hands commit violence, and his heart devises evil and wicked plans. This is not merely a person who commits unintended sin or foolishly stumbles into sin; this is a person who willfully and purposefully commits sin. His heart is devoted to evil, not upon the ways of God.

But Solomon is here pointing toward one particular sin: sowing discord. These verses are broken into two sections, verses 12-15 and 16-19. Both build toward creating discord as their zenith. Verses 12-14 display the characteristics of the wicked man, only to culminate by saying that he is “continually sowing discord.” Verses 16-19 are a Hebrew riddle. The formula found in verse 16 emphasizes the point of the riddle. The first six things at the LORD hates are fairly obvious sins, but the seventh (sowing discord) is less obvious but equally an abomination to God.

The question to ask then is: why is sowing discord such a serious sin? To be fair, this is not an Old Testament issue. The New Testament is likewise very serious about the one who stirs up divisions, particularly among God’s people, the church. Paul makes it quite clear in Ephesians 4:3 that Christians should be eager to maintain unity with one another. Against this unity is division, and Paul warns us against it often. Romans 16:17 says, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11). “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21). Notice that these fruits of the flesh from Galatians are littered with synonyms of sowing discord: enmity, strife, rivalries, dissensions, and divisions.

But does this mean that we should never offer dissenting opinions or should never divide? Kent Hughes provides wonderful insight upon when division is malicious and when it is necessary:

There is a difference between needing to divide and loving to divide. A divisive person loves to fight. The differences are usually observable. A person who loves the peace and purity of the church may be forced into division, but it is not his character. He entered arguments regrettably and infrequently. When forced to argue, he remains fair, truthful, and loving in his responses. He grieves to have to disagree with a brother. Those who are divisive by nature lust for the fray, incite its onset, and delight in being able to conquer another person. For them victory means everything. So in an argument they twist words, call names, threaten, manipulate procedures, and attempt to extend the debate as long as possible and along as many fronts as possible.  Divisive persons frequent the debates of the church. As a result the same voices and personalities tend to appear over and over again, even though the issues change (Hughes, 364).

The divisive person is a danger to the church because ultimately he does not love the church. Sowers of discord are malicious because they do not love others.

CHRIST, OUR ONLY HOPE

What shall we do then in the presence of such sins? Surely you relate to one of them. Are you a foolish steward of your finances? Are you slothful with you time? Do you enjoy the drama of discord over the stillness of peaceful unity? Especially when we discuss heavily sin, we must always end by heavily pointing toward Christ.

In our finances, we look to Christ for wisdom, knowing that He offered Himself as perfect surety for us. Although He was without sin, He paid with His blood the debt we accumulated with the Father.

In our sloth, we look to Christ, knowing that He has worked perfectly on our behalf. He has paid the penalty for all our sins (past, present, and future) once and for all, and now He sits at the Father’s right hand, resting in His finished work. We, therefore, have perpetual rest in Christ, even as we work, knowing that we do not need to earn God’s favor. Thus, we are able to work and rest to the glory of God, fleeing the self-centeredness counterfeits of busyness and idleness.

In our divisiveness, we look to Christ, who formed ONE church, where “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). We, therefore, cling to His grace, as He kills all envy, jealousy, and racism in our souls and gives to us a new heart filled with love for others.

The question then is: will you continue to sleep? Will you remain intellectually and spiritually lazy? Will you continue to slumber in monotonality of the busy life? “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:14-16). Our days are numbered, and their end is approaching. We do not have time to waste seeking trivialities. Seek God’s kingdom instead.

Biblical Wisdom

Guarding Against Sexual Immorality | Proverbs 5:7-23

And now, O sons, listen to me,
and do not depart from the words of my mouth.
Keep your way far from her,
and do not go near the door of her house,
lest you give your honor to others
and your years to the merciless,
lest strangers take their fill of your strength,
and your labors go to the house of a foreigner,
and at the end of your life you groan,
when your flesh and body are consumed,
and you say, “How I hated discipline,
and my heart despised reproof!
I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
or incline my ear to my instructors.
I am at the brink of utter ruin
in the assembled congregation.”

Drink water from your own cistern,
flowing water from your own well.
Should your springs be scattered abroad,
streams of water in the streets?
Let them be for yourself alone,
and not for strangers with you.
Let your fountain be blessed,
and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight;
be intoxicated always in her love.
Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman
and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?
For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord,
and he ponders all his paths.
The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him,
and he is held fast in the cords of his sin.
He dies for lack of discipline,
and because of his great folly he is led astray.

Proverbs 5:7-23 ESV

 

Although only nine chapters long, Solomon spends nearly three chapters of Proverbs’ introduction devoted to the subject of sexual immorality. Even if the topic is not popular in many churches, the ancient king obviously saw a serious need for such discussions, and our era is no different. Personified as the Adulteress (or Forbidden Woman), Solomon warns us against falling into the trap of sexual sin, and within these verses, he provides important insight on how we must guard ourselves against it.

A WASTED LIFE // VERSES 7-14

Continuing on from his introduction of the Forbidden Woman, Solomon now makes it clear that he is writing to all of his readers by addressing us as “sons” and warning us not to depart from his words. As the author is prone to do, the following verse (v. 8) immediately shifts to his primary warning, which for this text is to keep away from the Adulteress. The plea to not even go near the door of her house emphasizes the danger that is found with her.

Verses 9-14 give a twofold reasoning for steering clear of the Forbidden Woman, but they build upon one another for greater emphasis. Verse 9 presents the first reason as being the loss of honor and years to other people who are merciless. Verse 10 continues this construction by claiming that strength and labors will be taken by the strangers and foreigners. Both of these verses describe the defining characteristics of masculinity (i.e. strength, labor, honor) being stripped away and given to others. The principle is clear. Although sexual conquest is often viewed as a masculine endeavor, Solomon declares it to be the exact opposite. Sexual immorality steals masculinity from a man.

Of course, let us also remember that Solomon is poetically speaking to all of us as sons here, which means that this warning is not merely for men. The woman is just as much in danger of falling for the Adulterer as a man is to the Adulteress. Last week, we saw that 40 million Americans regularly view pornography, and one-third of those are women. And that is not even mentioning the prevalence of pornographic “romance” novels, television, and movies. Indeed, just as the Adulteress robs a man of his masculinity, so the Adulterer steals a woman of her femininity.

Now there is some question as to who is doing the stealing here. Solomon certainly keeps the language poetically ambiguous, so we should take care not to speak too decisively. A common interpretation is that the Israelite king is warning specifically against the Adulteress’ husband in these verses, since her husband had the right to have the two caught in adultery put to death (Leviticus 20:10). While this is certainly true, because the Adulteress is a personification of all sexual sin, we need not stop there. The word for strangers in verse 10 is the same word used for the Forbidden Woman back in verse 3. We could, therefore, interpret these verses as a man’s strength, honor, years, and labors being given to sin itself. This certainly fits with the New Testament’s teaching that we were slaves to sin before Christ (Romans 6:16-18). Sin, especially sexual sin, has present and physical consequences (i.e. disease, shame, death, etc.), but it also bears eternal consequences. To embark upon a journey into sexual immorality is to venture toward death.

Verses 11-14 provide us with a life’s end lament from the man caught by the Adulteress. The primary cry here is the lament over how is heart hated discipline and despise reproof. Verse 13 reminds us that this man was taught and given warnings about sin’s consequences. He was not ignorant, just willfully negligent. Verse 14 describes the horror of being upon the precipice of complete disgrace before everyone.

I find it interesting that the lament comes at the end of the man’s life. He is looking back at his lack of discipline and mourning over his wasted life. Such is the way of sin. Sexual sin, like all sin, promises life but drains vitality instead. Using pornography as the obvious application again, it is interesting how even some secular people are beginning to see this correlation. In many online forums, you can read of non-Christians refusing to look at pornography because they find it robbing them of their enjoyment of actual sex, happiness, and emotions. In short, time given to sin is time wasted, and because time is in short supply, we will look back our time spent in sin with lamentation.

THE WIFE OF YOUR YOUTH // VERSES 15-19

I find it interesting that most of Solomon’s warnings in Proverbs seem to be regarding what not to do, but here he presents a clear command for what we should do. Verses 15-17 present us with an interesting metaphor of springs issuing forth from one’s cistern or well, and he warns that we must not allow strangers (there’s that word again) to partake in them. We should not let our drinking water run into the streets as if it were some common thing (let us remember, after all, that clean water was not a guaranteed grace for much of the ancient world).

What is the meaning of this metaphor? Verses 18-19 explain it plainly: the blessed fountain is the wife of your youth (again, women should apply it as the husband of your youth). Note the tremendous difference between verses 15-17 and verse 18. The wife is called a blessed fountain. Recall from earlier studies that in the Bible being blessed means having the unconditional favor of God. This means that blessed things are also holy things, meaning they have been set apart and are no longer common. What God calls blessed is incapable of ever being ordinary, even if it is treated as such. And God calls a man’s wife his blessed fountain. God-follower or not, a spouse is special grace of the LORD. God designed marriage; therefore, the institution is one of blessing. And to open this union to others (as seen in verses 15-17) is a trampling upon what God has blessed.

How then do we treat our marriage with honor (Hebrews 13:4) as the blessing that it is? Be delighted in your spouse. For centuries, some theologians have argued that Song of Songs is pure allegory in an attempt to keep sex as purely for procreation. The heart that must have been behind this originally is easy to see. With so many deviant forms of sexual behavior, it is easy simply to forbid sex for anything other than baby-making. Yet this is a legalistic contradiction of the Bible’s teaching. Even if Song of Songs is purely allegorical, the context of verse 19 here is certainly not. Solomon is explicitly stating that guard ourselves from sexual immorality by delighting in God-glorifying sex.

The language here is only intensified by the word intoxicated in verse 19. It is often translated as going astray (see verse 23), but also gives the connotation of swaying in a drunken stupor. Thus, intoxicated is a fitting translation. The command is to always be drunk on the love of your spouse. Take physical delight in your spouse. As we discussed last week, forbidden sex is sweet as honey for the moment. No one denies that sin is fun. If it were not pleasurable, no one would fall into it. But here Solomon gives us the marvelous strategy of fight pleasure with greater pleasure.

Too often, we think of killing sin as killing our enjoyment of life, but in reality, we are meant to kill sin by embracing true enjoyment. For married people, this finds an immediate application in your spouse. After all, Paul commands spouses: “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5). At her bachelorette party, my wife received advice from a married woman a few years older than her that sex should be used to get a husband to do whatever you want him to do. This is sinful advice that flies against Paul’s words. Sex is not meant to be arbitrarily withheld from your spouse; instead, marital sex should be a reservoir of great delight for both husband and wife. When this is true, the joy of godly sex will guard the heart against sexual immorality.

Of course, there is at least one question more that should be discussed of these verses: do they have any application for those who are not married? It is fine to say that having delightful sex with your husband or wife is a means of fighting sin, but it also does little good if you are not married. Fortunately, the principle behind these verses still stands true. The battle against sin is still a battle for pleasure, joy, and satisfaction, but for those who are single, godly sex does not factor in until marriage. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul speaks of those not married as having “undivided devotion to the Lord” (v. 35) and that they are “anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord” (v. 32). Therefore, they fight the pull of sexual sin by rejoicing in God. Both married and singles ultimately combat sin by treasuring Christ. Those who are married only have the added benefit of being able to practice godly sex.

A LACK OF DISCIPLINE // VERSES 20-23

Verse 20 provides the contrast of verse 19. The command to be intoxicated with your wife and find delight in her breasts is now turned inversely upon the Adulteress: why should you be intoxicated with her? Why would you embrace the bosom of the Forbidden Woman instead of delighting in the breasts of your own wife? The final three verses seek to remind us of the foolishness of embracing sexual immorality.

First, verse 21 reminds us that our ways are never hidden from the LORD. But our ways are not merely known to God, He ponders them. It is easy to acknowledge that God, in His omniscience, knows my sin, but we rarely believe that God is actually interest in it. I mean, why would the God of the universe bother to pay attention to me? Omniscience, combined with omnipotence and omnipresence, means that the God Who stands sovereign over all creation gives special care and thought to you. In fact, He ponders your life far more than you ever could. This remembrance that God not only sees but thinks deeply about us should give us incentive to fight sin.

Second, verse 22 informs us that sin is a snare and a trap. We think that exercise in sin is an exercise in true freedom, but Paul tells us that when we sin, we are only free from righteousness (Romans 6:20). Sin enslaves and ultimately kills.

Romans 6:20-23 | For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Third, verse 23 states that a lack of discipline kills. Discipline is not pleasant (Hebrews 12:10). As humans, we naturally rebel against discipline. Many want to lose weight, but few endure the discipline of exercising and eating carefully. Many want to play a musical instrument, but few are willing to put the necessary hours of discipline to do so. Paul Washer often tells the story of a young man listening to legendary trumpet player and afterward said that he would give his life to play like the man. The man replied that he did give his life to play like that. Discipline requires the denial of momentary pleasure in favor of greater pleasure in the future. Sin, however, is the embrace of momentary pleasure at the cost of greater pleasure later. This is how sin kills: by feeding our need for instant gratification.

A CASE STUDY: THE LIFE OF SOLOMON

Perhaps you are reading this and are wondering what gives Solomon the right to write these words. Did he not have 700 wives and 300 concubines? In fact, we should let the Bible tells what happened to Solomon:

1 Kings 11:1-8 | Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.

This was the man who was divinely gifted with wisdom. This was the man who had the King David as his father, a man after God’s own heart (Act 13:22). Solomon wrote the book on biblical wisdom! How could he, of all people, fall away from the LORD because of sexual immorality!

First, let us remember that wisdom is not a permanent gift. Like manna, God-given wisdom does not last through the night. We awake each morning fools in desperate need of God’s gracious and loving wisdom. Luckily, the LORD is faithful to answer such prayers (James 1:5).

Second, the collapse of Solomon into sexual sin and away from his faith in God stands as a warning to us. If the author of this text was not himself exempt from them, neither are we. 1 Corinthians 10:12 cautions us: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” A presumption that sin is harmless almost always leads to harm. A refusal to take a rattlesnake seriously will almost always end in a bite. Solomon is a great warning that no one is entirely safe from the grasp of sexual immorality in this life.

Third, Solomon’s fall into sin and away from God does render his Scriptural writings invalid. Truth remains true regardless of whether the person speaking it believes it or not. This is why Paul was able to rejoice in the preaching of the gospel, even when he knew that it was preached out of selfish ambition (Philippians 1:15-18). If anything, Solomon’s sway off the path of wisdom lends even more weight to his words. The necessity to continuously seek wisdom is accented by Solomon’s descent into foolishness. Solomon’s appeal to fight sexual immorality by being intoxicated in your own wife is doubly emphasized by the king’s failure to do so and the consequences that it brought him.

Fourth, our hope is in Jesus, not Solomon. Our only hope of escaping sin (and healing its wounds) is in the One Who is greater than Solomon. King Solomon’s wisdom was so great that a great queen came from afar to listen to his teachings. Using this account, Jesus said this about Himself: “The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12:42). Even with all his wisdom, Solomon was a type and shadow of Jesus and His wisdom. We, therefore, look to Jesus even in the midst of our sin.

1 Corinthians 10:13 promises that “no temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Even as we read these warnings against sin, we must always remember that our is solely in the faithfulness of God. He is faithful even when we are not. He forever upholds His covenant with us, even when we break it against Him. Praise be to God that He is forever faithful to His Bride, even when we give our hearts, time, and bodies to lesser things.

This is the great truth of the gospel. We are faithless, but He is faithful. We sin and, therefore, deserve the just wrath of God, but Jesus took every bit of the Father’s wrath upon Himself in our place. We would do well to remember that Christ did not merely die for “small” sins (as if those really existed); rather, He died for ALL sin. He even said so Himself: “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemes they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:28-29). All sin is included under that canopy of forgiveness except for blaspheme of the Holy Spirit, which John Piper describes as follows in an episode of Ask Pastor John titled What Is the Unforgiveable Sin?:

The unforgiveable sin is when you have resisted him so decisively that he has forsaken you and you can no longer repent. You try to repent and you can’t repent. You can’t be genuinely sorry for your sin or turn away from it. That is a horribly frightening situation to be in. But any listener who is now broken-hearted for his sin and does not despise Christ can be forgiven for every sin, no matter what he might have said to the Holy Spirit or however long he might have resisted Him. He can be forgiven, because the Bible holds out that promise for him. Whoever believes will be saved (John 3:16; Romans 10:13). It’s the inability to repent and believe which marks one as having gone over the line.

Tradition says that Solomon repented toward the end of his life and wrote the book of Ecclesiastes. We will not know the truth of this tradition until we enter eternal life with the LORD, but I pray that it is. There is certainly more than enough grace in the cross of Christ to cover the sex-driven idolatry of Solomon. Likewise, the grace of God in Christ is sufficient for all your sins. Embrace Him in repentance today; we are not guaranteed the ability to do so tomorrow.

Biblical Wisdom

Get Wisdom | Proverbs 4:1-9

Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,
and be attentive, that you may gain insight,
for I give you good precepts;
do not forsake my teaching.
When I was a son with my father,
tender, the only one in the sight of my mother,
he taught me and said to me,
“Let your heart hold fast my words;
keep my commandments, and live.
Get wisdom; get insight;
do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.
Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
love her, and she will guard you.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
and whatever you get, get insight.
Prize her highly, and she will exalt you;
she will honor you if you embrace her.
She will place on your head a graceful garland;
she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.”

Proverbs 4:1-9 ESV

 

As we enter chapter four, we now find Solomon once again pleading for us to obtain wisdom. He claims that wisdom will both guard and exalt us, so we should seek wisdom regardless of the cost. But how do we acquire wisdom? Solomon points to his father’s teaching of the Scriptures as being where he learned the value and necessity of wisdom. This is important because it reminds us that making disciples is a way of imparting wisdom.

WISDOM & DISCIPLESHIP // VERSES 1-4

Solomon first tells us to hear. As we saw that very word in 2:8, so we will continue to see it throughout Proverbs. We often rush past words like this, but I believe it is quite important to stop and consider its implications. God, through Solomon, is telling us to listen to what He is saying. How often do we hear of people asking God to speak to them or saying that they would believe in God if He would only speak? Yet now we open God’s Word and read Him saying, “Hear!” He is speaking; the only question now is whether or not we are listening. Are we going to be a people who hear what God is saying to us?

So what does Solomon tell us to hear? He is calling us to listen to his instructions, precepts, and teachings. These instructions have been compiled for us in the book we are presently studying, Proverbs. Therefore, Solomon is urging us to listen to the Scriptures that God has spoken to us, which he claims to have received from his own father, David. The author is, thus, constructing a lineage of discipleship. He is transferring God’s wisdom as found in the Scriptures to us as his children, just like his father transferred the divine wisdom to him. This familial discipleship should not surprise us since we have previously read how God expected parents to teach diligently to their children all the commands of the LORD (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). David’s instruction of Solomon was merely the basic pattern that God desired for all of His people.

But why was David diligent in teaching God’s Word to Solomon? True life is found in keeping God’s commandments (v. 4). As we’ve stated previously, there is an element of temporal truth here. If we submit ourselves to the wisdom of God, we will generally not cut our own lives short by foolishly driving into a tree while intoxicated. By this reasoning, our lives will tend to be longer by obeying God’s laws. But ultimately, we know that this principle is fulfilled fully in eternity. God’s Word, therefore, gives life everlasting but also tends to give a greater scope and depth to life in the here and now.

Because God’s Word leads to life, we must be diligent in discipling one another in the commandments and the wisdom of God. Providentially, we are living in an age of resurging commitment to discipleship. Many Christians in the United States grew up in church without ever being truly discipled, and they now read the clear commands of Scripture, resolving to end that cycle. Praise the LORD for this reformation! Yet often when we think of discipleship, we only think of men discipling men and women discipling women in coffee shops and other hipster-approved locales. But these verses, like Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6, emphasize that discipleship must also be built into the very fabric of the parent-child relationship. In fact, we might argue that household discipleship is the primary form of discipleship, that discipleship must begin in the home.

The first and most important disciples of each parent is their children. Solomon was a good and wise king because his father taught him to love the LORD. Of course, both Solomon and David were extremely broken men. David committed adultery and ordered the woman’s husband to be killed, while Solomon allowed his lust for his wives and concubines to lead his heart astray from the LORD. David was a messed up father, but he was also faithful to teach him God’s Word. Solomon was broken and sinful, but his father’s diligent instruction gave him the grounding that he needed to author three books of the Bible. Like anything within the Christian life, the emphasis is not upon our own worthiness. We know that we are unworthy from the start, which is why we praise God for the grace that has been given us in Christ! God wiped away the penalty of our disobedience; we must now be faithful to obey Him as newly formed creatures.

So, parents, are you faithful to teach your children the Word of God? Make no mistake, our children will be discipled. Television and computer screens are tremendously effective disciple-makers. Unfortunately, they do not tend to teach the wisdom and commands of God. Will we disciple them ourselves, or will we allow the various influences around them to disciple them?

If the notion of discipling your children in the Word of God sounds intimidating, allow me to list eight nuggets of advice from Jon Nielson’s book, Reading the Bible with Your Kids:

  1. Pick a regular time and place.
  2. Read short chunks at a time.
  3. Pick a literal translation.
  4. Stop often to explain.
  5. Ask follow up questions.
  6. Connect each passage with Jesus.
  7. Let the read turn to prayer.
  8. Be willing to do it badly.

Number eight is probably the most important. We cannot expect to be masters of teaching the Bible to our kids, nor can we expect our children to be perfect in their listening and learning. We are human, and life is hard. Discipleship is no different. We will regularly make a mess of the whole thing. What then? We repent, both to God and to our children, and we do it again. Parents need the grace of God in order to disciple their children. Fortunately, God is in the business of supplying grace to His children.

Before moving into the final verses of this study, allow me to give one final point of advice for making disciples, whether with our children or with another believer: don’t make reading the Bible feel like eating vegetables.

To be honest, my personal reading of the Scriptures often feel like eating vegetables. I know that I need them. I know that they are good for me. But sometimes, I don’t really like the taste. Yet this is not how reading and studying the Bible is meant to be. Read Psalm 19 or 119 and note how passionately they speak of God’s Word!

Of course, we know that some passages in the Bible are kind of like eating Brussel sprouts. We know that genealogies are just as inspired as the rest of Scripture, but it can still be quite difficult to truly enjoy reading through a list of names that we can’t pronounce. So we tend to force those texts down because we know that we need them.

But that is not the entirety of the Scripture! Indeed, the Bible is a full-course meal, vegetables and all. There are passages of the Bible that are like eating desserts. Simply dive into the books of Samuel and get lost in the story. The life of David has enough twists and turns to match any television series. Or if you want political intrigue and conspiracy, read 1 & 2 Kings. Do you want some meat that will be a little tough to chew but slap your tongue with flavor? Read the wisdom literature, like our present book Proverbs or Ecclesiastes or Job. Read the Gospels. They are the meat and potatoes of the Bible, giving four complementary portraits of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

In school, the teachers that made the most impact on me were the ones who had a genuine love for their subject. I still remember most of the bones of the human body because of my seventh grade science teacher. Because she loved science, her love became contagious. How much more should we love God’s Word! Do we delight in the Word, or is it simply forced? Do we truly believe that life is found in these words? If so, how can the Scriptures be boring to us?

Dive into the Word of God. Love the Scriptures. And as you teach others the Bible, show them your heart for God’s commandments. Such love is contagious.

GET WISDOM // VERSES 5-9

Having discussed how Solomon received his God-fearing wisdom from his father, he now proceeds to impart more of it to us. Get wisdom is the primary command of these verses. Both verses 5 and 7 urge us to obtain wisdom. Verses 6, 8, and 9 then list benefits that wisdom provides for us. But let us first address the command. What does it mean to get wisdom? And furthermore, how do we get it?

Verse 7 tells us that getting wisdom is the beginning of wisdom. Wait. What? Isn’t the fear of the LORD the beginning of wisdom? How is the beginning of wisdom the act of getting wisdom? In all actuality, this is the same command as fearing the LORD. It’s just worded differently, but the idea is the same. They complement, not contradict, one another. The fear of the LORD truly is the beginning of wisdom because it is only then that we are able to seek the One who authored wisdom in the first place. Fearing God is wisdom because it recognizes that we are not supreme. We do not have the highest intellect and understanding of ourselves and the world around us. True wisdom is submission to God, understanding that He knows better. This command, to get wisdom, can only come through fearing the LORD. They are not two commands, but one.

The second half of verse 7 further urges us to pursue wisdom regardless of the cost. Whatever you get, get insight. If you could only choose one thing to have in this life, choose wisdom. That’s what Solomon is saying. Even if it costs you everything, chase after God’s wisdom. Pursue it. Get it above everything else.

Now that we understand the command, let’s view the blessings of obedience.

Wisdom Guards Us (v. 6)

Verse 6 tells us not to forsake her, which recall that wisdom is personified as a woman. Love her, and she will guard you. How does wisdom guard us? Practically, we can look at the example of debt. Bible warns us about the dangers of debt, how it places us in the possession of another person. The Scriptures, therefore, urge us to avoid debt whenever possible. If we live according to this wisdom, we will then be guarded from the harmful effects of debt. So wisdom guards us in very practical ways.

Yet I also think that this guarding has a spiritual component as well. Since we know that wisdom comes from God as He has spoken in His Word, we can conclude that the Scriptures guard us. They teach us who God is. They are how He speaks to us, teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us. They keep us rooted in Him, that we may be firm in the midst of the storms of life. The Scriptures remind us that God truly is working out all things for our good (Romans 8:28).

Wisdom Exalts Us (vv. 8-9)

Notice the second blessing that comes with obtaining wisdom: she will exalt you. What does this exaltation mean? Are not the Scriptures clear that we need to be humbled, not exalted? The answer is that it does both things. The Bible, and its wisdom within, both humbles and exalts us. We must first begin with the humility. The gospel humbles us by killing our self-esteem, self-reliance, and self-sufficiency. Milton Vincent exposes how the gospel liberates us from the throes of self-love:

I love myself supremely because I am the most worthy person I know to be loved and also because I think I can do a better job at it than anyone else. Such arrogance makes me dangerous, yet it is deeply ingrained in my sinful flesh. Thankfully, the gospel frees me from the shackles of self-love by addressing both of these causes. First, the gospel assures me that the love of God is infinitely superior to any love that I could ever give to myself… Second, the gospel reveals to me the breathtaking glory and loveliness of God, and in doing so, it lures my heart away from love of self and leaves me enthralled by Him instead (30).

The gospel certainly humbles us in this regard. We certainly do not deserve the supremely beautiful love of God because we are rebels against Him, would-be usurpers of His throne. Through our sin, we earned the fullness of God’s wrath. We have every reason be to humbled. And yet the gospel does not stop there. The gospel also makes us the recipients of God’s love. This love is humbling as well. Jesus told his disciples that “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). That is exactly what Christ did upon the cross! He died for us. We cannot match that kind of love. I rarely am able to lay down my life for myself (which is called self-control and self-discipline, by the way), let alone do so for someone else. He loves us far more than we could ever love ourselves. God’s love humbles us by putting our love to shame by comparison and reminding us that we are not the most deserving of love.

But the gospel also exalts us, by making us the objects of God’s love and affection. Even though we were dead in are trespasses, God loved us enough to die on our behalf. This does not mean that we are intrinsically valuable; instead, it means that God is infinitely merciful in choosing to love us. God gives us value by choosing us. That’s the beauty of the gospel. It humbles us far more than we ever want to be humbled, and it exalts far more than we ever deserve to be exalted.

Get Wisdom

Wisdom can only be found in the Scriptures. So do you love the Word of God? Peter gives us a similar exhortation to Solomon’s when he says, “like newborn infants, long for pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2-3). Having a newborn infant of my own transforms my understanding of these verses. I have always cognitively known that babies need milk, and we likewise need the Scriptures. But having a newborn really illuminates the significance of longing for God’s Word. Newborns have a deep longing for milk, one which causes them to cry as though they are dying whenever they are hungry. Not knowing how to process hunger, they are desperate to be fed, and they are will to cry out for it. Our hearts should do the same for God’s Word and His wisdom. We long the Scriptures because we need them. We chase after God’s wisdom regardless of the cost because it is our life. We cannot live without God’s Word and the wisdom found within it. Pray, then, for a desire and a passion for seeking God’s wisdom through His Word.