The Pilgrim’s Playlist

Blessed Is Everyone Who Fears the LORD | Psalm 128

Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD,
who walks in his ways!
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
            you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
who fears the LORD.

The Lord bless you from Zion!
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life!
May you see your children’s children!
Peace be upon Israel!  

Psalm 128

 

As we continue our journey through the Songs of Ascents, we now arrive at the conclusion of the center “trilogy” within the collection. Although these Pilgrim Songs largely meditate upon the pilgrimage of life, these psalms explore how everyday life is a part of that journey.

YOU SHALL BE BLESSED

The predominate theme of Psalm 128 is the promise of being blessed. The word itself occurs four times within these six verses, and the verses that do not contain it (verses 3 and 6) describe the condition of being blessed. It would seem, therefore, most fitting for us to begin by defining what it means to be blessed.

Defining Blessedness

It’s not hard to find people who are blessed. The secular world is obsessed with blessedness, as evidenced by the popularity of #blessed. Within these circumstances, the word takes on malleable connotation that seems to indicate an overall feeling of happiness. Date night with my spouse: #blessed. Kid pooped in the toilet: #blessed. One cookie with two fortunes: #blessed. The Bible can even seem to support this impression. The NASB, KJV, NKJV, CSB, and RSV all translate blessed in verse 2 as happy. But is the feeling of happiness what the Bible means by being blessed?

Happiness is certainly a crucial element of being blessed, yet blessedness is not identical to happiness. I can be quite glad that the latest Marvel movie is finally on Netflix, but that doesn’t mean that I am blessed in the biblical sense of the word. Instead, the Bible’s concept of being blessed is a joyful gladness that stems from experiencing God’s favor. We are blessed because God looks upon us with grace and kindness. He freely establishes us as His people, becoming our God. The God who made heaven and earth unites Himself to us, intending to promote our welfare. What can be more blessed than that?

Verses 2-3 and 6 provide practical implications of this, which form a natural continuity with Psalm 127. You will enjoy the benefits of your work. Your wife will flourish like a vine that bears a lot of grapes, and you will have many children sitting around your table.

These blessings certainly fit with the overall picture in the rest of the Old Testament as well. When God made a covenant with Abraham, He promised to bless him. An integral piece of that blessing was the birth of Abraham’s son, Isaac (not to mention his descendants who would number like the stars in the sky). Even though he lived a nomadic life, the peoples near Abraham viewed his material wealth as sign that he was blessed by God.

Furthermore, when God made a covenant with Israel through Moses, He spells out the blessings for keeping the covenant and the curses for disobedience in Deuteronomy 28. In verse 11, God promises: “And the LORD will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give you.” Sounds familiar, right? God promises fruit of the ground and livestock (work) and of the womb (children) as their blessings.

Jesus’ disciples also presumed that material prosperity signaled the LORD’s favor. In Mark 10, Jesus encountered a rich, young man who was seeking eternal life. After Jesus lists out some of the ten commandments, the young ruler claims to have obeyed them all. Jesus then tells him to give away all his possessions to the poor and follow Him, but the young man cannot. He walks away in sorrow, and Jesus comments to His disciples how difficult it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of heaven. They respond with a telling question: “Then who can be saved?” (v. 26). They assumed that the rich had more favor with God, making salvation easier for them. Jesus declares wealth to be an obstacle in the path to eternal life, which was obviously a startling concept.

Does the Old Testament in general and this psalm in particular disagree with Jesus? Should we again to prosperity as the barometer for measuring our position with God? In a word, no (to both questions). If you look within the account of Abraham, we find that God blesses Abraham, so that Abraham’s lineage would become a blessing to the entire world. In Deuteronomy 28:10, God speaks these words: “And all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they shall be afraid of you.” Their physical blessings were a sign to the rest of the nations that their God was the one true God. Their prosperity was a witness of God’s glory to the world, God’s light shining in the darkness.

The LORD has by no means deviated from this principle under the New Covenant, but its appearance does shift. When Jesus entered humanity as the God-man to solve the problem of sin with His life, death, and resurrection, He brought to us blessedness in its purest form. He delivered to us the supreme blessing of peace with God, of our adoption by God. He paid once for all the debt of our sins and signed over the account of His righteous into our name. We are made co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). We have “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Indeed, we are blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3).

Yet this superior blessing comes with a caveat:

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:16-17)

Our blessedness in Christ requires our willingness to suffer with Christ. Don’t miss the importance of that particular wording. To say that we must suffer for Christ is not inaccurate, yet here Paul states that our suffering must be with Christ. He suffered for us; now we must suffer with Him. Soon, though, we will be glorified with Him, but even now, we are blessed when we suffer with Christ. Jesus said so Himself (Matthew 5:10-12).

Throughout history, Christians have known and displayed this truth. They have displayed to the world a vast blessedness that cannot be contained in this life, a blessedness of which the world is not worthy. Tertullian affirms this with his beloved declaration to the Romans:

The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed. Many of your writers exhort to the courageous bearing of pain and death, as Cicero in the Tusculans, as Seneca in his Chances, as Diogenes, Pyrrhus, Callinicus; and yet their words do not find so many disciples as Christians do, teachers not by words, but by their deeds. That very obstinacy you rail against is the preceptress. For who that contemplates it, is not excited to inquire what is at the bottom of it? Who, after inquiry, does not embrace our doctrines? And when he has embraced them, desires not to suffer that he may become partaker of the fullness of God’s grace, that he may obtain from God complete forgiveness, by giving in exchange his blood?

I recently came across this quotation: “no assessment of the early days and subsequent success of Christianity can ignore the fact that in their own ways the rise and persistence of both Judaism and Islam are equally remarkable and equally ‘miraculous’” (Introducing Jesus, loc. 553). First, as Christians, we certainly assert the statements validity with Judaism, to which we are necessarily attached. But Islam did not experience an equally remarkable and miraculous growth. Muhammed preached peace until he was able to assemble an army. Islam spread by force of the sword; Christianity conquered even when killed by the sword. Tertullian’s assessment still stands today. The blood of Christian martyrs is seed because it displays to the world our blessed hope. As they rejoice in a hope beyond this world, their faith becomes visible evidence of that eternal life.

None of this, however, is to discount how the LORD may still use physical blessings to give evidence of His love. We simply no longer stake of primary hope in them. In Christ, we can still be blessed, even if the fruit of our labor is taken from us. In Christ, we can still be blessed, even when barrenness strikes our family. The physical blessings of this psalm are shadows of Christ’s reality, and our blessedness in Jesus is meant to serve as a beacon of hope for those walking toward the gate of destruction.

Fear the LORD

If now we have a better conception of blessedness, how it achieved? The psalmist declares that those who fear the LORD are blessed. How then does the fear of God relate to our blessedness in Christ? If God has adopted us as His children in Christ, is there no longer any need to fear Him?

The fatherhood of God and fear of God do not stand in opposition to one another. If anything, our adoption in Christ gives greater clarity to how we are called to fear Him. In a healthy relationship, a child ought to have a healthy fear of his or her father because the father is always prepared to use corrective discipline. The child fears the father’s rod of correction. Yet (once again in a healthy relationship), the father also leaves the child without any doubt of his love toward them. Indeed, fatherly love must include discipline. If I do not correct my toddler’s tantrums now, they will lead to greater “tantrums” in the future that will be destructive to herself and those around her. If I do not force her to sleep in some kind of schedule, she quickly becomes fatigued, which thrusts chaos upon herself and those around her. Both are acts of discipline. She is rarely pleased with either. Announcing bed time can even cause her to run from me. But I discipline her for her own good.

The fatherhood of God is so much better than my own. He is perfectly right in all His ways, and His discipline is never too hard or soft. Even still, we are right to fear His hand. We are right to fear His correction, even though in Christ we need not question His love. If we do not know this fear of God, we do not know God at all. To use the psalm’s language, we are not blessed. C. S. Lewis’s poignant observation still rings true:

We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’, and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’. Not many people, I admit, would formulate theology in precisely those terms: but a conception not very different lurks at the back of many minds. I do not claim to be an exception: I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed on such lines. But since it is abundantly clear that I don’t, and since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction. (Problem of Pain, 31-32)

God is both love and to be feared. Any theology that cannot cling to both realities is false. True blessedness comes from knowing that God is God, fearing Him, and being loved by Him. Such an understanding can only lead us, then, to walk in His ways. A failure to obey God proves that we do not love nor fear Him. Such a claim isn’t legalism. After all, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). A stubborn refusal to walk in God’s ways and obey His commands is evidence of failing to love Christ. It is also a rejection of blessedness. Our refusal to fear and obey God separates us from Himself, the Source of all blessings. We choose, like Satan in Paradise Lost, to attempt reigning in hell rather than serving in heaven. Trying to be gods, we flee from the only God. To sin, therefore, is to forsake blessedness.

Is that how you view your sin? Do you see it as luring you away from God’s presence and the blessings therein?

Or perhaps even more basic: is your concept of blessedness fundamentally connected to God, or do you look for other streams of blessings?

THE LORD BLESS YOU FROM ZION

Verses 5-6 add another crucial detail to our understanding of blessedness: community is an essential aspect of God’s blessing. Verse 5 both prays that our blessing would come from Zion and that we would be so blessed as to see the thriving of Jerusalem all our days. As we have noted previously, Jerusalem and Zion are often symbolic for the gathered people of God for worship, and the Bible assumes that those who fear God will long to worship with God’s people.

Interestingly, the prayer for the LORD to bless from Zion, therefore, indicates Zion as an instrument for God’s blessings. And why would God’s gathered people not be a channel for receiving the blessedness of the LORD?

Is that how you view church? Do you eagerly anticipate gathering with other brothers and sisters in Christ, believing that the LORD’s blessing will be found there? It is tragic how gathering together on Sunday is increasingly viewed as a chore rather than a blessing, as a work instead of a grace. The author of Hebrews, after all, teaches that our gathering for worship should be a time of encouraging “one another to love and good works” (10:24), which is another way of saying to walk in the LORD’s ways. We bless one another by encouraging each other to continue walking in God’s blessedness. If we neglect to meet together, we essentially forsake the LORD’s blessing from Zion, while also denying how God might have used us as instrument of His blessing to others. As the body of Christ, we are meant to build one another up in the LORD. We are members of one another. We are Jerusalem, God’s dwelling place. Therefore, the prosperity and blessedness of Jerusalem is our prosperity and blessedness. The peace of Israel is our peace. The maturity of the church is our maturity.

Returning a final time to Jeremiah 29, God commanded the captives to seek the welfare (which in Hebrew is a variant of the word for peace) of their new city, Babylon, and through that action they would find their own welfare. Since we’ve discussed that Babylon is often used to represent the unbelieving world, our welfare is secured as we seek the welfare, the peace, of the world around us. According to Merriam-Webster, a blessing can be defined “a thing conducive to happiness or welfare.” We are blessed whenever we seek to bless those around us.

Yet Psalm 128 is longing for the blessing of Jerusalem, not Babylon. How then do these ideas connect? The greatest peace, the greatest welfare, the greatest blessing that could come upon those who do not follow Christ would be for them to start following Christ. Even as we live in Babylon, we are still exiled citizens of Jerusalem, and we long to take citizens of Babylon with us as we return. Our blessedness must a sign and beacon, a testament to the goodness of Jesus Christ. Fortunately, Jesus told His disciples how the world come to recognize this in them: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). A love for God’s people reveals our love for God Himself. As we experience the blessings of this holy community together, we fervently invite those around us to pull up a seat at the family meal and join us.

This isn’t, of course, to say that a church should be primarily inward focused. We must be outward focused, seeking to care for the orphans, widows, and other vulnerable members. Yet we can never forget that our love for one another that provide solid ground for our missions and evangelism.

Have you experienced the blessedness of Christ? If not, come to Him today.

More specifically, have you experienced the blessedness of Christ’s people? Poor, sinful, and broken as we are, the church is Christ’s body and His bride.

May we long to see the prosperity of Jerusalem, to see the flourishing of God’s kingdom as it advances.

May we see our children’s children, the generational fruit of our discipleship as we obey the Great Commission.

May peace, welfare, and blessedness be upon God’s people.

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Blessings & Curses (a meditation on Deuteronomy 29)

A man stands on the street corner,
proclaiming despite the murmur,
“come and drink the living water
that the Most Holy Potter
blessedly offers
to sinners
bound for the slaughter!”
His message is one of good news,
of redemption if we so choose
to forsake all else for the Savior’s cause,
but often i fear that we forget to pause,
we fail to stop and consider
that good’s synonym isn’t chipper,
that the message of the cross is a bitter
pill to swallow for wretched sinners
like ourselves. We forget that
to proclaim Christ is to combat
all of the sin in their life.
we are cutting with a knife
the heart’s of those we love dearly
so shouldn’t our words be not merely
thrown to the wind so cavalierly
but rather be spoken clearly, sincerely,
and with great solemnity
because without Christ their very identity
is an enemy,
an enmity
of God’s great sovereignty.

You see, the Father, Most High,
when He spoke to the Israelites
through Moses, His instrument,
pleaded for them to be diligent
in following His Words with care
for if they decided to whore
after other gods and idols made
His wrath would not be stayed
it would not be swayed or delayed,
but it would come in a cascade
of fury and destruction
for such is the penalty for disobeying instruction.

The Son of God said it best
when to the hypocrites He professed
that it was their vision of the Light
that would leave them without respite
on the great Day of the LORD
for He will then recall each ignored
word that they had ever heard
but instead they preferred
to follow their own heart’s leanings
despite God’s own bleeding
on their behalf.

Thus, we must understand
that hearing the command
of the LORD invokes
both despairs and hopes,
blessings and curses
that its not just verses
of empty poetry
meant to be shared openly
instead, this is a oracle
that will become either
a great miracle
or a terrible
and unbearable
weight upon the soul
cause acceptance does console,
but rejecting drills a hole
further blackening the heart into coal
we must always realize
that the Gospel does not equalize
rather it draws closer those who are close
and further hardens those who are hard.

but now the question remains,
should we, then, refrain
from speaking such a difficult truth?
Brothers, we must NOT stop for it has never been smooth,
the Word has never been soothing to men’s ears
it has never been responded to with great cheers
and gladness, but rather with anger,
with broken mourning and sadness.
The human heart is prideful after all
and when the truth begins to maul
away after its very nature
calling out all sinful behavior,
the tendency is not to repent,
not to weep over their sin with great lament,
but to further harden or to retaliate.
To share the Gospel is to create
a moment when men must choose
either to accept or refuse
the message that they received,
and they will almost never be relieved
to have the Truth come into their mind
because most would rather remain blind
than to have the Light sear
through their heart and severe
all that they once thought
and all that they had ever been taught.
But still it remains that the Light
is still better than the night
even if it is too bright
and sends most to flight.
But Truth revealed
is better than Truth concealed
therefore, speak it in love,
not like it is some sort of
requirement that we must
complete each day just
to earn our stay in the Kingdom,
but we speak it with wisdom
knowing that we are
shattering with care
all that they once knew to be true,
showing that all of reality is only through
the risen and glorified Son of God,
before Whom we have awed,
in His name we share, not
flippantly, but as we ought:
with great care and weight
because our task is great.
Our Christ destroys the selfish
allowing them to fully relish
His absolute completeness
to have His joy that is never less
than the highest
good for our rebellious
hearts. Thus, we proclaim
despite how it might maim
the souls of those who hear
but we do it while being aware
of its burden that we bear
so that Christ and His grandeur
might be displayed now and forever.

Vanity Under the Sun

The Vanity of Blessings Under the Sun | Ecclesiastes 6

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Ecclesiastes 6:3 | If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.

Ecclesiastes 6:9 | Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind.

OPENING THOUGHT

While it isn’t meant to be depressing, the portrait that Ecclesiastes paints of this life is brutal, honest, and bleak. The bleakness of Ecclesiastes is immediately apparent, but it is also real and tangible. This book studies the monotony of everyday life and puts some of those thoughts and feelings into words. It provides a voice to the weariness of life that we all know lurks around each corner.

Thus far, the Preacher has presented before us his investigation to find something under the sun that isn’t vanity. He attempted giving himself to unmitigated pleasure. He studied the rhythms, randomness, and inevitability of time. He observed the necessity of community, while also noting how we each threaten to destroy that community. He has presented what he learned about God and wealth. Yet in each topic, his conclusion is still the same: all is vanity under the sun.

After warning of the vanity of wealth, Solomon now expands his focus beyond the monetary and onto the full breadth of blessings in this life. He soberly declares that even if a man lived two thousand years and had one hundred children, there is still no guarantee that he will actually enjoy the blessings of his life. Like our appetites, our souls constantly crave more, making satisfaction always sought but never gained. Fortunately, there is an answer to the endless desires.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read Ecclesiastes 6 and discuss the following.

  1. Which verses stood out most to you as you read Ecclesiastes 6 this week? Why? What do these verses teach you about who God is?
  2. How are verses 1-6 related to Ecclesiastes 5:18-20? Why is the failure to enjoy life such a tragedy?
  3. In what ways do you attempt to satisfy the appetite of the soul? What is the alternative to the wandering appetite?
  4. What are the final questions that Solomon asks in this chapter? How does the rest of the Bible answer them?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions about the present text.

  • What has God taught you about Himself?
  • What sin is God convicting or reproving you of?
  • How is God correcting you?
  • How is God training and equipping you for righteousness?
Biblical Wisdom

The Blessing of Wisdom | 3:13-35

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
and the one who gets understanding,
for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
and her profit better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called blessed.

The Lord by wisdom founded the earth;
by understanding he established the heavens;
by his knowledge the deeps broke open,
and the clouds drop down the dew.

My son, do not lose sight of these—
keep sound wisdom and discretion,
and they will be life for your soul
and adornment for your neck.
Then you will walk on your way securely,
land your foot will not stumble.
If you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
Do not be afraid of sudden terror
or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes,
for the Lord will be your confidence
and will keep your foot from being caught.
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to do it.

Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again,
tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you.
Do not plan evil against your neighbor,
who dwells trustingly beside you.
Do not contend with a man for no reason,
when he has done you no harm.
Do not envy a man of violence
and do not choose any of his ways,
for the devious person is an abomination to the Lord,
but the upright are in his confidence.
The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked,
but he blesses the dwelling of the righteous.
Toward the scorners he is scornful,
but to the humble he gives favor.
The wise will inherit honor,
but fools get disgrace.

Proverbs 3:13-35 ESV

 

Here we will view the blessings that wisdom has for those who find her. In these verses of Proverbs, wisdom is described as being better than gold, jewels, or anything else we could ever desire. This is because God built wisdom into the foundations of the earth, so that when we find wisdom, we walk away from sin and to-wards the LORD.

A BEATITUDE OF WISDOM // VERSES 13-18

This small poem is a beatitude, a statement of blessing. Most famously, Jesus began His Sermon on the Mount by pronouncing a few of these, but they are certainly not exclusive to the New Testament. Psalm 1 opens the Psalter as a beatitude.

But if a beatitude is a statement of blessing, we must then ask the question: What does it mean to be blessed? Today, it seems as though blessed typically means little more than lucky or fortunate. Biblically, however, being blessed means have the grace (or unmerited favor) of God. The blessing of God involves giving to us what we do not deserve (grace) and withholding from us the punishment that we do deserve (mercy). Blessings, therefore, are not tied to the circumstances of life. Being blessed is not a statement of circumstance; rather, it is a statement of fact that transcends all of life’s circumstances. Thus, even in the midst of the direst suffering, the Christian can boldly proclaim that he is blessed!

As we continue to study this text, we must keep in mind that this passage revolves around how we are blessed for finding and obtaining wisdom. Notice then what Solomon says about wisdom. He describes her as better than silver, gold, and jewels. She freely gives long life and peace. “Nothing you desire can compare to her” (v. 15). This statement rightfully sums this entire passage. There is nothing that we can desire that compares to finding God’s wisdom, which of course can only be found by finding God Himself. Finding wisdom means finding God.

Do you truly believe that there is nothing that compares to finding wisdom? Nothing is a gigantic word. It means that there is no monetary amount that could sway us from pursuing wisdom. There is no gift pleasant enough to be given. There is no happiness to be found that compares. This idea is similar to the question commonly posed regarding heaven. The question asks whether we would choose to live in a heaven complete with endless pleasures, infinite possibilities, no pain or suffering, but also no God, or would we choose to live in the lowest hell, as long as God never left us? If we are honest, we would typically choose the first. To desire God above anything that this world could give us takes a supernatural working of the Holy Spirit within us. We cannot desire God in this way on our own. We must pray daily for God to give us a delight and a passion for Him and His glory.

It’s good to have the things money can buy, provided you don’t lose the things money can’t buy. What good is an expensive house if there’s no happy home within it? Happiness, pleasantness, and peace aren’t the guaranteed by-products of financial success, but they are guaranteed to the person who lives by God’s wisdom. Wisdom becomes a ‘tree of life’ to the believer who takes hold of her, and this is a foretaste of heaven (Rev. 22:1-2). (Wiesbe)

WISDOM, CREATION, & JESUS // VERSES 19-20

Here we learn that God used wisdom to create the world. What exactly does this mean? I think it means that wisdom is etched into the building blocks of creation. Because wisdom is the skill of living life well, wise living generally results in our life being better than if we lived foolishly. Wisdom works out in life because God ingrained wisdom into the universe. When we live by wisdom, we go with the grain of creation. Going against wisdom is, therefore, like attempting to swim upstream. Can it be done? Yes, but typically with great difficulty. God has ingrained wisdom into the foundation of the world, so when we trust in the LORD, not our own understanding, submitting to Him, we swim downstream. We live with the grain of creation. This does not mean that things will always go well. To keep with the river analogy, swimming downstream doesn’t mean that we won’t kick a rock or be bitten by a snake or get tangled in tree limbs. But generally it is much easier (and wiser) to swim downstream rather than upstream. This is how wisdom operates.

It is also important to take a moment to address the theological nature of these two verses. Many people see in these verses a parallel between Solomon’s description of wisdom and how Jesus’ role in creation is described in John 1:3 and Hebrews 1:2. Take a moment to read through these two verses and refresh yourself with their portrayal of Christ.

John 1:3 | All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Hebrews 1:2 | But in these last days he has spoken to us by his son, whom he anointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

Jesus was the one through whom the Father created the world. The terminology between our present text and these two verses is quite similar. But does this mean that Jesus is the personification of wisdom in Proverbs? Is Lady Wisdom, in effect, Jesus? I would answer, no. Throughout church history, many theologians have fell on both sides of this issue, so I do not believe either answer is a matter of heresy. But I do believe that Jesus should not be completely equated with the personification of wisdom in Proverbs. The danger comes, I believe, from potentially equating wisdom to Jesus instead of simply Jesus to wisdom. Or we could say it like this: Jesus is wisdom, but wisdom is not Jesus. Jesus is certainly the perfect embodiment of wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:23-24), but wisdom itself is not Jesus. Similarly, we know that God is love, but love is not God. God perfectly embodies love and He give definition to what love is, but love is not to be equated with being God. Love is only a fragment of God’s character, and wisdom is only one attribute of Jesus. So the danger of equating wisdom to Jesus is that wisdom is not the fullness of Christ’s person.

Let us never fall into the trap of reading Jesus into an Old Testament text before we learn what the text originally meant. Jesus perfectly fulfills everything in the Old Testament, but in order to properly understand those fulfillments, we must first know what they meant. Therefore, I think the safest interpretation of these verses is that God embedded wisdom (one of His many attributes) in the fabric of created order, so that if we live by wisdom, life will generally go well for us because we are submitting to God’s design. In light of the gospel, we now look to Jesus as the perfect embodiment of what it means to live a life of godly and biblical wisdom.

THE PEACE OF WISDOM // VERSES 21-26

These verses describe the blessing of peace that flows from possessing wisdom. Verse 23 speaks about God keeping us on the right path, which we discussed last week and will discuss again in two weeks, so I will not go into more detail here. Next, blessing that we find is that wisdom drives out our fear and inspires confidence in the LORD. One of the most frequent commands throughout the Bible is do not fear. That command is so prevalent because we need it. We tend to be filled with anxiety, worry, and fear. To truly not fear, we must understand the confidence of the LORD. The only reason we have for not being anxious is because we trust in God. Having our confidence in the LORD is the only way that we can drive out our anxieties and fears. Psalm 3:5-6 describe this notion by saying, “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.” Even with enemies surrounding us, we can rest knowing that God is our help and aid. 1 John 4:16-18 goes even further for explaining how we are to kill our fear:

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love cast out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

Notice perfect love casts out fear by removing punishment. How does punishment have to do with the general sufferings of the world? I believe it goes back to the discipline of the LORD as we discussed it last week. Because we know that Christ absorbed all punishment for our sins on the cross, we know that God is for us, not against. We never have to worry about God being against. We know that God only has love, grace, and mercy for us. Looking to the cross, we can hold firm to the truth of Romans 8:28. The gospel reveals God’s marvelous love for us, and that love dispels our fears and anxieties, granting us the peace of God that we find here in Proverbs.

CLOSING WARNINGS // VERSES 27-35

Here we have five commands for how to live in wisdom, each beginning with “do not.” They start simply enough and gradually increase in intensity. Verse 27 tells us to not withhold good from those to whom it is owed. This is probably specifically speaking to the context of debt. If you have the money you owe to someone, give it to them. Be honest and pay when you can.

Then we are told not to plan evil. This goes one step beyond withholding good. Wisdom teaches us that we wrestle enough with sin as it is, we certainly have no need to add intentional sins on top of our unintentional sins. This leads into a warning against picking fights with men for no reason and then finally not to envy men of violence. Why is violence mentioned here? Although all sin bears the consequences of being rebellion against God, violence is unique in the hardness of heart that is required to perform it. Sure violence happens as a result of extreme emotions, but when a man is known for being violent, there is significant hardness that typically occurs first. In this way, violence is often presented as representative of the most extreme, conscious-searing sins.

Verses 32-35 expand upon the command not to envy the violent person. Each verse offers a contrast between blessings for the wise man and curses for the foolish man. Let us take time to focus predominantly upon verse 34 because wisdom and folly ultimately are matters of pride and humility but also because the New Testament quotes it twice. Both James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5 cite the Greek version of this verse.

1 Peter 5:5-7 | Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Here we see the confidence of God being brought back into the picture. The humble does not have the pride to pile up his anxieties and cares upon himself, but rather he freely surrenders them over to the LORD.

James 4:6-7 | But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit to yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

I love that James quotes this verse and then immediately commands us to submit ourselves to God and resist the devil. The fight to choose wisdom (aka trusting God) over foolishness (aka leaning on our own understanding) is warfare. The only way to fight for wisdom is by submitting ourselves to God. The only way to conquer Satan and our sin is by realizing that we are incapable of defeating them and that we need the grace and mercy of God. The only way we find life as Christians is by first losing this life, by dying to ourselves daily. We will never receive wisdom until we ask for it because asking for it is a humbling task. Asking for wisdom is an act of submitting to God. And we will never keep wisdom if we stop asking for it.

Biblical Wisdom

The Value of Wisdom | Proverbs 2

My son, if you receive my words
and treasure up my commandments with you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
yes, if you call out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
he is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
guarding the paths of justice
and watching over the way of his saints.
Then you will understand righteousness and justice
and equity, every good path;
for wisdom will come into your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
discretion will watch over you,
understanding will guard you,
delivering you from the way of evil,
from men of perverted speech,
who forsake the paths of uprightness
to walk in the ways of darkness,
who rejoice in doing evil
and delight in the perverseness of evil,
men whose paths are crooked,
and who are devious in their ways.

So you will be delivered from the forbidden woman,
from the adulteress with her smooth words,
who forsakes the companion of her youth
and forgets the covenant of her God;
for her house sinks down to death,
and her paths to the departed; 
one who go to her come back,
nor do they regain the paths of life.

So you will walk in the way of the good
and keep to the paths of the righteous.
For the upright will inhabit the land,
and those with integrity will remain in it,
but the wicked will be cut off from the land,
and the treacherous will be rooted out of it.

Proverbs 2 ESV

 

After hearing the cry of Lady Wisdom, we arrive now at the second paternal speech in Proverbs. In many ways, Solomon repeats here Lady Wisdom’s plea for us to embrace her and become wise. The primary structure of this chapter involves if-then statements, wherein Solomon lists the blessings that will befall us if we seek after wisdom.

SEEK WISDOM // VERSES 1-4

Within these verses, we find three if-statements, which will later be followed by two then-statements (with two more benefits being listed as well).

The first statement (vv. 1-2) encourage us to receive the author’s words of wisdom and treasure them within our hearts. The word receive is significant because it implies so much more than merely hearing. Many will hear God’s wisdom and law, but few will actually listen to them. Few will ever take them to heart, treasuring them. Jesus says as much Himself (Matthew 7:13). If we are to become wise, we must make our ear attentive to it, and we must incline our hearts toward understanding.

The second statement (v. 3) involves actually asking for wisdom. This fits with the promise from James 1:5 that we have already discussed several times. God has guaranteed wisdom for us with only two conditions. First, we must understand our lack of wisdom. Second, we must ask for wisdom.

The third if (v. 4) urges us to seek after wisdom. Just as we would search out silver or hidden treasure, so we should hunt for God’s wise understanding. Comparing to wisdom to treasure is a wonderful analogy because it calls for us to view wisdom as being just as precious as piles of money.

As with any if-then statement, these clauses provide the conditions upon which the rest of the chapter is based. If we do not listen to, ask for, and seek after wisdom, we cannot expect to partake in the benefits that flow from living wisely. The triple repetition and increasing intensity (listen, then ask, then seek) are also significant because they emphasize the supreme importance of the task.

KNOWING GOD // VERSES 5-8

Verses 5 and 9 are the two main then-statements of the chapter, with each followed by verses explaining their importance. Here we learn that if we listen, ask, and seek for wisdom, we will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. Although we may expect Solomon to tell us directly that we will find wisdom, he instead states that we will learn to fear and know God. This is important because the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. True wisdom cannot exist apart from the knowledge and honoring of the LORD.

Verses 6-8 describe the benefits of knowing this God. He is the giver of wisdom. Not only does wisdom not exist apart from Him, but the LORD gives out wisdom to whom He wills. Knowledge, understanding, and wisdom are all gifts from the Creator of all things. He stores them up to give to those who walk in integrity and justice, to His saints.

Verse 7 also states that God is a shield for those who follow integrity, and verse 8 promises that He guards the paths of justice and watches over His saints. God’s protection is easy to believe in until suffering happens. God pledges to be a shield for His people, so why does it seem so often that God is not protecting us? We know that it is foolish to ask why bad things happen to good people because there are no good people, but why does God let so many bad things happen to His people, the ones that are righteous before Him in Christ?

Job, another biblical book of wisdom, is almost entirely devoted to answering this question. We see Job, a righteous man, lose his wealth, his health, and all of his children at the hand of Satan. And it was God who permitted Satan to strike Job! With forty-two chapters, we expect the book to provide answers, but it really just leaves us with another question: Who are we to question God?

But how can we reconcile this promise of protection here with God allowing harm to befall Job? Romans 8:28 assures us that God is working everything for the good of those who love Him. We may not see how that good unfolds, but we can stand firm knowing that if we are God’s people, there is no such thing as senseless suffering. If we truly belong to God, all trials and tribulations are ultimately for our good and His glory. We just don’t always know how.

GODLY LIVING // VERSES 9-15

The second then-statement is that we will understand righteousness, justice, equity, and every good path. We will not only come to know God and His wisdom, but our lives will begin to conform to His way.  Notice the way that wisdom, knowledge, discretion, and understanding are described as guarding us from sin. Because sin is the ultimate form of foolishness, we should not be surprised that wisdom guards us against sin.

But how does wisdom and its many relatives keep us from sin? Living wisely means that we will live with eternity in our minds and heart. Wisdom keeps us from living under our own instant gratification. Wisdom reminds us that sin may be pleasurable for the moment, but its end is death. Wisdom delivers us from evil by unmasking it. It reveals the lie of sin, the emptiness of turning away from God’s ways.

THE ADULTERESS INTRODUCED // VERSES 16-19

The final two stanzas of this chapter provide additional benefits of finding wisdom. The first is expressed here: we will be delivered from the forbidden woman, the adulteress. If wisdom unmasks the deceitfulness of sin, Solomon points out specifically that adultery will also lose its appeal. This is far from the last time that Solomon will address the lure the adulteress, so we will not venture as in depth here. God established sex to be the fun and fruitful privilege between a husband and a wife. This pattern for marriage is revealed in the second chapter of the Bible, and it is broken in chapter four. The sexual revolution is not new to humanity, and the presence of online pornography only continues to propagate the seduction to flee God’s concept of marriage. Although sex without a marriage covenant is appealing for the moment, it is ultimately, like all sin, death.

BLESSING OR CURSE // VERSES 20-22

The chapter closes with a final benefit of wisdom: “you will walk in the way of the good.” Ultimately, wisdom enables us to follow the path of God, which leads to eternal life with Him. Even if the wise suffer in this life and the wicked thrive, eternity will be on the side of the wise. All sin will be dealt with once and for all. For those who walk in wisdom, their sin put to death upon the cross of Christ. But for those who walk in their own way, they will pay for their own sin. They will be cut off from God for all eternity, doomed to the consequences of their foolishness.

The Beatitudes | Matthew 5:1-12

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  (Matthew 5:3-12)

OPENING THOUGHT

Last week, we began our study of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount primarily by studying Jesus’ call for repentance because the kingdom of heaven is at hand. In fact, the proclamation of God’s kingdom was the core of Christ’s earthly ministry. He is the great King, the son of David, to whom the Father would give an eternal throne over all the earth. Knowing that Jesus is the King, ushering in His kingdom, is crucial to our study of the Sermon on the Mount because the sermon is essentially the handbook for living as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.

As we now dive into the sermon itself, it opens with the Beatitudes, one of the most famous biblical texts. Each Beatitude is composed of three parts. First, they open with a blessing, which biblically means to have the full favor of God. Second, they provide a characteristic for the one who is blessed (poor in spirit, mournful, meek, etc.). Third, they list the reward for embodying each characteristic. Together, these characteristics and rewards of a blessed person form a challenging introduction to the greatest sermon ever preached.

Christ’s followers, the citizens of the His kingdom, are favored by God, blessed. Thus, we should understand these characteristics to be the characteristics of a Christian, and the rewards are the rewards of a Christian. Though, in this life, we will never perfectly embody these descriptions, their presence in our life reveals the fruit of our belief in the good news of Jesus Christ. Though they stand against the world’s values and ideas of success, the Beatitudes succinctly proclaim the qualities and nature of God’s kingdom.

Read verses 1-12 and discuss the following.

  1. How are the characteristics listed by Jesus in the Beatitudes opposed to society’s ideals?
  2. If the Beatitudes are so different from what we would expect, why does Jesus say we are blessed for being them?
  3. Jesus concludes each Beatitude with a promised reward, but what is the ultimate reward that Christ’s followers will receive (the reward to which each of these points)?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Obey. Since the Beatitudes are characteristics that should define a Christian’s behavior, slowly and prayerfully consider each one, evaluating how much your life displays them.
  • Pray. Ultimately, we will never be able to live out the Beatitudes in our own strength, so pray for grace to live as Christ has called us to live.
Wrestling with God

Jacob & Laban | Genesis 30:25-31:55

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION 

Then the LORD said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you. (Genesis 31:3)

If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God saw my affliction and the labor of my hands and rebuked you last night. (Genesis 31:42)

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:13-14)

OPENING THOUGHT 

Jacob’s life is one massive proof that the patriarchs of the Old Testament were just as dependent upon God’s grace as followers of Christ today. Left to his own devices, Jacob is far from being the epitome of a faithful servant of God. Thus far, at his mother’s prompting, he has deceived his father in order to steal his brother’s blessing. When his brother became murderous, he fled to his mother’s homeland. Jacob met his future wife there, but soon found himself deceived by his father-in-law into marrying both Rachel and her sister, Leah. His polygamous marriage quickly created a destructive family situation where Jacob was thrown back and forth between his two wives and their maid-servants.

But even in the midst of these conditions, God continues to bless Jacob. The family drama of Jacob’s multiple wives may have been both sinful and avoidable, but God used it to give Jacob eleven sons and a daughter through whom the covenantal blessing could continue. That God-given grace continues in our present text as Jacob parts ways with his father-in-law, Laban.

The relationship of Jacob and Laban was far from ideal, but these events only cause that divide to separate further. Laban attempts to rob Jacob out of his wages, and Jacob flees from Laban without allowing him a moment for saying goodbye to his daughters or grandchildren. Though we see both men act sinfully, it quickly becomes clear how much the LORD is growing Jacob. While Laban’s blatant idolatry is seen throughout the text, Jacob only continues to become emboldened because of his reliance upon God. From this text we can see that God’s followers will certainly encounter many hardships in life, but the LORD will faithfully see them through each one.

Read verses 25-43 and discuss the following. 

  • Laban relied upon divination to learn that his prosperity came because of God’s favor toward Jacob. Divination is any practice of attempting to gain special knowledge through supernatural means. Why is divination a sin? What are examples of divination today?

Read verses 1-21 and discuss the following. 

  • In appearing to Jacob, God claims responsibility for blessing Jacob’s flocks while he was shepherding for Laban. Since being blessed means to be favored by God, are all Christians blessed? Why?

Read verses 22-55 and discuss the following.

  • When Laban catches Jacob, he is furious that his son-in-law would leave without allowing him to say goodbye to his daughters and grandchildren. However, we soon realize that Laban is even more upset about his household gods being missing. What are a few examples of modern household gods?
  • Jacob and Laban share a meal together and make a covenant to do no harm to each other. Why were meals important to forming a covenant? How does this relate to the Lord’s Supper?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER 

  • Obey. Laban was angry at Jacob for leaving with his daughters and grandchildren, but he was even more furious about his gods being stolen. Like Laban, the idols of our life tends to be what would make us most upset if they were missing. Use this thought to consider what things might be idols in your life.
  • Pray. Even during this conflict with his father-in-law, Jacob was still blessed and provided for by God. Take a few moments each day this week to give thanks to God for His blessings and provision.