Momma don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys don’t let them pick guitars and drive them old trucks…let them be doctors and lawyers and such.
Solomon didn’t write that…not in Proverbs.
-Lyrics from a song written by Ed and Patsy Bruce, made famous by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson in 1978…reached #1 and won a Grammy.
It’s been made into numerous parodies…pilots, pastors, etc.
On the surface it is a warning against the supposed lifestyle of a cowboy… “they’ll never stay home and their always alone, even with someone they love.”
But the real message of the song… “Cowboys are super cool”
Momma’s keep your kids away from this…but…wink, wink…we all know they are really cool…flaky but cool.
But cowboys as described in the song, not necessarily actual cowboys…are fools.
“If you don’t understand him and he don’t die young he’ll probably just ride away.”
That’s a description of a foolish person…that’s a flake.
I could have picked from many songs, movies, characters from shows, sports figures…heroes of all kinds…who would make my point.
In general culture…folly is celebrated…and it has been for a long time.
James Dean… dead at age 24…was star of the 1955 movie “Rebel without a cause”…what a fitting name for a life of folly.
Rebellion void of any real purpose.
You might say… “this is the kind of things old people say about young people…and you are old…so yeah, you would say this.”
Again…I’m no cynic…and I said culture, not youth culture is enamored with folly.
Waylon Jennings was not young…he died at age 64 from the consequences of walking a foolish path.
General George Patton, hero of WWII member of the Greatest Generation…was, in many ways, a foolish person.
He wrote to his friend and later boss General Eisenhower… at the beginning of WWII… “Hoping we are together in a long and bloody war.”…what in the world?
Sure, he was a warrior, sure he helped us win WWII…a fight against tyranny…but he was a foolish and vain person…and in the end he was largely an empty person.
My point is that…folly is often celebrated…by young and old alike.
But those who live the life of the fool…would not tell you it is ultimately a good life.
-Those who live with fools…would not tell you it is a good relationship…to be with a fool.
Folly is celebrated…but never enjoyed for more than brief moments…folly brings lasting misery.
A friend worked for a senior military official in DC…his boss is brilliant but in his relationships and style…foolish.
-That man rated his own quality of life…very low…2 on scale of 10
-My friend would probably rank his own quality of life working for this manl…1 or 0 on a scale of 10
Folly is celebrated…but never by those who actually have to live around fools…or in the end by the fools themselves…if they are honest.
But people don’t determine to be fools…they don’t set out to be miserable…we all do what makes sense to us.
The foolish path makes sense to the foolish person…otherwise they wouldn’t take it.
The goal…is for wisdom to make sense to us…to BECOME WISE.
For the wise/good path to look like the right path…the path we want.
This is a choice (s) we make and this is also the work of God…he changes our “wanter” as we pursue him.
We learn to want what he wants.
We want to actually BECOME wise…not merely study wisdom.
The writer of Ecc. studied wisdom and acted foolishly…so you can study wisdom without becoming wise.
This year: the book of Proverbs
This month: understanding how to read and apply the book
We don’t want a year of studying wisdom as a mere cognitive pursuit…we want to grow in wisdom…skillful living.
To do that we must understand what God intended for us when he gave us the book of Proverbs and the Bible as a whole.
All the books of the Bible are parts of the whole…a key principle for understanding the Bible is “Scripture interprets Scripture.”
You make sense out of the parts…by means of the whole.
The books all are a part of a single storyline…Genesis to Revelation.
We run into problems when we take a single book, chapter, or verse…out of its overall context.
Suppose you wrote an email to someone you have a business relationship with:
- I enjoyed our meeting yesterday. However, I was confused about some things you said in regards to our working relationship.
- It would be impossible for me to work with you based on some things you indicated in our conversation.
- However, I think we can go a different direction and enjoy a great business partnership.
- Let’s meet at Starbucks next week and talk.
Take that simple email…and say in a few hundred years some folks are trying to make sense out of it…some decide to try and apply it to their lives.
One group says…Joe and Bill never got along…look at verses 1, 2.
Another says…no, they partnered together…look at verses 1, 3
In fact,…we don’t know…do we?
Another group…who decides the email is a life guideline says…we should always meet at Starbucks to talk (we don’t’ know what Starbucks is)…
We don’t know what Starbucks is (because in a few hundred years they are long gone) that’s what Joe and Bill did…so must do that as well.
So all kinds of strange things happen…when they try to meet at Starbucks(not knowing what Starbucks was).
They don’t bother to do some historical research and finding out what coffee shops actually were in the distant past.
But my point is…words, ideas…have context…historical, cultural, textual context.
To understand what they mean…we have to understand what they meant.
Take the Bible…66 books, written by over 40 people, on several continents over many years…but with a single-story line.
The books contain historical narrative, poems, prophecy, laws, testimony, sermons…lots of different genre or types of writing.
Amazing, God-inspired book…but it must be understood as a complete whole…in context.
Proverbs themselves are a certain type of writing: Wisdom literature…not law, or historical narrative, not promises.
-Written in a context (historical/cultural, grammatical, biblical)
-They Apply to us…but we must understand them in their wider contexts.
“This is too complicated? I just read the Bible and believe it?”
I read it and believe it too…but if you actually want to become wise…you have to read it, believe it…and apply it based on what God actually intended for us to understand by it.
We have three wisdom books in the OT…not just one.
They interact with each other…and present to us…a balanced view of the wise life.
Today, as we wrap up our introduction to Proverbs…we will look at Proverbs in a conversation with Job and Ecclesiastes.
If you want to study this principle more…I recommend, Tremper Longman’s book, “How to read Proverbs.”
If you don’t have time/interest to read a book…watch the bible project videos…they have a three-part series called “The wisdom series”…each video is about 5 minutes long.
Before we jump into the wisdom conversation…I want give you an analogy that I find really helpful in understanding biblical balance in any number of themes.
Old radios had two or more tuning dials…I’ve read articles about frequency, wave length…and the use of dials…but still don’t get it.(not interested enough to work hard enough to understand it)
I do get this…to get a good signal before auto tuning with certain kinds of radios…you had to keep both hands on the dials.
We tend to want the Bible…particularly the tensions it presents…to be more like a digital radio.
Press a button…easy, clear signal…no need to continue to work to find the music.
In reality…the Bible, like life itself (which the Bible describes)…requires holding truths in tension…keeping both hands on the dials.
When we only turn one dial…may be simple…but it produces noise…
Keep tuning both dials…you get music…increasing clarity.
-Divine sovereignty and human responsibility
-Faith and effort
-Wisdom: Proverbs, Ecc, Job present us with a balance…tune them together…music
-take any out of context…static
Okay…let’s tune in to wisdom.
Introduce you to the three voices…tuning dials.
- Proverbs: general statements about how life works. Collected wisdom of the faith community passed down to generations.
- Ecclesiastes: A book where the “author” is describing the cynical conclusions of a wise but confused teacher…where life is more complex than he formerly imagined…and he has become disillusioned by this.
- Job: A book about a really good guy who suffers terribly and tries to figure out why. He has three friends who are sure they know why…”Job, you messed up.”
This collection of 4 old guys (job and his 3 friends) debate back and forth and they are finally joined by a young know it all…who is going to set them all straight.
Ultimately they are all set straight by God.
Okay…let’s see what they have to say to each other…and to us…as we struggle to find biblical wisdom in the complexity of life.
Proverbs is optimistic about the direct benefits in this life of following God
3:7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.
8:17 I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me. With me are riches and honor, enduring wealth and prosperity. My fruit is better than fine gold; what I yield surpasses choice silver. I walk in the way of righteousness, along the paths of justice, bestowing wealth on those who love me and making their treasuries full.
10:24-25 The fears of the wicked will be fulfilled; so will the hopes of the godly. When the storms of life come, the wicked are whirled away, but the godly have a lasting foundation.
So the conclusion from Proverbs is simple: Success, health is like a vending machine…money in, snack out.
So…do good, be good…good in this life will come.
Do bad…bad comes.
This is generally true, in many ways life is reaping and sowing.
But not specifically true…it is more complex than that…there are more factors.
But that is exactly how Job (at first) and his friends saw life…it’s quite simple.
If you suffer…you did bad things
If you do good things…you will only experience good things
So Job, we find out, is a prosperous, happy man…clearly he must be good…look at his life…and he is…good.
Then he experiences agony upon agony…his family, property and health are destroyed…his suffering is beyond comprehension.
In come Job’s friends to offer him comfort…at first…they did well…they sat with him in silence…offering a powerful ministry of presence.
But then when Job began to share his honest feelings they verbally jumped on Job to set him straight.
Let’s listen to Job’s agony in chapter 3…
“May the day of my birth perish, and the night it was said, “a boy is born!” that day-may it turn to darkness; may God above not care about it; may no light shine upon it…”
He hated his life, he despised the fact that he had been born.
Most of the book that follows is the interchange between Job and his friends (3-31)…they think they are helping Job by showing him that what has happened is his fault.
Maybe they even quoted the Proverbs we just read to him…they apply them mechanically…simplistically.
They tell Job…sinners suffer…therefore admit it…this suffering is because of your sin…so repent.
One of his friends says “Stop and think! When have the upright been destroyed? My experience is that those who plant trouble and cultivate evil will harvest the same.”(4:7)
So Job…admit it…some secret sins have brought this on you…fess up
Job doesn’t claim to be without sin…but he does argue…I have done nothing to deserve this…this is not punishment for unrepentant sin.
“I am innocent, but it makes no difference to me—I despise my life. Innocent or wicked, it is all the same to God. That’s why I say, “He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.” (9:21)
Both sides are driving in the ditch.
Job has gone into the ditch on the one side of the road…his friends the other.
His friends say… “You are suffering because you sinned.” (ditch)
Job says… “It doesn’t even matter what you do.”(ditch)
They get personal…take up ad hominin attacks on one another
“An empty-headed person won’t become wise any more than a wild donkey can bear a human child.” 11:12…Jophar says to Job.
Job responds “You people really know everything, don’t you? And when you die wisdom will die with you! Well, I know a few things myself and you’re no better than I am.” 12:2-3
Job rejects their simplistic view of life and suffering and he offers his own interpretation of life…God is not fair and he would love to debate God and prove his own innocence.
They reach an impasse…no one is willing to concede any ground…so young Elihu (ela who) speaks up.
Out of respect for age he has kept silence…but he can’t stand their incompetence any longer.
“I am young and you are old, so I held back from telling you what I think. I thought, “Those who are older should speak, for wisdom comes with age….but sometimes the elders are not wise.” 32:6-9
He is furious that Job won’t admit this is all his fault…and frustrated with Job’s friends that they failed to make their case.
“Mark this well, Job. Listen to me, for I have more to say. But if you have anything to say, go ahead. Speak, for I am anxious to see you justified. But if not, then listen to me. Keep silent and I will teach you wisdom.” 33:31-33
Wow…that’s not too arrogant.
He claims to be wiser than them all but then he merely repeats the same things Job’s friends had said… “Job, this is all your fault.”
In the midst of all this folly…Job, three friends (former friends after this) and the young arrogant man…we are desperate to find wisdom…a sane voice in this book.
We finally get it…from…God of course…the source of wisdom.
Job is anxious to take God to court…to put him on trial.
“If only I knew where to find God, I would go this court. I would lay out my case and present my arguments. Then I would listen to his reply and understand what he says to me. Would he use his great power to argue with me? No, he would give me a fair hearing. Honest people can reason with him, so I would be acquitted once and for all by my judge.” 23:1-7
So Job actually thinks…God has messed this up…Job can give him wisdom, understanding.
Earlier Job had done well…in his suffering he did not sin by blaming God…but now, he has become willing to condemn God in order to justify himself.
Suffering has changed his perspective…it rarely leaves a person unchanged.
God says “Will you discredit my justice and condemn me just to prove you are right?” 40:8
God doesn’t try to justify himself to Job…he sets Job’s pretense of wisdom in its place.
“Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you and you must answer them.” 38:2-3
What follows is a display of God’s knowledge and control of the natural order…the universe itself…this includes the moral order as well.
God knows why Job has suffered…but Job doesn’t get an answer…but he give Job access to wisdom…Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…Job gets it.
“Lord, I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked ‘who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said ‘Listen to me, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” 42
Don’t hear that as God hammering Job even more…in Job’s culture…this indicates he “got it”…he understood…he saw.
Wisdom came to him…and he repented (changed his mind and heart)
After this time…God restored much of what Job had lost
What do we learn from Job…how do we dial in clarity…the music of wisdom?
- The big question in Job is…what is wisdom, who is wise?
“I thought the question was why did Job suffer?”
Exactly…but to know that…we need wisdom.
All the characters in the book claim wisdom…but in the end there is no contest…God alone is wise.
God alone is the source of wisdom…fear of the Lord (awesome respect) is the beginning of wisdom.
- We learn from Job that we cannot mechanically apply Proverbs
We learn this by seeing a man whose suffering is for reasons other than his own sin.
We find this same truth played out in the Gospel of John, chapter 9
“Rabbi (teacher), who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” ( Jesus’ response could be applied to Job) “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”
The difficult truth is that God is glorified through the suffering of his faithful servants…most notably…his servant Jesus.
So we know from Job that Proverbs has a balancing dial…life is not simple…God has not failed if we walk the wise path and suffer.
The wise path is the good path…and things go better there…than anywhere else…because that path is relationship with God.
Now let’s dial in Ecclesiastes to get the wisdom music to play with even more clarity.
As I said the main speaker is a “wise man” who apparently expected to live a prosperous and meaningful life.
But he comes to the shocking and distressing conclusion that life is without meaning. (Tremper Longman, How to Read Proverbs)
He reaches this conclusion, in part, by realizing that the world is not simply a giant vending machine…good in, good out…bad in, punishment out.
Listen to how he says it
“Both I observed in my meaningless life: There is a righteous person perishing in his righteousness, and there is a wicked person living long in his evil.” Ecc. 7:15
So “wisdom” did not give the teacher what he expected…no joy in this life or hope in defeating death….so he said “wisdom itself is meaningless”. 2:12-17
But the teacher’s conclusions are not the conclusions of the book…in a literary “sleight of hand”…A second wise man (the author) is using the Teachers words to teach his son about trying to be wise apart from God’s wisdom.
“Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of humanity. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil.” 12:13,14
Wisdom is not figuring everything out on your own.
It is certainly not thinking you are smarter than God…just because there are mysteries, or he doesn’t do things like you want him to.
Life is not simple…where good always happens to the good, bad to the bad…at least not in real time.
Wisdom begins with God…not with self, not circumstances.
Wisdom follows worship.
So, again…Proverbs is a chapter in the 66 chapter book called the Bible.
We are to put our hands on the dial of Job, and Eccl as we read Proverbs…then we can better tune in the music of wisdom.
But even more Importantly…we keep our hand on the gospel dial…all the Bible points to Jesus…the wisdom and power of God.
When we read Proverbs with a hand on the gospel dial…we realize that the rewards of Proverbs are not ultimately centered in this life.
The blessings of Proverbs and the gospel taken together…are about the already/not yet kingdom of God.
Tune that “already dial”…Proverbs dial…life with God, walking the good path is the best possible life…we can experience it personally…wisdom works…choices matter.
Tune that “not yet dial”….we are not in heaven yet…the wise path, the good path…will not exempt you from suffering.
“Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:12-13
“Man, this is way too complex…what hope do I have of figuring all this stuff out.”
Well our hope is not in figuring this stuff out…Our hope is in God…Jesus is the anchor for our souls.
So…put one hand on the Proverbs dial this year.…work, think, practice to become wise.
Put another hand on the Gospel dial this year…two dials of the same radio…you don’t have to figure it all out, you don’t have to be wise, strong, or good…to be loved and accepted by God.
Now…keep your hands on the dials…and grow in skilled living…Gospel wisdom.