It is often joked that men don’t read instructions, they just start putting toys, furniture, machines together…the result is a bag of left over pieces.
Generalizations like this are not always true (thus they are called generalizations) but they make us laugh because they are often true.
It’s not a big deal to pay little attention to instructions if you are assembling a “Disney princess castle”
-I hid pieces of toys in pocket when my girls were little
It’s a bigger deal if it’s a bicycle (I once had the front wheel come off my bike)…fortunately I was small so I bounced and didn’t break.
Really big deal if it’s an airplane…or a marriage.
I’ve encouraged couples about to be married to study marriage (and one another)
-I asked one couple, both on their second marriage…both senior level professionals, if they had ever read a book on marriage…both answered “no”
Both had read extensively on hobbies, careers, leadership…but not one book on the one thing that most impacts every other thing in life.
So, in the important things of life…we need to pay attention to instructions…lean into learning.
Life is complex, it requires the ability to navigate or interpret well…the description of the person who does this is a single word “Wise”.
Wisdom gives us the ability to understand how life works.
Last week I talked about Read/Act…wisdom is about R/A
This year we are in the book of Proverbs…a book on to become wise in order to understand how life works…in order to love God and others well.
This month we are looking at how Proverbs works.
In a sense we want to read the instructions on the instructions.
Not that Proverbs is an instruction manual we can just follow the directions…it is guidance on a path.
But here at the beginning we want to slow down and get some understanding as to how the Book works…because we are going to spend a year learning from it.
Take some time to read the instructions…so we can know what we seeing as we move through the year.
We already read the introduction to Proverbs together…now let’s walk through that passage…seeing it sort of like instructions on the instructions.
- The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
-Not all of these were written directly by Solomon (for Instance ch 31 is said to be the sayings of King Lemuel and were taught to him by his mother)
-Solomon was like the General editor…compiler.
What is a proverb?
The Hebrew word originally meant a comparison “This is like that, or unlike that”
-It came to mean what we tend to think of now… “General statements as to how life usually works.”
Proverbs have certain traits that make them so useful: Let’s look at just 4 of the major traits of Proverbs.
10:19 “too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut”
Brief…to the point…concise and precise.
Conciseness adds to usefulness.
In the Hebrew this is even more concise, fewer words are used than are necessary for English translations…it would more catchy in Hebrew.
In Proverbs, the truth is stated in as brief a form as possible…this makes them memorable and it means we need to slow down and reflect (chew on them) if we are going to “metabolize” them into our lives.
Can’t just fly through them to get them.
10:19 “too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut”
There are times when it not appropriate to be quiet
-Times when it is wrong to not speak up.
But it is generally true…that too much talk leads to sin…watch your words.
Modern Proverbs that illustrate this situational point:
-“He who hesitates is lost”. “Look before you leap”
So which is it? Move quickly to seize opportunity or be cautious before you take action?
Of course the answer is it depends…both are true in their context.
Correspondence between two lines.
When you read Proverbs (after chapter 9) you will find it is written most often in these sets of parallel lines.
The second line is not merely redundant or just saying the same thing twice.
It is sharpening or intensifying the thought of the first…so “A and what’s more B”
There are so many different ways this type of writing occurs we don’t want to get bogged down in all them…just know the point of the parallelism is to sharpen our focus…here’s a few examples.
Sometimes images are used:
“When the king smiles, there is life; his favor refreshes like a spring rain” 16:5
Sometimes opposites are used:
“A wise woman builds her home, but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands” 14:1
*Who does that? Lots of people.
*How? All kinds of foolish choices…all through the book they are listed.
This use of opposites is super common because Proverbs is about two paths…wise and foolish…good and bad…so Proverbs majors on contrasts.
Sometimes “better-than” is used:
Better a little with the fear of the Lord, than great wealth with turmoil.
Better a meal of vegetables where there is love, than a fattened calf with hatred. (15:16-17)
So watch for this parallelism and know that the writer is using the second line to focus the first…sometimes the first focuses the second.
Lots and lots of images…the overall theme is communicated using images
-The image of Two paths (Wise and Foolish)
-The image of Two Women (Lady Wisdom and Female Folly)
Images are used to capture our attention and imagination…to get to our hearts.
Look at this use of image…
As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes,
so is a sluggard to those who send him. 10:26
Here the first line sharpens the second using strong images.
Sluggard is a lazy person…slacker.
They are annoying, painful, irritating…to their employer.
I have swallowed vinegar before…yikes!
And I do know what smoke in the eyes feels like.
It is amazing how the wind blows smoke in every single direction when you are grilling… “How is this even physically possible?…must break some natural law…but This is so IRRATATING!”
Such is the lazy worker to those he or she works for…don’t be that person.
Here’s another one with vivid imagery…
Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout, is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion. 11:22
That’s funny…and little gross…but very descriptive.
This is not picking on women…it is making a vivid point.
Discretion is sound judgment…to be physically beautiful or handsome…but lack judgment…well you get the point…and that’s the point of using the imagery.
So Proverbs are: General statements about how life works…using brevity, parallelism, and imagery…that apply situationally.
Let’s go on…
- Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise.
The purpose of these Proverbs is…
Wisdom makes the top of the list.
Wisdom and Wise, these words run through the book…we need to understand what wisdom means to understand the book…we touched on it last week…let’s dig deeper.
Wisdom is a rich concept in the Bible that essentially means “skilled living”
It’s a practical versus a merely theoretical knowledge.
So you can’t just read Proverbs, or study them, or go to group and talk about them…and become wise.
We must put them to action in our lives: Information + application=transformation (wisdom)
It is RA…knowing how to act and speak and think in different situations.
Wisdom entails the ability to avoid problems (good thing)
It also entails the skill to handle problems appropriately when they come (also a good thing)
Right Column/Left Column Living
Wisdom entails the ability to understand others.
-I’ve heard many times people say “I’m a good judge of people.”
-Maybe, but probably not…but hopefully we can grow in our ability to read people.
-In order to bless them…not to impress or manipulate them.
Wisdom seeks to grow in ability to read others in order to build bridges of relationship with them.
So wisdom is not intelligence, though it does not exclude it.
Intelligence or simple knowledge is not wisdom’s focus…skilled living is.
“Four things on earth are small, yet they are extremely wise: Ants are creatures of little strength, yet they store up their food in the summer; rock badgers are creatures of little power, yet they make their home in the rock crevices; locusts have no king, yet they advance together in ranks; a lizard can be caught with the hand, yet it is found in kings’ palaces.” 30:24-28
These animals don’t have a high IQ and none has every graduated with WSU…but they demonstrate remarkable skill in living…thus they serve as examples of “wisdom.”
Very colorful…memorable ways of defining what wisdom is and what it isn’t…it’s skillful living.
Tremper Longman, OT and Proverbs expert says that wisdom is “skill, a knowing how” not “raw intellect, a knowing that”
We want to understand Proverbs in order to be wise in order to navigate life well…in order to honor God and bless people…this is joy and purpose in our lives.
Wisdom brings joy…folly destroys it.
Irony: people often pursue foolish ways because they want to be happy and they have deduced on their own…a foolish way is a path to happiness…but their path is taking them in the opposite direction of real happiness.
People don’t general seek to destroy their lives…they seek what they believe to be wisdom on their own…apart from God…this is problematic.
Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him. 26:12
Wisdom leads to joy…not a trouble-free life…but the good path…the good life.
Now look at Wisdom’s running buddy…discipline… “Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline”
You see discipline again in the next verse.
- Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them to do what is right, just and fair.
Discipline can also be translated “Correction”
*Not so much the idea of “diet and exercise discipline” but teachability…learning from correction (discipline)
“Okay, wisdom sounds good…but who in the world wants to be corrected?”
Wisdom and discipline (correction)…run as a pair…if we are not open to correction, we are not open wisdom.
The wise know they have not “arrived”…they have humility so they know they need to continue to change and grow…they want “discipline” “correction”
If you go to Proverbs (or move through life) only looking for affirmation in all the ways you are doing well and avoiding correction/ways in which you can change…you won’t find wisdom.
My heart beats faster when I think “correction” is coming (even when it’s not)
When my commander has said “Hey Terry, I need to talk to you.”
I often immediately think… “Uh, oh…what did I do wrong?”
Ironically…hardly ever has that been the case…but its where my mind goes first.
Why? I don’t want to be wrong…I don’t want correction…I don’t love it…I don’t even like it.
But I love what it has brought in my life.
In 2005 a Commander corrected me…and that lesson (15 years) has not left me…and has changed me in good ways.
-I didn’t love the experience…I love the impact of the experience.
Christy will say, so gently… “I want to talk you about something.”
I will think… “I don’t want you to talk to me about something…I’m not sure what it is…but I don’t want it.”
But I love the results in my life and our marriage because she has brought loving discipline into our lives.
Proverbs 27:6 “The wounds of a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”
This isn’t license to go around “wounding” people…it simply means that correction from a friend is better than flattery from someone simply telling you what you want to hear…because they want to use you.
Correction done right is like a scalpel in the hand of a caring, skilled surgeon…it makes you better…wounds that bring health.
So, if you want to become wiser this year…prepare yourself for correction…be open to it…learn to embrace it.
Don’t decide to become the “corrector”…“Hey, my gift is to give all my friends the correction they need to become wise…your welcome!”
-Don’t be that person…that is foolish, not helpful.
Successful: The word in the translation we read “prudence” can also be successful
-The words background means essentially to “have insight”.
-So insight is vital for “prudence”(good judgment)
-And for success…to succeed you must “see” what is actually happening.
-The word refers to the moment of recognition of the true nature of a situation…when R happens.
Seen the Matrix…Neo sees the world as it is…not as he has been deceived into thinking it is.
That’s this word…wisdom sees what is there…not what we want to see, hope to see, don’t want to see.
“Ah…I see what is really going on here.”
*This is the big R of the RA
So why is this sometimes translated “success?”
Because the idea is that the ability to Read, to see what is there…is the starting point for success.
Success in life…skilled living always involves seeing what is actually there
Then the purpose, or goal of wisdom is “ethical, moral” action…not mere intellectual insight.
“To do what is right, just, and fair”
The wise are on the side of the good…real wisdom has a moral/ethical foundation.
Because this is right…since it is right…it is wise.
Wisdom always has an ethical foundation to it.
*I spoke with a friend last week in another city whose job involves doing lots of hard, right things right now (messy)…eventually it will become better but for now…it’s tough.
-I asked him how he is doing and he said “I’m making a difference…I can deal with the rest.”
-His approach is simple (hard but simple).
-He asks “What is the right thing to do…so I can do it?”
-The more complicated approach, that others before him took is to ask:
-“What will it cost me to do the right thing…so I can decide if I will do it?”
Proverbs is the wisdom of character, ethics, morality…to know the good to do in order to do the good…that is wisdom.
That’s the purpose of Proverbs, let’s look to whom it is addressed
The first nine chapters are addressed to a “Son”…we will see how to that plays out when we get there.
But the introduction of the book is more inclusive and shows the broader audience of the entire book…it can be divided into three parts…
Verses 2-3 are addressed to “people” in general
Verse 4 refers to a sub-group called the “Simple” or the “Young”
Then in verse 5, group called the “wise” or the “experienced”
All can grow in wisdom.
- These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young.
The idea is that this group of people are neither wise nor foolish…they are in a sense unformed.
The young can do (foolish) stupid things(I did, a lot)…but it’s because they are inexperienced not because they are actual “fools”
So…people do foolish things…but then there are fools.
The difference between the “simple/young” who can do foolish things and the true fool is summed up in a single word “Teachability”
1:7 “fools despise wisdom and discipline”
The simple-minded (not stupid) are the immature who lack biblical wisdom because it takes time to acquire it.
So…a young military officer makes a certain mistake…their career can recover.
-Senior officer makes the same mistake…their career is over.
-One was the folly of immaturity (haven’t learned yet)
-The other was the folly of a truly foolish person who should have learned by now…they had time and opportunity.
Mark Twain spent two years as an apprentice River Boat Pilot on the Mississippi River.
-It took those years to be able to read the River correctly because the sand bars, banks, currents were constantly changing…took great skill to pilot boats there.
-He had to pay large sum of money for the privilege of working long hours for two years under an expert River Boat Pilot…he to pay to work to learn to read the River.
-Our teachers had to pay tuition in order to student teach (pay to work/learn)
*You couldn’t just read a book or sit in class to learn read the river…you had to train your eyes, mind, reflexes to see subtle differences in how water flowed, or rippled that hid dangers.
This is the kind of skilled living…the ability to Read…that Proverbs says it will give to the simple/the young…the inexperienced…who will take its truths, with help…out on to the River of life.
The changing, complex River of life.
So not merely by reading it…but by living it in community, with humility in everyday life.
In many cultures in history, elders have been respected because their age gave them time to gain the experience that brought them wisdom…that wisdom helped the community be safe, prosper.
This doesn’t mean that all elders in history have been respectable, or wise people…you be an old fool.
But the principle is sound…wisdom takes time to obtain…practice.
The trend in Western civilization for several generations has been to elevate youth to a status of wisdom by virtue of their youth…so inexperience=wisdom.
You see this trend in movies, music…education, politics…it’s very wide spread.
The problem is that it doesn’t align with reality and therefore proves to be very harmful to youth who are not yet wise (not fools per se, but not yet wise…they lack experience that wisdom requires).
*So many a young author lives to regret what they wrote when they gain life experience*
Biblical wisdom requires time…truth lived, discipline experienced.
But when youth are told they are already wise and that they should trust themselves…they naturally will therefore despise or reject correction/discipline.
This approach ruins lives.
I had a conversation recently with a person who was dealing with a younger subordinate in the work place…it wasn’t going well.
The person said “Well, you know millennials just want to be heard.”
I said “No they want to be right…but we all do.”
We all think, to a degree…if you don’t agree with me…you didn’t hear me…I want to be heard…because in my pride I want to be right.
This was true of the young people of Revolutionary War America, Vietnam Era America, and when millennials are old…it will be true of their children.
We all like to right…hate to be wrong…it’s called “folly”…we have to get over this if we want to become wise.
You might say…“such is the talk of an old guy…”
Hey, I’m no cynic…I’m encouraged by the teachability of the young people in my life.
This is no rebuke to the young here…this is congratulations…well done…stay the course… because I see the young becoming wise before my eyes…I’m fired up about that.
“These proverbs (meant to be lived in community)will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young.”…this is a great offer.
Let’s go the next target audience.
- Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser, let those with understanding receive guidance. 6. By exploring the meaning in these proverbs and parables, the words of the wise and their riddles.
This group is called the “wise” or probably better translated…the “mature” (meaning older)
They too will benefit from the book…it will increase their ability to Read and Act.
The young and the old…can grow their RA by digging deep in the book and taking it out into the streets of life.
So almost everyone is included in the introduction…almost everyone.
Let’s see…who is left out?
Only the fool is excluded…but that is because they exclude themselves.
Here’s why…last verse of the introduction or prologue.
- Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
This is the “motto of the book”…wisdom’s foundation is fear of the Lord.
The wise must be open to God’s foundational role in the world and in their lives…but fools despise wisdom and discipline…so they cannot become wise…why is this so?
Wisdom is RA…to read correctly is to see God as he is, to act in wisdom is to know the will and ways of God.
By definition fools cannot participate in God’s wisdom because they reject God.
“fools say in their hearts there is no God” (Ps 14:1)
This is not sarcasm or harsh judgment…this is a description of a real situation for real people.
Since we live in a universe created by God, as people who answer to God, made by God for his purpose…then the conclusions that involve excluding him from the world and our lives cannot be wise.
The Rosetta Stone is a granite monument dating back to 196 BC that was discovered around 1800…other items like it have since been discovered but it was revolutionary in its time…here’s why
We had lots of ancient Egyptian writing called hieroglyphs…we just didn’t know how to read them.
The Rosetta Stone has three versions of a royal Egyptian decree…one is Hieroglyphic and one is ancient Greek.
Experts were able to use to the known Greek to read the unknown Ancient Egyptian.
The term “Rosetta Stone” is used to describe an interpretative key to understanding something else of importance.
In Proverbs, experiential knowledge of God (fear of the Lord) is the Rosetta Stone to gaining wisdom…opens up wisdom to us.
Wisdom originates with God…it cannot be obtained apart from relationship with him.
Life requires interpretation…RA
The interpretative key to life is “Fear of the Lord”
Remember: Awesome respect.
Thomas A Kempis was a 14th century monastic…we know little of his life but we have his book “The Imitation of Christ”
It’s impossible to know how many editions there are…by 1779 there were already 1,800.
It’s in 50 languages.
This is amazing for a little-known Monk who lived during a time of constant war, crime, Black Plague and a split that tore the church apart.
In his book he writes of the wisdom of Christ and of walking with him in that wisdom.
Filter some of his words through his setting and perspective…but hear what he says to us today.
“For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and all the principles of all the philosphers if we live without grace and the love God. Vanity of vanities and all is vanity, except to love God and serve him alone.”
“This is the greatest wisdom—to seek the kingdom of heaven through contempt of the world. It is vanity, therefore, to seek and trust in riches that perish. It is vanity also to court honor and to be puffed up with pride. It is vanity to follow the lusts of the body and to desire things for which severe punishment later must come. It is vanity to wish for long life and to care little about a well-spent life. It is vanity to be concerned with the present only and not to make provision for things to come. It is vanity to love what passes quickly and not to look ahead where eternal joy abides.”
We have the good news of the gospel…we do not have live a vain life only to die a vain death.
Let us pursue Christ the wisdom of God together in community.
Let’s stand and read God’s word together as we close.
1 Cor. 1:20-25 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.