Proverbs, how to get wisdom, instruction, good judgement, wise action, live well, wellbeing, embodied wisdom, learning, personal development, generative wisdom

Proverbs: How to get Wisdom, Instruction, and Good Judgement

For the past couple of years, I’ve chosen a Word of the Year – one value which I wish to embody in my life. It’s always been one of my values, but there’s always one that stands out more than others. For 2022, that word is Mastery:

  • the mastery of self (self-awareness and the resulting self-control) as well as
  • knowing more (knowledge and understanding) and
  • putting that new learning into practice.

Because to know anything is to do things differently from before.

Life management is about being well adjusted. … being able to stand against the wind of disappointment.
Time is not really the important element. It is what time represents that matters.
Time management is not about a list of things in order of priority that must be completed… Time management is about life management.

Given that life is mostly about intangible things, does it not make sense to learn to control them – things such as thoughts, desires, anger, curiosity, ambition, motivation, sadness, hurt and sorrow?
Althought we live in a tangible world, life itself occurs within our mind, spirit and soul.

Jonar C. Nader, How to Lose Friends & Infuriate People, a controversial book for thinkers.

For me, this is the essence of what I am reminded of when I read Proverbs – self-awareness and then the option for self-control.

The wisdom of Proverbs

One of the many things that I’ve had on my “I wish I had time to do” list is to deep dive back into Proverbs. Of all the books of the Bible, this is one of the two that most resonates with me. The other one is the book of James.

Proverbs has a special place in my heart because I remember my dad reading it to me every night before bed. Occasionally, we would talk about what a verse meant. But more often than not, it was just a reading of a chapter or a portion of a chapter.

I was left with many more questions than answers.

proverb, definition, dictionary.com, commonplace truth, adage, a wise saying, precept, a profound saying, maxim, oracular utterance, meaning of proverb
from dictionary.com

Of course, many times, we try to read Proverbs literally, and not all of it can be understood with a literal meaning.

My experience with Proverbs is that different ones “jump out at me” at different moments in life. Moreover, I’ve interpreted them differently, depending on what I’ve been learning at the time.

As with any proverbs, many of them take time to digest and understand.

The usefulness of Proverbs

In the very first chapter of Proverbs, there is a small introduction, although there is debate as to how much of the book of Proverbs this introduction applies to.

usefulness of proverbs, proverbs 1, amplified Bible, Solomon, wisdom, instruction, words of understanding, insight, wise behaviour, discipline, wise thoughtfulness, righteousness, justice, integrity, prudence, good judgement, asuste common sense, knowledge, discretion, intelligence discernment, learning, wise counsel, truth, understand a proverb, interpretation, the words of the wise,
Proverbs 1: 1-6, Amplified Bible

I find it irrelevant who the author of Proverbs was: I don’t read the book of Proverbs because of who wrote it.

Throughout my life, I’ve turned to Proverbs when I’m in turmoil. And these last three years have had their fair share of inner (and outer) turmoil.

Consider how other translations present the introduction to Proverbs:

proverbs 1, the message, wise sayings, Solomon, live well, understand, learning, right, just, fair, wise men
Proverbs 1: 1-6, The Message
proverbs 1, wisdom, instructions, words of understanding, justice, judgment, equity, knowledge, discretion, a wise man, learning, a man of understanding, wise counsel, understand a proverb, words of the wise, kjv
Proverbs 1: 1-6, King James Version

These are the wise sayings of Solomon,
    David’s son, Israel’s king—
Written down so we’ll know how to live well and right,
    to understand what life means and where it’s going;
A manual for living,
    for learning what’s right and just and fair;
To teach the inexperienced the ropes
    and give our young people a grasp on reality.
There’s something here also for seasoned men and women,
    still a thing or two for the experienced to learn—
Fresh wisdom to probe and penetrate,
    the rhymes and reasons of wise men and women.

The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel;

To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding;
To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity;
To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.
A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:
To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.

The place of Proverbs

Proverbs is one of the five books of Wisdom of the Bible, together with Job, Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon.

I find it interesting that two of these books are poetry and psalms, rather than writings of wisdom, per se. And yet, all five of the books offer unique perspectives on life and the experiences of life.

But, as you will have noticed from the introduction to Proverbs, it has lofty goals:

  • wisdom
    • wise behaviour
    • the discipline of wise thoughtfulness
    • good judgement
    • astute common sense
    • intelligent discernment
  • instruction
    • a manual for living
  • knowledge
  • understanding
    • to understand what life means
  • insight
  • righteousness
  • justice
  • integrity
  • lead others to the truth

The road to wisdom

So, over the coming weeks and months, I intend to take a new journey through Proverbs and re-examine how it impacts my life. What new wisdom can I glean from these pages?

Where do you go for wisdom?

Sermon: Living with the Consequences

Lectionary: 2 Samuel 11:26 - 12:13

Last week I spoke about David’s adultery, conspiracy and murder, how he broke at least 4 of the 10 Commandments:

  • murder
  • adultery
  • theft
  • covetting your neighbour’s wife

Today I’d like to continue with the lessons that we can learn from David.

Now remember, it wasn’t that David was starved for female companionship. By this time as a wealthy king, he has many women: Ahinoam of Jezreel, Abigail the widow of Nabal, Maacah daughter of a king from Geshur (east of Galilee), Haggith, Abital, Eglah — that’s six while he was living in Hebron — and then “David took more concubines and wives in Jerusalem, and more sons and daughters were born to him” (5:13). In addition he has Saul’s concubines in his harem (12:8). So, don’t think that was the issue here!

I didn’t mention this last week, but some commentators have blamed Bathsheba, saying “she came without any hesitation and offered no resistance to his desires.”  hmmm…  The person with the power here is David, not Bathsheba, and in chapter 12 of Samuel, we find that David is held solely responsible for the sin by God (12:9).

At the beginning of this morning’s Reading, we see that after Bathsheba’s time of mourning has passed, David sends for her and makes her his wife.  This is nothing new for David – he’s added wives before, and so she is simply another.  But, for many, what David did was an act of heroism:  He has taken into his harem the poor, pregnant wife, widow of one of his fallen captains.   It was not unusual for a king to take a widow to wife immediately after the death of her husband. It was viewed as charitable, since the king would provide for her provisions and protection.

“Look at the way he stands behind his men!  If they are killed in battle, he will take care of their widows!  What a great King!”

Right?

The Bible clearly points out that this displeased God!

Since Adam & Eve sinned,we have attempted to cover it us.  We fall into guilt and estrangement from God and from our fellow man!  We are embarrassed by it, and we try to put our fig leaves in place to cover it up.  And when that fails, we hide!

Unlike Nixon, Clinton or even Martinelli, David seems to have gotten away with his shenanigans.  His cover-up was very effective and culturally appropriate.  No one is pointing the finger at him for what he had done.  And it looks like he’s gotten away with it.  A whole year has passed.  The baby has already been born…

But during this time, David is suffering from the guilt!  One of the Psalms written about how he felt during this period is Psalm 32:

… When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer.

But even though David knew what he had done was wrong, he still hadn’t dealt with it!  David knew the stress and agony of living a double, false life.

Even in his deceit, David was still leading the worship of Yahweh. You can imagine the tension going on inside of him. He was the judge of Israel. So, during that time God just wrings him dry. Until he is finally ready to face the real issues in his heart.

And so we read that God sends Nathan to speak with David.  We don’t know how long Nathan took to prepare this message, but his approach was nothing less than masterful!  He confronts David with his actions, brings him to acknowledgement and repentance, and stayed alive in the process!

Remember, David is the judge of Israel, and he has, so far, gotten away with murder and adultery… No one knows… and so he thinks he’s being told a real story, to pass judgement, when really, he’s being hung out to dry by his own tongue.

“There were two men in one city, the one rich and the other poor.  The rich man had a great many flocks and herds. But the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb 

A little ewe- remember – David was a shepherd, and had probably, at one stage, had his own little pet lamb. So he immediately identifies again with the poor man and this one little lamb.

I remember we had a pet lamb once, Mum & Dad named him LambChop… you can imagine my horror when I worked that one out!

and so, this poor man had bought and nourished this little ewe lamb; and it grew up together with him and his children. It would eat of his bread and drink of his cup and lie in his bosom, and was like a daughter to him.

it was dear to their hearts, something special, just like Cecil the lion…

and so the parrable goes that a traveler 

just a passing fancy, like a look over the parapet at a naked woman, no love, no commitment, just someone going by… a little like the dentist that just wanted to hang a great head on his Wall to boast to his friends about… until his next great hunt…  

came to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take from his own flock or his own herd, to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him; rather he took the poor man’s ewe lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”

Then David’s anger burned greatly against the man, and he said to Nathan,

“As the Lord lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die. And he must make restitution for the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing and had no compassion.”

Most of us are umpires – we jump at the opportunity to call strikes on someone else.  It’s so easy to apply God’s standard to others – but we dodge its application on ourselves.  Isn’t it wonderful when you can find somebody who is worse than you?  You can vent upon them the spleen, the wrath, that you feel about yourself. That is exactly what David did.

He had been a shepherd. He had had a little ewe lamb. He knew what it was all about.  Then here was this totally callous person, this rich man with flocks and herds, who grabbed this poor little ewe lamb, all the poor fellow had, and took it for a wayfarer, not even for his mother-in-law or some important visitor.

He is pronouncing judgment on himself, and he doesn’t even realize it.  He’s strict about applying the law in THIS case!

And then, once he has him where he wanted him, Nathan comes in with the punchline:

“You are the man! 

Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘It is I who anointed you king over Israel and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul. I also gaveyou your master’s house and your master’s wives into your care, 

Remember that harem I mentioned?

and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these!  Why have you despised the word of the Lord by doing evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon. 

Notice, no mention is even made of Bathsheba – this is ALL on David!  You used treachery; You used deceit; and You used pagan enemies. Collatoral damage – all the men that Uriah was leading at the time… it wasn’t just one man on his conscience!

And yet Nathan says “you sinned against God”.  Why God? Because David failed to accept and believe God’s promises:

if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these!

What does repentence look like?  While it’s difficult to describe, it’s easy to recognise.  You know it when you see it!  And there is no mistaking it here with David:

I have sinned against the Lord!

That’s a short response.  No excuses. No qualifications.  Guilty as charged.  David didn’t say “well, we all mess up once in a while” or “well, I didn’t expect it to go that badly?” or “but I had legal permits for hunting a lion, I just didn’t realice it was Cecil… well, except that we tried to destroy the GPS tags”…

No, he takes full responsibility for everything, including the consequences.  Accepting responsibility is liberating. Yes, it’s hard to admit you were wrong. But it demonstrates strength, courage, and a commitment to personal excellence. It’s respectful. By doing so, you demonstrate that you care about yourself and others.

And David was forgiven!  He should have died for this, as he says in his own condemnation of the rich man!  But even though he will not die for his deeds, he still doesn’t get to escape the consecuences.  Unfortunately, many times, even though we have admitted our mistakes, we still have to live with the consequences.  Most of us think that God’s forgiveness is escaping the consequences, but that’s not usually the case. Even when we’ve admitted we’re wrong, there are often still consequences that we are going to have to live with.

And so we have Psalm 51:

  1. Have mercy upon me, O God, according to your lovingkindness: according to the multitude of Your tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
  2. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
  3. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
  4. Against Three, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight: so You are justified when You speak, and are clear when You judge.
  5. Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part You make me to know wisdom.
  6. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
  7. May be to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which You have broken may rejoice.
  8. Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
  9. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
  10. Cast me not away from Thy presnece; and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.
  11. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; and uphold me with Thy free Spirit.

This is why David is a man after God’s own heart!  Because he acknowledges, heartfully, when he has screwed up and offers true repentence!

End-of-Times – the Prophecies

Lectionary Readings: Nov 17, 2013

  • Luke 21: 5-19
  • Malachi 4: 1-2
  • Isaiah 12
  • Isaiah 65: 17-25

Dr. Ian Paisley, the fiery Irish cleric and politician was reputed to have been preaching one Sunday on the End Times – and in particular on the Day of Judgement.
As he reached the climax of his address he said that on the Day of Judgement “there would be wailing and gnashing of teeth”.
At which point an old woman put up her hand and said “Dr. Paisley, I have no teeth”
Paisley replied “Madam, teeth will be provided”

The French news agency, Reuters, dubbed the decade 1994-2003, “the Decade of Disasters”.  From 1994 to 2003, disasters killed 673,070 people and affected 2.58 billion people, causing $691 billion in estimated damage. In 2003 alone, 76,806 were reported killed.

Of course, all of that was before the December 26, 2004 earthquake and the resulting Tsunami, where killer waves slammed into the coastline of 11 Indian Ocean countries, resulting in at least 155,000 fatalities and 500,000 injuries. Some 5 million people lost their homes or access to food and water.

In the decade that followed we have the Haiti earthquake in 2010, with possibly as many as 159 thousand deaths. At least 3 million people were affected by this earthquake.

In March 2011, we watched in horror the breaking news and videos from the earthquake and resulting Tsunami in Japan and the Fukushima disaster. “Only” 20,000 people were killed in this disaster, with losses and rebuilding costing an estimated US$235 billion, making it the costliest natural disaster in world history.

In 2012, we have Hurricane Sandy, which once again “only” killed 199 people.  Of course, when compared to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Sandy only caused economic damage, not the devastation.

Now we’re faced with the Philippine’s typhoon, with some 2,500 people confirmed dead and some 673 thousand people displaced.  I can only imagine that these families have no food, water, money, or clothing. Most no longer have homes or jobs to go back to. Therefore, they have no pay-checks coming in to provide for basic necessities. Relief efforts, unfortunately, are blocked by the debris left by the typhoon, making it difficult for emergency crews and food and supplies to get to where they are most needed.

In ongoing conflicts, we have the civil war in Syria, where according to the United Nations, the death toll reached 120,000 by September 2013.  More than 4 million Syrians have been displaced; more than 2 million Syrians fled the country.

Or what about climate change: Planet Earth stands on the cusp of disaster. This is not doom-laden talk but rather the considered opinion of 1,300 leading scientists from 95 countries who published a detailed assessment of the state of the world.  Two-thirds of the delicately-balanced ecosystems studied have suffered badly at the hands of man over the past 50 years…

Does it sound like end times to you?

In Luke 21, verse 11, we read:

“There will be great earthquakes, and there will be famines and plagues in many lands, and there will be terrifying things and great miraculous signs from heaven.”

Unfortunately, these verses from Luke 21 get worse before they get better:

9 And when you hear of wars and insurrections, don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place first, but the end won’t follow immediately.” 10 … “Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. … 12 “But before all this occurs, there will be a time of great persecution. You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers.  … 16 Even those closest to you—your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends—will betray you. They will even kill some of you. 17 And everyone will hate you because you are my followers.[c]

Looking forward to this with great expectation, are we? Do you cringe when you read these verses from Luke? Do you try to find another meaning in the words? Do you think – that’s not relevant to today’s Christian?

Part of the prophecy from Luke already came to pass:  In AD 70 Titus, a Roman general, with 80,000 men, began a siege of Jerusalem. It was a difficult city to take, set on a hill, and defended to the death. The result was famine and terror, and there were even reports of cannibalism. At the end the Holy Place was burnt down; and Titus ordered the whole city and the Temple to be razed to the ground.

How many times will we look at the signs of the times and wonder?

All the disasters Jesus talks of in this discourse in Luke’s gospel could come together at this moment, or this afternoon. Or in a million years’ time. The fact is all that these things have happened at one time or another, sometimes two or three of them simultaneously.

The Bible commentator, Fitzmeyer writes, “There are almost as many interpretations of this passage as there are heads that think about it”.

Let me put it all in perspective for you:  THE BLACK DEATH from 1338 to 1350 killed some 75 million people in 12 years!  In some countries 90% of the population was wiped out.

WARS AND RUMOURS OF WARS: our world has lived through World War I, World War II, the Cold War, Nuclear arms race, Cuban Crisis, Berlin Wall, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Africa, Iraq again, Syria, the threat of Iran…  – the list goes on and on.

There is nothing new in predictions of great catastrophe. From way before the time of Jesus right up to the present day predictions of the end of the world have come and gone and have often left people with egg on their faces.

These kinds of predictions don’t get me excited at all – I will admit, I cringed when I read the Lectionary readings for this morning.

¿This is what I have to speak about?

We should all note, Jesus refused to be drawn into speculation about the end times;  “it is not for you to know the times or the dates that the Father has set by his own authority”….

But then again… why meditate and pray when you can worry…

How are we, as Christians, meant to react to all this turmoil in our world?
Jesus instructed us to get out there, outside of our comfort zones, and preach the Kingdom of Heaven.  We are called to be “witnesses”.

13 But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me.[b] 14 So don’t worry in advance about how to answer the charges against you, 15 for I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute you!   18 …  not a hair of your head will perish! 19 By standing firm, you will win your souls.

See… another passage that makes me uncomfortable!  Another cringing on the inside!

But that’s what it says, “tell them about me”.
So, today I want to discuss what it means to be a Christian in times of unrest.  What does it mean to be a witness of Christ?

Let you give you this from a legal perspective:
In a Court of Law, the witness is not the defence lawyer. He or she doesn’t have to explain why something happened.  We are not here to protect or justify God or Christ.  We don’t have to “fight” for God and explain why God is right and “you are wrong”.   We are not put here on earth to “defend the Bible”.
The witness is not the prosecution lawyer either. We don’t have to try and convince people to make a decision. That’s not our job either. We don’t have to point the finger and call people sinners.  We are neither the prosecutor, nor judge, nor jury, nor executioner.  It’s not our job to judge others!
A witness is a person who can testify to what he or she has experienced or knows of first hand.  All we are called to do is to say why it has made a difference in MY LIFE.

Christians are sometimes confused into thinking that everything should go perfectly, that there should be no more difficulties.
That hasn’t been your experience?

I’m a Christian, and things are going tough – so maybe I need a little more prayer…   Or you get the guilt trip – ¿am I at fault? That’s it, if only I had more faith, the hard times would go away.

That’s not what the Bible has taught us:
It doesn’t say “take up your sack of gold and follow me”, but rather “take up your cross”.

When you put your faith in Christ you will STILL experience pressures and persecution.

Let’s consider for a moment, our perspective of inner peace: If I asked you to choose, which one of the following images conveys to you a message of inner peace, which would you choose:  a Buddhist monk meditating or a Christian on his knees praying)?

How many would say the Buddhist Monk?

How many would say the Christian?

What’s wrong with this picture????

Let me remind you of one simple fact of life:

Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react.

THAT’s what being a Christian is all about.  It’s not about “what happens to me”, but rather “how do I handle and react to these events”.

Have I found inner peace?  Can I share that peace with others?

Am I willing to persevere, knowing that the Holy Spirit has given me strength to face this? Can I encourage others to keep on “keeping on”?

It’s irrelevant whether the prophecies of the end of times are coming true right now – the ONLY question we have to answer is: Am I taking each opportunity I am given to show God’s love to my neighbour?

Charles Swindoll reminds us:

… we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. …The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…

We can choose to worry.
We can choose to find inner peace.
Whatever we choose to do, we are called to bring God’s love and grace to people who may not have had the opportunity to experience it.

As we reach the Thanksgiving and Christmas season – I challenge each of you to take stock of your blessings, to take stock of your faith and your inner peace, and wherever you are at, that’s the place to start sharing from: whether you decide you have a lot to learn still or whether you feel that you have found peace, start sharing from there.

Creator God, we thank you for this day and for the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Lord, we pray not for tranquillity, nor that our tribulations cease; we pray for Your Spirit and Your love, and that You grant us strength and grace to overcome adversity; through Jesus Christ. Amen.