It seems like we’re all over the place in our readings this week. We’re still gleaning from Solomon, but we’re beginning to look at Solomon’s decline and Israel’s quick decline into two kingdoms. But, there’s much to learn this week about our motives – and where we can find help when they’re out of line.
We’re still in a section of Proverbs that were collected and written down by another king of Israel after Solomon. I think it’s safe to assume these proverbs are intentionally broad and fit well into a context of leadership/reigning (as opposed to a father’s instruction to his son). Several of these proverbs are easily traced to a New Testament parallel (esp. 27:1, 27:19, 29:23). Our application comes from 27:6
If you ever want to know what’s going on in the world, read the book of Ecclesiastes. Almost everything that could happen is in there. If the Proverbs we read yesterday are neat and tidy summaries of “how things usually go,” Ecclesiastes are the scraggly exceptions to those proverbs. If Proverbs is the “meteorologist trying to predict the weather,” Ecclesiastes is “the actual weather.” In the Preacher’s words, all of life is “vapor, breath” – very real and very visible, but impossible to keep forever. If you’re expecting to find ultimate meaning in wisdom, self-indulgence, wise-living, work, seasons, you can just pack up those hopes and move along because they’ll leave you empty-handed in your attempts to shepherd the wind.
Yesterday’s reading dealt with much of the “everyday-ness of life”. Today, we get into the deep philosophical questions: Why is humankind so wicked? How do we respond to authority/government? What about injustice? How can bad things happen to good people? Why do people die? Why do events and outcomes feel random? How, then, should we live in light of these questions? Answer: if you can receive everyday as a gift from God, you’re well on your way to enjoying life with the proper perspective. Chapter 12 really brings it home: After talking metaphorically about old age, the writer of Ecclesiastes ends up at the same place as Proverbs. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Fear God and keep his commandments.
You know what they say… pride comes before the fall, you reap what you sow, the chickens have come home to roost. We’ve seen little glimpses of Solomon’s seeds of destruction – but here it becomes a significant issue which leads to his downfall. There’s a reason Jesus quotes “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” as the first and greatest commandment. It’s the one everything else hangs upon. Loving the Lord softens your heart to sin and frees you to love your neighbor. If we mess things up, in honest service to God, his mercy and steadfast love are deeper.
Here are two proverbial oracles from two individuals – a man named Agur and a King Lemuel’s unnamed mother. I’m grateful for these two chapters because sometimes it feels like “wisdom” is too high for me, yet here are two normal people who possess wisdom and have made it into God’s history of redemption. Many have heard countless mother’s day sermons on Proverbs 31 – but what I love most is its dignifying celebration of normal, everyday work. There’s glory in the ordinary and much that is praiseworthy in routine work done excellently.
After a time of relative stability and flourishing, it feels like we’ve been ripped back into the Wild West. As you read through this, pay attention to who’s moving the narrative forward (hint: it’s the LORD). But – also pay attention to the role of human responsibility. There’s foolish leadership and secret disguises – but God sees through the whole thing. And we, the reader, can see through it, too. Let’s not get too confident, though. We can learn much about the mingling of human faithfulness and God’s providence.
We get a similar take from yesterday on what happened with Jeroboam and Rehoboam. It would be hard to over-emphasize how important it is that a leader guard his own heart. Character must precede and re-prioritize competency. You see it over and over again in the kings.