Proverbs 17

It’s not proverbs’ fault.

I have found a book that is deeply unsuited to reading a chapter at a time first thing in the morning.

Like taking a car manual to a book club, this book has exposed that my rigid formula for Bible reading does not match every kind of writing.

Proverbs of all things, having made it though Numbers and Daniel!

I’ll try taking the maxim that has helped in the past – focus on what it says about God – but here I’ll adjust to real time: what is God saying to you?

More than just “what is your favourite proverb?” – I’ll ask: “what speaks to my soul?”  The murmurings of the unquenched Spirit.

So scan proverbs 17 again, here goes:

God refines out the spirtual gold and silver in my heart.

These proverbs illustrate living in a state of spiritual sensitivity.

There is a control of anger, of temptation to ungodly shortcuts to happiness, like bribes or cheating, or simply ignoring the injustice and misery around you. But those will kill the spirit.

If we listen to God he will soften our hearts and purify our minds.

I worry about my family a lot, but I need to connect more. I have trouble connecting.

I’ll talk to Kelly about how to connect.

Father help me be a channel of your peace.

PS: And though I’m trying not to do ‘what was your fave proverb’ there was one I don’t want to forget:

‘A present is a precious stone in the eyes of its possessor;
Wherever he turns, he prospers.’

The present is the same word for bribe – its at the least a gift to curry favour. Its quite obscure but its saying the person who makes a bribe or manipulative gift thinks of it as a precious stone, when they imagine all sorts of opportunities opening up for themselves by giving it.

The image of ‘wherever he turns…’ is of turning a precious stone in your hand, and seeing gleams in every facet. Its not judging it, though in context its scarcely the kind of behaviour the godly are advised to undertake.

I think its just observational, saying how life is. You’ll encounter people big noting their influence, their ability to be slick, and one step ahead of the system. Somehow to me, thinking of it as them turning their jewel puts it in context, makes it easier not to find threatening.

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Proverbs 16

The most famous classic this chapter? ‘Pride comes before a fall’.

Some big topics here, the interaction of our will and God’s will, and the interaction of political power and righteousness.

For example, at first blush this sounds like a pretty verse for a poster:

In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.

But what does it actually mean? There are several such conundrums:

To humans belong the plans of the heart,
but from the Lord comes the proper answer of the tongue.

Jesus had a habit of speaking this way too, seemingly straightforward statements that don’t tease out as easily as they seem they should.

It seems to be embracing the mysteries of predestination: we have control over our actions, and they are within God’s eternal plan.  Plus, I suppose, if you are looking at the difference between what we think about doing vs. what we end up actually saying and doing… the plan can turn on a dime, but the actions are written in eternity.

Maybe its like the difference between temptation and sin, but with a positive spin: thinking about doing the right thing vs. doing the right thing.

That’s not a king… this is a king!

The characteristics attributed to a king make one doubt that most earthly kings are kings at all: speaking justice like an oracle, detesting wrongdoing, & maintaining the throne through the value they place on righteousness, honesty and truth. The mere brightening of their face brings life – like a raincloud in spring.

There are a lot of proverbs about humility interspersed. I mean, said no earthly king virtually ever:

Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed
    than to share plunder with the proud.

Maybe that is the point. We’ve had a few proverbs about the character of the Lord just before this group: the Lord atones for sins, engineers peace, works out everything for a proper end and sees the true motives behind our actions.

The ideal of kingship could only be fulfilled by God. For us citizens, following the king’s ethic is associated with all sorts of rewards – prosperity, blessing, a fountain of life, healing.

So we have here this complex interplay of responsibility for our choices and actions,  being governed by higher authority and inspired by holy example.  Its urging us to be mindful before we act, and remember that our actions are eternal and become God’s plan for good or ill.

Proverbs 15

Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the Lord, and humility comes before honour.

Humility is a hard lesson, we love honour.

It seems each chapter has one famous proverb at the moment. This one has:

A gentle answer turns away wrath,but a harsh word stirs up anger.

But really there are a gazilion that say similar. In fact, you do get this constant nag about it that fiery people would find quite frustrating.

Sometimes it’s good to be fiery. Jesus called the religious leaders a “nest of vipers”. I suppose the key there is that he wanted to stir up anger. It was calculated.

It’s not necessarily saying don’t do it, more don’t be surprised.

I’ve been thinking about whether proverbs encourages a particular somewhat supercilious attitude that is annoyingly always above the fray. Would the proverbs person be much fun? I don’t think I’ve found one praising fun.

But perhaps the answer is in the oppositional characteristics it pairs with them. Take:

The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.

The opposite of soothing is perverse. You could adopt quite a fun tone in the way of being soothing and still be not perverse.

I like the ones that talk about God being aware. This one’s a little scary until you remember God’s love:

Death and Destruction lie open before the Lordhow much more do human hearts!

This book seems as much to be about how deeply God understands our foolishness, as about us being wise.

I simply found these appealing and memorable:

Better a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred.

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.

Light in a messenger’s eyes brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones.

I’m so happy at work, the paperwork came through for my permanent status yesterday. Exactly the same job, no promotion.

But that’s ok. Humility comes before honour, and a small serving of vegetables with love is better anyhow.

Proverbs 14

‘Glitched back from truth’. Don’t know what that means, I’m tired this morning and dreamed that title! It looked like a newspaper headline.

There are proverbs about deceit/ wickedness and about dumbness. These are a drum beat though the book, evil and weak-mindedness become interchangeable.

Some poignant, very nuanced observations about the human condition, our pain, are thrown in here:

Even in laughter the heart may ache,
and rejoicing may end in grief.

Each heart knows its own bitterness,
and no one else can share its joy.

And as with other chapters, more theological concepts as the chapter progresses:

Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker,
but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.’

… So that’s where Jesus got the ‘whatever you do for the least of them…’ idea from.

Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress,
and for their children it will be a refuge.

God as our refuge is mentioned a few times, like a response to the ‘joy and sadness’ observations from earlier in the chapter.

There is a deep vein of grace here at work, as well as good housekeeping tips.

At church last week they read Solomon’s prayer for the opening of the temple. He prays over the splendor of it, the blessing of the Jews.

But then he expands God beyond the temple and beyond one race. He knows his temple, his life’s work, can’t contain the true God.

There’s that ability to see multi-dimensionally, the Spirit-given leaps of insight coming out here too.

I’m coming face to face with what a deeply disorganised and flaky individual I am.

A good frank talk with my youngest, Ren, on the weekend.

If I could ever get it all together, I reckon I’d be such a great dad, church member, partner, worker…. But I’m a bit ‘all hat and no cattle’, as they say… And I feel stuck there.

Full of motivation however, up for fresh ideas, now my employment situation is receding from critical. Plus I’m daily barraged with advice about how to live a wise life…

When I make it through a two week pay period with some money saved and no need to dip into savings, I’ll know the book is starting to work.

Proverbs 13

Its a rich feast, too dense to consume, the courses start to pass by in a blur. But the consequences of missing these messages are dire: snares of death, destruction.

The most famous in this chapter is I suspect: ‘Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.’  The words that launched 1000 fascist households.  I mean, I’m a relatively laissez-faire parent, but I discipline my children, its inevitable, they are idiots. 

Most of the proverbs are contrasting couplets… this is good, that is bad.  The ones that aren’t take you by surprise – ‘A person’s riches may ransom their life, but the poor cannot respond to threatening rebukes.’ – sucks to be rich, but also sucks to be poor.  Brutal!

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.’  Its a subtle one. So many of the proverbs are about avoiding instant gratification, playing the long game. They aren’t actually contrasting statement, it isn’t an argument against deferring hope. Its expressing empathy for how hard it is, but saying that its worth it when the longing is fulfilled. 

And that is the meta message of this chapter, don’t go for the easy win, take it slow, bit by bit, and you’ll get the rewards in the long run.

Speaks to me as I settle into the expectation of a secure, but not high, income, and start to discipline our spending.  Impulse buys, begone! ‘Whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow…’

 

Proverbs 12

The proverbs are grouped, a bit. This chapter is mainly about interpersonal behaviour. The proverbs roughly cover principles, actions and words.

The principles include discipline, goodness, nobility, righteousness, prudence, and unpretentiousness. These are contrasted with things like stupidity, sneakiness, disgracefulness, deceit, having a warped mind and pretending to be a somebody.

That last one is one of my faves: ‘Better to be a nobody and yet have a servant than pretend to be somebody and have no food.’

The actions include another of my faves: ‘The righteous care for the needs of their animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.’ So true! The little things show a persons character as much as the large.

There are about 10 on words in a row. There’s a lot of great ones but I did like: ‘Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult.’ They praise prudence, honesty and kindness.

Towards the end they get increasingly theological, mentioning what will please the Lord as much as what will work practically on earth.

The last is a bit of a leap and talks about the path to immortality. Eternity has a way of peeping around the edges of this very practical book.  Its answering some of the disillusionment of psalms – the ‘why-do-the-wicked-prosper’ moments – by occasionally referring to our choices on earth having eternal consequences.

Its making me aware of how I am at work.  I wish I could take back a mildly raunchy joke I made yesterday.  Equally, when I’m feeling kindness or generosity to people, I leave it unsaid less often.

By the way, I had my beer with the rector, and he had his own beef with the Archbishop’s house project that I felt guilty about bagging a few days ago. He did really just want a beer, he wasn’t about to tick me off!

I’m quite a cheerful, joking sort of person, and I’ll wrestle in a later entry with the issue of the wise person in proverbs being a bit of a stuffy bore in real life.  But putting that aside, I like how it has a cumulative effect beyond remembering each proverb (which is not possible).  Its a vibe thing, it makes your heart and ears tender to the Spirit.

 

 

Proverbs 11

It’s about being preserved through this life, avoiding the pitfalls and temptations.

…to gossip, to trust mortals (they die); to be led astray by: words that undermine the truth within you, or your own pride, or the temptation to cheat to get ahead.

15 or so wise sayings that start personal and broaden out to community wisdom.

The main game is always avoiding death, being kept righteous in God’s eyes.

There wasn’t much between the most memorable and the least, but I was quite struck by:

Hopes placed in mortals die with them; all the promise of their power comes to nothing.

For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.‘. (which I actually took as personal advice, as I have a bit of a ‘go-it-alone’ mentality).

A kindhearted woman gains honor, but ruthless men gain only wealth.

‘Only wealth!’ How many lives have been spent on the notion that wealth gives honour? I suppose some people split the difference, like Bill Gates, who spent half his life mercilessly pursuing the wealth and half on honour. But wealth alone? Compared to kindheartedness?

Proverbs is like poetry, slows you down in a good way. Before I read the chapter I have no patience for it, but once I do I feel refreshed and more positive about the day.

I’ll pray/try to take advice, not participate in stuff I know to be foolish, count my blessings and avoid mourning wealth I’ll never have.

Proverbs 10

Oh that’s right, we’re in proverbs. Random two line gems of wisdom. I’d forgotten after the nine chapter introduction.

They are so random yet similar, the format is so repetitive, that I panic a bit at how to make sense of them. They seem wasted, they don’t sink in.

Just read and let the spirit lead.

This chapter doesn’t contain the saying ‘pray as if you never planned and plan as if you never prayed’ but it is a good description. Sayings of diligence and blessing are side by side.

As I read I think I really must catch up last year’s tax, big refund would be a help. And I’ve got to be more diligent and organised at work. It’s not weak to be patient and loving.

The most memorable I found was ‘hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.

So I’ll just let the wisdom flow, directly and simply into my life. Maybe this book is like the parable of the sower, throwing out handfuls of seed and seeing what takes root.

Proverbs 9

Ok I’ve had a break for a week and I’ve been a little down. Also focusing on music, though it’s too much of an escape, I need to keep it in check.

Down because of good news, really about work. It seems I will have a full time job, exactly the job I am doing now. Which will make permanent a stop gap job I went to a year ago.

The down side is that it doesn’t pay quite enough, so to carry on will require some careful belt tightening for the whole family. We only survived last year by dipping into savings.

So it’s a little sad not getting the more highly paid job that I had no expectation of getting …until they dangled it as an exciting possibility for over a month….

It will seem good soon. I’ve been praying about it, and there are many up sides.

Also it was really only yesterday that I heard it was real, is just been a quite likely outcome, so I’ve been very uncertain for some time now. The uncertainty has eaten me up a bit.

On Saturday I went to the Aboriginal service at church. The visiting pastor was quite Pentecostal. We wrote our hearts prayer requests on a sheet of paper and put them in a bowl that he and other ministers present prayed over and claimed the answer to.

I put in concern about the job and my kids, unsurprisingly. Sunday morning he was there and I thanked him, and he and his wife wound up praying over my job a second time.

Then Monday I heard about the job! And I’m ungrateful enough to feel prevarication about it. Perhaps the Lord is speaking to me, an uptight old Anglican, through this prayer bowl.

Another reason I’ve been down just this last day because I made an uncharacteristically harsh Facebook post, criticising the Anglican church and I feel a bit exposed.

They sold the archbishop’s palace an old Gothic pile that looks like Hogwarts, for $17 million and I read in the paper that they have commissioned one of Sydney’s smartest architecture firms to build a new ‘palace’ in glebe, where my church is, for $7.3 million.

I linked to the article and said ‘strikes me as obscene, and I’m in the club!’

I just thought, why not take the opportunity to make a very normal house for the archbishop? The second most extensive fancy house in glebe sold recently was $5 million, the average is $1.5m, to put it in perspective.

The comments shot back saying the new compound included a 200 seat hall that would be used for University work (it’s across the road from Sydney Uni), and extra accommodation that would be used for visiting missionaries or church dignitaries and that the article hasn’t taken all that into consideration.

The discussion was pretty civilised actually, at least.

But that was how it struck me in the moment of reading it, and I wanted to preserve that reaction. I knew if I spoke to people I would move back inside the churchy bubble where it made sense, But most of the world is outside the bubble.

I did doubt my wisdom in doing that though. I wonder if there wasn’t an element of feeling frustrated at being so long at the mercy of indecision over my job, feeling powerless. I don’t know.

Proverbs chapter 9 refers to two houses.

Wisdom’s house calls people in to food and wine, it appeals to the simple to leave their foolish ways and gain insight.

Folly also has a house, offering stolen food and drink, which promises to be more delicious, but which leads to death.

It’s easy to see it as the choice to avoid immorality, sexual as per the last few chapters, or dodgy ways to get money.

It’s also talking about whether your heart is seeking truth, moving towards God, or fighting truth, hardening your heart to God. That’s why it can talk about the way of the simple, those who go into folly’s house, as leading to death. The ultimate foolishness is rejecting God.

In the middle was a section that seemed to speak to my fears over Facebook. About not arguing with scoffers or rebuking mockers.

Basically not having pointless arguments where you dispute the views of people who hate God. It’s a dead end if it just hardens your opposition to each other.

Also describes a fair whack of Facebook. It’s just people stating their prejudices at each other and getting angry at others who don’t agree and never will. It’s not constructive.

And I wondered if I was foolish for attacking my own church in front of non Christian friends. I also got to stand up for my faith very publically. So it’s not a clear situation.

Out maybe it is, maybe I’m in folly’s house.

My pastor invited me to the pub for a drink on Thursday. I thought ‘how great’ but then I worried – is this about the Facebook post? His wife personal messaged me a contribution to the argument, so it’s in his radar. Time will tell.

So there’s my start-of-year joys and blues, wisdom and foolishness, certainty and mystery, all woven with proverbs in a long ramble.

At least now I can also start on concrete, optimistic planning elements of a new year.

Proverbs 8

A chapter of hype of wisdom. Seems like a new section, as this is not specifically addressed to the young men like the last few.

Oh so tired, I’ve been a fool not getting enough sleep.

It literally says how important wisdom is for most of it. No actual wisdom, except self referential ‘it’s wise to be wise’.

There is a section saying wisdom is the first of God’s works, before creation. So wisdom was there for it all, and presumably is in it all. We get a grand highlights reel of creation each image prefaced with ‘I was there when…’

It’s of God, it’s ancient, it’s true, it’s precious.

Let’s face it, it is God. It’s a bit like a click bait version of God packaged up to be more grabby. It’s advertising, yelling it out in the squares and cross roads: ‘be 2x more successful with this amazing life-hack Kings and Princes don’t want you to know!’

In Australia this time in January signals the end of the holiday season for most. I’m feeling focused, work is getting more stable, I feel I can get onto a list of things I have been leaving lay for a bit. Gonna be a wise year, eh!