This is part twenty in my 31-day study through the book of Proverbs. The purpose of this study is to learn what God has to say in this book about wisdom and discernment. Yesterday I learned that family relationships offer not only the greatest opportunities for blessing, but also the greatest opportunities for pain. I have to be a wise father to ensure that my children are raised in wisdom so they do not prove shameful later in life. I also learned about the natural inclination to blame God for our own sins.
“It is honorable for a man to stop striving, Since any fool can start a quarrel.” Any old fool can start a fight but it takes a real man to apologize. A mark of wisdom is having the humility and good sense to admit blame and be the one to apologize first. When I read this proverb I thought of my relationship with my wife. Both of us are as stubborn as can be and when we quarrel we both have a very difficult time being the one to take the first step towards peace. So often it seems easier to continue fighting than to humble myself and ask for forgiveness. Yet if I want to be a man of wisdom I will need to learn to do this! What a reminder that wisdom is the exactly opposite of what humans would do on their own.
Verse 9 expresses a great truth without giving any advice or comparison. It simply states “Who can say, “I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin”?” Obviously the implication is that none of us can claim to be free from sin. And perhaps it is for the best that the author chose to say nothing more about this; for it leaves it open for my contemplation. Rather than depending upon Solomon to tell me what I should do with this information, I need to meditate upon it and discern how it applies to my life.
The twelfth verse likewise eschews a “but” or “therefore” as it also simply states a fact. “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, The LORD has made them both.” The ear and the eye are two of the primary conduits of information into our hearts. By stating that God created both of these means, it shows that they are a trusted and reliable means of gaining information. We are able to trust what we see and hear. The application for this is that we should guard what we see and hear so we do not misuse these means of gathering information.
“It is good for nothing,” cries the buyer; But when he has gone his way, then he boasts.” This proverb would have rung true in a society where bargaining was a part of every transaction. In our society we rarely bargain, taking the sticker price as law. When I read this verse I recalled a discussion I overheard a few years ago when I was at a music store. A man was asking the owner of the store what the difference is between a fiddle and a violin. The shopkeeper answered “when I sell it to you it’s a violin, but when I buy it from you it’s a fiddle.” That seemed a perfect illustration for this verse. The author passes no judgment on this custom of haggling. If we went searching for an application we could see that it is dishonest for me to try to make something seem less valuable and purchase it for a ridiculously low price, knowing that it has greater value.
“Plans are established by counsel; By wise counsel wage war.” This verse stresses the importance of seeking counsel before making important decisions. I need to count the cost of my actions and ensure that I have properly weighed the various possibilities before proceeding with a plan. The greater the potential cost, the more effort I need to dedicate to ensuring that I am making a wise plan. If I refuse to seek and heed counsel I am likely to make poor decisions.
The twenty fifth verse caught my attention. It says “It is a snare for a man to devote rashly something as holy, And afterward to reconsider his vows.” The obvious Old Testament meaning would tell us that people in that time were being warned to think carefully before dedicating something to God. To dedicate something and then have second thoughts and even try to take that item back would be to make light of the offering. As I considered a modern-day application I thought of commitments made to God and how so many people make commitments to Him and quickly fall away. Churches love to gauge success by the number of people who make commitments after evangelistic outreach programs, but certainly we need to ensure that people know what they are committing to and do not make a mockery of God by quickly renouncing their profession of faith.
I thought also how we are quick to make promises but so often do not hold to them. Whether it is a congregational promise before a baptism or dedication or a promise before a group of teens that has just expressed a commitment to purity, we so often walk out of church and forget the promises we have made. We need to take such commitments with sufficient seriousness that we follow through with what we have promised.
The final verse in this chapter reads “Blows that hurt cleanse away evil, As do stripes the inner depths of the heart.” Punishing the body can have the good effect of making a man conscious of sin buried in the depths of his heart. While this verse speaks specifically of corporal punishment, certainly other forms of punishment can have the same effect. That is the very reason God sometimes chooses to discipline us. Through difficult times we need to open our hearts to see if God may be extending His hand in discipline.