Monday, 15 September 2014

(259) September 16: Proverbs 30-31 & 2 Corinthians 8

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read consider what lessons strike you most forcefully.

To ponder:
Chapter 30 is an oracle rather than collections of proverbs, and so possibly received by direct revelation from God rather than inspired reflection (30v1). Agur begins affirming that he hasn’t gained wisdom or knowledge of God. Moreover, by asking who has gone to and from heaven, gathered the wind and waters, or established the earth, he highlights that no-one has but God, stressing how man’s knowledge must therefore be limited by comparison (30v2-4). In the light of this, he stresses how flawless “every” word of God is, and so to add to his words is to deceive – a lesson applicable to scripture. Here, the note that God is a shield is probably intended to reflect on the flawlessness of his promises (30v5-6). Agur goes on to pray that God would keep him honest and supply his needs until he dies. This concern with moderation is because he sees the danger of self-reliance that comes with wealth and the temptation to steal that comes with poverty. He wants neither as both would make him more likely to sin and dishonour God (30v7-9). There’s challenge here about desiring less if it would aid our godliness.
            30v10 begins a section outlining forms of ungodliness: those who slander a servant, which may lead to being cursed, bringing down God’s anger if justified; those who curse or don’t bless and so pray for their parents; hypocrites who consider themselves pure when filthy; the arrogant who look down on others; those who seek to harm the poor and needy, perhaps with words (the stress on teeth and jaws); and the greedy who seek to suck things from others like leeches (30v10-15a). The reader is warned against each. And by describing the insatiable desire of death, barrenness, land in need of water, and fire, 30v15b-16 is perhaps portrays such greed in starkly negative and lifeless terms: It just consumes others. The section concludes stating how mocking or disobeying one’s parents is results in gruesome punishment (30v17). This suggests such attitudes to one’s parents are amongst the most serious sins. Our proverbs have shown us why: To reject one’s parents is to reject their wisdom and so the fear of the LORD.
            Agur continues noting how the ways of love are impossible to predict or understand, and the way of the adulterous is one of denying she does wrong (30v18-20). He then notes how out of kilter with the created order, inappropriate circumstances are: the servant or maid who rises to high position although unfit, the fool who is wealthy enough to be well fed, and the unloved woman who is married (30v21-23). We then hear of how wisdom enables small and weak creatures to thrive (30v24-28). So the ant plans ahead, storing up for winter; rock badgers take refuge in crags; locusts achieve much through sheer numbers without a leader; and lizards find themselves spoilt in palaces despite being so slow that they can be caught. Examples of what are stately and strong immediately follow (30v29-31). The point seems to be that God has assigned order to his creation in which some are weak and some strong. But, he has also given wisdom to enable the weak to flourish and thrive. Agur’s words then end with a call for restraint in the fool who has considered himself too highly, or the one planning evil, so they don’t forcefully stir up anger and strife (30v32-33).
            Lemuel’s oracle (30v1-9) was taught him by his mother (31v1 - an affirmation of the role of the godly mother before the famous description of the godly wife). It begins with a declaration of her care for him in the repeated “my son.” The reference to “vows” may be to her having giving him to God’s service, or received him in response to prayer that included vows if God would answer. She urges him not to give his strength to running after women who ruin kings, nor to wine, which causes kings to forget their laws and rule unjustly. Instead, she says, if there is any dulling of one’s senses, it should be for those who are needy or poor, so they might forget their misery. Lemuel, however, is to speak up and defend such people, judging justly. The point is that government is a noble and important task, which the ruler must focus on. There is no record of a King Lemuel in Israel. He may have been a king elsewhere, whose wisdom was included.
            The conclusion to the book (31v10-31) gives huge dignity to women and wives. Throughout wisdom has been spoken of as a woman to be embraced, which is no doubt why wisdom is here personified as the ideal wife. It is a symptom of our cynical culture that this portrayal is scoffed at rather than admired. Like wisdom, such a wife has a “noble character” and is as precious as fine jewels (31v10). She is reliable in bringing her husband good, not harm, so her husband is fully confident in her (31v12). She is not lazy like the sluggard, but works hard and into the night in order to fulfil the responsibilities a wife in the ancient world might have had: creating and maintaining quality clothes and other linen, providing food for her family and servants, managing land as a profitable business, making and selling clothes, giving generously to the needy, instructing all in wisdom, and managing the affairs of her household, which would have included directing the servants. Because of all this she can laugh at the future knowing her industriousness has guaranteed financial security for her household (31v13-27).
            Clearly this picture commends broader activity than is sometimes assumed for the “Christian” wife. Indeed, the husband is freed by his confidence in his wife’s capability to give his time to local government (31v23). The elders at the city gate would have been involved in decisions affecting the city and the resolving of disputes (Ruth 3v11, 4v1-10 portrays Ruth and Boaz as just this sort of couple). And so this woman is praised by her children and husband, and displays in her fear of God something superior to charm and beauty, which are deceptive and fleeting. She is worthy of her reward and of acknowledgement from man and God (31v29-31).

Praying it home:       
Praise God for whatever he has most brought home to you. Pray that he would help you live according to that wisdom.

Thinking further:                             
None today.

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