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Sun, Jan 06, 2013

2 - Skillful Living [b]

Proverbs 1:1-7 by Robert Dean
Wisdom’s source is God’s Truth. Wisdom resides in the mind before it can be the means for discernment and skillful living. Emotion can be a legitimate response to Truth, but emotion is not the criteria for legitimacy of the Word. Rather than being written in a time that makes Proverbs an imitation of previous writings, see how the correct presupposition of the opposite view is proven. Learn the structure of Proverbs’ poetry, how it is instructional, rhyming ideas, not words, and how it is embedded with challenges. See the foundational principle for all of Proverbs that fear of the Lord is the starting point for the knowledge which leads to skillful, wise living.
Duration:58 mins 41 secs

   How to Live Life Well. Proverbs 1:1

 

If we are going to live skilful lives, which is what the book of Proverbs is all about, then we have to develop that kind of objectivity about our own lives so that we can evaluate our lives—our thinking, our responses to circumstances and situations, our decisions—in the light of the objective principles of God's Word. While emotion is not wrong it can easily distract us, and this is a problem that many Christians have. As we look at the opening verses in Proverbs chapter one there is an emphasis on intellectual activity, not emotional activity.  We have to learn how to properly think, how to properly study, and to properly learn. 

 

Proverbs is a book about wisdom, which means to live skilfully, to be able to live life well in terms of the decisions that we make so that we can at the end of decades of life look back and say that we lived well; we did not live in the midst of self-induced calamities and self-induced misery. We may have gone through a lot of calamity, misery and adversity but it wasn't because we were making wrong or foolish decisions. And because we live on the basis of biblical wisdom in the midst of adversity we live well with joy and happiness and stability. So Proverbs gives us these nutshell principles throughout the book on how to live well—skilful living.

 

Whenever we study Scripture, whenever we study a doctrine, we try to point out what the human viewpoint challenge to the doctrine is, because we are going to run into it. If we are older it we are going to run into it less than if we are younger, but just because we are older and we are not going to be in a college classroom or an academic lecture of some sort where the Word of God is attacked it doesn't let us off. Because we have children and grandchildren that we can answer questions for and so we need to understand that so we can have an impact in their lives and help them. We will always find a human viewpoint challenge to truth, and there is a human viewpoint challenge to Proverbs as the writings of Solomon, something uniquely a divine revelation and uniquely the product of revelation through the Jewish people.

 

The human viewpoint claim is that the Bible doesn't really come from God, it is written by human beings and it reflects more about the understanding of their time, and it reflects more about their culture and the understanding of their time and those limitations rather than objective truth. The human viewpoint claim is that the Bible reflects and imitates previous writings, that the writers of Scripture were influenced by Hammurabi in terms of his law code, in terms of certain wisdom sayings from Egypt, when it comes to the creation the creation narrative in Genesis chapters one and two didn't originate with Moses, the Hebrews were influenced by the Babylonian creation epic, others would say no, they were influenced by various Egyptian creation myths and legends. But the reality is that if we assume the Bible to be true the creation and the story of the creation in Genesis 1-3 occurred before any Babylonians, Egyptians, Israelites or Akkadians, and that story was known and passed down through the generations to Noah and even after Noah. And in human viewpoint cultures where there was the "suppression of truth in unrighteousness" (Romans 1) and these creation stories got distorted and shifted, then what we find in these other creation stories is just a distorted, pale reflection of the original true story of creation which was handed down through the writings of the Old Testament. The priority is the actual historical events by God, then the recording of that through the prophets of the Old Testament and the distortion of it by the various human civilisations. But the human viewpoint is that the Bible is a reflection of these other legends, there is nothing original there; it is just a Hebrew creation myth.

 

The problem with these human viewpoint claims is that it always puts human literature and experience prior to biblical revelation. And this is what the human mind always does. Rather than letting experience be governed and interpreted by revelation it always wants revelation to be governed by experience. We see this in everything from mysticism to the charismatic movement and speaking in tongues and evolution. All these things put priority on human experience and interpretation of human experience, and then that governs the interpretation of the Word. The divine viewpoint answer is that the Bible comes first and that all of these other things come second.

 

Even the best of the best Bible scholars slip now and then. The pressure is on us always to not march too much to the beat of a different drum, and even amongst some of the best Bible scholars they slip on these things. Here is a quote from An Introduction to the Old Testament by Charles Dyer and Eugene Merrill. They give too much credibility to the human viewpoint claim on the authorship of Proverbs. The human viewpoint claim is that Solomon wrote Proverbs after an Egyptian book known as The Wisdom of Amenemope and that he really reflects and is influenced by wisdom literature from other cultures. What that does is minimize and dilute the power of the objective truth that is in the Word of God.

 

They say in their introduction:

 

"Most scholars know this, and many have gone beyond this observation to draw attention to similarities perceived to exist between this composition (Proverbs) and an Egyptian wisdom text known as The Wisdom of Amememope, written around 1200 BC. The two works have a number of common themes and expressions…. The book of Proverbs may have borrowed and adapted some of these sayings of Amememope."

 

The problem: They ought to presuppositionally say, no that is not the way it happened and then argue from there. In answer to their view they just give a little too much ground to the other side. Gleeson Archer who was the head of the Old Testament department at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for many years pointed out four things about this. First of all, Amenemope's Egyptian text has a large proportion of Semitism, i.e. a saying that reflects the way Hebrew writing would have been done. So Archer observes that this Egyptian text has a lot of Semitisms in it, which reflects that it is borrowing from a Hebrew original, not the other way around. Secondly, he points out that a large number of unknown or garbled Egyptian words can only be explained if they were first borrowed from a previous Hebrew text. Third, he points out that there are numerous cases where the Egyptian translator misunderstood the corresponding Hebrew word. His assumption we think is the correct one, that the writer of this Egyptian text borrowed from Solomon or from a Hebrew original later recorded by Solomon, and when they translated it they didn't understand the Hebrew word so they made a guess which didn't make sense. So when you try to reconstruct the original you can construct and clarify the Egyptian text only if you have a Hebrew original to go back to. The other way around there is no way to clarify the Egyptian text if that was the original one. Fourth, he pints out that in terms of similarity one third of the material between Proverbs 22-24 shows any similarity at all to the text of Amenemope.

 

Having said that, what this clarifies for us is that constantly pagans those who are hostile to the truth are shooting down Scripture, and it sounds so academic and arrogant. But when you really get down to men like Archer and many others in the conservative evangelical camp who can read all the languages, they go and investigate and discover they are making mountains out of mole hills and there is really no evidence. But this is the kind of stuff that some professor will throw out to confuse all the evangelicals in his classroom. This is a typical approach today. Many professors at secular schools make it a point in the first year to destroy the evangelical faith of their students within the first four weeks of school.

 

Archer's conclusion is that Egyptian text drew most of its material from a prior Hebrew text. The Bible is always first.

 

Solomon wrote down most of this material, it didn't necessarily originate with him, but God gave him a special gift of wisdom and he wrote over three thousand proverbs. Much of that wisdom already existed in Hebrew poetry.

 

Proverbs is a tremendous book for teaching us how to solve problems. Most of us have problems in solving problems. First of all, we don't want to admit that they are even there and so we ignore the problem and hope that it will go away. Often what is seen in counselling is people who just avoided something for so long that now they have a major mess. Second, they can't ignore it any longer and now they have to address it, but they only want to address it in a minimal way because they really don't want to get all that nasty dirt out in the open and actually have to think about it. Thirdly, they do try with some degree of honesty to face it but it is just so overwhelming, sometimes embarrassing, so that they just give up. And then the person who is really interested in pursuing spiritual maturity and skilful living is going to honestly face the problem and then address it with the Word of God.

 

Proverbs 1:1 NASB "The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel." This is the title. And then we have a series of purpose clauses: [2] "To know wisdom and instruction, To discern the sayings of understanding, [3] To receive instruction in wise behavior, Righteousness, justice and equity; [4] To give prudence to the naive, To the youth knowledge and discretion."

Then verse 5 totally breaks that pattern. "A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel."

 

Then we come to verse 6, which returns to the formula expressing the purpose clauses: "To understand a proverb and a figure, The words of the wise and their riddles."

 

So there are five infinitives in the English. These are infinitives of purpose to reflect the purpose structure of the Hebrew. Then there is a declarative statement in verse 5 and then a return to the purpose clause. Usually a purpose clause follows the main verb. It is rare to start with the purpose, and then you don't get the main verb for three verses. But that is exactly how this begins. Throwing the five purpose clauses ahead of the main sentence was to grab a person's attention to focus on the purpose—not on the verbs per se but on the purpose. The main clause is really what we find in verse 5. The main thought comes in verse 5; it is talking about a wise person. There is an embedded challenge there: Do you want to be wise? Or do you want to be a fool?

 

What we will find all the way through Proverbs is this contrast between wise and foolish. And as we get into the development of the last part of chapter one and on into chapter two we find that there is a contrast between two different "ways." One word is usually translated "way" and another word translated "paths." Where do you walk? We walk on a path, down a way. So there is a contrast embedded there between which way, which path we are going to walk on. Proverbs 2:7 NASB "He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; {He is} a shield to those who walk in integrity." [8] "Guarding the paths of justice, And He preserves the way of His godly ones." So justice and the way of His godly ones [saints] is one path. [9] "Then you will discern righteousness and justice And equity {and} every good course [path]."

 

So the question that is embedded throughout Proverbs is: What path are you on? What way are you following? There are two options. Modern thinking is, well that's just the black and white thinking of the Bible; that's just antiquated. But they've been saying that behind academic college doors for years, and now we are getting celebrities and newscasters saying this and it is not going to be long before a lot of people join the chorus. Those who believe in the Bible are going to be even more "primitive, antediluvian and out of date". Now the Bible has become "irrelevant," not because has become irrelevant but people become irrelevant toward God and are on their own path and following their own way; they don't want anything to do with God.

 

The focus of the introduction is to grab our attention as we begin a study of this book and asking the question: Do we want to be wise? Do we want to have a skilful life? Do we want to live well? When it is all over with and we are absent from the body and face to face with the Lord do we want to look back on a life that has been lived well, that has been lived skillfully? It takes time develop skill in any endeavor, but especially in the realm of life. So we have this statement: "A wise man will hear and increase in learning."

 

The book of James is an integrated whole around the idea that we need to learn how to be slow to speak, slow to anger and quick to hear. Hearing is important because in Hebrew it is not just academic learning or getting your auditory nerves stimulated, it is hearing in order to accomplish what you have heard, in order to practice what you have learned. That is the idea throughout the Old Testament in the Hebrew. Hearing is to listen and do. So a wise man will hear and increase in learning because he will improve his application.

 

"…And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel." A wise man is parallel to a man of understanding. Wisdom as we have seen is a word that indicates skilful application. What precedes skilful application is understanding. First you have to learn something. Then as you learn it, get the facts and practice it you develop what we call discernment. Discernment is the ability to make a wise choice between things. The Hebrew word for understanding is bin, and bin is making a decision between. So it is not just the idea of understanding something but discerning what the issues are so we can make a wise choice between two options. It is a very practical concept. This is what we see in the second verse—"to know wisdom." That is the ultimate goal, that is why it is stated first—"wisdom and instruction." To get there we have to have musar. It is a disciplined, rigorous education involving correction and rebuke. So we are to know wisdom and a rigorous, disciplined instruction in order to perceive the words, the message of understanding. That is very practical: to be able to make wise decisions in the midst of what may appear to be a complicated life.

 

Deuteronomy 11:2 NASB "Know this day that I {am} not {speaking} with your sons who have not known and who have not seen the discipline [musar-chastening] of the LORD your God …" It is not just instruction but it includes a punishment idea to help conform the individual to obedience. We see this same verse "chastening" in Isaiah 53: that the Messiah was to be the chastisement for our peace. It includes that idea of punishment or discipline.

 

Jeremiah 3:30 NASB "In vain I have struck [chastened] your sons; They accepted no chastening…" The divine discipline on Israel.

 

Jeremiah 5:3 NASB "O LORD, do not Your eyes {look} for truth? You have smitten them, {But} they did not weaken; You have consumed them, But they refused to take correction…" The wise person receives correction, responds positively to discipline and is straightened out. "… They have made their faces harder than rock; They have refused to repent." The issue is that often when we are disobedient, if we don't respond to the instruction of the word God is going to bring out the belt, as it were.

Jeremiah 7:28 NASB "You shall say to them, 'This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the LORD their God or accept correction …" The end result of that is just a boat load of misery and self-induced calamity in life.

 

This is the same word that we find in Proverbs 3:11, 12 NASB "My son, do not reject the discipline [chastening] of the LORD or loathe His reproof, For whom the LORD loves He reproves, Even as a father {corrects} the son in whom he delights."

 

The principle behind the law in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 4:6 NASB "So keep and do {them,} for that is your wisdom and your understanding …" It is the Word of God that is the source for wisdom and understanding (discernment), because that is what gives ability to think clearly and objectively an issue. The Bible doesn't tell you how to make every decision in life. It is going to give you the framework so that as you face decisions you can take the principles of the instruction of the Word and then apply them is a skilful way. That leads to discernment, to wisdom, to skilful living.

 

So as we look at the text. Proverbs 1:3 "To receive instruction in wise behavior"—how to live skillfully. This results in three things: NKJV "… Justice, judgment and equity." The word "justice" is the Hebrew word tsedek and it has to do with doing things according to an objective standard of right and wrong, and objective standard related to the objective revelation of God; that which conforms to righteousness. So the result of receiving the instruction, the teaching of wisdom, is that we develop "justice" or righteousness. "judgment" is mishpat which is the application of the objective principle of right and wrong to situations in life. The word "equity" is a word that is designed to give objective standards to everyone. So they are treated the same way under this objective standard. It has the idea of equal treatment before an objective standard of right and wrong; it has the idea of integrity. As we receive the disciplined instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment and integrity it builds character based upon an absolute objective standard of right and wrong. Integrity isn't something that just happens. You have to first have this understanding of right and wrong and its application. When that is applied to the individual that develops character of integrity.

 

Proverbs 1:4 NASB "To give prudence to the naive, To the youth knowledge and discretion." The word "naïve" is not quite right. It is the Hebrew word pethi which means something that is open. It is a little more than just being naïve or simply inexperienced, although that is possible, it also has the idea of being open-minded. Some people can be so open-minded that they just suck in all of the bad ideas of human viewpoint and are no good to anybody, and it just destroys their life. We often here people say we need to be more open-minded, and what they mean is you need to just open your mind to all of the garbage of the world and then you'll be like everybody else; you are just out of step because you are following the objective standards of the Word of God. So the Bible treats the open-minded person as the one who is simple. 

Verse 5 gives the main thought: to be a wise person. A wise person listens in order to learn, and to apply the Word in their life. That becomes a priority. As such they come to understand reality as it is and to attain wisdom and skill at living.

 

Proverbs 1:6 NASB "To understand a proverb and a figure, The words of the wise and their riddles." A proverb is designed to be meditated upon, to stop and really think about it and all that comprises it, because it is a distillation of a lot of things into a short pithy, memorable statement. It takes time to think it through, to understand the comparisons and the nuances and the words. It sometimes seems to be a little bit puzzling. There are some that we will read where it seems a little bit contradictory or a little superficial and we just haven't spent enough time thinking about them and probing their meaning. We have to learn a lot to probe these things.

 

Verse 7 gives us the foundational principle for all of the Proverbs, and that is the fear of the Lord. NASB "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction." The fear of the Lord is positive. This is not just reverence or respect, it is the idea of a child who had been sassy, been in a bad mood, had not shown proper respect for his mother, or had done something that was worthy of discipline, if it was really bad then the message was: Just wait until your father gets home. It is more than respect, it is a sense of fear of the consequences of wrong action. Because the Lord can't be fooled; the Lord knows everything, and we need to treat Him with respect. That is the starting point of knowledge.

 

That is the idea here. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. In this verse it uses a word that is similar to the first word in Genesis chapter one: "in the beginning." It is the basic noun there and it has the idea of priority of time. There are other places in the Scripture that use a different Hebrew word which indicates priority in terms of its role within the learning process. Here it is a priority of time: that before we can really learn we have to submit to the authority of God. It is humility. We have to recognize that we don't know it, God does, and we need to learn and submit to His authority. If you come to the Scripture with an attitude of arrogance—that you already know it all, that you have life by the handle and that you don't really need to learn this and to be in church every Sunday or go to Bible class during the week because you have life under control—that is arrogance and you are on the way, as Proverbs teaches, to your own fall and collapse. If you really want to learn and be successful in living—not in business, not in academics, but in the process of living well—you have to start with humility and submission to the authority of God.

 

And if you don't, the Bible says you are a fool. Because what makes you a fool is that you despise wisdom and the instruction of God. You may not say you despise the wisdom and instruction of God but if you are not making the study of God's Word a priority in your life and are not focused on that at least seven or eight hours a week, then by your actions you are despising the instruction of the Lord; you are not giving it a high enough priority.

 

The question is: Do you want to live life skillfully and be wise? Or do you want to be a fool and make a lot of mistakes and introduce a lot of misery because you make bad decisions into your own life. The choice is yours.