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Bible Thought

Proverbs: A Book to Live By

In February of 2018 my family sat down to dinner with a pastor, his family, and a new couple who had recently been visiting the church. Conversation at dinner included military aircraft and helicopter training. The pastor was fascinated by the A-10 Warthog and the man who sat across the table from me was a retired Navy rotary wing instructor.

Soon we turned the conversation to the Bible. I don’t remember how we got on the topic of Proverbs, but the flight instructor said, “Proverbs has never made sense to me. It does not read like any of the other books. I can’t figure out what the theme and story of each chapter is.”

The Curse of Knowledge

This conversation was interesting to me and was at the front of my mind for several weeks after that night. I was so struck by the fact that this man did not understand the book of Proverbs that I remember little else about the evening (except that it was also the 16th birthday of the pastor’s daughter).

The book of Proverbs is not confusing to me. I have been taught often from Proverbs and can see clear themes in the book. Sometimes, however, the more familiar we are with a topic the harder it is for us to see that others don’t have the same understanding we do. In one of my favorite books the authors call this “the curse of knowledge.”

My Introduction to Proverbs

I can remember the circumstances in which I was introduced to Proverbs and how the book has become such a part of my life. I’m sure I had heard about Proverbs previously, but when I was 10 years old, several months after I was saved, our Christian school got a new school administrator. I don’t remember what he taught us in daily devotions those first few weeks or months he was at the school, but I very clearly remember the main subject Bro. Hartsfield would speak on during the eight years I sat under him: the book of Proverbs.

Small Chunks

Bro. Hartsfield taught from Proverbs in the way I think the book should be taught: small chunks with a single point. He would share with us the principle found in one verse or small group of them. Certainly he taught from other books of the Bible, but it was like he was drawn to Proverbs and couldn’t stay away for too long.

We learned so many truths about how to live in society and how to honor God with our life. Proverbs emphasizes obedience and honor to parents. We also learned about wisdom and how to apply it to our daily lives.

Looking back over the 40 years I have known the book of Proverbs and the man who taught it to me, I am thankful for those simple principles taught in the book. But, I later realized something about the way he taught…

He Was Cheating!

In school Bro. Hartsfield would often tell us, “I was reading in Proverbs chapter (whatever) and I came across this verse…” As a 10 or 12 year old kid, I was amazed that he could read the Bible in the morning and come up with something so profound to say about a single verse. I learned that he would read a chapter in Proverbs every day corresponding to the day of the month. That meant he read through the book at least 12 times a year.

A few years after I started traveling and preaching regularly, I sometimes thought Bro. Hartsfield was cheating by going back to Proverbs so often. It was a book he read daily. How hard can it be to teach from a book that you know so well? He had intimate knowledge of the book. Each one of the principles in the book was a part of his life. He didn’t even have to study to be able to teach us what the book said. Isn’t that cheating?

Teach What You Know

As I’ve continued in my ministry of preaching and teaching the Bible, I try to be aware that not everyone knows what I know about God’s Word. I should teach those things that I have learned.

It is easy for Bible teachers to assume that others already know what we know. We avoid teaching basic truths from the Bible because we think that everyone we teach already knows these things. This is the curse of knowledge at work.

I now know Bro. H. wasn’t cheating, he was teaching what he knew. As 7th and 12th graders, didn’t know the things that he knew. He was able to teach us things that were basic to him, but new and profound to us. If you are in the position of teaching others, it is very helpful to review the basics instead of assuming everyone else knows what you know.

Gentle Aside: If you are a preacher or teacher of the Bible, try to avoid saying things like, “you know in the story of so-and-so how this means such-and-such…” Consider that not everyone knows that story or how it is applied. And you’ve just made that person feel like an ignorant outsider because they now think they should know the Bible better to be part of your church service. No student of the Bible is offended to hear a quick summary of the story being taught in an effort to make sure everyone clearly understands the point of what you are teaching.

A Book for Life

As perplexing as that dinner conversation was to me at the time, I have since thought much about my relationship with the book of Proverbs. I am thankful for Bro. Hartsfield and many others who have taught me from this book of wisdom.

While there isn’t a clear story line in each chapter, Proverbs is a book that you can learn from each time you read it. Meditate on its verses as you read from it regularly. You shouldn’t neglect reading other parts of the Bible, but reading a few verses (if not a whole chapter) each day will benefit you and those around you as you apply what you learn.

I trust that the posts in this series on Proverbs has been a help to you as you continue to study the Bible and, particularly, the book of Proverbs.

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Bible Thought

King Destroyers

Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings.

It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink:

Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted.

Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.

Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.

Proverbs 31:3-7

Wise Words from Mom

These verses are attributed to the mother of King Lemuel (v. 1). We don’t definitively know who Lemuel was, but there is speculation that this could have been a nickname given to Solomon from his mother Bathsheba.

Whether we know who he was or not, these words are still true. And, if God felt it was important for us to know, He would have made it more clear. Learning the lessons from these verses seem to be the important point that God was giving to us.

These words came from this king’s mother that he wrote down for us. She was giving him counsel probably based on what she had seen in her experience as queen.

Destruction by Women

Lemuel’s mother warned him not to give his strength to women (v. 3). He should not spend his energy chasing after women.

If Lemuel was not Solomon, maybe his mother was a contemporary of Solomon. She had seen the foolish mistakes Solomon was making by having his many wives and harems (1 Kings 11). Solomon’s heart was turned away from God because of the many wives that he had (1 Kings 11:3, 4).

Chapter 11 of 1 Kings describes Solomon’s heart being pulled away from the things of God. It talks of the evil he did later in his life. All of this was attributed to him chasing after women that God never intended for him.

Destruction by Wine

The next few verses talk of another destroyer of kings: alcohol. Those who sit in authority and rule over others are unwise to allow their minds to be clouded by wine and strong drink (vv. 4, 5). It leads to a lax relationship with the law and causes decisions to be made that affects others.

I have been in hospital rooms and detox centers with families who are in turmoil over the destruction that alcohol has brought into their lives. The one who is controlled by alcohol so often can’t see how their actions affect those around them. They tend to think only of themselves and their own desires.

The mother of Lemuel had seen this destruction in the lives of others and she warned this young king of the dangers of strange women and alcohol. A good lesson for us as well.

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Bible Thought

Little, But Wise

24 There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise:

25 The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer;

26 The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks;

27 The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands;

28 The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings’ palaces.

Proverbs 30:24-28

Proverbs 30 is attributed to Agur, son of Jakeh. This chapter is the only mention of him in the Bible. He claims to be a person of below average intelligence and understanding (vv. 2, 3). However, I would say he was a pretty wise person to have assembled these sayings at the leading of the Holy Spirit.

This chapter looks a bit different than most of the book in that he takes several verses to talk about a few different topics. These longer topics are more like chapters one through nine.

Towards the end of the chapter, Agur gives several groups of “four things.” These are: four things that are never satisfied (vv. 15-17), four things that seem too wonderful for the writer to comprehend (vv. 18-20), four things that don’t make sense (vv. 21-23), four things that are exceedingly wise (vv. 24-28), and four things that are proud (vv. 29-31).

We will just look at the “four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise.”

Ants

He says of ants that they are not strong, yet they prepare for the future. I’m sure there are ants in most habitable places of the world. I know they certainly like hanging around our house every place we’ve lived. While they are considered a pest, I have been fascinated by ants since I was a kid.

I grew up in west Texas where it was fairly dry most of the time. We didn’t have luscious grass lawn. Therefore, it was easy to see the red ants and black ants crawling around on the grey-brown dirt. These weren’t your runty little ants that I see most places. Ours were so big that even a grandpa without his glasses could see these.

Though I would get bitten occasionally, I still enjoyed playing with them by making “dams” in their “rivers.” That meant putting sticks and rocks in their little paths that they made between their homes and their food source. When they left their homes, they were always walking, walking, walking. Always gathering food for that time of year when they seemed to go dormant.

Small, yet wise enough to work and prepare for the future.

Conies

These are animals that I’m not familiar with from my childhood, but they are mammals more commonly known today as a hyrax. They are common in much of Africa and the Middle East.

Agur says they are feeble, but are wise enough to make their homes in a protected area. They live among the rocks where they can be protected from common predators.

They practice the lessons learned from Proverbs 27:22 in being prepared for the evil that comes their way. Of course they didn’t read the Bible to learn that, but God put that instinct into them and then pointed us to them to help us learn to be wise in our preparation for the dangers that come up in life.

Locusts

Another pest we had growing up was what we called locusts, but would more appropriately be called cicadas. Cicadas are not the type of animal talked about here. The Bible is referring to what is more commonly known as grasshoppers.

Doing a little research on these little creatures, I learned that they are called grasshoppers until they form swarms. At that point they are called locusts. They can devastate crops and whole economies. As I write this, the world is experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, there are two recent gigantic locust swarms that are destroying much of the crop production in east Africa today. The plague of locusts will probably be as deadly for the people in Africa as the pandemic will be.

Locusts have no leader, yet they are as destructive and deadly as many armies because of their strength in numbers.

Spiders

Spiders can be found everywhere: clean houses, dirty houses, palaces and even barns with pigs named Wilbur. They are industrious and constantly working.

Some spiders build a new house each evening for catching insects just to tear them down the next morning and build them again that evening. Others maintain a web for months.

No matter how often their web gets torn down, they will build it again. They work their way into the position they hold in the king’s palace.

Agur tells us about ants that are careful planners, conies who seek safety from the predators around them, locusts that find safety and strength in numbers and the humble spider who industriously works their way into the palace. Each has a lesson for us today.

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Bible Thought

Wise Sons Make Glad Fathers

Whoso loveth wisdom rejoiceth his father: but he that keepeth company with harlots spendeth his substance.

Proverbs 29:3

There are at least six times in Proverbs where the idea of fathers rejoicing because of their wise sons is mentioned. This verse in Proverbs 29 is the last of the six that I found. Here are the other five passages.

The proverbs of Solomon. A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother.

Proverbs 10:1

A wise son heareth his father’s instruction: but a scorner heareth not rebuke.

Proverbs 13:1

A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish man despiseth his mother.

Proverbs 15:20

24 The father of the righteous shall greatly rejoice: and he that begetteth a wise child shall have joy of him.

25 Thy father and thy mother shall be glad, and she that bare thee shall rejoice.

Proverbs 23:24, 25

Whoso keepeth the law is a wise son: but he that is a companion of riotous men shameth his father.

Proverbs 28:7

Parents and Children

In each of the above verses, the words used for father and son are gender specific. However, I think it would be appropriate to take the male terms and allow them to generically apply to fathers and mothers as well as to sons and daughters.

Children are a treasure handed down from God (Psalms 127:3). We, as parents, have a responsibility to care for them and to help them grow in the way God would want (Proverbs 22:6).

Directed to Sons/Daughters

If you look at these verses you will see that Solomon is directing his comments to sons. He is not talking to fathers directly. The parents are recipients of the joy that a wise child brings into the family, but they are not being told directly to make the child wise.

Remember that wisdom is not only about the stuff you know in your head, but the understanding and application of that knowledge. We, as children, have to make the decision to apply the knowledge that we have been given.

Parents receive the blessing, delight, and joy of wise children. But it is the children who need to strive to obtain that wisdom.

Shame and Heaviness

These verses also tell us of the results of not acting wisely. We bring shame to our fathers (Proverbs 28:7) and heaviness to our mothers (Proverbs 10:1). A mocker (scorner) will not listen and learn from instruction (Proverbs 13:1). He will even come to a point of despising his mother (Proverbs 15:20).

What’s a Parent to Do?

While these verses aren’t directed towards parents with any action we need to take, that doesn’t mean that are free from our responsibilities to train and model wisdom for our children. The book of Proverbs is an example of a father teaching his son. We should do the same by passing on the wisdom that we have learned so that our children can grow into wise adults.

We should also be praying for them. Pray that you will handle your responsibilities as a parent properly. Also, pray that your children will respond properly to the instruction you are giving them.

May God help us all to be wise children for the joy of our parents, and to experience the joy of having our own children walking in the wisdom of God.

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Bible Thought

Bold As a Lion

The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.

Proverbs 28:1

Volunteering

My brothers and I went to a private Christian school for most of our education. The school had all grades, kindergarten through 12th. We did not have traditional classes where the teacher lectured us. Instead we used individual workbooks where we read the material and got the teacher to explain things we didn’t understand.

Because of the structure of the curriculum, it was possible to finish your own work early each day by putting your head down and focusing on the material. If an older student completed their assignments for a particular day, they could work ahead into the next day’s material, or volunteer to help the teachers in classrooms with younger students.

I was always willing to volunteer in another class instead of working ahead. Any opportunity to get out of class was an opportunity I took; even if the volunteer opportunity was picking up the rocks that grew on our football field.

I was a likable kid (or at least I like to believe I was), which I used to get the teachers to let me get away with a little more than I probably should have. Sometimes I would get permission to leave the class for some legitimate sounding reason. When I’d get free, I would wander into other classrooms and tell the teacher that I was available to help them for a while.

After being the hero by helping out a teacher for a bit, I would leave that class and move into the next class.

As long as I stayed in a classroom, there was little chance of getting caught since the teachers thought I must be there legitimately. My own teachers knew that I liked to volunteer to help with anything that needed to be done around the school. If I didn’t come back at the expected time, they assumed that I was conscripted by another teacher to do a job.

I kept both parties in the dark about my skipping out on school work. Before you think I was a terrible student, I want to make it clear, I didn’t do this all the time. I only did it most days during my 10th, 11th, and 12th grade years.

The Wicked Flee

I did fear one person at school: the school administrator, Bro. Hartsfield. I always tried to avoid him when playing my volunteer game. It wasn’t that he was unjustly mean. In fact, I feel he is one of the most level-headed and just disciplinarians I have ever known. My respect made me not want to disappoint him by letting him know I was being deceitful with the teachers.

I would carefully look both ways before crossing the parking lot that separated my class from the younger kids’ classrooms. This wasn’t because I was concerned about cars, but I was concerned that I might run into Bro. Hartsfield. He had a huge set of keys that was easy to hear when he walked. I would listen carefully for the keys to make sure he wasn’t near before leaving one class and dashing to another.

If I did meet him in the parking lot, he would ask where I was coming from, where I was going and why I was out of my own class. These were not questions that I ever wanted to have to answer. I felt guilty about skipping out of class and assumed he was roaming the school grounds looking for me because my teacher told him I was missing again.

What I later learned was that if I did meet him in the parking lot, his questions concerning my actions were often conversational and not accusatory. Yet I was scared to death to see him coming my way when I was ditching class. When you feel guilty, you try avoid those in authority.

Any time he came into a classroom where I was, I was certain he was there to lay my transgressions open for the world to see. I lived in guilt on the days I played hooky within the halls of school.

Guilty

This brings us to our verse about the wicked fleeing. When you have a guilty conscience, you want to avoid anyone who has authority over you. This is why people literally run away from the police even if the policeman is just seeking information. They have a guilty conscience about something they have done and they feel certain that the police are looking for them.

It is no fun living in a constant state of fear thinking that everyone in authority knows your sins and are ready to pronounce you guilty.

Bold As A Lion

Conversely, it is relieving to have a clear conscience. The world seems brighter and you aren’t having to constantly wonder if the person standing before you is judging all your past transgressions.

For the most part, I had a wonderful relationship with my school administrator. Bro. Hartsfield and I have grown close in the 30+ years since I was listening for the jingle of his keys in the parking lot. Even in school there were many days that I was glad to sit and chat with him because I hadn’t done anything stupid that particular day to feel guilty about. I looked for opportunities to spend time with him by volunteering to work side-by-side with him on projects. Those were the days that I felt as bold as a lion. I had no guilty conscience.

My favorite times in school were when we went on school trips and there were opportunities to volunteer and lend a hand. I had no class time to skip. There was no reason to feel guilty around authority. Our times camping as a group of high school boys was enjoyable and memorable. We had retreats where certain classes got to hang out together with Bro. and Mrs. Hartsfield. No guilt; only learning practical life lessons from those you loved and respected.

When you respect the law over you and the people around you, then you can experience this feeling of boldness. Boldness like a lion.

Misc.

I resisted the temptation to title this post “Wicked Fleas and Bold Lions.” Too bad we spell flee (to run) and flea (a pest) in two different ways. Otherwise that joke would work as well in print as it does when spoken.

I credit Bro. Hartsfield for instilling a love for the book of Proverbs in my life when I was young. The last 30 blog posts have been a direct result of his teaching on this wonderful book. When I finish with a post from Proverbs 31, I plan to tell you some of the ways Bro. Hartsfield taught Proverbs to us at school.