Proverbs 17

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Proverbs 17:1-6
Better a dry crust with peace and quiet
than a house full of feasting, with strife.
2 A prudent servant will rule over a disgraceful son
and will share the inheritance as one of the family.
3 The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold,
but the Lord tests the heart.
4 A wicked person listens to deceitful lips;
a liar pays attention to a destructive tongue.
5 Whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker;
whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished.
6 Children’s children are a crown to the aged,
and parents are the pride of their children.
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Verse 1 draws attention to meal time. It’s an important time of bonding and fellowship in many cultures. To some extent the culture that we live in has devalued this to a large extent with TV dinners, fast food meals and meal time on the fly to get somewhere in the evening. Perhaps our modern meals are more like the second expressed sentiment in this verse. The point is that meal time is important but what is on the table is not so important. The real value of the table time is what goes on in the fellowship. It should be strife free and about connection. 

The early Christians knew the communion meal as love feasts. I think our family meals reflect that most of the time. Family banter, good humour, connection. It’s a fight to preserve it a lot of the time with conflicting schedules etc.,

Verse 2 rings true to me. I think my mum’s first words were that’s him written out of my will and probably my inheritance is forfeited as a result of my behaviour. What really matters though is my spiritual inheritance. In God’s family I am merely an adopted member of the household. I am not an heir except by the fact I have accepted the invitation.

Verse 3 is well known and much preached. The hottest furnace cleans gold and silver. The fire burns waste materials. This is how the gold and silver become pure. In the same way, God tests our hearts. He wants us to be free from idolatrous thoughts and desires. (Isaiah 6:6-7 and Malachi 3:2-4). He wants our hearts to be set on him. He uses the furnace of life to sift out the impurities in our hearts and purify the gold of our heart.

Verse 4 presents us with the lure of a deceitful and dishonest life. Sometimes other peoples lies are what we want to hear to justify our own behaviour. Solomon calls it a destructive tongue. Last Spring and Summer (2015) that was exactly where I was at.

In verse 5 we see God’s heart for the poor. God loves the poor. They have a special place in his heart and they are a test for those of us that have more. They are a calling to love and care for them even to our own inconvenience. To gloat at the misfortune of others will surely come back on our own head.

Verse 6 reveals a healthy family picture. Three generations of mutual respect and love. This is my desire. This is what I want to build. I know that it takes going through the furnace and having our hearts refined. It’s an exciting journey.
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Proverbs 17:7-8

Eloquent lips are unsuited to a godless fool—
how much worse lying lips to a ruler!
8 A bribe is seen as a charm by the one who gives it;
they think success will come at every turn.
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Solomon uses humour in these two verses.

A fool should be careful with his words. His words will cause trouble. Instead, he should say nothing. Certainly, he should not try to speak in a clever way. The likelihood of a fool even listening to Solomon’s advice is ridiculous.

However, some things are much worse than a fool who tries to impress people with his words. A ruler or a leader who lies. Ouch that pierces me. I am both the eloquent fool and the dishonest leader.
Solomon teaches that a bribe has a magic charm, because it changes a persons heart and can deceive them into thinking that everything will go their way. A bribe will change someone’s behaviour or course of action.

These are all dark places that I have been when I was in my hole. I was insane. My actions were unhinged, irrational and desperate.
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Proverbs 17:9-14

9 Whoever would foster love covers over an offense,
but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.
10 A rebuke impresses a discerning person
more than a hundred lashes a fool.
11 Evildoers foster rebellion against God;
the messenger of death will be sent against them.
12 Better to meet a bear robbed of her cubs
than a fool bent on folly.
13 Evil will never leave the house
of one who pays back evil for good.
14 Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam;
so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.
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In verse 9, Solomon in his wisdom tells us that sometimes we do not need to point out a mistake. Love is enough and the other person will feel bad enough, they will process it and come to a good conclusion. Grace is powerful. Continual repeated sin though is extremely destructive to relationships. If love is enough to change the wise man verse 10 leads us to a very different story.

Verse 10 addresses the fool. A fool can be lashed 100 times but will not change. Solomon informs us that a wise man does not need a punishment, when he makes a mistake, a few words are enough to correct and enlighten him.
Verse 11 tells us about an evil man refuses to change his behaviour. Even punishment will not stop his evil behaviour. Punishment is futile and destructive better let him burn in his mess and allow God’s judgment to take care of business.

Verse 12 is almost humorous. Bears are very dangerous animals. Even when a bear is content, you are in danger. This bear is a very angry bear, which you must avoid. The bear could kill you.
It is safer to meet an angry bear than a fool bent on rebellion. There are some people, whom nobody can control. They are very evil people. We can pray for them. But we might be in danger if we try to help them. God can change hearts – but we cannot do this.

I was the fool bent on rebellion 18 months ago. 

Verse 13 reminds us that to repay good with evil is extremely distasteful and damaging to relationships.  It is a betrayal of trust that is hard to comprehend. However this is how I behaved especially between 2013-2015.
Verse 14 informs us that it is better to stop an argument before the heat takes it out of control. It is better to dissipate the heat and revisit the dispute in a calmer setting if that is possible.
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Proverbs 17:15-20

15 Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—
the Lord detests them both.
16 Why should fools have money in hand to buy wisdom,
when they are not able to understand it?
17 A friend loves at all times,
and a brother is born for a time of adversity.
18 One who has no sense shakes hands in pledge
and puts up security for a neighbour.
19 Whoever loves a quarrel loves sin;
whoever builds a high gate invites destruction.
20 One whose heart is corrupt does not prosper;
one whose tongue is perverse falls into trouble.
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Verse 15 shows us that God’s heart is one of fairness. He wants the guilty to pay for their wrongs and the innocent to be protected. Him an judgment is to follow suit.

In verse 16, Solomon delivers more humour. The fool wastes his money. He might buy ordinary things, or even sensible things. However, Solomon says that the fool wastes his money. The fool did not get the one thing that he needed. Wisdom is the only thing that a fool really needs. It is worth more than gold (Proverbs 8:10)… But it costs nothing.
Verse 17 informs us something about the purpose of friendship and a definition of true friendship. It’s when you hit hard times you discover your true friends. It’s in those moments that you have nothing to being to the table that you discover your true friends. It’s the stuff of a million clichés but true.

Verse 18 days something about bailing out the foolish. It’s a futile exercise and may end in a bad place if the untrustworthy fool refuses to pay his debt.

Verse 19 shows that it is destructive to love a quarrel but equally destructive to protect yourself by building a high gate and refusing to engage in a dispute. Some love to argue and is a matter of pride about winning the fight but it leaves a trail of resentment and hurt. Others like to stay aloof and not get involved at all so that they can protect themselves. My tendency is to build high gates rather than fight.

Verse 20 tells the tale of the corrupt man and the liar. Both are me and both end up in a bad place. Success is elusive and trouble is just over the horizon.
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Proverbs 17:21-25

21 To have a fool for a child brings grief;
there is no joy for the parent of a godless fool.
22 A cheerful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
23 The wicked accept bribes in secret
to pervert the course of justice.
24 A discerning person keeps wisdom in view, but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth.
25 A foolish son brings grief to his father
and bitterness to the mother who bore him.
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Verses 21 & 25 sandwich these proverbs by introducing us to the child whose decisions and actions bring grief to their parents. Our desire for our children to make wise decisions is significant. Bad decisions don’t merely embarrass us but we think about the sowing and reaping principle. They actually can cause grief.My oldest daughters  wild years were painful. We handled them with courage, faith and dignity. I am sure that the revelations about my life from last year caused grief for my parents too.

Verse 22 gives us a vivid illustration of cheerfulness vs crushed spirit. Cheerfulness is energizing and contagious whereas a crushed spirit is energy sapping. I can be both. I lean more towards cheerfulness these days. Even though I find some days quite hard, I maintain a cheerful spirit.

Verse 23 tells us about the human heart. We all want justice until it comes to dealing with ourselves. The extreme of this is that people bribe their way out of trouble. A lesser way is that we lie our way out of trouble or present the facts in a manipulative light leaving out important information to change the emphasis in a narrative. Even my grandson asked me the other day whilst walking along if I had the strength to break something. I said that yes I did so he asked me to break it. I said no, this is not our property it belongs to someone else. His response was “it’s okay granddad, no one will know that it’s you”.

Verse 24 illustrates the different between the wise man and the fool. The wise man thinks things through, he reflects on his decisions, he aligns his will with God’s will, he is organised and ready to make an assessment. The fool goes with his whim without thought to the impact of his decision or how it may have consequences. I am drawn to the whims but now have decided to act with discipline and thinking things through.
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Proverbs 17:26-28

26 If imposing a fine on the innocent is not good,
surely to flog honest officials is not right.
27 The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint,
and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.
28 Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent,
and discerning if they hold their tongues.
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Verse 26 echoes into modern times as much as ancient times. The press always want to put the blame for any bad news on what or who might make the most interesting story. The politicians want to blame bad news on anyone but themselves and will manipulate the data or facts to present themselves in the best light. When there is bad news, many people would blame innocent people. 

Many leaders do not want to hear about trouble. Sometimes people hate an honest adviser. (See 1 Kings 22.) The main interest of many people is to preserve the status quo. To maintain power and influence in a situation.
However, someone with authority needs to know the truth, even if the truth is bad news. He needs honest advisers. He should not blame innocent people but should take responsibility for his own shortcomings.

In Verse 27 we  read about a wise man thinking carefully. He does not suddenly become angry. Other people might think that he is slow but it might take a long time to make a good decision. Sometimes processing is important, reflection and deliberation. It is important that my decisions have integrity and come from the heart therefore I no longer allow other people to put pressure on me. I am my own man today.

Solomon’s quirky humour comes through in verse 28. If a fool is silent then he is wise. That may sound like an oxymoron but a self aware fool is indeed a wise man. It’s better to stay quiet than blurt out rubbish.

The lesson for all of us is to be slow to speak and quick to listen. Take care with  our words. Think before we speak. Wisdom will not be far away.

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