Proverbs 12:28

“In the path of righteousness is life, and the way of its trail is no death.”

There are two senses to life.  One is quality.  The other is quantity.

The Old Testament is mostly concerned with its quality, which may be why some Jewish teachers focus on the present rather than the future.  That is how the first line reads. 

In general, the Old Testament is quiet about everlasting life.  There is a glimpse in Job 19:26: “And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (ESV). Another is in Habakkuk: “the just shall live by faith.”  Here is another.  Maybe it was reserved for the revelation of Christ to reveal the wonders of everlasting life.  Christ is the lens through which the Old Testament becomes clear.

Death is a challenge to God’s design of humans, but it death comes to us all.  We live under its shadow and that shade hovers over our celebrations and pleasures.  We must respect the fact that our lives are limited.  That is the sober advice from Ecclesiastes

If we keep to God’s ways, we will live.  There is a double meaning: his ways are the standard by which we can model our actions; but it also means we will not die.  There is “no death” if we remain in his ways.  If a person can do so, he or she will not die…ever.  This path never gets cut off.  Waltke: “…the righteous retain a relationship with God forever.”

The second line says there is “no death” in the path of righteousness.  We know it is a “way of life” both in the sense of a way a person should live and as a way a person can have life; but it is more than a life in this life; it is a life that continues, a life without death.

Certainly, doing the right things can improve your life and help you become a better person.  But your life is still not in your power.

If a person can remain in God’s way, he can live.  This is God’s promise given many times.  For example:  Deuteronomy 8:1 – “The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live… (ESV)

Everlasting life is prominent in the New Testament.  Sadly, however, we can’t live up to it.  Paul points this out in Romans 1-2.  The Law is a “schoolmaster” who teaches us about our failure to walk in God’s ways and live.

But then he tells us “But now, the righteousness of God has been revealed…” (3:21) for those who have faith in Jesus Christ.  This righteousness is not what we can do, but is ours by trusting in Jesus.  As we take the good things in life as gifts, so we learn to take the eternal life Jesus offers us as a gift.  By faith in Jesus Christ, God’s righteousness becomes ours and this fulfills both lines.  There is “no death” in the way of righteousness.

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Proverbs 12:27

“A lazy person does not roast his game, but the diligent gets the land’s precious wealth.”

The verse is hard for me to translate.  The best English I could find is ESV:

Whoever is slothful will not roast his game,
but the diligent man will get precious wealth.

But it is easy to grasp the comparison between laziness and diligence.  Lazy people fail; diligent people succeed.  Hunting illustrates it. 

Hunting can look deceptively easy.  You just sit there with your rifle until the game comes along.  However, it’s not as easy as it looks.  Good hunters make it look easy, just as the masters at anything make the fool think he can do it, too.  Successful hunters make it look easy because they work at it.  “I could do that,” we say.  But, of course, I wouldn’t have thought to do it that way, would I?

One skill good hunters develop is patient watchfulness.  When the game comes in sight, it is time to act quickly without hesitation. 

The lazy hunter seldom succeeds, often because he is impatient.  The slothful person either eats his game raw (because he is so hungry) or he does not get any because he does not work to get it.  Lazy people go hungry; laziness leads to impoverishment, ill-health and poor outcomes.  When waiting for game, it is easy to let your mind and concentration wander, to busy your attention with other things.  Then, when it arrives, you can lose your opportunity. Waltke quotes Kidner: “…whether as a non-finisher or a non-starter, the indolent man throws away his chances.”

The game on the land is one of God’s gifts (Genesis 9:3) and people who live on the land have that resource available to them.  However, the wealth of the land, game, is precious and therefore not always easy to catch. 

A diligent person gets wealth.  Diligence is a kind of humility.  He bows his neck to the task at hand, pays attention, knows that there are many things about his craft he does not know and carefully studies the task.  Good hunters work hard to be better hunters.

The wise hunter does not boast of his skill, stealth or cleverness, but is thankful he has been blessed with success.  He knows that the all-seeing God is the real master, not his own skill or cleverness or even his diligence.  He works hard at his craft because he knows getting game is never a sure thing and he is grateful to God when he succeeds.  He realizes that the animal could just as easily have turned in another direction, but God allowed it to turn so he could catch it.  He gratefully accepts his game as a gift of God.

Whatever we do, if we want to succeed, we must realize there is much to learn and success is never guaranteed.  Humble yourself before God and learn from him.  Pay attention to your work, accept success as a gift rather than a right and thank God when he gives it.

Proverbs 12:26

“A righteous person looks out for his friend, but the way of the wicked makes them go astray.”

The word for “looks out” is the same word used when the Hebrew scouts went to “spy out” the land of Canaan (Numbers 13:2).  Their mission was to recon the land, its geography, produce and population and bring back a report to Moses in preparation for the Hebrew invasion. 

I sometimes think of friends as a person’s support system.  Dealing with friends is like personnel management in a “business”: recruiting, selecting, training, supervising, correcting, firing and replacing the people who “work for us.”  Good friends are people who go ahead of us, find trouble or profit and help us to deal with it properly.  Like good employees, they will make the welfare of our “company” their business, too.  They look for the best courses of action for us to take.

If you want a friend like that you should also be a friend like that.  A righteous friend “scouts ahead” and has a concern for what route his friend takes and what happens to him.  The word here also suggests this is a close friend.  Sometimes a close friend has to tell us things we do not like to hear, words of correction or warning that may be against what we want to do.

On the other hand, bad employees—here the plural suggests there are more of them than the one righteous person—do not care if the company prospers.  They are only there for a paycheck, to get away with whatever they can.  They are “looking out” only for themselves.  They may be acceptable employees; but only so long as someone is watching them.  

Righteous friends will have your back.  Those who are wicked will use you to get what they want.  And woe to you if what they want is the fun of seeing you trip.

But the way of the wicked leads them astray.  The road they are on takes them to a bad place.  Whereas a good friend looks out for you and sets you on the right path, there is nobody among the wicked host who does that.  They share a common delusion, a group foolishness.  There is no one “looking out,” wary and cautious.  The wicked mob just unwarily and incautiously goes the way everyone is going and they all end up in the same bad place.

In being a friend, think about where your friend’s life is going.  Look out for his future, what decisions he or she makes and where he or she will end up.

In making a friend, seek those who you think are looking out for you, who have your welfare at heart, who might even tell you things about yourself that are a little uncomfortable, but who will be concerned about your interests, not just their own.

Proverbs 12:25

“Anxiety in a person’s heart presses it down; but a good word makes one joyful.”

Anxiety is depressing.  Fear is like a heavy burden on a person’s heart.  Life is hard.  Usually we are up to the challenge and we can carry our load.  But when the fear is beyond our ability to bear, we become sad.  A depressed person is usually an anxious person. The worries of life depress the heart.  

One feature of depression is pessimism about the future.  If you are facing a challenge which you do not believe you can manage, you become sad; because you believe the outcome is going to be bad.

Fear pulls us down like gravity, but there is a force that counters it.  Something can lift our spirits against the weight of trouble.  That something is a mere good word, lighter than air.  But the good word that lifts the depressed heart is also the right word, spoken by the right person at the right time.

In the secret place of the heart, one of the fears that depress a person is the belief that they are alone, that nobody notices them or cares about them.  God did not make us to be alone (Genesis 2:18).  He made us to connect.  A word is just a bit of communication; but it shows that there is a person out there who cares about the person in here: a text message, an email, a word on the phone, a line on a piece of paper or a word of “hi” in passing in the hallway.  Your word means you notice me.  Words connect us. Words spoken or written to us prove we are not alone.

Joy is social, too; it is meant to be shared.  When a child is born or has a birthday, or graduates, or a couple gets married, we rejoice.  And, because we are social, we want to share our joy with other people.  We invite them to parties, we send them announcements, we ask them to join us in our joy.

Even with a good word, the burdens of life do not disappear.  The good word is not a “magic word” that eliminates the danger; but it is a word of hope, communicated with confidence.  The good word from a friend counters the fear in the heart so the person is again able to carry the burden.  It is “encouragement” that helps a person find the “courage” to face the challenge.  The word strengthens the person to bear the burden.

It leads one to believe:  “I am not alone.  Somebody knows about me and I matter to them enough for them to connect with me.  I am not sure I can carry this burden, but somebody else believes I can.  I can still try and maybe I will succeed.”

Proverbs 12:23

“A prudent person covers knowledge but the heart of fools proclaims folly.”

Wisdom is more than knowledge.  It also includes moral strength.  A wise person knows he does not know it all, does not need to know it all and does not act like he knows it all.  This is “intellectual humility,” modesty or self-control.  We all love to tell others what we know; but the shrewd person does not tell it all.

A counselor should be discrete, prudent and temperate.  Anyone who wants to help other people by listening must keep secrets and resist the temptation to “tell what he or she knows.”

It is not just character.  It is good strategy.  One way to maintain the initiative in a contest is not to show all you have too soon. Disclosing knowledge is a weapon or a tool, like an arrow, that we can use only once; and it pays to hold it until the right moment.

The fool is proud.  He is confident that he knows all he needs to know and he believes that other people need to know how smart he is.  He has no shame; he does not get embarrassed.  He believes himself to be above the rules that govern lesser mortals.

The fool can’t help himself.  He is “driven neurotically by pride to parade his knowledge…” (Waltke, p. 539).  Lacking restraint, discretion and “intellectual modesty,” the fool shows his folly by sharing his “knowledge” everywhere. 

Sometimes the fool was pampered as a child; nothing he said was corrected by his parents.  He came to believe, perhaps without ever thinking about it, that he holds all the keys to wisdom.  His life has been protected from reality and he lives in his fantasy.  On the other hand, he may be just faking it.

Some fools have advanced degrees or they are wealthy and they are protected from the natural consequences of self-deceit that happen to other people.  They mistake knowledge for wisdom.

The fool does not know what he does not know, but because he proclaims it, others do. When he thinks he’s proclaiming his wisdom, he displays his weaknesses.  King Hezekiah invited Babylonian officials to Jerusalem to show off his wealth, defenses and power.  Once they knew, they knew his weaknesses; and they used that knowledge against him.

Almost always what we know is partial and faulty.  There are things we don’t know that we don’t know.  So it is wise to prepare for any conceivable contingency (and keep something in reserve for the inconceivable), because it is likely to happen.  We are infected with over-reaching pride that deceives us and makes us fools without our ever knowing it.  The wise person does not tell everything he knows, because he may be wrong.

Proverbs 12:22

“An abomination to the Lord are lying lips; but doers of truth are his delight.”

God’s emotions are powerful.  He passionately hates lies, but he passionately loves truth-doers.

The proverb is constructed in a “chiasm”:  the last part of the first line matches up with the first part of the second line, like this: … lying lips : doers of truth… Get it?  It is a common pattern in Hebrew to state something, state something else, state something else again and then circle back to your first statement.  It shows the balance of God’s morals in a poetic way.

The subject of this proverb are the Lord’s strong likes and strong dislikes.  And you can imagine that, if you are one of his favorites, you are in good shape; but if you are one of his enemies, you are in deep trouble.  But what we do is what God uses to decide what to do about us.  Our choices have consequences with God.

An abomination is almost literally something that makes God sick.  God is spirit, so he does not get sick.  But if God had a stomach, he would vomit at the idea of lying lips.  People who lie are so repulsive to God, so intolerable, that he would throw up the way we do at a pile of rotten garbage or an open sewer.  He will not and he cannot tolerate lies.  But this “intolerance” is not like our “intolerance” or “allergy” to certain foods.  It does not harm or hurt him; rather, the liars themselves are destroyed by his presence.   It is more like the liars are allergic to him.

Speaking is less than doing, but even speaking deceptively, leaving the wrong impression even though you may have said the “right” words, disgusts the Lord.

Just as powerfully as he hates liars, he passionately loves people who do the truth.  Notice, these are not people who only tell the truth; they do the truth.  There is a difference, as most of us know, between talking and doing.  Of the two, doing is much more demanding and difficult.  But truth-doers are people who say and do the same thing.  This is what we call “integrity.”  These are people who “put their money where their mouth is.”  God takes great delight in people with integrity.

By the way, people like this are a delight to others, too.  People who do what they promise, show up when they say they will and you can count on are like a cool drink on a hot day, or a warm coat on a cold day.  They are uncommon and precious people to have as friends, family or associates.  They are safe people, people you can trust and people who make life’s burdens much lighter.

Want God to love you?  Speak the truth.  But do more than that. Do it.

Proverbs 12:21

“No iniquity will overtake a righteous person, but the wicked are full of evil.”

We might translate the word for “iniquity” as “misfortune” or “bad luck,” but then that is exactly how secular people or atheists would view it: bad luck, misfortune, chance.  Too bad.

The believer, however, does not believe in bad luck or misfortune; he or she believes that every roll of the dice, the turning of every card and every slot on the roulette wheel is ordained by a righteous, holy, all-seeing and all-knowing God.

And isn’t it strange how their way so often seems to be “charmed,” or graced with “good luck?”  My wife and I were told once about an investment that we hit at just the right time to get a good return.  “You were lucky,” we were told.  But we gave sidelong glances at one another that said, “We know where it came from; and it wasn’t luck.”

The “rule” here is not simply a cold, impersonal law of nature, like we have come to think of gravity.  The rules are connected with God’s personal supervision of his world.  The rules are how he runs things.  You might say those “rules” are predictable outcomes based on his values, his ways and his personality.  That is, somebody is looking out for us if we are trying to follow him.

This means that God can and will frustrate the evil designs, the wicked schemes of people and the Adversary against his favorites.  The righteous stand up against their hatred and their treachery.

No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper…” Isaiah 54:17 (KJV)

This is not to say it never hurts.  Like all proverbs, this one is a generality.  But no evil will destroy or take away the eternal joy of a righteous person.

Iniquity is a personal offense against this righteous God; and so also, iniquity is a personal problem for the human person.  Iniquity is “personally directed.”  As individuals direct it toward God, God sends it back.

The wicked are full of misfortune, “bad luck” and trouble.  Being divorced from God, they are never at peace or at rest; they are always seeking a place from which they can coast that they never attain.

They are “full of evil” in more ways than one.  They are full of evil toward others, toward God and toward humans.  They dream up evil things to do and then they do them.

But the evil is not under their control; it overpowers them and their ability to channel it.  It overwhelms and harms them, too.  “What goes around comes around” for them as well as for other people.