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Proverbs 30:27, 1 Corinthians 1:10

Working Together

After Agur gleans lessons for us from the ant and the rock badger, he turns to the locust. Proverbs 30:27 says, The locusts have no king, yet all of them march in rank.” Locusts are grasshoppers? Growing up in Nebraska, I always thought that locusts were cicadas. So, I was surprised to learn that they were flying grasshoppers. I’ve seen lots of them, but we always called them grasshoppers. Agur tells us to consider the key aspect of these little insignificant creatures, and we’ll learn one of the most important lessons of life. Two are better than one, and three are better still. Our money still holds the motto: “E Pluribus Unum.” We all know that this Latin phrase means “from the many comes one.” As individuals, we’re truly insignificant with respect to what we can accomplish. Yet if we work together, there are no limits to what might be accomplished.

This is such an obvious truth. We see the power of unity all around us in everyday life.  There is a season for all the major sports that require teamwork. In the fall, it’s football. In the winter, it’s Basketball, and in the spring, it’s baseball. The better the players work together, the better the whole team fares. An orchestra demands harmony to produce anything worth listening to. The ancient redwood trees in California have survived for so long and have grown to be huge because their roots intertwine to support each other. A rope is so strong because it’s made up of more than one strand. If this is such an obvious truth, why do we continue to compete, condemn, criticize, correct, cause contention, and sabotage the accomplishment of good works for the greater good?

The locust is indeed an incredibly small creature that, when it bans together with others, will take over hundreds of miles of croplands. It will drive all inhabitants off the land, taking all the spoil for itself, and each individual little grasshopper will have more than enough to eat while the larger, higher life forms experience a famine. In 1 Corinthians 1:10, Paul exhorts the Christians. He writes, “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.” Paul was well aware of the fact that we are at our best when we set aside our own ambitions and throw all our efforts into the common good, instead of putting energy into unhealthy rivalries.

 

Proverbs 30:24-26, Various

An Insignificant Rodent

In Proverbs 30:24-26, we read, “Four things on earth are small, but they are exceedingly wise: the ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer; the rock Badgers are a people not mighty, yet they make their homes in the cliffs.” After telling his readers to look at the ant for instructions concerning wise living, Agur (maybe Solomon) gives us another image. He points out a small rodent (I think?) called the Rock badger. Nelson’s Bible Dictionary describes this animal for us: “The rock badger or rock hyrax is a rabbit-sized furry animal. With short ears, sharp teeth, and black-button eyes, it resembles an overgrown guinea pig (Lev. 11:5; Coney, KJV, NIV). “The rock badgers are feeble folk, yet they make their homes in the crags,” says Proverbs 30:26, holding them up as little things that are “exceedingly wise.” Feeble or defenseless, they may be, but they find safety in steep, rocky terrain. Their feet have a suction-like grip that enables them to scamper among rocky outcroppings. Their enemies easily overlook a rock badger stretched out motionless on a sun-warmed rock.”

It seems the point of calling this small, insignificant little animal wise is that it knows where to go when danger comes. Our Daily Bread, a daily devotional publication, gave one whole entry to this animal. It explained, “The large ragged crags jutting up from the mountains form a perfect hiding place for the badger. If an eagle swoops down and tries to capture him, the little animal is protected by the rock. The eagle would have to tear the mountain apart to get to its prey. When a lion is on the prowl for lunch, the badger goes undetected by lying close to the rock because he is the color of the mountain. As long as the badger hides in the rocks, he is safe. If he wanders away into the grassland, he is dead meat. The most courageous badger is wise enough to know that his strength lies not in working out at the gym but in taking shelter in the crags.”

I’ve been impressed by how God uses the “lower life” forms to teach us profound lessons. I sometimes wonder who the real “low-life” is: the animal or the human. God confronts His own people for their failures when the animal world has set the right example. In Isaiah 1:3, He says, “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” Jeremiah 8:7 has a similar indictment: “Even the stork in the heavens knows her times, and the turtledove, swallow, and crane keep the time of their coming, but my people know not the rules of the LORD.” The quote from Our Daily Bread goes on: “If you have the brains of a badger, you’ll figure out where your strength lies. ‘Be strong in the Lord,’ the Scripture urges us, ‘and in the power of His might’ (Eph. 6:10). ‘The Lord is my rock and my fortress,’ cried David after being hunted by his enemies (2 Sam. 22:2). Badgers know where their strength lies. Do you?”

Proverbs 6:6-9, 30:25

Go To The Ant!

Every parent wants his children to be productive members of society. We are proud of our children and often love to share with others their careers and successes.  It’s always been recognized as a major parental responsibility to instill in our children the ability and self-discipline to provide for themselves rather than becoming a drain on the resources of society. Proverbs, addressing “my son” as Solomon usually does, assists parents in this responsibility. “Go to the ant, thou sluggard” is sometimes used as a condemnation of laziness. The expression comes from Proverbs 6:6–9 (KJV): “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? When wilt thou arise out of thy sleep?” Some translations say, “Go to the ant, you lazybones” (See NASB, NIV, NKJV, RSV). The New Century Versions says, “Go watch the ants, you lazy person.” The New Living Translation says, “Take a lesson from the ants…” The Contemporary English version says, “You lazy people can learn by watching an anthill.” The entirety of the reference, as translated by the English Standard Version, says this, “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.”

Proverbs 30:25 adds to the wisdom that can be gleaned from watching the ant. It says, “The ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer.” The reference to ants being “a people” addresses the fact that they live in a community. They have authorities that they obey and social expectations that they meet.  Every ant contributes to the good of the whole community, sometimes self-sacrificially. It’s not uncommon to find the positive character traits contrasted with the negative ones in the book of Proverbs. The lifestyle of the ant is contrasted with the lifestyle of the biblical “sluggard” or “lazy person.”

Lennox explains the principles that can be learned from watching the ant. He says, “The ant needs no one to tell it what to do, while the sluggard refuses the direction offered. The ant knows when it is time to work, while the sluggard seems conscious only of sleep, slumber, and rest. The ant is aware of what is coming and prepares for it, while the sluggard seems oblivious to everything, including imminent disaster.” It’s the tenacity of the ant that contrasts with the wimpishness of the sluggard.  Lennox continues, “The ant makes a wonderful picture of efficiency, while the sluggard is worthy of ridicule as he lies in bed begging for a little more time to rest. Unlike the ant, which can count on food in lean times, the sluggard can only look forward to a surprise visit from poverty…”

Proverbs 30:24-28, Various

The Small Things

When we think of the author of the Wisdom literature of the Bible, especially Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon, we often say, “Solomon said…” We attribute this wisdom to Solomon because he is attributed to have authored much of those works. However, we will find occasions when someone else wrote a particular passage. Proverbs Chapter 30 is one of those passages. It’s attributed to Agur. However, as the Lexham Bible Dictionary says, “Whether ‘Agur’ is intended as a proper name is not certain—…Agur may mean “gatherer”—and may therefore be meant as an epithet for Solomon, who ‘gathered’ wisdom.” Solomon was well known for collecting wise sayings as well as writing them himself.

I’ve always enjoyed the imagery in the Bible. The book of Proverbs is filled with it. Agur, or Solomon, presents us with pictures that illustrate the truths he intends to teach us. In chapter 30, there are numerous references to images that elicit more than knowledge but understanding and emotion as well.  When he talks about things that are never satisfied, he shows us the leech. It never stops draining its victims. He then mentions hell, a barren womb, a barren desert, and a fire. When he talks about things that amaze him, he sees an eagle in the sky, a serpent on a rock, a ship on the seas, and a man wooing a maiden. Then, Agur directs our attention to four members of the animal kingdom. He begins by pointing out how insignificant these small things are. Yet, they can teach us some of the more “significant” lessons in life. One writer commented, “Bigness is not necessarily the same as greatness.”

In Proverbs 30:24-28, we are introduced to “Four things on earth that are small, but they are exceedingly wise…” The Hebrew expression is literally “the wise trained in wisdom.” The idea of wisdom is repeated in the phrase. The NIV translates this as “extremely wise.” Today’s English Version says, “very, very clever.” The Greek Septuagint renders this as “wiser than wise.” Another one says, “wise beyond the wisest.” The New Jerusalem Bible says, “the wisest of the wise.” These four small animals, the ant, the rock badger, the locust, and the lizard, teach us things that are extremely important in life. Observing these four “small” things can make us “wiser than the wise.” Paul wrote to the Corinthians and told them that “God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant …to bring to nothing what is viewed as something…” (1 Corinthians 1:27-28).

 

Proverbs 6:19, Various

Sowing Dragon’s Teeth

In Proverbs, Chapter Six, Solomon recites seven things that God hates. The last of the seven things that God hates seems to have an emphasis that the others lack. You see the emphasis in the opening phrase of Proverbs 6:16. It says, “There are six things the Lord hates…” But then the writer says, “No, wait “There are seven that he detests.” Although it’s listed as last in the list, it is positioned and addressed as the most important of the seven. Lennox says, “The conclusion of this list, number one on God’s ‘Top Seven Things I Hate,’ is the man who stirs up dissension among brothers (6:19). By repeating words from 6:14, the writer has joined these two sections into one warning: God wants people to get along with one another. For those who have become part of the family of God, such a reminder is especially important, whether we are at home or church.” It’s a family affair. Did you notice the mention of “brothers?”  I know that God loves people, even sinful people, and He hates the sin. But this verse has always given me pause. You might notice that the other six things that God hates refer to parts of a body: a tongue, heart, feet, eyes, hands, or mouths. But this seventh thing refers to the whole person. It says God hates the “one who stirs up dissension” in the family. This may be a literary device to focus attention on this last thing, giving it prominence in the list, as Lennox suggested. Yet, the focus on the “person” rather than the thing should give us all pause.

Cadmus, in mythology, slew a dragon. He then sowed the dragon’s teeth in a field which later sprouted giants. Being fearful of what those giants might do, Cadmus turned the giants against each other.  He struck one of them with a stone and pointed to another one. This giant then started a fight with the other one, and before long, they were all fighting each other. As they killed each other, Cadmus watched and laughed. Morgan rightly observes that “Our churches are full of potential spiritual giants, but Satan often sows discord among the members, and they end up as spiritual pygmies, fighting one another.”

When Jesus develops this negative into a positive, he blesses those who stop dissension and strife and pronounces a blessing on the “peacemakers” In Matthew 5:9. The blessing consists of a new classification. Jesus says, “They shall be called sons of God.” The Greek word order makes this title emphatic. It literally reads, “for they, sons of God, shall be called.” Regarding this structure, Hughes says, “The idea is that they, and no others, shall be called God’s sons. Moreover, the passive voice indicates that it is God, not man, who assigns the title ‘sons.’ The sublimity of this promise comes from the fact that the title “sons of God” refers to character. The peacemaker partakes of the character of God. He is like God in the way he lives. No wonder God says, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’” The Psalmist gives us a blessing similar to Jesus’ blessing on peacemakers.  In Psalm 133:1, we read, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”

Proverbs 6:16-19, Various

Heart Trouble

In Proverbs, Chapter 6 tells us of the six things that God hates. The fourth and fifth items might be seen as a pair. They are “the heart that schemes evil” and “the feet that race to do wrong” (Proverbs 6:16-19). The natural person is motivated and driven by selfish motives. We think of ways to get what we want when we want it, often at the expense of others and God’s will. We have hard hearts in this respect. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” It was the nature of man’s heart that broke God’s heart. In Genesis 6:5, we read, “Then the Lord saw that wickedness was great on the earth and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Kitchen says, “The ‘heart’ describes the totality of the inner man, including his rational powers, emotions, and volition. The ‘feet’ are what engage a man in what his heart has devised. Together, they describe the inner man and his outward activities. The Lord hates the one whose nature is bent toward, and quick to pursue, that which is contrary to His (God’s) nature.”

Solomon discovered and recorded for us all that pleasures, wealth, power, or possessions will never satisfy the longings of man’s heart. Regarding the pursuits of the hearts of man, J. M. Boice writes, “They fill for a time. But they are rather like a Chinese dinner, and the person is soon left empty again. Consequently, those who pursue them are doomed to a constant and relentless search for that which will never satisfy the true hunger and desire of their soul.” Our hearts push our feet to run after the selfish pleasures of life. These frantic pursuits serve to distract our attention from God’s truth. The truth is, as C. H. Benson puts it, “Sin is the undertaker that digs every grave and officiates at every funeral. Sin is the occasion of all want and wretchedness, all pain and privation. There are some men who say there is no heaven. They wish to know nothing better than this earth. If this is heaven, it is a very strange one—this world of sickness, sorrow, and sin. The man who has that idea is to be pitied. This world, which some think is heaven, has nothing in it to satisfy the soul.”

Paul thus urged his young disciple, Timothy, to “…flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11).  Again, in his 2nd Letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 2:22), he says, “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” In Matthew 5, Jesus develops these two negatives into positives and blesses “the pure in heart” and those “who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”  What will be the result of the pure heart that drives our feet to run after righteousness? Jesus says that those who long for righteousness will be satisfied. He says that those with pure hearts “will see God.” While all the world’s wealth and pleasures will never satisfy our souls, seeing and knowing Christ, the true wisdom of God, will!

Matthew 5:10-12

A New Heart

In Proverbs 6:16-19, God lays out some things that he hates. Two of those things are a lying tongue and hands that shed innocent blood. When Jesus develops those negatives into positives, he says in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are you when say all kinds of evil against you falsely.” Continuing in this vein of blessing, he continues, “Blessed are those who are persecuted…” (Matthew 5:10-12). When God turns these two negatives into positives, He does something a little unexpected. While the lying tongues and the persecuting hands are cursed with God’s hatred, the victims of such actions are blessed by God. God loves the victims who meet unjust abuse at the hands and lips of others. He goes on and says, “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.”

Rejoicing and celebrating while suffering an injustice is a rather unique idea. It’s totally contrary to our natural inclinations. When I suffer injustice or am lied about, my tendency is to defend myself! My ire is raised like a red flag, and I demand justice! Entrusting the injustices to God in faith is a difficult thing to do. It requires a conviction that it’s the right thing to do. David refused to take revenge on Saul, even when he tried to kill him. He trusted God to deal with the problem. David is referred to in the Bible as the man after God’s own heart. To leave vengeance to God, who tells us that it is His alone, requires a profound heart commitment.  In Jeremiah, we read about the “New” covenant during which God will give His people a “New” heart. That’s what we need.

Max Lucado explained the necessity of such a change if we’re to experience the blessings Jesus pronounced in the Sermon on the Mount. He says, “… What Jesus promises is not a gimmick to give you goosebumps nor a mental attitude that has to be pumped up at pep rallies. No, Matthew 5 describes God’s radical reconstruction of the heart. Observe the sequence. First, we recognize we are in need (we’re poor in spirit). Next, we repent of our self-sufficiency (we mourn). We quit calling the shots and surrender control to God (we’re meek). So grateful are we for his presence that we yearn for more of him (we hunger and thirst). As we grow closer to him, we become more like him. We forgive others (we’re merciful). We change our outlook (we’re pure in heart). We love others (we’re peace-makers). We endure injustice (we’re persecuted). It’s no casual shift of attitude. It is a demolition of the old structure and the creation of the new. The more radical the change, the greater the joy. And it’s worth every effort, for this is the joy of God.”

Proverbs 6:16-19, Matthew 5-6

Developing The Negatives

I’m always surprised when I get a fresh glimpse of the imagery that the Bible uses to communicate the most profound truths. God just doesn’t say, “Be wise.” He takes snapshots for us to look at, and as is often the case, a picture is worth a thousand words. One of the more interesting passages with this is Proverbs 6:16-19. The New Living Translation renders these verses like this: “There are six things the Lord hates—no, seven things he detests: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent, a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong, a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord among brothers.” Just notice the images. There are eyes, a tongue, hands, a heart, feet, a mouth (spewing or pouring out), and seeds of discord. Each of these things conjures images in our minds that more profoundly impress us with the sharpness of the intended message.

This passage presents us with things God hates. It’s the negative images that are projected. I remember the days when cameras would take negative images, and you had to take them to the drugstore to have them developed.  It would often take a week or more to get your photos back. My Dad got the family a Polaroid camera back in the ’60s one Christmas, and we got the images in about a minute or so. With digital images, we used to use a camera that took pictures you could view immediately. Now we use our phones!! That’s beside the point. In previous days, The store would take them into a darkroom and impress them (somehow) on paper and soak them in some kind of solution that would impress upon the paper the positive impression. The positives are what you’d get back as your developed photos. During my trips to Israel, when we arrived at the place where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, I would read parts of that sermon from Matthew, Chapter 5. It later dawned on me that this sermon is the positive development of the negatives of Proverbs, Chapter 6. Instead of reciting the things that God hates, Jesus gives us the things that God loves. Some of them are obvious. Others might require a little interpretation.

As surely as God hates “haughty eyes,” He loves the “poor in spirit” and pronounces them blessed. Poor in spirit is often related to a humble attitude. God hates lying tongues, but he loves the victims of lying tongues. He says, “Blessed are you,” in Matthew 5:11-12, “when men cast insults at you, and…say all kinds of evil against you falsely…Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” He hates hands that harm the innocent, yet in Matthew 5:10, he pronounces a blessing on those who suffer innocently. He hates hearts that plot evil deeds, but he loves the pure in heart in Matthew 5:8. He despises feet anxious to do wrong while he loves those hungering to do right (Matthew 5:6). He hates mouths spewing out lies to get what they want from others while Jesus blesses those who receive wrong from others and offers mercy (Matthew 5:7). Finally, God curses those who sow strife in relationships while Jesus blesses those who plant the seeds of peace.

 

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