"On every page of the God-breathed writings are many thoughts that stretch out like long, clear arms of light across the darkness, discovering things otherwise hidden and illuminating wider areas than those of the immediate context. They are searchlights. From a multitude of these, I have selected one in each chapter of Scripture, for at least one central thought in every chapter should arrest the mind and affect the life," wrote G. Campbell Morgan, a wise, warm-hearted, careful Bible teacher who conducted a classic 3-year chapter-by-chapter study called Life Applications from Every Chapter of the Bible. Here are the fruits of that timeless study—summarized, illustrated, and amplified—on all 66 books of the Bible (posted one book at a time, cumulatively).
GENESIS, EXODUS, LEVITICUS, NUMBERS, DEUTERONOMY, JOSHUA, JUDGES, RUTH, 1 SAMUEL, 2 SAMUEL, 1 KINGS, 2 KINGS, 1 CHRONICLES, 2 CHRONICLES, EZRA, NEHEMIAH, ESTHER, JOB, PSALMS
Proverbs 1:7 "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." In these words we have a declaration of the fundamental principle of Hebrew wisdom or philosophy. This book is one of the 3 Wisdom books in the Bible. The others are Job and Ecclesiastes. The first 6 verses of this chapter reveal the purpose of the book: to teach wisdom in terms of application to life rather than in theory. That is why the first part of Proverbs consists of a father's instruction to his son. Its other 2 parts are practical collections of divine proverbs and helpful discussions at the end in chapters 30 and 31 by mysterious individuals named Agur and Lemuel. The verse highlighted above is the theme of Proverbs, echoed once more in Proverbs 9:10: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." This is a fundamental and inclusive definition. Hebrew scholars tell us that the word translated "beginning" is also well rendered "the principal or chief part." The fundamental fact, then, is that in all knowledge, understanding, and interpretation of life, holding God in fear, awe, and reverence is the principle thing. Apart from that central light the mind gropes in darkness and misses the way. Whether in prosperity or adversity, light or darkness, life or death, intelligent apprehension and true conduct depends on fearing God for who He truly is. That is the starting point of wisdom.
Proverbs 2:5 "Then you shall understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God." Glancing back at chapter 1, the father applies wisdom for his son first in listening to Mom and Dad at home (verses 8-9) and then to companions (verses 10-19). Helpful lessons extend through the end of chapter 9 as the boy ventures out into the wider world. The first of those (1:20-33) personifies Wisdom as a woman giving wise, earnest counsel at the highways of human life. Chapter 2 discusses the supreme value of wisdom and the conditions for receiving it. Since we were just told that the chief thing in wisdom is the fear of the Lord, the then of our highlighted verse invites the crucial question when? Notice the conditional statements preceding it: "If you will receive... If you will cry after... If you will seek... then." The fear of the Lord is the inspiration for an intensive search for wisdom. This search, rightly undertaken, will lead to the knowledge of God, and to know Him is truly to be in awe and fear of Him. But this search must be serious and strenuous. The way of wisdom is never revealed to dabblers. When the quest for wisdom becomes the master passion of your life, controlling and conditioning all other interests, you will find it and the knowledge of God, which indeed is life.
Proverbs 3:5-6 "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths." Continuing his instructions on the value of wisdom in the ordering of life, the father clarifies for his son the complete law of life according to wisdom. So simple and clear is his statement here that interpretation is unnecessary. Pastor G. Campbell Morgan therefore decided to write as a witness: "My father, whose philosophy was certainly that of the Hebrew Wisdom, gave me these verses as providing a complete guide to life. Looking back over the intervening years, I know he was right. In them there has been much failure, many turnings aside from the straight highway, many devious and sorrowful wanderings from the true paths of life. All such failure, such turnings aside, such wanderings have resulted from leaning on my own understanding. The measure in which I have trusted the Lord and acknowledged His Word is the measure I have walked paths of real life worth treading. Doubt of God, pride of intellect, and independence in will are the things that blight and blast. Paths chosen for us by God all lead onward and upward, even when they seem to us to turn about in inextricable confusion, sometimes moving through valleys of humiliation and suffering. He is the All-Wise, leading those He loves by wisdom to victory."
Proverbs 4:3 "I was a son to my father, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother." This chapter opens with a personal appeal from the father to his son to walk in the ways of wisdom. He says that he also received instruction from his father, and verses 4-9 contain his summary of that instruction. "The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel" is the book of Proverbs's first verse. Does that mean Solomon wrote them all or that he merely collected them? We do not know for sure, but we do know the life of Solomon was characterized by both superlative wisdom and dramatic departures from wisdom into folly, which Solomon himself frankly discusses in Ecclesiastes. He benefited from the power of his father's instructions, and his conclusion to Ecclesiastes gives hope that he at last was restored to wisdom, even though he finally failed in his official function as king. Those who receive faithful instruction from their parents in the fear of the Lord have reason to be perpetually thankful. They can never escape its power. It may be that they will ultimately reject its appeal, but the fact that they have received it will create for them a way of escape from many evils throughout life. It is the hardest thing possible for any son, rightly instructed of his father, finally to resist the appeal of that instruction. Let us never underestimate the value and importance of having received true biblical instruction, and therefore the obligation resting upon us who have or influence children to make it our principle duty to lovingly impart that instruction.
Proverbs 5:23 "He shall die for lack of instruction, and in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray." This is a tremendous chapter, dealing with a delicate subject daringly, and with great directness. In it the father calls his son to wise living in how he handles one of the highest functions of his physical being: bringing new life into the world. At issue is whether a man exercises that function under the mastery of lust or the mastery of love. Lust is lawless in its attempt to satisfy itself; love is law-abiding in its expression. The contrast between the two ways in this chapter is graphic, proven true in all human experience. Let every young man, conscious of the strength and glory of his own powers in this marvelous realm, ponder this chapter with earnest attention. Let every young woman do the same, realizing that in the highest powers and possibilities of human personality lurk also the gravest potential perils. The more wonderful the function, the more terrible the result if exercised apart from the fear of the Lord, which is the supreme thing in wisdom. Men and women "die for lack of instruction," to quote the highlighted verse, but that means more than mere ignorance. Refusal to obey God's revealed Word is great folly that leads to destruction apart from repentance.
Proverbs 6:16 "There are six things the Lord hates, even seven that are an abomination to Him." This chapter deals practically with 4 ways of folly: surety (a financial indiscretion), sloth or laziness, mischief-making, and sexual impurity. The highlighted verse refers to mischief-making with specific details: 5 main body parts (eyes, tongue, hands, heart, and feet) that represent different evils the Lord hates. Then the person is named (a liar) and his or her action and influence unmasked. The 6 hated things are the prostituted human powers and the lying person; the last is the poisonous and destructive influence that person has among brethren. In dealing with this, the writer passes from the abstract to the personal. It is not that such mischief-making is contrary to wisdom merely, but that it all is an abomination to God. No one loves a troublemaker, yet we are apt to think of the sins that person spins with something less than the divine intolerance for them. No one who sows discord among brethren is characterized by a heart that fears the Lord, and therefore risks severe judgment.
Proverbs 7:4 "Say to wisdom, 'You are my sister' and call understanding your close friend." The reference to sexual impurity in the previous chapter (Proverbs 6:20-35) leads to a dramatic and powerful message in this chapter with the highlighted verse as a preface. Here, as in chapter 5, the message is guarding against prostituting the power to procreate. Chapter 7 gives a detailed description of the evil woman and the weakness and stupidity of the one who is enticed and victimized by her. Let the man who has to meet that kind of temptation make wisdom his sister and understanding his close personal friend. Thousands of men are kept from evil courses by the love and friendship of sisters and women friends. Recognizing that, the father counsels his son to find strength against the seductions of evil women by cultivating a defensive familiarity with wisdom, typified by the love of a sister and pure women in his life.
Proverbs 8:1 "Does not wisdom call out and understanding lift up her voice?" This correlates closely with the previous chapter's personification of wisdom as a sister. Here the literary figure is taken up and elaborated. Wisdom is allowed to speak for itself with the voice of a strong, godly woman opposite to the ungodly women so far portrayed who prey on weakness. Proverbs 8, like no other biblical chapter, sets forth the beauty and grace of wisdom that has the fear of the Lord as its chief part. What does Wisdom say when she calls out? Notice the openness of her appeal (verses 1-3), its simplicity (verses 4-5), its inherent rightness (verses 6-9), its supreme value above all other good things (verses 10-11), its wide sphere of influence (verses 12-21), its eternity (verses 22-31), and its urgency (verses 32-36). This chapter, in fact, rises to heights that are illuminated elsewhere. Compare, for example, the reference to God during Creation as a master craftsman and Wisdom personified saying, "I was beside Him ... and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him" (verse 30) with this reference to Jesus the Christ or Messiah as "the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. By Him all things were created.... He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together" (Colossians 1:15-17). John's Gospel explains, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.... The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us ... full of grace and truth" (1:1-3, 14). That is why Jesus is described as the "wisdom of God, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:30).
Proverbs 9:10 "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." This chapter constitutes the last address from the father to his son. Once more he employs the method of contrast and personification. Lady Wisdom makes her appeal first, followed by the Woman of Folly. The highlighted words come from the lips of Lady Wisdom, echoing the father's first address in chapter 1, but there a different Hebrew word is used. Both are often translated "beginning," but in chapter 1 the emphasis is on the fear of the Lord as the principal part of wisdom. Here the word "beginning" truly is the best translation, for the whole subject is brought down to its starting point: the fear of the Lord as the first step to wisdom in time and in order. To remember that and act accordingly is to live in a right relationship with God. Every morning we start fresh, every task we take up is a new start, every venture in joy or effort must have its commencement. The way of wisdom is to approach every beginning with the fear of the Lord as our first consideration in how to proceed. The adage "Well begun is half done" is true indeed when the beginning is inspired and conditioned by the fear of the Lord, a holy trust that His ways are always best. To fear the Lord is to walk in the Light of His Word, abound in His Life, and be upheld by His Love.
Proverbs 10:1 "A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish son is a grief to his mother." This chapter marks a new section in the Book of Proverbs: a collection of miscellaneous proverbs, usually in the form of 2-verse contrasts or parallel statements, and then a series of proverbial discourses on practical subjects such as the abuse of alcohol. These individual proverbs are not connected as a sequence, for they flash in every direction and upon all sorts of circumstances and conditions in life. They are all searchlights, unified by the conception of wisdom already presented in the first 9 chapters. They are the result of looking at life from God's perspective, or in a healthy fear of the Lord. It is fitting that the first proverb in this new section, highlighted above, crystallizes the father-son addresses in the early chapters with a conclusive application. True parenthood knows no greater joy than seeing children characterized by wisdom, which comes only by walking in the fear of the Lord. Better that, by infinite measure, than to see them successful in material, intellectual, or social arenas only. This truth is echoed elsewhere in Scripture: "I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth" (3 John 4). By contrast, there is no greater sorrow than seeing children of our love departing from the highway of divine wisdom. Countless numbers of them have been delivered in hours of subtle temptation by saying to themselves, "No, I cannot do this: it would break my mother's heart and bring my father to the grave in sorrow." The light of this proverb penetrates deeply into the hearts of all us who are parents or otherwise influence children, leading us to inquire whether by our life and teaching we are making that attitude a necessity for our children.
Proverbs 11:22 "As a jewel of gold in a pig's snout, so is a beautiful woman without discretion." That is hard enough to read, let alone see, for it is an absurd incongruity. The Hebrew term translated "without discretion" refers to taste in the sense of propriety. Here it stands for that intuitive quality that characterizes women with a level of sensitivity, understanding, and ability to influence others in finest matters far beyond what most men are ever capable of. Now consider the proverb. A ring of gold is a beautiful and valuable thing, but in the snout of a pig it is out of place and therefore degraded and vulgarized. A beautiful woman is a precious and glorious creation, but if her life is set in a way that blunts her innate delicacy and graciousness, it also is out of place, vulgarized, and degraded. Physical beauty is a gift from God, but if a woman possessing it fails to cultivate the inner qualities that are her highest glory, then her outward beauty is a peril to herself and all others.
Proverbs 12:19 "Lips that speak truth shall be established forever, but a lying tongue is only for a moment." That is a preeminently superlative way of stating a fact. Taking the second part first, we may be inclined to question its accuracy since we can all think of lies that have persisted for centuries and millennia. The solution comes from considering the first part, especially that all-important word "forever." In a sloppy way we often employ it in the sense of time, but as a matter of fact forever is timeless since it includes all time. In its presence all mathematical measurements break down. Lying tongues continue to utter falsehoods for long years by a calendar reckoning, but when you place those years next to the eternity of God, they are as a moment and the blink of an eye. Here is comfort: truth abides; lies must perish. In a fallen world dominated by lies, it is difficult at times to believe that, yet a review of history proves it. Lies are always perishing. Through the ages we see them shrivel and die, however strong their power seemed to be. Truth, although insulted, battered, and wronged, never perishes. It has age-abiding life, for it is of God. Individuals and statesmen who take that to heart will discover the secrets of strength and permanence.
Proverbs 13:7 "There is one who makes himself rich, yet has nothing; there is one who makes himself poor, yet has great wealth." Our own age abounds with people who have amassed great wealth, but that wealth has no purchasing power in the true things of life. It cannot insure health, it brings no happiness, it often destroys peace. On the other hand, there are those who have impoverished themselves, and have by doing so become wealthy in all the highest senses of the word. How is that to be explained? Notice the contrasted declarations regarding self in the highlighted proverb: to make self rich is to destroy the capacity for life; to make self poor by enriching others is to live. The most powerful illustration of that in Scripture is here: "You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9). Redeemed humanity is more dear to the heart of God than any material thing. To follow Him is to empty self, to make ourselves poor by the outpouring of what we have been blessed with for the sake of others. Jesus said it this way: "Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings" (Luke 16:9).
Proverbs 14:14 "The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways, but a good man shall be satisfied with his." This simply means that whatever is deep within a man or woman's heart will sooner or later be worked out into actual experience and visibility. The backslider in heart is the person who, knowing God's way of wisdom, does not desire to conform to it, but rather craves what His Word describes as folly. The good man is the person who, whatever his weaknesses, does in the deepest part of him desire the ways of wisdom. In either case, that underlying desire is the most potent factor and will inevitably produce its result in a person's life. It is possible for a person to conform to the rules and regulations of wisdom and the fear of the Lord for a long time, while in secret desiring forbidden things. Such a man or woman is backsliding in heart, and at last that backsliding will become obvious. It is equally true that a person may falter and blunder again and again, while all the time hating those shortcomings and earnestly aspiring after what God has said to be best. Such a person is truly good and will enjoy the satisfaction of spiritual success. Nevertheless, reason and humility tells us all that we cannot control our desires, which reveals our personal helplessness and need for a Savior who can create a clean heart and renew a right spirit within us.
Proverbs 15:3 "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good." This describes a very active and purposeful seeing. The statement is far more than that God merely sees; it is that He is investigating, observing, and on self-imposed guard duty. God is keeping watch upon the evil. It is never out of His sight. It loves the darkness rather than the light, but He sees as well in the darkness as in the light. The endeavor of evil is to accomplish its purpose secretly, before it can be discovered at its work. It often is successful as far as human beings are concerned. It is never so as far as the Lord is concerned. He who keeps perfect watch knows the hour, the method, the place, the intention. God also keeps watch upon the good. He never fails to see it, though people often do. His eyes discern it, approve it, and reckon with it. The comfort of God's keeping steady watch on the evil and the good rests in His perfect and pure character. His watch against evil is always with the intention of limiting and ultimately destroying it. He is the God of unfathomable grace and patience; His watch on the good is to develop it and make it finally victorious. To remember God is perpetually on watch is to be halted whenever we are tempted to evil. It is to find new courage in all our efforts after the high and noble. God is never deceived about our badness or our goodness. Therefore to live in His fear is wisdom.
Proverbs 16:9 "A man's heart devises his way, but the Lord directs his steps." That is a profound statement. The more carefully it is considered, the more challenging it becomes. It recognizes the freedom of the human will, but the sharply defines the limitations of that freedom. As we often see in Scripture, the heart—the realm of desire—is the most potent factor in personality, and desire governs conduct. That is the measure of human freedom. A man can and does devise his own way under the direction of his heart. If his desire is evil, the way devised is evil; a good desire devises a good ways. But that is not all the truth about life, for "the Lord directs his steps." Every action of a man or woman, whether in answer to the inward desire for good or evil, is an action in the realm of divine Law from which there is no escape. No man can step outside the government of God, no woman can devise a way that enables her to escape from God. The warmth of the fire that blesses is God's action, so also is the heat of the fire that blasts. I can devise my way with regard to the fire, but the steps I take are governed by God. For example, I can cater to the lusts of my desires, devising my way accordingly, but God will direct my steps to the destruction that inevitably comes from that evil choice. I can, if I will, yield to the desires of God's Holy Spirit, and God Himself will direct my steps to the spiritual blessings that come from that good choice.
Proverbs 17:17 "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." That beautiful description of friendship becomes deeper if we take this alternate reading of it: "A friend loves at all times, and is born as a brother for adversity." The more common translation, "a brother is born for adversity," is inadequate as a definition of a brother, but the statement "a friend ... is born as a brother for adversity" is an excellent illustration of a friend who "loves at all times," including the hard times. Nevertheless, "if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Timothy 5:8). God requires family responsibilities to be taken seriously. Proverbs 17:17 is describing a friend who is like family. God help us to be friends like that, and extra thankful for people in our lives whose love never falters! The next chapter speaks of "a friend who sticks closer than a brother" (Proverbs 18:24). How can we be a friend like that? By following the example of Jesus the Messiah, who was described as a friend of sinners.
Proverbs 18:9 "He who is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys." In this proverb a principle is involved that is reflected in these powerful statements in Scripture: "Curse Meroz ... because they did not come to the help of the Lord" (Judges 5:23), "He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters" (Matthew 12:30), and "It is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it" (James 4:17). In life there can be no neutrality. Every person lives in the midst of a conflict between good and evil; he or she must and does take part. If he is not helping the Lord against the mighty, he is helping the mighty against the Lord. Her abstention is a gain to the foe. Two forces are at work: gathering and scattering. If we are not with the One whose work it is to gather, we are exerting an influence that scatters. The highlighted proverb applies this principle to work. Constructive work is the law of human life and progress that counteracts the principle of destruction operating in a fallen world. He who is slack in his work—who does not put into it all his strength—is falling in line with the activity of destruction. No living being can be merely a spectator. Each works or wastes. Not to work well is to aid the process of waste.
Proverbs 19:27 "Cease from hearing instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge." The man who stops hearing and obeying divine instruction will soon go astray, yet this is also may be taken as the voice of a father deliberately counseling his son not to listen to instruction unless he intends to obey it. The spiritual truth involved is that it is better not to know than, knowing, to fail to do. This cuts at the root of the widely assumed error that knowledge is power in itself. It is not so in any realm of life—scientific, economic, artistic, or moral. Knowledge is powerful only when it inspires activity in harmony with itself. Unless knowledge is obeyed, in process of time it ceases to appeal to the mind, heart, and will. A knowledge of the right way that is merely intellectual exerts a hardening effect upon the finer things of the soul. In that sense familiarity breeds contempt or indifference (the subtlest form of contempt). "Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them" said Jesus the Messiah to His disciples. The blessing from spiritual truth comes not in the knowing but in the doing.
Proverbs 20:27 "The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all his innermost parts." This may be reverently described as a revelation of biblical psychology. The Hebrew word here translated "spirit" is rendered "breath" in describing God's creation of man: "The Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being" (Genesis 2:7). The spirit is that part of a human being that differentiates man and woman from all animals. By that breath or spirit we are separated from the animal world as surely as the sentient life of an animal is separated from the vegetable life beneath it—and to a greater distance. Man is not an animal. We learn from this proverb that our spirit is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the deepest parts of our personality. Here is the biblical conception of conscience. Within the spirit of every person there is light. It is an instrument of God that illuminates life, constantly keeping us face to face with truth. Let us make no mistake about it: the most evil men and women know deep within that their works are evil. No flawed thinking can prove to the spirit of a man or woman that wrong is right and impurity is pure. The day may come when a person becomes content with wrong and satisfied with impurity, but only if that lamp of the Lord inside is put out from his or her spirit becoming atrophied. But that is not the end. The life of a person's spirit never ceases to exist. There is a resurrection to condemnation and a new lighting of that lamp revealed elsewhere in Scripture. An example is the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, where an unrepentant rich man feels torment after death and his conscience is active.
Proverbs 21:30 "There is no wisdom, understanding, or counsel against the Lord." There exists against the Lord a "wisdom" that is "earthly, sensual, demonic." We see it in terrorists, tyrants, and anyone else who is brutally effective in getting their way. Such people acquaint themselves intimately with evil methods and take counsel with men and women long practiced in wisdom and understanding that consciously or subconsciously plots against the Lord. As their evil plots unfold, we often tremble—so subtle, so clever, so cunning are the ways of this underworld of antagonism to God's purposes! Yet look again. Just as persistently in human history we see the futility, feebleness, and failure of wicked men and women on display. Their evil wisdom is proved foolish, their dark understanding is found to be ignorant, their malicious counsel is demonstrated to be worthless. Our proverb tells us that those very thoughts, devices, and plots against the Lord are compelled at last in their outworking to contribute to the purposes of His holy and gracious will. They but prove to be His instruments. That is why the psalmist declares, "The wrath of man shall praise You" (Psalm 76:10) and we who love the Lord can know for sure "that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).
Proverbs 22:6 "Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it." Perhaps there is no proverb in this collection more frequently quoted than this, and perhaps also none more persistently misunderstood and misrepresented. The key to understanding is the real meaning of the words "in the way he should go." What is the way the child is to go? A literal rendering of the Hebrew helps answer that question: "Train up a child according to his way." Every child possesses a unique blending of native abilities and aptitudes. The true business of training a child, therefore, is discovering what those abilities and aptitudes are, and then developing them. Classes, grades, and groups are helpful for imparting general information, but the real work of training children according to their unique ways requires that they be considered individually and personally. It is a disaster to prepare an educational program for a child without considering the particular life and aptitudes of that child. The first business of those responsible is considering the children themselves. No two children are alike. The school that is in closest harmony with the child's family is most successful. Our usual methods of training children have hardly begun to reach the divine ideal.
Proverbs 23:1 "When you sit to eat with a ruler, consider diligently who is before you." This proverb is a social admonition that goes on for several verses to reveal the way of wisdom when being wined and dined by a ruler. The wise man (or woman) will consider his host, rather than the hospitality. He is to keep his eye on the ruler, watching for deceitful motives that will tempt him to lust after fleeting riches, often by methods that are unjust to others. Many young men and women have been robbed of the finest things of their youth—truth, justice, honor, and faith—because they succumbed to the bribes of influential people offering hospitality with base motives. "Never look a gift horse in the mouth" is disastrous advice. Let every person at any age desiring to walk in the ways of wisdom keep his eye, illuminated by the fear of the Lord, upon all who put before him their material dainties to keep from being robbed of his or her spiritual excellencies.
Proverbs 24:16 "A righteous man falls seven times and rises up again, but the wicked are overthrown by calamity." This section of Proverbs consists of parental counsels, ranging from joy in the wisdom of one's children to warnings about lust and the abuse of strong drink. Here the subject is strength that comes from wisdom in days of adversity and calamity. The repeated falls of the righteous man here have no reference to sin but to trouble. History proves time and again that wisdom from the fear of the Lord gives His people the strength to stand up under adversity until they overcome it. Adversity never finally overcomes those who are righteous. It is true not only that ultimately they will overcome, but also that in the midst of it they will bear themselves with fortitude and extract some good from it that will deepen and enrich them. These good men and women are not callous: they suffer, but suffering does not embitter them. On the contrary, it sweetens and beautifies their spirits. The real power to stand up against life's hardships, profit by its buffetings, and make capital out of its disadvantages is righteous conduct that comes only from walking in the ways of wisdom by yielding to the inspiration and authority of the fear of the Lord.
Proverbs 25:2 "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter." This is the first proverb of a new collection, described as "proverbs of Solomon that the men of Hezekiah, king of Judah, transcribed" (verse 1). It is suggestive that those scribes put this proverb first, for King Hezekiah was an exceptionally effective king in building up his nation spiritually and materially. Out of strange perplexities and trials, God used Hezekiah to lead His people to better ways of life by humbling himself before God, searching out secrets of wisdom in the fear of the Lord. When King Solomon originally wrote this proverb, he may have been summarizing this truth penned by Moses: "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this Law" (Deuteronomy 29:29). The idea is not that God maintains His glory by hiding things from humankind, but that all hidden or secret truths are known to Him, for He is the ultimate source of knowledge and wisdom. That is His glory. Our privilege is to search out what He has revealed in His Word and world. Men and women who would reign in life must begin with the fear of the Lord, which recognizes the glory of His knowledge of all hidden things. The secrets of the Lord are "for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant" (Psalm 25:14). Wisdom comes from being in a right relationship with God.
Proverbs 26:12 "Do you see a man wise in his own conceit? There is more hope for a fool than for him." This is a person who is perfectly satisfied with his or her own opinion and judgment. Such a person seeks no light or counsel from others because he or she holds their views in contempt. No one can teach that kind of person anything. This person does not fear God or seek to be guided by the divine will. The Hebrew word translated "fool" here refers merely to an ignorant person. That person has hope because he or she can be instructed; however difficult that may prove because of natural dullness, it is not impossible. People who are not open to instruction have no hope because it is impossible to help those who think they need no help since they believe they are sufficient in themselves. The path of wisdom is to leave such people to themselves, but also to use this proverb as a searchlight for ourselves. The peril is subtle, for we are prone to be wise in our own conceits without realizing it. A simple test may be employed: When we fail to seek divine guidance in any undertaking, it is because we do not feel our need for it. In other words, we are wise in our own conceit. There is no safer condition of soul than that of self-distrust or a keen awareness of our own ignorance, for it drives us to seek persistently for the wisdom that comes from God alone.
Proverbs 27:5 "Better is open rebuke than love that is hidden." This proverb gives us pause since it produces conflicting emotions. We do not really like rebuke and are inclined to resent it; that we need or deserve it does not make it pleasant. On the other hand, we do desire to be loved, even when that love fails to proclaim itself openly. Our dislike of rebuke leads us to think that those who love us serve us well when they are silent in the presence of our shortcomings. But this word of true wisdom cuts clean across all such wrong and foolish thinking. The highest love must and does express itself. It does so in praise of the loved one, but also in rebuke when the object upon which it is set is acting unworthily. The motive of love's rebuke is always the highest good of the loved one. Love is never blind, in spite of the foolish adage declaring otherwise. True love has the clearest vision and sees soonest the thing that threatens to mar the beauty of the loved one. Such love is not silent but speaks truthfully and plainly. That kind of open rebuke is proof of love at its highest. Love that hides itself, professes not to see—perhaps does not see, and so remains silent is operating on a very low level. It lacks the qualities that inspire the loved one to strive for the highest excellence.
Proverbs 28:14 "Blessed is the man who fears always, but he who hardens his heart shall fall into mischief." There is a caution that is the soul of courage, and a courage that is the essence of foolhardiness. Men and women who are mastered by a healthy fear of God move forward with a persistent caution that delivers them from many calamities, and does not involve their friends in trouble. People who lack caution and refuse to consider danger may appear heroic, but they inevitably fall into mischief and drag others with them into calamity. The fear of the Lord is the true caution: when it perpetually and persistently masters a person's heart and mind, that person is ever watchful of ways and means, as well as of issues. That fear, moreover, cancels all other fear. To fear God is to cease to fear for oneself; it is no longer to bargain with consequences; it is never to act without His command; it is to act at all costs when His will is revealed. When that healthy fear is absent, courage is mere hardening of the heart and recklessness. The man who shuts his eyes to God, gathers himself up, and desperately plunges forward is no hero; he is a fool. Sooner or later he lands himself in circumstances that break him and bring those about him into suffering and catastrophe.
Proverbs 29:18 "Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint, but happy is he who keeps the Law." Quite literally the Hebrew word means to "break loose." The condition here is anarchy or lawlessness: not being without law, but refusing to be bound by law—especially divine Law. That is the fundamental trouble of humankind, expressed this way in Scripture: "Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4). We have long been living in days when lawlessness is rampant. People regularly violate covenants, regulations, and agreements; they refuse to abide by decisions made by their appointed leaders or that they themselves agreed to. Our proverb tells us why: they have no true vision or revelation from God of what they are actually doing and the consequences of their actions. They have no true vision of society as a whole and the necessary God-given obligations of all the individuals who constitute society. They fail to see that lawlessness in their personal lives destroys the fabric of society, and that false social conditions destroy individuals. To see God in His revealed Word is to bring healing to individuals and create a healthy community. His Laws lead to human flourishing spiritually and materially. As one wise man (C.S. Lewis) explains, "God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on.... God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself.... There is no such thing." The vision or revelation of God is given in the Law of God, and Christ is fulfillment and culmination "of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Romans 10:4). He who keeps that Law, "happy is he," as our proverb affirms.
Proverbs 30:5-6 "Every Word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who trust in Him. Do not add to His words or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar." This last section of Proverbs, chapters 30 and 31, records the words of 2 wise men named Agur and Lemuel. We know nothing about them for sure, but the wisdom they leave behind is enough. Agur begins with a humble confession of his own ignorance. He then declares that, while compelled to recognize the Holy One by what he sees in nature, he has not there been brought to a knowledge of Him. God can be known only through the direct revelation of His Word. Every Word of His is as pure and perfect as He is. Since Agur's highlighted proverb affirms that every Word of God is tested or proved true, it naturally leads to this warning: Do not add to or alter His Word to keep from being proved not true yourself. Stated positively, this is what God's Word says about itself: "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" so that men and women of God "may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). God and His Word are a shield that protects and equips those who trust in Him and it.
Proverbs 31:28 "Her children rise up and call her blessed, her husband also and he praises her." The mysterious King Lemuel begins with wise, noble, kingly instruction he received from his mother, and concludes with a detailed description of an excellent woman—perhaps his own mother. This picture of a virtuous woman is full of Middle-Eastern coloring, yet its beauty and depth is of universal application. The Hebrew word translated excellent, virtuous, or worthy speaks mostly of strength here. This woman has tremendous strength of character and dignity in her role as a wife and mother. All her activities support those crucial feminine roles, and her husband and children praise her for it. They derive strength from her strength. The blessing they ascribe to her is explained at the end: "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised" (verse 30). Godly wisdom blossoms into beauty in that woman who, by love and diligence, knowledge and devotion, so trains her children that when they pass from under her roof into life, they bless her and her memory with glad and grateful hearts. There are those of us who will do that through all our days and forever. So the book of Proverbs ends as it begins: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom that leads to a blessed end for all men and women who are willing to embrace it.