Gleanings from the Bible: Proverbs.

Here’s wisdom for a new year! This is another book which I think should be taught in schools –  a collection of wise insights on human behaviours and their outcomes. Perhaps it could be produced in an abridged form, because as a collection I notice a good deal of repetition.

Some tend to understand these proverbs as cast-iron promises but in fact they are largely observations born out of experience, producing a number of generalisations. If you do this, then this is what will usually happen, if you neglect to do that, then experience shows that this will be the result.

Years ago I remember teaching my 5th class (10-11yr old primary school children) some of the proverbs I had learned as a child and finding that they had never heard of them – Things like,  “A stitch in time saves nine,”  “A rolling stone gathers no moss.” (ambiguous!) and so on. The Bible’s Book of Proverbs presents in part as a parent teaching a young person, warning and equipping him for his future wellbeing.

Here are a few of them. As you read try to imagine the benefits to society, to churches, to families, if these were taken seriously and taught by parents and schools…

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and instruction (1:7)

 This is the underlying supposition, that listening to Yahweh underpins an understanding of the way life works best. It has to do with grasping a worldview that is centred upon God. It is the sorting of truth from error, not just determining moral right and wrong. Wisdom, thus grounded, is the guide to how we live out our talents for the good of all. Intelligence is good, knowledge is similarly important, but wisdom is the good oil which will guide you to use them productively rather than destructively. I have come across people who may not be particularly bright academically but display a wonderful and endearing wisdom, which makes them socially and spiritually brilliant!

This is why wisdom is personified in chapter two as one to be most sought after… then you will understand what is right and just and fair – every good path. (2:9)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight. (3:5-6)

Two great verses for the New Year and one of my favourite passages in the Bible. My wife, Susan, and I have found them to be true throughout our lives. I have noticed that when I have pushed ahead with my own plans, without consulting God, then things either unravel quickly or simply and quietly fail to work. When we have prayed, particularly at times of momentous change of direction, then things have fallen into place in remarkable ways. I can say the same even on a day to day basis. The day begun with prayer, asking for the filling of the Holy Spirit and overall guidance in what I say and do seem to somehow work out better!

Here is some more good advice…

Drink from the water of your own cistern
running water from your own well. (5:15)

…  part of an extended warning against adultery.

I hate pride and arrogance
evil behaviour and perverse speech. (8:13)

… wisdom speaking!

If you are a mocker, you alone will suffer (9:12)

… beware, social media trolls!

When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
but with humility comes wisdom (11:2)

For lack of guidance a nation falls,
but victory is won through many advisors (11:14)

… Leaders! Listen to wise people!

Do not say, “I’ll do to them as they have done to me;
I’ll pay them back for what they did. (24:29)

And some other general observations…

A kindhearted woman gains honour,
but ruthless men gain only wealth. (11:16)

Those who are kind benefit themselves,
but the cruel bring ruin on themselves.  (11:17)

Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults;
whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse. (9:7)

The righteous care for the needs of their animals (12:10)

Fools show their annoyance at once,
but the prudent overlook an insult. (12:16)

The words of the reckless pierce like swords,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (12:18)

Where there is strife, there is pride. (13:10)

The one who loves their children
is careful to discipline them. (13:24)

Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker,
but whoever is kind to the needy honours God. (14:31)

Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent (17:28)

Fools… delight in airing their own opinions. (18:2)

… wonder if this applies to bloggers? L Well perhaps not always if you take into account the line before… Fools find no pleasure in understanding…

The purposes [read motives] of a person’s heart are deep waters,
but one who has insight draws them out. (20:5)

Without wood a fire goes out;
without a gossip a quarrel dies down.(26:20)

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. (31:30)

J And some observations that made me smile…

“It’s no good, it’s no good!” says the buyer—
then goes off and boasts about the purchase. (20:14)

 Better to live on a corner of the roof
than share a house with a quarrelsome wife. (21:9)

 The sluggard says, “There’s a lion outside!
I’ll be killed in the public square!” (22:13)
… Any excuse!

 Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears
is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own. (26:17)

There is, of course, far more. Pure gold to reflect on! As I read I find myself thinking over and over, “Now ain’t that the truth!”  But now, the hard part – trying to apply it!

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Gleanings from the Bible: Psalms 127, 135, 137 and 139.

Psalm 127

There is peace in knowing God and being able to commit your future, your dreams and desires into his hands because, unless Yahweh builds the house, the builders labour in vain. There is no gain in driving yourself into the ground to increase your wealth. God knows what you need and grants sleep to those he loves.

Children are a heritage from Yahweh… a reward…

When you observe western society you would wonder whether it had ever realised this truth. The message our society sends is a mixed one. On the one hand we seek to make the welfare of the child the centre of our educational systems (almost to the point of encouraging them to be self-centred). We probably seek to protect them from harm more than at any other time in history. And yet they are becoming less and less exposed to the truths about God, they are becoming more exposed to violence and pornography and the unborn child has little or no chance if the parent decides to terminate his or her life.

If we really believe that children are a gift from God then it should mould the way we think about them and nurture them. It should dictate our and their priorities in their involvements and exposure to the world. Particularly we will want to introduce them to the Creator, who gave them life and who will build their house if they will commit themselves to his ways.

 Psalm 135

15 The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
      made by human hands.
16 They have mouths, but cannot speak,
      eyes, but cannot see.
17 They have ears, but cannot hear,
      nor is there breath in their mouths.
18 Those who make them will be like them,
      and so will all who trust in them.

I don’t notice too much political correctness with the prophets! They tell it as they see it, or rather as God shows it to them.

We don’t come across too many idols of wood and stone, though they are not unknown in some migrant families in Australia. Assuming that idols are the things which replace the worship of God, we may ask what constitutes idolatry in the wider community these days?

It must be those things which we treasure the most, above God. The things to which we devote most of our time and energy. The things that replace prayer, reading the Scriptures and our corporate worship. So it could, in fac,t be almost anything!

Verse 18 – Those who make them will be like them – is, I think, proposing that idolaters will become as lifeless as the things they worship. Another aspect to that is that we can become like the things we love the most – they change us – they turn us into something else.

However, to spend time with God in worship, prayer and praise, is to become  more like him, whose name endures for ever (v13).

Psalms 137 and 139

Psalm 137 is a lament of people who have lost everything and who now dwell, mocked and despised, in a foreign country with alien gods. Their experience is one of abandonment by Yahweh. But, even knowing that, it is hard for us to read verse 9. The talk of dashing infants against rocks makes us wince. At worst it expresses an anguished abundance of violence, hatred and vengeance. At best it is calling for justice and the non-perpetuation of a people who have already dealt so cruelly with the Judeans, now living in captivity. It also puts the task of vengeance into the hands of God, who has the right to mete out justice. However, Jesus has taught us a better way. Though we may find ourselves initially responding to situations in anger, it is grace and forgiveness that transforms both perpetrator and victim for the better.

Psalm 139 is such a contrast in attitude. Wherever the Psalmist may be, God is there, holding him fast! God knows him intimately, better than he knows himself and before he even came to birth and gained self-consciousness. God sees the unborn and knows what they will do, say and achieve. He has plans for them. Of course they have responsibility to respond to God’s will for them, and to walk in the ways that he has set before them. This is why the Psalmist prays that God will search him, not so that God will discover things he hadn’t noticed, but rather that God will reveal to the writer what he already knows about his unwarranted anxieties and offensive thoughts and actions. Once known the Psalmist can embark on correction with God’s help.

It is in this sort of intimate walk with God that we can learn to weather the storms of life and respond appropriately to the people who cause them.

 

Gleanings from the Bible: Psalms 106, 115 and 119.

Psalm 106

But they soon forgot what he had done
and did not wait for his plan to unfold.

This Psalm outlines the failure of Israel in the Wilderness and is a recipe for backsliding  and spiritual discouragement. They forgot… and did not wait!

Conversely a way of staying on track must be to remember what God has done, in Israel’s, in the wider world’s and in our personal history. And then to “wait”. Not rushing ahead with our own plans but first praying. Not becoming impatient when we don’t see things happening quickly.

The results of forgetting and not waiting are borne out in verse 35. They mingled with the nations and adopted their customs. Israel’s separation was bound up with her spiritual life and identity as God’s People, demonstrating his good laws and upholding his name as Creator and God over all nations. The customs were not those innocent cultural differences but the practices that signified an entirely different worldview, explained from verse 36 onwards: They worshipped their idols, which became a snare to them. They sacrificed their sons and daughters to false gods…

This is certainly not a call for Christians in this age to separate themselves from the rest of the world, but it is a warning to avoid relationships and practices which would undermine our faith. We may like to think we are spiritually strong, but our strength lies in remembering and waiting on God. If we see that slipping away, we need to stay off the slide!

Psalm 115

Our God is in heaven:
He does whatever pleases him.

Underlying many of the Psalms – in fact the whole of Scripture – is the proposition that the God of Israel is the Almighty Creator, Yahweh, The One Who Is, The Great I Am, The Eternal God. He is contrasted with impotent, man-made, worthless idols of wood and stone, which are powerless to do anything. The fact that God can do whatever pleases him is not to describe a capricious dictator but one who is well able to save and deliver. One who may not always be understood but who acts according to his plans, which are elsewhere described as just, as well as merciful. We may on occasions shake our fist at him because we don’t get our own way or see events unfolding as we would like, but in the end God will do what is right. It is his world and his plan and, remarkably, he is doing what is best for humanity as a whole (See also Psalm 118:14, 22-23 for example).

Psalm 119

We don’t usually associate law with stimulating and edifying reading. Perhaps more as a cure for insomnia. We may also think that the proliferation of laws is a sign of a sick society, since love ought to guide us into doing what is right from the inner compulsion of God’s Spirit. Now there is some truth in that but it doesn’t mean that we don’t need guidelines and clear boundaries. ‘Good fences make for good neighbours.’

There is security in knowing what is right and wrong. There is revelation in knowing what God requires of us as we relate to him, to one another and to the world in which he has placed us. Reflecting on and obeying these requirements will, furthermore, help us to know peace within ourselves.

When we understand these things we can appreciate this extensive poem in twenty-two sections, each starting, in the original Hebrew, with a new letter of the alphabet. Let me leave you with just a few quotes to ponder and apply and to use in prayer…

Beth (pronounced ‘bait’)
How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
      By living according to your word.

Gimel
         18 Open my eyes that I may see
      wonderful things in your law.

Daleth (pronounce ‘dar-let’)
         27 Cause me to understand the way of your precepts,
that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds.

He (pronounced ‘hay’)
37 Turn my eyes away from worthless things;

Teth (pronounced ‘tate’)
      72 The law from your mouth is more precious to me
than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.

Mem
        98 Your commands are always with me
     and make me wiser than my enemies.
99 I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.
100 I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts.

Nun
       105 Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.

Gleanings from the Bible: Psalms 86, 90, 95 and 103.

Psalm 86

      Teach me your way, Lord,
      that I may rely on your faithfulness;
      give me an undivided heart,
      that I may fear your name.

It is one thing to know the right way and another to walk in it. Many wise people have made shipwreck of their lives because, while knowing what God requires, they have not had the will power to live up to it. Right teaching comes from Yahweh (the LORD) with the purpose of relying on God for a heart and will that is centred upon him (in contrast to the “double-minded person” of James 1:7).

      But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
      slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

In light of the questioning of the character of God, that occurs when people read about his judgements meted out in the Old Testament,  it’s helpful to remind ourselves that over and over the Scriptures reaffirm that God is patient and overflowing with love. We sometimes forget the enormity of what it takes to bring about God’s judgement and that even then his purpose is to refine and restore rather than to destroy.

Psalm 90

      3 You turn people back to dust,
      saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
      4 A thousand years in your sight
      are like a day that has just gone by,
      or like a watch in the night.

Sometimes people have tended to use verse four as some sort of a formula for dating times and seasons. In fact the Psalm is simply a sober reminder of the brevity of our lives compared with the eternal nature of God (see also Psalm 103 below). This is one of the suggested Prayer Book readings for funeral services. It is at such events that we should “number our days” and remember that it is only those things founded in God which have eternal value. It is in such reflection that wisdom is to be found (v12).

Psalm 95

      For forty years I was angry with that generation;
      I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray,
      and they have not known my ways.’
      So I declared on oath in my anger,
      ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ 

Most of the Israelites who had been delivered from Egypt failed to enter the “rest” of the Promised Land. Just because they were Children of Abraham by lineage did not guarantee that they would inherit the promises of the Covenant made with Abraham. It is proposed that this Psalm is the text for the book of Hebrews (which may be the record of a sermon) and is certainly quoted in it. The idea that faith needs to persevere, even for God’s Chosen People is also intrinsic to Romans 10 and 11 and 1 Corinthians 10:1-11. It is in fact woven through the New Testament and seen clearly at the end of each of the letters to the Seven Churches in the book of Revelation. So, Do not harden your hearts as Israel did in the wilderness.

Psalm 103

This is a beautiful Psalm of reassurance for those who have confessed their sins and called on God’s forgiveness. It’s hard to pick out just one or two verses…

Praise the Lord, my soul;  
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

…….

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbour his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
15 The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children
18 with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.

In light of my comments on Psalm 95 it is worth taking note of verse 18 here. It adds an important condition to God’s blessings!

Verse twelve is often spoken in association with The Confession in the Prayer Book and verses 13 to 17 are found just before the committal in the burial service. The psalm encapsulates God’s gracious dealings with us and, if we truly believe it, then it will transform the way we live and relate, and elicit heartfelt praise towards our Creator.

Gleanings from the Bible: Psalms 77, 79, 80 and 84

Psalm 77: When God is Invisible.

Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters
though your footprints were not seen.

What do you do when you are in distress and you are crying out for help, but God does not seem to be there?

You do what the writer of this psalm did. To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand. I will remember the deeds of the LORD.

Yes, he remembered what God had done in the past, just as in the old hymn, Count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done. You look back in the Scriptures and see how God delivered Israel; you notice the difference prayer makes to your day; you recall remarkable stories of God work in the lives of contemporary people; you observe how wonderfully you are made and the delicate balance of life in all its amazing complexity; you look at the stars and vastness of space, and you recognise the handiwork of God in it all, even though you do not see him physically.

This is why it is so important to, tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD (Psalm 78:4). Teaching God’s dealings with humanity so that our children and grandchildren may learn from history.

Psalm 79: The Nations, For Blessing or Curse.

O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance.

The Bible makes it abundantly clear that God’s people were blessed by God so that they could be a blessing to the nations, by revealing God to them. Their failure to do so and their descent into idolatry meant that instead of the nations coming to Jerusalem to hear about God, they came as invaders! This judgement on disobedient people is a predominant story in the Hebrew Scriptures (The Old Testament). But it should surely stand as a warning to Christians living today. We are commanded to take the gospel to all nations (Matthew 28).

Psalm 80: Restore us!

Restore us , God Almighty,
Make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.

This refrain pleads over the desolation of Israel. It reminds us that when people pray to God Almighty then there is the expectation of change and new beginnings. It has been noted that the more recent great religious revivals, which swept through the people of God and transformed the communities in which they lived, began with people praying faithfully and fervently, sometimes over long periods of time. When you hear the accounts you can’t help but be inspired, but will you be inspired enough to commit to dedicated prayer for the revival of yourself and your own community?

Psalm 84:  God’s Presence vs The World.

I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

I have watched enough crime and action shows, true and fictitious, to know that the wicked, even when they are rich and powerful, are not to be envied!  They are never satisfied and while their lives may seem to be fleetingly exciting, they are most often filled with stress and conflict. Our world, with all its labour saving devices, seems to have paradoxically increased in the pace of life. We are saturated with information. People binge-watch, binge drink and apparently need to have city venues open most of the night to feel that they are getting the most out of life. I’m not saying that it is all “wicked” but where is the inner peace of being at one with our Creator, of experiencing his presence? Even in the action movies it seems that, beyond the mayhem of the main plot, a peaceful or resolved existence is the final goal. In today’s world though too many people seem to be stuck in the chaos. Better a menial job and a quiet life, walking with God, than a frantic existence which is going nowhere fast.