Today we complete the book of Proverbs. We begin with the final proverbs of Solomon. 28:1 tells us that man is bold when righteous, but always afraid when wicked. Verse 3 is likely better translated “a ruler who oppresses the poor…” thus forming a couplet with verse 2 (see also vv. 15-16). Verse 4 excludes a middle ground between wickedness and righteousness, or wisdom and folly. Choose your side. Verse 5 again commends justice as a quality of the wise. Verse 6 reminds us that righteousness is more valuable than fleeting earthly treasures.
Verse 9 again shows us that obedience from the heart is the proper response to God for His salvation, not just outward acts. Verse 13 shows us the importance of repentance. Remember, God already knows, as nothing is hidden from Him. This again points to the heart (which in this case is repentant), not the outward action (which in this case is sin). Verse 18 shows us the sure end of the righteous, whose outward actions reveal their heart – and the sure end of the wicked, whose outward actions reveal their heart.
Verse 19 commends wise use of one’s time. Verses 20-22 speak of pursuing earthly treasures. It is a fruitless endeavor. Verse 24 foreshadows Jesus’ admonition of the religious of His day (see Mark 7:8-13). In verse 25, we see that the pursuit of earthly riches (see vv. 20-22) results in discord. But for him whose treasure is in heaven, he will richly blessed. Verse 26 echoes 3:5-6. Verse 27 again speaks to God’s generous heart, and the wisdom of imitating Him. God will bless the cheerful giver, but curse the one that withholds what he has.
Chapter 29 begins with another warning to heed a wise rebuke. To resist such instruction will end with destruction. Verses 2-4 are a prophetic (perhaps unintentionally so) warning for Solomon’s own son, Rehoboam. He was a fool. He made his people groan, chose poor company, and overburdened the people with taxes (see 1 Kings 12:1-15), resulting in the dividing of the kingdom.
Verse 8 speaks of foolishness provoking anger, but wisdom turning it away (see 11:11 and 15:1). Verse 9 points us back to 26:4-5. Often, we just need to let a fool be a fool and not lower ourselves to his level. Verse 10 speaks of how the natural man loves to see the fall of those praised for their righteousness (isn’t this so true of our society today?!?). Verse 11 warns us that we don’t have to verbalize every thought we have. Prudence is called for. Verse 13 points us again to the inherent dignity of those God has created (and sustains). Verse 15 encourages wise punishment of children for the child’s sake. Verse 17 encourages wise punishment of children for the parents’ sake.
Verse 18 speaks of the only logical outcome of a society that ignores the revealed Word of God (did I say something about our society today?). People will cast off all ethical norms. Right and wrong will become arbitrary. People will do whatever they want (see Judges 21:25 and this morning’s newspaper). But God will still bless those who are obedient. Verse 20 warns against rash verbal reactions. Verse 23 points to the wisdom of humility (see Luke 14:11). Verse 27 excludes a middle ground between righteousness and wickedness in practice.
Chapter 30 begins by introducing the words of “Agur son of Jakeh” (30:1a). This is not Solomon. These wisdom “poems” were likely appended to the collected sayings of Solomon by the final editor of the book. Verses 1b-4 speak of man’s inability to know God, and thus to ever reach the pinnacle of wisdom. Wisdom must always be sought. Verse 4 is believed by some to be a prophecy of the incarnation of God the Son.
Verse 5 quotes King David (see Ps 18:30). Verse 6 reminds us of Moses’s words from Deuteronomy 4:2. That Agur holds God’s Word as ultimate truth is strengthened by verses 8. This “falsehood and lying” is going beyond the Word of God (see v. 6). The needful food is the Word of God (see Deut 8:3 and Matt 4:4). Verse 9 shows the difference between knowing God intellectually and knowing Him in a saving relationship. In verses 1-4, Agur says he does not know God (speaking intellectually). In verse 9, he prays he will never say “Who is the Lord?” (speaking relationally).
Verses 11-14 are a summary of the wisdom we have learned throughout the book. We have seen the blessings of heeding parent’s wisdom, for both parent and child. We have seen the wickedness of “haughty eyes” and the foolishness of trusting your own ways over God’s. We have seen the destruction of deceit and rash words. We have seen the wisdom of taking care of the needy.
Verses 15-16 speak of habitual takers. These are those who are selfish, greedy, who take and take from relationships without giving, who turn a blind eye to the needy, etc. Agur compares their insatiable taking to Sheol, signifying death, to the barren womb and a land that never produces fruit, and to the destruction of fire. Verses 18-19 extol the blessing and joy of lawful sex, of which the eagle flapping its wings to fly, the serpent undulating across the ground, and the rocking of a ship are metaphors for intercourse. This is contrasted with adultery (v. 20), and the fool who believes there will be no consequences to their “hidden” sin.
Verses 21-23 speak of the reality of the sometimes inexplicably backwards circumstances of life. Verses 24-28 speak of how in God’s creation, those creatures with obvious weaknesses can thrive. It is pointing to the natural weaknesses (physical, moral, etc.) of man and how God provides for us in our weakness. Verses 29-31 point again to creation, and how God has established order and rule through His creatures, especially man. The sayings of Agur end with a call to turn from foolishness.
Chapter 31 introduces us to the “words of King Lemuel” (31:1). There are those who believe this is a pseudonym for Solomon. The name “Lemuel” means literally “for God.” However, it would be odd indeed for the final collector and editor of the wisdom sayings to stop using Solomon’s real name (which he does everywhere else) and to interject Agur’s words between Solomon’s sayings. This is much more likely wisdom sayings from another man.
The chapter opens with an oracle (or saying) taught to Lemuel by his mother (31:1-9). This is advice for a righteous ruler. He does not chase after women (v. 3). He does not get drunk (v. 4) because it takes him from their “right mind” (v. 5). Alcohol should not be used by the righteous ruler to “forget his woes” (vv. 6-7). The righteous ruler pleads the case of the oppressed and needy and rules with justice (as we have seen, justice is a result of wisdom – vv. 8-9).
Verses 10-31 are an acrostic poem (each line beginning with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet). It is likely a poem written by King Lemuel to honor his mother (who taught him the oracle about the righteous ruler). In this poem, Lemuel extolls the virtues and the blessings of a wise and righteous woman. Verse 10 tells us that an “excellent” wife is more precious than any earthly treasures (“excellent” is literally “strong” or “able”). And what is an “excellent” wife? A wife who is trustworthy (v. 11), who seeks her husband’s good (v. 12), is not lazy (v. 13), runs the practical matters of the household (vv. 14-16, 27), keeps the house (v. 19), is righteous (v. 20), takes care of her family (vv. 21-22), adds to her husband’s good name (v. 23), prepares for the future (v. 25), and is wise (v. 26).
But this works both ways. While a woman is gifted to do the (most difficult) work in the family, the rest of the family needs to recognize this and desire blessing for her (and act on her behalf for her to be blessed!). Children revere and bless their mother, and the husband his wife (v. 28). Praise is due to this excellent woman of amazing ability and love! Verse 29 means that we (children and husbands) should realize that she is the greatest blessing God can give us in this world! Her greatest and truest virtue is that this excellent wife fears God (seeks Him and obeys Him – v. 30).
This is a fitting end for the book of Proverbs. This poem takes all that we have learned about wisdom and points us to the one who exemplifies this wisdom: the excellent, strong, able wife. She is also the epitome of blessing: the blessing that God gives to the man who is wise and righteous – who fears the Lord, seeks Him, and obeys Him.