Proverbs: Digging Deeper


Probers for Living

Series: Digging Deeper into Proverbs


Knowing the Voice of God

1 Corinthians 14:7-11
If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? 8 And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? 9 So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. 10 There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me.

The very name of the book of Proverbs comes from a Hebrew word which as one lexicon puts it: Inevitably the meaning is to become like, to be comparable to. The way the proverbs work is that they employ comparisons over and over again. Some comparisons serve to help you know what some things are like, and others to show you how things are not alike. In fact, most obvious are 4 different kinds of couplets throughout the book. Keep your open for them.

a. Contrastive Couplets. The word BUT is often used so that it brings the contrast to light. So in Prov. 25:2 we read It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, BUT the glory of kings is to search out a matter. It shows you how God in His sovereign position of rule, differs from human beings in position of authority. God is puts things in front of us in ways that are meant to get us digging into them and in the process to find out more about Him.

In 18:2 we see that A fool does not delight in understanding, BUT only in revealing his own mind.
The word BUT signals the contrast.

b. Comparative Couplets: In these, the words LIKE or SO are the key words to see what He is getting at. Prov. 25:3 As the heavens for height and the earth for depth, SO the heart of kings is unsearchable. We are to see how ALIKE the two ideas are.

c. Complementary Couplets: These forms are one of the ways Hebrew poetry works by the second part of the phrase amplifying and expanding the first part. An example would be 13:14 The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, To turn aside from the snares of death. Or 14:10 The heart knows its own bitterness, And a stranger does not share its joy.

The first and second statements complement each other, and perhaps expand the idea a bit.

d. Cautionary Couplets: These usually have words like LEST and DO NOT in them. They are meant to sound warnings. So in 25:8 DO NOT go out hastily to argue your case; Otherwise, what will you do in the end, When your neighbor puts you to shame? And 25:9-10 Argue your case with your neighbor, And do not reveal the secret of another, LEST he who hears it reproach you, And the evil report about you not pass away.

It is through these devices that the Holy Spirit has written His Word in ways that will both click in our minds, and make it easier to remember the key concepts. God has given us His Word to speak to us, so that we know what His voice sounds like. Our God is the Master Communicator. He speaks so as to be understood. He expects to be understood.
Hearing the voice of God is not an exercise in crystal-ball gazing, or trying to discern secret messages and decode impressions and feelings. As you read the Word more and more, His voice becomes clearer and clearer. And this itself becomes a filter, so as to distinguish the way He speaks, from the our own hearts and minds, the World or the Devil.

Common Grace

As we continue to mine gems out of Proverbs here’s an outline of the entire book of Proverbs.
This one is from Keil & Delitzsch:
1. 1:1-6 Title
2. 1:7-9:18 Introductory Discourses
3. 10-22:16 1st Collection of Solomons Proverbs
4. 22:17-24:22 1st Appendix to 1st Collection (Words to the wise)
5. 24:23-34 2nd Appendix to the 1st Collection (Words of some wise men)
6. 25-29 2nd Collection (Gathered by Hezekiahs men)
7. 30 1st Appendix to 2nd Collection (Words of Agur son of Makeh)
8. 31:1-9 2nd Appendix to 2nd Collection (Words of King Lemuel)
9. 31:10-21 3rd Appendix to 2nd Collection (Acrostic Ode)

Several things stand out.
1. Wise men seek the wisdom of others.
Solomon didnt compose all the proverbs in this book. He gleaned from others. Wise men do not consider themselves THE authority. They know better. They track down and obtain wisdom wherever they can. Wisdom recognizes wisdom in others and takes advantage of it. 1 Kings 4:32 notes Solomon also spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005.
We display arrogance when we refuse the wisdom of others.
Some say they do not read commentaries or other Biblical authors sticking only to the Bible. In the process, setting aside Gods wisdom poured out through others, and failing to build upon how the Spirit has gifted them, they rob themselves of the riches God has given to others for them.
2. The book provides a practical demonstration of how to view common grace.
We do not reject everything non-Christians say merely because they are non-Christians. God is good to us through many sources. Yes, discernment is needed. But to discount all non-Believers as having nothing to contribute is both arrogant and foolish. It fails to account for God being at work in the rest of Creation. God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts may not be Scripture but it is true! Solomon collects wisdom from others. King Hezekiah had his men gather wisdom for him. Agur son of Makeh was wise, and Solomon included his words a man Scripture says nothing about, but that statement.
There is a story told of the Old Scottish widow who was terribly poor.
Her landlord, a scoundrel of a man was always teasing and tormenting her about her religion. He thought her an old fool to love and trust God so when her circumstances were so bleak. One day, the landlord passed by her open window and heard the old woman praying for bread. She had none to eat and was in truly dire straits. The landlord thought he had her at last. Running to the market, he purchased a warm loaf of bread. Sneaking back up to her window, he ducked low and tossed the bread onto the bed where she was still kneeling in prayer. Startled by the crusty surprise, she grasped the reality of it immediately and began to praise God for answering her prayer so miraculously. Hearing her loud rejoicing the landlord knocked on the old womans door and asked what all the commotion was. With deep emotion she explained her plight and Gods amazing answer when all of a sudden the landlord interrupted her revelry and revealed that he had heard her praying, and was in fact the true benefactor. What do you think of your God now? he exclaimed hoping to shake her thoroughly. Oh! She replied. My God is even greater than I gave Him credit for. For not only did He hear my prayer, He delivered the answer by the hand of the Devil himself!
The wise will see God’s hand, even when the glove it is wearing is terribly soiled.
~ Reid
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Reid Ferguson
Reid serves as the pastor for preaching and vision at Evangelical Church of Fairport in Fairport New York. A native of Rochester, N.Y., he has served in various ministry areas during his life, including: a founding member of the former Mark IV Quartet, Youth Pastor at ECF, former board member of the Fellowship of Independent Reformed Evangelicals (F.I.R.E.), and author of The Little Book of Things You Should Know About Ministry (Christian Focus Publications, 2002). Pastor Reid blogs regularly at Responsive Reiding.

Over which channel


 …does our preaching go forth: the “clear” or the “staticky”?

And so, brothers SSSSSS reason for faith SSSSSSS glorif SSSSSS Amen? SSSSS
Recently I was on a road trip, and wanted to hear some Bible teaching. I guess we had already driven past the FM station that I picked up, so we got a garbled message:
words words static words static words static static
When the buzzes and pops finally prevailed in their assault against the preacher, I switched it off. Message not received.
People in our congregations may be picking up more static than we would estimate. At times I have put myself in the shoes of believers with less mileage in Christ that I have, or even people who are not believers; I’ve listened to sermons and mentally pushed a STATIC button every time the preacher used an uncommon word or failed to explain some concept. At times my index finger was kept very busy. [1] On the other hand, it is pleasing to Google “plain preaching” and to see the enthusiasm for that topic. Many cite William Perkins – “It is a by-word [“a popular compliment”, let’s say] among us: It was a very plain sermon: And I say again, the plainer, the better.” By plain he did not mean shallow, but the clear and unavoidable speaking of truth.
If I love my neighbor, than I will make sure that he or she can understand God’s Word. If they fail to obey it, it won’t be because they couldn’t make out what I am saying.
Do you tell people to be filled with the Spirit?
That’s biblical, but don’t command them to do a thing if you don’t tell them what it means! Let’s be “salt and light” in the world? My yoke is easy, my burden light? His faith was “reckoned” as righteousness? We sinners “fall short of the glory of God”? Sin, redemption, depravity, faith? Soul, heart, spirit?

  • Why speak of raiment, when we mean clothing?
  • What is a “countenance”?
  • What does Paul mean by “the flesh”?
  • What does it mean, our Christian slang of “coming alongside of someone”?
  • If we aren’t preaching to a church of ceramists, what is a potter’s vessel?
  • If we don’t preach to farmers, what does it mean that “They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind”? (I touched the “static” button three times on that one).

Pardon the expression, but please let’s just SPIT IT OUT: What are we trying to say, in clear, everyday English? If we are unable to unpack it and explain it in plain terms, then we don’t understand it. Just repeating a thing over and over – You’re children of light! Children of light is what you are! – does not make it clear, only repetitive.
Some have this idea that casual preaching is more accessible and understandable, because the preacher hasn’t spent time looking at dusty books and cluttering up his mind. In fact the opposite is true: plain preaching is harder to prepare than complicated and confusing preaching. It is the preachers’ job to immerse themselves in the Bible, to make the rough places a plain, to snip away the same old anecdotes that the church has heard a dozen times, to swap out fancy vocabulary for everyday. More people are bored by the ad-libber then they are by the craftsman.
Charles Spurgeon was a devotee of plain preaching; nevertheless, he expressed himself in a culture very different from ours:

I have long worked out before your very eyes the experiment of the unaided attractiveness of the gospel of Jesus. Our service is severely plain. No man ever comes hither to gratify his eye with art, or his ear with music. I have set before you, these many years, nothing but Christ crucified, and the simplicity of the gospel…I have shown you nothing but the cross, the cross without flowers of oratory, the cross without diamonds of ecclesiastical rank, the cross without the buttress of boastful science. [2]

Let’s honor Spurgeon, but let it be by following his approach, not by mimicking his Victorian idiom.
When I was a boy, I crossed a threshold in my church experience.
We did not have Junior Church, and so all children above nursery age sat through the service. Sermon time was for coloring or daydreaming or poking my brother. Then suddenly I noticed that the sermons – which hadn’t changed at all – seemed to be getting clearer, and I paid attention. I couldn’t understand all the concepts or application, but I was able to capture the gist of the message. I was perhaps 10 year old.
When I preach in a church today, be it educated or not, be it urban or rural, in whatever country, I try to pick out a 10-year-old in the congregation. If that boy or girl does not capture what I say, then I have failed to communicate to the church. And the advanced believers should not worry: they will of course get what they need also.
Why not let a child preview your sermons once in a while, so he can draw a line through anything he doesn’t understand?
But someone will object: Shouldn’t our preachers be concerned with raising the level of biblical and theological literacy?Indeed, and I hope that that’s what I’ve communicated. But let’s not do so at the expense of immediate understanding. Understanding the Bible without a dictionary is hardly the vice of “instant gratification.”
I spent a year going to a church where the worship and preaching were in a language I poorly understood. One philosophy said that we new missionaries should exclusively immerse ourselves in the Spanish-language church, since that is where we would spend the rest of our lives. The other philosophy, which I hold to, is that the language student should attend Spanish worship, but supplement that with English church services: two chapel meetings a week, and later on, one church meeting a week at our Spanish church. Picking up Spanish was imperative, but not at the expense of the spiritual vitality that missionaries need in full.
We can, and should, bemoan the low rate of literacy in our country. It is shameful that high school and even college grads read below level. Something should be done – but not by confusing the flock on Sunday morning.

~ Gary

[1] I have already written at very great length about why preachers should rarely use Hebrew or Greek terms in the pulpit; start HERE. This present post should be regarded as an additional comment on pulpit language.
[2] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 1888, vol. 34, p. 563
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