Sherry Keller, Relational Discipleship Ministry, Women’s Ministry
In today’s reading we find a seemingly random group of proverbs. At first glance we may find it hard to see any connection. It is important to remember that the context for wisdom is a fearful reverence of God. Proverbs tell us what is generally wise in a given situation, and do not give us specific promises to claim. Looking at these proverbs we can see that most, if not all, of the proverbs in this section show details of a righteous life, and brand the opposite as vice. The verses emphasize such things as temperance, responsibility, honesty, being teachable, being slow to anger, seeking justice, generosity, being slow to speak and choosing one’s words carefully, seeking restoration in relationships, etc.
It seemed to me that many of these proverbs would be better understood if the cultural and historical context was known. On first glance their meaning was unclear. For example, what are we to take from proverbs about kings living as we do in a democratic society? I also noticed that different biblical translations translated the verses very differently. What was being said was not always clear on first glance. For this reason, each of these proverbs is worthy of meditation and further study.
There are even a couple of proverbs that are quite disturbing. Having recently watched the movie “12 Years a Slave,” I particularly noticed Proverbs 20:30. This verse seems to advocate abusive punishment. Proverbs 21:14 seems to advocate bribery. What do we do with verses like these that seem counter to our understanding of God and His ways? Some use such verses to justify rebellion from God. But these verses can be an opportunity to know God better. Before we accept such verses at face value, or condemn God because of our faulty understanding, we need to hold them up next to the entirely of His Word. Digging deeper is important. We can look at other translations, check cross references, seek other verses on the same subject in a concordance, and use bible commentaries to understand the cultural and historical settings.
As we recently learned through our study of Psalms, God wants us to bring our questions and emotions to him and to wrestle them to an end point. Frequently we are not honest with ourselves or God. But if God is who He says He is and if He is the author of truth, then our diligent seeking should lead to greater understanding. We may not get the answer to every question this side of heaven but we will come to know God’s true character better and will be able to trust Him more with even the unanswered questions.
It isn’t possible in this short devotion to share all that I found on digging deeper into both of these verses. Looking up other scripture pertaining to “the rod of correction” I found verses that emphasize the importance of recognizing sin and dealing with it. Psalm 89:30-37 talks of the “rod of correction” in the context of a loving, faithful God who keeps his covenants while loving enough to correct. It was clear that God does not condone senseless, abusive violence. On searching for verses about bribery I found God condemning the taking of bribes but they say little about the giving of bribes. Other translations use the word “gift” instead of “bribe.” Cross references refer back to Genesis 32 where Jacob is returning to his homeland and sends gifts on ahead for his brother Esau. These gifts placated the situation so that a face-to-face conversation could happen. Putting this all together, it seems that this proverb is saying that there are situations where a gift will defuse what could be an otherwise explosive situation and in some cases is the wisest action, averting a more dangerous situation. The accepting of bribes is, on the other hand, condemned.
Lord, help me not to lean on my own understanding but to diligently seek to know you and to understand your word and your ways.