Day 154

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Proverbs 20:1-22:16

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.

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7 responses »

  1. Thank you for your strong case for exploring the real meaning of a verse when we do not understand it based on our current culture. It is often easy to just say that does not seem right when we really need to search for the full meaning.

  2. Thanks Sherry,

    This is exactly why bible studies are so important. As with any interpretive material there can be as many interpretations as there are readers. As believers, I believe that the Spirit that is within us guides us to the answers that we need to hear and experience in the season of life that we are in. I love to hear the perspective of others and to study subjects to seek a better understanding of the truth found in God’s holy guide book.

    The more time we spend in God’s word, the better understanding we have of His nature which speaks into a better insight to the meaning of a difficult passage or parable. It amazes me that while there are many passages that speak directly to a culture of the day, there are lessons hidden within that are truly timeless & it’s like they were written about an experience we had today.

    If we were to read the bible and understand everything in it, we most likely wouldn’t read it again. Each time I read, (no matter how many times) I find new meaning, new lessons, new life applications.
    Each time God speaks to me in a different way, highlighting different messages which leaves me constantly hungry for more.

    I would so love to see this page blow up with the spiritual insights that all the followers of this bible study have harvested from the chapters and verses that we study each day. I am confident that many lives are being changed by this & all of our relationships are benefiting from our growing closer to God.

    Lord I pray that the people that we encounter in our daily lives will see You in us and it will spark a desire to have the Joy & Hope that can only come from a personal relationship with You.
    All for Your Glory!!!

    • I couldn’t agree with you more. Every time I study scripture and dig deeper into it I am rewarded with new nuggets of truth. And when I hear God speaking directly to me through His Word it makes me hunger to know more. I, too, would love to hear what God is teaching others through these verses.

  3. Sherry, Thanks for your thoughtful work on these difficult verses. You have reminded us why context is so important and why prayerful reliance on the Holy Spirit is vital.

  4. I’ve heard it said that when God wrote the Bible, He didn’t write a comic book. He expects readers to use their brains, and He wrote a book worthy of life-long study. This is particularly true of the Wisdom Books. Casual reading for entertainment does not result in wisdom. That’s why we see so many active verbs in relation to getting wisdom: dig as for treasure, pursue, study, search after, search out. It’s hard work, but God promises that the rewards are well worth the effort.

  5. Sharing insights together has enriched my study of God’s Word and helped me come to know the hearts and minds of those I worship with on Sunday…such a gift! As we share our thoughts together, it reminds me of another wise Proverb:

    “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” -Proverbs 15:22

  6. Just after the first EAC building was established on Old Stage Road, my father engraved a wooden plaque with the words of Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” My mother added the pictures of her six children from that time. Every time I visit with my mom I see that plaque proudly placed in her living room and I’m reminded how powerful a heritage they built for their children.

    Sherry, thank you for inspired writing today. May we all continue to study the Scriptures daily like the Bereans.

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