7. God and Man in Proverbs
There are two major errors made by many of us who attempt to interpret the Old Testament. The first is that we are inclined to see too much. By this I mean that many merely teach the New Testament from the Old. Virtually every New Testament truth is found, often in type, in the Old. Often this does great violence to the text. The other error is that we fail to see enough in the Old Testament passages we study and teach. While I am a dispensationalist, I find a tendency among some who are of my persuasion to see the Old Testament as only a book for those of another age believe that the Old Testament saints knew more than we have given them credit for. For example, Jesus was able to say, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day; and he saw it, and was glad” (John 8:56).
Few Christians would expect to the find the Gospel presented in the Book of Proverbs; but I believe that the Gospel is there, in much the same way as it is contained in other Old Testament books. What the Old Testament teaches in more general terms, the New teaches more specifically. I am convinced that the essential facts of the Gospel are clearly stated in Proverbs.
I have a particular interest in searching the Book of Proverbs concerning its teaching regarding God and man. Proverbs, in my opinion, contains a detailed description of God, and for good reason. After all, Proverbs is devoted to the development of godly character. If a man would be godly, he must first know what God is like. For this reason alone, we should expect Proverbs to contain a description of the character of God.
There is yet another reason why Proverbs has much to contribute to our understanding of the character of God. Proverbs is an intensely practical book. It does not deal with ethereal, philosophical truth, but with practical truth, truth which can be converted into godly attitudes and actions. When Proverbs informs us about God, it reveals those divine characteristics which should shape our lives. Let us look at the Book of Proverbs, then, to learn more of God and more about man’s relationship to Him.
The Description of God in Proverbs
God’s character is best revealed in Proverbs by the description of what He delights in and what He hates.
1. GOD LOVES THE RIGHTEOUS, BUT HE HATES THE WICKED.
For the crooked man is an abomination to the Lord; But He is intimate with the upright. The curse of the Lord is on the house of the wicked, But He blesses the dwelling of the righteous (3:32-33).
The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, But He loves him who pursues righteousness (15:9).
2. GOD LOVES THE GOOD MAN, BUT HE HATES THE EVIL PLANNER AND HIS PLAN.
A good man will obtain favor from the Lord, But He will condemn a man who devises evil (12:2; cf. 6:18).
Evil plans are an abomination to the Lord, But pleasant words are pure (15:26).
3. GOD LOVES HONESTY IN BUSINESS, BUT HE DESPISES DISHONESTY.
A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, But a just weight is His delight (11:1; cf. 20:10,23).
4. GOD LOVES THOSE WHO HAVE INTEGRITY, BUT HE HATES THE PERVERSE IN HEART.
The perverse in heart are an abomination to the Lord, But the blameless in their walk are His delight (11:20; cf. 3:32).
5. GOD LOVES THOSE WHO ARE TRUTHFUL, BUT HE HATES LIARS AND THEIR FALSEHOOD.
Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, But those who deal faithfully are His delight (12:22; cf. 6:17,19).
6. GOD LOVES THE PRAYERS OF THE UPRIGHT, BUT HE HATES THE RELIGIOUS RITUAL OF THE WICKED.
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, But the prayer of the upright is His delight (15:8; cf. 21:27).
I find a number of striking similarities of thought between these descriptions of what God delights in and what He despises and the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Since I understand our Lord’s words there to be His interpretation of the Old Testament Law, as opposed to that of the Jewish religious leaders of His day, it is really little wonder that He would simply reiterate the teaching of Proverbs.
There are at least two very practical applications of what we have just observed in Proverbs concerning what God loves and what He hates. The first (and one we shall deal with in greater detail later) is that we can gain insight into the subject of divine guidance or the will of God. God’s will, in general terms, is that we do what he delights in and avoid what He despises. The second is that we learn much about a person’s character by knowing what he loves and what he hates. From the observations we have made above, it should be obvious that God is righteous, good, holy, truthful and just. He loves righteousness and He hates evil.
We have already learned from Proverbs that God is good; Proverbs also describes a God who is great. He is great in what He knows, and He is great in power.
Theologians speak of God as being omniscient, which simply means that He knows everything. Proverbs specifies some of the areas included in God’s omniscience.
1. GOD KNOWS THE DEEDS OF MEN, BOTH GOOD AND EVIL.
For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the Lord, And He watches all his paths (5:21).
The eyes of the Lord are in every place, Watching the evil and the good (15:3).
2. GOD KNOWS THE HEARTS OF MEN AND SEARCHES OUT THEIR MOTIVES.
Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord, How much more the hearts of men! (15:11).
All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, But the Lord weighs the motives (16:2; cf. also 17:3; 21:2).
God is also omnipotent. He is all-powerful. Nothing is beyond His control. God is able to accomplish what He determines to do. No one is able to thwart His will. Kings, the most powerful figures in the ancient world, were subject to His will.
The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes (21:1).
Even the wicked, those who choose to rebel against God, will achieve God’s ultimate purposes.
The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, Even the wicked for the day of evil (16:4).
By His will, battles are won, and even those things which appear to be matters of chance are under His control.
The horse is prepared for the day of battle, But victory belongs to the Lord (21:31).
The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is-from the Lord (16:33).
God’s sovereignty extends even to a man’s speech and to his steps.
The plans of the heart belong to man, But the answer of the tongue is from the Lord (16:1).
The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps (16:9).
God is in charge of His creation, and He will not ever lose control of it. While man must choose to forsake his folly and follow the path of wisdom, no earthly or heavenly creature has the power to resist the will of God.
There is no wisdom and no understanding And no counsel against the Lord (21:30).
God’s infinite goodness and greatness put Him far beyond the reach of man. Man would never come to know or understand God unless God first sought out men, to reveal Himself to them and to initiate a relationship with them.
Surely I am more stupid than any man, And I do not have the understanding of a man. And I have not learned wisdom, But I have knowledge of the Holy One. Who has ascended into heaven and descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has wrapped the waters in His garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name or His son’s name? Surely you know! (30:2-4).
Indeed, man cannot even understand himself, apart from coming to know God.
Man’s steps are ordained by the Lord, How then can man understand his way? (20:24).
God has chosen to be intimately involved in the affairs of men. He is not distant and aloof. As theologians would say, God is imminent God’s concern with His creation extends even to the use of honest weights.
A just balance and scales belong to the Lord; All the weights of the bag are His concern (16:11).
He is aware of the needs of the righteous and responsive to them.
The Lord will not allow the righteous to hunger, But He will thrust aside the craving of the wicked (10:3).
He will not allow evil and injustice to go unpunished, nor kindness to go unrewarded.
He who mocks the poor reproaches his Maker; He who rejoices at calamity will not go unpunished (17:5).
He who is gracious to the poor man lends to the Lord, And He will repay him for his good deed (19:17).
One of the practical outworkings of the character of God is that He is the Judge of the earth, and of mankind in particular. One thing of which we may be certain is that there is a day of reckoning coming, when God will judge men and reward them according to their deeds.
Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, But righteousness delivers from death (11:4).
If you say, “See, we did not know this,” Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work? (24:12)
Frequently in Proverbs we find the expression, “he will not go unpunished,” an indication that the writer(s) looked for a day of judgment in which God would surely judge men according to their deeds (cf. 11:21; 17:5; 19:5; 28:20).
While we are told that even the wicked fulfill a divine purpose (16:4), the judgment that evil men receive is precisely what they deserve. They are simply “reaping what they have sown’ (cf. Gal. 6:7).
He who is steadfast in righteousness will attain to life, And he who pursues evil will bring about his own death (11:19).
A man will be satisfied with good by the fruit of his words, And the deeds of a man’s hands will return to him (12:14).
He who leads the upright astray in an evil way Will himself fall into his own pit, But the blameless will inherit good (28:10; cf. 14:14,32).
This is the biblical doctrine of retribution--getting what you deserve. Notice, however, something which I think is significant. While the wicked are clearly said to get what they have earned, the blessing of the righteous is worded differently. While the evil doer brings about his own death, the righteous is not said to earn life, but to attain to it (11:19). The Old Testament saint may not have understood this quite as clearly as we should, but I believe he knew that life was a gift, not a wage. Those who are righteous do attain to life, but by God’s grace; they do not attain it be their own merit.
Proverbs represents God as a seeker of men. While sinners will ultimately stand before God as their Judge, it is His desire to have an intimate relationship with those who love Him.
For the crooked man is an abomination to the Lord: But He is intimate with the upright (3:32).
Literally the text says here, “His intimate counsel” (margin, NASB), is with the upright. Because God desires fellowship with men, He is personified as Dame Wisdom, who invites men to dine with her:
“Come, eat of my food, And drink of the wine I have mixed. Forsake your folly and live, And proceed in the way of understanding” (9:5-6).
There is a certain similarity in this invitation to the intimacy which our Lord seeks with His children in Revelation 3:20.
God has made it possible for men to know Him because He has revealed Himself to them. His handiwork can be seen in creation (3:19-20; 8:22-31). He can be known through the teaching of those who are wise (2:1-11). But most of all, He has revealed Himself through His Holy Word.
Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words Lest He reprove you, and you be proved a liar (30:5-6).
According to Proverbs, man is in a serious dilemma, the result of two factors. First, every man is confronted with a decision. It will be made decisively or by default, but it will be made. The decision is whether to fear God or to resist Him, to pursue wisdom or to follow the path of folly.
The wise father, urges his son to make the right choice: My son, do not forsake my teaching, But let your heart keep my commandments; For length of days and years of life, And peace they will add to you. Do not let kindness and truth leave you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute In the sight of God and man. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and turn away from evil (3:1-7).
Dame Wisdom also urges men to choose to follow her:
“How long, 0 naive ones, will you love simplicity? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing, And fools hate knowledge? Turn to my reproof, Behold, I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you (1:22-23).
The decision each man must make is between two ways, and the result is one of two destinies. The way of wisdom is the way of life, pleasantness, and peace (3:1618), the way of security, without fear of punishment for evil (1:33; 3:25-26). Those who were righteous were promised that they would “dwell in the land” (2:21).
Evil men, who have chosen the path of folly, look forward to what they dread. They will reap what they have sown (1:31).They will suffer death (2:18) and “be cut off from the land” (2:21).They can expect only the wrath and condemnation of God (3:32; 12:2).
Man’s dilemma is intensified by a second factor. While he has a decision to make, either to fear God or trust in himself, he is predisposed toward folly, toward the way of evil. Even in childhood we are inclined to go our own way.
Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him (22:15).
The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way [literally, left to himself] brings shame to his mother (29:15).
As we grow older, we tend to deceive ourselves, thinking that the way we have chosen is right, when it is not.
There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death (14:12; also 16:25).
The way of the fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel (12:15).
All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, But the Lord weighs the motives (16:2).
Evil men are unable to discern truth and wisdom, and consequently turn to those who espouse folly.
He who has a crooked mind finds no good, And he who is perverted in his language falls into evil (17:20).
An evildoer listens to wicked lips, A liar pays attention to a destructive tongue (17:4).
Man’s dilemma, then, is this: he is naturally inclined toward sin, and not toward God (theologians call this depravity), and his waywardness inclines him to reject the very words which proclaim to him the way of deliverance. Instead, the evil man listens to those who will tell him what he wants to hear--folly. The root of man’s dilemma is sin:
Fools mock at sin, But among the upright there is good will [or, favor of God, margin NASB] (14:9).
Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a disgrace to any people (14:34).
Who can say, “I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin”? (20:9).
Proverbs not only presents us with the problem, but reveals God’s provision for it. Being a practical book, Proverbs informs men what is required for fellowship with God. I am not inclined to say that these are steps to conversion, but rather different dimensions of one’s change of direction, from following the path of folly to pursuing wisdom. Notice them with me.
1. MAN MUST HUMBLE HIMSELF AND CONFESS HIS SIN.
The fear of the Lord is the instruction for wisdom, And before honor comes humility (15:33).
He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion (28:13).
2. MAN MUST BELIEVE GOD’S WORD.
Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise, And apply your mind to my knowledge; For it will be pleasant if you keep them with you, That they may be ready on your lips. So that your trust may be in the Lord, I have taught you today, even you. Have I not written to you excellent things Of counsels and knowledge, To make you know the certainty of the words of truth That you may correctly answer to him who sent you? (22:17-21).
Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him (30:5).
The one who despises the word will be in debt to it, But the one who fears the commandment will be rewarded (13:13).
Someone might wish to challenge my interpretation of these verses, especially 22:17-21, but the God who saves is also the God who has spoken. The writer of the first passage seems to sense that his words are those of God, and he therefore urges his reader to heed them, for his salvation. Ultimately our salvation is only as certain as the revelation which offers it. To believe in God we must first believe in His Word.
3. MAN MUST CEASE TRUSTING IN HIMSELF AND TRUST ONLY IN GOD FOR HIS SALVATION.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and turn away from evil (3:5-7).
The name of the Lord is a strong tower; The righteous runs into it and is safe (18:10).
The fear of man brings a snare, But he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted (29:25).
4. MAN MUST FORSAKE HIS FOLLY AND TURN TO THE WAY OF WISDOM.
If you seek her [wisdom] as silver, And search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will discern the fear of the Lord, And discover the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth comes knowledge and understanding. He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity, Guarding the paths of justice, And He preserves the way of His godly ones (2:4-8).
Forsake your folly and live, And proceed in the way of understanding (9:6).
Proverbs tends to sum up the way man must come into a relationship with God by the expression “the fear of the Lord.”
1. THE FEAR OF THE LORD IS THE FIRST STEP IN OBTAINING WISDOM AND KNOWING GOD.
Then you will discern the fear of the Lord, And discover the knowledge of God (2:5).
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (9:10; cf. 1:7; 15:33).
2. THE FEAR OF THE LORD TURNS ONE FROM DEATH TO LIFE, FROM GOD’S WRATH TO HIS LIFE.
The fear of the Lord prolongs life, But the years of the wicked will be shortened (10:27).
The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, That one may avoid the snares of death (14:27).
The fear of the Lord leads to life, So that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil (19:23).
The reward of humility and the fear of the Lord Are riches, honor and life (22:4).
3. THE FEAR OF THE LORD CAUSES ONE TO AVOID EVIL AND TO PURSUE RIGHTEOUSNESS.
“The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way, And the perverted mouth, I hate” (8:13).
He who walks in his uprightness fears the Lord, But he who is crooked in his ways despises Him (14:2).
By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for, And by the fear of the Lord one keeps away from evil (16:6).
Do not let your heart envy sinners, But live in the fear of the Lord always (23:17).
4. TO FEAR THE LORD IS TO RESPECT HIM, BUT ALSO TO TRUST IN HIM.
Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and turn away from evil (3:7).
In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence, And his children will have refuge (14:26).
In order to be delivered from divine judgment and enter into an intimate fellowship with God, man must first humble himself by acknowledging his sin. He must cease trusting in himself, and put his confidence in God. Having forsaken the way of sin, he must flee from evil and pursue righteousness.
In the light of what we have learned concerning God and man in the Book of Proverbs, let me conclude by emphasizing two obligations which we must not neglect.
1. MAN IS OBLIGATED TO DECIDE WHETHER OR NOT HE WILL CHOOSE THE WAY OF WISDOM BY CONFESSING HIS SIN, TURNING FROM HIS EVIL WAYS, AND TRUSTING IN GOD. Proverbs persists in confronting us with the urgency of coming to a decision regarding the fear of the Lord. There are only two ways, the way of wisdom and the way of folly. Those who follow their natural bent will continue on the road to destruction. Those who admit their sin and trust in God will receive life and peace and fellowship with God. Whether by decision or default, every man, woman, and child makes this choice. Do not delay to choose to follow the way of wisdom, the way of life.
2. THOSE WHO HAVE CHOSEN TO WALK IN THE WAY OF WISDOM ARE OBLIGATED TO POINT THE WAY TO THOSE WHO HAVE NOT. I believe that the Book of Proverbs teaches us to be evangelistic. We should be like God (and Dame Wisdom), seeking after men, warning them of the danger of their way, and urging them to turn from folly to wisdom. Several Proverbs indicate that the wise man is obliged to urge others to follow in the way that leads men from death to life.
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, And he who is wise wins souls (11:30).
The righteous is a guide to his neighbor, But the way of the wicked leads them astray (12:26).
The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, To turn aside from the snares of death (13:14).
Deliver those who are being-taken away to death, And those who are staggering to slaughter, 0 hold them back.
If you say, “See, we did not know this,” does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work? (24:11-12).
The one who has come to recognize his own sin and the danger of following the way of folly, also knows full well the danger which lies ahead for others, and he is compelled to warn them by sharing the words of wisdom he has come to believe.