Saturday, January 12, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (41)

There’s a little something for almost everybody in this week’s selection of proverbs: children, parents and seniors, alcoholics and other people with out-of-control habits, and most especially their enablers. Even the envious get a quick name-check.

Never let it be said that the Bible isn’t practical …

Thirty Sayings (Proverbs 23:12-22)

Eleventh Saying: Pay Attention
Apply your heart to instruction
and your ear to words of knowledge.”
Christians don’t much like the word “meditate” these days, probably because it has become too greatly associated in their minds with the practices of Eastern religions. When asked if he meditates, one of the deepest thinkers I know abruptly replied in the negative. And yet he meditates all the time: he just doesn’t think of it as meditation. He analyzes passages of scripture, works them through in his mind to establish what they mean and do not mean, then tries to apply them to life, accepting and rejecting the various possibilities as he goes. That’s meditation.

The Hebrew word for “apply” here simply means to “bring”, much as the Lord brought Eve to Adam and Cain brought the fruit of the ground to the Lord. That’s a conscious act, not a matter of learning by osmosis.

In short: “Bring your heart. Bring your ear. Be fully prepared to use both.”

Twelfth Saying: Disciplining Children Sure Beats the Alternative
“Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.
If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.”
I considered the subject of corporal punishment of children in a fair bit of depth when Solomon referenced it in chapter 19, so I won’t revisit all that here.

I’ll make one brief exception: there are well-intentioned Christians who jump through hoops to explain that “strike him with a rod” does not mean, er, “strike him with a rod”. Jim Schultz insists, “Rod does not primarily mean ‘something for spanking,’ ” but rather “something used to shepherd rather than simply beat.” This is perfectly true, and it helps him dismiss the other three “rod” verses in Proverbs (13:24, 24:15 and 29:15) as not necessarily being related to corporal punishment.

It doesn’t help with this one. I’m happy with the rod as a general symbol of all sorts of other parental disciplinary tactics, but this verse is notable in that it refers specifically to “striking” with a rod, as opposed to counting, defending or directing with it. “Strike” in Hebrew is nakah, about which there can be no question that it involves a physical beating of some sort, generally with the fist. The word is indeed used non-literally throughout the Old Testament a small percentage of the time, but this is generally where the “striking” involves things like God sending pestilence, plagues and the turning of rivers to blood. It is hard to see how an analogous disciplinary regimen in child-rearing would improve on the effects of an occasional self-controlled and judicious spanking.

The words “save his soul from Sheol” are interesting, and should not be thought of as equivalent to “keep him out of hell”, though that would certainly be reassuring. Sheol refers to the realm of death generally, not specifically eternal punishment, though that reading may occasionally fit. Jacob expected to go to Sheol, if only temporarily, as did Job and David. Likewise, “soul” may refer not to life-energy but to personhood or personality.

Thus, what is likely being said here is either “you will save his character from ruin” (reading “Sheol” metaphorically) or perhaps “you will deter him from doing the sorts of things that would one day lead to society executing him” (reading it literally). It is not a comment about the spiritual state of the child, though certainly there are profound spiritual lessons to be learned through the right sort of parental discipline. It is definitely not a firm promise of salvation.

Thirteenth Saying: Righteousness Pays Off in the Long Run
“Let not your heart envy sinners,
but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day.
Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.”
Envy is an awfully tempting thing. Sinners have recourse to options Christians do not, and sometimes wish we did. Striking back when hurt is one of them. Nursing grudges, having our own way, accumulating wealth without guilt, taking what we want when we want it, and all sorts of other desires are easier and more quickly achieved when we do not have to stop to consider the will of God in the matter. These can all be sources of temptation at times.

Solomon reminds us that there is good reason for worshipers of God to exercise self-control. We are not the losers in the long run. There is a reward for the fear of God that will reveal itself in due time. The word “future” here is usually translated “end”, a fact that reminds us that there will be a time when all temptation will cease forever, and God will be all in all. That’s a great thought, in which case we might read it, “Surely there will be an end to your temptation to envy, and your deliverance will not fail to materialize.”

Equally, however, the word may be translated “future”, and this is consistent with the last line, suggesting that there is an age to come in which all legitimate desires will be satisfied for those who have sought first the kingdom of God.

We can easily find scriptures to support both readings.

Fourteenth Saying: Don’t Hang Around with People Who Have No Self-Control
Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat,
for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty,
and slumber will clothe them with rags.”
People who are unable to keep their appetites in check make poor friends. Alcoholics and gourmands need to feed their habits, and generally do so by short-changing everyone in their lives. Not only are they usually hard up for money, which means they will shortly be hitting you up for yet another never-to-be-repaid loan, but you may also find that increasingly you will have less and less in common with them as they fade from the mainstream of society — that is, unless you start to develop the same habits.

This does not mean that Christians should studiously avoid friendships with unbelievers who are less-than-perfectly in check. The Lord Jesus socialized with tax collectors and sinners and Paul reminds the Corinthians that “God judges those outside” the faith. There is little danger in such associations so long as the believer continues, as the Lord did, to view his role as something like that of a would-be physician in what scripture describes as a “doctor/patient” relationship, rather than in some kind of equal partnership.

Our Lord was there to “call sinners”, not to cavort with them. He never lost sight of that. We may.

Fifteenth Saying: Pay Attention to Your Parents
“Listen to your father who gave you life,
and do not despise your mother when she is old.”
I have a friend who devotes herself to ensuring that her mother has everything she needs as she ages, whether it’s medical or financial support, acknowledgment of her birthdays and special events, taking her out on the town, or just being there to listen to her. What makes my friend exceptional even in her own family is that her mother is profoundly narcissistic, had little to do with raising her, contributed almost nothing to her success in life beyond motivating her not to end up like mom, and has a history of mistreating and using both her and other family members.

Aging is not exactly fun and games, but in many cases it brings with it a wisdom and perspective that children and busy adults often lack. That’s one reason to respect our elders.

Another is simply that they brought us into the world. Our fathers and mothers gave us life. We ought to be grateful for that, whether or not they are the sort of people we enjoy being around, and even if they have little or nothing personally to offer us.

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