Saturday, January 19, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (42)

We’re past the halfway point of the Thirty Sayings, and so far we’ve covered a wide range of topics. This week’s selection is no exception: the importance of truth, the joys of parenting, and warnings against adultery, alcohol abuse and crime.

If there’s a way to wreck your life or to make it better, God has something to say about it.

Thirty Sayings (Proverbs 23:23-24:1)

Sixteenth Saying: Value Truth
Buy truth, and do not sell it;
buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding.”
In our comparatively easy-going modern Western world, you can literally acquire eternal truth for next to nothing. Certain translations of the digital scriptures are regularly made available by Amazon for free, and I am always astonished at how cheaply you can buy Bibles through the Gideons and others. I have over thirty on my shelves currently, and cannot bring myself to throw away even my most dog-eared, coffee-stained, spine-broken copies of the word of God.

This abundance of available truth has not always been the case, and may not continue much longer, but we have cause to be grateful to God for the unusual freedoms we enjoy. In many places and throughout many eras of history, holding to God’s truth has been a costly exercise. Men and women literally went to their deaths rather than surrender what they believed to be the truth by recanting previous public statements or denying the faith. They did not sell the truth, even at the cost of their lives. For the sake of the truth, they were stoned, killed with the sword, and sawn in two. Christians and Jews have hidden copies of the scriptures from those who would destroy them, made copies by hand and smuggled the word of God across borders where it was forbidden.

Not much of this was probably foreseen by Solomon when he penned these lines, nor was he likely thinking exclusively of the Law of Moses, or even of written wisdom generally. After all, much of it had yet to be revealed. All the same, when a true prophet spoke, his message was to be prized and retained as the very word of God.

We would do well to remember the lesson.

Seventeenth Saying: Be the Kind of Child You Would Want to Raise
“The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice;
he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him.
Let your father and mother be glad;
let her who bore you rejoice.”
No matter what his age or the age of his children, a father never stops being a father. A mother never stops being a mother. Having an idiot for a child is heartbreaking whether he is fifty or only fifteen. You never get comfortable watching your children fail, flail and blunder about, whether the sphere is moral, financial, spiritual or marital.

In the New Testament, fathers are told not to provoke their children to anger, and children are told to “obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” That does not mean to obey them when, in the child’s opinion, they are acting in a godly way, or to obey them if they happen to be believers, but to obey them because you yourself belong to the Lord.

In short, be the kind of child you would want to raise. It is those who have characteristically respected the authority put over them who may have the greatest confidence that God will validate their own authority when it becomes necessary to call on it.

Eighteenth Saying: The Wrong Kind of Woman is Dangerous
“My son, give me your heart,
and let your eyes observe my ways.
A prostitute is a deep pit;
an adulteress is a narrow well.
She lies in wait like a robber
and increases the traitors among mankind.”
This is a subject Solomon has already explored in great detail in the earlier chapters of Proverbs. I have covered these passages here and here, for those interested.

One of the most disastrous features of adultery for those who engage in it is its tendency to turn people into disloyal, betraying liars. It “increases the traitors among mankind.” Ask King David, who was never more out of character than when he tried to cover his assignation with Bathsheba by having Uriah murdered. The complications of sex with the wrong person are bad enough already without adding your own character destruction to the mix.

What is notable about this reference is that the father, Solomon, is inviting his sons to use him as an example. Whatever Solomon’s proclivities with respect to the fairer sex, it does not appear he frequented prostitutes or dallied with the wives of other men. Perhaps he had learned that much from his own father.

Nineteenth Saying: Alcoholism Makes You Stupid and Unhappy
“Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has strife? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause?
Who has redness of eyes?
Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine.
Do not look at wine when it is red,
when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly.
In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder.
Your eyes will see strange things,
and your heart utter perverse things.
You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea,
like one who lies on the top of a mast.
‘They struck me,’ you will say, ‘but I was not hurt;
they beat me, but I did not feel it.
When shall I awake?
I must have another drink.’ ”
Nothing has changed in 3,000 years, has it? Anyone who has had the experience of being severely hung over will tell you this is an apt description.

I learned a new word recently, which in itself is a rare event. The word was “sessionable”. A beer is said to be “sessionable” when consuming pint after pint of it is less likely to make you feel horrible the next day than other brews. People having a “session” fully intend to “tarry too long” over their alcohol. They go to it with that very purpose in mind. Thus, a “session” is by its very definition an abuse. If you are drinking outside of the context of a meal, or of hospitality, or simply for the purpose of getting hammered, you are abusing a gift God has given.

Solomon is not here condemning the drinking of wine, but rather the abuse of it. Unless you have serious self-control issues (in which case it is better not to touch alcohol at all), wine served with a meal is standard practice in many places and an indication of generosity, joy and hospitality. It is only a problem when it is abused.

Alcohol abusers often end up look like idiots in the process, as this particular “saying” well indicates, but that’s a different problem ...

Twentieth Saying: Steer Clear of Evildoers
Be not envious of evil men,
nor desire to be with them,
for their hearts devise violence,
and their lips talk of trouble.”
Put the way Solomon puts it here, envy seems unlikely and violence and trouble quite unappealing. It is important to recognize that this is not how evil appears when it seduces the unwary. Evil comes sugar-coated: there is easy money to be made, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to exploit, power to be grasped, benefits to be had by all. Or, as Satan put it to Eve, “You will not surely die.” People who make it their business to draw others into their web of criminality know better than to mention nasty, off-putting words like “violence” and “trouble”. All the calculations have been done, the plan is perfect, and everything is expected to turn out just fine. Of course it does not, at least not for those on the bottom end of the criminal food chain, the patsies who invariably end up taking the fall for the real players, planners and professional con artists.

There is nothing to envy about those who short-cut their way through life taking advantage of others. If not in this life, they will surely get their comeuppance in the end.

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