Saturday, January 26, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (43)

Proverbs is an ancient book. While it addresses the human condition and therefore remains profoundly relatable, it also contains plenty of references to things we might assume we understand, but generally do not — at least not fully.

For example, the “gate” of 24:7 is not the gate of a house, and “folly” is not merely the condition of immaturity or silliness. It takes familiarity with Old Testament usage to recognize there may be more than meets the eye to these few lines of antiquated-but-not-irrelevant advice.

Thirty Sayings (Proverbs 24:3-12)

Twenty-First Saying: Living an Enjoyable Life Depends on Acting Wisely
By wisdom a house is built,
and by understanding it is established;
by knowledge the rooms are filled
with all precious and pleasant riches.”
Here the image is of a house but the sense is of a home. What matters is not physical rooms and tangible riches but the riches of the heart and mind adorning the rooms of one’s inner man.

But even if we think of a literal house and fungible treasures, it remains the case that these things are acquired by men and women sufficiently civilized and peaceable as to live so that they are able to enjoy the results of their careful planning.

Living enjoyably is a by-product of living wisely.

Twenty-Second Saying: You Can’t Have Enough Wise People, or Enough Wisdom
“A wise man is full of strength,
and a man of knowledge enhances his might,
for by wise guidance you can wage your war,
and in abundance of counselors there is victory.
Wisdom is too high for a fool;
in the gate he does not open his mouth.”
One counselor is better than no counselors, but the more advice the better. Hearing advice does not compel you to take it, of course, but it opens up possibilities you may not have considered, and it reinforces things you tentatively believe but in which you currently lack confidence. Wisdom is not a substitute for physical strength; in many instances it is an improvement on raw power, which can be employed ineffectively without sound strategic planning.

The fool, on the other hand, has nothing to offer. “The gate” is the place in most ancient cities where the elders of the land sat, and where reputations were made. If you opened your mouth in the gate, you had better have something significant to say. Unable to understand conversation at that level, the fool could not contribute.

You can never have too many wise people. You can never have too much sound advice.

Twenty-Third Saying: Those Who Do Evil Things Deliberately are the Lowest of the Low
Whoever plans to do evil will be called a schemer.
The devising of folly is sin,
and the scoffer is an abomination to mankind.”
A former co-worker froze to death on the streets here several years ago. Before he was discovered that winter morning, I had last seen him staggering across an intersection only a few weeks after his termination, drunk and with a face covered in scabs. He would go to bars to drink, and night after night would end up fighting. He was not a large man, or aggressive under ordinary circumstances, but under the influence he was a different person.

That’s not the sort of evil Solomon is talking about. My co-worker did evil things, no doubt, but many of them were unplanned and the vast majority were evils he inflicted on his own heart and body. All kinds of things happen because people have expected and unexpected failures of character, but these are neither desired or intended, and while their consequences may be terrible for all concerned, they are not wicked in the sense described here.

“Folly” in Proverbs refers to depraved behavior, not merely goofing around. People do all sorts of dumb things in moments of poor judgment, but planning your foolishness in advance is a sign of a major moral issue.

The word “schemer” is literally “lord of mischief”. A man like this is sophisticated in his badness. The “scoffer” is arrogantly boastful, a man who talks nonsense intentionally, just as if it is a foreign language. He does this not because he knows no better but because he wants to know no better.

Twenty-Fourth Saying: Keep It Together When Things Get Tough
If you faint in the day of adversity,
your strength is small.”
This may or may not be connected to the next saying, but the thought is sufficiently distinct to warrant separate consideration. Sometimes things get bad — I suspect Christians in the West are overdue for our own “days of adversity” and will experience them before long.

There is no shame in losing a hard-fought battle, and no shame in stepping up to a fight you are guaranteed to lose. “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” said Jesus.

I often think how easy it would have been for Peter to simply answer “yes” to the servant girl’s question at the door of Annas: “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” The “also” is right there in the Greek, and indicates the girl knew the “other disciple” and was not so offended by his acknowledged affiliation with Jesus that she was unwilling to deny him entrance. Her question was more curiosity than threat. If he hadn’t been shaking like a leaf, Peter could’ve walked right in with no more than a monosyllable. What a wuss.

And then when I’m being realistic, I think I probably would’ve done exactly what Peter did.

Twenty-Fifth Saying: If You Have a Chance to Prevent Disaster, Take It
“Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?”
Rarely are we positioned to make a difference in this world, and we are thankfully not accountable for evils we cannot prevent. But there are terrible things that can be prevented, and the man who wants to look at himself in the mirror the day after such choices have been made must decide what he is willing to risk to save those on the brink of disaster.

Ezekiel was faced with a similar dilemma. “I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel,” God told him. “You shall give them warning from me.” From that moment on, there was no chance he could shirk the responsibility laid on him. “If you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.” I rather doubt the Lord was threatening Ezekiel with eternity in the lake of fire if he failed to preach faithfully; more likely he was indicating that failing to tell sinners about God’s coming judgment would cause Ezekiel to lose everything he valued about himself — “soul” in scripture (including in Ezekiel) often speaks of the person or inner man, rather than the life essence.

I think this is the sense here as well. God is said to “weigh the heart” and “keep watch over your soul.” He is not merely concerned that we live rather than die, but that we live in such a way as to merit his commendation rather than his censure; to take the same sort of risks for the lost that he took himself.

In short, if you have a chance to prevent disaster for others, take it. You may have more at stake than you know.

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