Proverbs teaches us of the sweetness of wisdom as contrasted with the bitterness of the ways of the fool, the ways of the world. They promise much but deliver nothing of lasting value. Wisdom gives us fullness of life. In order to do obtain such fullness we must avoid looking at the world and envying its values and its success stories. Wisdom calls us to have personal integrity in our speech and our actions. This means that we are not to waste our time, energy and resources on pursuits fueled by envy and lust or desiring the riches of the world. As we have already learned in Proverbs, a point which must be emphasized over and over because of our weaknesses and lack of discipline, we are to earn our way honestly and with diligence.
One of the other antidotes to foolishness is something which itself seems foolish: we are to tend to the needs of others. We may think this hard for when we look at the world we envy what we don’t have. Yet as we contemplate these verses, we ought to look at what we have in comparison to what most of the people in the world lack. Then we would realize that we are the ones who are blessed and rich. God has given us such blessings so that we will take up the case of the oppressed and the needy and stand against the wickedness of the foolish everywhere it exists. This we do primarily with our words and speech but also with our actions and resources. It does not, however, give us license for violence, slander, insults or revenge, nor should we gloat over anyone’s misfortune. Fools are to be pitied because they are bound by lust and sin and they refuse to listen to sound teaching and instruction. The Lord will take care of them. He desires that we focus on those who are oppressed and needy.
These proverbs about eating and drinking teach us how to discipline our desires and properly channel them. Food and drink are good things yet they can easily be abused through gluttony and drunkenness. In the same way, the desires we have for any good thing such as sexual relations, friendship, peace and security can also be abused. If we seek to obtain such good things without exercising restraint, without using wisdom and listening to God’s law, without compassion and love for others, we will wind up suffering or causing harm to others. Such suffering is graphically depicted by the description of the results of drunkenness which can easily apply to any substance abuse as well as all unrestrained overindulgence: confusion, bewilderment, empty dreams, failure, lack of satisfaction and general misery.
Wisdom prescribes the antidote to the venomous poison of unbridled desire: put a knife to your throat. That is, think about the consequences before you act. Rather than think you have a handle on such behavior, that you know when to stop, acknowledge your weakness. And if you think that such suffering and misery won’t come upon you, realize that if God says it will happen, it will. In addition, we are not to envy those who overindulge or even to desire to adopt the ways and lifestyles of celebrities and the rich and famous. We think they have it all, that they lack for nothing. They think those who are humble and righteous are fools. Yet the truth is those who trust in and value riches are the fools. Those who fear the Lord have far greater treasure. They are the ones to be envied.
The opening proverb states that integrity and righteousness are far superior to riches. In theory most people would agree with this, but in practice the opposite is true. People want prosperity first thinking it will buy them a good reputation later. Yet because wealth is often achieved through selfishness, greed, lies, slander and exploitation, the result is a bad reputation as well as all the woes and grief that go with it. Wisdom teaches us that although wealth and money are important they are not primary or superior to a life that honors God. Wisdom tells us how we are to obtain money: through diligence, hard work, honesty, integrity, fairness and generosity. Wisdom also sets guidelines for the righteous use of wealth. We are to use it to help others meet their needs: physical and emotional as well as spiritual.
Proverbs also tells us emphatically that we are to teach this wisdom to our children. This means first of all parents, but it also includes the family and the church as well. We cannot leave the job of imparting wisdom to our children’s peers or to the government or even the schools. Those who do not respect or fear the Lord as believers do have no clue as to what wisdom is or how it is to be used. Ungodly people cannot build godly character, holiness, righteousness, ethics, or morality into anyone. Rather, since our culture places a high value on money and prosperity it demeans generosity and good character while not only extolling greed and selfishness but also proclaiming them to be the true marks of success and integrity. No wonder the moral state of our nation is so corrupt.
Here we encounter wisdom about the rewards and outcomes of our actions and words. At the start we learn that Lord is in charge of all events, even the hearts or plans and intentions of leaders, whether they know it or not. The windup in the last verse is that the end results are all up to Him. What evil we commit or even intend, what harm we inflict on others, will somehow come back upon our own heads. Those who ignore the poor and needy will find that their wealth is unsatisfying, unstable and temporary. Those who deny justice to the oppressed will find that they will affliction, pain and calamities. Those who lie and cheat will be unable to trust anyone.
The knowledge that the Lord is in control of all things is the essence of wisdom. If we heed this bit of wisdom we will not fight Him, we will not seek our own way, and we will not try to thwart or circumvent His will by direct rebellion or by false religion and compromised moral principles. We will not mock or make fun of other people, we will not abuse them or use them to suit our own ends. We will refrain from quarrelling. We will build others up and assist the poor and needy. As we cooperate with Him, as we obey His will, He will grant us peace and prosperity. Now that does not mean will earn riches beyond our wildest dreams. Proverbs tells us that such riches are a curse. Rather the Lord will bless us and be with us in throughout the challenging periods of life.
By now we understand that though these proverbs seem to be randomly strung together, they are linked by certain themes. Here we find sayings concerning discernment of the intentions of others as observed by examining their actions and words. We might not get this from reading the first verse until we realize that the irrational, rude and unkind actions of some people may be caused by their addiction to alcohol or other addictive substances. Such an understanding of human behavior tells us that there are often underlying circumstances to people’s words and deeds. That may help us to practice compassion and extend mercy when it is called for but wisdom warns us to be wary: rude and insulting behavior, though understandable is still unacceptable.
In addition, wisdom warns us to discern our own intentions. A lot of people may think that they are righteous, faithful, kind and even, to a degree, sinless. They may even boast about it. Meanwhile they misuse and abuse other people through injustice, gossip and lies. These verses remind us that God knows our hearts, our innermost thoughts and intentions even better than we do. We need wisdom so that we may be humble. We need wisdom to tell us the boundaries and limits of all behavior. We need wisdom to help us to be humble before almighty God and submit to His will in all things.
Once again we are treated to words that teach us the importance of integrity in our speech as well as the superiority of loving and loyal relationships over the pursuit of wealth. Wisdom tells us always to speak the truth, for lies hurt others and promote injustice. Of course we may think the opposite: lies help us get out of trouble. As for wealth, again we are fools if we are inclined to think it is our salvation and source of hope and strength. Those who trust in money use it to buy “friends” and what we think passes for love and respect. And those with money, who spend it lavishly on sumptuous food, extravagant clothing and opulent lifestyles, homes and cars, will find friends. But if such “friends” are around only for the money and the fun are they really friends? They will desert us when we need their help.
Meanwhile those who lack wealth and resources go begging for help, abandoned and lonely. The truly wise person uses his money, resources, talent and power to assist and help them. We may think we have little or nothing to use to help the needy because we need it for ourselves but if we try to hold onto it all for our own needs we will indeed find ourselves greatly impoverished and ruined. For when we give to those who cannot repay, when we give to help the poor and downtrodden, we are lending to God. This is why verse 17 is so cool! We think we will never see that money again and that is okay but the fact is, it is a loan which the Lord will repay. So truly the one who gives will never lack what is truly needed.
By now we should be getting the message that wisdom is demonstrated in selfless behavior that considers the needs and welfare of others before our own. This is one loan that the borrower will not default on, for the Lord always keeps His promises.
This group of proverbs opens with factual wisdom: those who are fools pursue selfish ends and objectives. All they do and say is for their own benefit but it destroys relationships and wrecks the harmony of the community. Fools are arrogant and proud. They have no desire to share anything with anyone. They do not desire to learn wisdom let alone teach it for they think they know it all. And they are skilled in seducing others with words that sound high, noble and glorious. Fools are like deep waters which mask danger: the words of the fool mislead for they mask treachery, evil, despair and destruction.
Fools trust in wealth and material prosperity. They may achieve affluence but will not be satisfied with it, or happy, comfortable or at peace. This is because they want more and more. They are also fearful they will lose what they have. They trust in the security of wealth like those who trust in a fortress but find it a prison that keeps them from the Lord. Now those who trust the Lord rather than riches, those who seek to do His will, to seek justice for the poor and oppressed, these will find true comfort and true life. The wisdom they accept from the Lord will enable to make the right choices and decisions that will truly lead to blessing and satisfaction.