SAYINGS OF THE WISE Proverbs 22:17–24:34
“My son, if your heart is wise, then my heart will be glad; my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak what is right” (Prov. 23:15–16).Speaking directly to us, the wise of the ancient world recapture the style of chapters 1–9, of a father speaking with his hand resting on the shoulder of his son. As Proverbs 23:15–16 says, a good father rejoices when his son or daughter speaks what is right.
These “sayings of the wise” abandon the brief saying in favor of paragraph—length observations that convey the practical wisdom of the ancient world.
Understanding the Text
“Listen to the sayings of the wise” Prov. 22:17–21. Proverbs are valuable to us only if we listen carefully, take them to heart, and pass them on as well as practice them. They must also be understood not as gimmicks by which others are manipulated, but as ways to express our trust in the Lord in daily life. This introductory paragraph helps us understand why the proverbs “work.” While some simply provide penetrating insights into how human society works, many function only because God Himself supervises the consequences of the choices you and I make. “Do not exploit the poor” Prov. 22:22–23. The warning not to exploit the poor “for the Lord will take up their case” illustrates the point made above. Living by the Proverbs does require faith. Many actually do become rich and seem to prosper at the expense of the poor. Only the conviction that God is a just Judge makes us sure that in the end “the Lord will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them.” It takes faith to follow guidelines given in Proverbs, just as it takes faith to respond to any Word of God. “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man” Prov. 22:24–25. Never suppose that you can avoid being influenced by your friends. So don’t choose as a friend someone with a major character flaw. This proverb warns, “You may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared.” “Do not be a man who . . . puts up security for debts” Prov. 22:26–27. Economic advice too is found in these proverbs. These verses simply mean: never cosign a loan unless you’re ready and willing to pay it off yourself! “When you sit to dine with a ruler” Prov. 23:1–3. The social climber is likely to find himself in a situation where he feels most uncomfortable! “Do not wear yourself out to get rich” Prov. 23:4–5. The person who focuses his whole life on getting rich makes a bad bargain. Jesus made the same point when He called on us to store up treasures in heaven, where no moth or rust can corrupt and no thief break through and steal (Matt. 6:19–21). Note again the relationship of this proverb to faith. Only the believer, who sees a reality beyond this present universe, is likely to show such restraint. “Do not eat the food of a stingy man”Prov. 23:6–8. It doesn’t really pay to wheedle favors from others by manipulating them with compliments. Anything not freely given creates hostility in the heart of the giver, and will not benefit us in the end. “Do not move an ancient boundary stone” Prov. 23:10–11. In Israel, boundary stones marked the borders of each family’s fields. To move the boundary stone was to steal a little bit of a neighbor’s land. Why not? “Their Defender is strong; He will take up their case against you.” Again we see why the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Only a person who takes God fully into account will view Him as the active Defender of the weak. “Do not let your heart envy sinners” Prov. 23:17–18. Envy is a mix of resentment and admiration. If we do not secretly admire a sinner, and feel resentment that he has what we want, we will be free of one of life’s most corrupting influences. How do we find such freedom? By being constantly aware of God. If we keep Him before us, we will not envy sinners and will have hope for the future. “Do not join those who drink too much wine” Prov. 23:19–21. The partying lifestyle of the “beautiful people” of our day is not good for us—or for them! “Do not gaze at wine when it is red” Prov. 23:29–35. The sober person who looks at a drunk sees the impact of alcoholism (v. 29). But the drunkard, fascinated by his wine, is unable to grasp the reality of his condition (vv. 30–33). Even when he staggers from side to side like a sailor on a stormy sea, he claims he is fine—and thinks only of where he can get his next drink (vv. 34–35). “Do not envy wicked men” Prov. 24:1–4. The wicked are destructive influences; the wise are constructive. Sinners tear down, and trample beautiful things; the wise build, and furnish society with beauty. “Do not gloat when your enemy falls” Prov. 24:17–18. Delight at an enemy’s downfall is as great a sin as the one he is being punished for! “An honest answer” Prov. 24:23–26. Total honesty is essential in every relationship, including honest confrontation of those who do wrong. “A little sleep” Prov. 24:30–34. A look at the situation of the lazy man teaches an important lesson. It’s dangerous to think, “Well, I’ll just take it easy for a while.” This soon becomes a lifestyle that guarantees poverty.
Somebody Else(Prov. 24:11–12)
I read a poem recently about Somebody Else. With tongue in cheek, the poet expressed admiration for this person who does so much for church and community. Why, every time anyone he knew was asked to help out, that person suggested Somebody Else do it. And, sure enough, Somebody Else did! Proverbs 24:11–12 suggests, however, that you and I aren’t to stand back and let Somebody Else take moral stands. “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?” We can plead ignorance. But we remain responsible for what happens in our society. I think the Rev. Donald E. Wildmon must have taken this proverb to heart. One night when he was trying to watch TV with his family, he had to ask his children to switch off a show on each of the major networks. After watching just a few minutes, each show portrayed some immoral or violent act he knew it was wrong to expose his family to. That led him to visit the networks to express his concern and, when the networks failed to respond, to form an organization which now goes directly to advertisers. When a show approvingly portrays adultery, violence, or other immoral acts, Don Wildmon goes to the advertiser and asks if these are the values they want associated with their products. And if they do, he makes it clear that he is ready to exercise his right not to buy that product. Is this censorship? Not at all. Wildmon says, “I have as much right as any other individual in this society to try to shape society. I have as much right to try to influence people. I have as much right to create what I consider to be a decent, good, clean, wholesome, moral society.” In the words of Proverbs, when Wildmon saw our society “being led away to death” he refused to say he “knew nothing about this.” Instead he accepted the responsibility that rests on all Christians to respond when evil threatens others. And he acted. In acting as he has, Don Wildmon has set an example for us all.
The next time you see an injustice or a wrong, ask yourself: Is God’s Somebody Else me?