SAYINGS OF SOLOMON Proverbs 25–29
“Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe” (Prov. 29:25).Though his observations are brief, this collection of Solomon’s sayings gives us deep insights into personal relationships.
So far we’ve noted two ways to study the Proverbs. One is to read through a chapter, and note specific verses that “jump out” at us. The other is to do a topical study, and compare all the proverbs on a particular subject. In this unit we’re looking at a third method for studying the Proverbs. I’ve called it “in-depth,” though perhaps it might better be called “meditative.” To use this approach we simply look at a proverb and think carefully about it. What does the proverb say? What does it imply? What is the background that gave rise to it? To what situations might it apply? In today’s commentary I use this method to explore several proverbs selected from these sayings of Solomon.
These five chapters of brief sayings attributed to Solomon were added to Proverbs in the time of Hezekiah.
Understanding the Text
“If you argue your case with a neighbor” Prov. 25:8–10. What are we to do when we hear a rumor about someone, or see some suspicious act? Jump to conclusions? Run quickly to tell everyone we know? This group of proverbs suggests that the worst thing to do is to spread a rumor, or even make an accusation based on something we’ve witnessed. After all, we don’t know the whole story. We don’t know the motive for the act we saw, or all the circumstances surrounding it. Solomon suggested that we withhold judgment, and not hurry off to “bring [our neighbor] hastily to court [i.e., accuse him].” We’ll look mighty foolish if he has a good explanation! Solomon suggested that we go to our neighbor and “argue our case” with him. This doesn’t mean repeating what others have said in confidence: “Well, George said that you. . . . ” To repeat what others say is betraying a confidence. Do this, and when others find out, you’ll have a reputation that you’ll never be able to live down! On the one hand, Solomon’s words are simply good advice. They make a lot of sense. On the other hand, they are rooted in a unique view of the godly society. In a godly society if you witness or hear something about another person, you can’t just shrug your shoulders and say, “That’s his business.” You are accountable for the welfare of the other person, and for the purity of your community. To fulfill your responsibility you first go to the person involved. You share what you’ve seen or heard, and give him a chance to explain. In doing this you both show your concern for truth, and for the other person himself. If he can explain, well and good. If confronting helps him to set things right, again well and good. If he will not respond, that’s time enough to involve others and possibly the courts. Solomon’s point is that while you must do something, what you do had better be the right thing! And the right thing is not to gossip about what you’ve seen, or spread a rumor you’ve heard. The right thing is to go directly to the other person, to find out the truth, and to help. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” Prov. 27:5–6. What is friendship really all about? Today we can take courses on how to win friends and influence people. While those who teach tell us not to use the techniques they show us to manipulate others, all too often the goal we have in making friends is just this. We want to ingratiate ourselves; to use the relationship for some personal gain. Solomon, in exploring friendship, makes a different proposal. To win friends be a friend. Truly care about the other person. Rather than use him or her, serve. This view of friendship is behind each of Solomon’s sayings. Why is open rebuke better than hidden love? Because such love is morally useless. It fails to tell its object his or her faults, and thus leaves him or her without information that might lead to reform. When we hesitate to rebuke a person our motive is not really love. It is fear that we might be rejected or attacked. We’re not really concerned about the other person: we’re concerned about ourselves! Turning the saying around, Solomon invites us to evaluate our attitude to those who profess to be our friends. Do we prefer the flatterer? The person who has nothing but praise for us—while we’re with him—may very well be an enemy. You can tell a true friend by his willingness to wound you when a wound is for your own good. No, not everyone who hurts you is a friend. But we should be able to tell the difference between an insensitive clod who tells us something that is hurtful, and says, “Now this is for your own good,” and the person who really cares and shows caring by telling us the truth in love. Solomon’s insights are just as valid today as they were 3,000 years ago. Friendship calls for honesty exercised in the best interests of another, and for appreciating such honesty from others, even when it hurts.
Let It Out!(Prov. 29:11)
I’m often amazed at the new treatments psychologists come up with. A few years ago one popular fad was, let it out! If you feel angry, let it out. Take this foam-rubber bat and hit something as hard as you can. If you feel hostile, say all those nasty things you’re thinking. If you ventilate your feelings, the theory goes, you’ll get rid of them. If you hold them in, they’ll grow stronger. Nice theory. Of course, it doesn’t really work. Solomon knew that 3,000 years ago, and said so when he wrote, “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control” (v. 11). When we practice letting any sinful or negative feeling out, what happens is that we become less able to control it next time. Rather than “ventilating” the emotion and getting rid of it, we find it returns more often. And, like a muscle that we exercise over and over again, those feelings we “let out” become stronger too. The reason is deeply rooted in the very nature of human beings. You and I are moral creatures. That means we are to stand in judgment of our own emotions. We are to choose against our emotions if those emotions are wrong. We are to be controlled, not by what we feel, but by what we know to be right. When a person chooses to “let out” his anger or hostility, he is not getting rid of it. He is permitting it to master him. How wonderful that in Christ you and I have a better way to deal with our anger. We can choose to do what is right—and confess our sinful feelings to God and ask Him to change them, and us. When we do, God works His gradual transformation within us, until we become loving rather than angry women and men.
Do what you know is right, not what you feel.