23 October 2013Proverbs 3:1-26
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (vv. 5-6)
One of the best known verses of Proverbs is found in verse 6; a verse which is often bandied about rather glibly as if discipleship were nothing more than a painting by numbers exercise. Perhaps it is helpful to note a distinction between a promise and a proverb. The Bible is full of the promises of God, and the disciple is rightly charged to 'stand' on these promises and to trust God to be faithful to God's word. A proverb is rather different; it is more an observation of the consequences which are likely to follow certain behaviour, a generalisation more than a guarantee. Without this understanding, any reader who has known a faithful disciple who died young, will struggle with verse 1, which seems to suggest that "length of days and years of life" are the reward for right-living. To interpret Proverbs too literally is to do a disservice to the Wisdom which is to be found here.
Again, in verses 9 and 10, the writer claims that those who "honour the Lord with your substance" will have full barns and bursting vats. When we look at the situation around the world, we know that is not the case. Are these verses, rather, a blueprint, an ideal, a vision of how things are supposed to be, but something, or someone, has vandalised the dream? One World Week's theme for this year, "More than enough", builds on the ethos of the Enough food IF... campaign and is a challenge to those whose barns and vats are full that it is the distribution of wealth which has gone haywire in the world today.
The theme of what true wealth might be is taken up in verses 13-18. Again it is Wisdom which is to be valued above silver, gold or jewels. Had humanity sought to invest in Wisdom, to trade in understanding, to buy shares in the fear of the Lord, would the world look very different today? Such assets lead to true security (verses 21-26) for they cannot be taken away, and in this way they outshine jewels or gold bullion. The possessor of Wisdom need fear neither the sleepless night of the investor, nor the disaster of a stock market crash. Holding fast to the "tree of life" (v. 18) true happiness is to be found. Remarkably, this Wisdom which is offered to all is (verses 19-20) identified with the Wisdom by which the world was created and is sustained. Wow!
- Do you think it is right to draw a distinction between a promise and a proverb, or is that nothing more than playing with words? Why?
- In what other ways can you reconcile the fact that many around the world honour God and yet have empty barns and vats?
- What are the things you desire? How far do you agree with the writer of this passage that none of these things can compare with Wisdom?