That We May Know Wisdom (Proverbs)

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 1:7 ESV

Proverbs is the third of the books of poetry after Job and Psalms. It’s author King Solomon, commonly called the wisest of all kings, led the nation of Israel to prosperity as we read in 1 Kings 4:20, 25. Elsewhere we also get a description of how wise King Solomon really is (1 Kings 4:30, 32-34). So here we have a collection of sayings from the wisest king who ever lived and in Proverbs 1:3 we get the purpose of the book: instructions to the reader on how to make decisions based on wisdom, justice, and righteousness.

Poetry in Proverbs comes in a variety of forms. The majority of the book is dominated by two-liners: short sayings that are easy to remember and apply such as Proverbs 25:17 and Proverbs 26:17. Next we have ones that supply a list of things such as Proverbs 6:16 and Proverbs 30:29-31. For those of you who’ve been at RGC in the earlier years, you’ll be familiar with this next one that’s called a Chiasm. A chiasm uses parallel lines that have corresponding themes but instead of being one after another, the parallel lines are first and last, the second and the second to last, and so on and so forth. There are a couple more but instead of describing them all, let’s get right into the overall structure of the book.

  • Chapters 1-9 are a discourse on the advantages of wisdom. Here wisdom is personified as a female.
  • Chapters 10-18 are two-liners that contrast wisdom and folly.
  • Chapters 19-24 are two-liners that give some principles to follow in life.
  • Chapters 25-29 are two-liners that talk about wickedness and righteousness.
  • Chapter 30 are the words of Agur son of Jakeh.
  • Chapter 31 is describes the women who fears the Lord.

Providentially, there are 31 chapters of Proverbs so it should be simple enough to go through a chapter a day for a month every month. Happy reading!

For Love’s Sake (Philemon)

The background of Philemon is fairly simple. Philemon owned a slaved named Onesimus. Onesimus ran away but somehow met Paul. And Paul, being Paul, shared the gospel with him. Through it Onesimus was saved, then staying with and ministering to Paul while he was in prison. However Paul sends this runaway slave back to his old master with a letter.

That’s how we get Paul’s epistle to Philemon. The letter urges Philemon to do something absolutely unheard of. Paul asks him to forgive Onesimus as a fellow brother and not as a slave. This isn’t a biblical argument against slavery. Not in the least. Although the relationship seen here is that of a master and a slave, Paul purpose isn’t to condemn slavery. Here he presents Onesimus as a Christian brother instead of a slave.

“For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” Philemon 15-16 ESV

From verse 2 we know that Philemon’s house serves as the church building so Philemon is a church leader. We also know that this was not a private letter to Philemon, since in the same verse Paul also addresses Apphia and Archippus. However Philemon is definitely a departure from Paul’s usual writing which are addressed to either whole congregations or pastors.

Here’s the basic structure for the short letter:

  • Verses 1-3 are Paul’s opening salutation. Paul introduces himself as “a prisoner for Christ Jesus”. He also mentions Timothy who probably co-wrote the letter with him. It’s important not to gloss over Paul’s greetings even if they are oftentimes very similar because they set the tone for the rest of the letter. For example in Galatians he doesn’t just call himself an apostle but seems to feel the need to defend his office of apostleship. Here in Philemon we get a sense of togetherness by using the possessive pronoun “our”.
  • Verses 4-7 are Paul’s thanksgiving and intercession. This is also a common thing Paul does. Before getting into the main topic of a letter, Paul gives thanks to God for Philemon while at the same time affirming him.
  • Verse 9-19 are Paul’s request to Philemon to take back Onesimus not as a slave but as a brother.
  • Verse 20-25 are Paul’s conclusion and greetings from five others. Here he also expresses full confidence that Philemon will do even more than what he requested.

The last thing I’ll say about Philemon is that it’s a wonderful example of how Paul’s teachings play out it real life. I’ll give you a couple of examples. The book of Philippians tells us to emulate Christ by putting others’ interests above our own. In Philemon, we see what this looks like practically in Christian relationships. The letters addressed to Timothy list the qualifications and duties of church leaders. And of course there are more. See if you can figure them out! Happy reading.

The Downward Spiral of Sin (Judges)

The period of Judges is the time between the death of Joshua, their military and spiritual leader, and the rule of the Israelite king. What is meant by the word “judges” is not the first picture that might come to your mind. It is not one of those government officials with gowns and gavels. The Hebrew word that is translated as “judge” is more like “agents of justice” or “savior”.

“So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. Whenever they marched out, the hand of theLord was against them for harm, as the Lord had warned, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress. Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them.” Judges 2:14-16  ESV

As you can see here, “judges” were military leaders, deliverers of the people of Israel from foreign oppressors. Although some of them were also rulers and judges in the judicial sense. In disobedience to God, Israel had failed to wipe out all of the inhabitants of the land but instead made covenants with them as we see in Judges 1:27-36. Instead of correcting their mistake, God leaves these idolatrous people there as “thorns” (Judges 2:1-5). And then Israel backslides even further by having later generations intermarrying with these Gentiles and serving their gods (Judges 3:5-6).

So this is the setting of Judges:

  • Joshua is dead.
  • They failed to clear out the entirety of the land so there are still “pockets” of Canaanites remaining.
  • They intermingle with the people they were told to wipe out and begin worshiping false gods.

What follows is around 300 years of the same pattern of Sin (sinning against God), Slavery (God giving them over to their oppressors), Surrender (Israel repenting of their disobedience), and Salvation (God sending a judge to deliver them). Only the shape of this pattern is not a circle on one plane. It is a downward spiral of sin as things get worse and worse. By the end of the book, the Israelites are much worse off than when they started. The judges get worse and worse as we start off with Othniel in Judges 3:7-12. He was what many would call the model judge. Later we get to Gideon. Gideon is characterized as unsure and defiant. He constantly requests signs. And although he is victorious in battle, we see that at the end of the story Gideon ends up setting up idols in the form of the golden ephod. And then finally we have Samson. Samson constantly breaking his covenant, vengeful, and a womanizer. In fact the only redeeming factor about him is when he committed suicide bringing about a partial deliverance to the people.

Here’s a breakdown of the book:

– In 1:1 to 3:6 we see the setting; this is the condition of Israel under the judges.

– In 3:7 to 16:31 we see all of the judges

  • Othniel (Judges 3:7-11)
  • Ehud (Judges 3:12-30)
  • Shamgar (Judges 3:31)
  • Deborah and Barak (Judges 4-5)
  • Gideon (Judges 6-10)
  • Tolah (Judges 10:1-2)
  • Jair (Judges 10:3-5)
  • Jephthah (Judges 10:6-12:7)
  • Ibzan (Judges 12:11-12)
  • Elon (Judges 12:11-12)
  • Abdon (Judges 12:13-15)
  • Samson (Judges 13-16)

– In chapters 17-21 we get to two things: Dan’s rejection of their inheritance and the Levitical priesthood in Judges 17-18 and Benjamin’s civil war against the other tribes in Judges 19-21.

Ultimately it is in Judges that we see the flaws of human judges and we see Israel’s need for a Messiah, a godly king. Judges 21: 25 tells us that because there is no king in Israel, everyone does what is right in their own eyes. When paired with the book of Ruth, the next book, we see how bad things were in Israel before God gives them a human king.

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