Becoming a Person Others Need

 

Week of May 19, 2013

 

Bible Verses:  Proverbs 6:6-11,16-19, 23-27.

 

Lesson Focus:  This lesson can help you develop character that has a positive benefit on the people you care about.

 

Work Diligently:  Proverbs 6:6-11.

 

[6]  Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.  [7]  Without having any chief, officer, or ruler,  [8]  she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.  [9]  How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?  [10]  A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,  [11]  and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.  [ESV]

 

[6-11]  We are here confronted with another path to destruction: laziness. Foolish business practices may ruin you [1-5], but so can sloth. The theme of the sluggard will surface again often in Proverbs [6:9; 10:26; 13:4; 15:19; 19:24; 20:4; 21:25; 22:13; 24:30; 26:13-16]. The word sluggard describes one who is sluggish and lazy. But, it is also set in contrast to the upright [15:19] and the righteous [21:25-26]. Solomon was probably not calling his sons sluggards, but was using the term rhetorically to speak to any, and all, of whom the description might be appropriate. Such a one is to observe and reflect upon the ant. Such reflection will yield a new work ethic which prioritizes self-motivation, industry, diligence and planning. Embracing such a work ethic will cause one to be wise. Wisdom is not some esoteric, other-worldly rhetoric. Wisdom is practical success in the real world. Hard work lies in its path. What is stated in verse 7 as absolute fact is actually an observation derived from simple reflection. The ant appears to have no leader and no overt organization. Instinct compels them to work industriously, in order to lay up in store for lean times. They do not need an authority figure standing over them. The ant, by all appearances, is a self-starter. Even more than being a self-starter, the ant is a team player. While, to the human eye, there appears to be no leader among the ants, there is a well-ordered precision and coordination to all they do. The ant demonstrates a work ethic and team work beyond what many humans seem capable of [8]. However, wisdom is found not simply in activity, but in the foresight of labor. The two lines of verse 8 are parallel, the second restating the point of the first in order to underscore its message. The timing is all-important, summer … harvest being terms which indicate the right time for gathering provision for more lean times. Foolishness only labors when the stomach growls. Wisdom labors because it knows the stomach will growl. Once again in verse 9, the sluggard is addressed directly. The goal of the two questions is to shame him into action and responsibility. The question How long reveals that his sloth has become an established pattern. All he can think of is how little he can get by with doing. The second question asks when his appetite for sleep will be satisfied. Proverbs describes sleep as a blessing God gives to those who faithfully walk in wisdom [3:24; 19:23]. For the sluggard, however, the blessing of God has become god. Thus, the wisdom of God is Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty [20:13]. A sluggard, however, has little time for such counsel: As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed [26:13]. Verse 10 appears to be a mocking quotation of the rationalization of the sluggard. The more the lazy man rests, the more rest he craves. Legitimate leisure becomes consuming laziness. His rationalization is thinly veiled as he hits the snooze button one more time. His delay and procrastination set him up for poverty and want. The entirety of verses 10-11 are repeated almost verbatim in Proverbs 24:33-34, where again the sluggard’s shame is set forth. The logical end of the reasoning espoused in verse 10 now comes into view in verse 11. The demise of the sluggard is set forth under two similes set off in synonymous parallelism. The problem is described both as poverty and want. The former becomes a familiar theme in Proverbs [10:15; 13:18; 24:34; 28:19; 30:8; 31:7] and refers to being utterly destitute. The latter refers simply to the lack of what is needed. The words robber and armed man personify such poverty. Both words are of uncertain derivation, but their general meaning is clear. The former is variously seen as some kind of dangerous assailant or bandit that waylays travelers unawares. The ancient world was renowned for the bandits that would conceal themselves in the natural surroundings along a roadside and, with suddenness, attack, rob and sometimes kill unsuspecting travelers. The second term refers to a military man of the light infantry division. The emphasis is on the fact that the man is well armed, but moves with swiftness and stealth. The point of both similes is that poverty breaks suddenly upon the lazy man with overwhelming power, leaving him defenseless. Poverty does not happen overnight. The man has been lazy for some time. But, the realization of it is sudden. With arms folded, eyes closing in slumber, and mouth muttering rationalizations, sudden economic destruction overtakes the sluggard unawares.

 

Demonstrate Integrity:  Proverbs 6:16-19.

 

[16]  There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him:  [17]  haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,  [18]  a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil,  [19]  a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.  [ESV]

 

[16-19]  We have here [16-19] an example of a numerical proverb. While specific sins are enumerated, the list is not intended as exhaustive. The lists often build to the final item in the list. Such numerical constructions are common [Prov. 30:15,18,21,29; Job 5:19; Eccles. 11:2; Amos 1:3,6,9,13; 2:1,4,6; Micah 5:5]. Here, the extended proverb builds upon the previous description of the wicked man [12-15] and reinforces the Lord’s attitude toward such people. That this is an expansion on the previous section is obvious from two lines of evidence. The first is the repetition of similar themes. The second is the intentional repetition of the Hebrew word for sows discord [14,19]. The point made here is the Lord’s attitude toward the ways of the wicked: He hates their conduct. The word describes the entire spectrum of negative emotions humans are capable of. It may include the most intense hatred as well as a more mild irritation. That Solomon had in mind the more intense end of this range is clear from the description of these ways as an abomination to the Lord. This Hebrew word describes the most intense outrage possible – hatred not toward evil in general, but toward a specific expression of it. The word describes God’s hatred of pagan practices, but also of unethical conduct. The list of hated sins now commences, the first three being given in verse 17. Haughty eyes begins the list and is, literally, ‘high eyes.’ The idea is that of a proud look which betrays an arrogant heart. This term is also used to describe willful, defiant sin. Next is a lying tongue. While deceit may win the day [Prov. 26:28], only a truthful tongue will endure [Prov. 12:19]. Any advantages gained through deception will soon disappear [Prov. 21:6]. The third detestable thing is hands that shed innocent blood. Items four and five of the list of seven hated sins are now set forth in verse 18. The Lord hates the heart that devises wicked plans. Proverbs, as well as the rest of Scripture, speaks in stern tones about such ones. Feet that make haste to run to evil are also an abomination to the Lord. The feet are a repeated emphasis from verse 12. All this repetition makes it clear that this section [16-19] is an expansion upon that which was introduced in the previous section [12-15]. The heart describes the totality of the inner man, including his rational powers, emotions and volition. The feet are what engage a man in what his heart has devised. Together, they describe the inner man and his outward activities. The Lord hates the one whose nature is bent toward, and quick to pursue, that which is contrary to His nature. The sixth abomination is that of a false witness who breathes out lies. False describes a distortion of the facts or a matter for personal advantage. Lies describe the manufacture of complete fiction. The person who has a wicked heart utters lies as naturally as he engages in the involuntary process of respiration. Lies are the exhaust he puts off, having used people and circumstances to his ends. The seventh item brings the list to a crescendo and returns us to the theme of verse 14. The Lord hates the one who sows discord. Note that it is not simply the strife that is an abhorrence to God, but the one who creates it and spreads it. God cherishes unity more than we know: Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity [Ps. 133:1]. David continues in that Psalm to say that such unity is like the dew of heaven that descends upon the mountains of Zion. If such unity is a gentle, nourishing, refreshing, life-giving dew, then strife is a harsh, life-taking, discouraging blast of sulfurous breath from below. God despises the one who creates such division among brothers. These verses reminds us that it is wrong to think of Proverbs as a collection of individual ethics. The community is very much in mind throughout.

 

Exhibit Purity:  Proverbs 6:23-27.

 

[23]  For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life,  [24]  to preserve you from the evil woman, from the smooth tongue of the adulteress.  [25]  Do not desire her beauty in your heart, and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes;  [26]  for the price of a prostitute is only a loaf of bread, but a married woman hunts down a precious life.  [27]  Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned?  [ESV]

 

[23-27]  The instruction of godly parents is further likened to the word of God. In an echo of the praise God’s word receives in Psalm 119:105, the same words (lamp … light) are used here of the parents’ teachings. More specifically, these teachings are called the commandment … the teaching … discipline. The word commandment is used elsewhere in the Old Testament to describe the Law handed down from God through Moses. Most often in Proverbs, however, it describes the authoritative instruction of parent to child. The teaching is the common Hebrew word torah, also often used for the Mosaic Law, but also of more general instruction, as here. The word discipline has already defined one purpose of the Book of Proverbs [1:2,7]. It describes instruction that comes through being corrected. A loving parent’s counsel and command will sometimes step on your toes. But, there is much good to be learned and much sorrow to be avoided, if you will but embrace it. A clear note is sounded for the authority of the parents to counsel, instruct, teach, guide, and set boundaries for their children. The benefit of wise parental discipline is both understanding and direction. It lights the path of life, so you see what God sees, and it steers the feet, so you experience what God desires for you. This discipline is the way of life. The discipline consists of reproofs which describes the correction, rebuke or chastisement that God gives to those whose steps leave the paths of His protection and will. The parent is often the audible voice and the tangible expression of such a divine rebuke. The fool finds such a reproof to be inhibiting and repulsive, while the wise man finds in its discomfort the opening of a trail to the joys of life, as God intended [3:22; 4:22]. The commandments, teaching and discipline of parents all contribute to a balanced life that keeps one secure from the seductions of sensuality. Here the offending female is simply called the evil woman and the adulteress. Elsewhere, she is called the forbidden woman [2:16], and a prostitute [6:26; 23:27]. Adulteress simply means ‘foreigner’ or ‘alien.’ But here it is not her nationality that makes her foreign, but the fact that she resides outside the covenant of marriage. While, no doubt, her appearance is appealing, it is her words that hook the naïve young man. She possesses the smooth tongue. That is to say, she flatters with her words. The frequency with which Proverbs address the power of sexual talk should highlight its captivating power. In her arsenal of seductions are not only her words [24], but also her physical appearance and her eye contact [25]. One communicates in many ways. We are responsible before God for all of them. While the seventh commandment forbade the physical act of adultery and, by implication, the thought of doing so as well, the tenth commandment plainly prohibited the desire. Jesus made plain that this was the intended meaning in Matthew 5:27-28. Notice that the danger lies in the heart. The heart describes the individual’s powers of intellect, emotion and will. The heart is the core and substance of one’s being. The heart represents who you are. The rest of the body, then, serves the heart and expresses its true nature. Little wonder Solomon has exhorted us to guard it above all else. The second line of the proverb warns against letting the adulteress capture you with her eyelashes. The seductive glances and knowing looks cast intentionally by such a woman can have a powerful effect. The verb, capture, has a broad range of possible translations, but the basic meaning is that of taking, seizing or laying hold of something. Though normally weaker in physical strength, the woman is often able to control a man in other ways. It is the man’s responsibility not to let such eye contact ever be made or to linger, if it does. The translation of verse 26 is notoriously difficult. Part of the problem is the lack of a verb in the first line in the Hebrew text. The issue of the first line seems to swing on the translation of the first Hebrew word which can be translated “for the price of” (ESV, RSV) or “for on account of” (NASB, AMP, NKJV). The problem that for the price of creates is that this makes the proverb demand that, while adultery has very high cost, the services of a prostitute are much safer and less costly. This seems hardly to agree with the greater context and the teaching of the book of Proverbs or the Scriptures as a whole. The gist of the proverb would seem rather to point to the high cost of immorality, whether that is with another man’s wife or with a prostitute. Indeed, Proverbs teaches us that involvement with either a prostitute [29:3] or an adulteress will beggar a man. Involvement with a harlot will reduce a man’s life to little more than a loaf of bread. Likewise, an adulteress, for all of her self-justifying seductiveness, hunts down the very life of the man. The word hunts has the idea of stalking something and is often used of hunting or in contexts of persecution. It implies intention and malice in the pursuit. What she hunts is a precious life. It is hard to get at what exactly is intended by the phrase. The root of the word for precious speaks of that which is heavy with honor or dignity. Thus, it describes that which is valuable, either because of its uniqueness or because of its inherent worth. The message of this proverb is simply: Immorality is costly! It may cost you all you have materially, and it may cost you everything your life is and has become. It can steal not only your material wealth, but also your integrity, fellowship with God, reputation, family, relationships, friends, and respect. Verse 27 must be taken with the following two verses, in order for its full intent to be seen and its full impact to be felt. Two absurd questions are asked [27-28], which both expect a resounding “No!” for an answer. Then, in verse 29, the metaphors are linked with that to which they are to apply. Sexual immorality is like playing with fire! There is a word play here between man and fire, the two sounding nearly identical in Hebrew. The verb translated carry describes taking a burning coal from the fire by use of a tongs or shovel. No man can nonchalantly place a glowing ember straight from the fire in his lap or close to his chest and not be burned! The negative consequences of adultery are unavoidable and certain.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         Why do you think slothfulness or laziness is such an important theme in Proverbs? What are the dangers of laziness for our spiritual lives? [See 15:19 and 21:25-26 where the sluggard is contrasted with the upright and the righteous].

 

2.         Why is sin an abomination to God? Meditate on the list of seven sins in 6:17-19. Why does God hate these sins? Ask the Spirit to convict you whenever any of these hated sins are present in your life.

 

3.         Verses 6:23-27 are very appropriate for our sex-saturated culture where the driving force in sexual matters is whatever brings you pleasure. Instead, these verses instruct parents to clearly teach the light of God’s word to their children, using the reproofs of discipline whenever necessary. If you are a parent, pray that God will give you the strength, wisdom and discipline to teach your children what God’s word teaches concerning the God-glorifying use and enjoyment of sex.

 

References:

Proverbs, Charles Bridges, Crossway.

Proverbs, Tremper Longman III, Baker.

Proverbs, John Kitchen, Mentor.