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First Quarter 2015 (January–March)
COMMENTARY ON PROVERBS
Week 2: January 3–9
COMMENTARY ON FROM EARS TO FEET
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
How to read Proverbs
This quarter’s lessons are from the book of Proverbs. This book is of the genre known as “wisdom literature” and is commonly attributed to Solomon (especially in the beginning of the book) as well as to some other authors.
In order to establish some perspective for this book, I will quote a paragraph from the introductory notes on the book of Proverbs from the New American Standard Bible, study version:
“Although Proverbs is more practical than theological, God’s work as Creator is especially highlighted. The role of wisdom in creation is the subject of 8:22–31 (see notes there), where wisdom as an attribute of God is personified. Twice God is called the Maker of the oor (14:31; 17:5). He also directs the steps of a man (cf. 16:9; 20:24), and his eyes observe all his actions (cf. 5:21; 15:3). God is sovereign over the kings of the earth (21:1), and all history moves forward under his control (see notes on 16:4, 33).”
In other words, it would be incorrect to read Proverbs as a collection of “good advice”. Morality teaching abounds in many religions, even those who do not view the Bible as God’s word. To read Proverbs in order to learn simply how to avoid immorality, to deal with family and friends, and to made good decisions regarding money, work, perseverance, and calamity would be to miss the point.
To the first audience, the nation of Israel, Proverbs would have been understood in the context of being God’s covenant people whose lives, including their worship, their lifestyle, their identity as God’s chosen nation, and their understandings of the future, were dedicated to the service of the One True God, Maker of heaven and earth, who brought them out of slavery. Israel would have read Proverbs as practical instruction for applying the Mosaic law and the fear of God to their daily lives.
For us on this side of the cross, Proverbs is still a book showing us the practical ways to make wise decisions in every area of life, but we understand it from the context of knowing Jesus as the fulfillment of the Mosaic law and from the perspective of having been born again when we repent of our sins. We read Proverbs from the position of being God’s adopted children (Romans 8).
Adventists, however, must understand that they are not the new “spiritual Israel”. Unlike their traditional teachings claim
Adventists are not the inheritors of the law and the blessings of God. In fact, strictly speaking, they are not “Christian” in that their doctrines deny the finished work of Christ on the cross, claiming instead that He continues His work of atonement in the “heavenly sanctuary”. Moreover, Adventism teaches an unbiblical Jesus who does not possess all the attributes of God: He is not omnipresent because He has a body. Furthermore, the Adventist Jesus could have sinned; He was fallible. He had no advantage over us, and He showed us that we, too, could keep the law by persistent prayer and dependence upon the Holy Spirit.
Moreover, Adventism teaches that man is merely body plus breath and possesses no immaterial spirit that survives the death of the body. This teaching also assumes that Jesus the man had no immaterial human spirit that survived His death and burial. They deny His personal identity was in Paradise the day He died. In addition, Adventism teaches that the seventh-day Sabbath is the mark that separates the saved from the lost at the last trumpet call when Jesus returns, and they teach that the sins of the saved will finally be placed upon Satan who, as the “scapegoat”, will carry them into the lake of fire.
These teachings all deny Scripture, and people who believe these things do not understand the new birth that Jesus said was requisite for seeing the kingdom of heaven.
Consequently, for an Adventist to read Proverbs means that he or she sees them as a collection practical advice for living. They see Proverbs as listing choices and behaviors that will cause one’s life to go more smoothly—but these choices and pieces of advice lack any intrinsic power to change a person.
If one is not born again, is not trusting the Lord Jesus for his or her forgiveness and salvation, if one has not repented and trusted Jesus with the forgiveness of his/her past, present, and future sins, the book of Proverbs will simply be another yoke around his neck. It will simply be one more collection of requirements for living.
If, on the other hand, one knows Jesus and trusts Him to keep His promises on his behalf, the book of Proverbs becomes a book of insights concerning the things we may entrust to the Lord and submit to His wisdom for our growth and success in living.
Chapter four personifies “wisdom” and contrasts is with the folly and temptations one encounters in the course of life. Because we know Jesus and understand Scripture to be His personal revelation of Himself and of our condition, we can understand wisdom from the perspective Paul gives us in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:18-31).
The Lord Jesus IS our wisdom when we are made alive in Him. Because we are born again, we have more than the ability to see the difference between temptation and good things. We have Him. Paul further says,
Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:6-16).
Because we have been indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the actual Author of Scripture who teaches us what it means and who makes Jesus real to us, we can read Proverbs differently. We can understand Proverbs 4 to be telling us that Wisdom, which we can know is an attribute of God and is His gift to us when He gives us His mind (1 Cor. 2:16), will remind us and make us able to honor Jesus when life presents us with compelling temptations. To honor and prize “wisdom” is not simply to take pride in acute problem-solving but is to value the Lord Jesus and submit our circumstances to Him. We will delight giving up our impulses and dreams, our cleverness and rights, to Him. We will honor Him because we know Him, and we love Him, and He will give us His own mind and wisdom to make choices that will honor Him and protect us from evil.
When we know Jesus, we can read Proverbs to learn specifics about life that are wise and that are dangerous. We can read it as figurative language that gives us insight to understand the contrast between what our natural inclinations lead us to experience and what honoring the Lord emus will yield.
Even though Proverbs is not primarily a book of theology, if it is read apart from the theology of salvation and the reality of belonging to God through Jesus, it will simply be a list of good ideas. If, on the other hand, we read it as one who is alive in Jesus and has the mind of Christ, we will read Proverbs as instruction from a loving Father that explains not only what we ought to do but how these circumstances actually reveal reality and bring us into God’s ultimate reality.
I encourage you, as you study Proverbs, to accompany this study with the reading of the New Testament books of Galatians, John, and Romans. Ask God to show you the truth about His word—what is means and how you should understand it. Ask Him to show you the truth about Jesus and to give you the willingness to know what He asks of you. Ask Him to show you what He wants you to know from the book of Proverbs.