Day 223: Jeremiah 15-17; Engraved on Their Hearts

Today Jeremiah is contrasting the judgment and punishment of the Lord with the way things could be and should be if they had not lived their lives in sin and rebellion against Him.  Jeremiah is also contrasting the nature of God with the actions that God is saying that He is going to take against His people.  We pick up the text in the middle of a conversation that Jeremiah and God are having about the coming day of judgment.  The prophet of God finds himself a part of this coming judgment and then asks the Lord to remember Him in the midst of all of this, to which the Lord does what is completely natural and normal for God’s nation, He forgives Jeremiah.  This forgiveness comes with a warning though.  God warns Jeremiah not to associate with people that are wicked because he too will be drawn into it.

God points out a fact that we don’t often think about I think.  My mom used to say about the friends that I chose, “if you jump in the mud with clean gloves on, the mud doesn’t get all glovey.”  This seems to be essentially what God is telling Jeremiah, an echo of a commandment to the Israelites not to intermarry with the people of the surrounding nations.  Yet they don’t listen and the final results are very clear… judgment is coming.  Why?  Because even in the midst of the many messengers and warnings that God sent, the people were so much a part of the sinful culture that they perpetuated that it was engraved on their hearts like iron engraved with an iron tool… AKA permanent, at least for them.  There was nothing that would have been able to remove an iron engraving except the destruction of the piece which would have meant melting it down and starting over.  An apt metaphor to be sure.

Jeremiah goes on, though, to show in some ways what the people should have been like.  A couple days ago we heard about the broken covenant.  Today Jeremiah goes through that again only this time he is taking quotes from other places in Scripture.  He would have been familiar with the writings of David and Solomon and as such he takes pieces from the Psalms and Proverbs and puts them in here as a way of pointing to the Word of God to show the people how it is that they should have lived.  In many ways, this would have pointed them all the way back to the Shema, the summary statement of the law on which, as Jesus points out in Matthew 22, all of the law and prophets hang on.  Jeremiah quotes Psalm 34 and Proverbs 16 in chapter 17 verse 7 and then Psalm 1 in verse 18.

I wonder if Jeremiah would have the same message for the Church of the 21st century?  Have we truly surrounded ourselves with Scripture?  Are we like a tree planted by streams of water?  Do we have God’s Word engraved on our hearts?  Or is something else taking that place?  Have we succumbed to the lure of culture and the false idols of technology, music, and individualism?  This is certainly a difficult question to have to answer, but most definitely one that we need to be aware of and asking ourselves often.



Day 190: Proverbs 26-28; More Proverbs of Solomon

Reading through today’s Proverbs, a great deal of emphasis is placed on dealing with “foolish” people.  There are many analogies for what it is to talk to and deal with a foolish person, so many of which I feel like I encounter on a weekly basis.  I don’t know about you, but when I read these verses there are people in my life that come to mind right away.  As I read one proverbs after another talking about interacting with a foolish person I had to chuckle at the accuracy of the descriptions that were there.  So, here are some things that come to mind.  I’ll post the Scripture, and then some thoughts of something I encountered.

Proverbs 27:1-2
Do not boast about tomorrow,
for you do not know what a day may bring.
Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
a stranger, and not your own lips.

Lebron James, Miami Heat are NBA Champs

Lebron James, Miami Heat are NBA Champs

A couple of weeks ago, the Miami Heat won the NBA national championship, something that was “guaranteed by Lebron James some time in the past couple years or something (admittedly, I don’t pay attention to it at all).  In post came interviews, Lebron compared his ‘moments of greatness’ with that of Michael Jordan a decade ago.  First of all, he looked like an idiot because practically no one agreed with him.  Second, he looks like a complete jerk because he feels the need to define his own moments and build himself up because no one really is.  Third, what about the rest of the team?  Lebron never mentioned a single one of his teammates in in speech.  While there isn’t a particular verse that mentions remembering one’s teammates, not thinking of oneself more highly than they ought is certainly a proverbial theme through all of this book.  Finally, and this I find most interesting, the new of the team’s win disappeared about as fast as the last game ended… which makes be think that there is something to Proverbs 26:1, “Like snow in summer or rain in harvest, so honor is not fitting for a fool.”  It is so unnatural for us to see and admire someone so self-absorbed… it just seems so out of place and unnatural.

Proverbs 26:11
Like a dog that returns to his vomit
is a fool who repeats his folly.

Cycle of Addiction Diagram

Cycle of Addiction Diagram

Before going into seminary, I worked in the Emergency Department of a hospital.  It was a truly transforming experience for me as I was able to take care of people when they were at the lowest of the low points in their lives, some by accident and some by virtue of poor choices.  What was truly sad were those people that we saw time and again in the department because they continued to make the wrong choices day after day after day.  We tend to call this addiction, but truly addiction starts with a bad choice repeated many times in a cycle until it seems that the body cannot live without it.  Alcohol, Drugs, the wrong friends, and many more will bring a person down into the dust.  Solomon is point to this as well.  Sometimes it happens because a person doesn’t know better.  Sometimes it happens because a person feels they have nowhere else to turn.  Sometimes it happens because a profound sense of self-loathing or a need to escape.  In any case, we tend to turn a blind eye to the addicts and stuff because they “did it to themselves.”  While that may in some sense be true, never in the wise sayings of Scripture does it tell us not to love them as God loves them.

Proverbs 26:20-23
For lack of wood the fire goes out,
and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.
As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire,
so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.
The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels;
they go down into the inner parts of the body.
Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel
 are fervent lips with an evil heart.

I think this is one of the most self-explanatory, and also one of the hardest to go along with Proverbs in today’s reading.  My memories are drawn back to high school and middle school (though sadly adult life is not devoid of this either) and the abundant drama that exists within the lives of teenagers.  Someone said this about me, but I said that about her, and those people think that about him as well.  Everyone gets upset at someone because of something and at the end of the day, its just an overabundance of drama.  I tried to avoid this in high school as I do in adult life as well.  How?  By not being involved any more than need be, which usually means I am not involved at all.  Without wood a fire goes out and without people who are willing to talk, gossip evaporates into thin air.



Day 185: Proverbs 11-13; The Proverbs of Solomon

The end of yesterday’s reading began the section of Proverbs known as “Solomon’s Proverbs.”  This is a section marked by a train of wise statements, one or two verses long, that talk about the difference between wise living and foolish living.  Many people find this section to be kind of repetitive and dry.  Others would deem it as being the manual for moral living.  In some ways, this section displays very clearly the difference between making good choices and the results of repeated poor decisions.

Yet, there is more to today’s reading, and the next couple of days’ reading as well, because these chapters of wisdom, like all Scripture, cannot be read in a void.  We cannot look at the words of today, tomorrow, or even the rest of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes without remember the introduction section of Proverbs that we read the past couple of days.  Like I mentioned on July 1, some people think that this book is largely devoid of a focus on God and actually talks more about moral living.  However, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  All of everything that we are reading today and will continue to read in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon fall under the opening verses of Proverbs 1, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

So everything today, all that we are reading today, may not speak directly to God or living for God, but it obviously speaks to the need for wisdom which finds its foundation in God alone.  Proverbs and all of wisdom literature, really all of Scripture isn’t about living the right way for its own sake.  Solomon would say that it is the fool that lives rightly for his own sake or seeks wisdom for his own gain, but it all falls under the fact that we live our lives before God.  The point of these proverbs is not simply to live in a moral way, the point is to honor God with our lives, with our choices, in our relationships, and in everything that we do, think, say, and influence.  Again, we can hear the  Biblical echoes of Deuteronomy 6, the well known Shema of Israel, loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  It is clear here and will continue to be clear in our continuing readings of proverbs, that Solomon is echoing and in many ways continuing this command, laying out clearly the many ways that we are to live our whole life in a way that is pleasing to God, keeping His way before us at all times.



Day 183: Proverbs 4-7; A Father's Wise Warnings

Did you ever have parents that told you or warned you about something and you thought that they didn’t know what they were talking about?  I dare say that we all have experienced this at one point in time.  Kids always think they know better than their parents… especially teenagers.  I remember being a senior in high school and thinking that my parents didn’t know anything and that I had it all together.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Of course there is an amount of growing up that all children have to do on their own.  We grow and learn through our experiences, shaped by the people around us and our interactions with them.  However, when it comes to those that have helped us to grow the most, there are none that compare to our parents.

Proverbs Wordle Photo Credit: www.fbcmb.wordpress.com

Proverbs Wordle
Photo Credit: www.fbcmb.wordpress.com

The words of today’s Scripture readings are works just like that, wise and loving words of instruction and warnings from a father to his son.  This is not your average after school lecture about getting good grades or doing the chores though, the words of the one speaking here are  those of a loving father trying to instruct and warn his son of what is to come in the world.  The purpose?  To gain wisdom and insight.  Why?  Because keeping wisdom before you is one of the best ways to say away from folly.

Again today we see the analogy that Solomon started to make yesterday between lady Wisdom and lady Folly.  Solomon is telling his son to get wisdom at all costs, and insight as well, and to cherish her above all else.  I don’t know about you but I can almost here the echos of wedding vows in these statements.  He says to “cherish her above all else, prize her, and not to forsake her.”  It is almost as if he is telling his son that once he has wisdom, he should never let her go for it is wisdom that will help make straight the paths of life and lead to a good life.  Not only that though, having wisdom and understanding is also the way to guard against going astray, falling into the trap of folly who is seductive and tricky.

Solomon once again shows folly as being like a prostitute, beautiful on the outside but crafty and false through and through.  Like the fast diets or get rich quick schemes of the world, things look really great at first glance, but when you really see into it, all your doing is just giving your money away to someone else.  Solomon warns too that folly will take you when you aren’t looking, which is why having wisdom, understanding, and insight is so important.  Temptations lurk around every corner, looking and sounding like something very nice, and turning out to be crooked and evil.

In all of this, we need to remember that ultimately Solomon is not encouraging wisdom for the sake of being wise, but wisdom that finds its root and beginning of God alone.  It is not at all a coincidence that Solomon is using adultery as a metaphor here.  Time and time again God has used this metaphor as a way to describe the children of Israel as their are enticed away from Him and towards other gods.  The Scripture that we read today would not have been simply thought of and received as Solomon talking to his son, but as God Himself, the Father of the nation of Israel, speaking and instructing His children and warning them against the allure of other gods.  Remember how God instructed His people to remove all the people from the land of Canaan lest they be lured away by their gods?  Our reading today is no different.  It is instruction to a son, a people, to us a couple thousand years later saying we indeed need to have wisdom that is rooted in the fear of the Lord… understanding and insight that we too may walk the straight and narrow path and not be led astray by the many tempting gods and adultresses of our time.



Day 182: Proverbs 1-3; Introduction to Proverbs

Welcome to July and welcome to the book of Proverbs.  This books is attributed mostly to King Solomon, the son of David.  Remember that Solomon was visited by God who offered to grant him anything that he asked for.  Solomon asked for wisdom and the Lord granted him wisdom in abundance so that Solomon was the wisest man that ever lived.  These Proverbs, as well as the books of Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon as attributed to Solomon.

The writings of proverbs are wisdom for living.  You’ve likely heard some of them in your life already; short sayings that seem like quick quips but are actually quite helpful. Some of the sayings that we’ll read are a bit more complex and may require some additional reflection to uncover their deeper meaning.  However, all are meant to help the reader in living a life of wisdom.

Some have said that the book of Proverbs is somewhat devoid of God.  These people would point out that most of what Solomon is saying here is not really about God but about correct moral living.  While in some ways that could be true, God doesn’t show up as much in this book as He did in most of the other books, the idea that God is not in this book couldn’t be further from the truth.  God indeed is here and is the basis for all that is written.  Solomon says it in Proverbs 1:7

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge

The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom... Photo Credit: www.words2wall.blogspot.com

The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…
Photo Credit: www.words2wall.blogspot.com

The Hebrew word for ‘knowledge’ used there is actually a rather broad ranging term that encompasses the ideas of knowledge, perception, skill, discernment, understanding, and wisdom.  Solomon is saying that all of what is about to happen here finds its true origin in God alone.  This is not just moralistic teaching, and none of it can be divorced from God.  Knowing God, fearing the Lord (fear being the idea of reverence, awe, worship, wonder) is the basis for all that is to come in this book.  We must recognize that before we move on.

I think that another important thing to mention here is the use of the female pronouns in the book of proverbs when referring to wisdom.  While we have talked about using gender inclusive language when we read the Bible, this is a place where changing the ‘her’ to an ‘it’ would be an injustice to Solomon’s writing.  In these first chapters, Solomon is setting up a very specific contrast between the path of Wisdom and the path of Folly.  He does so by creating something like a scene from a drama: Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly are both trying to win the heart of a young man.  Lady Wisdom calls from the street corner.  She is out there in plain sight for all to see and listen to.  Lady folly though, is like the adulteress woman who sneaks around and creeps into the hearts of those unaware only to disappear as soon as she is done with you.  This is, perhaps, an over dramatized idea of the inward battle between Wisdom and Folly, but as we will see… it is not too far off base.

Wisdom words of James 3 Photo Credit: www.thedisciplestongue.com

Wisdom words of James 3
Photo Credit: www.thedisciplestongue.com

Ultimately the attraction of the way of Folly is that of riches and wealth in quick progression.  Folly offers everything now as long as you are willing to ignore the rules or social convention.  Interestingly though, wisdom offers greater riches over time but on a safe path of understanding, perception, and knowledge that is rooted in the Lord.  In this, Solomon says, we find the true way in which God will also be our protector.  Ultimately the wise person will be blessed in greater ways than that of the foolish, but it takes more work, more patience, and more trust in the Lord.  In chapter 3 Solomon even makes an allusion to the Shema from Deuteronomy 6, keeping things like love and faithfulness bound around the neck and written on the heart.

Ultimately the path of wisdom is going to lead to right living and a blessed life.  The difference, though, between that and the world’s teaching of ‘wisdom’ is that living morally is not an end in itself, it is only a byproduct of keeping our eyes on God.  We don’t live morally for personal gain, we do it because of our love for God and our desire to live for Him as a way of gratitude for all that He has given us.  All of this, all of us should be grounded in the fear of the Lord.  It is the beginning of everything, something we will continue to hold in front of us throughout this book.