Proverbs 20:1-15: Be Wise!
September 4, 2022
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
“Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” (20:1).
Christians have differences of conscience regarding whether total abstinence, teetotalism, or moderate drinking is the right approach. The Bible does tell us that wine makes glad the heart of man (Psalm 104:15). Paul does advise Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach’s sake (1 Timothy 5:23). But all agree on what the Bible does clearly teach: abuse or over-use of alcohol is foolish. This proverb gives us just one reason why. Such over-use of alcohol leads you astray. It makes you too confident and causes you to lose common sense.
“The terror of a king is like the growling of a lion; whoever provokes him to anger forfeits his life” (20:2).
If you come up before a powerful man or woman, it is wise not to do that which will aggravate them. This does not mean lying, being craven, lacking any kind of backbone, or not being willing to speak truth to power. But it does mean politeness and respect—respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed (Romans 13:7).
“It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife, but every fool will be quarreling” (20:3).
One of the signs of someone who is foolish is that they end up getting into quarrels easily. A wise person avoids strife. There is little if anything to be gained by being argumentative. If you must make an argument, endeavor to do it in such a way that you win the person (and not just win the argument).
“The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing” (20:4).
A reason to work hard: plough in season. If you do not put in the hard work now, then you cannot expect to have a harvest later. Work hard when you are young to gain the qualifications you need, to establish yourself, so that later on you can act with generosity and kindness to help others do well – rather than constantly scramble to make ends meet.
“The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (20:5).
It can be hard to know what someone is really aiming to do, what their true purpose or goal is. But a wise person, someone with insight, can draw out those deep waters and discover the purpose. No one fully knows the heart but God, but a wise person can see patterns and discern from behavior what is likely to be the end that is sought after.
“Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?” (20:6)
Romantic love or sentimental affection can seem very attractive. But far better is faithfulness. Remember that when you think of whom to marry or whom to work with. Look for the faithful person rather than the person who can merely charm you with their protestations of unfailing love.
“The righteous who walks in his integrity—blessed are his children after him!” (20:7)
Living a life that is blameless, that while not sinless (for there is no one born, other than Christ, who does not sin) is still guiltless of great corruption, has a benefit not just for us but for our children. We pass on to them blessedness or true happiness. If you cannot find the internal motivation to fight sin for yourself, then do it for your children or for those whom you influence.
“A king who sits on the throne of judgment winnows all evil with his eyes” (20:8).
Obviously, some kings are better judges than others, but a good king has this aim: to detect what is good from what is evil. If you are in a ruling position, seek then to use your position to discourage what is evil and encourage what is good.
“Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?” (20:9).
The answer to this question is clear: no one! Therefore, we seek salvation through faith in Christ (see Romans 3:23-24).
“Unequal weights and unequal measures are both alike an abomination to the Lord” (20:10).
When weights and measures were commonly used to count out gold as payment, or for the product being paid for, then inaccurate weights or biased weights could give the person who was cheating significant financial advantage over the long term. Today, other techniques than a finger on the balance can tip the scales in our favor: failing to report every fact to our bosses, but only those that make us look good; putting together financial instruments that look good on the outside to a prospective buyer but are really rotten inside. All these things may give us some short-term gain, but in the long term—in the light of eternity—we should remember how they will be judged. The Lord detests such cheating.
“Even a child makes himself known by his acts, by whether his conduct is pure and upright” (20:11).
We love our children and impute to them greater innocence because of such love than fits the facts. The truth is that children are inexperienced in the ways of wrong but are not innocent of heart. Anyone who is a parent or who works with children will know that a child must be trained to do what is right, but you never need to train a child to do what is wrong. From this fact stems the basis of all healthy principles of education and child-rearing, as well as all unhealthy. We are made in the image of God, and are therefore of great value, but we are also born sinful. Train a child, therefore, in the way he should go, and give him habits that will help when he is grown up, so that when he is old, he will not depart from the right path.
“The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the Lord has made them both” (20:12).
This proverb seems almost redundant. Why do we need to be told that God made ears that hear and eyes that see? Consider all about a human that is not mentioned—feet and arms, etc. Why pick out these two senses (of seeing and hearing)? Because they are acutely important to our wisdom. Therefore, as we seek to learn by seeing and hearing, realize that it is God who gave us ears to hear and eyes to see, and ask him to help us therefore to see what we should see and hear what we should hear that we might be wise.
“Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread” (20:13).
Another frequent theme in proverbs: do not be lazy. If you love to sleep in each morning, if you love to lie around the house and be a couch potato, in the end it will catch up with you: you will grow poor. There is more to having enough to eat than staying awake, but—as it says in another kind of proverb or saying—the early bird catches the worm. Start to work early, rise from your bed, and you will be on the path to being able to provide for yourself and others.
“’Bad, bad,’ says the buyer, but when he goes away, then he boasts” (20:14).
Here is an insight into the bargaining process! First, disparage what it is that you want to buy, and then when by that means the price has been beaten down to a more acceptable level, purchase the product—and afterwards you can gloat over what you have purchased! If someone, therefore, dismisses what you are doing, consider it may be because they value it even higher than you do.
“There is gold and abundance of costly stones, but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel” (20:15).
Knowledge, we say, is power; proverbs says it better. Lips that speak knowledge are a rare jewel. Therefore, do what you can to know, and having gained knowledge, do what you can to be able to speak. Rhetoric, the art of speaking true knowledge in a way that is persuasive, is the greatest power known to man.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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