Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die: Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.
“Two things I ask of you, Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God. (NIV)
Matthew Henry noted the similarity between these verses and the Lord’s Prayer in respect of ‘lead us not into temptation’ (Matthew 6:13) and ‘give us today our daily bread’ (Matthew 6:11). While it is easy to see that giving into temptation is going to damage our relationship with God (and possibly family, friends, colleagues, etc.) the problems associated with wealth are less visible, especially to the wealthy. When a rich young man wanted to follow Jesus he was instructed to sell all that he had and give what he raised through his high class garage sale to the poor. The rich young man couldn’t part with his money and lifestyle. Consequently he walked away from Jesus and the greatest opportunity he had ever been given.
The whole wealth thing troubles me. I have never aspired to be a wealthy man, and there have been times when I have struggled financially. There have also been times when I have not struggled. But if I look back on my life so far I could honestly say that without having prayed that God give me neither poverty nor riches, that is exactly what He has done. There have been exceptionally good times, and there have been exceptionally difficult times, but I have never gone hungry like many others in this world, or been in a position where I have had to consider stealing just to survive. I’m not sure how I would react if it was the only way to feed my family. One thing I do know is that this proverb is an excellent prayer, so good that Jesus included its words in the prayer He gave His followers:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:9-13 NIV)
The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe.
Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the LORD means safety. (NLT)
There are occasions when we speak (or fail to speak) from a position of fear, rather than from wisdom. Mostly this involves other human beings and our relationships with family, friends, colleagues, folk at church, etc. We can end up walking on eggshells for fear of causing offence, when actually we need to take a stand, and perhaps even speak out, even though such action may make us unpopular.
There may also be occasions when we act from a position of fear, particularly when peer pressure is involved. The challenge is often one of fitting in, as opposed to being the odd one out. I remember such pressures from my seafaring days when the temptations were many, and the desire to be the same as others rather than different could be overpowering.
The fear of human opinion is indeed a dangerous trap, as stated in this proverb. We may not wish to conform, but we feel a need to be part of the crowd. We don’t want to be left out. In my school days that meant hanging around with the bad kids, much to the displeasure of my teachers and my parents. One of my school reports stated a correlation between my poor academic performance and the company I was keeping.
The solution to the problem is quite simply to trust God. This involves more than praying for forgiveness and asking God for a passport to heaven. Trusting God means living in a daily relationship with Him and consulting Him about all things, even the apparently mundane. It also means not being ashamed to be called His child, even if this makes us stand out as different to those around us.
We need to remember the example of Jesus who lived a life that was completely different to the norm. Such a life soon attracted the attention of those who took offence at the way Jesus lived, mainly because it highlighted the failures and hypocrisy of their own lives. But never once did Jesus indicate that He was afraid of these people. If Jesus had been afraid would He have turned over the tables of the moneychangers in the temple courts? If Jesus had been afraid would He have put himself in a position of betrayal leading to arrest, torture and ultimately death? We have to be different because Jesus was different. We have no choice but to live in this world, but we most certainly do not have to conform to its ways because of fear.
Seest thou a man that is hasty in his words? there is more hope of a fool than of him.
There is more hope for a fool than for someone who speaks without thinking. (NLT)
The problem with words issued in haste is that they cannot be withdrawn. In this day and age the warning in this proverb should also apply to email. I speak from experience. Several years ago I hit the send button on an email I thought I was forwarding, without checking the email properly, or considering what I had written. I was frustrated with a certain Swedish individual by the name of Lennart who had just informed that he would be unable to translate a couple of documents for at least two weeks. These documents were vital to a report I was required to submit in less than two weeks. In my frustration, I forwarded the email to my boss with the comment; ‘Lazy Lenny says he can’t translate our statements!”
To my surprise, I received a reply almost immediately. Incredibly it was not from my boss but from Lazy Lenny. I couldn’t understand how he had accessed my email, but I felt my face starting to glow and radiate extreme amounts of heat as I read the words; “I am not Lazy Lenny sitting on the beach all day drinking beer!” Various excuses as to why he could not translate the documents sooner were also included. When I looked through the email more carefully I realized my error. I had hit the reply button instead of forward.
My email did spur Lazy Lenny into action and I had my translations later that day, but the point is that I wrote words that were rude in haste. I learned a massive lesson that day: The wisdom of Scripture is as important in our modern electronic age as it was thousands of years ago.
But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned. (James 5:12 NLT)
The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.
To discipline a child produces wisdom, but a mother is disgraced by an undisciplined child. (NLT)
I have memories of being disciplined as a child at home and at school. There were times when I thought that the punishments were unfair, but there were times when I knew I deserved what I got. Some punishments are no longer legal in the UK, such as the use of corporal punishment in school. In my junior school if the headmaster caught a pupil standing outside a classroom having been sent out for some misdemeanor then his overly large hand usually made contact several times with the backside of the offending pupil. It didn’t matter that the pupil had already been punished by being sent out from the class. At secondary school punishment was more brutal with the use of the cane, again against the backside of an offender. The cane inflicted significant damage breaking the skin. A caning was known as the ‘cuts’ for good reason. One caning was sufficient for me to make sure I never received another.
Detentions were another form of punishment. The ultimate sanction and one level below a caning was the ‘headmaster’s detention.’ When a teacher gave a headmaster’s detention details of the offence were recorded on a special form that had to be taken home and signed by a parent, then returned to the school where a lengthy after school detention took place under the supervision of the headmaster. The signing of the form meant that parents were fully aware of the sins of their offspring, often resulting in further punishment at home because of the shame/disgrace brought upon the family.
The punishments I hated the most were the punishments when I was blamed for something someone else had done. Adults also face miscarriages of justice, and there are men and women who have served years in prison for crimes they did not commit. A television program in the UK called ‘Rough Justice’ has resulted in a number of people being freed from jail, often many years after they were convicted despite being innocent.
It is easy to forget that rough justice is what Jesus faced after his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane on trumped up charges. Those responsible for the events leading up to his execution, and especially the man who signed the execution order, were all fully aware of His innocence. Jesus may have died a shameful death, but He didn’t bring shame to His Father at any point during His life or death. In dying a shameful death Jesus brought glory to God and made a way for our shame and disgrace to be removed from God’s memory. Because Jesus accepted rough justice we do not have to face justice at all. And the name for that is grace.
The bloodthirsty hate the upright: but the just seek his soul.
The bloodthirsty hate a person of integrity and seek to kill the upright. (NIV)
What amount of hatred is necessary for a person to want to kill another? We only get four chapters into Genesis before we read about the first murder, amazingly the result of sibling rivalry. Cain, the eldest son of Adam and Eve, becomes jealous of his younger brother Abel. That jealousy intensifies when God favors the harvest gift brought by Abel, and tells Cain to get his act together. Instead of listening to God Cain lets his jealousy fester, and in a blind rage plots to kill his brother. You would think that by the time Cain and Abel take a walk into the fields together Cain would have relented, but he hasn’t.
As with many proverbs it would be easy to read this one and believe that it does not apply to us. We probably identify ourselves with the upright person of integrity rather than the bloodthirsty. Yes, there may be times we might have thought or even said we could kill someone, but we tell ourselves it was only ever a thought. The problem is that for Cain the act of murder began with just a thought. Knowing how thoughts can translate into actions Jesus warned:
“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell. (Matthew 5:21-22 NLT)
Sobering teaching indeed and a reminder that God knows our minds, our thoughts, our words before they are formed, and our deeds before they are done. If we consider this teaching without taking into account the life and death of Jesus then we would conclude quite rightly that it is completely impossible for any mortal being to come near to God. We are not worthy. We are as bloodthirsty as Cain. But our merciful God through His indescribable grace sent Jesus so that even the most bloodthirsty and heinous human being could be redeemed at no absolutely cost to humanity. If we fix our eyes on Jesus and surrender to Him the past no longer matters. If we allow the beauty of Jesus to flood into our lives everything changes, for He makes all things new.
A man that flattereth his neighbor spreadeth a net for his feet.
Flattery will get you everywhere – or so they say. But what about the person on the receiving end of the flattery – where will it get them? Is flattery a good thing, or is bad? Is it clever to flatter, or is it stupid? For instance, should a husband who has just worked his way through another awful meal tell his wife she is a wonderful cook? Or should the wife of a lazy husband who does little to help her around the home tell him what a fantastic husband he is?
My wife Marilyn was asked to help with the children’s work soon after we joined our present church. Marilyn knew that this wasn’t her calling, but she initially agreed. When she found out that it would involve leading some of the sessions she panicked. Flattery based on Marilyn’s success as mother to five children might have persuaded her that she would make a brilliant Sunday School teacher. Such flattery would have been misguided. Fortunately a wise lady suggested serving elsewhere. Nowadays Marilyn does occasionally help in Sunday School, but she is also a vital member of the church catering team serving where she thinks she can’t be seen. Despite hiding away in the church kitchen, Marilyn’s reputation for cake making means that she is much in demand. When people tell her how good her cakes are it is not flattery, but praise (and possibly a hint that more cakes would be appreciated).
As ever, this proverb is about wisdom, specifically the wise use of words of praise, and perhaps also the ways in which criticism can be provided constructively. If a person is continually on the end of undeserved flattery they may come to believe that they are something that they are not. Flattery has the potential to stack up problems for the person who is flattered to the point where they believe they can do something outside of their gifting or skill set.
God took great pleasure in making us all different, and in giving us different gifts and skills. Yes, it is important to be told when we have done a good job. But we also need to receive guidance and direction when we have not, especially if the reason is that we are in the wrong job. Telling a person they are good at something when they are not will eventually end in tears.
He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.
Whoever stubbornly refuses to accept criticism will suddenly be destroyed beyond recovery. (NLT)
Following the Rules
Few of us enjoy being criticized, told off, corrected or reproved. What is important, however, is the manner in which we react when faced with criticism or reproof. Take the Pharisees, for instance. These were a group of people who wrote the book on criticism. They had so many rules, you would have thought that they would have walked around heads hung in shame, given the impossibility of compliance. But they didn’t. They walked around heads held high, proud in the fact that they were rule keepers, not rule breakers. And in their pride they criticized everyone who did not reach their high standards of perfection.
What the Pharisees considered perfection was a falsehood, a lie. Jesus was an exposer of lies. When He came to the attention of the Pharisees they invested heavily in using their laws and rules to bring Him down. But they failed miserably because their criticism had no validity. And while the Pharisees were experts at dishing out criticism, they were unable to accept being under the spotlight and told that they were wrong.
You could argue that it is simpler to live without rules. That is what infuriated the Pharisees about Jesus. He didn’t just break the rules, He lived as if there were no rules. The problem was that they had become blind to reality through their obsession with a legalistic approach for the one thing that could have brought them freedom, and life. God didn’t send Jesus to earth to write a new book of rules, but to show God’s true character to humanity. Jesus came because humanity had it wrong and has still got it wrong. God does not sit up in heaven criticizing us, but loving us. And if we can truly surrender to that Love then we will find freedom from criticism, and freedom from criticizing.
Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “Listen,” he said, “and try to understand. It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.” Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?” Jesus replied, “Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be uprooted, so ignore them. They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch.” (Matthew 15:10-13 NLT)