Guests: Dave Thomas and Linda Emmerson
Biblical References: Proverbs 28-29
Leading Question: If one wants to be a law-abiding citizen, does Proverbs make it perfectly clear how to do that?
The quick answer to that leading question is no – yet Proverbs does make it clear that we can have peace with God, though the answer doesn’t always sound much like the New Testament.
The “official” title for this lesson is a curious one. If one were to read through the entire book of Proverbs, one would hardly be tempted, I should think, to say that “living by faith” would come to mind as a dominant theme. I can only surmise that the Sabbath School people wanted to make sure that we have a full meal in every book of the Bible, including Proverbs. But as long as we have the full Bible, we don’t need to get every single doctrine in every book.
But perhaps we are all tempted to read our favorite doctrines into places where they are not self-evident. We so eagerly want all the Bible to make sense to us. And sometimes that does not come easily. Paul, for example, the great apostle of righteousness by faith, seems to take a line from Habakkuk 2:4 and move the Old Testament concept of faithfulness toward a more forensic and legal understanding in Romans 1:17: “The righteous will live by faith.” Today, even the NIV, a thoroughly evangelical translation, adopts an Old Testament perspective for Habakkuk 2:4: “The righteous person will live by his faithfulness.” Most of the translations that stay close to the KJV tradition have not been brave enough to go that far; they stay with “faith” while listing faithfulness as an option in a footnote (KJV, NKJV, RSV, ESV, NRSV).
Another interesting word that is easy to manipulate is the word torah. It can refer to the first section of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). In that sense, it is a counterpart of the other two sections of the Hebrew Bible, “prophets” and “writings.” But torah can also simply mean “instruction.” Psalm 119 is a book which celebrates this view of torah. It is the longest Psalm in our Bible and it praises the fact that God has shown us how to live. In short, Torah is simply a God-given way of life.
In evangelical circles, when one refers to Law and Gospel as counterparts, Gospel always wins out as Good News; Law sounds like an instrument of condemnation. But according to the Old Testament, Law is good news, it is Gospel! That’s what the word Gospel means: Good news! You clearly get the feel for that idea in Deuteronomy 4:5-8, a passage where Moses seems to be popping his buttons with legitimate pride over the fact that God has revealed his way of life to Israel. The CEV makes the passage sing:
No other nation has laws that are as fair as the ones the Lord my God told me to give you. If you faithfully obey them when you enter the land, you will show other nations how wise you are. In fact, everyone that hears about your laws will say, “That great nation certainly is wise!” And what makes us greater than other nations? We have a God who is close to us and answers our prayers. – Deut. 4:5-8, CEV
The word torah does not appear in this passage; synonyms are used. But the message is clear: It is good news that God has shown us how to live.
If one turns to Proverbs, one can ask questions about salvation and obedience. But the answers won’t always sound like the apostle Paul. And that’s alright. We believe in all Scripture, not just in Paul or just in Proverbs.
To start with, let’s note the memory verse selected by the official study guide. It affirms that if we have faith in God, we will be secure. It doesn’t explain how we become secure. We simply are safe in God’s hands:
Memory Verse: Prov. 29:25, NIV/NKJV: “The fear of man brings a snare, But whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.”
Law: Examples, Cases, Illustrations. The official study guide notes that torah appears 13 times in Proverbs, 4 of them in Proverbs 28. Study the ones in Proverbs 28 so see if you can determine their more precise meaning. The texts here are in the NIV:
28:4 Those who forsake instruction (torah) praise the wicked, but those who heed it (torah) resist them.
28:7 A discerning son heeds instruction (torah), but a companion of gluttons disgraces his father.
28:9 If anyone turns a deaf ear to my instruction (torah), even their prayers are detestable.
29:18 Where there is no revelation (chazon) people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s (torah) instruction.
Note: chazon (in 29:18) is usually translated vision or revelation. The second line contains the word torah and is translated by the NIV as wisdom, in keeping with the dominant tone of Proverbs. The more literal NASB translates torah as “law”
29:18 (NASB) Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law.
Mercy and Salvation: Paul is usually seen as the inspired writer who focuses most intensely on forensic/legal language. There is little evidence of that perspective in Proverbs. But there are proverbs which make it clear that wisdom people can find peace and safety within God’s protecting, saving care. Here are some crucial verses from the NIV:
28:13 Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy. 14 Blessed is the one who always trembles before God, but whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble.
28:25 The greedy stir up conflict, but those who trust in the Lord will prosper.
The memory verse in several versions:
29:25 Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe. – NIV and NKJV are identical!
29:25 Don’t fall into the trap of being a coward— trust the Lord, and you will be safe. – CEV
29:25 The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that. – Message
29:25 The fear of others lays a snare, but one who trusts in the Lord is secure. NRSV