Proverbs: Inundated with Evil
Chapter 3 began with six blessings (vv. 1-12), followed by a description of the happiness that the wise have (vv. 13-18) and a short remark about God’s use of wisdom in creation (vv. 19-20). It finishes with a call to keep wisdom (vv. 21-26), five prohibitions (vv. 27-31), and the reasons why obedience is necessary (vv. 31-35). You get the sense that, when combined, this is the best way to reinforce, from every angle, the need to get wisdom. If the young sons had objections to one reason, there was always another to come. It’s like God knows our heart’s bent toward sinning, our ruthless running after the foolish idols in our lives.
21My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight,
preserve sound judgment and discretion;
22they will be life for you,
an ornament to grace your neck.
23Then you will go on your way in safety,
and your foot will not stumble.
24When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
25Have no fear of sudden disaster
or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked,
26for the Lord will be at your side
and will keep your foot from being snared.
These verses return to the ornament and life imagery, as well as safety. Gone are sleepless nights, fears the plague the wicked, and rough roads. Why? The Lord will be “at your side.” This is the message I hear often in Christianity today. We live in a generation of abandonment, of people who we thought we could trust but who’ve let us down. So of all the themes of God’s attributes found in Scripture, His presence and faithfulness are two of the ones that come up again and again in modern worship songs, preaching, and blogging. In this passage, the Lord’s presence guards against the foot being snared, but this is connected with what comes before. It is conditioned upon the son not letting wisdom and understanding out of his sight.
27Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to act.
28Do not say to your neighbor,
“Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”—
when you already have it with you.
29Do not plot harm against your neighbor,
who lives trustfully near you.
30Do not accuse anyone for no reason—
when they have done you no harm.
31Do not envy the violent
or choose any of their ways.
Here now are five more negative commands. The “do not” is important. He could have said, “Do good…” in the positive sense. By making them negative, he implies that these are real temptations for the young son. I am reminded of Christ’s teaching the parable of the good Samaritan, where we learn that everyone is “my neighbor.”
This teaching is far from irrelevant today. How prone are we to remain silent when there is good to be done? We are inundated with the evil around us to the point that we don’t have the stamina to act. Orphans, refugees, hunger, war-torn countries, ISIS, abortion…the list goes on. We receive emails, calls from our churches, pleas on social media, videos, and other advertisements, all reminding us of our need to act. And in the end, it can begin to feel like either all people want is our money or that our little contribution is just a drop in the bucket.
It is why we must balance Christ’s teaching that everyone is my neighbor with real relationships with real neighbors. The ancients didn’t live in a world of globalization and instant access to all the world’s problems. We do. Our challenge is to at least be a neighbor to those we see face to face. If we start there, then we can let the needs of the world challenge us.
32For the Lord detests the perverse
but takes the upright into his confidence.
33The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked,
but he blesses the home of the righteous.
34He mocks proud mockers
but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.
35The wise inherit honor,
but fools get only shame (Proverbs 3:21-35, TNIV).
And here’s why. The Lord detests the perverse. These people show up two other times in Proverbs (2:15; 14:2). It is the same word used in 3:21 for letting them out of his sight, or letting wisdom “depart” from him. To be perverse is to depart from the right, to veer off course, to twist what is good into what is evil. God is active against such people, cursing them (a huge theme in the OT), and even mocking them (part of the OT understanding of ‘an eye for an eye’).