Friday, January 29, 2016

God: His Glorious Goodness Shines Brightest in Satisfied Saints

The last verse in Proverbs where “God” occurs is Proverbs 30:9. Verses 7-9 form a whole thought in which Agur prays to be kept from deception and lies as well as poverty and riches. Fear of denying Yahweh or dishonoring God’s name motivates his prayer. Agur prays,
 7 Two things I ask of You, Do not refuse me before I die:
 8 Keep deception and lies far from me, Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion,
 9 That I not be full and deny You and say, "Who is Yahweh?" Or that I not be in want and steal, And profane the name of my God.
There are multiple layers to this passage’s doctrine of God. Here are only four of them:
1. God has a name - a reputation.
2. God’s name may be “profaned”
3. God encourages personal identification with Him - “my God”
4. God wants us to pray this way

1. God has a name -- God’s “name” refers to various things in Scripture: what He wants to be called--Yahweh (Exod. 6:3); his character (Exod. 33:19; 34:6); his reputation (Ezek. 36:20-23). All three are seen in this context. They are all connected. Yahweh is God’s name that reflects God’s self-existent, promise-making, promise-keeping character which is what God wants to be known for (reputation) throughout the world. Your reputation is important to you. It should be important to me as well.

2. God’s name may be “profaned.” -- The verb translated “profane” by the NASB normally means “to handle, to seize, capture.” This is the only context in which it occurs with “name” as its object. It may be borrowing battle language to picture doing violence to God’s reputation by misrepresenting His character through one’s actions. Or, it may be a synonym for nasa’ “take, lift” and thus allude to the 3rd commandment as apparently the LXX takes it. Either way, “dishonor” or “profane” appears to be the sense and this conclusion is supported by the unanimous English translations along those lines.

God’s name can be profaned by the actions of those who identify you as their God. Agur fears tarnishing God’s reputation or misrepresenting God in the eyes of onlookers. His prayer is essentially what Jesus taught, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

Do I share Agur’s concern for your name, Father? I pray for grace to represent you properly. If God’s name can be profaned by my actions, then it can be sanctified by them as well (cf. Isa. 8:13). I pray that your name would be sanctified in me. Help me to remember that I represent You in everything I do (Col. 3:17).

3. God encourages personal identification with Him -- “my God” Here Agur moves deeper in and further up. God, whose name is holy (Prov. 30:3), whose name Agur first challenged his listener to supply (Prov. 30:4), can be known personally. The same One who gathers the wind in His fist and the water in His garment and establishes the ends of the earth permits us to call Him “my God.” Thank you for allowing me to know You, to have relationship with You, and to claim You as “my God!”

Father, I marvel that you risk your reputation by connecting it to your people. We are under construction and thus still fallen. We are far from the perfection that we will shall someday share with you. And we often fail in representing You as You deserve to be represented. Yet, you still allow us to call you “my God.” Your patience and forbearance are amazing!

What would motivate such vulnerability? It must be love. Your passion for the glory of your name is itself motivated by your love--your self-sacrificing commitment to seek the highest good of all your creatures. For, our greatest good lies wholly in You. Your glorious goodness shines brightest in the satisfied service of saintly sons who prize You above all prizes. Help me to see more clearly that You are all I need and all I could want to make me perfectly satisfied.

4. God wants us to pray this way -- What does the fact that You inspire this prayer (Prov. 30:7) tell me about You? It tells me that You want me to ask You to guard me from circumstances which would catalyze sinful behavior in me. You model for me prayer language that is bold -- “Do not refuse me.” You want me to boldly ask for protection from falsehood and lying (Prov. 30:8). Considering the larger context of Prov. 30:1-9, if Your words are pure (Prov. 30:5), then my words should be too (Prov. 30:8). Agur’s prayer models for me how to apply the truth that God’s word and thus God is pure: I must pursue purity of life and lip as well.

You also want me to ask to be kept from poverty or riches. This is not because they are inherently evil. Proverty and riches are contexts in which temptation to self-dependence and thus denial of God are more acute. Wealth tends to deaden my sensitivity to my constant need for God. Poverty tends to heighten our native unbelief that my well-being depends on me. Whether forgetting God or stealing food, the root sin is self-dependence rather than God-dependence.

Father, keep me from anything that will incline me to desert You or defame Your name. Do not refuse me!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

God: The Silver-Tongued, Sterling-Hearted Shield

Proverbs 30:5-6 Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words Or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar.[1]

There’s so much spiritual marrow for soul nourishment here! We can learn the following about God from Prov. 30:5-6 ...

1. God has spoken. God is a communicator. He is there and He is not silent. The silence of our a vast, unfathomed universe has disturbed not a few, but God, the Creator, has spoken!

2. God has made His word available! God is a revealer and a preserver of His word. He not only speaks somewhere, but He speaks here, on earth, to people. We need not go to Him to hear His words. He has come to us! The marvelous way in which He has preserved His word over 3.5 millennia testifies to His passion to be known.

3. God has spoken pure words. The word “pure” (tserufah) means “tested” or “refined”—as in the process of refining silver (Prov. 25:4)—so that all non-silver elements are removed and what is left is silver only.  God’s words are unspoiled by evil advice, unsoiled by unethical laws, unalloyed by falsehood. They are dross-free, blemish-free, stain-free.

4. God’s words cannot be improved. No addition enhances them. No deletion sharpens them (cf. Deut. 4:2; 12:32). God has spoken only pure words. They need no correction, upgrade, update, amelioration, enhancement, or refinement. There is no incoherence, no contradiction, no falsehood in God’s word.  As such, they are worthy of my complete confidence.

The fact that the one who adds to God’s word will be proved a liar shows that no truth can correct God’s word. If any attempted correction would prove untrue, then the original must be fault-free, inerrant, and wholly truth.[2]

5. God is pure in heart. The purity of God words testifies to the purity of His heart, for “out of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). Father, I rejoice that Your heart is pure gold, pure goodness, unalloyed by pettiness, deceit, or covered instability. I praise you for there is no lapse between your gold-heartedness and your words or actions as there often is with us.

6. God is a shield. He is an impenetrable, impregnable defense. This is a marvelous truth about God! Yet, without the next phrase, “to those who take refuge in Him,” it would be little comfort. Astounding truth—God allows men to take refuge in Him!

Holy Father, Your generosity, kindness, and compassion are evidenced by your making yourself available as a refuge. You shield those who take refuge in You—from violence (2 Sam. 22:3), from your wrath (Psa. 2:12), from the wicked (Psa. 137:40), from those who rise up against us (Psa. 17:7), from enemies (Psa. 25:20), from the strife of tongues and the conspiracies of men (Psa. 31:19), from condemnation (Psa. 34:20), from destruction (Psa. 57:1), and from the traps and snares of iniquitous men (Psa. 141:8). I can’t help but echo the psalmist: Hallelujah!

Why does the Holy Spirit inspire David and Agur to pair the purity of God’s word with His preservation of those who take refuge in Him?

Pure words are trustworthy words, words to stake your life upon, words worth enduring scorn and ridicule over. To trust God’s word is to trust God. To doubt God’s word is to doubt God. He will make no separation between Himself and His word (cf. 2 Sam. 12:9-10). To take refuge in someone will necessarily entail trusting their word. The point seems to be that the sterling character of God’s word marks Him as worthy of our complete dependence.

 “And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, LORD, hast not forsaken them that seek thee” (Psa. 9:10). Holy, Righteous, and Heavenly Father, I trust you! I trust your word!

[1] Agur appears to be adapting the inspired King David’s Psalm 18:30 where he declares, “As for God, His way is blameless; The word of Yahweh is tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.” Proverbs 30:5 is almost a verbatim quote. The only difference is that Agur substituted ’Eloah, a poetic term for God, in place of Yahweh. Even here Agur may be following David’s lead, since the next verse in Psalm 18 uses the word ’Eloah (Psa. 18:31).
[2] For a well-done exploration of God’s motivation for inspiration and its powerful implications for how we receive and understand Scripture, see J. Michael Thigpen’s 2014 ETS paper, “’From the Mouth of God’: Inspiration and Inerrancy in Old Testament Perspective.” Caveat: This copy has my comments and highlighting still in it.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Scoffers Seek Wisdom; Yahweh Refuses

Proverbs 14:6 A scoffer seeks wisdom and finds none, But knowledge is easy to one who has understanding.

Who are the scornful / scoffers?
1.      they don’t delight in Yahweh’s torah; they don’t meditate in it day and night; they are not blessed (’ashre) (Psa. 1:1-2)
2.      they delight in scoffing (Prov. 1:22)
3.      they receive Yahweh’s scorn and not His favor (Prov. 3:34)
4.      They will not be reproved and seek to shame those who reprove them (Prov. 9:7)
5.      They hate those who reprove them (Prov. 9:8)
6.      They do not listen to rebuke (Prov. 13:1)
7.      They seek wisdom in vain (Prov. 14:6)
8.      They do not love the one who reproves them. They will not go to the wise (Prov. 15:12)
9.      They do not benefit from being struck (painfully corrected) (Prov. 19:25; 21:11)
10.  They have judgment prepared for them, i.e., just waiting to fall upon them (Prov. 19:29)
11.  Wine is like the mocker, whoever goes astray by either is not wise (Prov. 20:1)
12.  They are proud and arrogant. They act with insolent pride. (Prov. 21:24)
13.  They are the cause of contention, strife, and abuse. Remove them and these things will cease. (Prov. 22:10)
14.  They are an abomination to men (Prov. 24:9)
15.  They will cease to exist “on that day”; they are a subset of “all who are intent on doing evil” who will be cut off (Isa. 29:20)

In this verse, Yahweh highlights the complexity of the scoffer’s character. He is a seeker after wisdom. On the surface that is very positive characteristic. However, the search for wisdom requires a proper orientation to Yahweh. There is no wisdom for those who take no pleasure in Yahweh, His torah, His reproof.

Reminds me of Bunyan’s Mr. Worldly Wiseman. There is a wisdom which is from below, James says (Jam. 3:14-16), and the scornful may have a significant measure of it. But it is all about how to get ahead and survive in this world, not about how to live for the next world.

Positively, the understanding man (nabon) is not a scorner. Wise and nabon occur together as a set of characteristics that go together (Gen. 41:33, 39; Deut. 1:13; 4:6; 1 Kgs 3:12). As a lad, before his entrance into court life, David was known as nabon of speech (1 Sam. 16:18). The nabon gains direction from Proverbs (Prov. 1:5), has wisdom on his lips (Prov. 10:13), has wisdom in his heart (Prov. 14:33), his heart seeks knowledge (Prov. 15:14; 18:15), and gains knowledge through being reproved (Prov. 19:25).

Yahweh, Joseph was a wise and discerning man. You gave Solomon a wise and discerning heart. I ask for such a heart. Increase my wisdom and discernment that I may be a more fruitful servant of yours.

Yahweh, since you scorn the scorner and resist the proud (Prov. 3:34; Jam. 4:6), they cannot find wisdom for it is found only in You (Prov. 2:5-6). You give grace to the humble, and such people find wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. I humble myself under your mighty hand this morning that I may receive more grace.

Friday, January 08, 2016

God: The World’s Greatest Concealment Artist (Prov. 25:2)

Most often theology is written in the third person—about God. But for theology to become doxology, it must shift to the second person—You. I try to model that movement in this fourth installment on the doctrine of God in Proverbs.

Proverbs 25:2 has the fourth occurrence of “God” (here Elohim) in Proverbs.

Proverbs 25:2 It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, But the glory of kings is to search out a matter.
The ‘glory’ of God has multiple senses in Scripture. The sense here, since it is contrastively paralleled with “the glory of kings,” is “honor, acknowledgement of elevated status.” People honor what they admire. What brings honor to God is His concealment of matters because it displays his the unique excellence of His wisdom.

God conceals matters. Father, You hide things. You cover things. You hide truth from the unbelieving (cf. Isa. 6:9-10; Mark 4:11-12). You cover in the simple guise of a leaf multi-faceted machinery that uses light for energy, that processes carbon dioxide into oxygen. You hide in the apparent disorder of nature, so many organic and inorganic interrelationships, dependencies, processes, production vehicles, and more that our mind is boggled, our intellects staggered.

God reveals that He conceals. You are a person who enjoys being sought after, you enjoy creating a challenge that displays your infinite capacity for ingenuity, and that elicits admiration from those who inch by inch, layer by layer, uncover the profundity of your wisdom. Your glory in concealment also correlates to your antipathy for pride. You resist the proud and so shroud the way to your glorious perfections with difficulties that can only be overcome by humility. Rationalistic pride will stumble and declare the search impossible, the end a fable, a delusion of weak minds.

You also teach through this verse that you want your works to be discovered, but you enjoy the hunt. The more diffficult the search persisted in, the more valued its object must be. This is an open invitation to exploration. Scripture welcomes literary, linguistic, semantic, syntactic, pragmatic, discourse, rhetorical, and genre exploration. Take a hermeneutics course and discover the vast, often hidden, complexity of God’s designs with literature. Take a linguistics course and be amazed at the multi-functionality that lurks below the surface of language. Take a science course and be overwhelmed that God created a world which is filled with “simple” creatures and systems that are simultaneously complex, flexible, functional, and beautiful. Take a course in theology, the queen of the sciences, and confront quickly the limitations of human understanding, the dimness of your own insight into divine wisdom.

God’s glory is seen in the challenge to dis-cover how and why things work. Father, you are glorified in concealing. It highlights your wisdom, understanding, complexity, and power. The unique excellence of your mind and capacities shine brightly in the universe. The complexity, flexibility, and practicality of your works whether in biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, physiology, zoology, or astronomy are mind-boggling, and we continue to plumb their depths without sounding the bottom.

God, You are magnificent, incomparable, and worthy of all worship. I admire the man who utilizes God’s gracious gifts to persevere in discovering God’s glory. I worship You, the glorious God who speaks and wonders instantly come into being which take decades and centuries to be but partially understood.

For a deeper look at one facet of God's glory in concealing matters, see Greg Boyd's The Divine Wisdom of Obscurity, JETS 28.2 (1985): 195-204.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

God: Longing to Show His Favor (Prov. 3:3-4)

The third occurrence of “God” in Proverbs is in chapter three.

Proverbs 3:3 Do not let kindness and truth leave you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart. 4 So you will find favor and good repute[1] In the sight of God and man.

What do we learn of God here?

God favors.
Favor is a positive evaluation resulting in an inclination to grant requests (Exod. 33:12, 17); it is being pleased with someone (Gen. 6:8; 1 Sam. 16:22) resulting in dealing and speaking kindly with them (Num. 11:15; Ruth 2:13).

God’s favor is conditional
If you bind kindness and truth to your neck and write them on the table of your heart and never let them go, then God will be pleased with  you, God will be positively inclined to grant your request. All men do not find favor in His eyes. Those who corrupt their ways and abandon Him find no favor in His eyes (Gen. 6:6-8; Jon. 2:9).

God wants us to find favor in His eyes.
This theological inference follows naturally. God tells us what finds favor in his eyes, so that we can do it and find His favor. Stated even more positively, God wants to show favor, so He directs men how to live so that He may favor them.

Who wouldn’t want to find favor in God’s eyes?! The good news is it is possible to find favor in God’s eyes. Noah found favor in Yahweh’s eyes (Gen. 6:8). He was a righteous man, blameless in his generation, and one who walked with God (Gen. 6:9). Abraham found favor in His sight (Gen. 18:3; 19:19). Moses found favor in God’s eyes (Exod. 33:12, 17). This verse democratizes God’s favor. It is available to all who bind kindness and faithfulness around their necks and write it upon their hearts.

God favors those who are steadfastly kind and faithful.[2]
God calls us to kindness and faithfulness, because these are primary attributes of His. He is abundant in lovingkindness and faithfulness (Exod. 34:6; Psa. 25:10; Psa. 86:15). This hints at broader theological truths: God favors what is like Him. No wonder he is well-pleased with His Son who is the express image of His person, the radiance of His glory (Isa. 42:1; Matt. 12:18; Heb. 1:3)! No wonder He predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29)!

God wants us to find favor in the eyes of others.
He gave Israel favor in the eyes of the Egyptians (Exod. 3:21; 11:3; 12:36); Esther favor in the eyes of all who saw her (Est. 2:15) and in the eyes of the king (Est. 5:2, 8; 7:3; 8:5)

God’s favor should precede and be the basis of favor with others.
Although the text doesn’t explicitly teach this, it would seem that the order of this verse—favor in the eyes of God and then in the eyes of man—as well as the broader theological context of Proverbs 3 supports this conclusion.

Father, I rejoice in the opportunity to find favor and good repute in your eyes, and I rejoice even more in the reality of finding your favor! Thank you for showing me how to live in your favor, for being at work in me both to will and to do your good pleasure (Phil. 2:12), and for working all things together for my good, that is, so that I may be like your Son (Rom. 8:28-29). Thank you that favor in your eyes need not be divorced from favor in the eyes of other. In fact, you promise, “When a man’s ways are pleasing to Yahweh, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Prov. 16:7).

Amazing grace!

[1] The meaning of this term is disputed. Commentators and translators are divided between “good repute,” “good understanding,” and “good success.” In any case, it’s a good thing to have!
[2] The combination hesed ve’emet is translated three times in Proverbs as ἐλεός/ἐλεημοσύνη καὶ πίστις by LXX (3:3; 14:22, 16:6) and once ἐλεημοσύνη καὶ ἀλήθεια (20:28). When ’emet is alone, it is translated ἀλήθεια (8:7; 11:18; 12:19; 22:21; 29:14) and only once with πίστος (14:25). Contextual factors (e.g., antonymously parallel to lying), appear more important in the LXX’s choice of Greek terms than assumptions about fixed semantic meaing. Nonetheless, the LXX translator(s) do seem to regard ’emet in the combination hesed ve’emet not as ‘truth’ in the sense of an assertion in conformity with reality, but as reliability or faithfulness -- something akin to our sense of integrity -- attribute of keeping one’s word, being dependable, able to be relied upon, trustworthy. This sense of hesed ve’emet seems consistent with its usage elsewhere in the OT.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

God: Seen from the Adulteress Angle (Proverbs 2:17)

As noted in my previous post, the word “God” occurs six times in Proverbs. Today we look at the second occurrence in Proverbs to grow our understanding of the doctrine of God.

Proverbs 2:17 “That leaves the companion of her youth And forgets the covenant of her God”

Contextually, we are being warned about the adulterous woman, who violates her marriage vows. That Solomon calls her adultery forgetting the “covenant of her God” opens several interpretive options: 1) the covenant is the Sinaitic Covenant that forbad adultery, 2) the covenant is the marriage covenant generally which God established in Gen. 2:24 implictly, or 3) the covenant is her specific marriage covenant to which God was a party.

Options 2 or 3 seem contextually more likely, and I incline to the third option--that the covenant that she forgets is her marriage covenant to which God is a party.

Given any of the three options, the text makes explicit that God is a covenant-making God. We are also reminded that breaking the divinely ordained marriage covenant involves sinning against and breaking faith with God (cf. Gen. 39:9).

Further contextual reflection on Prov. 2:16-22 suggests that not only does such faithlessness displease God, but it also harms us greatly. It leads to death (Prov. 2:18) and, generally, diverts one permanently from the paths of life (Prov. 2:19).

God cares greatly for our well-being, our happiness, our life. That is why He has established norms and boundaries (“paths of righteousness”; Prov. 2:20)--not to keep us from pleasure, but to guide us into life-giving goodness, soul-flourishing, guilt-free, regret-free living.

God is a covenant-making, covenant-keeping, Guardian from death (Prov. 2:19), Guide to life (Prov. 2:20, land-promising (Prov. 2:21), wicked-uprooting God (Prov. 2:22).

Father, thank you for caring enough for me to warn me of the destruction that menaces those who break faith with their spouse and thus with You.

Friday, January 01, 2016

The Doctrine of God in Proverbs

All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). That means the Book of Proverbs is God-breathed and profitable for doctrine.

I’ve been particularly interested in the doctrine of God in Proverbs over the last several years. With this post I’m beginning what I hope to be a series on the doctrine of God in Proverbs.

The word “God” shows up six times (Prov. 2:5, 17; 3:4; 25:2; 30:5, 9) and God’s personal name, Yahweh (usually LORD in English translations), shows up 86 times.

Looking first at the six places where “God” occurs, what can we learn about God from these verses?

The first occurrence of “God” is in Proverbs 2:5, “Then you will discern the fear of Yahweh And discover the knowledge of God.”

1. Right off the bat, it is easy to see that knowledge of God is discoverable, and thus that God is knowable. This may seem hum-drum. However, both in the Ancient Near East and in much of modern society a personal relationship with God was and is regarded as impossible. As I'll point out in upcoming post, the NT confirms that Proverbs  invites us not only to know about God, but also to know Him. But more on that later ....

2. The paralleling of God and Yahweh in Prov. 2:5 indicates that they refer to the same person and strengthens the conclusion that God is knowable. God tells us in Exod. 6:3-8 that His name Yahweh signals that He is the God who enters into personal relationships with people to whom He makes and keeps promises and covenants.

3. Prov. 2:5 is the “then” part of an extended “if-then” clause (Proverbs 2:1-5) The “if-then” clause can be summed as “If you search diligently for wisdom ... then what you find is the fear of Yahweh and the knowledge of God.” The following verse gives the reason this is what you find: wisdom comes from Yahweh (2:6).

The search for wisdom leads you to God, whose name is Yahweh, for all wisdom comes from God. Further, it is only in relationship with Yahweh (knowing Him) that wisdom is properly oriented and applied.

Would you like to be wiser in the new year? Pursue a whole-life relationship with the all-wise, only-wise God who gives generously and without upbraiding to those who ask for wisdom (1 Tim. 1:17; Jam. 1:5). This is precisely what we are commanded to do in Proverbs 3:6, “in all your ways know Him, and he will direct your paths.”