Proverbs 25-29: Hezekiah's Collection

Though written by Solomon, these proverbs were compiled at the urging of King Hezekiah. As such, these are also a reflection of what Hezekiah thought was important.

Introduction

Photocredit: Unsplash.com/Graham Holtshausen
Perhaps not as famous in the minds of people today as Solomon or David, King Hezekiah was one of Judah's best kings. He was determined to maintain a good relationship with God and get Israel back on the right track. Proverbs 25:1 tells us that he had his men compile proverbs written by Solomon. This may have been for his own learning, or as a reminder to the people.

Today, these sayings from Solomon are handy because they contain wisdom about our relationship with God and our everyday actions, but for the people of Israel during Hezekiah's reign, they represented much more. For them, Solomon was a famed king who represented the heigh of Israel's excellence. Actually quotes containing his thoughts and wisdom would read as a call to return to greatness.
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Respect Authority

One of the first things we learn as children—or rather one of the first things we're supposed to learn—is to respect authority. Although it's lost favor among scholarly parenting advice, "because I said so" is a familiar phrase we've all hear from our parents. When I was a child, I thought my mom said no just to say no, but once I hit my mid twenties, the tone of a lot of those memories changed. I realized that many times she had a good reason to say no, but sometimes, she really did say no just to say no. We don't learn anything from getting our way all the time or when everything is handed to us on a silver platter. Sometimes we have to go through something to learn from it.

Like our parents, God knows much more than we do about life and the universe. we He is not obligated to share the mysteries of the world with us, but we are welcome to seek out answers. Sometimes He may answer us with "because I said so," but he will also provide answers.

When it comes to authority, there are usually rules and protocols that have to be followed. In the book of Esther, which was written well after Solomon and Hezekiah, there are multiple interactions between the less powerful and the king. Vashti, the King's primary wife before Esther, is banished for not appearing when the king summons her, conversely, Esther fears approaching him without first being called. Solomon echoes Esther's thought pattern that great leaders can only be approached after we have been invited to do so. Luckily of us, God has already extended an invitation!

Another part of authority that we often have trouble accepting is that of judgment or punishment. Most of us don't want to be punished, and thus we don't want to be caught either. However, when we seek out God we get many of those answers that used to be a mystery to us. Solomon explains that only those who seek God can understand his judgements. When we aren't aligned with God's purpose, much of what He does will seem strange.

Watch Your Speech

Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth.Proverbs 26:20 KJV
When I was young, they used to teach the saying "sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Proverbs 25:15 says that a soft tongue breaks bones. I've definitely met people who thought the old saying was flawed. Many believe that words actually do worse damage than broken bones. Bones heal naturally, but the heart and mind are much harder to repair. Still, when I read Proverbs 25:15, I thought there was something interesting about the phrasing—what exactly is a soft tongue? A harsh tongue seems like the tongue of a bully or someone who is spewing damaging words. Soft sounds much more benign. Placing the verse in context, we can assume a soft tongue is one of gentleness, that can be used for persuasion. You are more likely to break a person (i.e., change their mind) with a gentle tongue than with forceful words. Another thought that popped into my head is that if you only speak good without acknowledging truth that maybe less gentle, you endanger people. This would be the equivalent of allowing people to continue harmful behavior because you are too polite to intervene.

Proverbs also tells us that if we maintain an angry countenance, we will drive away rain. Upon reading this verse, I wondered if we were to take this figuratively or literally. Rain could represent the blessings of God. An angry countenance would surely drive a wedge in our relationship with Him and those around us, causing a figurative drought in our lives. Of course, during the time this proverb was penned, agriculture was a major part of everyone's day to day life. Lack of rain was one of the worst things that could happen. Unlike today where we can important food from other areas (in most cases), they couldn't ship food from across the world to cover a shortage. Lack of rain would be a curse and judgement for people.

Solomon also condemns flattering and hasty words. One of the definitions of flatter is to lavish insecure compliments.[3] Flattering is essentially lying, which God already told us to do. An example of flattery proving to bring about ruin happened with a child I know. The child was constantly praised (re: flattered) for his ability to sing. However, the child wasn't that good at singing. When the child performed in front of an audience, he did not receive the warm praise he was used to and was left humiliated in the midst of the crowd. We should be honest when we speak to people.

In being honest, we should also think through those words. Hasty words often come out wrong. I use to be notorious for saying exactly what was on my mind. Although those words were honest, many times they weren't phrased in the best way. Solomon tells us the fool says everything but the wise wait to speak because they're assessing their speech. Somethings don't need to be said at all, while other things simply need to be rephrased.

Wealth and Poverty

Although what we consider wealth has changed over the centuries, the dynamics of power versus poverty have not. Proverbs warns us about clinging to the desire to be wealthy. Money (or whatever constitutes wealth at the time) is not forever. Money may be able to buy you the best doctor, but it can't buy you friends and family to sit in the hospital with you. It can't buy your way in to Heaven, either. Faith in God is more valuable than the money; not because believing guarantees your survival in this life, but because it guarantees your survival in the next life.

God wants us to focus on helping those who do not have. Proverbs tells us that when we help the poor, we will be blessed. Taking advantage of the poor, ignoring their plight, and oppressing them are all condemned. Proverbs goes so far as to tell us that only a kingdom that takes care of the poor will last forever. If you look throughout history, it is usually the poor that rebel to overthrow the kingdom because they are unsatisfied. This group has the least to lose, so they're easily motivated to take action. On top of that, they're usually the largest group. Right now, in the US, the poverty rate is estimated to be just under 15%.[4] The wealthy make up only 1%. Only if a majority of those in the middle side with the rich, are the poor out numbered. God has called us to stand with the poor, and since He stands with them, even if we screw up and leave them outnumbered, they'll still win in the end.

Temper

This was touched on in previous posts, and also a bit in the section on watching what you say. Essentially, the Bible condemns anger and violence. Arguments and fights are not to be hastily entered.

This is one of the areas I personally struggle with; I am easily angered by the words and actions of others. One thing I've learned as I attempt to be more Christ-like and peaceful is how wonderful God is that the littlest things don't bother Him. I imagine if God were to be as easily angered as we are, the end of the world would have come along time ago. I imagine, Jesus would have never died on the cross—how many of us would willingly suffer so, knowing the world would still reject your sacrifice? Putting it in perspective helps to calm me. If God can be patient and forgiving, after all that we've done, surely I can be patient and forgiving with my neighbor.

Reproof

Much of Proverbs discusses the necessity of reproof. Reproof is the act of correcting our behavior, wether it is instituted by ourselves, our brothers and sisters in Christ, or God Himself. We are meant to control our actions. I've met many people who insist a drunk person is who the person really is and that people should live without inhibitions. I've always disagreed with this statement and Proverbs 25:28 agrees that you are to control yourself with rules (i.e., morals). The same way we are taught to walk, talk, eat, and behave certain ways in public, we teach ourselves how to react to certain situations. We are who we choose to be. It says a lot that when placed in uneasy situations you choose to take the high road. The devil wants us to believe that the broken and sinful nature we are born with is the only nature we can have, but that simply isn't true.

We should be open to the criticisms from God and our fellow believers. This is how we steer ourselves to righteousness. Those who choose to ignore the warnings from God and their loved ones are walking on the path of destruction. It is more important to set ourselves right and to be honest with those around us than it is to keep wisdom secret from them. As people, we need both punishment and reproof to see more clearly.

Compassion

As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, and as vinegar upon nitre, so is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart. Proverbs 25:20 KJV
The first part of Proverbs 25:20 is easy to comprehend. The second part is a little more confusing. In today's society, we often give our licenses as a security measure. An example would be when touring an apartment complex. In Solomon's day, people left their coats as a sign that they would pay or come back. Throughout the books of law, God explains the importance of using common sense when requiring such a thing. Many poor people would have only one coat and in cold weather this was a crucial item of possession. Clearly, taking away someone's garment when they need it is a horrible thing.

Assumably, vinegar upon nitre is also bad. However, I wasn't sure what nitre was, let alone what vinegar would do to it. Nitre was a mineral mined in ancient Egypt at the time (there's also a mineral called nitre today but it isn't the one being discussed in this passage). When vinegar was poured upon the mineral it would cause an unpleasant reaction resulting in a hissing sound.[1]

These horrible actions are what we enact when we brag and boast around those who are in pain. We should be mindful of those around us and practice compassion toward their situation.

Foolishness

Proverbs has made it clear that "fools" are wicked people. Solomon tells us that honoring them is like snow in the summer. Whether this is to mean improbable or pointless, it clearly illustrates the how frivolous it is to continue in the path of foolishness, which is equated to wickedness.

Solomon reiterates this by telling us we shouldn't put our faith in men who are unfaithful when we need help. Do not be confident in an unfaithful man when there is trouble. It's not that someone who is unfaithful to God is incapable of being faithful to you. The problem is whether they can actually help you in a time of trouble. If I'm on a plane and the plane is crashing, sure, my mother may be there for me, but she isn't a pilot and she doesn't know how to fix the situation. Similarly, our friends and family who are not following God cannot give us Godly direction in a time of trouble.

Solomon brings up an interesting and seemingly conflicting point in Proverbs 26:4-5. First, he tells us we should follow up foolishness because we're stooping to their level. However, he turns around and tells us we should answer them in kind so they don't leave thinking they're right. Which is it? Many times, especially in the world of social media, people argue back and forth without the slightest exchange of information. The arguments quickly descend to name calling and pointing out grammatical errors. Sometimes people just don't want to hear the truth and sometimes we lose our message because we become too stubborn and prideful (like the fool) to deliver it. At other times, however, we need to put a stop to whatever is being said. Perhaps it is to correct the person in the wrong, or prevent others in the vicinity from harmful information. In those cases we must maintain our patience and temper to correct the situation. Essentially Solomon is reminding us that there is a time for both.[2]

Fellowship

Proverbs discusses who we should fellowship with. We should provide something to our friend-group that enhances and improves those around us. Similarly, we should surround ourselves with people who make us better. For this reason, Solomon tells us not to keep company with harlots. Many automatically assume this is a reference to prostitutes or promiscuous women. but I'm not so sure. I would agree that anyone engaging in ungodly behavior willingly, with no intent to repent and change is probably not who God intends for you to spend all your time with. However, the word harlot is often used to describe idolatry. Israel is often said to have played the harlot when they turned away from God, and in Revelation, one of the central figures is the Whore (or harlot) of Babylon. Given this, I believe Solomon is talking about those who have turned their back on God, in general, not simply those who are promiscuous.

In general, we think of friend circles as second to family. There are countless sayings that equate to blood is thicker than water, but in reality, friends develop by choice and may actually be better than family. Some people are born in to loving families where everyone is seeking God and the relationship is pleasant. However, on the opposite end of the spectrum are people born in to abusive families. There are also families who may be loving, but may not know God. Nonetheless, Solomon reminds us that a good friend who is near to us is better than a relative that is far away. It goes without saying that this is true when it comes to physical distance. It is much easier for my friends in South Florida to visit me than my family in South Carolina. However, I think this could double as a spiritual reference. Having friends who are nearer to you in the spirit can be more helpful in your spiritual growth than a family member who is far from you.

Pride

Pride is one of the most dangerous human traits. So much goes wrong when we allow ourselves to be prideful. This is why Solomon warns us to be wary of a proud heart, even if it is our own. We aren't to trust in our own heart, which is hard to put into practice. So many lessons taught by the world encourage us to follow our heart, when in actuality, this can only be done safely when our hearts are one with God.

The Wicked and the Just

These proverbs spend a great deal of time discussing the contrast and interaction between the just and the wicked. Solomon provides the followings points on righteousness versus wickedness:
  1. People are happiest when righteous people lead them; when the wicked lead people mourn
  2. Where there is no vision, people perish; those who keep the law (the vision) delight
  3. A king who has understanding and knowledge prolongs his kingdom; rivaling princes bring instability
  4. If you turn away from the law, your prayer will become an abomination
  5. Punishment is great for those luring the righteous away from God
  6. We should not hide our sins; we must admit them and cast them aside to prosper
  7. Provide for your enemy
Solomon also reminds us that perception changes everything. The wicked are an abomination to the just and the just are an abomination to the wicked. Our ideas conflict and thus cause us to perceive our actions in a different light. As we follow God, those who do not will see this unfavorably. Meanwhile, we will view their behavior as unfavorable. As long as we keep the law, we are contending with the wicked.

Jesus

Proverbs 27:26 tells us that lambs are for clothing. What's interesting about this passage is that while lambs do provide wool for clothing, Jesus is called the Lamb of God and He clothes us in righteousness.

Misc.

There are a few other proverbs that I wanted to bring attention to before closing the post:
  1. Hating covetousness prolongs your life (probably because it reduces your stress)
  2. Proverbs 26:13-16 covers slothfulness
  3. Overeating honey will cause you to vomit (i.e. too much, even of a good thing, is bad for you)
  4. Confused about Proverbs 27:14? See the commentary provided here. (Essentially, we are to be mindful of when and where we show our appreciation.[5])
Solomon also tells us that to the hungry soul, bitter things are sweet. This has two meanings. First, have you ever been so hungry that you weren't sure if the food you were eating was actually good or not? When you're starving, anything tastes good. This concept applies to our lives as well. When we are devoid of our relationship with God, we crave something to fill our soul. Even evil looks good at that point. Another take on this phrase deals with God's punishment. When we need chastising (as discussed in the section on reproof), the punishment is bitter. However, because we need that punishment to lead us into righteousness, it's actually sweet.

References

  1. John Gills. "Proverbs 25:20 Commentary". Bible Study Tools; visited July 2017
  2. "Do Proverbs 26:4 and 26:5 contradict? How can both verses be true?". GotQuestions.org; visited July 2017
  3. "Flatter". Merriam-Webster; visited July 2017
  4. Mark Gongloff. "45 Million Americans Still Stuck Below Poverty Line: Census". Huffington Post. September 16, 2014
  5. Proverbs 27:14 Commentaries". BibleHub.com; visited July 2017

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About

Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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