Sunday 23rd July – Psalm 15
Lord, who may enter your Temple?
Who may worship on Zion, your sacred hill?[b]
2 Those who obey God in everything
and always do what is right,
whose words are true and sincere,
3 and who do not slander others.
They do no wrong to their friends
nor spread rumors about their neighbors.
4 They despise those whom God rejects,
but honor those who obey the Lord.
They always do what they promise,
no matter how much it may cost.
5 They make loans without charging interest
and cannot be bribed to testify against the innocent.
Whoever does these things will always be secure.
In the book of Amos God says, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3) and in Psalm 15 we have the kind of agreement that makes a man or woman able to company with God, “Lord who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain?” (v1).
The Psalm describes the characteristics of such a person and no further comment is required other than, as the old Anglican collect puts it, to “read, mark learn and inwardly digest” the Word of God. Let us ponder these verses then that we might ‘walk with God’
2 The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart;
3 whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbor,
and casts no slur on others;
4 who despises a vile person
but honors those who fear the LORD;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind;
5 who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things
will never be shaken. (Psalms 15:2-5 NIV)
A Prayer: Almighty God whose ways are just and whose word is truth, grant that we may listen, heed and obey your Word that we might grow in grace and in true fellowship with you, through Our Lord Jesus Christ to whom with you and the Holy Spirit be glory for ever. Amen.
We will leave the book of Genesis now and in order to give a good flavour of the Bible we’ll move on to have a short look at the book of Proverbs. It is part of what is called the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament.
READINGS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD
If you don’t have a bible at home you can find the readings on a website such as www.biblegateway.com or an app such as YouVersion
Monday Proverbs 1:1-33
As we start to have a look at the Book of Proverbs we won’t be going through all of them however do browse and ponder any of them. An old Christian lady once said, “they are like sweeties, you have to tak’ them and sook on them”. Some are quite visual, even humourous such as 26:14 – “As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed”. I hope you haven’t been exhibiting that; instead, what about hearing the words of Ephesians 5:14 “”Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Amen.
Early chapters take the form of a father’s instructions to his son but v7 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (or wisdom)” is probably the banner over the whole book. The word “fear” doesn’t mean the craven fear of the horror movie but it does mean more than just respect or honour. C.S. Lewis’s “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” puts it well when we see Susan’s reaction to the prospect of meeting Aslan the Lion (Christ in Metaphor). Mr Beaver has told her, “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” Lewis puts it so well in showing us that just because God is good doesn’t mean he is safe, we need to remember that.
The warning to the young man from v8-19 is about avoiding bad company. It is all too easy to take on the characteristics of the company we keep, to talk the way they do, to act the way they do, eventually to think the way they do and so the instruction is to hear the wisdom of a father and mother and not to find friends amongst such as mentioned. Wisdom, in Proverbs, is often personified almost like the Spirit in the New Testament and the last verse says “Whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm”. We will listen to the words of holy wisdom as we take out little trip through them.
Tuesday Proverbs 2:1-22
What’s the difference between a closed mind and an open mind? A closed mind is shut to new ideas whereas an open mind isn’t; however, we need to add that unless it is closed at one end, the open mind becomes an empty mind, like a hollow tube, susceptible to the wind that blows through it this way and that The writer of Proverbs knows this for he speaks of the young man’s mind needing to be a container to receive and hold on to the commands and wisdom of God. It is God who gives wisdom (v6) but the young man must seek it and hold on to it (vs3,4).
The aim of this quest for wisdom is not just an intellectual equipping of the mind but the creation of a heart that will reflect the thoughts and intentions of God (v10). This will actually bring a fullness and completion of life that will not only be pleasant (v10) but will also be a protection against folly.
The protection that the writer speaks of is from the wicked man (v12) and the adulterous woman (v16). The danger of life for the young man is being entangled with the kind of godless selfishness of those who gain perverse pleasure out of wrongdoing and are not straight people. The man who is wise will know them and not learn from their ways. Similarly, the pleasures of the sexual life are a pathway to death if not restrained by wisdom (v18), and those who would lure him that way would trap him and block the way back to life, a subject the writer will return to in Proverbs 5.
The quest for the right way is the motif of the book and sets the way for Jesus’ words about “asking, seeking and knocking”. Wisdom doesn’t just come naturally; it requires the open ear and the desire to receive, followed by the intention to practice it.
Wisdom could really be understood as ‘the knack’, the skill an apprentice learns through watching the master and repeating his ways. If the goal of the Christian life is to be ‘like Christ’ then our attention to him and rehearsing of his deeds and words will be our way to divine wisdom.
Wednesday Proverbs 3:1-35
There is an overflow of wisdom in this chapter that every verse deserves meditation. Personally I often used verses 5&6 in speaking to people whose situations were difficult or trying, who couldn’t see the way ahead, because we can be easily accustomed to see no further than our own view and our understanding is therefore bound to be clouded –
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Harking back to Chapter 1 we remember that true wisdom comes from God.
When things are hard because of our own folly (and who hasn’t gone down that path) it can be good to remember that “The Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in” (v12). Just because things are hard doesn’t mean the love of God for you has gone.
The writer reminds us in vs 19&20 of the creative work of God’s wisdom so that we can rely on that rather than our own and be able to sleep in peace as v24 tells us.
Although wisdom may bring that personal peace and blessing (vs17&18) it is not purely for our own enjoyment and life but is also to be shared with others. We mustn’t withhold good from others when we have the opportunity to do so (v27) and also to do it timeously (v28)
As in the previous chapter the writer warns the young man to steer clear of those who seek the harm of others because it will never go well with those who join them in their evil endeavours; God will judge them all and only the wise will inherit honour, fools only shame (v35).
Thursday Proverbs 4:1-27
We always need to remember that an older generation has been in the same position as ourselves when younger. Although we always want to say that things are different now, and in some ways they are, nevertheless as the writer of Ecclesiastes says “there is nothing new under the Sun”. Those who don’t learn from history are destined to relive it and the writer in Chapter 4 tells his son that he too was a son to his father who instructed him so he wants to impress upon his son that wisdom can be learned from the old.
The getting of wisdom is not just the event of a day but is something that must be held on to. Though we become wise we can let it slip this is why the writer says guard it well for it is your life (v13). Having held up the importance of the wisdom of years we also know the old saying “there is no fool like an old fool” because if we relax the firm grasp on Christ that we laid claim to in our youth we can cause shipwreck of life in later years. There is nothing sadder than seeing someone who was once a close follower becoming an also-ran because they turned back. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews gave great counsel to his readers when he said, “fix your eyes upon Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2).
If you have a Good News Bible translation of Proverbs do take a look at it, it is one of the best in English. I remember my daughter had a poster on the back of her bedroom door which said “Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23). I couldn’t source the version that came from until now and see it was the New Heart English Bible which I am not familiar with. I thought it was good but I also looked at the Good News Bible which said, “Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts”. Both are good in their own way but the GNB speaks the common language and lets us know what it is we have to do. Thoughts are where evil starts: “Sow a thought; reap an action; sow and action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).
Paul spells out the thoughts that should characterise our minds in Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”
Friday Proverbs 5:1-23
This can be a difficult chapter for many reflecting as it does on sexual indiscretion and something has to be said before looking at the instructions of the writer. The first thing to say is that it is written to the young man setting out on life and facing many paths before him, some of which will be beneficial and others will lead to folly and ruination. It is not written to the many people who come to faith and trust in God when their past life is anything but a smooth road of tranquil relationships and peace that they wish could have been.
The modern expression ‘play the ball where it lies’ has much to say here and is not different from what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7, “Each of you should go on living according to the Lord’s gift to you, and as you were when God called you. This is the rule I teach in all the churches”. Not everybody starts at the beginning as far as sexual discretion is concerned but the sheer grace of God to those who come to him is that he does not home in on the past with a cold searchlight seeking to shoot them down in flames – did Jesus do that to the Woman taken in adultery? Did God cast off David when he had committed adultery with Bathsheba and had a contract put out on her husband? No, in neither case. Consequences happen but Joel’s message speaks to many whose lives show the effects of spoiled years, “I will restore the years the locusts have eaten” (Joel 2:25). God is good to those who turn to him no matter their past.
To the young man starting out in life the writer instructs him in maintaining discretion by not ‘sowing his wild oats’ in sexual (mis)adventures and he says that that path leads downhill and eventually will be the death of the young man which may not mean physical but spiritual and moral death. It would come about through not heeding the wise words of the writer (the godly father) (v12,13)
In verses 15-17 he instructs him to find his sexual pleasure and rejoicing in the wife of his youth and not to be intoxicated by another’s. The sadness of our present culture is that sex is seen only as a private source of enjoyment and has become de-coupled from its place at the heart of family life which is not only where it belongs but also where its beauty and pleasure truly flowers.
Saturday Proverbs 6:1-35
I remember when Access, the first credit card, came out in our country that the strap line of its advert was “Take the waiting out of wanting”. To the grandparents of those days this was a dangerous trap for young people who would plunge into buying beyond their means and end up in penury. Well, the senior writer of Proverbs was giving the same advice in the opening verses about getting into debt. Practical advice for the unwary.
The temptation to do this could come about through sheer laziness and that’s why the next advice given is not to be a lazy sluggard. The advice was to look to the busyness of the ant and copy it and not to spend the hours in slumber. I’m reminded of John Wesley’s Sermon on the use of money, his points being “Earn all you can, Save all you can, Give all you can”. We have already come across Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonian Church to warn those who had given up work while waiting for the coming of Christ whilst living off the support of fellow believers – “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thess 3:10)
The next warning in vs 12-15 is to beware of the spiv, the sly black-market kind of chap (Walker in Dad’s Army if you know the series) or the troublemaker landing others in it. The saying about six things is a Hebrew poetic way of drawing attention to things.
Adultery is the theme of the rest of the chapter and his warnings are sharp and astringent as he commands the young man to keep the teachings of his parents in his heart. Anyone with a degree of maturity can see the truth in these warnings but it is right to note that such learning is from God himself, it is His Divine Wisdom and to heed it will bring life and peace, to ignore it will bring nothing but trouble. To which we must all say, Amen.