The Poor | Part 1

Over the next few days we will be looking at wisdom from the book of Proverbs. Each day I hope to illustrate Solomonic wisdom from a narrative portion in Scripture. We will start by examining what we can learn about our attitude to the poor.

RICH MAN POOR MAN (Luke 16:19-31)
There are three kinds of givers in the world – the flint, the sponge and the honeycomb. To get anything out of a flint you have to hammer it and then you only get sparks. To get water from a sponge you have to squeeze it. But the honeycomb just overflows with its own sweetness. Which kind of a giver are you?

  1. THE MAKER OF THE POOR
    In Proverbs 22:2 we are told, rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all. This is reinforced by what Solomon goes on to say in Proverbs 14:31, he who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. The first thing that is immediately obvious to us from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is the complete contrast in their economic fortunes. On the one hand we have a picture of fabulous wealth and on the other we have a picture of abject poverty. The rich man had a palatial dwelling and ate the finest foods. The poor man rummaged through dustbins. The rich man was healthy. The poor man was sick. There is only one thing that the poor man had that the rich man did not have in this parable. It is so obvious that we sometimes overlook it. The poor man had a name – Lazarus. The rich man had no name. Of course he was well known about town but as far as Jesus was concerned he had no name. He was just rich, nothing else. The name Lazarus comes from the Latin form of the Hebrew Eleazar which means; “he whom God helps.” It was God who knew and cared for this man.
  2. THE MISTREATMENT OF THE POOR
    In Luke 16:20 we are told that Lazarus was laid at the gate of the rich man. How was he mistreated. Firstly, he was shunned. I am sure that the rich man was well aware about the beggar on his doorstep, but he chose to ignore him. He was shunned. In Proverbs 19:7 we read, a poor man is shunned by all his relatives- how much more do his friends avoid him! Though he pursues them with pleading, they are nowhere to be found. The second thing that we notice about Lazarus is that he was helpless. In Proverbs 18:23 we read, a poor man pleads for mercy, but a rich man answers harshly. The poor are often helpless. In Luke 16:21 we are told that he longed to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. He was the picture of helplessness. Not only was he hungry but he was also covered with sores. Ironically the only creatures that had any compassion on Lazarus were the mangy dogs. Notice how vrs 21 ends, “even the dogs came and licked his sores.” A third way in which the poor are mistreated is through oppression and exploitation. In Proverbs 22:22-23 we read, do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them. God has always voiced his displeasure when the poor are exploited. A fourth way in which the poor are oppressed is through being mocked. In Proverbs 17:5 we read, he who mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker.
  3. THE MINISTRY TO THE POOR
    What should the rich man had done differently? Every term that is used to describe this rich man accentuates his wealth. We are told that he was “dressed in purple” Not only was he dressed in the most expensive clothing, but he lived in a mansion (the Greek word refers to an ornamental portico). The very best of foods graced his table every day. He was filthy rich. And yet in the area that mattered most – his spirit, he was totally impoverished. If this rich man had read the book of Proverbs he would have learned some valuable lessons as to how he could have ministered to Lazarus. First of all, he would have learned the importance of being kind. In Proverbs 14:21 we read, he who despises his neighbour sins, but blessed is he who is kind to the needy. There is no hint in this parable that the rich man was cruel to Lazarus. However, he was never kind. Proverbs 19:17 says, he who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done. A second way in which we can minister to the poor is by being generous. Proverbs 22:9 is instructive, a generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor. This rich man had ignored Lazarus. He had eaten the most exotic dishes on a daily basis but remained unmoved by Lazarus’ plight. Thirdly, we can minister to the poor by being concerned about justice and speaking up on their behalf. In Proverbs 29:7 we read, the righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern. Proverbs 31:8-9 says, speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. This has always historically characterised Christians. William Wilberforce spoke out against the cruelty of the slave trade. George Muller was an advocate for orphans. Shaftesbury initiated sevetal social reforms that benefited the voronin london in the 19th century. Elizabeth Fry campaigned on behalf of prisoners. Hospitals were started by Christian nurses. Our country today needs similar men and women of faith who will campaign on behalf of the poor.

Sexual Purity | Part 2

In this series of devotions, I am tracing particular themes through Proverbs and illustrating it with a narrative account from elsewhere in the Scriptures. For today’s study on sexual purity Proverbs 7 will provide our narrative backdrop.

SEXUAL IMPURITY (Proverbs 7)
There was a rather famous edition of the King James Version of the bible that was published in 1631 that was called the “wicked bible.” The printer made the error of omitting the word “not” from the seventh commandment. His error earned him a three hundred pound fine from Archbishop Laud. Today such an oversight would be applauded. The message that is being broadcast loudly and boldly from every angle is that sexual relationships outside of marriage are expected and can be healthy.

  1. THE PATH TO SEXUAL IMPURITY
    Falling into sexual immorality or adultery doesn’t just happen. The process is graphically described in Proverbs 7:6-23. The first step in this miserable descent to what Solomon calls the chambers of death is an unguarded mind. In Proverbs 7:6-7 we read, at the window of my house I looked out through the lattice. I saw among the simple, I noticed among the young men, a youth who lacked judgment. The Hebrew word for simple, literally means open minded. We start the slithery descent into sexual sin by opening the doors of our minds. This is done through inappropriate magazines, reading books or watching movies with unedifying content and surfing pornographic sites on the internet. That leads to the second step down to the chamber of death. An unguarded mind will lead to unwise decisions. In vrs 8, 9 we read, he was going down the street near her corner, walking along in the direction of her house at twilight, as the day was fading, as the dark of night set in. He took a deliberate stroll at dusk close to the house of a woman who had a reputation for cheating on her husband. An unguarded mind will lead you to gently test the waters. The descent into sexual sin continues with a third step which we would call a powerful appeal. We are told in vrs 10, then out came a woman to meet him, dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent. Notice how the powerful appeal continues in vrs 13 with bold touching and in vrs 15 by flattering words, so I came out to meet you; I looked for you and have found you! She even uses religious talk in vrs 14, I have fellowship offerings at home; today I fulfilled my vows. It is amazing how people can justify immorality with religious talk – “the Lord has led us together!” The fourth step in this downward spiral is a suitable opportunity. In vrs 16-20 the woman’s words move from religious talk to downright sensuous talk, I have covered my bed with colored linens from Egypt. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon. Come, let’s drink deep of love till morning; let’s enjoy ourselves with love! My husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey. He took his purse filled with money and will not be home till full moon. In other words; “we cannot possible get caught.” The fifth step in this descent to the chamber of death is the fatal choice. In vrs 21 we read, with persuasive words she led him astray; shed seduced him with her smooth talk. All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing that it will cost him his life.
  2. THE PREVENTION FOR SEXUAL IMPURITY
    First, of all we need to cultivate a healthy fear of God. That is the lesson that Joseph leaves with us in Genesis 39:9. He tells Potiphar’s wife, “how then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” Joseph was concerned about abusing Potiphar’s trust, but he was even more scared of sinning against God. The best cure for sexual temptation is to cultivate a deeper affection for Christ. Secondly, we prepare ourselves to avoid the descent into the chamber of death by maintaining our spiritual disciplines. We see this in Proverbs 7:1, 5, My son, keep my words and store up my commands within you . . . they will keep you from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words. The same truth is taught in Proverbs 6:20-24. Thirdly, we will stay away from the slippery slope of adultery if we realise that every action has an afterwards. Proverbs 5:3-4, for the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. Again in Proverbs 6:27-29 we read, can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished. Part of the unpleasant consequences of adultery is recorded in vrs 34. A similar warning is tucked away in Proverbs 9:17, 18. Fourthly, the slippery descent into sexual sin can be arrested if we truly believed what Proverbs 5:21 says, for a man’s ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths. We need to remember that God sees everything. Fifthly, it is only logical that if we do not want to fall sexually that we avoid situations of temptation. This young man in Proverbs 7 was foolish to pass so close to this adulteress’ house. He was playing with fire. Once again we have much to learn from Joseph. When Mrs Potiphar noticed his good looks and tried to entice him into her bed, we are told that not only did Joseph resist her advances but refused to be even near her. As Charles Spurgeon once said; “the best answer to some temptations is a good pair of legs and the king’s highway.” Lastly, the best cure to avoiding sexual entanglement is to enjoy sexual fulfilment within the proper boundaries of marriage. Solomon puts this in rather graphic terms in Proverbs 5:15-19, drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well . . . Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer– may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love.

Friendship | Part 3

How many friends do you have? I suspect that you may have many acquaintances, but how many friends do you have? In 1 Corinthians 16:17 Paul referred to three men who refreshed his spirit. We all need friends.

FRIENDSHIP (1 Samuel 18:1-5; 19:1-7; 23:15-18)
When we think about what the bible has to say about friends the obvious place to look is the friendship between Jonathan and David. The book of Proverbs highlights four lessons on friendship which are well illustrated in David’s close friendship with Jonathan.

  1. GOOD FRIENDS ARE SELECTIVELY CHOSEN
    In Proverbs 12:26 Solomon has the following to say in this regard, a righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray. In other words, Solomon is cautioning us against running into friendship. They should be selectively chosen. In Proverbs 13:20 Solomon spells this out for us, he who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm. When the scriptures refer to someone as being a fool, it does not mean someone who is not clever. It means someone who is morally off course. We need to actively cultivate the kind of friends who are going to have a positive effect on us. Jonathan’s friendship with David is a good example of this. The friendship started after David had successfully engaged Goliath in battle. In 1 Samuel 18:1 we are told that, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself. What was it in David’s character that attracted Jonathan to him? Compare the language they both use when confronting the Philistines. In 1 Samuel 14:6 Jonathan tells his armour bearer, come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few. Jonathan struck twenty Philistines in double quick time. In 1 Samuel 17:26, 45 David refers to Goliath as this uncircumcised Philistine. Jonathan correctly reasoned, “this man and I are on the same page. Here is a man whose heart beats in unison with mine. Good friends are selectively chosen (Proverbs 22:24, 25; 24:1).
  2. GOOD FRIENDS ARE SUPPORTIVE AND LOYAL
    Someone once said; false friends are like a shadow, keeping close to us while we walk in the sunshine, but leaving us when we cross into the shade. Solomon knew all about this. In Proverbs 19:4 he says, wealth brings many friends, but a poor man’s friend deserts him. True friends however stick to one another. In Proverbs 17:17 Solomon says, a friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. True friends are a tower of strength to you in your weakness. Jonathan was such a friend to David. We all know that Saul became increasingly paranoid and suspicious of David. In 1 Samuel 19:1 Saul told Jonathan and his attendants to kill David. But Jonathan was loyal and warned David to go into hiding. As soon as David was safe, Jonathan confronted his father in 1 Samuel 19:4, 5. Saul’s jealousy flared up again in 1 Samuel 20 and once again Jonathan stood by David. As Solomon says in Proverbs 18:24, a man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Do you have friends like Jonathan? Are you that kind of friend?
  3. GOOD FRIENDS SHARPEN ONE ANOTHER
    Proverbs 27:17 teaches an important principle. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Solomon suggests that any good friendship would enjoy this healthy clash of personalities. Listen to what Solomon says in Proverbs 27:9, perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel. The friendship that David enjoyed with Jonathan was of this kind. You will know that for some years David fled from Saul’s searching armies. The life of the fugitive was not easy. In 1 Samuel 23:16 we read that David was hiding at a place called Horesh, Jonathan came to him and helped him to find strength in God. In 23:17, 18 Jonathan continued to encourage David. True friends do this. Sometimes this will involve rebuke. In Proverbs 27:5-6 we read, better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. Oscar Wilde once said, “a true friend always stabs you in the front.” Proverbs 28:23 reminds us, he who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue. You may lose the favoured friend tag for a while but in the end, you will be more appreciated than one who flatters.
  4. GOOD FRIENDS ARE SENSITIVE TO ONE ANOTHER
    In Proverbs 25:17 we read, seldom set foot in your neighbour’s house- too much of you, and he will hate you. In other words, you do not need to live in one anothers pockets. Lastly in Proverbs 25:20 Solomon says, like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart. Be sensitive to where your friends are at emotionally. If they are in a low place emotionally it is not good sharing all about your joys. Be sensitive to where they are at.

Anger | Part 5

This morning we will see what we can learn from Proverbs to deal with anger in our lives. There is such a thing as righteous anger which is aroused by that which is sinful. When the apostle Paul arrived in Athens and saw evidence of all the idolatry, we are told that he was greatly provoked in his spirit (Acts 17:16). This is righteous anger and more the pity that most of us never experience it. However, if we are truthful 99% of our anger is unrighteous anger.

ANGER (1 Samuel 25)
In our reading this morning we are going to see how David behaves when the red mist descends over him. He loses the plot and behaves with irrational destructiveness.

  1. WHY DO WE GET ANGRY?
    A definition of unrighteous anger that I have found to be helpful is that it is a revenge response to violated rights. What caused the red mist to descend over David’s eyes? What made him see red and strap a sword to his side? What made him gather his men and charge uncontrollably to Nabal’s home? He felt that his precious rights had been violated. Nabal had dissed David in vrs 10, 11 Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?” That comment caused David’s temperature to climb from a cool 37 to a searing 100 degrees in one second flat. Why? Because I have the right to respect! That was not all. Three times in this passage in vrs 7, 15, 21 we are told that David and his men had been a wall of protection around Nabal’s shepherds. They had protected them from bandits and David’s men had not harmed the shepherds or stolen from them. Now it was sheep shearing time a time when there would be festivities and all David asked for in vrs 8 was whatever Nabal could spare. Nabal not only refused him meat but also bread and water. David took leave of his senses and determined to kill every male in Nabal’s household. Why? “I have a right to be appreciated for what I have done. My work deserves to be recognized.” Eliab got angry with David in 1 Samuel 17 because “I have the right not to be embarrassed.” Balaam got angry with a donkey because “I have the right not to be inconvenienced.”
  2. WHAT ARE THE DANGERS OF ANGER?
    In Proverbs 30:33 we read, for as churning the milk produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife. In Proverbs 14:17 Solomon says, a quick-tempered man does foolish things, and a crafty man is hated. In Proverbs 29:22 we read; an angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins. Quite clearly wherever an angry man goes strife, folly, dissension and many sins follow in their wake. What foolish things did David’s anger nearly lead to? Lest we fail to grasp the point it is underlined in three verses (vrs 26, 31, 33). It nearly led David to shed innocent blood. Furthermore, in vrs 31 Abigail appeals to David’s future. When you are king my master will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. In other words, David’s conscience would forever be plagued by the guilt of what he had done. Proverbs 25:28 is worth memorizing, like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control. As long as a city wall remained intact the citizens were safe. As soon as the wall of self-control is penetrated, we are vulnerable to commit foolish acts.
  3. HOW CAN WE MANAGE ANGER?
    Firstly, we must remember our definition of anger. It is a revenge response to violated rights. When you sense anger rising in you – don’t deny it. Rather ask yourself some questions. Why am I getting angry? Which of my precious rights do I think is being violated? Ask yourself – do I have that right at all? No! Secondly, if we wish to manage our anger then we need to be obedient to the command in Colossians 3:16; let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom. If we have an anger problem, it is worth committing a few Proverbs to memory. I have quoted Proverbs 25:28 already but Proverbs 16:32 is also worth storing up in your heart. Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city. This proverb says that God esteems a person who can control their temper more highly than the soldier who takes a city. A third secret to managing anger is to remember what Proverbs 19:11 says; a man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense. David had indeed been disrespected by Nabal. Had he merely overlooked the insult he would not have had to storm down the hill baying for blood and been put in his place by Abigail. A fourth secret to mastering anger is to leave vengeance to the Lord. In vrs 33 David commends Abigail for not only keeping him from bloodshed but also from avenging himself. Look at Proverbs 20:22; do not say, “I’ll pay you back for this wrong!” Wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you. This is wonderfully illustrated in our text. David’s anger is calmed by Abigail and he does not slay Nabal as he had promised. The next day in vrs 37, 38 the Lord’s judgment descended on Nabal. If you choose to overlook an offence you might not be vindicated as quickly as David, but you will be in the end.

Laziness | Part 6

It is quite surprising to see how much Solomon has to say about the sluggard. We don’t tend to regard laziness as a sin – but it is. I see aspects of it in my own character. I tend to be a terrible procrastinator. Work that should get done somehow gets left for a rainy day.

LAZINESS (PROVERBS 6:6-11; 24:30-34; 26:13-16)
Some years ago, we had a problem with slugs in our kitchen. They would leave their slimy trails. Every now and then Sue would go on a slug hunt. If she awoke in the early hours, she would take a plastic mug and scoop up the offenders and zap them with hot water before pouring them down the outside drain. The next night they were back again!! This morning we are going on a slug hunt.

  1. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF LAZINESS
    Firstly, a lazy person won’t begin things. In 6:9 we read, how long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man. A lazy person, you see is in no rush to do things. They say “I am going to do it soon, just now, some day!!” But they never do. In 26:14 we read, as a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed. A sluggard is hinged to his bed. You know how the saying goes – “mind over matter.” The sluggard should change this to “mind over mattress.” Secondly, a lazy person won’t finish things. There are a number of humorous pictures of this in Proverbs. In 12:27 we read, the lazy man does not roast his game, but the diligent prizes his possessions. Here is a hunter who has just shot a buck and then just leaves it. He does not skin it and cut up the meat. It just lies there to rot. He began the hunt with good intentions but never finished what was started. Or take 26:15 the sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth. What good will the food do him in mid-air? Thirdly, a lazy person won’t face things. They have plenty of excuses. This is what Solomon means in 26:13, the sluggard says, “there is a lion in the road, a fierce lion roaming the street.” The chances of meeting a lion are slight. The lazy person however convinces himself that it is safer to stay in bed than risk meeting a lion in the street. When it comes to our spiritual lives, laziness can be even more apparent. How many gifts are not being exercised in the church because of laziness? In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the parable of the talents. The master was going away and gave five talents to one servant, two talents to another and one talent to a third according to their ability. The first two were like army ants but the third was a sluggard. The master returns and demands an accounting. The third person excuses his sloth by saying; “Master, I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So, I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground.”
  2. THE CONSEQUENCES OF LAZINESS
    The first consequence of laziness is personal frustration. We should not think that just because a sluggard never starts or finishes anything that they have no desires at all. They do. Listen to what Solomon says in 13:4, the sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desire of the diligent are fully satisfied. A lazy person still has great dreams. There are places they want to visit, things they want to do, studies they hope to complete – but these are never realised because of laziness. Consequently, a lazy person looks at themselves in the mirror and they see a failure. The unproductive nature of their life fills them with frustration. Contrast this with the diligent whose desires are fully satisfied. Why? They are prepared to pay the price of hard work. The only place that success comes before work is in the dictionary.” Secondly, the consequence of laziness is poverty. In 6:9, 10 we are told, how long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man. In 10:4 we read lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth. Now of course Solomon is not saying that all poor people are lazy. There are numerous explanations for poverty. Solomon is however saying that lazy people will sooner or later contribute to their own poverty. That leads us to the third consequence of laziness – which is pain or others. Listen to 18:9 one who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys. In 10:26 Solomon says as vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes so is a sluggard to those who send him. There appears to be an unwritten rule around a braai. The smoke shall follow you wherever you go. It irritates the eyes – in the same way lazy people vex those around them.
  3. THE CURE FOR LAZINESS
    Solomon gives us the cure for laziness. In Proverbs 6:6-8 he says, go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.
    If you spill some crumbs of food anywhere in your house it will not be long before a long column of ants will busily be carrying it off to their nests. Before you rush for the can of doom remember Proverbs 6. I don’t know how many ant lives this verse has saved. I am told that an ant can carry three times its own weight for up to half a mile. That would be like me carrying over 200 kg for over half a mile. The person who truly fears God will be careful to pray Moses’ prayer in Psalm 90:10 “teach us to number our days aright, that we might gain a heart of wisdom.” Someone once placed an advert which read as follows; “Lost, yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours, each set with sixty diamond minutes. No reward offered, for they are gone forever.” The man or woman who fears God will seek to invest as much for God out of every precious diamond minute.

A well-ordered society | Part 7

The book of Proverbs has much to teach us about how a country functions optimally when we have a combination of good leaders and responsible citizens.

A WELL-ORDERED SOCIETY (Proverbs 29)
In Romans 13 the state is described as the servant of God which wields His authority. In Revelation 13 it is pictured as the red dragon and the ally of the devil which persecutes believers. Depending on whether the state remains within its God given limits or transgresses them will determine whether it truly functions as the servant of God or as an instrument of Satan. We can summarise what Solomon has to teach us about this important subject under two headings.

  1. A WELL ORDERED SOCIETY HAS WISE RULERS
    The book of Proverbs has a few things to teach us about wise rulers. Firstly, wise leaders are careful to cultivate integrity. In Proverbs 28:28 we are told, when the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding; but when the wicked perish, the righteous thrive. Clearly, when leaders choose to use their position to serve, the people flourish. The opposite is painfully true as well. In Proverbs 29:2, 4 Solomon says, when the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan . . . By justice a king gives a country stability, but one who is greedy for bribes tears it down. As South Africans we have experienced both sides of this coin. In more recent months we have had ample opportunity to thank the Lord for the decisive leadership of our president Cyril Ramaphosa and his cabinet. Their decision to respond quickly to the COVID-19 crisis gave our medical officials critical time to prepare themselves for the inevitable spike in Covid infections. However, in recent history we have also experienced the effects of poor leadership. The word of the year in South African media in 2019 was “Zondo Commission.” It was used over 30 000 times. This is a painful reminder of the relentless pursuit of state capture in the Zuma years. The economic fall-out during his tenure as president has led to much groaning. Secondly, wise leaders are careful to display concern for the oppressed. In Proverbs 28:3 we read, a ruler who oppresses the poor is like a driving rain that leaves no crops. Again, in Proverbs 29:14 we are told, if a king judges the poor with fairness, his throne will always be secure. We have already seen that the Zondo Commission was the word of the year in our media houses last year. The second most frequently used phrase was “gender-based violence” which highlights the ongoing scourge directed at the women of our country. Good leaders are quick to protect vulnerable groups in society whether they be women, or the alien, or the economically challenged. Thirdly, Solomon insists that wise leaders will promote law and order among their people. In Proverbs 25:4, 5 we read, remove the dross from the silver, and out comes material for the silversmith; remove the wicked from the king’s presence, and his throne will be established through righteousness.
  2. A WELL-ORDERED SOCIETY HAS GODLY CITIZENS
    A well-ordered society does not only depend on wise rulers. It also is dependent on an abundance of godly citizens. Firstly, godly citizens are careful to pray for their leaders. In 1 Timothy 2:1, 2 the apostle Paul urges us, I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone -for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. How can we direct our prayers for our leaders and so fulfil this command? In Proverbs 16:13 Solomon reminds us that kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value a man who speaks the truth. Again, in Proverbs 29:12 Solomon warns, if a ruler listens to lies, all his officials become wicked. Any leader needs to be surrounded by fellow leaders who are not sycophants and will be courageous enough to speak their minds for the well being of the country. Secondly, Solomon insists that godly citizens are eager to promote the welfare of their nations. In Proverbs 11:11 he says, through the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed. Again, in Proverbs 14:34 he insists that righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people. As we review history it is clear that believers have always been salt in society. In the first century world they would rescue children exposed outside the city walls. In the 19th century Christian leaders like Wilberforce campaigned for the abolition of slavery. Shaftesbury’s leveraged his influence to curtail child labour in mines. Elizabeth Fry campaigned for prison reform. George Mueller was moved by the plight of orphans and the desperation of workhouses to establish orphanages. Thirdly, godly citizens live in submission to their rulers. The testimony of the New Testament is consistent in this regard. In 1 Peter 3, Romans 13 and Titus 3 believers are consistently enjoined to live in submission to our leaders. The only reason why we are excused from this requirement is if by obeying our leaders would involve us in disobeying God (Acts 5:29). The book of Proverbs has much to say to leaders and people respectively.

Humility | Part 8

Last week we examined what the book of Proverbs has to teach us about pride. This morning we will examine the subject of humility. When Augustine was asked to name the three most important virtues of the Christian life he said, first humility, second humility, and third humility.

HUMILITY (Numbers 12)
If pride is the epidemic vice of our day humility must surely rank as the endangered virtue. When was the last time you saw in a Christian book shop a book encouraging the cultivation of humility? There will be lots of books encouraging us to assert ourselves and walk in the anointing. All this power stuff! We would be better advised to diligently pursue humility. In Numbers 12:1-3 we read; Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the LORD heard this. (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.) They were criticising him for marrying a Cushite woman. Perhaps they had a racial agenda. What is unmistakable is that they were taking pot-shots at Moses’ leadership. It would appear that vrs 3 may have been a later addition to the text – it is hardly the kind of thing a humble person would say!! What was is it about Moses in this text that prompted the Lord to add vrs 3? Firstly, if a proud person has an overinflated view of their own importance and can be easily angered by criticism a humble person surely is the exact opposite. If Moses had been an overly proud person he would have been deeply offended by this challenge to his leadership by his older siblings. Miriam and Aaron rounded upon Moses and basically said, “the Lord has also spoken through us you know little brother.” In Proverbs 29:23 Solomon says that a man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor. This is developed a little further in Proverbs 25:6, 7 do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among great men; it is better for him to say to you, “Come up here,” than for him to humiliate you before a nobleman. We see this illustrated for us very clearly in the life of Moses. The Lord summonsed Moses, Aaron and Miriam to the Tent of Meeting and in vrs 6-8 says; “when a prophet of the LORD is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” In a most direct way Miriam and Aaron are humiliated before God whereas Moses is exalted. Miriam and Aaron were literally brought low and humble Moses exalted. Secondly, if Moses had been exceedingly proud, how do you think he would have reacted to what happens next in the text? In vrs 9-12 we read, the anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them. When the cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam – leprous, like snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had leprosy; and he said to Moses, “Please, my lord, do not hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother’s womb with its flesh half eaten away.” A proud person would secretly have taken a perverse sense of satisfaction in the Lord’s judgment upon his detractors. This is a fulfilment of Proverbs 3:34, He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble. Again, in Proverbs 11:2 we read, when pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. If pride is easily identified by its middle letter “I” then humility is best exemplified by it second letter “U.” If Moses had a major problem with pride he would have said “don’t you ever forget that you must not touch the Lord’s anointed. Let this be a lesson to you, big sis. I think you should suffer with your leprosy until you have learned your lesson!” Moses did not do this. In vrs 13 we are simply told, so Moses cried out to the LORD, “O God, please heal her!” A humble person is concerned about others, just as Moses was concerned about his sister. There are many “one another’s” in the New Testament. We can grow in humility to the extent that we learn to master them. Here are a few of them – serve one another (Galatians 5;13), be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32), forgive one another (Ephesians 5:21), encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11), pray for each other (James 5:16), love one another (1 John 3:11) and carry each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). In Numbers 12 how many of these characteristics does Moses exhibit? If pride is quick to exalt oneself the beauty of humility shows itself in genuine concern for others. Perhaps the last word should go to Solomon. In Proverbs 16:18, 19 he says, pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be lowly in spirit and among the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud.

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