The Power of a Simple Choice – Proverbs 19:3

When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin his heart rages against the LORD.

– Proverbs 19:3

Similar to the man whose way is right in his own eyes, the one who does not listen to wisdom (the fool) will find his path leads to destruction. Ironically, this is often the point at which the ruined person begins to point fingers at God saying he is not good, does not care, or is somehow ‘out to get me.’ I think it is easy to understand this tendency. The wicked person intentionally does wrong and may expect dire consequences. However, the fool simply ignores the truth of wisdom and walks in his own way.

Karma should serve up a simple life to the simple man, but unless the simplicity aligns with wisdom by some grand cosmic accident or loving mercy, the simpleton and the fool alike may expect to come to ruin.

Jesus said the way is broad and easy which leads to destruction and many will find it, but “the gate is narrow and the way is hard which leads to life and few there be which find it. narrow is the way that leads to life and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).

Even the story of wisdom and folly as characters in the Proverbs show the almost random possibility of the simple man discovering the way of life rather than the way of death. Both of them call out to the one who does not know what to do with their own versions of the good life. How is he to know which one to follow?

The Power of a Simple Choice

If not knowing any better I chose to follow the advice of folly, I would be upset about coming to ruin – especially if I was not aware of what I was doing. In this, I come close to rationalizing the rage from the heart of the fool against the LORD. If I had no ability on my own to walk on the path of life and He did not guide me into the good way, I think I would be angry. 

However, I would still be responsible for the actions of folly that brought my way to ruin. Specifically defined, “the fool” in Proverbs is one who has heard the words of wisdom and refused to listen. The fool despises the instruction and discipline that could set him on the pathway of wisdom.

The call to embrace the difficulty of the narrow way must be clearly extended in order for anyone to be called a fool and this is where the irony of this Proverb emerges. The fool has been invited to walk in the way of wisdom and only reached the outcome of ruin by refusing to answer this call. It was a choice clearly granted and rejected by the man himself. 

Learn the Way of Wisdom

If the natural tendency of the human being is to require instructions to walk in the way of wisdom, then apart from the mercy of the LORD, who extends an opportunity to answer wisdom’s call, everyone is equally destined for ruin. The only one left to be the object of rage must be the one who chose the way of folly over the way of wisdom. However, after a life spent ignoring the truth, one cannot easily accept the fact that it was their own choice of folly which brought ruin. It is far more comforting to rage against the source of hope, light, and truth that they chose to ignore. 

Perhaps this is why the instruction of children is so crucial. For them to walk in the way of wisdom, they must learn early to endure the hardship of the choice between wisdom and folly. Once they have tasted the outcomes of folly and begun to rage against the LORD, it will not be easy to turn back to the LORD as a source of wisdom and life. On the other hand, once they have experienced the reward of wisdom, they will not easily turn back from the difficulty and sacrifice required to align their lives with its demands.

Injustice? Wait For the LORD – Proverbs 20:22

Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you. (Proverbs 20:22)

One morning I parked my truck in an empty lot and sat down on a rock to wait for my friend. When he arrived we took his car to another part of town for a bite to eat. Not even twenty minutes later another friend called saying my truck was about to be towed by the people who owned the restaurant beside where I had parked.

I was immediately ready to repay evil but decided that first I would go in and talk with them to find out what was going on. There were no signs about exclusive parking, the restaurant had been closed, and even now the lot was still completely empty. What were they thinking?

However, a couple of questions only uncovered an angry response and a menacing demand to leave. I had started the conversation with a conciliatory attitude, but now I was mad. This was the time to write nasty online reviews about unkind restaurant owners, warnings of being towed if they didn’t like you…Perhaps I should even scatter nails in the gravel parking lot to show them what awful people they were! Revenge has a way of inspiring cruel creativity and my imagination ran wild.

I would never eat at their restaurant – ever (which would really be a tragedy as they seem to have great food), and everyone should know that this corner of town was haunted by the evil intentions of people who towed innocent vehicles as soon as their owners looked the other way. Thoughts of forgiveness hid themselves behind a clouded obsession with how to rectify the injustice and unkindness that had been shown to me.

To Forgive Injustice

I couldn’t let this go and it was about to ruin my whole day. As my ability to think clearly began to fade and doing anything productive seemed more and more impossible, I realized I would have to let go of my desire to repay evil. I am not an angry person (except when I see or experience injustice), and my attitude was becoming more destructive to my life than whatever the poor restaurant owners had determined to do.

I needed deliverance from myself as much as from their threats against my truck. Thankfully, I had already been rescued from this latter danger, but now the former had taken hold. If it was up to me to repay their rudeness, I must either do something regrettable or live under the shadow of my own distemper.

Only the justice of the LORD could be an adequate substitute for my own retaliation, but even Jesus chose to forgive his enemies rather than condemn them to the wrath of God. He asked his father to forgive those who should have rightly been condemned – because they did not know what they were doing. My petty quarrel with the parking lot people was nothing compared to what he went through, but it was hard for me to forgive them myself, much less to let the receive the forgiveness instead of the judgment of God. How could I bless those who I felt had attempted to curse me?

Choosing to wait for the LORD is not easy – especially when it is most critical to do so. Even days later, some part of me would still rather enjoy the pleasure of revenge than the sweetness of forgiveness. Still, I know that I must either let my own dissatisfaction fester or wait for the LORD to make something beautiful out of this situation. It is not a good thing to ignore problems, but it is also not a good thing to resolve them in ways that create more. How much better would it be to hope for a transformation in the lives of people I presently dislike than to wish chaos and hardship upon them? The first choice is better, but also more difficult.

A Better Way

Repaying evil with good does not come naturally to me. This is why even today I recognize that to walk in the way of wisdom must require more than a massive amount of self-control and good intention. I need my heart to be transformed so that the goodness of God can be expressed through my life. The little charade of my experience is nothing more than an expression of the cosmic struggle between good and evil, which has already been won. I may choose to walk through the world as a victor who extends love and grace to those who still cannot taste freedom – or as a victim who does not yet know what it means to live as the son of God.

When I choose to see the truth of who God is rather than taking matters into my own hands I am not only delivered from my own natural tendencies, I am also delivered from the injustice that is beyond my power to control. I will encounter more struggles like this one throughout my life (and many that are much more significant). The key to overcoming their injustice is to continue on the path of truth rather than falling prey to the deception that I must look out for my own interest.

I do not need to repay those who I think have done me wrong because God will address the injustice bringing life and restoration in ways that I could never imagine.

Appearances are subject to the interpretation of the observer – Proverbs 16:25

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.

– Proverbs 16:25

It is possible to be deceived about the nature of wisdom and end up walking in a way that seems right but really is not.

In this Proverb, the contrast is not between truth and falsehood but between what is right and what is death. This is what I am discovering lately throughout the scripture: truth has to do with a particular way of life rather than with a set of principles. That which is not true is a way that does not lead to life. Jesus’ claim to be the way the truth and the life was really a singular claim. Perhaps it is possible to say that it was a claim to be wisdom.

What bothers me most about this proverb is that the man does not know he is deceived concerning the nature of wisdom. Wisdom forms the way in which a person chooses to live their life. This man chose to live his life in a way that seems right…probably on the basis of trusting his own judgment concerning what is right and what is wrong.

What else is there to depend on, though?

At least the guy wasn’t doing what seemed wrong to him. If he had been doing that, I would understand why his way led to death. The choice between good and evil, right and wrong, is one that many people do not choose to make in favor of what is right. He did, but still ended up walking in the ways of death. What benefit was there to him in choosing good over evil?

The only explanation that I have here is that what seems right is not necessarily the same thing as what is right. Appearances are subject to the interpretation of the observer.

This entire chapter of Proverbs addresses the relationship between the plans of a person and their actual outcome, which belongs to the LORD. I think the second half of the chapter may be a recasting of the first, showing that a wise life is not really a matter of determining what is right and what is wrong, but of handing over this judgment to the LORD, as the one who “establishes his steps” (v.9).

If I was looking for another way of life…one that did not lead to death, I would propose it is to walk not according to what one judges to be right, but according to what the LORD directs. This requires familiarity and communication – a relationship. This implies that the Christian life is not just one about getting saved and getting out of here, but one of living every day out of a growing intimacy with the Father.

Proverbs 20:3 – Good Advice for Facebook

“It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife, but every fool will be quarreling” (Proverbs 20:3).

It must be recognized that conflict has its place in the development of healthy opinions and relationships. The Proverb here does not suggest that a man never engage in conflict, but that when he does, there is honor to be found in holding oneself aloof. Those who take arguments personally and identify themselves by the position that they hold prepare themselves for an ongoing quarrel that can have no resolution. It is a foolish thing to do and a fool can be identified by this approach to conflict. On the other hand, to hold an idea at arm’s length and discuss it modestly with the intention of clarity, understanding, and stronger relationships is to engage in an honorable pursuit. The wise person must seek to develop this ability and until that point may prudently refrain from engaging in a conflict through the foolish art of quarreling.

An application of this Proverb to the facebook comment section might be appropriately welcome. Far better to hold oneself aloof from strife and maintain a posture of honor toward self and others than to obliterate a reputation by the pursuit of strife in a quarrelsome manner. As the writer of Proverbs proposes, only a fool does this.

Proverbs 2:1 – Treasure Up

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, (Proverbs 2:1 NKJV)

“Treasure up” is the first phrase that grabs attention in this verse. It is a command to action rather than simply a request to value the commandments that are give. Treasuring up is the art of collecting, storing, safeguarding, and revisiting the things that are valued. Although it may require a great amount of space and effort, there is never too much cost attached to the practice of treasuring up. There is always more room, always more desire.

Furthermore, that which is treasured up and stored can more easily be given away and shared. I think of a king in a palace who not only uses the treasure to make the dwelling place beautiful, but to showcase his splendour to others. Treasuring up does not always mean hoarding. However, those who give the appearance of treasure on the walls without the reality of wealth stored in the vaults will not long maintain their facade. There must be more within than is shown without.

Once the treasure has begun to grow, it continues to diversify and build upon itself for it can be used to forge relationships, invest in opportunities, etc. Treasuring up is an active process that makes the commandments useful, secure within the life of the individual, and valuable for long-term use. They are not simply tossed in a vault and forgotten but actively used to produce value for the one who treasures them. Additionally, the son is to treasure up these things “with you.” It is not simply enough to appreciate the commandments and pass them along to others. They must be personalized, internalized, and kept close. Truth must be lived before it can be taught. The act of treasuring up is wasted if it is only applied to the lives of others.

A contrast is made in this verse between the words and the commandments. It is not the words that are treasured up but the commandments. The commandments are not received but are treasured up. It seems that to the author, a son might come to difficulty with receiving words and treasuring up commandments. Perhaps this is because commandments are easier to receive than to do. The challenge of receiving words may stem from difficulty in relationship between the father and son, or maybe from the fact that words are simply a vessel for ideas.

To receive words requires more than just hearing. Rather, what is heard must be collected, stored, mused over, and mined for the value that they hid within their shell. This value is not always easy to perceive and so the son might tend toward discarding that which he does not understand. Unfortunately wisdom is hidden deep and requires effort to access. Those things that are most difficult to understand might also be the most valuable. Therefore the son is encouraged to receive the words, perhaps even in spite of their appearance. This idea receives further support on the subsequent verses that call the son to action in pursuit of understanding and insight.

Opening the chapter and verse, the words “my son” indicate a relationship of affection, care, and responsibility from the one who gives the words and commandments. The reader of proverbs is not supposed to be an open-minded fool receiving words from every source. Rather, the advice listed here applies when the conditions of a father are present. Otherwise, it would be dangerous to apply the principles above. If the son will hearken to the words of one who has stewardship over his life by receiving the mystery locked in words, and treasuring up those rules that should govern his life, then he will receive the reward promised later on in the chapter. We will explore this reward further in the coming verses.