Friday, April 25, 2014 7:27 AM Posted by Gary

Welcome to Proverbs

A Historical, Archaeological and Practical Look at the Book of Wisdom: Notes and Insights from Helping Up Mission

The Book of Proverbs is a series of wise sayings mostly attributed to King Solomon. Whether single verse statements or extended poetic sayings, they were well-known and widely accepted truths about life in his time.

We have many of our own wise says today. "Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise" wrote Benjamin Franklin. "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink," said my grandmother (and maybe yours, too). The most popular one here at Helping Up Mission – momma said "I brought you into this world and I can take you out!"

But the wise sayings of the book of Proverbs are more than just observations and their application for life. They are God's message to us about how to live and the opportunity to see, think, feel and act as He does.

All verses, unless otherwise noted, come from the New International Version (NIV). When I started writing my commentary, it was with the 1984 edition of the NIV. The translation was revised again in 2011, but I didn't realize it until 2013! If interested, you can read more about the revisions (most of which I do agree with) at: http://www.biblica.com/en-us/the-niv-bible/translation-status/.

WISDOM

Although Proverbs offers insights on a variety of subjects, the book focuses on the quality of "wisdom." In fact, while all God's Word teaches wisdom, it is the key concept in the Book of Proverbs.

I've learned many definitions for "wisdom" over the years, but this one has made a great impact on my life: "seeing life from God's point of view." As explained in Proverbs, it is a character quality accessible to all. Anyone can practice it any day of their life.

I played football in high school. But I was only good enough, though, to be the 12th man on the offense. That meant the other guy started at my position – right halfback in the old T-formation – and I shuttled in the next play from the coach on every other down. Just for the record, when my position was supposed to run the ball, the coach usually had the other guy in there!

One Saturday afternoon game, the other team was running all over us and the coach decided it couldn't hurt to put me in on defense. I went in and played right cornerback. The first or second play from scrimmage was a double reverse and I had no idea where the ball was – until the ball carrier ran right past me! I turned from a dead stop to try and catch him, but it was no use – a 60-yard touchdown run.

Well, from my perspective, it was hard to know where the ball was! I was not a good high school football field – dust was flying everywhere and it was hard to see! Besides that, there were 21 other guys out there on the field running around, getting in my way and bumping into me!

At practice that following Monday we watched the 16mm game film taken by one of our coaches from the press box at the top of stadium. He recorded every play, including that double reverse 60-yard touchdown run. Coach played it over and over again – back and forward – I think a thousand times! He used me as a textbook example of how not to play defense.

But I have to tell you that it was a lot easier following a football play from that vantage point – up high looking down on everything – than it was down there on that dusty field with everyone getting in my way. So it is with life.

Many days we feel like we just can't see clearly through the smoke and dust of daily life swirling around us, and all those people who keep getting in our way. If there was just some way to get up high and look down on the situation, we could do so much better.

That's what wisdom is – it helps us rise above people, places and things and helps us see the bigger picture. I learned this concept of wisdom: seeing life from God's point of view about 25 years ago and have been consciously (but imperfectly!) practicing it ever since. It's set me up for wonderful experiences and spiritual victories.

God sees what we don't see and knows what we don't know – but through wisdom we can see things the way He does. And as we see things like He sees them, we can think about them like He thinks, feel about them like He feels and, finally, we will be able to act on them like He would.

THE FEAR OF THE LORD

The other key concept in Proverbs is "the fear of the LORD." Whether used at a noun (1:7 – "the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge…") or a verb (1:29 – "fear the LORD"), all throughout the book we are instructed to realize just who it is that we are dealing with here!

That word "fear" clearly has the meaning of being afraid, but it goes way beyond that! Its centers on how we view Him. Theology, the "study of God," helps us understand Him as He really is. That should affect our own attitudes and actions.

In seminary I studied theology by looking at God's moral and non-moral attributes. His non-moral attributes center around the "omnis" – omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent (along with immutability). They speak to His overwhelming greatness in power, knowledge and presence and unchangeableness.

God's moral attributes are seen as two sides of the same coin: love, mercy, grace, patience and forgiveness on one side; justice, holiness and righteous on the other. He loves us so much that He is willing to forgive and forget. But He is so perfectly good that He refuses to enable us in our bad choices.

When we see and understand how awesome God really is – the sum total of all His attributes – we will truly fear the LORD. To "fear the LORD" without understanding and knowing Him as He really is ultimately just a useless and misguided activity.

It makes no sense to be afraid of something we don't even know and it is a terrible waste of time and energy. To respect something we don't understand would be likewise – especially when we can know, understand and even have a relationship with Him.

Thus, the "fear of the LORD" – at its most basic level – is to know, understand and have a relationship with Him. That will give us the ultimate respect of Him and His "awesomeness." "Fearing the LORD" is being in awe of Him because we really know Him!

My reverential awe of God does remind me to do right things – but not so much out of being afraid. Because of who He is and what He does and how much He loves me, I know it is in my best interest to do the next right thing!

So, I've really come to appreciate the "fear the LORD" focus in Proverbs. It is not about the Law, but about the supernatural empowerment that comes from my ability to see God as He really is and enter into a meaningful relationship with Him.

That produces character which empower good decisions in my life. After all, that's what the Law was all about, anyway. "Seeing God as He really is" will ultimately help me keep every Biblical principle behind the Law.

So, at its most basic level, the book of Proverbs teaches us to see God as He really is (to fear the LORD) and to see life from His point of view (wisdom). What a great book with which to get familiar.

ANCIENT HEBREW POETRY

Proverbs is written as Hebrew poetry. While English poetry rhymes ("roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet and so are you"), Hebrew poetry had a rhythm and parallelisms. So many Proverbs begin with a line about the bad guy and the next line is a parallel (contrasting) statement about the good guy.

Most of us first start to see other people in the verses – see them as God sees them. We will also begin seeing how He views people, places and things in our world. But if we're really working at this, we'll begin to see ourselves as God does (and it may not be a pretty picture!).

But, maybe best of all, we might read a verse and say one phrase describes how I used to be, but the other phrase is what's been happening to me lately! That's wisdom and the best place in the Bible to learn this character quality is the book of Proverbs.

HELPING UP MISSION

I have been on the staff of Helping Up Mission since 1998, when I began teaching daily Biblical recovery classes for the men in the 12-month residential Spiritual Recovery Program. As part of their Program the guys read the chapter of Proverbs which matches the day of the month (today is May 30, 2010, as I write this from the Holy Land, so today I read Proverbs chapter 30).

For our guys, the practical application and daily benefits of both "wisdom" and "the fear of the LORD," are invaluable tools in their spiritual recovery process. It is exciting to me, as their teacher, to see guys read the daily chapter and begin to understand what it says. They start seeing God as He really is and begin seeing themselves, others, and all of life as God does.

Their daily reading of Proverbs becomes an important part of each man's process to begin experiencing the hope, answers and empowerment that come from a personal relationship with the God of the Bible – the God behind the Proverbs. It really does work and I really do love my job!

BENEATH THE SURFACE

A lifelong dream for me, it has been my privilege to spend some 20 seasons working as an archaeologist in the Holy Land. Beyond traveling widely and doing research throughout the entire region, most of my time has been spent excavating at two particular sites: Khirbet el-Maqatir in Israel's West Bank and Tall el-Hamman on the Jordanian side of the Jordan River Valley.

Both sites were inhabited during Old and New Testament times and I have had the opportunity to dig out of the ground numerous features and artifacts which illuminate the Biblical text. Archaeology helps me trust the Bible for the past (history) which, in turn, helps me to trust the Bible for the future (eternity).

But based on these truths, learning how to trust the Bible for the present (one day at a time) is what we all need. That is also the focus of the wise sayings of Proverbs. For me, the results of archaeological research continue to help me trust the Bible and that empowers me to a more meaningful spiritual walk.

The focus of Proverbs is not eternal things, but the best way to live every day in this life – which does lead to eternal benefits. Frequently verses discuss people, places and things which archaeology can illuminate. In this study (the Beneath the Surface section) I have offered insights from my personal experience and professional training to add some historical and archaeological understanding to many verses in Proverbs.

In fact, I first started writing my Proverbs commentary while excavating at Khirbet el-Maqatir in 2009. It's been an ongoing labor of love for me, ever since. To date, July 2014, I have not yet finished either my verse-by-verse Commentary or Beneath the Surface historical and archaeological notes.

So, it's my privilege to pass along to you the things I am continuing to learn. Hopefully, we will both get a little better at "Seeing God as He Really Is" and "Seeing Life from His Point of View."