A few years ago, Patty and I and some friends had the privilege to travel to Boston where we vacationed, saw amazing historical sights and attended baseball games at Fenway Park, a historic and iconic baseball venue. One of the things we did was take the Fenway tour and walked upon the Green Monster, a huge wall with seats in left field. We also saw the famed red seat in a seat of green, in left field. The red seat was the measured distance of a famous home run hit at a distance of 501 feet, that has yet to be matched, by the legendary Ted Williams.
In 1959, 40-year-old Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox was suffering from a pinched nerve in his neck. ‘It was so bad that I could hardly turn my head to look at the pitcher,’ he said. For the first time in his remarkable career, he batted under .300, hitting just .254 and only ten home runs. Williams was the highest salaried player in sports that year, making $125,000. The next year, the Red Sox offered him the same contract. ‘I told them I wouldn’t sign it until they gave me the full pay cut allowed, 28 percent. My feeling was that I was always treated fairly by the Red Sox. They were offering me a contract I didn’t deserve.’ Williams cut his own salary by $35,000.[i]
Ted Williams’ career was interrupted twice as he served in the armed forces both during the second world war, and the Korean crisis.
Michael Green published the following regarding the nature of character. “Your ideal is what you wish you were. Your reputation is what people say you are. Your character is what you are.”[ii]
The wisdom writers in Proverbs are challenging us to examine our values and embrace those that help us grow into the kind of people that reflect the nature of God. One of the great challenges is when we compromise who we are for the sake of earthly fame and fortune. Who we become as followers of Christ is more important than what we acquire. Here in the first sixteen verses of Proverbs 22, we see this issue being addressed. There are instructions regarding our attitude on riches, relationships, and the ultimate reward for the way we live.
THE FIRST VALUE OF THE WISE IS PLACING CHARACTER OVER RICHES.
We begin this chapter with the overarching concept of character and how having the right kind of character gives us a proper perspective on wealth. Wealth for the wise is to be used for the good of others. The wisdom writers never depreciated wealth, but simply talk about the proper use of it. There is something far more important than wealth and that is the kind of person we become.
John Pilch in his book entitled: “The Cultural Life Setting of the Proverbs reminds us that these proverbs are written in the context of a shame/honor culture. How people lived in that cultural context had more to do with how their lives reflected the values of their entire family in their society.
…rich and poor are not primarily economic terms in ancient MENA [Middle East, North African] societies. Basically, rich people have surplus and are obliged to share it – as patrons – with those in need. If a rich person does not share, the word rich should be translated and interpreted as ‘greedy.’ Poor people, on the other hand, are powerless or unable to fend for themselves. Thus, the oppressed (politically unable), indigent (economically unable), sick and outcast (bodily and kinship unable), and unbelieving (religiously unable) need help from those with surplus.[iii]
The wise or righteous person then live with the sense that his or her life was to be a blessing to others.
A. Character better than riches.
“A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold (Proverbs 22:1).” Some might argue that this is speaking of reputation, but it goes far deeper than that. It speaks ultimately to our character. Wealth should never be the prime object of our lives, because if it is, it usually is at the expense of character. It is interesting that the translators here supply the word good before the word name. The idea that is being conveyed here is that a person of wise character or godly character is what is meant. In Ecclesiastes 7:1; we find that the same concept and the word good is actually in the Hebrew text. “A good name is better than fine perfume… (Ecclesiastes 7:1a).” The wisdom writers are explaining to us, that to live wisely means that we will develop godly character and we will be remembered. In the ancient honor/shame society, one’s public value and worth is determined by their actions towards others. “Proverbs is about relationships built on integrity.”[iv] We realize that all the wealth in the world cannot buy godly character. It is interesting that Solomon who began in great wisdom and accumulated great wealth ultimately lost his good name. His character was diminished because his heart moved away from the fear of God to the worship of idols which came as a result of his love for many foreign wives.
King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter- Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites.
They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, ‘You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods. Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love…and his wives led him astray.
As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.[v]
The tragedy is that Solomon though very wealthy lost his good name. “When wisdom failed him in his religious compromises and his oppressive use of power, not even his immense riches could salvage his name.”[vi] Whenever we make the same mistake, by putting wealth over character we suffer a significant loss.
Human beings are inherently social and find their happiness in society. Without the acceptance by others that is founded on esteem and trust, one becomes an unfulfilled outsider. Riches, though more immediately alluring, are less essential to the human spirit than that which enables someone to live happily with others…[vii]
B. Human dignity regardless of social standing.
One of the great temptations of society is to place value on people in terms based on their economic value rather than intrinsic human worth. The wisdom writers point out that all are equal before God’s throne. “Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all (Proverbs 22:2).”
While material possessions create distinctions among human beings v. 2 teaches that rich and poor meet on common ground before the LORD: he made both of them, thereby instructing the rich and poor to remember this basic item of human equality.[viii]
There is a sense that God cares for all, therefore if we are godly, we will reflect this same value and attitude. We will not show partiality because of economic inequalities.
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.
Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in.
If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and becomes judges with evil thoughts.[ix]
What is James teaching us? Not to discriminate against people, period. We are to treat all with dignity and value. We are living in a day with incredible tensions in the area of gender, racial and social distinctions. Yet, we are reminded by the apostle Paul that in Christ all of these distinctions are destroyed and we all have equal standing before Almighty God.
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile [racial distinctions], neither slave nor free [social class distinctions], nor is their male nor female [gender distinctions], for you are all one in Christ Jesus.[x]
So what are the implications of what Paul is telling us? In Christ we are all on the same footing before God and therefore we ought to treat each other with deference. In Philippians Paul tells says we are to humble ourselves and value others above ourselves, looking not only to our own interests but also the interests of others (cf. Phil. 2:3). Yet, one of the temptations of the rich is to exploit the poor. Yet, here in Proverbs we have clear instructions that though rich often rule over the poor they should not exploit, oppress or abuse them; rather show generosity to those who are less fortunate because God is their defender.
The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.
Whoever sows injustice reaps calamity, and the rod they wield in fury will be broken.
The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.[xi]
Taking advantage of the needy in their distresses is oppressive and God does hear the cry of the oppressed. In one of the most moving episodes in the life of Nehemiah, the governor of Judah, as he is trying to rebuild the walls and re-establish God’s people in the land, the rich were oppressing the poor.
Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews. Some were saying, ‘We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order to for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.’ Others were saying, ‘we are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine. Still others were saying, ‘we have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our fellow Jews and though our children are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery…. When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them. ‘You are charging your own people interest! [this was forbidden in the Law] …So I continued, ‘What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?’[xii]
In the Nehemiah text we find that he was sharing his food with the poor, while others were exploiting them. How do we treat those who are less fortunate than ourselves?
C. A proper attitude before God and the consequences.
“Humility is the fear of the LORD; its wages are riches and honor and life (Proverbs 22:4).”
The cure to having a discriminatory attitude toward others is the experience of being humbled. Bruce Waltke explains that the cure for the simple mentioned in verse 3 is humility.
The remedy is humility, a religious term denoting the renunciation of human sufficiency of the sort associated with the fear of the LORD. The failure of the gullible to spot danger arises from their arrogant refusal to submit to God.[xiii]
Richard Clifford explains the text this way.
The word ananah should rather be translated ‘humbling’ in the sense of reduction to a lowly state. …Humiliation can lead one to know one’s place in God’s world, which is one definition of the ‘fear of the Lord.’ …The axiom probably is meant to counter the view that humiliation is an unqualified evil. On the contrary, a humbling can help one recognize one’s place and foster an earnest search for God who is the source of all blessings.[xiv]
In this case the blessings or the by-product of attitude is riches, honor and life.
THE SECOND VALUE OF THE WISE IS UNDERSTANDING THAT CHARACTER DEFINES OUR RELATIONSHIPS.
Who we are shapes how we treat others. It affects the kind of influence we have, the ability to mentor others, particularly our children, and the kind of people we associate with.
A. Here we are looking at the path we are walking on and the type of life we are living.
All of which is determined by the work God is carving into us, which is what character is.
The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.
In the paths of the wicked are snares and pitfalls, but those who would preserve their life stay far from them.[xv]
Behavior is shaped by character; the choices we make in life are affected by what we value. When we truly ‘revere God,’ it means we make wise decisions that avoid dangers, snares, and pitfalls. The word ‘prudent’ is in the singular while the ‘simple’ is in the plural. Once again, we find that often the path that the righteous walk is not as crowded as the path of those who walk in a broad way, which many are on. If we go back to earlier chapters, we find that the Father was warning the son of joining the gang who were looking to rob the innocent but instead found that they fell into their own trap.
my son, do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths;
for their feet rush into evil, they are swift to shed blood.
How useless to spread a net where every bird can see it!
These men lie in wait for their own blood; they ambush only themselves!
Such are the paths of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the life of those who get it.[xvi]
Not only is the danger of greed being acted upon in the heart of the simple, inexperienced youth, but also the danger of immorality. “The mouth of an adulterous woman is a deep pit; a man who is under the LORD’S wrath falls into it (Proverbs 22:14).” Again the many warnings spoken earlier in the Proverbs against the smooth or seductive words that lead the simple and foolish astray. Here we see that the person who succumbs to this enticement has rejected the path of wisdom. It is interesting the way in which this Proverb is framed. Here adultery is expressed as a consequence of those under God’s judgment, rather than the action leading to God’s judgment. “Colon B declares that anyone taken in by her words must be an enemy of God, for it is inconceivable that a friend of God would be allowed to fall under her spell.”[xvii]
Chapter seven is a vivid description of this folly being narrated with the conclusion of the youth falling into the trap.
With persuasive words she led him astray; she 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 it will cost him his life.[xviii]
B. Character is expressed in how we shape those we are responsible for.
The example that is expressed in Proverbs is the idea of ‘training’ our children. The word is literally the dedicating our children to God. We have seen that much of Proverbs is the instruction for the youth but now we have instruction to those who mentor them, namely parents or guardians. “ Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it (Proverbs 22:6).” Why is this so necessary? “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far away (Proverbs 22:15).” We must understand that Proverbs are not promises but principles fostering wise living. If we do our part, then there is every hope that they will respond well. In mentoring, we need to learn to discipline ourselves before we can effectively discipline and develop others. Harry Ironside so clearly pointed out:
Parents need to remember it is not enough to tell their little ones of Jesus and His rejection, or to warn them of the ways of the world; but they must see to it that in their own lives they exemplify their instructions. This will count above all else in the training of the young.[xix]
In other words we need to live it before we speak it. Consistency in life is critical in training others. The translators here describe that we are to train, discipline, and start off on the right path or dedicate a child in a certain path. The Hebrew word means to dedicate and requires effort on the part of the mentor/parent. We see from verse 15 that children and youth have wayward tendencies that need to be corrected. The idea of the rod here is not just corporal punishment but verbal warnings and instruction as well. The human heart left unattended from youth will find a wayward course apart from moral instruction.
C. Character is revealed in the way we communicate to others. Wise words are gracious words.
Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife; quarrels and insults are ended. One who loves a pure heart and who speaks with grace will have the king for a friend. The eyes of the LORD keep watch over knowledge, but he frustrates the words of the unfaithful.[xx]
If you listen long enough, you will discover the nature of a person’s innermost being, their heart. Earlier in Proverbs we discover that words flowed from the heart and therefore the key to life is found in guarding one’s heart. ‘Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips (Proverbs 4:23-24.” We can easily see the state of our soul by the words of our lips. Mockers communicate and cause strife and divisiveness.
Verse 10 lists three results of getting rid of a mocker: you spare yourself arguments, quarreling, and insults. An old rabbinic proverb says something like this: ‘When a fool leaves the room it seems as though a wise man entered.[xxi]
Tremper Longman agrees by stating that mockers create conflict.
They respond to criticism in a defensive manner. In general, they are self-protective people who respond to any perceived assault with a counterattack. …this proverb says that it is often not the situation but rather the people involved in a situation who cause problems. Sometimes it is necessary to remove a difficult individual to preserve the harmony of a community.[xxii]
Our words reflect our heart. May we speak like Jesus who was noted for his gracious words. “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips (Luke 4:22).”
Proverbs 22:11 states that those that delight in having a pure heart will speak gracious words and have the king for a friend. Think of what Jesus said: it’s the pure in heart that will see God, the ultimate King. What a friend to have. God also is deeply interested in what we say and keeps watch over our words. The language of the unfaithful are frustrated. Most scholars see this in the context of the legal arena and see that false witnesses are exposed. Lies have a shelf life, only truth endures.
Paul Koptak summarizes Proverbs 10:1-22:16 by stating that these final sixteen verses are the conclusion of this large unit in Proverbs by pointing out: “Together, these proverbs present their closing arguments that one can either become a student of wisdom and a gracious member of adult society or an example of folly and a curse to society.”[xxiii]
Who we are will be revealed by the way we treat others, by the values we hold, by the choices we make. We are exposed by the words we use and how we speak them. Will the real you please stand up? This simply means that who you are will ultimately be revealed before God one day.
[i] Michael Green, ed. Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989), 205.
[ii] Ibid, 39.
[iii] John J. Pilch, The Cultural Life Setting of the Proverbs, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2016), 112.
[iv] David A. Hubbard, Proverbs, The Communicator’s Commentary, 15A, (Dallas, TX: Word Books, Publishers, 1989), 341.
[v] 1 Kings 11:1-4, New International Version of the Bible, 2011.
[vi] David A. Hubbard, Proverbs, 341.
[vii] Richard Clifford, Proverbs, The Old Testament Library, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1981), 195.
[viii] Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15-31, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), 200.
[ix] James 2:1-4.
[x] Galatians 3:26-28.
[xi] Proverbs 22:7-9.
[xii] Nehemiah 5:1-9.
[xiii] Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15-31, 202.
[xiv] Richard Clifford, Proverbs, 196.
[xv] Proverbs 22:3, 5.
[xvi] Proverbs 1:15-19.
[xvii] Richard Clifford, Proverbs, 198.
[xviii] Proverbs 7:21-23.
[xix] H. A. Ironside, Proverbs and Song of Solomon, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, Inc., 1946) 188.
[xx] Proverbs 22:10-12.
[xxi] Robert Alden, Proverbs: A Commentary of an Ancient Book of Timeless Advice, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1983), 161.
[xxii] Tremper Longman III, Proverbs, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 406-407.
[xxiii] Paul Koptak, Proverbs, The NIV Application Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 521.