Proverbs 2–If . . . Then

Proverbs 2 seems to imply the search for wisdom is in and of itself the path to understanding. This is mainly because the search for wisdom is the search for the Lord, and he is the one who grants a wise heart.

The chapter is divided, to my eye anyway, in two portions. The last portion is a warning to stay away from the harlot. Here, the harlot is not literal (although it is literally good advice) but instead the harlot represents the way of foolishness. This second part is shorter, and begins in earnest in verse 16.

The first portion is what intrigues me. It is a series of “If . . . Then” statements which remind me of my computer class back in high school in the 1980s. We were always writing these silly programs that began with something like “If x<3 then …” whatever. I can’t remember anything beyond that. This is the same style the author of the proverb uses.kenyon-starlin-code-screenshot_c

If you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” (Proverbs 2:4-5).

The search is key. It must be the key. God is the one who gives wisdom, so it is not as if the Lord is some kind of rubric waiting to be translated or the maker of mazes hoping you’ll find your way out. That would be a wrongheaded way of understanding the search for wisdom. The search is learning the ways of the Lord, studying the scriptures, and listening to the world around us as he reveals himself. We don’t search for wisdom because we want to know the secret to wisdom; we search for wisdom because we want to know the one who gives wisdom, the source of wisdom. We do not search so that we can know, we only know that we must continue to search.

This concept culminates in verses 9-10.

Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, and every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.

Then–and only then–will you understand.

  • Righteousness: the requirement of the Lord, and the ways of faith. This is the moment you realize there is no one righteous. No, not one.

 

  • Justice: There is no peace without justice. Justice is not simply law and order, but it is holding people accountable for their actions and protecting the weak who have no advocate.

 

  • Equity: The world is not fair because it is baed upon power and force. Wisdom, by contrast, sees the necessity for equity and can spot when things are inequitable.

 

  • Every good path: A catchall phrase that can be loosely understood as the good life. Wisdom allows a person to see the things that really matter and maximize those for the benefit of all.

The goodness of God is that he grants these things to the wise.

The failings of humans is that we think we can have these without the Lord. The result is a foolishness that knows no bounds. We want righteousness in the world so we try to make people be righteous through coercion, politics, or law. We think we have justice, but really there is only a masquerade of justice that protects the powerful and exploits the weak. We claim equality for all, but as soon as we get a chance we remind everyone of how much better we are. We believe we can have the good life, but all we do is pop another pill and download another video. There is no true wisdom in any of this, because we have not sought the Lord.

If you and I search for wisdom for the sake of wisdom, we will never find it. If we search for the Lord and seek him, wisdom will wash over us.

ROMANS, CHAPTER THREE–FROM THE GREEK TEXT

So, I’m a little behind schedule.  I hope to make up time during the month of June and still finish this translation of the New Testament letter from Paul the Apostle to the church in Rome before Independence Day.

Translation Notes:  In rendering this particular passage, I opt for the phrase ‘made righteous’ where a lot of English translations choose ‘justified’ to allow the English reader to perceive it is all the same word group. Also note, my verses 25 and 26 are very different from most English translations. I don’t really know what their problem is?

Theological Notes:  In my opinion the key text here is Romans 3:22 & 23, with its ringing judgment that everyone, Jew and gentile alike, are not righteous before God but through faith they are able to receive grace.  This is the main work of Romans 3, to put everyone on equal footing.  God doesn’t play favorites, as we were told in Chapter 2, and Paul is telling us that here is the proof, proof that has been there all along, according to his long string of quotations from Psalms, Jeremiah, Isaiah and Proverbs in verses 10-19.

Chapter Three
1. What, then, is the Jewish advantage, and what exactly is the benefit of circumcision?
2. A lot, and in every possible way. It is primarily because they were entrusted with the words of God.
3. So what if some of them were unfaithful, did their lack of faith nullify the faith of God?
4. Of course not! People are liars, but God is true, just as it is written, “So that you will be vindicated in your words and victorious in your trials.”
5. Humanly speaking, then, if the righteousness of God leads to our unrighteousness, what can we say? Is God unrighteous in bringing the wrath?
6. Never! How then could God judge the world?
7. But if my lie magnified God’s truth and glory, then why am I being judged as a sinner?
8. And why not say—as we are slandered as having said—that we should do evil so good might come of it? Those who say this of us deserve their condemnation.
9. What now? Are we better? Not at all, for we determined beforehand that both Jews and gentiles are sinners.
10. Just as it is written, “There is no one righteous.
11. No one understands, no one seeks God.
12. Everyone turned away together, becoming useless. No one shows kindness, not even one.
13. Their throat has become an opened grave. Their tongues deceive. Asp venom is upon their lips.
14. Their mouths, full of curses and bitterness.
15. Their feet, swift to shed blood.
16. Ruin and misery is their way.
17. They have not known the way of peace.
18. The fear of God is not before their eyes.”
19. We know at least this much, that the law says it shuts every mouth of those under it, and eventually the whole world shall be held accountable to God.
20. Therefore, because of this sin consciousness, it is not from works of law that all people will be made righteous before him,
21. but now the righteousness of God has been made clear apart from the law as attested to by the law and the prophets.
22. Through the faith of Jesus Messiah the righteousness of God is for all those believing, for there is no difference.
23. For everyone has sinned and come up short of the glory of God.
24. They are being made righteous as a gift of his grace through the redemption that is in Messiah Jesus.
25. God designed a place of propitiation with blood by his faith as proof of his righteousness, by overlooking their sins committed beforehand.
26. God’s tolerance toward us back then is proof of his righteousness right now, to the righteous and those he is making right by the faith of Jesus.
27. Where then does all this boasting come from? That was done away with, but by what kind of law? Works? No—not at all, but through the law of faith.
28. For we reason people are made righteous in faith without works of the law.
29. Is God of the Jews only? Not also the gentiles? Yes, yes, in every way.
30. If true, then God will make righteous those circumcised by faith and those uncircumcised through faith as well.
31. Do we therefore abolish the law because of faith? Never. Instead we keep the law.

Romans, Chapter One

Romans, Chapter Two

PSALM 85–A MEDITATION FOR ADVENT TWO

A key theme for the second Sunday of Advent is peace.  Jesus is our peace, and God’s plan is all about peace–for the individual, for the family, for the church, for the entire world.  Is this peace promised in the Bible spiritual, or is it political?  The answer is yes.  Those who seek peace in only the spiritual things of life but deny sociological, economic, and political peace are missing the plan God has for all people.  Likewise, those who neglect the spiritual peace of true enlightenment in Christ Jesus, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the knowledge of an eternal purpose only to clamor for everyone to start beating their swords into ploughshares will always have a missing element in life; they will always feel like something isn’t quite right.  IMG_0105

As with most lectionary readings, the text skips around a bit, omitting verses 3-7, which is too bad.  These skipped verses reflect that the pslamist and the people have been delivered by the Lord in the past, but now they are need again for a second rescue.  Because of that, I place this psalm’s date as sometime after the return from exile, perhaps in the time period of Nehemiah and Ezra.

[1] LORD, you were favorable to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
[2] You forgave the iniquity of your people;
you covered all their sin. Selah

Take note of the parallelism.  It is a common Hebrew poetic device.  Verse one says the same thing twice.  It is not two different points, it is the same thing, restated.  Likewise, verse two.  To be favorable to the land is the same thing as restoring fortunes, and to forgive iniquity is the same thing as covering sins.  Too often preachers and exegetes will attempt to wrangle too much from parallelism, thus rendering the text neutered if its original, and powerful meaning.

Here the meaning is clear.  There is a linkage between the act of restoration in the land and the forgiveness of sin.

[8] Let me hear what God the LORD will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints;
but let them not turn back to folly.

Not condemnation, not judgment, not fear, not rules, not law, not an unending video loop of all our transgressions played out for everyone to see (Romans 8:1), none of these things are what the Lord wants to speak to us about.  He will speak peace.

[9] Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,
that glory may dwell in our land.

Salvation is not near to all, just those who fear him.  Also note the link between salvation and glory.  Who is the glory for?  The second line here is fascinating.  Glory certainly refers to the Hebrew idea that when the Lord comes to rescue, he will be present in the land and his glory, the glory that settled on the tabernacle, the temple, and which left in the sad days of Ezekiel–will return to the land.  I do not diminish that concept one iota.  However, if someone sits with this text for a moment and feels the pull of the psalmist’s words, I think he or she will feel that part of that glory is for the people of God.  A borrowed glory to be sure, but glory for the saints none the less.

[10] Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.

This is one of my favorite images in all of the Bible.  This might be a chiasm.  I can’t prove it, but it sure looks like one to me.  Stead fast love, which is covenantal divine love crosses over to match with peace while faithfulness and righteousness are fairly easily recognized as near cognates.

The kiss is a beautiful thought.  It is not a romantic kiss, but more a kiss of greeting.  Some have scorned translating the word here as ‘kiss’ and instead prefer the idea of ‘linking arms.’  Whichever one you take they are both signs of friendship and trust, the sign of blessing which the Lord has for his people.  Greet one another with a holy (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 13:12) kiss–the kiss of “shalom” as the peace of God.

But now I must digress.  For the past week I have seen the opposite of peace played out in Ferguson and New York as people hurt.  Why is there a lack of peace?  Because we are not righteousness.  We are not faithful.  We do not keep our promises.  We do not meet one another on friendly terms (kiss).  Justice is the byproduct of righteousness and love.  We lack justice because we lack the moral and spiritual power that makes justice a possibility.

[11] Faithfulness springs up from the ground,
and righteousness looks down from the sky.
[12] Yes, the LORD will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
[13] Righteousness will go before him
and make his footsteps a way.

The Psalm finishes with another image.  It moves from a lovely kiss to an agricultural vision.  Faithfulness is now seen as a crop growing, while righteousness is rain and sunshine that makes the growth possible.  From this arrangement, the Lord blesses the harvest and makes it bountiful.  What a poetic view of life.  Taken at face value, we are being taught here that righteousness–a right view of society, law, faith, family–righteousness is the nurturing agent from which faithful people grow.  The opposite is probably true.  Unrighteousness nurtures faithlessness.