On day two, we paused for a moment to consider the structure of the book of Proverbs. Since we are now heading into that section of the book that most people are familiar with, it seems like a good idea to consider that layout again.
The first nine chapters we’ve just completed are extended descriptions of wisdom, largely in story form with instructions from a parent to a child, often using images of “Lady Wisdom” and “Woman Folly.” They are there to explain two pathways, one that leads to a wise and good life, and one that leads to destruction. And these first nine chapters are there to help us see why we should care about chapters ten through thirty-one, which contain all the individual sayings of wisdom for which the book is famous.
A couple of reminders as you begin your journey reading these individual sayings of wisdom. First, remember that not all of them are promises or guarantees. If you read them that way, you will very quickly find yourself arguing with their validity, maybe having experienced the opposite of what they say to be true. Rather, in general, they are highly probable possibilities of what will happen if you follow the path of wisdom they provide. Second, most of the sayings are made up of two lines, with the second line providing a contrasting statement that strengthens the idea found in the first, providing a solid snippet of wisdom.
When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
(Prov. 10:19, English Standard Version)
See how the second line supports and enforces the first?
One of the tools I have close at hand when studying the Scriptures is a good commentary, often by a dead guy (or gal), who will help me interact with and glean from the text. I’ve always been amazed how just a few dollars will allow me unfettered access to wise scholars across the ages of Christendom. Today I pulled out Charles Bridges’s work on Proverbs. Here is what came from his meditation on this brief saying:
Hypocrisy and slander are not the only sins of the tongue. Indeed, considering the corrupt spring from which they flow we cannot think of words, much less when words are many, without sin.
There is the sin of egotism. Our own mouth praises us, but no one else (Prov. 27:2). We love to hear ourselves talk and to present our own judgments intrusively.
There is also the sin of vain babbling. The fool talks forever about nothing, not because he is full, but because he is empty; not in order to give instruction, but for the pure love of talking. This wantonness is a sin of the flesh, trifling with the most responsible talent, when “conversation is,” as Bishop Butler rightly says, “merely the exercise of the tongue; no other human faculty has any place in it. One meets with people in the world who never seem to have made the wise man’s observation that ‘there is a time to keep silence.’ These times, one would think, should be easily discerned by everybody; namely, when a man has nothing to say, or nothing but what is better unsaid.”
The government of the tongue is, therefore, a searching test of the soundness of our religion. Since the sin is linked to many … words, it is surely wise to hold our tongue—not in silence, but in caution; to weigh our words before uttering them; never speaking except when we have something to say; speaking only just enough; considering the time, the person, and the circumstances. “Light words weigh heavy in God’s balance” (Nicholls).
Never let us think of these sins as anything less than the nails that pierced our Lord’s hands and feet. Thus we will become like the one who holds his tongue (see also Psalm 141:3).
Or, in other words,
Too much talk leads to sin.
Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.
(Proverbs 10:19, New Living Translation)
Thank you for this fresh, wise reminder of the power of words, which is to say, the power of our tongues. Our words can heal or destroy, give life or give death. They can set the world ablaze. So help us Father, by the power of your Holy Spirit. Make us quick to listen, and slow to speak. Take control over what we say, place a guard upon our lips, that we might be prudent today.
Yes, and very amen, in Jesus’ name.
Pursuing the wise and good life with you,
Proverbs Thirty-One Day Reading Plan
August 14: Proverbs ch. 1
Aug. 15: ch. 2
Aug. 16: ch. 3
Aug. 17: ch. 4
Aug. 18: ch. 5
Aug. 19: Grace Day
Aug. 20: ch. 6
Aug. 21: ch. 7
Aug. 22: ch. 8
Aug. 23: ch. 9
Aug. 24: ch. 10
Aug. 25: ch. 11
Aug. 26: Grace Day
Aug. 27: ch. 12
Aug. 28: ch. 13
Aug. 29: ch. 14
Aug. 30: ch. 15
Aug. 31: ch. 16
Sept. 1: ch. 17
Sept. 2: Grace Day
Sept. 3: ch. 18
Sept. 4: ch. 19
Sept. 5: ch. 20
Sept. 6: ch. 21
Sept. 7: ch. 22
Sept. 8: ch. 23
Sept. 9: Grace Day
Sept. 10: ch. 24
Sept. 11: ch. 25
Sept. 12: ch. 26
Sept. 13: ch. 27
Sept. 14: ch. 28
Sept. 15: ch. 29
Sept. 16: Grace Day
Sept. 17: ch. 30
Sept. 18: ch. 31