Meditation – Proverbs and the exceptional life
by Isaac Overton
Do you want to be exceptional? At the end of your life, what do you want to look back at and see? Think, for a moment, about those who have gone before us. Would you rather be a Noah? Or one of the nameless number who died in the flood? Would you rather be a Caleb or a Gaddiel? I know what you’re thinking: “Who was Gaddiel?” Gaddiel was one of the 10 spies that Moses sent in to scout out the promised land. He was one of the 10 who came back and told the people of Israel not to obey God. Caleb, on other hand, along with Joshua, had called the people to obedience and to go in and take possession of the land. The sin of Gaddiel and the other nine spies resulted in disobedience on the part of Israel as a whole, and by extension a further 40 years of wandering in wilderness. So, who would you rather be? Caleb or Gaddiel?
In the grand scheme of history, each one of us has only a very small part to play. Even the most influential and greatest of people play only a tiny part. Thousands of people were converted under the preaching ministry of George Whitefield, but the span and influence of his life is but a tiny speck in the grand scheme of God’s plan in history. Nevertheless, our lives are not nothing, they are significant, for the Lord himself has made it to be so. Our labour unto the Lord is not in vain, and so we come back to our original question: When you look back on your life, what is it that you want to see? Do you wish to see a faithful investing of what God gave you? Or a wasteful squandering of the gifts you’ve had?
Living a life of faithfulness will not happen by accident. Living a life of integrity is not something one cruises into casually and without effort. In Matthew 11:12 we read: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” Now I used that word “exceptional” in my original question, but it’s slightly misleading, because in a real sense being exceptional ought not to be an exceptional thing at all, but rather the norm. The normal Christian life should be one of wisdom, integrity, and significance to the glory of God. But I do also say “exceptional” for good reason, for it is folly and mediocrity in our age that seem to be the norm. In that sense, true and mature godliness and wisdom is very exceptional.
Getting wisdom is possible, and thus the question is not “Can we?”, but: “How can we?” How can we live such a life? A life distinguished by faithful and consistent wisdom and service toward others. So, how can we do this? How can live in such a way that, when the end comes, we will be able to look back on a life well-lived to the glory of God and by the grace of God? Please take a moment now, and go and read these two passages: Proverbs 1:20-27, and Proverbs 2:1-15. Read those passages closely, and read them well – you will find an answer to our question. Can we get wisdom? Yes! And a thousand times “yes”. Please don’t skip on by – do read those passages!
The value of studying the Book of Proverbs is unquestionable. Proverbs 3:13-18 is another passage that shows this: “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold… She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed.” This is the exceptional life that we’ve been speaking of, but here’s the thing: getting wisdom will not happen by accident. No, we must pursue and gain wisdom intentionally. Let me put it this way, if we would live lives of mediocrity, we should set ourselves to neglect and ignore the getting of wisdom. If, on the other hand, we would live exceptional lives of godliness – wisdom is a must. We need to make the Book of Proverbs our own, to own it in our lives. In each study of this book, then, that will be our aim: to get wisdom. And take that, too, as an “application” – make it your aim to get wisdom as you study this book. Let’s begin doing that now with a few basic questions.
The very first question we need to consider is simply this: What is a proverb? In verse 1a the Book of Proverbs begins with the following words: “The Proverbs of Solomon…” What, then, is a Proverb? Well to start with, let’s walk through the main characteristics of a proverb. Firstly, a proverb is a short saying. For example, in Proverbs 10:1 we read: “A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a grief to his mother.” Here we find a short, selfcontained unit of thought – this is a proverb. Secondly, proverbs are also memorable sayings. In Proverbs 11:22 we read: “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.” That is very vivid and striking imagery! Here’s another one: “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly” (Prov 26:11).
As an initial application as we quest into proverbs, therefore, let’s set ourselves to memorise them. Perhaps that sounds like an intimidating challenge, and yet in Psalm 119:11 we read: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” God wants us to store his word in our hearts, and I’m convinced that he wants us to prioritise the psalms and the proverbs in this task of scriptural memorisation. And why do I say that? I say that because both of these collections were designed for that purpose. On the one hand, the psalms are designed to be sung, and songs are, among other things, easily memorised. Colossians 3:16 says that we ought to go about our business in life “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” This thankfulness arises in the heart as we sing from the heart. Proverbs, though not designed for musical accompaniment, are also by nature designed to be memorised – for they are short, self-contained, memorable sayings. So then, the challenge for us is there: let’s seek to memorise the proverbs. I’m not sure how often I’ll write articles on the Book of Proverbs here, and these are really born out of the fruit of the sermons that we’ve had. However, when I do, I’m going to provide a suggested text to start memorising. Here’s the first one:
Prov. 1:1 The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:
Prov. 1:2 To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight,
3 to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity;
4 to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth—
5 Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance
6 to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles.