International Sunday School LessonStudy Notes
Lesson Text: Proverbs 29:16-27Lesson Title: An Ordered Life
The psalmist said, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way” (Psalm 37:23). The word “ordered” means “secured, established.” An ordered life is one that is well secured and established in the Lord. It is not the general oversight of men's steps and daily life by God which is here spoken of; but rather the special strengthening and supporting of the steps of the man who is focused and committed to following God’s way. In order to secure an ordered life, the psalmist prayed, “Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me” (Psalm 119:133).
When you consider both the statement and the prayer of psalmist in comparison to the overall atmosphere today, you might ask, “Does anyone care anymore about an ordered life?” As Doctor Vance Havner said, “You can be the best of the bunch these days and still not be worth shooting!” An ordered life does not happen by chance. It is developed by knowledge of, and obedience to, the Word of God. Many today order their life according to the principles of the world. But the Christian should be willing, even anxious to be conformed God’s Word.
Proverbs 29 records wisdom’s instruction on society. “In general, Proverbs 28:1-29:27 presents the wicked or greedy person as one who disrupts harmony and security by ignoring God’s law. Examples illustrate this in a variety of ways. In presenting these principles and illustrations, the proverbs are given in Hebrew poetic style, which is characterized by parallelism. Sometimes the parallel lines are set in opposition to one another which is called antithetic parallelism; at other times the second line continues the thought of the first line which is called synthetic parallelism”(Standard Lesson Commentary 2011-2012.)
“When the wicked are multiplied, transgression increaseth: but the righteous shall see their fall.” The word “multiplied” means “to become many, numerous, or increase.” The “wicked” is a reference to those who practice lawlessness and sin. It is just an obvious conclusion that as the number of wicked individuals increase, “transgression” or, rebellion against God will increase. Jesus said, “But as the days of Noe [Noah] were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matthew 24:37). Today's world is much like Noah's world: we are experiencing an explosion of sin, wickedness and record-setting crime. Acceptance of alternative lifestyles for millions of people has almost become the norm. Divorce is commonplace with little or no warning from the pulpit. Drug use is rampant. Cults and gods from every corner of the globe flourish and the church has little or no power to confront it.
“…But the righteous shall see their fall” is a reminder and a promise that the wicked world will not have the last say. The “righteous” will see the overthrow and ruin of the wicked. How can this be? While it is evident that the wicked are increasing it must not be forgotten that they are sowing seeds of their own destruction. The Apostle Paul said, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption…” (Galatians 6:7-8). Add to that the truth that God will Himself see to it that the wicked are punished and you have the assurance that “the righteous shall see their fall” (Psalm 54:7). Revelation 20:15 says, “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”
“Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul.” The child who is not biblically disciplined and allowed to govern his own life according to the dictates of his own will is destined to bring shame upon his home (Proverbs 29:15). Verses 15-17 are all connected. Undisciplined children lead to the multiplications of the wicked.
Why does Solomon so often speak of correcting children (Proverbs 3:11; 15:10; 22:15; 23:13)? Because it is the foundation of an ordered life. Children, or as Solomon refers to them in this verse, “son,” are our most important treasure (Psalm 127:5). God’s wisdom says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). The Bible is crystal clear in verse 17, “Correct” or, “discipline thy son” and the result will be “rest.” “Rest” and “delight” means “comfort” and “pleasure.” Our children become either a source of constant anxiety or a source of rest and contentment. It depends a lot on how they were raised, but not altogether. Every “son” will someday choose to obey or disobey their biblical training. But one thing is certain. Without it there will be no foundation for an ordered life.
Illus: Several decades ago, Doctor Benjamin Spock wrote a book in which he urged parents to raise their children without discipline, especially spanking. The book caught on and generations have been raised based on his faulty theories. Even though today Doctor Spock repudiates most of what he taught earlier, his child-care book still sells half a million copies each year.
Note: If as a parent you fail to teach your children to obey you, they will one day disobey the Lord. Doctor Vance Havner once said, “If you let little Johnny push his oatmeal off the table and you don’t discipline him, he will push you off the bridge one day.”
Society is out of control because children are out of control. Children are out of control because parents are out of control. It’s time to return to discipline. But it must be discipline guided by God’s Word. As the late First Lady of the United States, Jacqueline Kennedy said, “People have too many theories about rearing children. I believe in simply love, security, and discipline” (Source: “Women’s Words,” Indianapolis Star, March 12, 1995, p.J4).
“Where there is no vision, the people perish…” has often been misinterpreted as having a vision for the lost. “Vision” refers to “prophetic vision” which is a revelation from God. “Perish” means, literally, “to run wild.” Where there is no word from God for the proper discipline of children, a society produces a generation of young people who have no regard for the law and literally run wild.
“…But he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” When children are taught and given biblical discipline, the result is happiness and blessedness. “Keepeth” means “observes.”
“A servant will not be corrected by words: for though he understand he will not answer.” This proverb seems to be referring to a “servant” or slave who doesn’t respond to his masters “words” of correction and discipline. Although the “servant” hears words of correction from his master and understands what is being said, “he will not answer.” In other words, he gives his master the “silent treatment.” Solomon, who employed large numbers of men to work on his numerous building projects, had ample opportunity to study such recalcitrant behavior.
The proverb thus tells us that in regard to discipline and correction, “words” alone won’t work. And while this proverb primarily refers to the employer/employee relationship, it is also applicable to parents and children. If “words” alone won’t work, what will work? If those in authority, parents in the home or employers in the workplace, will be respectful and reasonable, then usually the children or employees will respond favorably. The principle is simple: receive respect by being respectful. It works both ways for the employer and employee. This principle is essential for a well-ordered life.
“Seest thou a man that is hasty in his words? there is more hope of a fool than of him.” For life to be ordered there must be control over our “words.” A quick tongue usually ends up in regrets. It’s like the sign a grocery store owner had which read, “Keep your words soft and sweet because you’ll probably be eating them by night.” “Hasty” means “quick, without thought.” The thought is that we speak to soon. Solomon said about that man that “there is more hope of a fool than of him.”A “fool” or one void of understanding can be taught habits of speech. But a man not giving thought to his doesn’t have the potential a fool has. There is not much future for someone who is quick to speak (James 1:19).
In his commentary on Proverbs, Doctor John Phillips gives a classic example of the truth of this verse. He writes, “Jephthah was born under the cloud of illegitimacy. His father Gilead had a number of sons by his wife, but Jephthah was the son of a harlot. His cheeks were often made to burn for what was not his fault. (Perhaps that is why he became such a tough fighter.) When company came, Jephthah was probably sent to the fields to be out of the way. In the end his half brothers threw him out of the family altogether. Before long Jephthah knew everyone for miles around who was in debt, discontented, or in distress. He welcomed the dropouts of society and turned them into a troop of mighty men. Word soon spread that Jephthah was the leader of a band of outlaws. He was making a name for himself. Then the Ammonites from the wilderness side of Jordan invaded the land. When they descended on the glades and glens of Gilead, the people reluctantly thought of Jephthah's tough outlaws and appealed to him for aid. By this time the Spirit of God had singled out Jephthah and come upon him and he agreed to fight the Ammonites. As he prepared for the critical battle, he hastily spoke these fateful words: ‘And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering’ (Judges 11:30-31). Jephthah won a resounding victory over the Ammonites, then returned home. Then the Bible says, ‘And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter. And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back’ (Judges 11:34-35). To this day we are not sure how Jephthah fulfilled that promise” (John Phillips Commentary).
This verse can be challenging to interpret. First, it can be interpreted as handling our children in a tender manner with the result of having a “son at length” or gaining his favor, thus resulting in a good healthy relationship. That is certainly one possible explanation. Second, it can be interpreted as treating our children with too much leniency resulting in “a son at the length” or one who ends up in trouble. Obviously, the words and phrases of this verse lead us to one of the other interpretations. Since the phrase, “a son at the length” is only recorded in the Bible, it makes the interpretation somewhat difficult because we have no other reference with which to compare it.
“He that delicately bringeth up his servant from a child shall have him become his son at the length.” Leaning toward interpretation two, the verse is referring to a slave or “servant” born in a household and how this slave or servant is reared during childhood “from a child” to a adulthood. “Delicately” means the child is “treated with leniency, or pampered.” The phrase “shall have him become his son at the length” most likely means the child treated with leniency will be a troubled son. Solomon’s thought here is the only hope parents have for their children is proper instruction (Proverbs 22:6). This verse taken with verse 17 and 19 gives us a clearer understanding of what Solomon is saying.
“An angry man stirreth up strife, and a furious man aboundeth in transgression.” The person whose life is characterized by “anger” will cause “strife” in his personal life, family life, business life, and church life. “Stirreth up” means “cause.” The “angry man” is the cause of “strife” or, “contention.” Anger is an emotional arousal caused by something that displeases us. In itself, anger is not a sin, because even God can be angry (Deuteronomy 9:8, 20; Psalm 2:12). Several times in the Old Testament the phrase appears, “the anger of the Lord” (Numbers 25:4; Jeremiah 4:8; 12:13). It is possible to be “angry” and not sin (Ephesians 4:26). But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right reason, and in the right way, is not easy.
Illus. Demetrius, the silversmith of Ephesus, was an angry man. Having noted a drop in sales for the silver images of the goddess Diana, he rightly attributed the decrease to the preaching of the gospel. Furious, he called a meeting of his guild, stirred up his colleagues against Paul, and precipitated a riot of ominous proportions. Only the daring and diplomatic intervention of the town clerk prevented serious consequences (Acts 19:24-41)-(John Phillips Commentary Series).
“And a furious man aboundeth in transgression” means a hot-tempered individual “aboundeth” or, literally, is rich in, “transgression.” This is not a pretty picture. Jesus teaches us how to avoid this type of “out of control life.” Living the Spirit-filled life and bearing the fruit of the Spirit would be exactly the opposite of the life of strife and transgression pictured in this verse (Galatians 5:22, 23).
“A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit.” This is one of those “paradox proverbs.” Someone once asked, “What is a paradox?” Someone else answered, “Two doctors!” No, it’s a little different than that. A “paradox” is “a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.” The person who pridefully lifts himself or herself up will be brought low, but the person who is already low will be lifted up (Standard Lesson Commentary 2011-2012).
“Pride” is on God’s hate list (Proverbs 6:16-19). Those who are “humble in spirit” are in the presence of the Lord (Isaiah 57:15; James 4:10).
“Whoso is partner with a thief hateth his own soul…” If someone is a partner in crime there is no good solution to that relationship. “Hateth his own soul” means he hates his life and the position he is in. If a “partner” of a “thief” continues in that lifestyle it will lead to ruin. If the “thief” is caught then his “partner” must either lie about the relationship or testify against him. Either way it results in an awful life. This seems to be consistent when you consider the phrase, “he heareth cursing, and bewrayeth it not.” This most likely means that the “partner” of the thief is identified and “cursed” because he “bewrayeth” or “won’t reveal” who the thief is.
The point of the proverb is the necessity to teach ethics. Not situational ethics where you decided what to do and how to respond based on the moment. But rather, biblical ethics based on the truth of God’s Word. This alone leads to a well ordered life.
“The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe.” What does it mean to “fear man?” The answer is to lean upon man for approval or to desperately need the approval of others. Relying too much upon what others think about you will lead to a “snare.” The word “snare” is refers to “a baited trap.” People will get their hands around you and over you and you feel an obligation to please them and it always leads to heartache.
Do you fear being rejected by certain people or groups? What part does the approval of others have in your decision making process? How far are you willing to go to please others? How you answer these questions will reveal whether or not you are “snared” by the “fear of man.”
“But whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe.” What a glorious truth! “Shall be safe” is a promise! Is there a “safe” place left in this world? Yes! It is in “the LORD.” The word “trust” is the Hebrew word “batach” and it has nothing to do with a refuge or protection. This word “trust” is a word that refers to the purposes of God. The individual who can trust God to do with your life, your family, your job, and your future as He sees fit is the individual Solomon is speaking about in this verse. There are good things that come from trusting God, one of which is not having to be afraid of everything in life.
“Many seek the ruler’s favour; but every man’s judgment cometh from the LORD” is a proverb that could be printed on the front page of today’s newspaper. In every age when a person needs justice done, they “seek” or go to “the ruler” or the one who has the authority and power to make it happen. People “seek the ruler’s favour.” Sometimes the results are good as in the case of the mother who went to Solomon on behalf of her stolen baby in 1 Kings 3:16-28. In that particular case the wisdom of Solomon revealed who was the mother of the child. Other times the justice of man is not so good. The prophet Isaiah spoke of intoxicated men who were “mighty” and “justified the wicked for reward” and “took away the righteousness of the righteous” (Isaiah 5:22-23).
“…But every man’s judgment cometh from the LORD.” “LORD” is “Jehovah,” the “self-existing One.” There is a higher court than that of man. What matters in life is not the “favour” of the king, but the blessing and approval of “the LORD.”
“An unjust man is an abomination to the just: and he that is upright in the way is abomination to the wicked.” Our lesson began in verse 16 with a parallel between the “wicked” and the “righteous” and concludes with the “unjust” and the “just,” the “upright” and the “wicked.”
Proverbs 29:10 teaches us that the “bloodthirsty” or the “wicked hate the upright.” That sinful man despises those who are saved by grace and live righteous lives is well documented. It is easy to understand why “he that is upright in the way is abomination to the wicked.” But what about the opening words of verse 27, “An unjust man is an abomination to the just?” “Abomination” means “disgusting.” The “just” or righteous man is disgusting to the wicked man. But this verse says the “unjust” or the wicked man is also disgusting to the “just” or those who are saved. Solomon is teaching that each of us are disgusting to the other. The righteous find the wicked an “abomination” and the wicked find the righteous as an “abomination.”
How can the righteous feel this way? The Lord himself has the same reaction against the wicked and their lifestyle (Proverbs 3:32; 11:1; 12:22; 15:9, 26; 16:5; 17:15; 20:10). The righteous are only imitating their God when they view the wicked as an abomination. There is nothing sinful in this response or detrimental to praying for their salvation and sharing with the them the gospel of Jesus Christ.
All of us have heard songs such as “Get Together,” where the lyrics read, “Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now.” Composers, poets, politicians, and even preachers have labored long and hard in an attempt to get the wicked and the righteous to find common ground.
The only common ground is the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. Good and evil will always be opposed in this world of sin. Our world is saturated with fear but the righteous can find safety in the Lord. Tolerance is not always a virtue. God’s people must love what God loves and hate what God hates. But at the same time we must love sinners and do good to them who despitefully use us (Luke 6:28).
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