On the meaning of Proverbs 25:28

A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.

It seems I heard this verse quoted countless times in college and seminary. It was frequently mentioned in classes and chapel messages. The speakers and teachers did not interpret or explain the verse, but seemed to assume the meaning was evident. It is just another one of those blunt-force weapons of Proverbial counseling.

Maybe the meaning is evident, and I have just been missing it for lo these many years. Sometimes the Spirit works slowly, sometimes with mighty gusts. This past weekend I seemed to realize a meaning of it.

When a man has no self control, when he is quick to anger; he is a city without walls. In other words, he is ripe for the picking.

The woman with no control of her emotions is seen by her adversaries. The man quick to anger is recognized by his opponents. The shrewd enemy notes this character flaw and files it away for future use. You have no walls- at any time you can be attacked and conquered.

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You have one direction you would like to see the group go, your opponent has another one. There is a meeting to plan the future. Your opponent knows you have no walls. He waits, bides his time, and then casually drops the match in just the right spot. The only thing left for him to do is sit back and watch the fireworks. And then lead in the direction he wants to go. After all, who wants to follow a lunatic anywhere?

When you lack self control you are at the absolute mercy of your enemies. They can strike and defeat you whenever they please. If they are wise, they will do it when it best suits their interests. You think the absence of a wall does not matter. I have gone this long in safety. Who would want to attack me? Do not be deceived. Your lack of self control is seen by all. It will be taken advantage of at the convenience of your foes.

Now, this all seems like a very base interpretation of Proverbs 25:28. Surely Solomon would not be this Machiavellian. All this talk of enemies, opponents, foes… We are Christians surely such things are not true among us. Well, as a dread pirate once said…

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Are there better reasons to seek self-control than just the threat of being made a fool of? Certainly. But sometimes pride can work for a man’s ultimate good.

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George MacDonald on the Strange Woman in Proverbs

…the chief thing that makes her beautiful is this: that, although she loves no man, she loves the love of any man; and when she finds one in her power, her desire to bewitch him and gain his love (not for the sake of his love either, but that she may be conscious anew of her own beauty, through the admiration he manifests), makes her very lovely— with a self-destructive beauty, though; for it is that which is constantly wearing her away within, till, at last, the decay will reach her face, and her whole front, when all the lovely mask of nothing will fall to pieces, and she be vanished for ever.

George MacDonald. Phantastes, a Faerie Romance for Men and Women (Kindle Locations 685-689).

Proverbs 16: The Providence of God and Treachery of the Wicked

The book of Proverbs begins and ends with blocks of connected material. Chapters 10-29, however, are what the title of the book suggests: assorted proverbs. Yet even within this wisdom casserole there are verses that are thematically connected.

Proverbs 16 is commonly a source for verses on the providence of God. There are several verse that speak to God’s complete control over all things: the words of man, the steps of man, the falling of the lot. Indeed the Lord has made everything for his purpose (16:1, 4, 9, 33).He is the great Sovereign King over all creation.

In Proverbs 16:27-30 there is an extended meditation on a particular type of person:

 A worthless man plots evil,
and his speech is like a scorching fire.

A dishonest man spreads strife,
and a whisperer separates close friends.

A man of violence entices his neighbor
and leads him in a way that is not good.

Whoever winks his eyes plans dishonest things;
he who purses his lips brings evil to pass.

The word that summarizes this meditation is treachery. The character of this man is worthless, dishonest, violent. His speech is destructive and divisive. But worst of all he is invasive and secretive.

Paul writes, “The sins of some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later.” In sports, there is the “clubhouse cancer.” On the job there is “that guy.” There are some people who are loud and obnoxious in their sourness toward humanity.

Proverbs 16 is not talking about those people. Proverbs 16 it talking about someone accepted among us. He influential and trusted enough to separate close friends. He is trusted enough by his neighbor to be led astray. He is the most dangerous type of man because he is not what he appears to be. He is liar and deceiver, and like the father of lies, he transforms himself into a messenger of light.

What are the righteous to do when the treachery of the treacherous is revealed? I would suggest taking comfort the teaching of a verse already mentioned:

 The LORD has made everything for its purpose,
even the wicked for the day of trouble. (Proverbs 16:4)

The Lord has a purpose for all things: even the sin of the wicked. Treachery hurts. But Jesus knows its pain. God used the most sinister treachery imaginable to set in motion the event that would save humanity. Treachery is the bruising of the heel that reminds us that the crushing of the head is sure to follow.

Proverbs 12:16: Anger and Prudent Parenting

Translations

KJV A fool’s wrath is presently known: but a prudent man covereth shame.
NKJV A fool’s wrath is known at once, But a prudent man covers shame.
ESV The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult.
NRSV Fools show their anger at once, but the prudent ignore an insult.
NASB A fool’s anger is known at once, But a prudent man conceals dishonor.
NIV A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult
NLT A fool is quick-tempered, but a wise person stays calm when insulted.
CEV Losing your temper is foolish; ignoring an insult is smart.

 

Commentators

 Clifford (OTL) Fools reveal their anger, that is, they take instant offence at events or words, but the wise conceal or ignore offenses that cause arguments. The wise refuse to lower themselves to the level of their attackers.
Ross (EBC) Those who are mature are able to handle criticism without responding instinctively and irrationally. The wise man does not give the enemy that satisfaction. It is not so much that the wise man represses anger or feelings but that he is more shrewd in dealing with it.
Fritsch (IB) The fool has no self-control. A wise man is calm in the face of shame when he is insulted.
Henry A fool is known by his anger (so some read it); not but that a wise man may be angry when there is just cause for it, but then he has his anger under check and direction, is lord of his anger, whereas a fool’s anger lords it over him. Those that are soon angry, that are quickly put into a flame by the least spark, have not that rule which they ought to have over their own spirits.
Horton (EB) A fool cannot hide his vexation, but must immediately blurt it out with the tongue. When he is angry he must utter it all at once, though a wise man would keep it back and still is, so concealing shame.

We read this verse in Proverbs last night during our family devotions. It was one I read more than once.

The seed of anger is a curious one. I read it more than once last night because upon reading it my wife and I both looked at one of our children whom we both immediately applied it to. But she comes by her temper honestly; she got it from her daddy. I see in her what I once was. Easily set off by the slightest provocation.

I wonder how much of the growth and death of anger is due to the youth and mellowing of age. Am I “better” at controlling my anger simply because I am older and more mature? Because I rationally realize there really is not much worth getting angry over? Or because the Spirit of God has been transforming my inner man? One reason to be thankful for children is that they try your patience in an abundance of new and unexpected ways. My children help me see the ways in which I have only outgrown anger and the ways in which I still struggle with it.

With this Proverb in mind, how does a parent root out the seed of anger in his child? There is certainly justification for an appeal to the irrationality of anger: it is presented in terms of foolishness and prudence. But reason can only go so far, especially when the passions rise up against it.

Parents must model prudent patience to their children. Children must see this Proverb in action. Do the failings, fightings, and outbursts of my children provoke me to instant anger? If so, I must subdue this passion by submitting to the correction of God and his word. I should seek the forgiveness of my children for being quick-tempered myself. When I respond to them in anger I am teaching them that anger is the proper response to trial. And only a fool believes that.

Proverbs 11: Are the Righteous Delivered by their own Righteousness?

The first nine chapters and last 2 chapters of the book of Proverbs are more or less “outlineable.” The author of those chapters, whether Solomon, Agur, or Lemuel, spends time developing a thought over several verses. Chapters 10-29 are—brace yourself for this stunning theological insight—proverbial in nature. Often there is seemingly no connection at all between consecutive verses. Yet even in the Proverbial chapters there are blocks of material that do dwell on a common theme. In Proverbs 11:4-9, we find one of those blocks.

4 Riches do not profit in the day of wrath,
but righteousness delivers from death.
5 The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight,
but the wicked falls by his own wickedness.
6 The righteousness of the upright delivers them,
but the treacherous are taken captive by their lust.
7 When the wicked dies, his hope will perish,
and the expectation of wealth perishes too.
8 The righteous is delivered from trouble,
and the wicked walks into it instead.
9 With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor,
but by knowledge the righteous are delivered.

Verses 4, 6, 8, and 9 all speak of the deliverance of the righteous. (Those literate in Hebrew may want to pursue the fact that in verses 4&6 the noun צדקה is paired with נצל while in verses 8&9 צדּיק is paired with חלץ.) I am interested in these verses because of their adaptability to teaching a salvation based on good works.

This is most apparent in verse 6: “The righteousness of the upright delivers them.” A fair paraphrase of the verse would be, “The good deeds of good people save them.” Verse 4 says basically the same thing: righteousness, good deeds, delivers from death. Verse 9 is similar, but perhaps more appealing to an intellectual. In verse 9 we seem to be told that if a person knows enough, he will be saved: “by knowledge the righteous are delivered.”

So were righteousness (good deeds) and knowledge enough to save a person in the Old Testament economy? Are righteousness and knowledge enough to save a person in the New Testament economy? The perhaps surprising answer is, “Yes.”

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 1 Corinthians 1:30

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21

Righteousness and knowledge are exactly how a person is delivered from sin and death—the righteousness and wisdom from God that come from God choosing to reckon Christ’s righteousness to a hopeless sinner. The righteousness of the upright man is not his own, but the alien righteousness of Christ imputed to him by God’s sovereign, righteous declaration. Seen in the light of the New Testament teaching on the imputed righteousness of Christ, Proverbs 11 poses no problem at all to those who believe in salvation by grace alone.

But what about the Old Testament reader of Proverbs 11? Would he have reason to depend on his own good deeds to commend himself to God? No, because even in the Old Testament there is clear teaching about the righteousness that truly saves. The apostle Paul was not the first biblical writer to speak of the blessing that came from union with Christ. In Jeremiah 23:5-6 the prophet looked forward to the coming Redeemer and gives him the name “The LORD is our Righteousness.”

Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’ Jeremiah 23:5-6

Several chapters later, the same name is given to those people the coming Redeemer saves:

In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’ Jeremiah 33:15-16

The company of the redeemed is identified wholly with their redeemer. In this shadowy way, the prophet Jeremiah pointed to what has been identified as the heartbeat of Paul’s theology—union with Christ. It is the believer’s union with Christ that provides him all his wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.

So Proverbs 11 is a gospel text. All those who would be saved are called upon to seek the only salvation available: the righteousness of Christ.