Whilst on holidays for the last four days, I have read Proverbs chapters 10-19, and I have thought about the fact that it was written before Jesus was revealed in the flesh, and what these Proverbs might mean to us today, since Jesus’ fulfilment of the Old Testament (Romans 10:4).
There are multiple verses contrasting the wicked and the righteous within the Proverbs:
12:7 The wicked are overthrown and are no more, but the house of the righteous stands firm forever.
14:11 The house of the wicked will be destroyed, but the tent of the upright will flourish.
But the New Testament is clear that “there is no one righteous” (Romans 3:10). We are all wicked. And yet God has made us all, equally, righteous (Romans 3:22; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
We live in a physical realm where there are still consequences to every little thing that we do, but we also live in a spiritual realm where the consequences of death, condemnation, shame, guilt, feelings of separation from God and a dysfunctional relationship with God – have all been dealt with! There is no separation (Colossians 1:21-22; Ephesians 2:13-18). There is no condemnation (Romans 8:1). Death is swallowed up in victory (Romans 6:23, 1 Corinthians 15:54-57)!
As my Pastor always says: context is King! When Solomon wrote the Proverbs, he had no concept of eternity. He was talking literally about the wicked suffering for their sins in this life and the law-abiding flourishing in this life. People throw these verses around today as a threat, saying that it means the wicked will go to hell, and the righteous will live forever. But I ask you, who is not wicked and who has not been made righteous?
Furthermore, what about these verses, in the same book of Proverbs:
10:12 Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over ALL WRONGS.
What happens to wicked in this verse? Grace covers over their wickedness!
16:7 When the Lord takes pleasure in anyone’s way, he causes their enemies to make peace with them.
This is a picture of repentance! The wicked, here, have recanted because of the grace they witness in other people’s lives.
Take a look at these verses for example:
6:6 Go to the ant, you sluggard, consider its ways and be wise.
10:4 Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth.
10:22 The Blessing of the Lord brings wealth, without painful toil for it.
11:25 A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.
12:4 A sluggard’s appetite is never filled, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.
19:17 Whoever is kind to the poor, lends to the Lord.
These verses balance each other out. On the one hand, it probably won’t benefit us as human beings to be lazy. On the other hand God doesn’t require you to work for his blessing, he blesses us because of who he is, not what we do.
There are verses in the Proverbs about the wisdom of storing wealth, and others about how generosity works like karma: when we give we receive back. So be wise, like the ant, but perhaps don’t hold onto your income with a tightly clenched fist.
I think it’s important that we don’t go quoting one individual verse without keeping in mind the balance that Solomon is describing here. I was taught Proverbs 6:6 in primary school. I guess my school teachers really wanted me to do my homework and not be lazy! But it amazes me how much grace is overlooked in the church. Grace gives us so many gifts we didn’t work for or earn. Grace blesses us beyond the laws of karma and gravity and diligence. Grace is scandalous! And yet, there are morsels of grace, right there in the Proverbs before Jesus comes “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Behaviour has consequences and there is wisdom for that. But grace trumps all, and can be found in every book of the Bible, if you look for it.
18:10 The name of the Lord is a strong tower / fortified city. The righteous run to it and are safe.
And according to the New Testament, we are all “the righteous!”
18:24 There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
What a friend we have in Jesus!
19:21 Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.
13:12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
And what is it that we long for? Proverbs answers this question later on:
19:22 What a person desires is unfailing love!
The tree of life is the unfailing love of Jesus.
There were two trees growing side by side in the Garden of Eden. We ate from the tree of knowledge, and the result was that wickedness multiplied on the earth. So we clung to the law, the Prophets and the books of wisdom such as Proverbs to guide us away from the painful consequences of our own wickedness.
Yet from the very beginning, God’s grace also multiplied on the earth, in tandem with the fruit of wickedness that the tree of knowledge produced. We see it in the covenant that God made with Abraham; a covenant which he fulfilled through his own death and resurrection and continues to fulfil until the end of all wickedness. For, does not the book of Proverbs allude to the fact that all wickedness will have its end?
The story of Revelation describes this same tree of life and how there has always been both wickedness and grace multiplying on the earth. Now, in the end, all will eat from the tree of life and all the nations will be healed:
Revelation 22:2 On each side of the river, stood the tree of life …. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse!
Proverbs is already hinting at how the tree of life will save us from the tree of knowledge that brought about our downfall and our need for and addiction to the wisdom of the Proverbs. Jesus is the fulfilment of all wisdom. He is the unconditional love we crave. In the end, hope will be deferred no more, and we will partake of the tree of life – the tree of unconditional love and grace that has existed since the beginning of time, and will remain on into eternity after the tree of knowledge has long since failed us!