The Gospel According to Proverbs

Introduction

I’m reading through the book of Proverbs for the third time and noticed a series of themes: value and pursue godly wisdom, accept reproof when it comes, do not grow lazy, watch your tongue, and the list goes on. While these are all important things that need to be applied, I mostly enjoyed sifting through the proverbs to find Gospel-related gems. It’s exciting to see how truths in the New Testament are supported and reaffirmed by the wisest man to walk this earth. I actually began this post the first time I went through a few months ago, but I never got around to finishing. I’m sure there will be things found later that I would want to add to this post, but that’s part of the growing process, right?

Though Proverbs isn’t known to have a lot of Gospel-content, much of my previous understanding of Calvary has been derived from a verse in Proverbs that I will address later. As I continue to read, other things begin to stand out – things that I would have missed or passed over a year ago. It is exciting to see how more things come to light as one grows in their walk and the proverbs have testified to that in my own life. Though these are small pieces of wisdom, they reflect God’s perfect wisdom as stated in chapter 8, in the redemption and restoration of man.

I have attempted to organize some of the things I noted in my readings to strengthen my understanding through the Bible rather than an assortment of sermons to your benefit as well as mine. Here goes.

The Problem of Man

If one seeks to understand the Gospel, there is a central thing they must grasp. They must recognize the position of man before God. Paul begins the book of Romans by making a strong case against humanity, constructed by a combination of divine revelation and Old Testament proof texts. We are guilty beyond the shadow of a doubt. Proverbs reaffirms this; there is a comparison between the righteous and the wicked in nearly verse.

Proverbs reflects part of the conclusion of Jesus’ sermon on the mount by addressing the concept of there only being two paths. The righteous choose the narrow while the rest choose the route which leads unto destruction. Proverbs 14:18 and 16:25 both say,

There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.

We are deceived by our wickedness. Jesus says that few will find the narrow path. That is a reflection of our own blindness and pride. Many are convinced they are on the ‘righteous’ path that leads to a future paradise, but it only leads to death. Proverbs 16:2 and 21:2 both reaffirm that we are not the standard of good and the judge will not be ourself but the Almighty.

All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the LORD weighs the motives.

Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the hearts.

It is so easy to rejoice in our sin and yet think ourselves to be righteous, to be pure. God weighs the man and his motives. He sees what men believe to be pure and comes to this conclusion.

26He who (A)trusts in his own heart is a fool,
But he who walks wisely will be delivered. [Proverbs 28:26]

12There is a kind who is (A)pure in his own eyes,
Yet is not washed from his filthiness. [Proverbs 30:12]

The problem with man is his sin, and thus his total total depravity. Because most proverbs compare and contrast the righteous and the wicked, to go over every verse I found confirming this would take much too long. There is no middle ground between righteousness and wickedness, after all the book of Revelation condemns being lukewarm. However, when I read Romans 1, there is something else that disturbs me greatly because I see it ring true in my own life and the world around me. Romans 1:32 reads,

32and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

No doubt many Christians believe that they are sinful and struggle in the battle of the flesh. We know to avoid sin at all costs, but what does Paul say? We not only practice sin but we encourage it. We reaffirm the wickedness of our peers as good, hence the term ‘hearty approval’. Though this verse is part of Paul’s case to present total depravity, undoubtedly we still struggle. We not only ensnare ourselves but are the stumbling block to others with our encouragement to sin. In our fight against sin we often find ourselves defending and supporting it. Proverbs has some things to say on the issue:

Doing wickedness is like a sport to a fool, and so is wisdom to a man of understanding. [Proverbs 10:23]

Fools mock at sin, but among the upright there is good will. [Proverbs 14:9]

Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law strive with them. [Proverbs 28:4]

In order to understand the Gospel, one needs to understand the heinous nature of sin before God. Once the doctrine of total depravity is understood, the rest of the Gospel, including the sovereignty of God in election. Even a careless word (Matthew 12:36) brings about the holy wrath of God. Looking over the proverbs I can pronounce my own legal standing before the Lord apart from Christ – physical and spiritual death. A rhetorical question is fitting to end this brief section, found in Proverbs 20:9 which says,

9Who can say, “I have cleansed my heart,
I am pure from my sin”?

The Problem of God

The title is a bit misleading. God clearly has no problem, but we have a problem if we are to enter in a relationship with Him. I remember listening to a pastor who gave an example from his life where he told a hostile audience, “Your greatest problem is that God is good.” His listeners were ready to pounce on him, expecting him to condemn their way of life, but hesitated, confused at his proclamation. They most likely thought, “What’s the problem of God being good?”. The biblical truth fell upon the people like a ton of bricks when the preacher said, “…because you are not”.

People who understand the attributes of God, even in their most broad and basic concept, understand that a holy god cannot enter into fellowship with sinners. The book of Proverbs has many things to say about different attributes of God.

11My son, do not reject the discipline of the LORD
Or loathe His reproof,
12For whom the LORD loves He reproves,
Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.

19The LORD by wisdom founded the earth,
By understanding He established the heavens.
20By His knowledge the deeps were broken up
And the skies drip with dew. [Proverbs 3:19-20]

16There are six things which the LORD hates,
Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: [Proverbs 6:16]

3The eyes of the LORD are in every place,
Watching the evil and the good. [Proverbs 15:3]

2The rich and the poor have a common bond,
The LORD is the maker of them all. [Proverbs 22:2]

Though these are not all of God’s attributes, we see a series of qualities that we know to be true. God has infinite knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. The Lord is the creator of all things and watches over all things. The Lord has a righteous hatred that is in accordance with His character while He loves those who strive for holiness. The Lord is completely sovereign; He directs the paths of men, even kings. Other attributes such as His  justice will be mentioned later on.

Another eternal truth is that God is immutable, and thus He never changes. Christians can have faith because God will keep his covenant and fulfill His promises and our confidence is a sure hope, likened to an anchor. The Lord is a worthy king because He does not change as stated here,

21My son, fear the LORD and the king;
Do not associate with those who are given to change,
22For their calamity will rise suddenly,
And who knows the ruin that comes from both of them?
[Proverbs 24:21]

How can we possibly have a relationship with such a god?

God’s Solution

The proverbs do not explicitly talk about Christ, though one verse focuses on the important motif of the atonement. Proverbs 16:3 reads,

6By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for,
And by the fear of the LORD one keeps away from evil.

This is the understanding of the Gospel that many people have. They recognize their faults before a perfect God and realize that they cannot save themselves. They see Christ, the God-man as a symbol of God’s desire to have a relationship with fallen people so they turn to Him. God’s lovingkindness was the reason for the cross.

Christ, the sinless man died on our behalf to turn away the wrath of God from sinners. It is at the atonement where the divine transaction takes place as described in II Corinthians 5:21,

21He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

It is true that the love of God was essential for our redemption because without it, He would not have taken steps to redeem us. However, if the view of Calvary is strictly limited to a romanticized view of God’s love for His people, then the Gospel is not understood. God is mighty to save and can forgive sin, but he cannot forgo His justice. Key verses in Proverbs will tell us why that is so.

The Divine Dilemma

Sorry to break it to some of you, but love is only half the story. A Gospel that is rooted solely in love does not describe the God of the Bible. What is the other half? It is the justice of God and Proverbs is littered with passages talking about how God must deal with the unrighteous. Some people may think, “What’s the big idea about justice? Why can’t God just forgive us of our sin?”

God is often referred to as a king in the Bible and in our songs. When one thinks of kings, there are ones that were good, like David, and ones that were bad, like nearly everyone who came after David. Even in the secular world, people expect their rulers to be fair and discerning when troubles or crime happen in the country. There is a certainty that justice will prevail in a righteous kingdom, and that is a theme in the book of Proverbs.

2The terror of a king is like the growling of a lion;
He who provokes him to anger (A)forfeits his own life. [Proverbs 20:2]

8A king who sits on the throne of justice
Disperses all evil with his eyes.
9
Who can say, “I have cleansed my heart,
I am pure from my sin”? [Proverbs 20:8-9]

26A wise king winnows the wicked,
And drives the threshing wheel over them. [Proverbs 20:26]

15The exercise of justice is joy for the righteous,
But is (A)terror to the workers of iniquity. [Proverbs 21:15]

5Take away the wicked before the king,
And his throne will be established in righteousness. [Proverbs 25:5]

26Many seek the ruler’s favor,
But justice for man comes from the LORD.
27An unjust man is abominable to the righteous,
And he who is upright in the way is abominable to the wicked. [Proverbs 29:26-27]

Do you see the problem? It seems to scream, “If God is just He cannot forgive you! You are an abomination before Him and shall be removed from His presence. Your transgression deserves an eternal punishment because you have offended an eternal being.” If God is truly who we say He is, He cannot simply will us into the kingdom with love. He must satisfy justice, though it is not as if He abides by a standard higher than Himself. His holy and perfect nature demands that we be punished because that is what is righteous. We already touched on the guilty verdict of mankind. “Will not the judge of the earth do right?” A more rhetorical question has never been asked.

I believe a proper understanding of the Gospel comes from a proper understanding of two verses in Proverbs. The first is Proverbs 16:12 which reads,

12It is an abomination for kings to commit wicked acts,
For a throne is established on righteousness.

This is the standard for the earthly king and the Almighty King. Righteous rulers are elected or appointed to enforce the law for the good of their people. The king must do his best to act in according with God’s statutes and commandments to be worthy of exercising divine justice. In this case, God’s standard for His people is the same as for Himself. Because of His nature, He cannot “commit wicked acts” because then He would cease to be God. God cannot act contrary to His attributes and His throne is established in righteousness, but another proverb presents a catastrophic problem.

I am a firm believer that one does not have a proper view of the Gospel until they can explain how God works to overcome this seeming contradiction. This is the verse mentioned earlier in the introduction, that has played a foundational role in my understanding of Calvary. We just reviewed that God cannot contradict His own nature and He must act in accordance with His holiness and justice. Many refer to the following verse as the divine dilemma, which is Proverbs 17:15 that reads,

15He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD.

What is the big deal? Can you see why this is such a problem for God? Let’s look at a verse mentioned earlier in II Corinthians 5:21,

21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Let’s break down these two verses. II Corinthians begins by saying, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf…” Now if we look at Proverbs 17:15, what part of the verse is essentially saying the same thing? If you were thinking, “He who condemns the righteous”, you are correct. God has essentially condemned the only man who ever walked in the center of His will to bear the sins of the elect in order to reconcile us to Himself. The other problem begins to be very apparent as well. II Corinthians continues stating, “…so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” while the Proverb says “He who justifies the wicked … is an abomination to the Lord”. God has condemned the innocent and justified the wicked. It is a seeming contradiction, the divine dilemma if you may. Proverbs 24:23-25 has something to say about justifying the wicked – it brings about a bad reputation and defamed name.

23These also are (A)sayings of the wise
To (B)show partiality in judgment is not good.
24He (C)who says to the wicked, “You are righteous,”
(D)Peoples will curse him, nations will abhor him;
25But (E)to those who rebuke the wicked will be delight,
And a good blessing will come upon them.

Is God doubly an abomination to Himself? Certainly not, yet this is the Gospel as we understand it and scripture cannot be broken; it is God-breathed yet God seems to act contrary to His nature. His allegiance to His name and His glory seems to lead God to part with His justice in order to have a relationship with us. Is God so desperate that He must bend His own standard so that we may glorify Him in our dependence and relationship with Himself?

There is a reason why many theologians consider Romans 3:21-26 to be the cornerstone and most clear description of the Gospel message. Verse 26 speaks of God as “just and the justifier”. How can God be just and the justifier of the wicked when Proverbs 17:15 clearly states that to justify the righteous is an abomination before the Lord? The atonement of Christ allows sinners to be adopted into His family.

Jesus Christ, the Appeasement of Justice

God does not simply hate the sin. He also detests the sinner who commits the sin which is clear in scripture. We are to be taken away before such holiness. There are two parties in this spectacle: God and man, and we can not place any hope in finite man so God must act. Jesus Christ, who is fully God yet through the incarnation, also came fully man, came to interpose in order to reconcile fallen man to God.

Though this post is mostly about the book of Proverbs, I still believe it is appropriate to look at Romans 3:21-26, for it is a powerful text and one that is relevant to our primary book of study.

21But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,
22
even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction;
23
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
24
being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;
25
whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed;
26
for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus

There are a couple of parts in the passage I’d like to address more specifically. The first is the idea of forbearance, that “in the forbearance of God, He passed over sins previously committed.” What exactly does that mean? Why does this pose a problem as seen in Proverbs 17:15?

First, what exactly does forbearance mean? According to dictionary.com, there are a variety of definitions, but the one I like most is this: tolerance and restraint in the face of provocation. How does this bear any relevance to the Gospel?

A simple way to look at this is to look at how justice was applied by God in two different situations: first to the heavenly rebellion and then to man’s defiance. Before the earth was created, we know that Lucifer and his angels rebelled against God, and were cast out of heaven and bound until the day of judgment. Though we probably don’t know nearly as much as we claim we do about this event, we know that  justice was served with little to no hesitation. Now let us look at OT history. Moving through the Old Testament time line, we see constant examples of God not punishing sin in accordance to His holy nature.

  • Man sins. What happens? We see no fire, we see no death or instant condemnation. Yes, man and women must suffer and their roles are at odd with each other, but they get a promise! Where is the justice of God?
  • God destroyed the entire world save Noah and his family, but the problem is that God saved Noah, who was not without the imputed sin of Adam.
  • Abraham, the great example of faith in Romans 4, deceives pharaoh and lacks faith in God promises, yet He is given a covenant rather than death. His faith was credited to him as righteousness, but what about his sin?
  • Moses was a murderer and one who lacked faith in God’s power before he went to confront. Hebrews says that Moses was a faithful servant in the house of God, but the weight of His sins should have found him guilty of instant death.
  • Rarely do we read about the faithfulness of Israel, the sole nation of God’s affection and the nation He bound Himself to. So much of the people’s faith was based on past signs and wonders, yet when the next generation rose, they would forget and revert back to their sinful ways.
  • We look to David, the man after God’s own heart, commit adultery and murder and yet Nathan declares, “The Lord also has taken away your sin; you shall not die.” Where is the justice of God? I would imagine Satan would be ticked off at this forbearance.

It is not hard to see the provocation God endured on behalf of man kind. Now we must consider Christ’s work to bring us to Himself without violating the divine nature of God. God has provided a way that makes Him just and justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

We must first consider the purpose and nature of the law. The law is there to condemn us, whether written on paper or into our conscience, it is meant to indict humanity. All of us are guilty before the law because of our sin, as seen earlier in passages from Proverbs. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We also know that the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin and so a blameless man must represent men. There is no such thing apart from Christ, for our sin is imputed to us through our representative, Adam. Christ came through His divine birth and perfectly filled the law to qualify as the perfect sacrifice for men throughout all time.

The second thing to consider is how Christ has interposed on behalf of men and God to reconcile the two together. There are two parties, God and man, one which is holy and the other which is not. Because God cannot forbear for an eternity, men and God are naturally at war with the winner being clear. This salvation is not possible without Christ, for a perfect angel or a perfect man could not have pulled this off. The mediator had to be fully God and fully man. When we consider the imputation of sin and righteousness, we realize how Christ served as a perfect mediator, for through Him we become righteous and through Him He can bear our iniquity and yet take up His life again three days later.

The last thing to think about is the nature of propitiation. Because He served as our substitute, He expiated our guilt and covered it with His blood and washing us ‘white as snow’ by enduring the wrath of God for the elect, both present and future, for the one that places their hope in Christ Jesus. Faith is the key here, for it is only through a belief in God and His promises that one can have a part in Christ’s penal substitution and atonement.

Now we can rejoice in Proverbs 17:15 rather than be in dismay, that God would violate His character! God demanded the ransom, provided/paid the ransom, was the ransom, and received the ransom so that we may run the race and fight the good fight of faith, which leads to the final point.

The Language of Perseverance

The book of Proverbs has some important things regarding perseverance, a topic sorely neglected in the Church. Many proverbs deal with carefully watching and guarding people from straying off the course set before us. There is strong language to not be lazy and stern warnings that confront the lukewarm and the lackluster. We are encouraged to hold fast to the Word of God and keep it close to us at all times. I am glad and challenged that Berean has placed an emphasis on this doctrine.

Passages dealing with laziness and the opposite, bearing fruit.

6Go to the (A)ant, O (B)sluggard,
Observe her ways and be wise,
7Which, having (C)no chief,
Officer or ruler,
8Prepares her food (D)in the summer
And gathers her provision in the harvest.
9How long will you lie down, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
10(E)A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to rest”–
11(F)Your poverty will come in like a vagabond
And your need like an armed man. [Proverbs 6:6-11]

5He who gathers in summer is a son who acts wisely,
But he who sleeps in harvest is a son who acts shamefully. [Proverbs 10:5]

19He who is steadfast in (A)righteousness will attain to life,
And (B)he who pursues evil will bring about his own death. [Proverbs 11:19]

30The fruit of the righteous is (A)a tree of life,
And (B)he who is wise wins souls. [Proverbs 11:30]

27A lazy man does not roast his prey,
But the (A)precious possession of a man is diligence. [Proverbs 12:27]

18Poverty and shame will come to him who (A)neglects discipline, But he who regards reproof will be honored. [Proverbs 13:18]

Passages dealing with holding fast to the Word

3Do not let (A)kindness and truth leave you;
(B)Bind them around your neck,
(C)Write them on the tablet of your heart.
4So you will (D)find favor and (E)good repute
In the sight of God and man.
5(F)Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And (G)do not lean on your own understanding.
6In all your ways (H)acknowledge Him,
And He will (I)make your paths straight.
7(J)Do not be wise in your own eyes;
(K)Fear the LORD and turn away from evil. [Proverbs 3:3-7]

4Then he (A)taught me and said to me,
“Let your heart (B)hold fast my words;
(C)Keep my commandments and live;
5(D)Acquire wisdom! (E)Acquire understanding!
Do not forget nor turn away from the words of my mouth.
6“Do not forsake her, and she will guard you;
(F)Love her, and she will watch over you.
7(G)The beginning of wisdom is: (H)Acquire wisdom;
And with all your acquiring, get understanding.
8(I)Prize her, and she will exalt you;
She will honor you if you embrace her.
9“She will place (J)on your head a garland of grace; [Proverbs 4:4-9]

She will present you with a crown of beauty.”
20(A)My son, observe the commandment of your father
And do not forsake the teaching of your mother;
21(B)Bind them continually on your heart;
Tie them around your neck.
22When you (C)walk about, they will guide you;
When you sleep, they will watch over you;
And when you awake, they will talk to you.
23For (D)the commandment is a lamp and the teaching is light;
And reproofs for discipline are the way of life [Proverbs 6:21-23]

1My son, (A)keep my words
And treasure my commandments within you.
2(B)Keep my commandments and live,
And my teaching (C)as the apple of your eye.
3(D)Bind them on your fingers;
(E)Write them on the tablet of your heart.
4Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”
And call understanding your intimate friend; [Proverbs 7:1-4]

Passages dealing with guarding one’s steps

12When you walk, your (A)steps will not be impeded;
And if you run, you (B)will not stumble.
13(C)Take hold of instruction; do not let go
Guard her, for she is your (D)life.
14(E)Do not enter the path of the wicked
And do not proceed in the way of evil men.
15Avoid it, do not pass by it;
Turn away from it and pass on. [Proverbs 4:12-17]

25Let your eyes look directly ahead
And let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you.
26(A)Watch the path of your feet
And all your (B)ways will be established.
27(C)Do not turn to the right nor to the left;
(D)Turn your foot from evil. [Proverbs 4:25-27]

14The teaching of the wise is a (A)fountain of life,
To turn aside from the (B)snares of death. [Proverbs 13:14]

5(A)Thorns and snares are in the way of the perverse;
He who guards himself will be far from them. [Proverbs 22:5]

Passages dealing with self examination

23Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For (A)from it flow the springs of life.

Conclusion

I realize that this post is a bit disorganized, seeing how difficult it is to connect thoughts separated by a couple of months. Some points are emphasized more than others, but I hope that there is a sense that the meta-narrative of Christ extends even to the book of Proverbs.

I am glad my current reading plan has me going through the book of Proverbs 12 times this year. I have learned a lot from this book from only reading through it a few times. It’s been great to see how doctrines thought to be found in the New Testament are spread throughout the Bible, though they require a little more intuition to find. Thinking about the proverbs in this manner has made reading through this book much more enjoyable. Because February starts today, I’m already getting another opportunity to read through this again. I hope this has served you as well as it has served me.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. JKP says:

    I’m very glad that you shared this, Anthony. Your insight is right on the dot. Thanks :)

  2. ricklannoye says:

    That sure was a lengthy way of saying that when God decided to make the cosmos, and then us, he either had the full intention of (or at least, knew it would be unavoidable) wrapping everything up by torturing billions of people for all the rest of eternity…but went ahead with the plan anyway!

    Come on, now! There’s something wrong with this picture…

    especially if we take an objective look at the original teachings of Jesus about the nature of God. Unless he was wrong, there is no way God would ever hurt anyone! Not for a second, much less for eternity!

    I’ve actually written an entire book on this topic–Hell? No! Why You Can Be Certain There’s No Such Place As Hell, (for anyone interested, you can get a free ecopy of Did Jesus Believe in Hell?, one of the most compelling chapters in my book at http://www.thereisnohell.com), but if I may, let me share one of the many points I make in it to explain why.

    If one is willing to look, there’s substantial evidence contained in the gospels to show that Jesus opposed the idea of Hell. For example, in Luke 9:51-56, is a story about his great disappointment with his disciples when they actually suggested imploring God to rain FIRE on a village just because they had rejected him. His response: “You don’t know what spirit is inspiring this kind of talk!” Presumably, it was NOT the Holy Spirit. He went on, trying to explain how he had come to save, heal and relieve suffering, not be the CAUSE of it.

    So it only stands to reason that this same Jesus, who was appalled at the very idea of burning a few people, for a few horrific minutes until they were dead, could never, ever burn BILLIONS of people for an ETERNITY!

    True, there are a few statements that made their way into the copies of copies of copies of the gospel texts which place “Hell” on Jesus’ lips, but these adulterations came along many decades after his death, most likely due to the Church filling up with Greeks who imported their belief in Hades with them when they converted.

    Bear in mind that the historical Protestant doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures applies only to the original autographs, not the copies. But sadly, the interpolations that made their way into those copies have provided a convenient excuse for a lot of people to get around following Jesus’ real message.

  3. alexyi says:

    Solid post. Solid reading plan. I think I heard Paul Washer say something like this before.

    @ricklannoye Matthew 10:28.

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