Topical Sermon on Proverbs
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 7/16/2022
©2022 by Maylan Schurch
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Please open your Bibles to Proverbs Chapter 1.
I’m holding in my hand a book called Introduction to Logic, by Irving M. Copi and a co-author. Back when I was in college, this was the standard textbook for this topic, and it is still being used. This book has been through 14 editions—this one happens to be the 10th.
Irving Copi died in 2002, and spent his life teaching in various universities. He had been a philosophy student of Bertrand Russell, and when he was asked to teach logic, Copi looked over the textbooks and said, “You know what? I’m going to write my own.” And so he did.
The reason I brought Copi’s book up here with me today is that, in a way, it might have set me up to be disappointed by the Bible book of Proverbs. I have several books on thinking and reasoning and logic, and they are almost all worthwhile.
But as a Christian and believer in God, I know, of course, that if my Creator decides to allow a book on wisdom into the Bible, then that book is superior to any book by a mere human.
So naturally, I have read the book of Proverbs several times. But it disappointed me – mainly because I was expecting some version of a book like Copi’s, or one of the other logic textbooks I have. In other words, I was expecting a book with thinking rules, lists of logical fallacies, maybe even some syllogisms, which was what I thought you needed to have in order to think better.
Proverbs, however, is not that book. Proverbs does contain the key to real wisdom, but it takes a different approach than Irvin Copi’s book.
By the way, if you’re taking sermon notes today, we won’t have a series of sermon points the way I often do. Instead, there is just one main idea in this sermon, and I will cover it as well as I can. And I’ll tell you what it is as we go along.
So, this morning we’re going to talk about Proverbs’ key to wisdom. You probably already know what it is, but we’re going to take a closer look at it. And I think we’ll come out the other end better able to do God’s kind of thinking than before.
If you like to read, and you’re walking through a bookstore or library and spot a book, what’s the first thing you do to help you decide whether to buy it or check it out?
Most often, to get the best idea about the contents, you read the book jacket, or the back cover if it’s a paperback. What’s written there is designed to entice you as the reader into that book, and prove to you that it will be worth spending time with.
What’s so fascinating about Proverbs 1 is that one of the first things we read is the “back cover” material. Right at the start, this book tells us why we should spend time with it. Let’s read Proverbs’ “back cover.”
Proverbs 1:1 – 6 NKJV: The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction, To perceive the words of understanding, To receive the instruction of wisdom, Justice, judgment, and equity; To give prudence to the simple, To the young man knowledge and discretion— A wise man will hear and increase learning, And a man of understanding will attain wise counsel, To understand a proverb and an enigma, The words of the wise and their riddles.
Back in Solomon’s day, of course, there were no such things as the bound books that we have today. The scroll this book was written on didn’t have a back cover. The back cover material therefore had to be put at the very start of the book.
And when you read these verses, doesn’t it make your pulse beat a little faster? I mean, to hear Solomon tell it, this book will teach you not only wisdom and the ability to perceive the words of understanding, but it will guide you toward justice, judgment, and equity (all of which we need great supplies of these days). It even promises to give a prudence to the simple – to people who may not be sophisticated. It promises to give young people knowledge and discretion. And it says that even wise people can learn from this book.
I mean, that’s promising a lot. And maybe this is why Proverbs used to be vaguely disappointing to me. I used to think it would be nice to have whole chapters on each of these skills. But instead, Proverbs is mostly that – Proverbs. There are some longer sections, but there is not that systematic instruction that Irving Copi and people like him provide in their books.
However, Copi and his fellow authors don’t have God’s key to true wisdom. In verse 7, you and I will find that key. As I say, you probably know it already, but let’s dig deeper and discover things about it we may not have known before.
Verse 7: The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Doesn’t that sound familiar? “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Psalm 111:10 uses a different Hebrew word: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” But it’s exactly the same word for “fear” in both verses.
And that word is an interesting one. It’s mostly used in phrases like “the fear of the Lord,” talking about God. But in Deuteronomy 2:25, the Lord tells Joshua, “This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you upon the nations under the whole heaven, who shall hear the report of you, and shall tremble and be in anguish because of you.”
This word “fear” is more than simply “respect.” So when Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” it’s not quite terror, but it’s a serious kind of fear.
Okay, what do we do with this? What do we do with “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge”? I think that I used to feel, as a young person growing up reading verses like this, that it meant that the more afraid of the Lord you were, the wiser and smarter you got to be. If the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, or wisdom, then maybe the best way to true intelligence is to keep being afraid of God.
I don’t think that anymore, of course, and I don’t think the rest of the Bible teaches that. I’ve called this sermon “The Fear Shortcut,” and I’m going to tell you what I mean by that. I’m going to suggest a reason why the Lord used “fear” here rather than “The admiration of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” or even “Just plain old common sense is the beginning of wisdom.”
I think fear is really important here. In fact, verse seven gives us the impression that you’re either a “fearer” or a “fool.” At first it doesn’t seem like much of a choice. I definitely do not want to be a “fool,” because Proverbs has some pretty stern and scornful things to say about them. But does this mean I need to be in constant fear of the Lord?
As I say, I don’t believe that. Here’s why. For one thing, when Eve and Adam sinned in Eden, God came to talk with them about it. He did not arrive in that Eden meadow to say that their sin was no big deal – because the wages of sin is death – but from all we understand, in order to provide clothing for them, God sacrificed a couple of animals, and prophesied to the serpent that someday, Someone would come along and crush the serpent’s head. Sin is that fearfully serious—it took the life of Jesus the Son of God.
So why do I call this sermon “The Fear Shortcut”? Here’s why. Let’s keep reading here in Proverbs 1.
Verses 8 – 9: My son, hear the instruction of your father, And do not forsake the law of your mother; For they will be a graceful ornament on your head, And chains about your neck.
Pretty much every morning after breakfast, I take a mile-long walk. During the school year, my walk happens at about the same time as children are coming down the sidewalks to the place where their buses will pick them up.
Let’s say a kid is coming toward me – an elementary school age child. I courteously shift off onto the street so they can have the sidewalk. I also keep a cheerful eye on them in case they want to say hi, so I can say hi back.
But once those kids get to be about six, none of them say hi. (Their three or four-year old sibling might wave a merry hand at me and belt out a cheerful greeting, but not the older kids.) They hurry nervously along, keeping their eyes straight ahead. And you know as well as I do why they do that. It’s fear.
And why are they afraid of me? They don’t know me. I’ve never done anything to hurt them.
No, they are afraid because their parents have very properly taught them to be afraid. You just never know who the tall guy with the silver hair is. So let fear drive you on past him, to safety.
And is this fear good, or bad? It is very good. Here on our sinful, selfishly-twisted planet, fear keeps kids safe. Every once in a while you hear a news story about a child who has carefully remembered their parents’ instructions about what to do if a stranger offers to give them a ride. They follow those instructions to the letter, and live to tell the tale.
And this fear has been implanted within them by their parents. And here is the main idea I would like us to take away from our brief look at the book of Proverbs.
The “fear of the Lord” reflects God’s own fears.
What why mean by that? Well, let’s go back to the parents as an example. They plant the fear of strangers in their children’s minds because they themselves are terrified about what strangers might do to their unaccompanied child. Mom and Dad inspire their children to a deep, healthy fear of what keeps Mom and Dad awake at night.
Several years ago I saw this fear in action on Petrovitsky Road in Renton, not far from Valley Medical Center. (I think I mentioned this in a sermon several years ago.) I saw a mother and her (what looked like) four-year-old on the sidewalk beside the road. The little boy was a few feet ahead of her, earnestly pedaling a little tricycle, and mom was trying to keep up.
Suddenly, for some reason, the boy swerved the trike toward the street. I don’t think he actually left the curb, but Mom was instantly upon him. She pulled him off that trike, and turned his face away from the street, and bent down over him.
My car window was open, and I heard her voice. I couldn’t hear what she was saying – and I think it may have been in a language I didn’t understand. But even though her voice was loud, I heard in that voice not anger but fear, horror, terror. And I knew that she was doing her level, maternal best, to vaccinate her boy with that very same fear.
She knew, of course, that he would not need that terror forever. He would grow out of the no-trikes-in-the-street fear (because he wouldn’t need that particular fear again), but he would grow into other hazards he would need to be warned against. But right then, in that moment, near that curb, hearing the menacing hiss of automobile tires, Mom was afraid.
The “fear of the Lord” reflects God’s own fears. We need to be afraid of what He is afraid of for us.
A decade and a half ago, when Shelley and I still lived up in Mill Creek, we heard a local news story about how a policeman was involved in a high-speed chase along a major highway close to where we lived.
At one point, just as that police car came racing along, a woman driving a car pulled out in front of it. They collided, and the woman died.
A few days after that, I came up to a stop sign about three blocks south of our house, and pulled on to a more major street. A few seconds later I saw police car lights behind me, and I got pulled over. The policeman came over to my window, and lectured me earnestly about the “California stop” I had just committed. I hadn’t quite come to a complete stop.
He didn’t give me a ticket, but in his voice I heard fear and panic. He told me about that woman who’d been killed by another policeman, and lectured me on how important it was to come to a complete stop, and look both ways. And then he went back to his car and drove away.
This policeman, of course, had nothing against me, personally. He felt fear.
Now let me show you something else I think is very interesting.
Maybe the most dramatic way that God introduced fear into people’s lives was at Mount Sinai. Hold your place in Proverbs 1, because we’ll be right back. But listen to what this experience was like, from Exodus 19, starting with verse 17:
Exodus 19:17 – 19: And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice.
And in the next chapter, with that same voice, God spoke the Ten Commandments from that mountaintop, in the hearing of the people. It terrified them, but that was the point. God was that mom talking loudly to her young tricyclist. God was that policeman lecturing me outside my car window. God was speaking, in a way, out of fear. The more you read the Bible, the more you discover that God gets emotional. And when we see that, we shouldn’t cower in fear—we should remember that this is His parental response to what could cost us our eternity.
Now back to Proverbs 1 for what I told you I think is really interesting.
First, God has Solomon list all the benefits of wisdom. Then, in verse seven, He says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.
Now notice verses 8 and 9 again:
Proverbs 1:8 – 9: My son, hear the instruction of your father, And do not forsake the law of your mother; For they will be a graceful ornament on your head, And chains about your neck.
Does this bring to mind something God said from Mount Sinai? “Honor your father and your mother.” That’s one of the Ten Commandments.
And then let’s look at verse 10.
Verses 10 – 16: My son, if sinners entice you, Do not consent. If they say, “Come with us, Let us lie in wait to shed blood; Let us lurk secretly for the innocent without cause; Let us swallow them alive like Sheol, And whole, like those who go down to the Pit; We shall find all kinds of precious possessions, We shall fill our houses with spoil; Cast in your lot among us, Let us all have one purse”— My son, do not walk in the way with them, Keep your foot from their path; For their feet run to evil, And they make haste to shed blood.
Did you spot three additional Commandments? “Thou shalt not covet,” “Thou shalt not steal,” and “Thou shalt not murder.”
See what’s happening here? God is alluding to those great human-behavior principles He spoke out loud, and wrote with His personal finger.
Now turn a page or two over to Proverbs 5.
Proverbs 5:1 – 10: My son, pay attention to my wisdom; Lend your ear to my understanding, That you may preserve discretion, And your lips may keep knowledge. For the lips of an immoral woman drip honey, And her mouth is smoother than oil; But in the end she is bitter as wormwood, Sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death, Her steps lay hold of hell. Lest you ponder her path of life— Her ways are unstable; You do not know them. Therefore hear me now, my children, And do not depart from the words of my mouth. Remove your way far from her, And do not go near the door of her house, Lest you give your honor to others, And your years to the cruel one; Lest aliens be filled with your wealth, And your labors go to the house of a foreigner;
Can you hear Solomon’s fear-filled father’s voice, maybe actually addressed to one of his own sons?
And once again, we see another of the 10 Commandments being mentioned, one that says “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” And once again we discover that the Ten Commandments are not arbitrary. These commandments are not temporary restrictions which evaporated when Jesus died on the cross.
No, these commandments, spoken loudly, and engraved deeply in stone, were God’s “fear shortcuts” – serious and stern admonitions to protect us from sorrow.
There will come a time of course when fear itself will evaporate. 1 John 4:18 says, “Perfect love casts out fear.”
God longs for the time when He need not anymore use the “fear shortcut.” Don’t you long for that time too?
And until that time comes, are you willing to respond to His fears, and surrender your mind and your heart and your actions to His will?