About adultery: Proverbs 5-6

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Today’s reading: Proverbs 4-6.

The heart of the moral wrong of adultery is that a covenant, a sacred commitment, has been broken. The one-flesh union which set this relationship apart from all others has been torn asunder by one of the spouses and by a third party that has now entered into the oneness of the relationship. Dennis P. Hollinger, The Meaning of Sex

The wisdom of Proverbs is not theoretical but practical. It means nothing if it isn’t practiced. God’s word hits the nitty-gritty of our wishes and wham! Choices must be made. One of those choices married couples must make is whether to remain faithful to their partner, or give in to the temptation of adultery. Proverbs leaves no doubt about the outcome for those who give in to the temptation:

Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished. Proverbs 6:27-29

Many give in to the temptation in spite of the warning, so it’s worthwhile to consider why. Here’s my list, but I doubt it’s complete.

  • Passion overrules reason.
  • People don’t believe the warning.
  • People choose the immediate reward of pleasure and discount any future costs.
  • People are selfish.
  • People feel entitled.
  • People are lonely and seek connection by whatever means.

James put it this way:  “Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” The desire comes first. It may be a desire for pleasure, for love, for excitement, or some other want, but the desire fuels the chase. Proverbs is honest about the enticement, the allure, of the adulterer. Her lips are like honey, her words smooth as oil, her beauty leads to lust, and her eyes are captivating. The writer is also detailed about the consequences of adultery.

  • It leads to spiritual or physical death.
  • Your wealth is lost to another.
  • Your health will suffer.
  • You will groan in regret.
  • You suffer disgrace and shame.
  • The offended spouse will seek revenge.

Fortunately, Proverbs offers advice on avoiding the trap of adultery. Putting distance between you and the temptation is the first step. “Do not go near the door of her house.” Finding love, satisfaction, and pleasure in your own spouse is equally important. “May you rejoice in the wife of your youth.” Finally, keep the wise counsel of God’s word, letting it direct you straight ahead through the minefield of temptations.

Sometimes we fail and give in to the lure of sin. If you have committed adultery and find yourself groaning in regret, the  good news is that God offers forgiveness. Turn away from your practice of adultery, turn back to God by confessing your sin to him, and by faith accept that Jesus has paid the penalty by his death on the cross. Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery when everyone else wanted to stone her, but he also told her, “Go, and sin no more.”

“Man’s wickedness is now such that men are more ashamed of chastity than of lechery. Murderers, thieves, perjurers, false witnesses, plunderers and fraudsters are detested and hated by people generally, but whoever will sleep with his servant girl in brazen lechery is liked and admired for it, and people make light of the damage to his soul. And if any man has the nerve to say that he is chaste and faithful to his wife and this gets known, he is ashamed to mix with other men, whose behavior is not like his, for they will mock him and despise him and say he’s not a real man; for man’s wickedness is now of such proportions that no one is considered a man unless he is overcome by lechery, while one who overcomes lechery and stays chaste is considered unmanly.” Augustine

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Don’t be a fool! Proverbs 1

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Today’s reading: Proverbs 1-3

I don’t think anyone sets out to become a fool, and yet the world has more than enough of them. I’ve acted foolishly before. So have you. It comes down to the choices we make. Will we choose wisdom, or will we reject it in favor of something that seems to offer a better or quicker reward? Often the choices lead gradually downward. enticing a person further and further away from wisdom until they sink in an inescapable mire of foolishness.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline… “How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?” Proverbs 1:7, 22

Look at the initial choice: fear of the LORD versus rejection of wisdom. Look at what follows: three different kinds of fools that illustrate the downward spiral.

  1. The simple one (pethiy). Someone who doesn’t know better, who is naive and gullible, empty-headed. Usually this would be a young, unlearned, and inexperienced person. They can potentially learn. They haven’t rejected wisdom yet.
  2. The fool (keciyl). This person is not young or unlearned, but they have rejected wisdom and instruction. They are silly, dull, stupid, and irreverent.
  3. The mocker (luwts). One who scorns wisdom and boasts of it. They not only reject wisdom but oppose it.

The fear of the LORD is the starting point for wise choices. If we fear or respect God we also respect his discipline and accept that there are absolute truths that govern our lives. For the writer of Proverbs, wisdom begins with fear of the LORD and is fulfilled by following God’s directions, resulting in righteousness. It doesn’t come automatically. We have to “store up God’s commands,” implying memorization. We have to “call out” and “cry aloud” for wisdom, speaking of a passionate, emotional effort. We have to search for it like a hidden treasure, revealing that it takes hard work. The work is worth it, however. Wisdom brings God’s protection, victory, safety, long life, prosperity, power over temptations, and respect.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

Proverbs personifies wisdom as a woman who stands at the most important intersection in the city and calls out to all who lack wisdom. Stop rejecting wisdom, she tells them. Make the right choice now. When calamity falls on you it will be too late. How are you responding to wisdom’s call? You may think you have accepted her invitation, but look at this checklist and be sure:

  • I’ve taken up my shovel and I’m actively digging for wisdom, not just sitting back and thinking it will fall into my lap.
  • I’ve put my trust in God and accept that his ways, as revealed in his word, are absolutely the truth.
  • I accept God’s discipline and rebuke when I make mistakes, learning from them and not running away from God when I fail.

Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom. Charles Spurgeon

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Summing up the Psalms: Psalm 146

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Today’s reading: Psalm 146-150.

What makes a psalm a psalm? If there is such a thing as a typical psalm, Psalm 146 may be it. It has a little bit of all the characteristics that we’ve seen in these devotional songs. Let’s use it to look back and review as we complete our study of this section of the Bible.

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them– the LORD, who remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. Psalm 146:3-7

Praising God. “Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts. They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works.” Psalm 145:3-5

Man’s fickleness; God’s faithfulness. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…” Psalm 51:1-4

God as creator. “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” Psalm 90:2

God as rescuer.  “I was pushed back and about to fall, but the LORD “helped me. The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” Psalm 118:13-14

The certain doom of the wicked.  “But it is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another. In the hand of the LORD is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs.” Psalm 75:7-8

God’s rule and reign.Why do the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’ Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.” Psalm 115:2-3

These are some of the main themes of the Psalms. They are always expressed emotionally and personally, especially in those songs written by David. I could also add prophecies about the Messiah and writings about wisdom to the list. What ideas in the Psalms are important to you?

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The power of praise: Psalm 145

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Today’s reading: Psalms 140-145.

What if the weakness of our witness is a lack of praise? We say a lot to the lost about their sin and need of salvation. We hone our personal testimonies (as I have encouraged in this blog). We are quick to point out an unbeliever’s dependence on their own works to save them. Maybe what they really need is to hear more about the glory of God. That’s what the Psalmist says.

The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. All you have made will praise you, O LORD; your saints will extol you. They will tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all men may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. Psalm 145:8-12

What’s the point of all men knowing of God’s might and glory? So they can be impressed? I don’t think so. So God will feel better about himself? Definitely not. One answer comes from verse 3: God is worthy of praise. But that’s just the beginning. The Psalmist says when we praise God that people come to know him, and by knowing he means that they see God and experience him personally. The power of praise is in drawing men and women into a relationship with God. Look at what that relationship delivers:

The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them. The LORD watches over all who love him… Psalm 145:18-20

The LORD draws near, he fulfills desires, he hears, saves and watches over all those who call on him. They call on him because they know him, and they come to know him because they have heard him praised. There are two categories of praise mentioned in the psalm. One is the splendor of God’s majesty. The other is his wonderful works. If it helps to remember, think of who God is, and what he has done. His goodness, and his good works. His awesomeness, and his activity. His might, and his mighty actions. His righteousness, and his response. Let’s season our witness with much praise, and see what happens when our listeners see God in our words.

To make known to the sons of men his mighty acts. As the State cannot teach these holy histories the people of God must take care to do it themselves. The work must be done for every age, for men have short memories in reference to their God, and the doings of his power. They inscribe the deeds of their heroes upon brass, but the glorious acts of Jehovah are written upon the sand, and the tide of time washes them from present memory; therefore we must repeat the lesson, and yet again repeat it. The saints are the religious instructors of the race; they ought to be not only the historians of the past, but the bards of the present, whose duty it is to keep the sons of men in memory of the great deeds which the Lord did in the days of their fathers and in the old time before them. Charles Spurgeon

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The God who is there: Psalm 139

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Today’s reading: Psalms 133-139.

When Francis Schaeffer published The God Who Is There in 1968, he argued the existence of God and God’s truth against the modernism which denied any possibility of absolute truth outside the scientific realm. Fortunately for the Psalmist, he knew the truth of God’s existence personally and by his own experience. God was there for the Psalmist.

He was in every “where.”

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. Psalm 139:7-10

He was in every “when.”

You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.

He knew every “what.”

Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in–behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

He knew the Psalmist.

O LORD, you have searched me and you know me… For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

Thanks to God’s word, and with a little help from Schaeffer, we know the absolute truth of God’s existence. More than that, we know he is a personal God who knows me.

As though we were caught in an ambush, or besieged by an army which has wholly beleaguered the city walls, we are surrounded by the Lord. God has set us where we be, and beset us wherever we be. Behind us there is God recording our sins, or in grace blotting out the remembrance of them; and before us there is God foreknowing all our deeds, and providing for all our wants. We cannot turn back and so escape him, for he is behind; we cannot go forward and outmarch him, for he is before. He not only beholds us, but he besets us; and lest there should seem any chance of escape, or lest we should imagine that the surrounding presence is yet a distant one, it is added,—And laid thine hand upon me. The prisoner marches along surrounded by a guard, and gripped by an officer. God is very near; we are wholly in his power; from that power there is no escape. It is not said that God will thus beset us and arrest us, but it is done—”Thou hast beset me.” Charles Spurgeon

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How to build a house: Psalm 127

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Today’s reading: Psalms 120-132.

If this psalm were titled, “Home building for Dummies,” you would have to wonder what’s going on when all of a sudden the writer shifts gears and starts talking about children.

Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat– for he grants sleep to those he loves. Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Psalm 127:1-3

Here’s the reason it isn’t so strange. The Hebrew word for sons or children comes from the same word as “build.” This psalm is all about building. A Hebrew woman was said to be built up when she had many children. Children were, and are, an important way to build up your home – perhaps even more important than the structure.

More than houses or children, though, this psalm is about the vanity of self-reliance. In Old Testament terms, when you say vanity you’re talking about emptiness or worthlessness. Americans are big on self-reliance, but the Bible says it’s pointless to leave God out and try to do it all yourself. It will accomplish nothing. The result will be worthless. Run your home without God? The result will be emptiness. Try to run a city or country without God? Worthless. Work your fingers to the bone and leave no time in your life for God? You will end up with nothing. Have babies and raise children without God? Futility.

Maybe you’re thinking what I’m thinking now. “I’ve known families who raised good children without being religious.” I believe that does happen, but I think the Psalmist is stressing the principle that without God the outcome will usually be poorer rather than better. The other point would be the eternal one: without God the home or family will have no impact for God’s kingdom and risks losing its members to Hell.

Solomon will explore this theme fully in Ecclesiastes, but here the writer sums it up neatly. Work without God when you build, and you’ll end up empty-handed. Work for God when you build, and your work will stand for eternity.

I have lived for a long time, 81 years; and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of man. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings, that “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall proceed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel: we shall be divided by our little, partial, local interests; our prospects will be confounded; and we ourselves shall become a reproach and a byword down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter, from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing government by human wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, or conquest. I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayers, imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberations, be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business; and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.—Benjamin Franklin: Speech in Convention for forming a Constitution for the United States, 1787.

The Power of God’s word: Psalm 119, part 2

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Today’s reading: Psalm 119:89-176.

You could call this chapter the ABC’s of the law, since in the Hebrew text the letters of the Hebrew alphabet were used in order to begin each stanza of lines. That is lost in translation, but the lessons on the law’s value remain.

Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. Psalm 119:98-99

If the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, then the knowledge of God’s word is the fullness of wisdom. In Biblical terms, wisdom is making choices that lead to righteousness and avoid foolishness. It’s a very practical, not theoretical, kind of wisdom. It leads to action. In fact, if you fail to act on God’s word, then you are being foolish.

Righteous are you, O LORD, and your laws are right. The statutes you have laid down are righteous; they are fully trustworthy. Psalm 119:137-138

The Psalmist isn’t just talking about the rules and regulations that we might normally think of as “the Law.” He means all of God’s word. It is trustworthy, and in its entirety it defines our worldview, our understanding of the most basic questions of life. How did I get here? What went wrong? How do we make it right? When we put our trust in God’s word, we accept God’s answers to these questions, and that gives direction and purpose to our lives. We depend on God’s opinion, not how we feel about an issue emotionally, or what our friends or the latest talk shows say about it.

Trouble and distress have come upon me, but your commands are my delight. Psalm 119:143

We’re bound to face trouble in this life. Devotion to God’s word doesn’t take us out of the ocean of distress, but it is a seaworthy boat that keeps us from drowning and gives direction to our storm-tossed journey. Therefore, like a pioneer in the wilderness we cling to our map, joyful that it accurately shows the way to our new home.

My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises. Psalm 119:148

Truthfully, I don’t stay up through the night studying my Bible, though this year of blogging through the Bible has kept me up later than usual and gotten me started earlier than normal. There’s a bit of exaggeration going on here, but the writer is making a point. God’s word is worth staying up for. God’s word is worth getting up early to study. Why shouldn’t a passage of scripture be on your mind as you fall asleep at night? Try it; it’s definitely better for you than worrying about all the things that keep people up at night. The point is – make Bible study a priority.

Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble. Psalm 119:165

We have peace through God’s word because:

  • obedience to it gives a clear conscience.
  • study of it reveals God’s wonderful faithfulness.
  • it supplies us with the spiritual armor to ward off Satan’s attacks.
  • it bears the spiritual fruit of peace in our hearts.
  • it testifies to the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

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