Saturday, January 16, 2010

Proverbs 28:9-11 Notes

“One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.” (28:9)

This continues a section on the Torah (cf. 28:4, 7). The Torah was to be heard and obeyed (Dt. 6), and failure to “listen” was failure to obey. The task of faithful Israelites was to “hear” so that they might have the words of the law in their hearts (Dt. 6:6). This “hearing” was to take place through putting the law all over their lives and talking about them with their children constantly. Hearing means loving God with all that we are, and that love flows out and fills the lives of those hearers.

Turning away from hearing is a sin of omission, a lapse of obedience which is disobedience, but the proverb says that when this occurs it affects everything, even acts of piety. An abomination is something detested by God, and perhaps a parallel we might imagine in human life are the articles of a loved one who has betrayed us. All memories and reminders of someone who has committed treachery become reminders of the treachery. Likewise, God says that those who do not listen to Him, those who neglect His Word, and fail to love it with all that they are commit treason and adultery, and when we speak to Him, it only reminds Him of the fact. An adulterous husband who refuses to repent of His sin cannot protest that at least he called home every once in a while.

Notice too that the one who refuses to listen gets the same treatment. God promises to turn His ear from hearing that one who has turned away from hearing. At some point, justice becomes an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth affair.

The structure of the proverb:

Turns away
His ear
From hearing
Also his prayers

The structure emphasizes these basic parallels. He who turns away his ear will become detestable to God. God’s ear will turn away from the one who has turned away from Him, and He will not hear his prayers. The center is the necessity of hearing the Torah.

Jesus and the prophets emphasize the fact that God’s people frequently have ears but do not hear. Isaiah’s ministry is explicitly for the purpose of lulling God’s people into presumption and Jesus says that His parables have the same effect. Those who have hard hearts will compliment themselves on hearing and understanding because they have heard with their ears, but God says they have not really heard or understood and therefore they cannot turn and be forgiven. This seems to be how the prayers of these traitors are abominations. God lulls them into a deeper, self-righteous sleep so that they cannot turn and be forgiven.

1 Pet. 3:7 exhorts husbands to dwell with their wives in understanding, honoring them, so that their prayers are not hindered. This seems to be a parallel idea to this proverb. Listening to Torah means knowing and honoring your wife, but refusal to do so will result in hindered prayers.

Refusing to hear is a kind of arrogance and pride, but humility listens and obeys.

“Whoever causes the upright to go astray in an evil way, He himself will fall into his own pit; but the blameless will inherit good.” (28:10)

This proverb promises what others also predict, namely, that those who do evil will eat the fruit of their labors (Pr. 26:27, Eccl. 10:8). They will fall into the pit they have dug for others. But this proverb specifically targets leaders, and even more specifically, leaders who lead the “upright” astray. Thus, this proverb includes a promise of hope for blameless followers. Those who follow the “evil way” ignorantly will be rescued by God and inherit good.

Peter Leithart notes: “A form of the verb “lead astray” (shagah) is used in Leviticus 4:13 to describe sins of wandering or ignorance. This is not a high-handed sin, but a sin of deception, ignorance, confusion. The proverb gives us a specific scenario involving such a sin: A sin of ignorance or wandering may be one that is “caused” by another, that is, one in which we are encouraged by someone we think trustworthy to sin. Sins of ignorance are removed in sacrifice. They are not counted as defiant, high-handed sins. Scripture, in short, recognizes degrees and varieties of sin. Sins are always sins, but sometimes sinners are victims as well as perpetrators.”

This proverb acts as a great warning to leaders. Obviously those who knowingly lead their people in an evil way should be warned, but even those unintentionally lead in an evil way. This places great responsibility on leaders in general. While the promise to the “blameless” seems to run most directly parallel to the “upright” who are led astray, we might also recognize the possibility that a leader might also be blameless and also rescued from the pit.

The word for “blameless” is the same for “perfect” or “spotless.” Noah was blameless (Gen. 6:9), as was Jacob (Gen. 25:27) and Job (Job 1:1). The same word used in this proverb describes the quality required of sacrifices (e.g. Ex. 12:5, Lev. 1:3ff). This sacrificial theme fits with the proverb’s point: though the “blameless” may endure persecution or hardship, they may trust the Lord to use these trials providentially, to draw them near to Him – the ultimate “good inheritance.” The sacrificial knife may not be pleasant, but the promise is that we will ascend into the Lord’s presence.

Of course the ultimate “human sacrifice” is Jesus, the truly blameless and perfect man. Peter Leithart points out that Jesus is the “blameless” one who committed no sins either willfully or ignorantly, but he was still cast into the pit. Our sins and transgressions were placed upon Him, and He suffered for our evil ways, but God raised Jesus out of the pit and vindicated Him. Jesus was granted a good inheritance, and it is through Christ that we are also offered the status of “blameless” and the same good inheritance through the Spirit. If Jesus was vindicated, those who cling to Him in faith will also be vindicated and raised from every pit.

“The rich man is wise in his own eyes, But the poor who has understanding searches him out.” (28:11)

This economic proverb addresses the connection between riches and wisdom. Here riches can act as confusion and blindness. Riches are a great temptation for self-justification. Earlier in Proverbs the wise father instructed his son to trust in the Lord with all his heart and lean not on his own understanding. This included a commitment to not be wise in his own eyes but to fear the Lord. It is the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom and understanding. Riches always tempt those who have them to believe in some measure of self sufficiency. “And you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.” (Dt. 8:17)

The opposite of this arrogance is fearing Yahweh and trusting Him. This is doubly hard since Yahweh is perfect and just, and we are not. Allowing God’s word to judge us and be our eyes (Js. 1:22-25) means allowing God to mess with us according to His wisdom. It doesn’t seem accidental that James goes directly from a discussion of what the Word of God should be for us to the description of pure religion, caring for orphans and widows and then directly into a discussion of poor and rich in Church. Riches easily distort our understanding.

On the other hand, the poor man may have understanding that is very great. He may have understanding that is able to truly search matters out. Here the Hebrew is ambiguous enough to admit several possible objects. A direct contrast to the first half of the proverb, suggests that the poor man is able to search himself, unlike his rich counterpart. The poor man may not know much, but at least he knows himself honestly. But since the rich man is only wise in his own eyes (and therefore blind), it may also mean that the poor man may be able to understand the rich man better than the rich man can understand himself, underlining the blindness. The poor man may be a better judge of the rich man than the rich man is of himself. A third possible meaning is that a poor man who has understanding is merely one who searches matters out. He is not satisfied with his own opinion. He knows enough to know that his own eyes are not enough. He recognizes that in the presence of many counselors there is wisdom. A poor man knows that he is dependent and not self sufficient, and this is the beginning of wisdom too.

Peter Leithart points out that this pattern fits with the incarnation since Jesus became poor for us in order that He might be the wisdom of God (2 Cor. 8:9). Like the poor man who understands and searches out even the rich man who is wise in his own eyes, Jesus understands us and our self-sufficiency. And His knowing and understanding of us is effectual for our salvation.

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