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Lessons in the Proverbs

by R. H. Boll

R. Η. B. (1924)

“Ask what I shall give thee.”

In childhood days nothing appeals to our imagination more than those tales in which some fairy or other fabled per­sonage grants a wish to one of the children of earth. What would one wish just off-hand at such a time? Suppose such an offer were made to me, what would I ask? That was something to study about! But now I wonder what foolish and ruinous-re­ quests I would have made them! For unless such an offer were carefully guarded, how very likely would a child choose its own destruction. Even mature minds could not be trusted to ask for a truly good thing. Luckily for our children and ourselves such a marvelous opportunity never comes to us in this plain old work-a-day world.

Yet once it really happened that exactly such an offer, to ask what he wished, was granted to a young man; not a being whose power was limited and doubtful, but by a Person who had un­ limited power to grant the request, the Almighty God Himself. That young man had just succeeded to the throne of the kingdom over which his father David had reigned. Great were the pros­pects that opened before him; great also the difficulties and re­sponsibilities that confronted the youthful monarch. Before him lay two roads: the one, alluring to his lower nature, the road of selfish, senseless self-indulgence, terminating in disgrace and failure; the other which beckoned upward, the road of earnest, self-denying labor, to fill his place and to be a blessing to his peo­ple, which road led to real glory. No doubt the young king was aware of these two ways and understood the possibilities before him. No doubt he was feeling the tug of carnal ease and pleas­ure on the one hand, and he also heard the call to a high and no­ble life on the other, in those momentous days.

It was in that crisis that Jehovah appeared to him in a dream of the night and said to him, ‘‘Ask what I shall give thee.” The answer of Solomon, Israel’s young king, came promptly— just as though he had previously revolved the question in his mind and had settled on what he needed most and wanted most. “Thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father,” Solomon answered, “and I am but a little child; I know not how to go out or to come in. And thy servant is in the midst of thy people whom thou hast chosen, a great people that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude. Give thy servant therefore an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and evil; for who is able to judge this, thy great people?”

It greatly pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked just this thing; and He said to him, “Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life, neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies, but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern justice; behold I have done according to thy word: Ιο, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart, so that there hath been none like thee be­ fore thee. And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches and honor, so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days.”

The thing Solomon had asked proved to be comprehensive and all-inclusive of every other good thing. For when one asks for the highest and best, he obtains the lesser blessings also; but he who seeks for the lower loses the higher and with it the lower also.

But really—was it to Solomon alone that Jehovah proposed so vast an opportunity? I believe that to every young man and woman, to every boy and girl He opens that same door. “Ask what you want,” says God to each one of us—not so directly as he said it to Solomon, but just as really. And mind what your answer is. There is a sense in which to every one of us will come the thing he asks—the thing he really wants and desires deep down in his heart. If that thing is low, if selfish, if foolish, if fleeting and perishable—he will get more or less of it, just as he wished and wanted—but to his sorrow. But if it is a good thing he wants, he can have that. And it will be found to bring with it minor blessings also in sufficiency. Young men, what will you have? But as you choose to remember this, “He that findeth his life shall lose it;” and though he gains all the world what shall it profit? For his days shall come to the yellow leaf, when all the joy and beauty has flown; and the worm, the canker, and the grief shall be his alone. But ask so as to please God, and no good thing shall be withheld from you in this world nor in that which is to come.

It was WISDOM Solomon desired. And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceedingly much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the seashore. His wisdom ex­ celled that of all the children of the East, and all the wisdom of Egypt—far exceeding the wisdom of the world and all its phi­losophies and scholars. For it was a wisdom from above, wisdom of God, older than the ancient mountains and the old gray hills, boundless as the infinite. So, Solomon’s fame was in all the na­tions round about, and there came of all peoples to hear the wis­dom of Solomon. Messengers and representatives from all kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom came streaming to Jerusalem laden with gifts. “And all the earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart.” “Happy are thy men,” said the queen of Sheba, “happy are these thy servants that stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom! Blessed be Jehovah thy God, who de­ lighted in thee to set thee on the throne of Israel! Because he loved Israel forever, therefore made he thee king, to do justice and righteousness.” And at his feet she laid her rich tribute; and so, did all the kings round about and year by year. “So, King Solomon exceeded all the kings of the earth in riches and in wis­ dom.” Some of that priceless wisdom, as ore in the mine, was laid up for us, preserved and handed down by the will of God, in this Book of Proverbs.

“THE PROVERBS OF SOLOMON THE SON OF DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.” Such is the heading of the wisdom-book! in which are stowed away some of the precious truths of Solomon’s supernatural wisdom. It is in the form of proverbs—put up in handy little packets, to take with you on the way; short sayings in what to the Hebrew was rhyme and meter; easy to memorize, easy to re­ call and to quote. No one will ever know how many have been lighted over dark and difficult places in life’s journey by these rays of Divine light upon their path—how many a young man and young woman have had to thank God for the deep wisdom clothed in simple homely garb, in the proverbs of Solomon.

The preface of the Book of Proverbs sums up the intent and purpose of it which is five-fold:

  1. To serve as a standard whereby to measure true wisdom and teaching: “To know wisdom and instruction; to discern the words of understanding.” Beware of any alleged wisdom, of any teaching and principle that does not tally with this! (1:2).
  2. To impart truth: “instruction in wise dealing,” that is to say, “in righteousness, and justice and equity." For nothing short of right and truth is “wise dealing,” he would have us know from the start. The opposite of these is never wisdom, but always and only pure folly. (1 :3).
  3. Designed especially for a help to the ignorant, the young and inexperienced: “To give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.” Let such a one but be guided by its light and he will walk more wisely than the shrewd men of the earth. (1:4).
  4. But let no one think that it is elementary instruction for babes alone. Under its simple surface lies a wisdom deep as the sea. It is for “the wise man” also that he “may hear and in­ crease in learning; and that the man of understanding may at­tain unto sound counsels.” None so far advanced in knowledge that he has nothing to learn here. (1:5).
  5. Finally these proverbs themselves furnish a clue and key and impart a power to discern hidden truth in “the words of the wise and their dark sayings.” (1 :6). For the wise speak deeply; their words so simple that a child can learn them, mean much more than appears on the surface of them. “They express, or rather conceal, in simple language the truth they wish to im­part,” says John Ruskin. That is the mark of a great and wise teacher. The cracking of a nut prepares the taste for the enjoy­ment of the kernel. These proverbs, too, bland and easy on first sight, yield their real inner significance only to those who will crack the shell, and by pondering find the essential truth they contain.

The Motto and Headline of the whole book is now given, a sort of key-text to all that follows:

THE FEAR OF JEHOVAH IS THE BEGINNING OF KNOWLEDGE BUT THE FOOLISH DESPISE WISDOM AND INSTRUCTION.

Mark this then at the very outset: You can have no true knowledge except the fear of the Lord be your foundation and starting point. *

What then is this “fear of the Lord”? Manifestly a recogni­tion of Him, a regard and respect for Him, that would dread to go contrary to His will. On its negative side, “the fear of Jeho­vah is to hate evil.” (Prov. 8:13). “Surely there is a mine for silver,” says Job, “and a place for gold which they refine. Iron is taken out of the earth, and copper is molten out of the stone. . ... But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? . . . . (God understandeth the way thereof, and he knoweth the place thereof. . .. And unto man he said, Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.” (Job 28). The will to do God’s will (and God’s will be always righteous and pure and true) under­ lies all true wisdom. Any “wisdom” that stands upon other foundation is false and spurious. Know then that all this teach­ing to follow assumes the fear of the Lord as its basis.

“But” he continues, “the foolish despise wisdom and in­struction.” Then he would turn away at the gate. He has no desire to cast pearls before swine, or waste words of wisdom on a fool. And this is the invariable and never-failing test: Every man, young or old, who does not see, or is not willing to see, the value of true wisdom; and everyone who is unwilling to be taught anything, who scorns admonition and reproof—he is a fool, by the Lord’s definition. To him the door for all further hope and real advancement is closed.

But he who has ears to hear, and who is of a willing mind to learn, let them draw near. The unfathomable fountains of God’s truth and goodness shall flow for him, and he shall go on from strength to strength until he shall stand happy and com­plete before God in Zion.

*Heathen philosophy starts from arbitrary human axioms to work its way up to God—a vain endeavor, for “by searching shall no man find out God.” But this Divine wisdom starts with God as the fundamental axiom (surely a far less doubtful and disputable basis than the ill-founded ele­ments of the world!) and from this vantage-ground looks forth upon all the truth of the universe.

-R. H. Boll (1875-1956) was the preacher of the Portland Avenue Church of Christ 1903-1956 and Editor of Word and Work 1916-1956




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That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:10