This week, we’re looking at how to read the book of Proverbs – learning skills to be able to read it for ourselves, just like in the old proverb: give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day; give a man a blowfish, and he’ll eat for the rest of his life.
Yesterday, we saw how we learn wisdom from observing how God has set up his world. Today, we look at the theme of “retribution.”
People get their just desserts
The final theme of Proverbs we’re going to look at is the theme called “retribution” – where you get what you deserve. If you fear God and act wisely, you will be rewarded. If you reject God’s claim on your life and act foolishly, you will be punished. The principle of justice is fundamental to the way God has set up the world.10:4 Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth.
13:21 Misfortune pursues the sinner, but prosperity is the reward of the righteous.
Now these are, clearly, generalisations. By and large, God has set up the world to run this way. Indeed, even those who don’t fear God can take this advice and often succeed.
In the last few decades, it has become more and more common for large corporations to recognise the value of being ethical if one wants to be in business for the long haul. Business ethics courses now teach that whilst unethical practices may make a quick buck, eventually it will backfire. Companies interested in being around in 20 or 50 years from now are increasingly seeing the value of being ethical (or at least being seen to be ethical).
For you and me, a lot of the time if we live by God’s rules, we’ll get ahead in life. If I treat others by “the golden rule, if I follow through on my promises, if I avoid gossip, if I prove myself worthy of trust – then people will generally like me and this will be to my social and often financial advantage
But Proverbs is also aware that there are exceptions to the generalisations it gives. One of the things the Lord hates (no, detests) is “hands that shed innocent blood.” Another is “acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent.” It does happen.
In fact, the books of Job and Ecclesiastes (also wisdom books) explore what happens when the principle of “just desserts” doesn’t hold. When the righteous Job loses everything. When the Teacher in Ecclesiastes sees the righteous and the fool meeting the same fate.
This happens to us, too. Living by God’s rules – fearing God, following Jesus – will sometimes get us into trouble. We won’t always “prosper or succeed,” at least in the world’s eyes.
But the principle still holds. At the end of the story of Job, he was shown by God to be in the right – and he got all his stuff back.
At the end of our story, we will also be in the right. And we will also get all our stuff back – and more.Luke 18:29-30 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God
30 will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”
We, in fact, can have more confidence than those who originally read Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes. Because we know that there is life after death with God to look forward to. We know that there is a coming resurrection, where all will rise to be judged for what they’ve done. We know that, although we may suffer now for being “wise” (following God’s way), we will receive our reward in the future – eternal life. Wisdom pays off in the end!
Wisdom and Christ
Now you might get the impression from reading Proverbs that wisdom, the fear of the Lord, and therefore our reward is based on our good works – based on whether we are able to make “godly choices” or not. (Sometimes Proverbs cab read a bit like this!)
We know that this is not the case. Think about it: if principle of “just desserts” holds, we all deserve to suffer the consequences of sin – eternal separation from God. We can’t obey God in our own strength; we can’t be wise on our own. True wisdom can only be given by God:1 Cor 1:30 ‘It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.’
Jesus has become for us wisdom from God. The foolish choices we have made had their eternal consequences borne by Jesus on the cross. Jesus’ wise choices have been reckoned to us – that’s the good news!