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Proverbs 10 opens a new section of the book of Proverbs, titled “Proverbs of Solomon” in most of our English Bibles (compare the sectional headings before chapters 25, 30, and 31). People who study these chapters debate over the extent to which each of these sections is organized, as opposed to preserving loose collections of proverbs. Almost all agree, however, that very frequently certain themes dominate a section. For instance, it is worth reading through chapter 10 and highlighting every word related to human speech: mouth, lips, chattering fool, tongue, and so forth. Proverbs 10:19 is choice: “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”
Instead of pursuing this theme, today I want to reflect on what a proverb is. A proverb is not case law, i.e., a piece of legislation that covers a particular case. Nor is it unbridled promise. This affects how one interprets proverbs. Consider, for instance, Proverbs 10:27: “The fear of the LORD adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short.” If this is unqualified promise, it follows that righteous people will invariably live longer than unrighteous people. Find someone who dies relatively young, and you know you are dealing with a wicked person. Someone who lives to the age of one hundred must be a righteous person.
But we know perfectly well that the world is not like that. Godly young people sometimes die of cancer. Having worked our way through Job, we are painfully aware that sometimes reprobates live to a ripe old age. And what shall we say of people who die unexpectedly in accidents, or in storms and other “acts of God,” or in persecution?
Does this mean, then, that Proverbs 10:27 is robbed of all meaning? No, of course not. But it is a proverb, not an unqualified promise. A proverb is a wise saying, an aphorism. Most of the proverbs in this book provide wise, generalizing conclusions about how the world works under God’s providential rule. The fear of the Lord really does add years to one’s life: on the whole, a life lived in this way will adopt fewer bad habits, will learn to trust and therefore reduce stress, will honor hard work offered up to the Lord, will cherish family and friends, and so forth—and in God’s universe all of these things have effects. None of this means that a godly person cannot die younger than an ungodly person. It does mean that, in a particular group of people, on the whole those who fear the Lord will live longer than those who do not. This is the blessing of God; the Lord has constructed the universe this way and continues his providential rule over it.
When at the end of the previous chapter, Moses asks to see the Lord’s glory, he is promised (as we have seen) a display of his goodness (33:19). But no one, not even Moses, can gaze at God’ s face and live (33:20). So the Lord arranges for Moses to glimpse, as it were, the trailing edge of the afterglow of the glory of God — and this remarkable experience is reported in Exodus 34.
As the Lord passes by the cleft in the rock where Moses is safely hidden, the Lord intones, “YAHWEH, YAHWEH, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (34:6). The Hebrew words rendered “love” and “faithfulness” are a common pair in the Old Testament. The former is regularly connected with God’s covenantal mercy, his covenantal grace; the latter is grounded in his reliability, his covenantal commitment to keep his word, to do what he promises, to be faithful, to be true.
When John introduces Jesus as the Word of God (John 1:1–18), he tells his readers that when the Word of God became flesh (1:14), he “tabernacled” among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the One who came from the Father, full of “grace” and “truth.” There are good reasons to think that John has chosen these two words to render the paired expression of the Old Testament. He was clearly thinking of these chapters: Exodus 32–34. Echoing Exodus 33, he reminds us that “no one has ever seen God” (1:18). But now that Jesus Christ has come, this Word-made-flesh has made the Father known, displaying “grace and truth” par excellence. The Law was given by Moses — that was wonderful enough, certainly a grace-gift from God. But “grace and truth” in all their unshielded splendor came with Jesus Christ (1:17).
Even the lesser revelation graciously displayed for Moses’s benefit brings wonderful results. It precipitates covenant renewal. The Lord responds to Moses’s prayer: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the LORD, will do for you” (34:10). From God’s side, this ensures their entry into the Promised Land, for the Lord himself will drive out the opposition (34:11); from the side of the covenant community, what is required is obedience, including careful separation from the surrounding pagans and paganism. “Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (34:14).
How could it be otherwise? This God is gracious, but he is also true.
34:1 The LORD said to Moses, “Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. 2 Be ready by the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to me on the top of the mountain. 3 No one shall come up with you, and let no one be seen throughout all the mountain. Let no flocks or herds graze opposite that mountain.” 4 So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone. 5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands,1 forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.” 8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. 9 And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”
10 And he said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.
11 “Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 12 Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. 13 You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim 14 (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), 15 lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are invited, you eat of his sacrifice, 16 and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods.
17 “You shall not make for yourself any gods of cast metal.
18 “You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month Abib, for in the month Abib you came out from Egypt. 19 All that open the womb are mine, all your male2 livestock, the firstborn of cow and sheep. 20 The firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem. And none shall appear before me empty-handed.
21 “Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest. 22 You shall observe the Feast of Weeks, the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the year's end. 23 Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the LORD God, the God of Israel. 24 For I will cast out nations before you and enlarge your borders; no one shall covet your land, when you go up to appear before the LORD your God three times in the year.
25 “You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with anything leavened, or let the sacrifice of the Feast of the Passover remain until the morning. 26 The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring to the house of the LORD your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk.”
27 And the LORD said to Moses, “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” 28 So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.3
29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.4 30 Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. 32 Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the LORD had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. 33 And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face.
34 Whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, 35 the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him.
13:1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet,1 but is completely clean. And you2 are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant3 is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. 18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled,4 ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”
21 After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. 23 One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus' side,5 24 so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus6 of whom he was speaking. 25 So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
36 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” 37 Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.
10:1 The proverbs of Solomon.
A wise son makes a glad father,
but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother.
2 Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit,
but righteousness delivers from death.
3 The LORD does not let the righteous go hungry,
but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.
4 A slack hand causes poverty,
but the hand of the diligent makes rich.
5 He who gathers in summer is a prudent son,
but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame.
6 Blessings are on the head of the righteous,
but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.1
7 The memory of the righteous is a blessing,
but the name of the wicked will rot.
8 The wise of heart will receive commandments,
but a babbling fool will come to ruin.
9 Whoever walks in integrity walks securely,
but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.
10 Whoever winks the eye causes trouble,
and a babbling fool will come to ruin.
11 The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.
12 Hatred stirs up strife,
but love covers all offenses.
13 On the lips of him who has understanding, wisdom is found,
but a rod is for the back of him who lacks sense.
14 The wise lay up knowledge,
but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near.
15 A rich man's wealth is his strong city;
the poverty of the poor is their ruin.
16 The wage of the righteous leads to life,
the gain of the wicked to sin.
17 Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life,
but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.
18 The one who conceals hatred has lying lips,
and whoever utters slander is a fool.
19 When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
20 The tongue of the righteous is choice silver;
the heart of the wicked is of little worth.
21 The lips of the righteous feed many,
but fools die for lack of sense.
22 The blessing of the LORD makes rich,
and he adds no sorrow with it.2
23 Doing wrong is like a joke to a fool,
but wisdom is pleasure to a man of understanding.
24 What the wicked dreads will come upon him,
but the desire of the righteous will be granted.
25 When the tempest passes, the wicked is no more,
but the righteous is established forever.
26 Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes,
so is the sluggard to those who send him.
27 The fear of the LORD prolongs life,
but the years of the wicked will be short.
28 The hope of the righteous brings joy,
but the expectation of the wicked will perish.
29 The way of the LORD is a stronghold to the blameless,
but destruction to evildoers.
30 The righteous will never be removed,
but the wicked will not dwell in the land.
31 The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom,
but the perverse tongue will be cut off.
32 The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable,
but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse.
3:1 For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is1 that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in2 God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family3 in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.