By Steven Rabey
By J. Stephen Lang
By Lois Rabey
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around February 1, 2004. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Copyright © 2004 by J. Stephen Lang.
All rights reserved.
Published in association with the literary agency of Alive Communications, Inc., 7680 Goddard Street, Suite 200, Colorado Springs, CO 80920.
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations noted NIV are from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations noted KJV are from the KING JAMES VERSION.
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First eBook Edition: March 2010
General Editors' Preface
There are thousands of verses in the Bible. How can we find those verses containing the divine wisdom and guidance that will help us grow spiritually and live more faithfully? This book and others in the 101 Most Powerful series will help you find and unlock powerful passages of Scripture that inspire, comfort and challenge.
101 Most Powerful Prayers in the Bible helps us open our hearts to God by showing us how earlier saints and sinners prayed.
101 Most Powerful Promises in the Bible brings together those passages that convey God's boundless and eternal love for his creation and his creatures.
And 101 Most Powerful Verses in the Bible provides a treasury of divine insight gathered from nearly every book of the Old and New Testaments.
101 Most Powerful Proverbs in the Bible will enable us to apply God's timeless truths to many of the messy details of daily life.
We believe J. Stephen Lang is the ideal author to unlock the timeless wisdom found in Solomon's ancient proverbs. He has written many articles for major magazines. He is a former book editor, and himself the author of more than twenty books.
Stephen can extract and explain the essence of even the most obscure biblical passages, and he writes with an energy and concreteness that fits well with the poetic and practical nature of the Book of Proverbs.
This and the other books in this series will never replace the Bible, but we do hope they will help you grasp its powerful and life-changing lessons and better utilize its wisdom in your life.
Steve and Lois Rabey
The Book of Reminders
The wise folk of the world understand a basic truth about wisdom: it is not new. It is all "old stuff" that thousands of years of human beings living on God's earth have tested. There is no "new wisdom," for human nature has not changed one iota.
When we read or hear wise sayings, we are hearing only "reminders" of what our ancestors knew. We need to be reminded for the same reason our ancestors did: because we know but do not practice. This is an unpleasant truth about common sense: it is not very common. We have reached the point where restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent people.
The Book of Proverbs is a book of reminders. It is the voice of a wise, experienced parent, passing on to a willful child some basic truths that every generation past knew. This is one reason the book appeals to people of all ages. There is no "higher thought" in Proverbs, nothing vague or mystical. It is all about the day-to-dayness of life, about the small acts (and sometimes great acts) that turn into habits, good or bad. Those habits turn into what we call character. You might call Proverbs the Book of Character.
Some people say there is no theology in Proverbs. That is not so. God is there in the book, God the all-knowing, loving, merciful Father who wants his children to do right, for their own benefit, and for the benefit of the world at large. But theology is not the book's main concern. The emphasis is on us, human beings, inclined to be inconsiderate, vain, lacking in self-control, overly fond of the sound of our own voices. As children, we heard it frequently from adults: Don't be selfish. Share what you have. Don't get mad. Don't pout. Don't follow the crowd in doing foolish, wicked things. The Book of Proverbs exists because we did not pay enough attention to our parents, or to our Father. It is a book of authority, and what is authority but a means of using the knowledge of some for the benefit of others?
The book you are holding is intended to give you an intimate look at the Book of Proverbs—specifically, one hundred and one individual proverbs. When I say "intimate," I mean "up close and personal," for these wisdom-derived, God-given, authoritative words are never about someone else. They are about you, and for you, and for your good.
Brain Stretching and Ear Tuning
The hearing ear and the seeing eye,
the LORD has made them both.
ALL you have to do is pay attention." Thus said my scoutmaster back in Boy Scout days. Whatever we were learning—tying knots, flag signals—he firmly believed we could master it easily, so long as we paid attention to what he showed us. He told us that if we could memorize the lyrics to all the pop music hits (and we did), we could certainly learn to tie basic knots.
"All you have to do is pay attention." Thus said my college biology teacher. The class members were learning the life cycles of various forms of algae. It was neither fun nor exciting, yet he assured us the knowledge would have some value further down the line (not true), plus it "stretched the brain muscles" (so he said) to memorize the sequences of biological processes. He was right about the stretching. Our brain muscles got a good stretching, and memorizing was not so difficult, so long as we paid attention.
Another teacher sometimes used the phrase "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." I'm referring to Jesus, who often taught in parables, the simple stories with a deep meaning that not everyone grasped. Jesus knew what any teacher knows: the learner's alertness is a crucial part of the learning process. Even the best teacher cannot force-feed the lesson. God gives us our senses, God gives us teachers, but only we ourselves can supply the openness and willingness to learn.
Proverbs is a pay-attention book. Not faraway philosophers but sensible observers of the world wrote it. They had paid attention to life—their own lives, and those of others. They were passing on their life lessons to another generation. We are still learning those lessons today, as is evident by your reading this book. Most are so basic and simple—like two plus two. And, like two plus two, those moral lessons must be retaught to every generation.
It is in the nature of man that practically no one learns from experience. The mistakes of the fathers are lost on their children. Yet the fathers, if they are doing their duties, still try to pass on their experience-won wisdom to the children. If the children will use the eyes and ears God gave them, they do well. Every teacher and parent knows a child can "tune in" his eyes and ears to what truly interests him. The message of the Book of Proverbs is Tune in to the greatest concern in human life: getting along well with others and being a person of integrity.
If a group of hyperactive eleven-year-old Boy Scouts can memorize knots and a roomful of college students can memorize the life cycle of blue-green algae, surely people of faith can (if they use their eyes and ears) learn the basic lessons about a righteous life in this world.
Nothing that difficult. "All you have to do is pay attention."
Resolution: As you go through the rest of your day, stay alert to everything around you—as if you were going to be quizzed on your whole day.
No Walls, Bad City
A man without self-control
is like a city broken into
and left without walls.
KNOWLEDGE is power, but the best and most useful form of that power is power over ourselves." So said the philosopher Spinoza, whose words could have come straight from the Bible. As you may already know, the Bible is thoroughly pro-self-control, which puts it in opposition to our culture, which tells us that giving in to every selfish impulse is a good thing.
Our ancestors could not have grasped this. They would have asked the obvious questions: How can you even develop a self if you have no self-control? How can people get along well in the world if each one is at the mercy of the others' impulses?
Proverbs 25:28 compares self-control to the walls of a city. With no walls, a city was defenseless, almost certain to be attacked by enemies from without. With no self-control, a person is defenseless, certain to be at the mercy of his own impulses. Aside from his impulses harming himself, they can do tremendous damage to the people around him. Think of some basic problems of contemporary society—alcoholism, drug addiction, predatory sexuality, street crime—and you can trace them all to people giving in to their worst inclinations. And by failing to practice self-control, they grow less and less able to exert it. It is appropriate that Proverbs 25:28 uses the image of an undefended city: the main reason that so many cities today are hellish places to live is that so many of the inhabitants have no self-control. Graffiti, muggings, road rage, physical and verbal abuse, the taken-for-granted lack of courtesy that grates on everyone's nerves—chalk them all up to lack of self-control. Even when we aren't affected directly, we live in the fear of other people losing control.
One of my college classmates works with an after-school program with junior high kids, teaching them to abstain from sex until marriage. Does the program work? In terms of 100 percent effectiveness, no. In terms of some effectiveness, yes. Children and teens know something instinctively: you can't go through life without rules and boundaries. Some behaviors have to be off-limits. They expect adults to be boundary-setters, and they have more respect for the adult who says, "Just say no" than the adult who says, "When you do engage in sex, be sure to use protection, and …"
The same applies to drug and alcohol programs that emphasize "Just say no." It seems pretty clear that too many adults have abandoned their tasks as standard-setters and teachers of self-control, and the young folks have responded in the predictable way, not respecting those adults. Happily, some grown-ups prefer doing the right thing to being "cool," and kids respect this.
Kids need to hear the same message as adults: the real hero is the person who conquers his evil inclinations. Ultimately, the only power a person has is that which he exercises over himself. True power is knowing that you can, but you don't.
Resolution: Think of people you know who are severely lacking in self-control. Are those people happy? Have you ever considered suggesting to those people that they might try not giving in to all their impulses?
There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
ARE people all the same, anywhere on the globe? Yes—and no. One thing is constant: wherever there are humans, there is human nature. And part of human nature is unkindness. Since Cain and Abel, the story remains the monotonous same: humans harm each other. Cain chose the violent way, a way most of us call evil and strive to avoid. But there are many ways to do malicious mischief, and most of them are bloodless.
I attended a Christian college where there were few instances of actual physical violence among the students. That is the good news. The bad news is that a handful of students—both boys and girls—were absolutely ruthless in their use of words to do harm. They were highly skilled in the art of insults, attacking with tongues as sharp as daggers. In terms of speaking, they left no stone unhurled. It was part of the campus entertainment to say clever but cruel things, knowing that anyone listening would laugh—everyone but the person being insulted, that is. The target of the insults was, in fact, expected to shrug it off in public, to show they could take it.
This ability with words is an illustration of something true about humans, and particularly true about people who consider themselves Christians: people who would never resort to physical violence will gleefully do injury with their words. Laws are on the books to keep us from killing and maiming one another, and our whole culture at the present is ready to denounce anyone guilty of any form of physical abuse. Among people of faith, violence is not only illegal and socially disapproved but one better: something God detests. We know all this, and thus we avoid physical violence, or at least feel ashamed when we perpetrate it.
The Bible has much to say about bloodshed. It also has much to say about the tongue and its power for good and evil. More than once the Bible uses violent images to describe the power of the tongue: "The words of [the wicked man's] mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords" (Ps. 55:21 KJV). "The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts" (Prov. 18:8 KJV).
"War," "swords," "wounds"—sounds violent, yes? Yet our tolerance for hurting others with words is very high, and for the most obvious reason: we ourselves do harm with our words, and thus we don't take it seriously. But we do take words seriously when someone has harmed us. Considering that "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is supposed to be our guide, we fail the divine test much too often. But it is so easy to sin with words, because they leave no fingerprints behind. And there is that great justifier of wrong: "Everyone does it."
Follow that up with: "True, but everyone shouldn't."
Resolution: Utter no "sword words" today.
Taking Herself Lightly
A joyful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
YEARS ago I lived next door to a young professional couple. Like the fictional nanny Mary Poppins, they were "practically perfect in every way"—so they believed. Both were young, slim, attractive, and well paid. I'll call them Eric and Kendra.
Kendra boasted that she ran five miles every day, which burnt a certain number of calories, which affected the metabolism, which affected the metabolizing of protein, and … Well, her knowledge of human physiology was most impressive. On the days when weather did not permit running, she had her treadmill. And she had a step machine. And dumbbells for the arms. And a very unpleasant routine for the abdominal muscles. And in her computer she kept a log of every change, no matter how minor.
She and Eric had no children. They were DINKs—double income, no kids. I could not imagine a child in their house anyway. It was too perfect. They had taken a creaky old home built in 1912 and turned it into a showplace: smoky-tinted windows, a kitchen that the Jetsons would have appreciated, wood floors so shiny they hurt the eyes. I never felt comfortable in it, however. Something in those achingly clean rooms, with every detail so carefully plotted and planned, made me feel I was in a temple, not a house. It was impressive, but it had no joy—nor did its owners.
But occasionally the temple had a noisy interruption—Kendra's sister Janice. She was pleasingly plump—to be truthful, downright fat. She and I clicked right away. Janice assured me that when she visited Eric and Kendra, she shopped for her own groceries. She wondered, as did I, why their diet did not turn them into rodents or rabbits or cattle. She asked that obvious question: why is it that people want to live past ninety if they spend their entire lives munching on food made for hoofed animals? And what about being strong and perfect? Wasn't that Hitler's goal, a world of physically flawless specimens?
Janice's laugh seemed to roll unencumbered right out of heaven. I think her whole body existed just to be a sounding board for laughter. Some say that width and wisdom go together. I don't know about that, but I do know that girth and mirth do. Janice was a woman stuffed with humor. She was a Christian of the best kind, that kind whose second greatest pleasure in life was laughter. (The first greatest pleasure was, I think, life itself, all of which she took as a gift from God.)
But I saw Janice cry, too. She cried—a lot—when Kendra learned she had MS, multiple sclerosis. She cried when Eric left Kendra. But she added a healthy dose of joy to Kendra's last years. Kendra, before she passed on, switched her loyalty from the god of Ego to the true God.
Janice, I am happy to report, is still living, still eating, still laughing. I have a feeling she will be laughing in heaven.
Resolution: Seek out a genuinely merry person, and find out what his or her secret is.
Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
THE Bible literally drips with honey. It describes Israel, the homeland of God's people, time and time again as "a land flowing with milk and honey." Honey, something that occurred in nature (meaning it was a delightful gift from God), was one of the most pleasant things the ancient Hebrews knew. No wonder they applied the word to all sorts of pleasant things—including the Bible itself. Some Jewish schools still observe the old tradition of a student touching his lips to a page of the Torah with a drop of honey on it. To these students, the Word of God is delectable. (If only more Christians felt this way about the Bible!)
Most of us do not know enough people who are "honey-tongued." Recently I thumbed through my high school yearbooks and stopped to consider who the popular kids were. Most often they were the smart alecks, masters at the fine art of put-downs. You didn't get elected class president or homecoming queen by being sweet and kind. The typical popular kid went around acting as if he were life's only child, and thus had no need to say nice things. Belittling was the school sport.
And yet there were exceptions. It struck me that our student council president was an extremely likable guy—not only fun, but someone generous with compliments. Nothing dramatic, or showy, just mild pleasantries: "Nice shirt, Tim." "You did a good job in class, Susan." "Hey, nice car, Kevin." I don't recall the fellow ever putting anyone down. More importantly, he built people up.
A longtime friend of my parents died a few years ago. I visited the funeral home and was amazed at how many people were there. I hadn't known before how well liked the quiet, shy Mr. Burdett was. I kept overhearing, "He always had a kind word for everyone." I mentioned this later to his wife, who said, "Judd wouldn't let me gossip, even if it was just the two of us sitting by ourselves. He believed if you never said bad things, you would say only good things."
And so he lived. No one was ever sorry to see Judd arrive, or glad to see him go. His presence was as welcome as shade in summer or a fire at Christmas. He never tried to draw attention to himself. Yet when he died, people remembered him. The world is lessened by such people's passing.
In his classic novel Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray took a comical (and scornful) look at people's cruelty and manipulativeness. But in this lengthy book the author threw in a few characters that were actually worth admiring, such as Mr. Collingwood: "He never lost a chance of saying a kind word. Collingwood never saw a vacant place in his estate but he took an acorn out of his pocket and popped it in; so deal with your compliments through life. An acorn costs nothing, but it may sprout into a prodigious bit of timber."
Resolution: Compliment someone, and mean it.
Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall.
ONE of the pleasures of traveling is looking at the colossal buildings our ancestors constructed. When I visited London for the first time, that famous old church, Westminster Abbey, caused my jaw to drop. The Gothic masterpiece is huge, of course, but it is even more impressive inside than out. England's kings have chosen to be married, crowned, and (in many cases) buried here. It is an appropriate resting place for the powerful.
I love such places, as most travelers do. Still, even as a tourist I carry faith in my head, and such impressive buildings make me pause to ask the obvious question: weren't these imposing structures built through oppressive taxation? Most of them were. And another question comes to mind: where are the kings and bishops now? All dead. Perhaps some of them are in heaven, but the others …
Back in your school days you might have read a famous poem, the sonnet "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley. The poem is about a colossal statue of a pharaoh in the Egyptian desert. The statue isn't in exactly mint condition—in fact, it has been broken in half. The traveler reads the inscription: "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings / Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" The poet has used irony here: the statue's inscription was originally intended to frighten other kings, who would tremble at the power of Ozymandias to commission such a huge statue of himself. But with the statue lying in the sand, the inscription has an altogether different meaning: This is what becomes of earthly power, so, you mighty ones, consider that you yourselves will someday end up as I am.
Interestingly, Shelley based his famous poem on a drawing he had seen of a real statue in the Egyptian sands. That statue, the archaeologists say, is of Rameses II, the oppressive pharaoh of the time of Moses and the Exodus. Consider: Moses is still praised as one of the great men in human history, while the once-mighty Rameses is practically forgotten, his stone image lying in pieces.
The message of "Ozymandias" could easily have been uttered by one of the Hebrew prophets, speaking out against the pride and pomp of the powerful empires of Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon. Throughout the Bible, and especially at the very end, in the Book of Revelation, we see the pattern: proud kings and proud nations fall. Where there were once capitals of empires, owls roost and hyenas howl. The colossal statues of ancient Egypt still impress the tourists, but the tourists do not fear the long-dead pharaohs. In their lifetimes the proud flew the pennants of their pride. Centuries later, camera-clickers admire the ruins.
Of course, most of us normal folk never have the opportunity to build or rule an empire. Our "kingdoms" are pretty much limited to our homes, our circle of friends, our fellow workers. But the warning about pride and destruction still applies. Each of us can narrow our vision, fascinated by our own looks, money, or cleverness. Proverbs 16:18 was not directed at the rulers of empires (who probably would not have heeded such advice anyway), but at us common folk, who too easily slip into pride and haughtiness.
Resolution: Think of proud people you have known personally, and ask yourself, Were they genuinely happy? and Did their happiness last?
- On Sale
- Feb 1, 2004
- Page Count
- 256 pages