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The Nature of Sin

Sin is “that abominable thing which God hates:” he cannot look upon it, or on those who commit it, without the utmost abhorrence. It is, whether we will believe it or not, “exceeding sinful.” Now we are told by the prophet, that many will “call evil good, and good evil; and will put darkness for light, and light for darkness; bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.” But if the whole universe should do this, would they alter the essential qualities of these things? Would darkness cease to be darkness, and serve all the purposes of light? or would bitter change its properties to sweetness? So, whatever construction men may put upon sin, and however they may palliate its enormity, it will ever remain immutably the same; a defiling, debasing, damning evil; more to be dreaded than death itself. We may call it innocent; but it will “bite like a serpent, and sting like an adder.” We may roll it as a sweet morsel “under our tongue; but it will be the gall of asps within us.”

Charles Simeon
Comments on Proverbs 14:9
Horae Homileticae Vol 7
p. 130

Ten Tips for Interpreting Proverbs

Richard Mayhue offers 10 tips on interpreting Proverbs on pages 39-40 of Practicing Proverbs. See yesterday's "7 Clues for Reading Proverbs" by Dever for more.

  1. Realize that no proverb or section in Proverbs intends to be an exhuastive, unabridged, final treatment of the subject at hand.
  2. Proverbs must be understood in terms of context which includes: 1) the language as used elsewhere in Scripture; 2) the particular section of Proverbs in which the text occurs; 3) the book of Proverbs; 4) the writings of Solomon; 5) the wisdom sections of the Old Testament; 6) the complete Old Testament; and 7) teh entire Bible.
  3. Proverbs demand to be interpreted in the cultural and historical settings of the time in which it was written.
  4. Proverbs should not be taken as absolute, unconditional, guaranteed promises but rather, by definition, as generalizations that can have exceptions.
  5. Poetic features and figures of speech need to be taken appropriately into account when interpreting Proverbs, so that you do not interpret the text too literally.
  6. Be careful not to use Proverbs with the personal motive of selfish gain but rather for achieving spiritual maturity and wisdom in order to glorify God.
  7. If a proverb is unclear, read it in other good Bible translations (NASB, NKJ, [ESV or NIV]) and consult several trusted commentaries on Proverbs.
  8. Interpret the proverb first to determine the original intent of the author and then develop personal applications and timeless principles of the interpretation.
  9. Proverbs is not designed for large doses of reading at one sitting, and will be most profitably studied in small portions to allow time for contemplation and reflection.
  10. Treat Proverbs as a divine imperative for your life, not merely another optional idea coming from the secular world of wisdom.

Seven Clues for Reading Proverbs

Mark Dever gives us seven clues for reading Proverbs (see Tomorrow's post for Mayhue's clues). Proverbs is both a simple book to read and understand and a potentially difficult book to understand rightly. In preparation for studying Proverbs with my smallgroup (we have been studying one book every two weeks), I have copied Mark Dever's clues from pages 509-511 followed by my own summary of what the clue intends:

“Clue #1: Common sense is required”

“Clue #2: Individual proverbs are always ultimately true.” Even if a Proverb does not look to be immediately true, they will always be ultimately true. Proverbs 16:7 is a good example: “When a man’s way are pleasing to the Lord, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him.” This isn’t always true here, and it definitely wasn’t true with Jesus’ first coming…but God will ultimately cause every knee to bow.

“Clue #3: Individual proverbs are normally true now.” Proverbs don’t exhaust a topic and all caveats, but can be counted on to normally be true.

”Clue #4: Individual proverbs employ poetic imagery.” The poetic imagery of Proverbs should be recognized and not taken literally if it wasn’t intended to be taken as such. ( The use of highway in 16:17 for example doesn’t refer to a literal highway but the way that one lives life). This goes back to common sense. Our goal is to understand the author’s intended meaning, so understand figures of speech and imagery as the author intended them to be understood.

“Clue #5: Individual proverbs are partial in themselves.” To understand all that Proverbs teaches on a topic, a single proverb must not be taken as exhaustive. Rather each proverb typically makes a pithy and memorable statement on one aspect of a topic. Take each statement in light of the others.

“Clue #6: Individual proverbs are sometimes obscure.” Without existing in the culture in which the Proverbs were written 3,000 years ago, there will be some statements that just won’t make sense (or would have meant something different then than they do now). Understand what the proverb meant then before you try to transport the meaning to now. You may need a commentary to help you bridge that gap. You may have to be content with some level of mystery and uncertainty in regard to some proverbs.

“Clue #7: As a whole, the proverbs are religious.” “It is a book about are lives before God” not just a book of practical knowledge.

Wisdom Is Not Knowing

“Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon
cited by Richard Mayhue
Practicing Proverbs
p. 32

Calvinist Experientially Long Before Informed Doctrinally, by CJ Mahaney

"I was a calvinist experientially long before I was informed doctrinally. I had no question that God's activity preceeded my response. I had no question that I was acted upon by God before I acted in response to God. Now I have come to learn that I was incapable of acting in response to God until I was first acted upon by God due to pervasive depravity in my life. But at that moment I knew that God had acted upon my heart, and that something internal had changed."

 -C.J. Mahaney

I quoted this in my post yesterday on my testimony, Calvinism, and John Piper.

Deliverance from Useless Frustration & Regret

From the last letter of [Jim Elliot's] sophomore year:

"What a brutish master sin is, taking the joy from one's life, stealing money and health, giving promise of tomorrow's pleasures and finally leading one onto the rotten planking that overlies the mouth of the pit. It is with honest praise to God I can look up tonight and rejoicein His loving-kindess in delivering me from a life of useless frustration and the ultimate agonies of the gnawing, undying worms of remorse and regret."

Jim Elliot (cited by Elisabeth Elliot)
Shadow of the Almighty
p. 44