I have made it my goal to write short posts reflecting on my devotional reading every day. These posts are composed off the cuff, in 30 minutes or less. The following is one such post. Before writing this post, I read: Psalm 64, Proverbs 26, and 1 Corinthians 4–6.
Today’s passages did not connect in any particular way in my head, but all bear some reflection. Perhaps by the time I am done writing, I will see a connection.
Reading through the Psalms often serves as a reminder for me that the easy way of life I enjoy is not normal either in historical terms or in normative terms for the people of God. Suffering and opposition are ordinary, so much so that prayers for deliverance from the plots of the enemies of God are themselves ordinary in the Psalms. Certainly for David such things were a regular part of his life, and so it has been for many believers throughout the ages, and so it is today for many around the world.
The Psalm does not stop with the acknowledgement that there are people in the world would do God’s people harm, though. It moves immediately on to the reality that God delivers his people. The inversion is striking: those who lay in ambush, who “shoot arrows” at the innocent find God’s arrows coming for them (Psalm 64:4,7). In the small narrative arc this song traces out, the ambushers who set out to destroy the righteous are themselves destroyed. Their destruction leads all the world to magnify God. The righteous rejoice in Yahweh, take refuge in him, and exult.
It strikes me that in a way, this arc is a very short telling of the arc of history itself. The enemies of God have a time in which they can work, but ultimately they will be ended, and all the earth will be filled with the glory of Yahweh.
The first half of this chapter is a sequence of comparisons: increasingly terrible or ridiculous things with a fool.1 The fact that the fool comes off looking absurd is the point—so that when we get to Proverbs 26:12, the conclusion is all the more forceful:
Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.
As bad as it is to be a fool—a point that both the book as a whole and the preceding ten verses have labored to make clear—being wise in one’s own eyes is even worse.2 The book has made clear over and over again that there is basically no hope for a fool, though Wisdom is still inviting even fools to turn from their ways (Proverbs 8:5). But for the man who is wise in his own eyes, what recourse is there?3
First Corinthians 4–6
What better picture of reliance on one’s own wisdom than the church at Corinth? One can nearly see Paul tearing his hair out over this church, which seemed determined to run off into the weeds in every possible way. By the end of chapter 6, he has already addressed factionalism, sexual immorality of an extraordinary sort, and Christians suing each other in court. Moreover, he has had to deal with the fact that they considered themselves wiser than the apostles (basically throughout all of chapter 4). Following this so-called wisdom was destroying them.
A few highlights that particularly caught my attention here:
- Paul admonished his audience to judge themselves rightly, but to remember that even in their own self-judgment they had to acknowledge that God alone knows all our faults.
- As for outsiders, the church was not to “judge” them, leaving that to God. Judgment here must imply something besides moral assessment, however, because Paul explicitly calls out the follies of the unregenerate world (e.g. sexual immorality, greed, swindling, idolatry—see 1 Corinthians 5:10). It means rather that the Corinthians’ response was not to be the rejection enjoined of them as regarded unrepentant people in their own midst. The church exercises discipline on its members, not on the world.
- When Paul encourages the Corinthians to reject sexual immorality, he grounds it in the resurrection. Indeed, Paul turns to the resurrection about as often (and perhaps more often) as to the cross in this book—a point N. T. Wright’s delightful and excellent The Resurrection of the Son of God makes forcefully. God raised Jesus from the dead, and he will raise us from the dead, so we ought to regard our bodies accordingly. They are temples of God indwelt by the Spirit, and ultimately destined for glory. That is why we ought to flee sexual immorality.
Interrupting the sequence is the classic wisdom paradox of the book: Proverbs 26:4–5, withits paired injunctions to answer and not to answer a fool according to his folly.↩
The rhetorical force of the placement of this particular set of proverbs near the end of the book, as well as the structure of this section, is one of many arguments for a coherent editorial strategy in the creation of Proverbs. All you have to do is read the book to get this.↩
This verse is one of the keys in my understanding of Ecclesiastes: Qoheleth was wise in his own eyes, and it nearly destroyed him.↩