My King Reads a Book
January 7, 2018
One day, two women came and stood before a king. The two women lived in one house. And they both gave birth to sons. But one son was dead.
The first woman claimed that the second switched their babies in the middle of the night after she accidentally slept on her baby and smothered him dead. The second woman claimed that the first was lying. “No, the living child is mine, and the dead child is yours.” “No, the dead child is yours, and the living child is mine.”
After the king heard this, he said, “Bring me a sword.” So a sword was brought before the king. And the king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other.”
Then the woman whose son was alive said to the king, because her heart yearned for her son, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means put him to death.” But the other said, “He shall be neither mine nor yours; divide him.”
Then the king answered and said, “Give the living child to the first woman, and by no means put him to death; she is his mother.”
And all the people of the land heard of the judgment that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice (1 Kings 3:16-28).
His name was Solomon. He was the son of David, the king of Israel.
Today we begin a series on the book of Proverbs. And the book of Proverbs is very much Solomon’s book. It was meant to be a book of wisdom for whoever would be the king of Israel. And it was meant to be handed down from fathers to sons. This is what the book of Proverbs is all about.
It is quite profound and moving if you stop and think about it. In the beloved 1994 Disney movie The Lion King, Mufasa as a father passes down his loving wisdom to his son Simba so that Simba can be the lion king that he was meant to be. In the fascinating 2012 documentary film Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a sushi master by the name of Jiro Ono passes down everything that he knows to his son Yoshikazu as Yoshikazu faces the daunting prospect of taking over his father’s restaurant and living up to his father’s legacy. Knowledge, wisdom, fathers and sons - these are things that can make for good drama in the movies. But there is a greater drama going on here in the book of Proverbs.
The king of Israel needed to be wise. The king of Israel had to be wise. We see an epic and awesome setup of this standard in the book of Deuteronomy. In 17:14-20, God established a royal charter, a prime directive, a mandatory way of covenant life for whoever the king of Israel would be. God said that when the king sits on the throne, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of God’s law, approved by the Levitical priests. And that book shall be with the king, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.
This is so cool. While the kings of other nations were to be glorious, the king of Israel was to copy the law of God into a book and read it. While the kings of other nations were self-destined to become god-like, the king of Israel was to learn how to fear the Lord his God. While the kings of other nations were to enjoy wealth, women, wine and the world, the king of Israel was to enjoy obedience and allegiance to the king of kings.
“My king is tall and handsome. What about your king?” “My king does not lift his heart above his brothers.”
“My king commands a powerful army. What about your king?” “My king does the commandments of God and does not turn aside from them.” “My king has a majestic capital city. What about your king?” “My king learns how to fear the Lord.” “My king has wealth, women, wine and the whole world in his hands. What about your king?” “My king reads a book all the days of his life.”
The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.” Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD….”
Brothers and sisters, this is the drama and the meaning of the book of Proverbs.
Today’s Scripture text is the opening preamble of the entire book of Proverbs. And it gives us the purpose of the book, the method of the book, the audience of the book, and the grand idea of the book.
The purpose of the book of Proverbs is for the reader to know wisdom and have understanding so that he can be a righteous, just and equitable king. And the purpose for having such a king is for there to be a rest and an exaltation for a people and a place.
The method of the book of Proverbs is words given as instruction. This kind of wisdom cannot be figured out or arrived at on your own. It has to be revealed to you from someone outside of you. It has to be spoken. It has to be taught. And it has to be done in the context of a relationship - a covenantal relationship like that of a master father and a learning son.
The audience of the book of Proverbs is the simple, the youth and the wise. Wisdom is for the simple who need to learn good judgment and care. Wisdom is for young people who want to avoid offending others with their words and actions. Wisdom is for the wise who humbly admit that there is so much wisdom that they still lack.
Finally, there is the grand idea of the book of Proverbs. It is written in verse 7: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” This is huge. The fear of the Lord is a concept that I will be talking about throughout this entire sermon series. But just for today, if I had to put it to you in the most simplest way, I would say it like this. Wisdom or foolishness comes down to who you love.
True knowledge and wisdom begins with fearing the Lord. True knowledge and wisdom starts with obedience to God’s law. True knowledge and wisdom arises out of being humble before the Lord and taking him seriously. True knowledge and wisdom happens when you receive and welcome discipline. True knowledge and wisdom comes when you hate sin. All of this is the fear of the Lord. And all of this comes down to a love for God.
Foolishness is a despising of wisdom and instruction. Foolishness is when you do not care about righteousness or justice or equity. Foolishness is when you don’t like having someone else lecture you or help you or tell you the truth. Foolishness is when you think that you are pretty wise. Foolishness is when you disobey God and sin against him. All of this is foolishness. And all of this comes down to a hatred for God.
Wisdom or foolishness comes down to who you love. Wisdom is therefore not an abstract thing. It is not merely something that you just have to get from experience or information. Wisdom is ultimately personal. It is fundamentally covenantal. It is profoundly spiritual. It is at the end of the day about who you love.
And that brings us to a simple but devastating problem. The problem is that sinners are not wise. The problem is that sinners do not fear the Lord. And the problem is that King Solomon, who was the wisest sinner who ever walked on the face of the earth, was not good enough. Though he displayed amazing wisdom with the case of the two women and the two baby sons, King Solomon was not perfect in his fear of the Lord. He committed many sins against God. He lost his kingship and his kingdom.
This is a huge problem. And herein lies the profound drama of the book of Proverbs. For the book of Proverbs is an invitation and a door for someone who can succeed where the first king Adam failed and where every other king after him failed. God promised someone who would crush the head of the serpent. But this someone must be perfect in wisdom. We need a king greater than Solomon. We need a king with perfect obedience. We need a king greater than Solomon. We need a king who says no to the enemy. We need a king greater than Solomon. We need a king who can destroy sin and change the hearts of sinful men. We need a king greater than Solomon. We need a king who possesses the power of resurrection life. Solomon’s handling of the case of the two women and their sons was impressive, no doubt. But let us be clear. We need a king that can get us back home.
Praise God. We have such a king. And his name is Jesus. Listen to how the prophet Isaiah spoke of him and described him in Isaiah 11:1-5. “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.”
Brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ is the only one who perfectly fears God. Don’t be confused here. It is absolutely true that Jesus is God. But we’re not saying that Jesus fears himself. We’re saying that Jesus subjected himself to the law - to his law that we are supposed to obey. The lawgiver became the lawkeeper. The test maker became the test taker. Our Lord Jesus Christ humbled himself by becoming obedient and coming under the law for our sake so that he could credit us with his righteousness so that we could be saved. The Spirit of wisdom and understanding is upon Christ. The Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
It is interesting to note that we do not have many stories in the Bible about Jesus’ childhood. We do not have many stories about Christ in his youth. But we do have one story that is very, very interesting.
In Luke 2:40-52, there is a story about Joseph and Mary losing Jesus.
Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day's journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. // And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.
Now there is great mystery as to how Jesus can be the Son of God and yet at the same time increase in wisdom and be filled with it. That is another subject for another sermon. But just consider this question: where do you think Jesus got such wisdom? He got it from his Father’s Word. He got it from places like the book of Proverbs.
Solomon was a son of David. But Jesus was the Son of David. Jesus fulfilled the king’s charter of Deuteronomy 17. And Jesus fulfilled the book of Proverbs. Though the book of Proverbs was written by King Solomon, it ultimately belonged to Jesus. It was meant for Christ to fulfill it.
Therefore, while we may not have many stories about Jesus’ childhood, we do have amazing content of Jesus’ childhood. We have the book of Proverbs. We have the wisdom that Jesus grew in and increased in and became strong in. This is the right way and the coolest way to read the book of Proverbs.
And as we read the book of Proverbs as brothers and sisters who are united with Christ, let us also hunger to be wise ourselves, not in order to go to heaven, but because we are already going to heaven, because Christ has already secured heaven for us with his perfect wisdom and righteousness and obedience and love that he credited to us. As we wait for Christ’s return, let us delight in the law and the wisdom of God just as Christ did… just as Christ did for us. I want Highland to fear the Lord. This is bigger than Africa. This is bigger than the best sushi restaurant in the world. I look forward to our time in the book of Proverbs. Let us fear the Lord.