Without Dread of Disaster
January 21, 2018
When our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross at Calvary, there were two others with him. Two criminals. One on his right and one on his left.
The first criminal railed at Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the second criminal rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
Two criminals. Two fools. The first was killed by his turning away. The second was secure and at ease, without dread of disaster.
We are going through the beginning of the book of Proverbs. It is a book about wisdom for the king of Israel.
Last week we were introduced to a father and a son. The father instructs the son to listen to a wisdom. And he describes it as like a graceful garland for his head. The father tells his son not to consent to sinners if they entice him. He tells him that such men lie in wait for their own blood and set an ambush for their own lives. And the father warns the son against this way of life.
This morning, we see the father continuing to speak to his son. But in today’s Scripture text, the father does something very interesting. He personifies wisdom. He introduces his son to Lady Wisdom. And he gives wisdom a voice.
Personification is something we learn in English class. It is a literary device in which you assign qualities of a person to something that is not human or alive. And the father does it here. Wisdom is not a living human being. Wisdom is the application of God’s law in daily life - the ability to have good knowledge and good judgment. Wisdom is not a living human being. Wisdom is made up of words and principles and guideliness and truths.
But here in the beginning of Proverbs, God in his divine wisdom uses Solomon to come up with a fascinating way for the father to get the son’s attention. He personifies wisdom. And he makes wisdom a woman.
Now why would Solomon do this? Why personify wisdom? And why make wisdom a woman? The father does this for two reasons. First, the father personifies wisdom because he wants the son to have a proper understanding of wisdom. And second, the father makes wisdom a woman because he wants the son to have a proper attitude toward wisdom.
First, the father personifies wisdom because he wants the son to have a proper understanding of wisdom. And he wants his son to realize that wisdom is covenantal. Being wise is not an abstract exercise. It doesn’t come down to just following good guidelines or doing the right thing. It comes down to following a good God and doing the right thing for his glory. Wisdom is covenantal. If you accept it, you are committing a personal act of loyalty to a living being. If you reject it, you are committing a personal act of rebellion against a living being. This is important. The father wants the son to have a proper understanding of wisdom. The son must realize that wisdom is covenantal. Therefore, the Father personifies wisdom.
But the father goes one step further. Second, the father makes wisdom a woman because he wants the son to have a proper attitude toward wisdom. And he wants his son to love wisdom. Remember, Proverbs is primarily a book for the king of Israel. And the king of Israel was to pursue wisdom like a young righteous man pursues a young godly woman. The king of Israel must desire instruction and long for understanding. The king of Israel must strive for prudence and have a heart for discretion. The son must love wisdom. In the words of David, the king of Israel ought to say: “I delight in the law of God! I meditate on it day and night!” (Psalm 1:2), or “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart!” (Psalm 40:8), or “I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments!” (Psalm 119:131). This means that being wise is not a boring exercise. It doesn’t come down to just sitting down and reading all day. This means that wisdom is an act of love. This is important. The father wants the son to have a proper attitude toward wisdom. The son must realize that wisdom is something for him to fall in love with. Therefore, the Father personifies wisdom as a woman.
And the father places the personification of Lady Wisdom in a very intentional spot. Verses 20-21. Wisdom is on the street, in the markets, and at the entrance of the city gates. And there is a very good reason as to why she is there. She is there because another woman is there. In the seventh chapter, there is another woman who is dressed as a prostitute. And she too is in the street and in the market. She is also loud. And she has something to say as well. But her speech is seductive and persuasive. And her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death. There is another woman there. And so Wisdom goes out to where she is.
And when Wisdom gets there, she raises her voice and cries aloud. When she gets there, she’s got something to say.
Wisdom opens with a lament. Verse 22. “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?” This lament is a profound echo of the language of God himself. For when the LORD sent Moses and Aaron to speak before Pharoah of Egypt, he said to Pharoah, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, that they may serve me” (Exodus 10:3). And when the Israelites came out of their tents on the seventh day of rest in order to collect manna, the LORD said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws?” (Exodus 16:28). And when the Israelites wept at the report of the spies who said that the Promised Land was filled with people of great might, and when the congregation rebelled against Moses and Aaron and tried to go back to Egypt, the LORD said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?” (Numbers 14:11). And the LORD also said, “How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me?” (Numbers 14:28). Wisdom cries out the same kind of lament for the simple and the foolish.
After her lament, Wisdom restates her original offer and promise. Verse 23. “If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.” What an amazing offer and promise. Wisdom and knowledge and righteousness was possible. A graceful garland would have been bestowed on their heads. If they turn back and repented, they would have her.
But they do not have her. Wisdom therefore goes on to explain the true meaning of what they have done to her and what she will do to them. Verses 24-25. They refused to listen to her. They ignored her counsel. They did not take her hand. They did not have her reproof. This is what they did to her.
So now she will share what she will do to them. Verses 26-27.
Because of these things, she will laugh at them and mock them when the judgment of the LORD falls upon them. And she laughs with God. There are only a handful of times in Scripture where the LORD laughs. And when he does, he does so because of his victory, and because of his future. For example, in Psalm 37:12-13, it is written: “The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him, but the LORD laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming.” This is not a sinful laughter or mockery. This is a sinless laughter and a holy mockery that is reserved only for God and his law.
Foolish people think that they are their own kings. The simple believe that they know what’s best for them. The wicked look at how God delays his judgment and think that they can therefore delay their repentance. And the evildoers think that disaster will not happen to them.
But God laughs at all of this. While the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain, and while the kings of the earth set themselves and while the rulers of the world take counsel together against the LORD and against his Anointed, the one who sits in heaven laughs. And then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” Justice will prevail. God will not be mocked. God will laugh at the fool at the end. And Wisdom will laugh with him.
When that day comes, Wisdom says that she will not offer herself to them anymore. Verse 28-31. “Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me.” Their time will be up. There will be no more grace or mercy. The foolish will call upon her, but she will not answer. They will diligently seek her. But they will not find her. This is not cruelty. This is justice. And this is personal. They rejected her to the very end. She will reject them at the very end. They ignored her. She will ignore them. They will want to be wise at the end. But there will be a time when it will be too late to be wise. They will cry out to her. But she will only laugh at them. And they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices. This is Wisdom’s promise. It is going to happen for sure. That day will come.
Wisdom concludes her speech with the heart of the matter. Verses 32-33. “For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” When you think about the structure of her words, you will realize that these are covenantal words of curse and blessing. If you turn away, you will die. If you are complacent, you will be destroyed. That’s the promise of covenant curse. But if you listen to Wisdom, you will dwell secure and be at ease. If you turn and fear the LORD, you will be without dread of disaster. That’s the promise of covenant blessing.
Adam and Eve faced this matter in the covenant of works. But they did not listen to the word of the LORD. Instead, they listened to the serpent. They listened to their own hearts. They found a seductive and persuasive but counterfeit wisdom. And in their eyes, another woman, so to speak, looked more beautiful than the Wisdom of Proverbs 1. So they turned away from Wisdom. And her smile faded away. She stared at them. And as she watched Adam and Eve forget about her, her heart broke.
But God promised that a special savior would come one day. And this special savior would do something that no prophet, priest, or king ever did: perfectly obey the law of God. This special savior would hear the call of Wisdom. This special savior would obey the law. Our Lord Jesus Christ humbled himself by becoming obedient and coming under the law for our sake. He was perfectly righteous. And he credits us with his righteousness so that we could be saved.
This special savior fulfilled the Wisdom of Proverbs 1. He would indeed meet her, so to speak, on the street, in the market, and at the entrance of the city gates. And he stayed with her. He stayed with her in the temple in Jerusalem, and in the wilderness for forty days. He stayed with her when he was with the woman at the well. He stayed with her when the Pharisees and the teachers of the law questioned him. He stayed with her when he prayed in the garden at Gethsemane. He stayed with her when Judas betrayed him and when Peter denied him. He stayed with her when he was before Pilate and Herod. He stayed with her when he hung on the cross.
This was the person and work of Christ. Jesus did not sin. And because of that, sinners and fools who have no chance to earn the blessing of the covenant on their own can have a garland bestowed on their heads. Sinners and fools like the criminal next to Jesus.
The first criminal railed at Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” To this, Wisdom shakes her head and says, “…The simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them….”
The second criminal rebuked the first, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” To this, Wisdom’s eyes glow bright with hope as she says, “…Whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.”
Two criminals. Two fools. The first was killed by his turning away. The second was secure and at ease, without dread of disaster.
The first criminal diligently sought wisdom on the day of his death. But Wisdom did not reply. Because he clung to a counterfeit wisdom, thinking that it was best for Christ to save them from the crucifixion. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing…” (1 Corinthians 1:18a). In his foolishness, the first criminal did not understand that his death was personal. In his foolishness, he did not fear the Lord. And as he railed and scoffed at the very one who possessed the garland of ultimate righteousness and offered the hope of dwelling secure, without dread of disaster - as he lectured Christ the Son of God and gave the King of kings his command - Wisdom laughed.
The second criminal, however, listened to Wisdom on the day of his death. The second criminal knew that the wisdom of man was true foolishness. And he knew that the foolishness of God was true wisdom. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18 - a and b). And the very one who possessed the garland of ultimate righteousness and offered the hope of dwelling secure, without dread of disaster - not Lady Wisdom, but Christ himself - Christ answered him.
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Brothers and sisters, visitors and guests, do not go the way of the first criminal. Go the way of the second.
If you have not yet repented of your sins and believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, then I ask you to turn, and I ask you to turn now. Turn now before it is too late for you. How long will you love being simple? If you turn to Jesus, behold, Jesus will pour out his spirit to you; he will save you. Do not go the way of the first criminal. Go the way of the second.
And if you are already a professing Christian in the Lord, then I ask you to keep turning, keep turning… today. Let us continue to hunger for wisdom and follow after the pattern of Christ’s perfect righteousness - not in order to earn heaven, but because we are already going to heaven in Christ. Just as a husband does not stop pursuing his wife after they get married, let us likewise not stop pursuing wisdom just because we’ve already turned. The power of our sinful nature has been decisively defeated. But the presence of our sinful nature still remains. We still struggle with remaining foolishness. Therefore, let us continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that choices have eternal consequences. Let us continue to give up and take off and put away and put to death our foolish thoughts, our foolish words, and our foolish deeds.
Brothers and sisters, let us give thanks and praise to Jesus Christ. Christ does not laugh at your calamity or mock when terror strikes you. Rather, quite the opposite. Christ took your calamity. Distress and anguish like no other came upon him. And he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Christ ate the fruit of your way, so that you could eat the fruit of his. Christ has poured out his Spirit to us and made his words known to us. And he has called us to him. For Christ said in John 10:27-28, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” And now we have the joy of salvation. For in Christ we truly dwell secure. In Christ we are truly at ease. And in Christ we are truly without dread of disaster.