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Posted By Nan

Today I commence a blog series on my word (or in this case, phrase) of the year: “Follow Me”. At the end of last year, I identified a number of Bible verses that covered this topic. During this series I will be looking at each verse and discussing its implications for following Jesus.
Exodus 23:2
This verse sits in a series of verses that immediately follow the ten commandments. Here God instructs Moses and the Israelites how He wants them to live. It is always important, when seeking to understand a Bible verse, to look at its context. Where does it occur in the book? What do the surrounding verses contain? Are there links to other verses in the Bible? What is the historical and social location of theses verses?
This verse lies in a section of Exodus where there is a discussion about how God wants the Israelite people to behave justly and the extent of the mercy He expects them to show to others.
The context of Exodus is the nation of Israelites being brought out of Egypt after 400 years living there. They do not know God well and have learned Egyptian culture. Now they need to know God better and learn how to live according to God. So these lengthy instructions are there to teach the Israelites.
First God instructs to people to not bow to peer pressure. He tells them it does not matter what the crowd is doing. This does not make something right. Instead God requires people to step away from the crowd and follow Him. Saying you were just doing what others were doing is not a valid defence before God.
Following on from this, God instructs the people to give testimony in court cases that is truthful, not influenced by what others want said. Being popular and ignoring God leads you away from God. God requires you to be truthful, no matter the cost.
The verse ends by instructing the people not to side with one person because they are sorry for them. True Justice is about truth. You may feel sorry for one person. But telling a lie to protect someone does not allow God to act in that person’s life.
In following Jesus, God requires us to step out in faith, even when it means being the odd one out. It is hard to go against the crowd. And sometimes you will be subjected to nasty reactions from the crowd. But Jesus knows that will happen and He will strengthen you. We are never to lie to go along with the crowd or lie to protect another person. Instead we are to be truthful and allow God to intervene in the situation.

Posted By Nan

In Summary:
Now we have finished reading and considering Proverbs, what is the overriding message?
For me it is best summarised in the following passages. The first is from Isaiah.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. Isaiah 58:9-12 (NIV)
The second passage is from Proverbs itself:
My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding— indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones. Then you will understand what is right and just and fair—every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Proverbs 2:1-10 (NIV)
As you live your life, be careful to follow Jesus, to read the Bible, to pray and listen to God. Seek the wisdom that He will send into your heart and the knowledge He will bless you with. That will be pleasant to your soul.

Posted By Nan

I have been putting off writing this, the last section of Proverbs. The epilogue on the Wife of Noble Character. The perfect woman. One of the things that has troubled me has been the memory of my own mother, who was abusive, neglectful and delighted in putting down her children, being described as a Proverbs 31 woman by my brother. He described her as some wonderful woman who cared for her children and was always productive and perfect. I know that he was desperate to present his mother as someone worthy. But it was unfortunate that he portrayed her as such a perfect woman that she wasn’t.
Another negative association I have with the Proverbs 31 woman is the way she is portrayed in courses I have completed at various churches. You know the ones where you are taught to be the 1950s wife who is a slave to her husband. As one who works with women in abusive situations, it is hard to agree with something that promotes the idea of men being in a position of power over women. Particularly when I know that is not what God intends for women.
The truth of Proverbs 31 is quite different. God did not create women to be subservient to men. The fact the Bible puts women in an inferior position is more a matter of the culture of the time and modern Christians taking the Bible out of context. In truth, if you look through the Bible, there are many women who had important purposes to fulfil in service to God.
Looking at these verses at the end of Proverbs we see a description of a wife of noble character. Someone who is like Ruth. A wife that works alongside her husband rather than against him. Such a woman has a husband who is confident in his wife’s love and support and can go about his life in confidence that his wife supports him. That man’s wife can also know that her husband loves and supports her. When a man and woman have a healthy relationship like that, they bring each other mutual good.
This noble wife is a willing participant in her marriage. In the nature of the times, women were assigned roles in the home and she pursued those roles with diligence. She ensured household tasks were completed. She balanced the household budget effectively so that there was also food and good quality clothing available for the family. She would work as hard as her husband, getting up early and working all day. She would not laze around and leave tasks undone.
It is also seen that she was an astute woman and contributed to the household income.
This woman possessed humility and a willingness to observe and learn. This meant she grew wise. It also meant she was willing to support those in need.
The greatest thing this woman possessed. The thing that motivated her diligence. This woman loved God. Her desire was to follow Him. In God she had great faith. She was not frightened of the future. Instead she trusted God to watch over her family in the future. It was her love of God that led to her being a woman of such noble character.
Proverbs ends with the instruction to acknowledge such women. Not just privately, but publicly. Acknowledge and reward the hard work of women.
So this woman is not superwoman. She is an ordinary woman of faith in God. She allows her faith in God to give her humility, wisdom, courage and a willingness to serve God. That is the Proverbs 31 woman.

Posted By Nan

These words are attributed to King Lemuel, but he attributes them to his mother. It is the advice the mother gives her son to follow. It is advice from her wisdom. It is advice he is well to heed until he learns his own wisdom and sees her advice is very wise.
The first thing she tells him to do is not to chase large numbers of women. To avoid filling his harem or indulging in sexual immorality. Maintaining that number of relationships will distract him from his duties and also wear him out. This advice does not just belong to kings. We would all do well to follow that advice. To avoid large numbers of relationships and sexual immorality. Our life should be one of following Jesus, not following sexual conquests.
The next thing his mother tells him is to not drink to excess. No binge drinking, no drinking to get drunk. No indulging in hedonistic pleasures. No excess. The danger of giving in to drink and other pleasures is that you will forget God, forget His law and decrees and follow ways that lead to destruction. You may also become guilty of injustice against others. His mother tells him strong drink is best given as medicine to one who is dying or to one who is in bitter distress and, for a little while, needs to forget his misery.
Instead Lemuel’s mother instructs him to defend those who cannot speak for themselves, to defend those who are defenceless. He is also to judge righteously and administer justice for the poor and needy. In this, she is summing up God’s instructions to Moses in Exodus. God has always had a requirement for us to defend the poor, the foreigner among us and the widow. We would do well, in this age where racism is increasing and compassion for our fellow man, especially the refugee, is waning, to remember this. God wants us to speak up about injustice. God wants us to have a heart of compassion for the poor. God wants us to care for the refugee. God wants us to stop listening to the evil of the racist and the person who does not care for the poor. God wants us to care, to seek justice and to have compassion.
One of the important themes running through Proverbs has been just this. We are to live lives of moderation and seek good. We are to avoid excess but instead seek our pleasure in our relationship with God. We are to defend the defenceless against injustice and turn our backs on racism and uncaring attitudes. God wants us to yearn for Him. He wants us to follow Him. He wants us to turn our backs on thoughts and attitudes that damage us and cause us pain. God wants all of us and he wants us to follow Him. Are you willing?

Posted By Nan

The saying of Agur.
I love these sayings. I am grateful that in the book of Proverbs we can read the words of many wise lovers of God. Agur’s saying are particularly beautiful and I will endeavour to fit my thoughts about them into one blog.
This wise man opened his sayings by expressing his humility. This world we live in has low regard for humility, but it is the most important gift to have. Within humility lies wisdom and the wisest person realises how little he or she knows. This is the message of Agur’s opening words.
He acknowledges his ignorance before God. His lack of understanding of Almighty God. His lowly position as a created man. Here this created man pays homage to God, the one who has all knowledge and wisdom. The one who can move from heaven to earth and back again. The one who created everything. The one whose word is always flawless. The provider of refuge and a mighty shield to those who seek him. The one whose words are final and cannot be added to. The punishment for adding to them is eventual rebuke and being shown up as a liar. But how much we try to add to God’s words!
Agur is very touched by the last words. He asks God to keep falsehood and lies far away from him. He wants to be a true servant of God. He also asks God not to give him too much so that he will not think he doesn’t need God and will become poor in faith and dishonour God. These two verses (8-9) are a wonderful prayer of humility to God. I have made them my daily prayer.
Agur then reminds his readers to not slander others because you will not get away with that. He always reminds us that, though we may think we are righteous and ‘good people’ we often are not. In our eyes we are good, but we are full of the filth of sin and therefore not clean. He mentions those who do not honour their good parents, those who think themselves better than others, those who delight in negative speech and putting others down. Those who destroy the poor and those who are greedy. The greedy he describes as leeches with two daughters constantly crying to him to give.
He then notes down a series of lists.
The first is that there are 4 things that are never satisfied, never stop wanting. They are the grave, a barren womb, land desiring water and fire. This is compared to a child who disdains and despises his parents because he is never satisfied. His punishment will be to die alone and unburied.
The next are 4 things he does not understand. They are how an eagle flies so high, how a snake climbs a rock, how a ship navigates the endless ocean and how a man and woman fall in love. This is compared to a prostitute who has sex with a client, bathes and then asks for the next client. Agur wonders how she can do that.
The next are 4 things that the earth cannot support. They are the servant who becomes a king, a fool who has had ample to eat, an unloved woman in marriage and a servant who displaces her mistress.
The next are 4 things that are small but wise. Ants, Marmots, locusts and lizards. They seem so insignificant but they can achieve mighty things.
The next are 4 things that are stately in their bearing. The lion, the rooster, a male goat and a King leading his army.
To end his words, Agur reminds his reader that if he has played the fool by exalting himself in order to get attention, that if he has planned evil, he must stop what he is doing. This person is stirring up anger through his actions. Our actions lead to consequences. In this case, anger will produce strife for him. So be careful what your actions stir up in other people. As the Message puts it: “riled emotions turn into fist fights.”




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