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Better Metaphors Never Written

Metaphors Everywhere

Recently I was reading some P.G. Wodehouse – the “Jeeves” series; read it, if you want to be happy in life (that’s only half a joke) – and I came across this metaphor: that this particular summer night was quiet, so quiet that you could hear a snail yawn from a mile away. Now that’s quiet. 

At the same time as reading Jeeves, I’ve paused in my Bible reading in the Proverbs. I say “paused” because I give myself permission to slow down in my reading plan wherever and whenever it strikes me to do so. Usually I sense there’s something in that book that I’m hungry for, like when you eat a new dish and realize how malnourished you were from its particular nutrients. 

And in the “More Proverbs of Solomon” section of Proverbs, starting in chapter 25, there are metaphors there that have never been bested. By any writer. Ever. Even by P.G. Wodehouse.

Those who have been trained in Stephen Ministry can identify this one:

Proverbs for the Fool

Proverbs 25:20 (ESV): Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart 
is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, 
and like vinegar on soda. 

Too often we see this one play out in the public arena, whether by politicians or by pastors: 

Proverbs 25:26 (ESV):  Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain 
is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked. 

And then there is my favorite:

Proverbs 26:7–11 (ESV):  Like a lame man’s legs, which hang useless, 
is a proverb in the mouth of fools. 

Just noodle on that one for a moment. If the heart of a man is foolish, then even feeding him the very proverbs we’re talking about won’t help. Something else is needed. I skipped over it; you’ll find it back in 26:3:

A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, 
and a rod for the back of fools. 

Then there is this string of metaphorical pearls:

 8  Like one who binds the stone in the sling 
is one who gives honor to a fool. 

 9  Like a thorn that goes up into the hand of a drunkard 
is a proverb in the mouth of fools. 

 10  Like an archer who wounds everyone 
is one who hires a passing fool or drunkard. 

 11  Like a dog that returns to his vomit 
is a fool who repeats his folly. 

And as the Proverbs so often do, Solomon returns to the matter of our words, using a metaphor perfect for camping season: 

Proverbs 26:20–23 (ESV): 20  For lack of wood the fire goes out, 
and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases. 

 21  As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, 
so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife. 

 22  The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; 
they go down into the inner parts of the body. 

 23  Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel are fervent lips with an evil heart. 
There are three observations to make here.

Importance of Proverbs

First

If you have not read the Proverbs much lately, it’s time to return. And if you are a father, God’s commission for you is to teach these to your children. 

Secondly

The Proverbs tell us something about the purpose of creation. Look around you – whatever you are looking at at this moment is a living parable, created by God, to give you wisdom about the deeper things – about the very fabric of reality. The stuff that’s there is not just “there” – “naturally occurring”. It’s purposeful, in its design, to say something, about something else, something more important. The stuff of the world is not just stuff – a campfire is not just a campfire, that’s fun to roast marshmallows on and keep you warm. It’s a living parable, of what a gossiper can do to a church, a family, or a nation (26:20-23). A lame man’s legs are a living parable of a deeper reality – that teaching a proverb to a fool is like speaking to those legs, “Walk!” 

Lastly

We must understand that these words were written to us. How do I know that? Aren’t we New Testament people? Well, let me point out something to you, and then you tell me if we are “New Testament people”. In Romans 12, Paul has finished explaining the gospel (chapters 1-8), and then he addressed questions about Israel (9-11), and now, in chapter 12, he is giving his applications. If the gospel is what I’ve said, then so what? 

And in the verses that follow, Paul repeatedly refers to Old Testament passages, to refer to marks of a true Christian! – including two references to Proverbs 25. There is a veiled reference to Proverbs 25:20 in Romans 12:15:

Proverbs 25:20  Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart
 is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, 
and like vinegar on soda. 

Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
And then he closely quotes the next verses in Proverbs, just a few verses later: 

Romans 12:20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Take Note

Implication

Note well the implication: the marks of a “Christian” were available in the “Old” Testament – the fruit of the “old” covenant, too. That’s because it is the same God – yes, first working in ethnic Israel, and now working among all the nations. But it is the same God, producing the same fruit (Gal. 5:16-24), by the same Spirit. Is that fruit not abundantly evident in the giants of the Old Testament – in Moses? David? Yes, indeed, in measures that tower over our own. 

Objection

Now, you might object: well, weren’t they under law, and we’re under grace? Yes, that’s true. But walking with God has always been by faith. We know this because of the last phrase of Psalm 25:22: “. . . and the LORD will reward you.” The “Old” Testament people of God were to follow this proverb by faith in that promise of reward. Those brothers and sisters could look backwards to the Exodus as proof of the promise being fulfilled; we look back to the cross. The cross was their future hope; Jesus said the whole Old Testament pointed to Him (Luke 24:25-27). Our future too is seeing Jesus face to face, and enjoying him in his Promised Land – a restored Eden, a new Jerusalem (Revelation 21). 

Reward

No wonder the writer to the Hebrews could say that “. . . whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). He writes that statement in the “hall of faith” chapter, where he recounts so many “Old” Testament people whose faith and fruit so often outstrip our own. So Christian, join with all of your brothers and sisters from the past, and seek God, in His Word, and live it out by faith in His promises, given throughout the Bible. And run down your obedience to Him in gratitude, that indeed we do live under a covenant of grace, secured for us “foreigners” an “aliens” by love, in Christ. 

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Learn more wisdom from Proverbs in the Pastor Jed’s recent Pillar Passage videos.

Rod to the Backside

Fathers and Sons

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