Proverbs

A Woman of Strength and Honor

October 13, 2013 Series: Scripture: Proverbs 31:10-31 by Chris Strevel

Composed of twenty-two lines, each beginning with a successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet, this elegant poem is the centerpiece of Lemuel’s mother’s prophecy. Her words were undoubtedly intended to guide her son in his selection of a wife. The Lord has preserved her words not only as a practical guide but also to stir the church to be his faithful and beautiful wife. It is an ideal picture, a divinely intended pattern for all godly women. At the same time, we should not glamorize or idealize overmuch, for work and sweat mark this woman’s beauty. Nor should we simplistically think that the picture drawn here is to be followed slavishly, as if a woman who does not make her own clothes is less godly than a woman who finds quality garments for a good price in the marketplace. This poem also strongly rebukes the foolishness of men. Like senseless beasts, they usually measure a woman’s worth and desirability by her appeal to the senses. God must rescue us from this blindness and teach us that female beauty consists primarily in piety, wisdom, and domestic industry. A woman judged by the world to be very plain is very beautiful in God’s eyes, as well as in the eyes of her husband, if she is careful in taking care of her home, adding to its resources and broader usefulness, and setting a God-fearing example to her household. Her physical beauty is then icing on the cake, but it is never the cake.

Standing as the capstone of Proverbs, this woman stands as a stirring contrast to the strange woman, whose only value lies in her looks, sex appeal, and moral looseness. The isolated descriptions of godly women found throughout the book are now completed in such a moving conclusion that we must bow in awe before the majestic penmanship of the Holy Spirit. By this strong and hard-working woman, he teaches us that heavenly wisdom is active. True wisdom is not retreat from earthly responsibility and pining after esoteric spirituality. If we fear the Lord, his life in us strengthens us to diligence and faithfulness where he calls us to serve him. Earth will never be heaven, and no woman or home will perfectly mirror the beautiful image written here. Still, the more we walk with the Lord and use the gifts he places at our disposal, the more heaven will influence our lives and homes. We shall reflect our Savior’s lovely, lively, and working image (John 5:17). Then, Christian families and homes will be something worthy of imitation, a testimony to the reality of God’s grace and a rebuke to the pride of man. Finally, we are also warned here that when men forsake God’s word and live as a law unto themselves, woman is debased and made an object to gratify man’s lusts. Home life becomes dissatisfying. Everything good and noble is lost, and the domestic peace and purposefulness that makes life worth living is sacrificed upon the altar of our corruption.

Hard to Find (v. 10)

The popular title for this poem is “The Virtuous Wife,” but the Hebrew chayil (lyIx;) is most often used in contexts of strength, wealth, and ability. While this woman is virtuous, the main idea seems to be that of strength and efficiency. Finding such a woman is difficult. Men do not often find her because they are not looking for her. They want beauty and depend upon sexual attraction as the standard of desirability. Of course, a man can find many women that are outwardly beautiful and sexually willing, especially in our decadent nation. Yet, if we would have happy and healthy relationships and homes, moral strength and domestic ability are more likely indicators of future happiness than outward beauty. Physical charms pass away, and to the degree that we base our happiness upon them, we will lose happiness and grow discontent as beauty fades. But God can lead us to happy and holy homes, for he knows where strong and godly women are to be found. This is the reason that it is written: “He who findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favor of the Lord” (Prov. 18:22). Therefore, whenever a godly man begins looking for a wife, he must ask the Lord to guide him. Here, as everywhere else, the world cannot help us, and our own hearts are utterly unreliable when it comes to love. Young men must particularly seek the Lord’s guidance and wisdom, for it requires “an old head on young shoulders” to look deeper than the first flush of youthful beauty to the piety and fear of the Lord that will endure when beauty fades. Will this young woman be an able guardian of my home, a steadfast lover of my children, and a humble servant of God? For young women, if you want to be found by a wise and godly husband, you must be seeking the strength and honor that come from walking with the Lord. He will make sure you are found, for he knows where he has hidden the choice gift of a godly woman.

Her Value Incomparable (vv. 10-12)

“Far above rubies” is her inestimable worth! Rubies are used in Proverbs as a standard of beauty and worth. Wisdom is said to be more valuable than all the wealth of the world (3:15; 8:11). Such an earthly comparison is used because we are creatures. The Lord teaches us the surpassing worth of heavenly things by utilizing earthly things of beauty and value. By comparing it to rubies, he shows us that his word is valuable beyond our ability to conceive. All true wisdom comes from the “only wise God,” in “whose light we see light,” whose Son, Jesus Christ, is his incarnate Wisdom (Rom. 16:27; 1 Tim. 1:17; Jude 25; Ps. 36:9; 1 Cor. 1:24). It is the personal possession of this heavenly wisdom that makes the godly woman precious. She has taken God’s word into her inmost being. She believes his word, loves and trusts his wisdom, and seeks to submit to her Lord in all things. Though woman was deceived and together with the man brought sin and death into the world, she becomes an instrument of incalculable good in the Lord’s hand. What mercy God shows woman! He calls her out of sin’s degradation and delivers her from the blindness of her own heart in order to make her his noble daughter. His word alone effects this transformation. Every godly woman, therefore, is made so by God’s grace and power, leading her to be a committed disciple of God’s word. Without this wisdom, the most beautiful woman in the world is nothing but a pig with a “ring in her snout” (Prov. 11:22).

Her husband’s heart trusts her (v. 11). This is one of only two passages in Scripture that we are not condemned for trusting in any person or thing (Judges 20:36). Her husband’s heart can trust in her is because her heart trusts in the Lord. Here is the foundation for true domestic order, peace, and beauty: when husband and wife are walking with the Lord together. Then, the husband may confidently give his wife oversight of the home and children. He is not afraid of her trying to usurp his authority or headship, for his heart is joined to hers. Together they love and fear the Lord, desire to obey him, and seek his glory and righteousness. To say that he safely trusts her means that he has no worries, no anxieties about pursuing his calling outside the home, no fear that his return home at the end of the day will be marked by trouble and godlessness. Loving her Lord, she seeks to please her husband, for she is one with him in faith, hope, and love. Though no wife, however godly, will perfectly meet this high standard, and neither can any husband, they are both humbled before the Lord and return to God’s throne of grace for mercy and help. He turns sins and failures to their good, for through them he teaches us that we stand in constant need of his strength and wisdom, as well as the cleansing blood of his Son.

The husband’s trust is seen in very practical terms. A humble, God-fearing woman is no spendthrift. Her husband need not go scraping for “spoil,” trying to replace what his wife has wasted. Of course, the damage done by wasted family assets can be committed by either spouse, but it is assumed that the wife has more constant access to needed family resources. She is careful with them. Together, they determine what should be spent, how present and future needs may best be secured. They seek the Lord for their daily bread and are content with what he provides. This is but one example of the way she “does him good and not evil all the days of her life” (v. 12). Modern men will scoff at the husband-centric perspective of this poem, but we should remember two things. First, it was written by a woman whose heart was filled with God’s wisdom and Spirit. Second, God knows what is better for woman than all the vixens and revolutionaries that turn societies upside down with their rebellion. God made woman out of the man, and she is fulfilled only if she lives according to God’s creative purposes for her. He made woman to do her husband good. When she does, she is happy. When she larks off on her own to seek fulfillment, she is miserable, the family ruined, the church emasculated, and society fragmented and corrupted. All of these may be restored and strengthened by godly women who see their sole purpose and highest honor to be the guardian of the home and the helper of their husbands.

Her Domestic Economy a Marvel (vv. 13-27)

Her Careful Home Guardianship (vv. 13-18)

Walking wisely requires that we get our hands dirty. True piety is not reclusive, other-worldly, or inwardly focused. It is active, industrious, and diligent. This is prompted by the Lord’s strength, for he has so joined his wisdom to his power, that when we have his wisdom in our hearts, we enjoy his strength in our lives. In the godly, noble woman, God’s wisdom teaches her to provide well for her family – not that she is the bread-winner but the bread-manager. She is ever seeking means to enhance the well-being of the home (v. 13). Her work with wool and flax, her use of whatever means, gifts, and talents the Lord provides, is willing, cheerful. Her hands are delighted to work. She does not complain. She is not distracted from her true calling by wistful dreams, personal frustration, or worldly diversions. Like the merchants, her table is well-furnished (v. 14). Her family has plenty of food. While the Lord does not promise to make our daily table sumptuous, he does promise to provide for us. We could do more with what he gives. Perhaps one reason why modern homes do not enjoy more prosperity is due to our ignorance of the older skills, the intrinsic wastefulness of a consumption based economy, and our lazy willingness to pay others to do for us what we could for ourselves, thus saving the resources for other areas of home provision and improvement.

This strong woman puts the interests and needs of her household ahead of her own comfort (v. 15). While it is sleeping, she is providing for them. She is timely and punctual in her preparations, willingly denies herself, and does not neglect duty to serve herself. This leads her to make plans for the better provision of her household (v. 16). She is thoughtful in her planning for the future, frugal in her government of household affairs, and works hard. She is quite willing to perform manual labor (v. 17). She is no pampered princess. She does not think “baring her arms” and “girding her loins” for work beneath her, unspiritual. Her diligence makes her work of high quality (v. 18), and she knows it – not in pride or vanity but in thankfulness to the Lord for his goodness. When dark times come, she is prepared for them; she has saved for them. There is light in her house because she has been diligent; because God’s wisdom is the light of her soul. The latter phrase does not mean she is a night owl, for “he gives his beloved sleep,” and it is “vain to rise up early, to sit up late” (Ps. 127:2). Without adequate sleep, no one can be strong. We are not God, who needs no sleep.

Her Beauty and Usefulness (vv. 19-27)

Verse 19 may function as something of a bridge between the sources of her revenue and the broader usefulness that strong family economy enables. “Hands” is the connecting link. The same hands that use his gifts productively (v. 19) reach out to the poor (v. 20). Unless she had been spinning, there would be nothing for her own household, and then nothing for the poor. Thus, the link is forged between strong family economies and the ability to relieve the needs of the local poor. We witness the horror of the poor becoming poorer, and society convulsed by intensifying revolutionary schemes to fleece the middle class in order to raise the poor. A significant contributing factor to this is our debased currency, inflationary boom-bust cycles that are propped up with more paper printing, and plain old lies about the purpose and legitimate reach of government. Then, when families are forced to spend billions upon insurance, to seek education so that they can be licensed, and to spend outlandish amounts on goods whose prices have been driven higher through government manipulation, there is nothing left for the poor – except to look to government for handouts, thus increasing its own power and voting base. Still, however corrupt our times, Christian families must do what they can to live frugally so that something is left over for the poor, that the wretched may have some personal, local hope that is not tied to government largesse. Godly women play a vital role in this, at least doing little things to improve their own domestic economy so that there may be some outreach to the needy.

Her constant activity makes her fearless of the “snow,” seasons when gathering is impossible and the family must live off what it has saved (v. 21). For her household and for herself, she seeks appropriate, quality clothing that reflects modesty and personal dignity (vv. 21-22). It is not worldly finery that a godly woman seeks but adequate clothing that says, “We are a family of the King of kings.” Her husband is thus able to take his place among the elders of the land (v. 23). Secure at home, he is able to venture confidently into the world. Many a man who might have served well his church or community is prevented from doing so because his home is unstable. He bears ultimate responsibility for this, but he has a wife to help him for this very purpose. If the garden of the home is not carefully tended, the fields of the world will go to ruin, as we see today.

Her clothing is so valuable that she is able to sell it (v. 24), thus increasing the wealth of the home and enabling its greater usefulness in the world. Yet, her true clothing is “strength and honor” (v. 25). She is strong in her God and lives honorably. This is the reason she can laugh at calamities – not in pride but because she knows that whatever the future holds, she has prepared for it the best she can. Especially with her children, she has given them a firm foundation and consistent example of godliness, so that however evil the times may be, they are ready to face it with faith and hope. We may also view the future confidently by being clothed with the strength that God’s wisdom gives and if our lives are honorable, above reproach, blameless. It is sin unchecked and homes unsanctified that fill men with guilt and lead them to retreat before evil, rather than meet it with the weapons of our warfare that demolish strongholds (2 Cor. 10:4-5). So, she “openeth her mouth with wisdom) (v. 26). The best preparation for the future is to speak God’s words in the present. “The meek he guides in judgment, and the meek he teacheth his ways” (Ps. 25:9). When she speaks to her husband and children, the “law of kindness is in her tongue.” A harsh, imperious tone or an inflexible, “I am always right and know better than you” will never crack the granite of a hard heart. God’s kindness to us in his Son melted our hearts, and godly parents must learn this lesson. Screaming avails nothing. Pouting, manipulation, and belittling do not accomplish the righteousness of God. His kingdom, in the home and world, is known and grows through love. Speaking God’s truth with an angry, frustrated heart is the evil equivalent of Moses striking the rock when he should have simply spoken to it. God’s word is more powerful than all our yelling.

Faith in God’s wisdom and forsaking her own enables her to “look well to the ways of her household” (v. 27). This is a capstone to her industry. A godly woman is focused upon her husband and children, for these are given to her in trust from God. The verb means to observe carefully, to watch after. Yes, there is only so much dusting one can do, as the old adage goes, but God has made it clear that a woman’s guardianship of the home consists in far more than keeping it clean. He would have its productivity expanded, its wealth and usefulness and influence increased. When the necessary chores are done, the thoughts of most women turn to the world, what they want to do, how they can be fulfilled. Instead, the Lord would have remaining time and energy be focused upon home improvement: more time spent with children, cottage industries developed, the poor served, ministries in the church increased, all with an eye to his greater glory through the family and home. This is the diligence God requires of the strong, valiant, and virtuous woman. Idleness is more than simply not doing what needs to be done, or delaying its completion. We are idle when we are not making our homes everything they might be. This weakens the family, to be sure, but it also spreads out into a weakened church and society. If we are eating the heavenly bread of God’s wisdom, the bread of idleness will sicken us. The thought of wasting time, resources, and energy on what will not promote his glory and hasten our Savior’s kingdom and coming makes a godly woman, and her husband, nauseated.

Her Praise and Legacy Lasting (vv. 28-31)

What an incomparable blessing a godly woman is! Her praise and legacy will be lasting, following her all the way to heaven, where her Lord and Savior will crown and commend her, and usher her into eternal dwellings of peace and joy. In this life, her children will “rise up and call her blessed” (v. 28). This assumes that they are godly, humbled by her service and example. It may not be immediate. Much ingratitude and hardness of heart may seem at times to be an impenetrable barrier to thankful children. But the valiant woman lives for the future, both in her economizing and in her parenting. Her children need not thank her today. It is enough for her that she has God’s promise that they will one day do so. Her husband also praises her. If you have such a wife, man of God, should not your heart be utterly humbled by God’s goodness? Many a hard-working and thrifty wife is ground down by an unfeeling husband, whose only words are discontent, criticism, and anger. And if you would quicken your wife, be often on your face before God, covering your wife’s failings with love, and encouraging her by your example and kindness. God’s grace can make even the poorest, chaotic, distracted, and, God forbid, useless home, a citadel of honor, godliness, and contentment. He alone can do this. You must not eat the bread of idleness, O man, if you would have such a home, for your wife is not your slave, but your helpmeet. You must endeavor to live in such a way that there is something meaningful in which she may assist you. She was not taken from your feet, as Matthew Henry wrote, for you to trample and abuse, but from your side, to be your equal, your helper, and your beloved.

By saying that “many daughters have done virtuously” (v. 29), or “strongly, valiantly,” the inference is that God works these graces and gives this strength to all the daughters of his household. They do not appear equally illustrious in all, but not one of his daughters lacks some of the King’s gifts and graces. He makes all his daughters fair to some degree, in various ways, according to his wisdom. But such a daughter as is pictured here “excellest them all.” This is said to encourage and to inspire. Yes, this poem rebukes our low and worldly aims, laziness, and wastefulness. Yet, its primary purpose is to set forth a model for the King’s daughter to aspire to. Jesus Christ is lovely, full of grace and truth, filled with wisdom and the fullness of the Spirit. He shares his fullness with us, “grace unto grace” (John 1:16). The more a Christian woman walks with him, the more of his fullness he gives and, by implication, the more godly, useful, and strong our lives and families and marriages will be.

Such homes and relationships do not depend upon outward beauty (v. 30). Only fools make physical attraction a barometer of future happiness. It cannot be. Charms and beauty are vain; they are fleeting. They are never a foundation for true usefulness and service to the King. There is a foundation, however, that cannot be moved. It is the fear of the Lord. The Holy Spirit ends where he began (1:7). To fear the Lord is to adore his wisdom, to be drawn to him in love and reverence, and to forsake one’s own and the world’s foolishness. It is to build one’s life upon the rock of eternal truth, our Savior’s own life-giving voice and perfect word. A woman who builds upon this foundation will be praised – not by the world, but by her family. Even more, and even in the absence of a thankful, adoring family, for even an Abigail suffered under the brutal tyranny of a Nabal, God will praise you. You will praise him back, of course, in the humble realization any goodness in you was his doing, but he always recognizes and praises his work. He knows where every drop of his grace has been poured. Devote your life, Christian woman, to the imitation of these lines, and the ideal will become the real. You will enjoy the fruit of your hands – a happy, holy husband, godly, useful children, and a strong, God-honoring home (v. 31). In the gates, you will be praised. Nothing is as beautiful, fearsome, and powerful as such a woman. You may begin to seek this as you lay down your pride and fears, your regrets and frustrations, upon the altar of God’s promises. Seeking him, humbled before him, he will raise you up. He will make you a tool of earthly victory and peace. He will give you eternal glory and gladness in the presence of the true King and best of Husbands, whom you will serve forever with joy unspeakable, and full of glory.

 

A Righteous King,

October 6, 2013 Series: Scripture: Proverbs 31:1-9 by Chris Strevel

A Revered Mother (v. 1)

Though no other information is given about King Lemuel, this is no hindrance to our acceptance of these lines as God’s very word. Our Lord, the eternal and living Word through whom the prophets spoke (1 Pet. 1:11), validated the Old Testament canon as it was then utilized, which included Proverbs, without any reservations. No dispute ever arose between him and the Pharisees about the content of Scripture, but only its proper interpretation. His outpoured Spirit has also born continual witness in the hearts of God’s people that this is in the word of God, our rule of faith and practice. More compelling than Lemuel’s identity is the fact that he is simply repeating his mother’s “prophecy,” or as the word is better translated “burden.” This word is often used by the prophets as indicative of the weight of the revelation God commissioned them to declare (Isa. 13:1; Ezek. 12:10; Nah. 1:1; Hab. 1:1). Lemuel’s mother must have been a remarkable woman. With Deborah, the Lord gave her divine revelation that he wished to be preserved in his word. Her faithful son performed this task, setting two examples for all kings and sons. First, he faithfully remembered and recorded the words of his mother. Sons honor their parents chiefly by heeding the godly counsel they are given. Second, he humbled himself before God’s word, not thinking that he was above it or that he could rule without it. How many calamities would human rulers prevent if they would but see themselves as God’s ministers and become the most fervent students of his word, rather than promoters of their own agenda and party?

A Son of Fulfilled Vows (v. 2)

Repeated three times, “what” should likely be taken as “what can I say?” It is a passionate call from a mother who is very concerned about the wellbeing of her son. She is calling her son to listen to her and to heed her words. We do not know when she said these things to him, early in life or in the midst of his reign. If earlier, Lemuel must have been a pious man, filled with God’s Spirit, for he remembered her words for many years. If later, he was also a meek man, for what king today would humble himself to record the words of his mother? Lemuel, however, was no ordinary son. Yes, he was merely a man, the “son of her womb,” but he was also the “son of her vows.” Like Hannah, Lemuel’s mother had undoubtedly asked for a son, promising that should the Lord grant her request, she would dedicate him to the Lord. Thus, Lemuel was a son of fulfilled promises, a son of answered prayers.

It is not surprising, then, to find him later in life walking with the Lord and by recording the words of his pious mother, calling all men to walk in obedience to God. Men of uncommon piety are often the fruit of praying, believing, consecrated mothers – like Samuel, Timothy, and later Augustine. It has been said that if we would have more Samuels, we must have more Hannahs. While the children of godly parents are not always godly, as in the case of Samuel, still the promise faith holds to is that children who are prayed for, committed to God’s service from their birth, and taught in God’s s ways by earnest word and faithful example, do not disappoint. God is faithful to his promises. Rather than studying the negative examples of ungrateful children who spurn godly parents and thus bring a double judgment upon themselves, let us instead focus upon the example God sets before us. Let us speak to our children tenderly, as Lemuel’s mother does. Many a parent undoes good words by an unfeeling, cold heart. A harsh, demanding, and imperious way of communicating with children crushes their spirit. Godly words spoken without careful thought that they are directed to a living soul create great distaste for the heavenly manna. A little kindness goes a long way to securing the heart of our children – as do patience, flexibility, confessing your own sins as a parent, and not seeking to justify your words and actions when you are in the wrong or have given unnecessary offense. Speak endearingly to your children, and most often they will hold you in high respect and love. Though they may struggle for a time against sin and the world, God often uses the memory of parental kindness to melt a hard heart and return it with gratitude to its first lessons and warm womb of loving instruction.

Parenting Far More Than Sentiment

If sentiment were all parents had to win their children, it would be a fool’s errand. All the villains, tyrants, butchers, and vixens who ever stalked God’s earth had mothers. Maternal affection is no match for the corruption of our flesh or for Satan’s wiles. This is the reason Lemuel’s mother does not base her appeal on merely blood connections. She mentions her vow. Here is a tie that binds parent to child that is far more lasting than any earthly feeling. By vow is means her prayer to God that was joined with a promise that she would dedicate her child to God’s service. We make similar yet stronger vows respecting our children at their baptism. We do so in response to God’s prior and more fundamental promise to us: “I will be a God to thee, and to thy seed after thee” (Gen. 17:7). “The promise is unto you, and to your children” (Acts 2:39). Godly parenting and parental hope have the same foundation: God’s promise. And we thus vow or promise to him in return that we shall bring up our children in his doctrine and fear. The conviction that we have vowed our children to the Lord quickens us to faithfulness, which the Lord uses to fulfill his promises in their lives. Above all, it binds us to teach them God’s truth, as we see in Lemuel’s mother.

The parents of our age think nothing about spending small fortunes sending their children to the best schools and providing them access to a wide variety of extracurricular activities. Rare are those parents who spend any appreciable time worshipping God with their children, instructing them in the truths of Scripture, and using the historical catechisms of the church to give them sound theological understanding and the proper tools to study God’s word. Many think they will win their children’s love by spending vast sums upon them and being “parent of the year.” Are they not often bitterly disappointed in the end? Their children learn the ways of the world and break their hearts. They often grow into the most ungrateful and stubborn young adults. What is the reason for this? Education and music lessons and sports proficiency will not subdue their hearts to a humble and grateful state. Most of us do not understand our children’s nature. They are fallen, selfish to the core, and in the absence of grace will only turn their parents’ many gifts into fodder for their pride and ingratitude. There is only one weapon that can win children: God’s word. Natural affection will not secure their hearts. God’s word alone can subdue their hearts and minds to the love of the truth, that they might be saved, and grow into grateful children of honor that will be a delight to your heart in your old age. Better to have no money to give them anything but bread and God’s truth than to give them everything else but to neglect the heavenly manna. Dedicate, promise, and vow your children to the Lord. As God keeps his promises, seek his grace to keep yours – through difficult times, poor times, and lean times in your own soul. Keep your family before an open Bible, on its knees, and believing God’s promises.

Vices a King Must Avoid (vv. 3-7)

Sexual Temperance Required for Leaders (v. 3)

Lemuel’s mother’s poetic plea begins with a warning against immorality (v. 3). “Give not thy strength unto women” is a euphemism for unrestrained sexuality and its debilitating effects upon a king. The sins of David and Solomon cast their dark shadows here. Sexual lusts led David to adultery and murder; they led Solomon to idolatry. This is the very reason God forbade the king to multiply wives (Deut. 17:17). He is to be a pure man and forego the usual kingly “right” of harems and concubines and sexual exploits galore. Apart from immorality’s intrinsic evil, it is a corrupting influence. It saps strength, distracts a ruler from fulfilling his solemn responsibilities, and makes him callous toward purity and justice. How can it do otherwise? What a rebuke this is to the modern separation of a man’s private morality from his public affairs! Lemuel’s virtually unknown mother was wiser than the whole cabal of wicked men who now have the rule over us. Man cannot separate what God has joined together, and he has forever joined sexual purity with public integrity. Where the former is absent, the latter will always decay, resulting either in moral hypocrisy or the moralization of perversity, as we see throughout the West. Why do public men defend ghastly versions of marriage, the uncensored availability of immoral literature, and the right of men to engage in monstrous perversity? They are themselves corrupt. When men nourish secret lusts, there is no moral fortitude to resist similar sins in others, or worse. Conscience, even in the wicked, must somehow learn to live with itself, and the easiest way is to ignore its own wickedness and to wink at that of others.

Sexual Sins Eat Away at the Soul

This is a lesson that all men must heed. Sexual sins eat away at the soul. As Paul teaches, they are of a different order – not so much in their guilt but in their impact upon the sinner. “Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without [outside] the body, but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body” (1 Cor. 6:18). As the body of believers is the temple of the Holy Ghost, to use the body for fornication is to introduce filth into the very dwelling place of God. To gratify the lusts, whether in thought or body, brings a disease into the very center of a man’s being. Peace of conscience flees far away. As the flesh is fed, it demands more “secret bread,” more gratification, until the pressure to satisfy sexual urges is constant. This is the reason so many are enslaved to pornography. It is the reason many cannot enjoy and be satisfied with their wives, and the young will not wait for marriage. God’s grace can deliver from this pit, but such deliverance is almost always accompanied by the most serious humbling of the soul before God, as we see in David, severe mortification and self-denial as to the occasions for this sin, and long crying out to God for mercy and assistance. Remember, this sin in believers is a direct insult and assault against the Holy Spirit. Do not be surprised if having opened this door, if having given your strength and ways to the strange woman for a long period of time, the battle to gain moral purity and sexual normalcy lasts for many years. The Lord loves us, but his warnings against this sin are so plain and common that he will certainly chasten his people for ignoring his warnings and going off on their own. Do not despair. God forgives sinners, and he will cast our sins into the depths of the sea (Mic. 7:19). Trust his promises. Resist this sin unto death. Pray daily for deliverance from its evil. God hears the cry of the humble and raises from the filth those who tremble before his word.

Not Given to Wine (vv. 4-5)

As with unrestrained sexuality, his mother tells Lemuel that a king should not be given to wine (v. 4). We should note that her warnings about sexuality and wine are not primarily because of the dangers of immorality and drunkenness. These are certainly present, but she is addressing her son as a king. His personal sins in these areas are so serious because he is the king. Public leaders are and must be held to a higher standard. The sins of superiors – parents, elders and pastors, and civil rulers – are more serious than those under them, for they are called by God to set an example of righteousness. They stand in God’s place and must at all times live and speak and rule as his ministers and mouthpieces. Hence, this is no command to total abstinence, any more than the former was a command to celibacy. It is rather a call to a restrained, moderate, and self-controlled life. It is to be expected that kings will have wine cellars and enjoy one of God’s choice gifts. However, at no time must they imbibe to a degree that will even slightly dull their awareness of office and duty (v. 5).

Private Habits Prepare for Public Duty

The implications of this are numerous and significant, especially that a king is not a king simply when he publicly officiates. He is king at table. He prepares to be king in public when he controls himself in private. The same is true of fathers and pastors, and all in authority. Authority is not a coat we put on when we must; it is a way of life. Therefore, the king must never forget God’s law. Indeed, this is his main responsibility: to make a copy of the law for himself and to read it day and night (Deut. 17:18-19). He will give a solemn accounting for his office – every moment of it. Private indulgences, however expected and encouraged by his retinue of followers, will make him forget his duty to God and to those whom he serves. The contrast between the “sons of the afflicted” and the drunken, self-indulgent king is intended to humble the king. However elevated in station and in possessions the king may become, he must endeavor to live in such a way that he never forgets the plight of sufferers in his kingdom. He may not be forced to live in their poverty and sadness, but his heart must ever be there with them. Those in authority who would lead those under them must always enter into their lot and suffering, just as our Lord Jesus Christ did for us, sharing our poverty that we might be rich in him.

Reading these lines, we need not wonder why there is such a lack of godly leadership throughout western society. The blame lies squarely upon the church. We have embraced the lie that kings and rulers and elected officials are to be concerned only with what are commonly and wrongly called “secular” matters. Smarting from persecution by kings that were puppets of popes, we banished them to the realm of dogs. We rejected the Reformation’s recovery of the plain biblical truth that kings and all who are in authority are to confess Jesus Christ and rule by the law of God. Thus, the lack of godly leaders in our day is the direct result of the church’s fear, obsession with the so-called “rights of conscience” as the final court of authority, and rejection of the Bible’s directives to kings. And since rulers and leaders have been excluded from “spiritual matters,” they have no leash to restrain their appetites. They are not taught in the churches they attended in youth that kings and rulers are ministers of God, bound to confess his truth and be foster-fathers to his church. Lacking the restraint that comes from feeling oneself bound to rule as God’s minister, they are given to their own interests and schemes, often the very sins here prohibited. When they come to the public, they are utterly incapable of ruling and leading the people because they do not fear God, do not keep an open copy of his word for constant consultation, and are only concerned with men’s bellies and purses. It is our fault, and we must bear the hard yoke of our pride and fear, as well as rebellion against God. The most important thing that can be done to remedy this is for the church to begin, however implausible and hopeless it now seems, to proclaim the whole counsel of God, including the ruler’s duty, all the while honoring him as God’s rod of chastisement upon us for the centuries of dishonor we have done to him by not pressing the crown rights of Jesus Christ upon every level of society. Judgment will give way to mercy, but only if we repent of allowing God’s public honor to be trampled in the dust.

Strong Drink to the Perishing (vv. 6-7)

Some have suggested that these verses are sarcastic. What good does it do, after all, to try and bolster a heavy heart with wine and liquor? He must face his circumstances eventually, and the dulling of drink only delays his misery. I am not inclined to this view. It makes more sense in the context that Lemuel’s mother is making a serious contrast. It is wrong for the king to drink wine in such a way that he forgets his duty to God and his subjects. A better use of his wine cellar is made when he gives to the perishing and sorrowful (v. 6). This is not an encouragement to drunkenness, and she was too wise to think that the answer to man’s misery lies at the bottom of a bottle. We have forgotten that one legitimate use of wine and liquor is to give a temporary “dulling” to those who are in pain or otherwise weighed down with care – stress relief. This is one of the Lord’s celebrated gifts to his people (Ps. 104:15). Food and wine cheer our hearts when we are depressed. A glass of wine can calm us down. Now, only a godly man can use wine or liquor in this way. He is not drunk with wine but filled with God’s Spirit (Eph. 5:18). Still, at times he is cheered by a glass of wine, forgets his troubles momentarily, and relishes God’s goodness to him. The abuses of unbelievers do not give us any permission to throw away one of God’s supports to our weakness. And if the king’s heart is where it should be, instead of indulging his own tastes for luxury, he will open his wine cellars to the hurting and poor, temporarily relieving sorrow and renewing hope.

This does not seem to be a very “spiritual” response to man’s pain and suffering – give him a drink. First, we need to remember that “spiritual” is defined by God, not by man. Too often, what is spiritual is really thought to be other-worldly, so disconnected from this life and material things that it borders on an unbiblical asceticism, which is really ingratitude and the attempt to be wiser and holier than God. Second, no godly man would ever argue that a drink is all he needs in his sorrows, or even the main thing. Yet many godly men will testify that their hearts have been encouraged by an evening glass of wine or a whiskey. Again, we are only talking about the godly, for unbelievers will inevitably misuse God’s gifts, either by their ingratitude or by their excesses. And for the godly man, while he prays and meditates upon God’s word, a beer or glass of wine, as Paul instructed Timothy, is helpful to his constitution. We are physical beings, and God has given us many physical goods to help maintain emotional and physical wellbeing, which in turn should feed our gratitude to God and renew our spirit to pursue our callings and service to him with joy and diligence. There is nothing in this advice, therefore, that is unspiritual. It may be that we think ourselves to be above such reliefs. Some women in Corinth thought themselves to be above fulfilling their conjugal duties, so spiritual had they become. Others are unmindful of their finances, thinking this beneath the things of God’s kingdom. His rule over us and our enjoyment of him, however, includes all these things – sexuality, wine, sound financial planning, and a host of other things that are very earthy but made spiritual and living sacrifices to God when we consecrate them to his honor and our greater enjoyment of him.

The King’s Duty (vv. 8-9)

A righteous king must see himself as the father and protector of his people. Admittedly, it may be a far stretch to apply this to elected officials, who are often so bound to their parties and platforms that they are little more than puppets of a kingpin and slaves to their donor base, but they should attempt as far as they are able to honor God in this. The dumb who are appointed to destruction: this would include unborn babies, the elderly, the poor, the unjustly accused who cannot get a fair hearing, and the otherwise afflicted. They cannot speak for themselves. They have no voice in public affairs, the miserables who live by surviving, foraging what they can, often hopeless, hardened by the world’s unfeeling indifference to their plight. A godly king will see himself as their defender – not that he robs through taxation and other means in order to elevate their condition through injustice, but that he hears their case, thinks upon how he might alleviate their suffering through lawful means, and pursues their tormentors. A godly king, for example, would end the tyranny of politicians and bureaucrats, whose social schemes supposedly to help the poor in fact use them as political volleyballs: guilt manipulation and legislation that only enriches them and their friends. A godly leader would seek a just and stable currency that cannot be manipulated through printing presses and scheming. He would not encourage minimum wage laws, which only harm the very poor they purport to help. He would not help his banker friends by allowing them to give loans with easy terms, thus giving the façade of readily available money but in fact preying upon the covetousness of those who cannot afford them.

He will open his mouth and judge righteously (v. 9). This must necessarily lead him to the open Bible he is reading day and night. Therein alone do men learn to distinguish true justice from the caprices of men. He would plead for the poor and needy – by making sure they receive justice in the courts, are paid with a just currency, and do not have their means of livelihood taken away through such things as state licensing for trades, which only enrich the bureaucrats and prevent a poor man from earning an honest wage. This is all very different from the leader who thinks the people exist to provide him with office and honor and wealth, rather than seeing that his office exists to provide justice and defense for his people. Alas, such leaders are the fruit of a solid and pervasive Christian faith among the masses, for only such will be blessed with rulers who are just and rule in the fear of God. Let us pray that our God may have mercy upon us, so that we might return to his word. When we pant after it, eat it as our daily bread, and lift up our voice for truth and righteousness, the Lord will hear us, bring down the heartless city of man, and provide for us leaders after his own heart, like David. And when we live in times where our hearts faint for longing, when we feel so oppressed by the wicked that there seems no relief in sight, let us remember that there is such a righteous King, our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us bring our case to him. He rides forth to defend the meek of the earth when we cry to him.

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