Way and Walking - Proverbs Commentary

We have seen that wisdom is not swallowed whole and once for all. Jesus explained that there is a moment when a branch is first grafted into the Vine, but to be fruitful it has to remain in both outward (structural) contact and inwardly open to the sap that brings it the nourishment it needs to be fruitful (John 15:1-7). And as Paul said "We have to keep being filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18 - Greek present continuous).

Solomon also makes clear that wisdom is a step by step progress through life. Wisdom is for "those who walk blamelessly" (Proverbs 2:7, 20). That does not mean sinless perfection in the sense that we never slip or stumble. But our walk is with the LORD (see comments on the word LORD, yahweh, in the previous section on wisdom). In the first chapter of the Bible the LORD God wanted our first parents to go for an evening walk with him, but they avoided him (Genesis 3:8). But God the Son was obviously pleased when he found Enoch was willing to walk with him (Genesis 5:24). As did Noah (Genesis 6:9) and Abraham (Genesis 17:1). Christian life is a walk with the LORD.

Walking is of course a metaphor for moving in a certain direction. We might be running or even flying. "Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:31). But we could be flat on our back in hospital, and still metaphorically walking with him.

As we walk with the LORD we are on a way which he has for us. But it is not a standard identical way for everyone of the millions of people who want to go with him. One could think of the LORD living out a life with each one of us in every conceivable situation - in childhood, childbearing, middle age, old age, sickness, persecution, in every kind of work and profession, in every kind of country and culture. As we get to know people as individuals we can see how the way for every person is richly and wonderfully different.

But in every situation, since we walk with him, he is the way. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). There is no other way to come to the Father since only the Son of God can take us on the right way through life, take us through death, and perfect us for the love of heaven. But we should not add that we have to understand how he does it. Many babies who die in infancy, many retarded persons, and many who have never been taught about the Son of God, will find that he has been with them on their life journey. One of the sayings of Agur son of Jakeh was "Three things are too wonderful for me, for I do not understand, the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a girl" (30:18-19). Eagles, snakes, mariners, and lovers all manage very well without understanding the theory of what makes them move! And the salvation of every different person is uniquely different.

But it is also clear we can only walk with someone if we agree to walk in the same direction. Which means there are many ways to avoid walking with the Lord. "Happy are those who do not take the path that sinners tread" (Psalm1:1). The psalmist however wanted to "walk before God in the light of life"(Psalm 56:13, 116:9). That means we are not to let others turn us aside from the way we need to go. These could be those who are obviously evil. "Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evildoers. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on" (4:14-15). But we can also be turned aside from where we are going with the Lord by good people who have other ideas for our life.

That means our own particular way is inevitably going to be narrow. Any kind of excellence is narrow-minded. You can't win a war by pursuing other agendas. Nobody wants an eye-surgeon who has other things in mind. There is only one setting for a camera that will avoid a fuzzy picture. Which is why Jesus said "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many that take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life" (Matthew 7:13-14). We can always take the easy way out, and like Pilgrim in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress "by-pass meadow" often seems very attractive. But the narrowness of perfection does not mean we are forced into a straight jacket. As Paul said, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God - what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2). And when we are on track, Solomon promises us that "the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day" (4:18).

Having noted that our walk and our path is very personally with the LORD, it is important to add that he does not want us to be loners. He gives family and friends to be with us on the way. Our life walk began with parents. "My child, keep your father's commandment, and do not forsake your mother's teaching" (6:20). Obviously some parents may give wrong advice, but we only learn this after beginning under their discipline. The fifth commandment is "Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you" (Exodus 20:12). We do not have to agree with all that our parents do and say, but at least we should honor the fact that every gene in our body and mind was given by either our father or our mother. And also our early childhood language and training. We did not invent or create ourselves. People who cannot grasp what they have been given go through life with severe psychological problems.

A life partner can hinder or wonderfully help us in our walk. "A good wife is the crown of her husband" (12:4, 18:22, 21:9, 31:10-31). We could fault the proverbs for not adding "and a good husband is the crown of a married woman, but he who brings shame is like rottenness in her bones" (12:4). Solomon lived in a patriarchal age, and proverbs inevitably reflect the culture in which they are propagated. It was only with Jesus, the Son of God, that Paul (and western civilization) learned the vision of a full mutuality between men and women (1 Corinthians 7:1-16). But it is important to note (in contrast to those who think women should never go out to work) the vision for women of King Lemuel's mother (31:1). "She considers a field and buys it, with the fruit of her hand she plants a vineyard, she perceives that her merchandise is profitable" (31:17-19)

Our friends are also important. "Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools suffers harm" (13:20 - we will study the topic of fools in another section of Proverbs). "Some friends play at friendship but a true friend sticks closer than one's nearest kin" (18:24, 27:10). But some people are best avoided as personal friends. "A gossip reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a babbler" (20:19, 26:22). "Make no friends with those given to anger, and do not associate with hotheads" (22:24).

Jesus referred to his disciples as friends. "I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father" (John 15:15). And his circle of friends are to meet (probably weekly on Sunday, Acts 20:7, see "Eight Sundays from Easter to Pentecost") to share bread and wine (see 9:5), and when they do that he promises to come and join them (Matthew 18:20, Revelation 3:20). But this is not an exclusive club. Anyone is free to join this family (see the invitations in 8:4-5, 17, 35-36, 9:4). "Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled" (Luke 14:23), and Paul said "Welcome one another, just as the Messiah has welcomed you" (Romans 15:7).

But there is also a warning. Christian fellowship is easily damaged. Paul also tells us, as we saw earlier (4:14-15), to avoid those who want to disrupt our friendship (2 Timothy 2:14, 16, Titus 1:10-11, 3:10). Even John, the apostle of love, writes "Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching" (2 John 10).

What Solomon could not know was the end that the LORD Messiah, Son of God, had in mind. A thousand years later people of all nations would become our eternal friends, and they would bring the rich variety of their different cultures to walk with us in the perfect oneness of his light (John 14:2-3, Revelation 21:24).

Chapter 3 .....  Women and Fools