Proverbs 18-20
(Truth, Justice, and Good Judgment)
July 5th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

Love and truth form a good leader;
sound leadership is founded on loving integrity.

- Proverbs 20:28 (MSG)

Summary of Chapters

Themes in this set of chapters include truth, justice, and sound advice for avoiding rash decisions. For example, one of the topics in Chapter 18 is an examination of hasty judgments. In verse 2, Solomon observes that

    A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself.

    - Proverbs 18:2 (KJV)

In subsequent verses he warns that it is folly to answer before hearing the whole question. Solomon also advises the reader that the first version of an incident that one hears sounds correct – until one hears someone else’s perspective. In verse 18, Solomon proposes to turn arguments over to the LORD in the form of the casting of lots to settle disputes.

In Chapter 18, Solomon had warned that hasty decisions could be made on false information. In 19, he advises the reader to tell the truth (so that others can draw the right conclusion). The repetition of a statement in verses 5 and 9 underscores the warning that those who don’t tell the truth will be caught:

    A false witness will not go unpunished,
       and a liar will not escape.

    - Proverbs 19:5 (NRSV)

The temporary gains of telling a lie are not worth the cost, according to Solomon, who also adds the declaration that “it’s better to be poor than a liar (Prov 19:22 NIV).”

Chapter 20 repeats some of the themes from earlier chapters, such as the contrast between man’s plans and God’s design. It also touches on a theme of God’s role in observing wrong and delivering punishment. Two of the verses refer to a king’s ability to winnow out the wicked, implying that in his role as sovereign he can see who is good or not.

Two other verses in separate parts of the chapter reference how the LORD “detests” differing weights, measures, and scales (because the differences are used to cheat people). The chapter also declares that discerning humans have been given the ability to observe false motives, “The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the Lord hath made even both of them (Prov 20:12 - KJV).” But God can go further than what humans can see or hear, as emphasized near the end of the chapter:

    God is in charge of human life,
       watching and examining us inside and out.

    - Proverbs 20:27 (MSG)

The resolution for those who are observed doing or plotting evil is described in the final verse “A good thrashing purges evil; punishment goes deep within us (Prov 20:30 - MSG).”

Reflection and Application

In our fast-paced society we often feel pressed to give snappy answers and make quick decisions – perhaps to impress or maybe due to time pressure to accomplish a lot in a short period of time. We might find that we are actually more effective by following the guidance that Solomon lays out:

    1. Seek first to understand before rendering an opinion (James reinforces this one in 1:19)
    2. Listen to the whole question before answering, as advised in Proverbs 18:13 - a lot of contestants on the TV game show Jeopardy learn this lesson the hard way and lose points because of this mistake!
    3. Hear all versions of an event before drawing a conclusion as noted in Proverbs 18:17

There is a contemporary movie called “Vantage Point" that illustrated this last thought. It reviews the same event several times, but each review is from a different person's perspective. As a result, the people in the audience change their opinions that had been based on quickly drawn conclusions. This movie and the proverbs from Solomon remind us that sometimes it’s not our role to decide, but only to listen and turn over the decision to a higher authority – a senior manager, a judicial court, or the eternal Judge, who sees all vantage points before they are observable by any human eye.

Our role in helping others to make good decisions is to tell the truth. If we don’t, then other parties may be hurt, and we will eventually be caught, as has happened to many politicians caught in their own web of lies. These deceivers usually lose everything they have worked for.

There may be times when we need to withhold the truth in order to save a life. There are at least two significant examples in the Old Testament: In the book of Exodus, the Hebrew mid-wives Shiphrah and Puah disobeyed the Pharaoh by refusing to kill the Hebrew baby boys. The author of Exodus says that they concealed the truth because they feared God. See Exodus 1:15-22 for more of the story. The next chapter describes the birth of Moses, so one may presume that the actions of Shiphrah and Puah enabled him to be born safely. Later in the Old Testament, Jonathan, the son of Saul, lied to his father to save the life of his friend David. Thus, two of the most important people in the Old Testament were saved by those who did not tell the whole truth.

But these actions do not give us carte blanche to be loose with the truth. Shiphrah, Puah, and Jonathan used discernment and responded to a higher truth. In our daily business and our ordinary circumstances we must be honest. Perhaps we have had situations where we stretched the truth without a good cause and think we have pulled one over on someone - but God always knows. He knows if we cheated or lied to get ahead and waits for us to confess or receive our justice. We can run, but we can’t hide from God. He created us; he uses his lamp to explore our inner thoughts, and knows the intent of our hearts.

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions

    1. In what situations has your opinion drastically changed after hearing a new witness or referencing a new source?
    2. How do can we develop and maintain the discipline to be quick to listen when we believe we know the answers?
    3. In what ways does the truth set us free?

    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we know that you know our plans and thoughts. Help us to be honest and truthful in all our actions.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    Medical Professionals who deliver and care for babies

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Proverbs 21-23 (Warnings of the Heart)

    Comments and Questions
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