Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Two Meals


Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn out its seven pillars. She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her maids, and she calls from the highest point of the city. ‘Let all who are simple come in here!’ she says to those who lack judgment. Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed." Proverbs 9:1-5

Food serves our bodies and our relationships. The nutritional value of the food sustains our bodies and gives them strength. The relationship value of food sustains our bond with family and friends when we dine together. Mealtime provides opportunity for being vulnerable, sharing stories, enjoying fellowship, healing past wounds, and eagerly anticipating future banquets together.

So important is this latter function of sharing a meal together to build and sustain relationships that the Bible draws upon the experience to illustrate higher realities beyond the meal itself. Proverbs 9:1-6 is an example of that.

Two meals are served in Proverbs 9, the first by an industrious host commonly referred to as Woman Wisdom. This woman built a house requiring seven pillars, indicating it is wide and spacious, thus able to accommodate many guests. She set a luxurious table of meat and wine. Meat was a special treat for many ancient people, and the wine was mixed, meaning she probably added special spices to create a unique and satisfying flavor. After the meal was ready Woman Wisdom sent her servants out to the highest point of the city to cry out, "Let all who are simple come in here ... Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed." Those who attend this banquet will find nourishment for their bodies, but they will find even more. The fellowship value of this meal means that those who dine here will be able to "walk in the way of understanding."

Meanwhile, another woman in Proverbs 9 is inviting guests in to her meal as well. This hostess is known as Woman Folly. Unlike Woman Wisdom, this second lady in not industrious with her house or her meal. In fact, she is loud, undisciplined and foolish. Instead of working hard she sits in the doorway of her house and calls out to those passing by, "Let all who are simple come in here!" She invites the same people Woman Wisdom does! In fact, they both proffer their invitations at the highest point of the city, a place of great significance, and they invite the same people, those who are simple and gullible. But whereas the first lady served fine meat and wine, the second serves stolen water and food. "Stolen water is sweet," she says, "food eaten in secret is delicious." The enticing element of this second meal is not the nutritional value of the food, but the excitement of the erotic and forbidden nature of the meal. It is secretive, and those who dine here do not nourish their bodies, but revel in pleasures that are improper. In fact, any pleasures experienced by those who fill themselves on this meal will be short lived. "Little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of the grave." (Prov. 9:13-18).
Obviously, something is taking place here that is larger than the meal itself. The Sage is using food and meal as a metaphor for paths of life. Woman Wisdom, the grand and industrious lady who serves a fine meal and whose diners become wise, is issuing her call from God. She is inviting the simple to come follow the ways of divine wisdom and godly ethic. She calls the gullible to leave the world and enter relationship with God.

Woman Folly, on the other hand, represents any competing thought, personality or system to the great God of heaven. Like Woman Wisdom, Woman Folly is positioned at the highest point of the city, the place where temples were built in ancient society. Whereas Woman Wisdom represents God, Woman Folly would represent the false idols and religions that plagued Israel. Today, she would represent anything that calls us away from godly living with its promise of sweet, forbidden drink and pleasure.

God has served a meal, rich, succulent, hearty and nutritious. It feeds more than our bodies; it feeds our lives, character and souls. In the immediate context, the meal is the wisdom of Proverbs. In the larger context, the meal is the whole Bible, from which we learn of the invitation to salvation in Jesus and a relationship with God.

The father calls us. "Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have fixed. Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of understanding (Prov. 9:5-6). Dinner is served. Will you come?

Warren Baldwin

Note: Please read Laries review of Roaring Lions, Cracking Rocks and Other Gems from Proverbs on her blog, My Heart Speaks.

Thursday, November 12, 2009



"Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." Proverbs 16:18

Bill and Karen were blind to their own weakness and hypocrisy. They felt very comfortable acting as the judge and jury of their congregation as they ruled on doctrinal soundness, member behavior and moral performance. Bill and Karen exuded confidence to the point of pride. It was inconceivable to them that they could be wrong in their judgments or in their own personal deportment.

One of Bill and Karen’s chief problems was a poor memory. When Jeremy, a young man in the congregation, was arrested for possession of an illegal substance at a party, Bill and Karen turned their full attention to his case. They followed his arrest and court proceedings. They wondered if Jeremy showed enough remorse when he came back to church. Even his parents seemed a bit too casual about the whole problem. Bill and Karen didn’t like what they saw and expressed their concern and dismay to a number of members, but managed to restrain their full displeasure. But when Jeremy was asked by someone to help pass the collection plate, Bill and Karen couldn’t contain any longer.

"What is this church coming to? Here is a young criminal coming back to church before his sentence is even announced, and we welcome him back as if nothing happened? Shouldn’t something be said at church? Shouldn’t he have to make a statement of apology to all of us? When Simon the Sorcerer sinned publicly, wasn’t he publicly condemned by the Apostle? Should we do any less? I mean, we still love the boy, that is why we are so concerned. If we treat his sin too lightly, other kids in the church might start taking drugs, too. We can’t believe the church is doing this. Somebody needs to do something!"

Much of what Bill and Karen say is true. God does want confession for sin (1 John 1:8). Peter did severely castigate Simon. A bad example can lead others into bad behavior. Can anyone argue with these biblical principles?

But here is where Bill and Karen have a problem that is even more severe than that of Jeremy and his parents: they can be right in their judgment but totally wrong in their attitude and disposition. Having played the role of judge and jury for so long has deceived them into thinking that they are fit for that role by some kind of moral superiority. They simply cannot conceive that their judgment would be wrong. They cannot conceive that they could be wrong.

And they can’t remember their own past.
Twenty years ago, in this same community, Bill and Karen’s son was arrested for possession of an illegal drug. Further, he was arrested for drug use, underage drinking, and dealing. He was even guilty of repeat offenses. Over a period of several years and a couple of treatment programs, their son gained his sobriety, paid his debt to society, and began living cleanly. Today he is in a healthy marriage and is involved in his church.

But Bill and Karen forget that. They also forget that the church, the same church they are attending now, forgave their son and encouraged him in his first steps of sobriety.

Members of the congregation are speechless that today Bill and Karen would be so harsh and judgmental toward another young man guilty of a lesser offense than was their own son. Can they not remember?

How can Bill and Karen be so judgmental? Can they not remember their own families struggle years ago? Of course they can, but they choose not to. To remember would require humility and admission of their own family’s failings. Bill and Karen do not have the internal strength or moral integrity to make such an admission. Pride is so much easier. And a natural function of pride (not self respect, but haughty arrogance) is that we sit in judgment of everyone around us. A haughty spirit makes us feel safe and secure. It insulates us from moral assessment by other people and steels us to our own moral ineptness and hypocrisy.

That is why pride eventually leads to a fall. Haughty pride that sets us above others to judge and evaluate them also puts us in competition with God. The proud and haughty person is in essence trying to unseat God and do his job for him.

Does all this mean that we can never judge the attitudes or behavior of others? Of course not! We must recognize sin and name it (Rom. 1:18-32). We must call people to repentance, confession, baptism, and faithful living. But, we must remember four things as we minister to those in sin.

One, the Bible calls us to put off ungodly dispositions and actions from our own lives (Col. 3:5-9). The person who condemns sin in another while ignoring it in himself is sinful and invites God’s judgment upon himself (Rom. 2:3). His haughty spirit will lead to a fall before the throne of God.

Two, judgment must be done with a view toward restoration, reconciliation and peace (James 5:19,20). Even if the proud man’s judgment against another sinner is true, his arrogant disposition ruins any opportunity for real healing and peace to follow. "Pride only breeds quarrels ..." (Prov. 13:10), not friendship.

Three, the Bible calls for us to exercise mercy. "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Matt. 7:1-2). How can Bill and Karen read these verses and not feel a twinge of guilt that the same mercy and kindness that was extended to their son they now deny to another’s son? Oh that they could hear these words from Jesus: "Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?" (Matt. 18:33).

Finally, Proverbs is very clear about how God feels about pride: "The Lord detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished." (Prov. 16:5). How ironic that in condemning another with a haughty spirit (even if the judgment itself is correct), the proud person threatens his own spiritual security.

Bill and Karen have enough biblical foundation to what they are doing to convince them and many of their close friends that they are right, always and without fail. Yet they can only maintain that posture by exercising an excessive degree of pride to mask their sin and keep their critics at bay. Yet all they while they are inwardly hoping no one will have the temerity to ask, "Ah, what about your son? Remember twenty years ago? Can you not extend a little compassion to Jeremy and his family?" No, they can not extend compassion. That is one of the pitfalls of pride, and one of the reasons it sets us up for a horrible fall.

Warren Baldwin

Tuesday, November 3, 2009



A kind man benefits himself, but a cruel man brings trouble on himself. Proverbs 11:17

As a kid, I remember strangers knocking on our door in the country. City folks, many of them. They were usually lost, out of gas, or broken down. Mom and Dad always helped them with a few gallons of fuel or some makeshift repair on their automobile. I even remember one couple breaking down and staying at our house all night. In all those years, I never remember my parents taking any of the money that was offered to them for the help, service, or gasoline they gave. Never.

"Here, take a few bucks for the gas," someone would offer.

"No," Dad would say. "I’m just glad you appreciate it. But if you want to pay me back, next time you see someone broken down or in need of assistance, help them. That is how you can pay me back."

"A kind man benefits himself, but a cruel man brings trouble on himself."

A kind man benefits himself . . . maybe a man like Abraham? Abraham had his character flaws, but he also had his character strengths. Remember when his nephew Lot was captured in battle? Forsaking his own safety, Abraham raised a band of men and went after Lot and rescued him. Even earlier, when Lot’s herds and Abraham’s herds grew too large for the land to support them, Abraham in his kindness allowed Lot to select the land he would like to move into. That was kindness.

That kindness paid off for Abraham. He was richly blessed by God. That’s not to say, of course, that every time we do something nice for someone we can expect a flood of blessings from heaven in reciprocation. As Christians, we have already received an abundance of blessings from heaven, including our redemption. But in a general way, acts of kindness tend to generate other acts of kindness, and at least sometimes, they come back to us. A kind man benefits himself.

A cruel man brings trouble on himself . . . maybe a man like Ahab? Ahab was the king who wanted the vineyard of Naboth. Naboth was living on land he inherited from his ancestors though, and he wasn’t willing to sell it to the king. Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, wasn’t one to let a simple citizen disappoint the aspirations of a king! She conspired with some lowlives to frame Naboth on trumped-up charges and had him executed. Ahab was a cruel man who was later killed in battle. Jezebel was a cruel woman who was later thrown to her death from an upper-story window. A cruel man brings trouble on himself.

A proverb is a truism or principle. A proverb should not be thought of as a rule that always works itself out in the same way in every circumstance. It is a principle that says, "In general, this is a statement that reflects my experience in life."

Somewhere in Solomon’s life, he experienced this truism: "A kind man benefits himself, but a cruel man brings trouble on himself." Perhaps it was a kindness passed on to him he consciously passed on to another who passed it on to another who . . . well, you get the point. Whether it is sharing gasoline with a stranger knocking at your door or sharing food with a hungry child across the street, acts of kindness have a life to them that keep on living and enriching the lives of others.

In my many travels, especially as a college student driving old cars, I have been the recipient of a kind gentleman stopping to offer a hand to a kid who looked like he was in trouble. At times, I’ve offered a few bucks as a thank you. I’ve heard these words echoed from my childhood: "If you want to pay me back, next time you see someone broken down or in need of assistance, help them. That is how you can pay me back."

Warren Baldwin

This article is from my new book, Roaring Lions, Cracking Rocks and Other Gems from Proverbs.