The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: P-Q

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Prov and God

A critic once remarked with rather cruel sarcasm, that no one ever doubted the existence of God until the theologians attempted to prove it. There is a measure of justice in this reproach. Theologians have attempted to be wise beyond that which is written, and their representation of God has not been successful. It is not surprising that there have been harmful reactions from these excesses.

The proverbs of Solomon differ from proverbs of merely human origin in their continual reference to God. His existence, His supreme wisdom, His power, and His absolute prerogatives, are presented as fundamental truths, needing no demonstration and only in need of reiteration because of the forgetfulness of man. We can only think of one suggestion of an argument in the modern sense of the word; the reference to the seeing eye and the hearing ear, both being the work of God. This argument is more definitely expressed in the words, "He that made the eye, shall he not see? He that made the ear, shall not he hear." It is the only argument of modern type that we can remember finding in the Scriptures as proof of the existence of God. The reasoning will appeal to all thoughtful people. The organs of sight and hearing are so complex and there are so many external conditions necessary before they can function, that it would be preposterous to imagine that all the essential things came together by chance.

This kind of argument is unusual in Scripture, however. The truth regarding God is presented, not in subtle arguments according to a human conception of wisdom, but in demonstration of the spirit and power. Our conviction of the existence of God is not based upon philosophical arguments, however good they may be, but upon the fact that God has given us messages far beyond the knowledge of man or the power of man to fabricate.

It is strange that some modern writers have lost faith in the Christian religion because they find the universe so much greater than they had supposed. They suggest that the God of Israel was on a level with other divinities each supposed to preside over the destinies of a particular nation, helping them in their wars with others. We could understand the men of Tyre falling into such an error with their external and only partial view of Israelitish affairs. It is probable that Jezebel the Tyrian princess used arguments very similar to those of modern unbelievers. In every land that the men of Tyre visited they would find local divinities quite unrecognized in others parts of the world, but wherever they sailed the sun appeared in the sky, giving warmth and life in every country. Jezebel and her friends would argue that this was the true god visible everywhere and in all the world the giver of food. The people of Israel, however, were given some idea of the greatness of the universe made and sustained by God. They were given the most explicit instructions that they must not worship sun or moon, for these were created things made by the God who had called the Israelites to be a peculiar people for Himself. It was a grievous offence to "limit" the Holy One of Israel. His power was described as infinite and His understanding beyond searching; the earth and all the host of Heaven were made by Him. If men will remember the many divinities of ancient Egypt and Assyria, and then read the contemporary Israelitish description of God in the Psalms, they may begin to appreciate the mighty contrast between the religious conceptions of the most highly cultured of the ancient Gentile nations and the revelations made to Israel.

In these days scientists startle us with their descriptions of distant stars, and some people have actually lost their faith in God through the staggering conception of stars so distant that the light takes thousands of years to reach us. Such figures do not disturb us, for in very early days we were confronted with a problem beyond all comparison more overwhelming. Make the figures as terrifying as you will and it is at least possible to conceive of them so long as there is a limit. Make the universe as old as you will and it is possible to understand such great periods if there was a beginning. Time without beginning and space without end were the ideas that staggered us. In thus contemplating infinity we are faced with two alternatives one of which must be accepted although both seem impossible. In our experience all things must have a beginning, but we are forced to believe that the first cause always existed. In our experience the largest of objects or the greatest of distances are limited, but we are forced to accept the idea that space is unlimited. We could use the language of the popular scientist and talk of light years and light centuries and light millenniums. We could invite him to use his well developed powers to imagine something moving so much faster than light that it could reach his most distant star in a second. Then imagine its speed doubling every second and proceeding with such acceleration out into space for millions of years until all the paper in the world could not find room to express the figure even in light millenniums.

A man might lose his reason trying to grasp the idea of unending space or attempting to imagine how there could possibly be a limit. We cannot understand this matter any more than we can search the mind of God. We are finite beings but we are intelligent enough to grasp the fact that there is infinity around us. We are imperfect beings but we are intelligent enough to form the concept of perfection. This is the true conception of God, infinite and perfect.

The first reference to God in the Proverbs is in the well-known saying, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." This may be regarded as the beginning of the proverbs, for the previous six verses have merely set forth the object of the book, calling upon the wise to hear and understand. The first real proverb, then, is this clear call to fear God. There is no suggestion that it is easy to understand even this. In the second chapter we are told that if we will receive the words of the instructor and lay up his commandments in our minds so that we incline our ears and apply our hearts to wisdom and understanding; if we lift up our voices and cry after understanding, seeking it as if searching for hidden treasure, then shall we understand the fear of the Lord and the knowledge of God (Pro 2:1-5).

There can be no doubt of the enthusiasm with which men will seek for hidden treasure. Even the most indolent of sluggards would dig his garden if he thought that bars of gold and silver were hidden under the soil. This is the manner in which we should seek for wisdom and knowledge that we may understand the fear of the Lord.

The word fear does not refer to that fear that is cast out by love. It is a word signifying reverence. It is the fear that a child may bear toward a good parent. A fear of offending or grieving, a fear of being unworthy, a fear of the reproachful look which may sometimes hurt more than the primitive rod. Using the word fear in this sense we can understand the words of the Psalm: "There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared." It is because God can pity and forgive that He may be revered and feared in this sense.

We are not confused by the use of the same word with different meanings. There is affinity even where there is dissimilarity. There is a fear which goes with hatred, and there is a fear which is only felt by love. A completely brutal man will have no fear of losing the love and respect of his fellows, for these blessings have never been his. He fears physical pain and practically nothing else. The fear of the Lord is a totally different fear which could not even be explained to such a man. Men who can love their friends may perceive a little of the truth, the full understanding is reserved for those who seek for wisdom as for hidden treasure.

The Proverbs tell us to trust the Lord with all the heart, to honour Him with our substance and to be properly exercised by His chastening rod. We are to be in the fear of the Lord all the day, remembering that all things come from Him, and that with Him is perfect wisdom. If we find a measure of that wisdom we shall find life and obtain favour of the Lord (Pro 8:35).

There are two particularly interesting statements in the Proverbs regarding God in His dealings with the children of men. One is the oft quoted passage, "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing, but the honour of kings is to search out the matter" (Pro 25:2). We should not have anticipated this thought, but all experience shows that it is fundamentally true. Men have often found that all their attempts to understand the laws of Nature have only opened up a vista of increased complexity. Last century the materialists were in the ascendant and for a time imagined that they were on the point of explaining everything. Now they are discredited and it is acknowledged that the universe is far more mysterious than our forefathers ever imagined. Last century the food experts thought that they knew all about the subject of nutrition; then, through the practical failure of their theories, vitamins were discovered, and now experts who certainly know far more than their predecessors, admit as Mr. Eustace Miles once wrote: "We really know very little about the matter." At one time the ductless glands of the body were regarded as useless, now they are found to be so mysteriously important that some investigators have claimed that they are practically everything.

As in Nature so in the written Word, God has concealed things and has called upon His servants to exercise their minds in searching for the treasures of divine wisdom. It has always been "line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little." Faithful men and women try to put the littles together and in the process find the mental exercise which brings their minds nearer to God.

The other remarkable passage is in Pro 21:1.

"The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord: as the rivers of water he turneth it wheresoever he will."
This is another way of saying that God rules in the kingdoms of men, a doctrine found in all parts of Scripture. Even the wicked are used as the divine sword for the punishing of other wicked. The proverb, however suggests more than this. It gives us a glimpse of the process by which the hearts of kings may be turned. It is not by a direct influence such as would make a man into a machine. It is rather as we turn the course of water, placing obstacles here and removing them there to guide the stream as we desire. The Scriptures furnish many illustrations of this principle. The King of Egypt was influenced by that which he saw and heard. The partial success of his magicians hardened his heart. The Syrians were driven from Samaria by the sound as of a host approaching. It was not in the heart of the king of Assyria to perform any work for God, but he was lured by the prospect of spoil and the hope of power. There have been illustrations of this truth in our days, nations deterred by obstacles or encouraged by easy success have taken their proper places in the world; for the heart of the king is still in the hand of the Lord, turned like a stream of water into the channel designed for it.


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