Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law. Proverbs 29, verse 18.
This isn’t a verse about the end of the world; it isn’t THAT revelation…and yet it is. It isn’t one of those verses that shame you into examining your own motives in life, sort of like guilt-tripping you into realizing you aren’t all that and a bag of Fritos…and yet it does. And the verse doesn’t really talk about prophecy or things that happened way back in olden Bible times…and yet that’s true as well.
What is this verse about? Don’t we all keep the law? What is the law this thing is talking about? And what are we blessed if we obey the law? Some exposition is in order.
The revelation the verse is talking about is prophetic. In such a verse, it is talking about something revealed divinely, by God to man. In the times when this was originally written, God revealed Himself both directly and through prophets. He made His will and His words known through His actions and a select few humans. Said humans then had the God-given responsibility to carry God’s message to skeptical, unbelieving, even hostile people. So it only follows that, when there is no revelation of God’s word, those skeptical, unbelieving, hostile people don’t feel bound by God’s word. They will do whatever they will. So will you and I. Hold that thought for a minute.
Part II addresses casting off restraint. Does God’s revealed word restrain? Yes, yes of course it does. For the weak of spirit, it can be a harsh restraint, limiting behaviors and scolding the conscience. For the strong of spirit it can do the same. The catch is that the more mature you become in God’s word, the more you find it is a restraint you willingly accept. It isn’t a burden or a set of chains or fences: it is a privilege and a helpful reminder of He who is true love and how He wants to color our lives with it. The people of the Bible saw God in His miracles, then they saw him through His words, then they saw Him in His Son. Those without restraint saw only scathing hurt; those who accept the discipline of loving restraint saw their hearts washed clean. Hold that thought as well.
Finally, part III of the verse addresses cause and effect of keepings God’s revealed laws. It’s not just those pesky 10 commandments: it’s ALL His lessons of love, His directions on how to live our lives, His exhortations to come back to Him and abandon heathen ways of hurt. Throughout Scripture God spoke of how He would write His commands on the hearts of people, and it wasn’t to keep them in line. It was to keep us in love. God knew what his all-too-human prophets didn’t (along with those 12 men who abandoned Him in Gesthemene), namely that His love is the reason for His law, and that His law was given in love to bless us throughout our days. Whether it’s honoring God Himself, honoring our parents, casting aside our weapons of anger, or loving our neighbors as ourselves, God wrote His love on our hearts so that we might be blessed to know that every time we fell short and were made aware yet again by the law we learned from Him. Blessed is he who keeps God’s law because blessed is he who knows he is loved by the keeper of the stars, the great Jehovah. One last request: hold this thought as well.
But don’t hold it for too long. Let’s recall those held thoughts because I have a question about them: what’s changed? The oldest parts of the Bible are between four and five thousand years old; even the newest ones are nearly two thousand. During all that time, despite innovations like airplanes, iPhones, natural gas for cooking and the Guttenburg press, what about people has really changed? Murder is even more rampant than Cain ever could have imagined possible. Rahab the prostitute was hardly the first or last to ply her body as commerce. Conspiracy was nothing new for Judas Iscariot and it’s alive and well in our dealings today. Saul (later Paul) was hardly the first or last man to ever arrange the deaths of innocent people? And how about the government of Rome itself, which imprisoned and then murdered followers of Christ: was Rome the last empire to use force and killing to accomplish its purposes?
We’re thick with it, you see…just as we’re also thick with the ability to share that love of God which He gave us and wants us to share. The people of ancient times didn’t have king sized beds, HBO, housecats or Kenmore appliances, but just like us they had blessings, abilities, talents, patience, grace, kindness, forbearance and love: all those things that God gives to us too. In another book, Solomon remarks ‘there is nothing new under the sun.’ As it was then so it is now. People then were like people now. Left to our own devices, just like our ancestors, we are prone to run amok. We need the caring discipline of God’s word to keep from running amok. And when we accept Him in our lives, we are blessed to want to follow Him and give up what made us run amok.
I wasn’t alive to witness Solomon’s glory; I wasn’t alive to see John’s revelation on Patmos. Those men aren’t alive today either, waiting for the new season of Mad Men to start. But even though the houses are different, the foods different, technology different and even our language, calendar and use of time different, the people back then aren’t so different from the people in our world today. The purpose of the verse is multi-fold, and what it says has different meanings depending on your point of view and perceptions. The God Himself who gives the verse has been unchanging, though, since before the verses were written centuries ago.