There are those who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers; those who are pure in their own eyes and yet are not cleansed of their filth; those whose eyes are ever so haughty, whose glances are so disdainful; those whose teeth are swords and whose jaws are set with knives to devour the poor from the earth, the needy from among mankind. Proverbs 30, verses 11-14.
These verses are sort of harsh, aren’t they? I mean, they are true observations even they are millennia old. Back in the day when it was written, technology was much simpler; duh. Technology might have been simpler but isn’t it ironic that the descriptions of people still apply in our post-modern age of so many conveniences. Computers, iPhones, and the internet do not our people make wise. Why do you think that is? You know. Back in 1985, I was asked to write the preface to a writing project in my senior English class. The students in the class each had a different take on what we would be like in the year 2000. One said we would live in a totally computerized world; another said nobody would be left after World War III; another said they simply had no idea. Me? I said that we would basically be the same, that we would be 15 years older but basically the same. I’m proud to say my prediction was borne out.
But it really wasn’t my prediction, was it? I mean, the Proverbs said basically the same thing thousands of years before, didn’t they? Ecclesiastes, the book after the Proverbs, continually repeats, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Today’s particular verses painted a blunt, pessimistic view of the people of that day as well as the people in our world, and our view of today shows how little has changed.
Think about it: what has reall changed? Do you know people, even people who are active churchgoers and supposed believers, who hold grudges, look down their noses at people who are different, who make you feel unwelcome, and who talk behind your back? Agur of the Proverbs did. Back then, there were obviously people who lived lives that did not honor their parents. They said and did things that sullied the reputations of parents who simply wanted to raise their kids to be good citizens. What has changed? The verse sounds like Lindsay Lohan to me, or maybe the TCU football team (and their drug suppliers). Or perhaps it sounds like kids you see walking into church. Or even some of your close friends.
Back in Agur’s day, there were people who lived public lives of upright behavior, even good and faithful servants of the faith. Pastors, teachers, elders, deacons: good people who serve God with one half of their lives…and with the other half they got drunk when nobody was looking, or maybe they were sleeping with the neighbor’s wife, or perhaps they swore like sailors when the Bible was closed up for the day. Whew! That sounds like some of my own personal experience, I’m ashamed to admit. I must be older than I thought!
In the days of the Proverbs, there must have been people who thought they were better than anyone else. Maybe they were high priests, men of high standing in the faith who oversaw the church; Levites of an ordained priesthood whose task it was to cherish and teach the very words of Jehovah Himself. God had spoken to some of these people first-hand, and didn’t they think it made them better than anyone else? Might I ask what has changed? From the pastorate that spans back through generation after generation of pious holier-than-thou’s to the upright citizens who seek the safety of the country club where they don’t need to associate with the rabble, is there anything really that different? I’ve gone to church with many good believers whose regular prayers could easily have started with “thank you Lord for not making me a sinner like Z over there.” Really nice people, don’t you think?
And long ago when the Proverb was written, there must have been people who took what they wanted without regard to anyone else or what God wanted from them. There must have been people who sought to get wealthy at any cost; people who did whatever it took to score points and get ahead. Whether it was dipping into the treasury, throwing a friend under the bus (ok, under the ox cart), or selling positions of advantage, there must have been people who bowed their heads low during prayer while scheming for gain in quiet. Agur’s time had them; we have Congress, the White House, pop culture and the suburbs.
Boy, I’m sure glad we live in a modern world where our technology has so vastly bettered us and made us into such upright, improved people. Imagine internet porn, Us Magazine, and Big Brother (both the TV show and the US government) back in the Bronze Age…oh wait…that’s today. Gee, we’re so much better than they were, aren’t we?
Whatever. What’s changed, my friend? It isn’t cynical to ask that question. If anything, it’s an eye-opener, a warning shot across our bow to never forget that there is a God in Heaven who wants us to live lives of love and mercy because those are the gifts He bestows. He wants us to be better than the people these verses describe. Not just our outward behavior, no, He wants us to be better from the heart. How disappointed He must be to watch our post-modern world of partisan squabbling, government that runs amok, the Daily Kos, and citizens who celebrate the debauchery of celebrities while trying to model it themselves. What has changed? The better question is “why haven’t we become different?”