A Proverb is like a Punchline



One scholar said that a proverb is like the punch line of a joke where the rest of the joke is missing.  So you have to think of what kind of story fits the punch line.

Here is a punch line:  “Pastor Dave’s feels longer.”

That does not make a lot of sense.  But when it comes after the first part of the joke it does.


Q: Which is longer, a World Cup game or Pastor Dave’s sermon?

A:  Pastor Dave’s feels longer.





Proverbs 3:5-6 – A Fresh Look

scenes 040.smThis is one of the Favorite Verses I am preaching on this summer.

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.


Heart – the whole inner person is in view – not just sentiment as in English.  Compare to two other verses in context. Among the range of meaning is:  inner man, mind, will, heart, understanding, conscience, soul (Step Bible).

3:1   My son, do not forget my teaching,
    but let your heart keep my commandments

3:3  Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
    bind them around your neck;
    write them on the tablet of your heart

Understanding – one of the meanings of this word is the capacity to understanding.  If you read it as “information” it can sound as if one should not know anything. but the Wisdom theme of Proverbs is very much about learning wisdom and discernment. We are not, in the words of Psalm 32, to be like a pack mule that needs constant external direction by a bit in our teeth, but we are to be instructed so we can make wise decisions. (Psalm 32:8-9).  If we accept the word as “capacity to understand” it speaks of not finding our wisdom only from ourselves.

Notice that Heart and Understanding are somewhat parallel words on the inner person.

I have summarized this line of thought:

 Trust with your heart; Don’t trust in your heart.

That is, the object of trust and direction is the Lord, not the inner life.

All – With all of your heart (v. 5) and in all of your ways (v.6) live by faith.  There is no room here for holding back a reserve of non-trust.  That is, the verses does not permit us to think that one part of our life is spiritual and the other is going along to get along in life.  We are to live a categorically faithful life, not life of categories.

Path/Way – Two words are used for path, both can be literal or metaphorical.  “In all your paths acknowledge him” this word for path is “derek” which is used over 700 times in the OT.  “and he will made straight your paths” this word for path is “orak” which is used about 70 times.  The idea of a path or way is commonly used in Wisdom literature, the prophets and in Deuteronomy to talk metaphorically about the course or direction of your life in a moral and spiritual sense.

Smooth/Straight – the translations divide evenly on translating this word.  Smooth suggests straight in a vertical dimension, and similar to Isaiah 40 on making a smooth path.  This is the path that is easy.  Straight suggests straingt in a horizontal direction and fits with the frequent command that one turns neither to the left or to the right. This is the path that is true.

I wonder if this “straightening” of our path is a rescue operation:

 “So you find your way in life hard?  Are you lost?  Is it because you are divided in your faith and selective in your willingness to be instructed?  Trust him fully and he will remove the potholes and direct you out of your lost condition.”

 see Isaiah 40:3-5; Psalm 1; James 1:2-8; Matthew 5:8; Deuteronomy 6


God’s Thoughts – Psalm 139:17

LionMouseHow precious to me are your thoughts, God!

How vast is the sum of them!

          This psalm is filled with thoughts about God.  From verse 1 to verse 24 there are amazing statements.  We could easily spend our time on each one of these verses.  I could preach for a Month of Sundays on this Psalm and there would be more yet to say.  But I want to today concentrate on three of the thoughts that are in this psalm

Thought  #1 –

You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me

            The psalm says “You hem me in…”  The word used suggests the idea of when an army building up a fortification around itself.  It is saying that the Lord surrounds us in fort and behind.  He protects us from the danger we see to that which creeps up on us from behind.

God protects us with his strength.  There is a show on TV about the government building a machine that watches us all the time.  It is starting to feel like there is no privacy any more.  So how is it that God can know and be fully interested in you, at the same time he knows and is fully aware of me?  And he is fully aware of the person sitting near you, and everyone in this room, and all those who are in Childrens’ Church.  You may be thinking about hip surgery and the little one is worried about a diaper change. Add to that the idea that God is in front and behind of every person on the earth.  Everyone who is born into his kingdom is protected.  How can God multi task to this extent.

God protects us by his tenderness.  When it says, “You lay your hand upon me” it is a tender and kind had.  God is able to be powerful against our enemies, but he is able to be close and comforting to his people.  And so the Psalmist says, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.”

If we try to understand God’s amazing love and at the same time his terrible wrath, we can’t do it.  If we try to comprehend his power and his care at the same time, we fall short.

        Thought  #2

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

            Have you ever seen the sun rise?  Have you ever seen that from the side of a mountain? We visited the Grand Canyon last summer, and we arrived at the edge of it at sunrise.  The early moments were misty and colored with shadows.  The sun began to break through and you could see the light working its way across the landscape.  This is the wings of the dawn; the break of day spreads its wings lie a bird and covers the landscape from East to West.

What if you could ride along with the dawn, on its daily path?    What if you could pick up and settle on the far side of the sea – from the shores of Lake Monona to the South China Sea.  God is still there.  But not only is he there – where we are or where we might go, he is there go guide us and to guard us.

 Thought  #3

16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

            The Psalmist is thinking about what God knows about him.  God saw him when his body was not yet formed.  How could God know what did not exist?  How did God know that the Psalmist’s parents would meet, and marry and conceive him when they did?

Have you ever thought about this?  My parents met after a church service. My mother’s father was a deacon in the Swedish Baptist church in St. Paul.  They would invite young men to dinner after church.  My dad had recently moved from the family farm in North Dakota to Saint Paul. He came to dinner and met my mother.

What if Dad decided to go to Fargo or Minneapolis or Kansas City instead? What if he did not go to church that Sunday?  What if Mom had stayed home?  Or gone out with friends to lunch?  What if…what if…what if.  Then I would not be here today.  Move that backward a few generations, how impossible it seems that God would know you would be born.

Then add this – God knows already how long you will live.  He knew that before you were born.  So he will know about all the car accidents, as well as the heroic medical help.  He will know the close calls on the interstate and the friend who invited you to exercise, which added years to your life.  How can god know our choices before we know them?  Are we robots who are only following a program?  Is your life like a song on a CD, it plays what has been set down. Or do you, when you choose, actually choose?

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.

Two Book Retreats – the Bridges Class

willybridgeReaders of this blog will have seen posts about the two books of revelation, nature (general revelation) and scripture (special revelation.)  I have started a small side business to promote the idea that we can explore nature artistically and spiritually.  The website is here: Two Book Retreats

Together with an artist, Nancy Macgregor, we will offer the class “Bridges along the Yahara River” which combines learning how to do watercolor sketches with an appreciation of this natural setting in central Madison and an opportunity for spiritual reflection.

Further information is available here – Bridges Class

Is Poetry Less or More Accurate – Part II

scribe.2After the last post, I found in my old friend from the last 40 years, The New Bible Commentary, IVP, 1960 the following quote.  The commentators on the Psalms in that work are Leslie M’Caw, J. A. Motyer.  My guess is that this particular quote is by Motyer, it sounds like him. ( His commentary on Isaiah is the best mis of scholarship and faith on that book that I have encountered.)

The question was, is poetry less accurate than theological language?  I said that poetry and theological prose are complimentary.


 “It is characteristic of the bible to express its great truths in the context of personal experience.  Partly, this is because God is never proposed as a subject of man’s intellectual, speculative enquiry (cf. Jb. 11:7,8), but for his devotion, worship and obedience. It is also because the Bible never considers a truth ‘known’ until it controls the life of the learner.  Of all this view of things, Ps. 139 is a classic instance. The psalm could be said to teach  God’s omniscience (vv. 1-6), omnipresence (vv. 7-12), sovereignty (vv. 13-16) and holiness (vv. 17-24), yet in the truest sense nothing could less exactly express the psalmist’s mind than these four great abstractions.  To the psalmist, omniscience is “god’s complete knowledge of me’, omnipresence is that ‘God is with me no matter where I am’, an so forth.  The ‘I-thou’ relationship is basic to the poem.”   (p. 537)


“Security is the central truth of the psalm. God’s complete knowledge of him (vv.1-6) focuses on God’s encirclement and tender care (v. 5); God’s omnipresence (vv. 7-12) means that his hand ever guides and holds (v. 10); and God’s creative power (vv.13-16) includes the pre-planning of all his days (v. 16).  At all times, in all places and in every circumstance, god is in control and the psalmist is in safety.”  (p. 528)

Psalm 139 (NRSV)

To the leader. Of David. A Psalm.

Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?
    Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
    if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
    and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is as bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15     My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
    all the days that were formed for me,
    when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
    I come to the end—I am still with you.

19 O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
    and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—
20 those who speak of you maliciously,
    and lift themselves up against you for evil!
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
    And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with perfect hatred;
    I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my thoughts.
24 See if there is any wicked way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Is Poetry less or more accurate? – Psalm 139

everywhereIn the Favorite Verses series I am speaking on Psalm 139.  This is great poetry.  Some wonder if that makes it less accurate.  For example from Derek Kidner

“This statement of omniscience is characteristically vivid and concrete; not formulated as a doctrine but, as befits a psalm, confessed in adoration.”  (Psalms, Tyndale OT Commentary, vol 2, p 464)

Which is a better description of Omnipresence?

Psalm 139:7-12

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

Wayne Grudem in “Bible Doctrine” p. 78

“God’s omnipresence may be defined as follows: Gd does not have size or spacial dimensions, and is present at every point of space with his whole being, yet God acts differently in different places.”  

In reference to the above passage he adds, “There is nowhere in the entire universe, on land or sea, in heaven or in hall, where on can flee from God’s presence.”

I believe these kinds of statements are complimentary.  They have equal value and accuracy.  If by accuracy we include the idea of being comprehensive.  Poetry may miss a few fine gradations of definition found in theological prose. It adds a great deal in the importance and impact on our minds and hearts.  Theological prose does not have the poetry and the power to move, but it helps us stay where the scripture speaks and not travel off and beyond the content of revelation.

Unbelievably to me, one of the most boring series of lectures I ever heard was a theologian unenthusiastically delineating definitions of attributes of God, in the manner of one reading the tax code.  I consider that a crime against good theology!  The gentleman needed to look up from his curled yellow pages and read a little from the Psalms, Job, Isaiah, John, Colossians, Proverbs and maybe open the hymn book and find something like “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.”

J. I. Packer rightly said,

…knowing God is a relationship calculated to thrill a man’s heart.”

(Knowing God, IVP, p. 32)

Do You Have a Favorite Verse?

snip.logo.redWe gave a survey to the congregation to find out their favorite verses in order to construct a summer sermon series.  There was quite a range of passages. I will be working on these in June, July and August.

I have attached a document with all of the suggestions here – Favorite Verses.

I’d like to know if the readers of Fresh Read have favorites.  It might be a good source of material for the blog.   I have often found that it is worthwhile to study what we think we are most familiar with, and we discover how little we know.

First on the list is Psalm 46:1

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble

This was the text at the first funeral I presided over as a pastoral intern.  The man who died was not a regular part of the Chicago congregation, but received discreet financial assistance from time to time.  I have learned by talking to other pastors, that in addition to the official church funds for benevolence, there is often an unofficial case load of people who just can’t quite make it at times on their limited incomes.

Sometimes God’s ever present help comes through his people, or strangers.


Matthew Quiz Answers


  1. Tamar, Rehab, Ruth, Bathsheba (the wife of Uriah), Mary
  2. Son of David, Son of Abraham, Christ
  3. discourse, narrative
  4. maybe 1:17, certainly 2:1ff with the Magi
  5. Exodus Wanderings: wilderness, 40 (years/days), bread, testing, Jesus citing Deuteronomy 3 times
  6. Deuteronomy
  7. Disciples
  8. How to follow  Jesus – discipleship
  9. it is a model, simplicity vs repetition, personal (father).
  10. Teaching, Preaching, Healing
  11. Miracles
  12. Evidence from his healing and preaching fulfilled passages such as Isaiah 42
  13. The first part is specific to their ministry, but it speaks of the nations and a longer term mission
  14. Chorazin and Bethsaida (11:20)
  15. Resurrection
  16. Parables
  17. in a boat, inside, it is for the disciples
  18. Parable of the Sower
  19. both have a prediction of Judgment day – sorting the good from the bad
  20. That he was John the Baptist reincarnated
  21. Herod/John; Feeds 5,000; Walks on Water
  22. They said miracles are irrational
  23. Favorite Verses