A Matter of Life and Death–Lesson 3 (Proverbs)
Sabbath School lesson for January 10-16, 2015
When we’re young, it’s hard to see the far-reaching effects of our choices, both good and bad. But the longer we live, the more we can trace the impact of not only our own choices, but of all those we have come to know in our lifetime. This is why it’s recognized that wisdom is associated with age.
Since God is the supreme eternal Being, we can’t help but recognize His ageless expertise in guiding us through life. So, with Solomon as His spokesman, we encounter language that convinces us that life and death hang in the balance with the decisions we make every day.
Almost no parent has not pressed upon their beloved son or daughter the urgency of choosing right over wrong. Looking even further into the future, our heavenly Father sees that this is truly a matter of our life or death. Life in heaven with our Savior, or eternal death and destruction in hellfire with Satan. And both our earthly fathers and heavenly Father plead for us to make the right decisions for eternity’s sake.
Key Text: “For the commandment is a lamp, and the law a light; reproofs of instruction are the way of life” Proverbs 6:23 NKJV
Three different Hebrew words for law are used in this verse, elevating its importance. Just as every good speechwriter knows, repetition causes the listener to pay attention and helps drive home your message.
- “commandment” [mitzvah]: a command or commandment
- “law” [torah]: direction, instruction, or teaching
- “reproofs of instruction” [musar]: discipline, training, or warning
Ending with the words “way of life” is a subtle warning that the opposite course, disobeying the law, will result in death, which it ultimately does. It makes sense to listen to the loving counsel being given. It really is a matter of life and death.
Sunday: The Law in Our Lives
Two interesting texts are mentioned in the passage of Proverbs we study this week:
- “Bind them [the law] continually upon your heart; tie them around your neck.” Proverbs 6:21 NKJV
- “Bind them [my commands] on your fingers; Write them on the tablet of your heart.” Proverbs 7:3 NKJV
Obviously, the writer of Proverbs is telling us that we should always have a close connection with the law. In ancient times, precious belongings were tied around their necks for safekeeping. And binding the law on their fingers indicates that doing the law is just as important as thinking about or agreeing with the law. Having it in our hearts will show by the thoughts in our head (binding it on the neck) and by the actions of our hands (binding it on the fingers).
Despite the symbolic nature of these and other verses in Scripture, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim cultures have adopted literal adaptations of these directives. Jews wear a tefillin, a small black leather box containing parchment or scrolls, on their arms and forehead during prayers. And some Muslims and Christians wear and use rosary prayer beads during worship services.
Discussion Questions: Although symbols can be helpful in understanding spiritual concepts, why must we be careful in associating them with literal objects?
How does memorization of Scripture help us keep it in, or bind it to, our heart? What cautions must be used here as well?
Monday: Light and Life
Revisiting our key text: “For the commandment is a lamp, and the law a light; reproofs of instruction are a way of life” Proverbs 6:23 NKJV
As New Testament Christians, we readily associate light and life with Jesus. He said plainly, “…I am the light of the world, he that follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” John 8:12 NKJV
In Hebrew thought, however, there is a close connection of light with the law, as contained in God’s word. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet, And a light to my path.” NKJV
Just as a lamp lights up the way for us to walk straight ahead without stumbling or falling, God’s law reveals what the right choice is when we are facing some dark, moral dilemma. So instead of just picturing the law as a fence or boundary, perhaps we should also view it as the helpful guide that it is lighting our way.
Christians also emphasize that Jesus is the only hope for our eternal life. He is indeed the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). But we mustn’t forget that the law also brings life. Loving obedience of the law results in life. And not just eternal life, but a more soul-satisfying, enriched life here on earth.
Jesus taught this Himself, when He said to the rich, young ruler, “…if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Matthew 19:17 NKJV And in John 14:15 He said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” NKJV
Our lesson quarterly pointed this out very well. “The law of God is related to ‘life,’ simply because of who God [and Jesus] is–the Source of our life.” (Monday’s lesson study)
Discussion Questions: Proverbs 7:2 says, “Keep my commands and live, And my law as the apple of your eye.” NKJV What does this expression mean? How should we relate to the law?
What Bible characters can you think of who made right choices despite powerful barriers and challenges? What guided them to making those choices? [Joseph, Daniel, Moses, Abraham, etc.]
Tuesday: Fighting Temptation
The Bible shows us repeatedly how the law as expressed in God’s word, serving as our light and life, can offer us power to fight temptation.
The next verse following our key text reads, “To keep you from the evil woman, From the flattering tongue of a seductress.” The purpose of the law then is to keep us from the evil one, Satan.
Satan, like the beautiful, seducing woman in this verse, draws us with her beauty, but also with flattering language that causes us to want to follow her all the way to our destruction.
Without the concrete directives of the law, we are like soldiers sent into battle without any armor or protection. Only a full commitment to God’s law and way can protect us from falling into Satan’s traps.
These traps consist of two things:
- An appeal to our desires
- Assurance that there is no danger involved
We humans are pretty good at pointing a finger at others. Adam and Eve are prime examples, but we also find it easy to say, like the TV comedian a few years back, “The devil made me do it.”
It’s even possible to attribute our wrong choices to God. How many people have rationalized their adulterous behavior with the words, “God has shown me that this man (or woman) is the one I should be with.” This, of course, is a highly deceptive line of thought that shows the alluring nature of Satan’s attacks.
Discussion Questions: Some people ignore the law of God by wanting to measure their course of action only with the measure of love. Can we safely rely on “What would Jesus do?” or “What would be the loving thing to do?” to guide us through murky, moral situations? When are these phrases appropriate to use and when should we cling to the instruction in the law instead?
Read I Corinthians 10:13 and Jude 24. How can these promises be applied in real life situations? Why do we sometimes sin anyway despite the promises? What kind of commitment must be made on our part? And what do you do when the promises are not realized?
Wednesday: “You Shall Not Steal”
Proverbs 6:24-29 returns to warnings about adultery. One verse often quoted is: “Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?” v. 27 NKJV Or, “Can one walk on hot coals, And his feet not be seared?” v. 28 NKJV
The images these verses create for us are easily understood and remembered. You cannot sin and expect not to feel the consequences sooner or later. You are literally dealing with fire, hellfire, when you break any of God’s commandments.
Solomon transfers this to another commandment in verses 30-31:
“People do not despise a thief If he steals to satisfy himself when he is starving. Yet when he is found, he must restore sevenfold.” NKJV
Even though there is a degree of compassion for a thief who steals to feed himself or his family, that thief must still pay the penalty for his crime. God also has pity on us when we sin, but He is powerless to prevent the end result, if we are unwilling to repent and allow God’s Son to pay our penalty. In any case, the penalty must be paid.
We can easily see the similarities of adultery and stealing. Adultery always boils down to stealing someone’s spouse, someone who doesn’t belong to you. And of course, lying ultimately is also evident in cases of adultery. It’s understandable why Solomon warns so much about adultery. It can lead to so much more.
Discussion Questions: Read James 2:10. Is it possible to break just one of God’s commandments? In what way are they all linked?
Who is more dangerous to God’s mission: one who is overtly sinful and considered a social outcast, or one who appears to have it all together, except for one or two hidden vices? Explain your answer.
Read Deuteronomy 15:7, 8. Does this help explain why a Christian nation should at least attempt to take care of those in poverty? Of course, there will be differences in how this care should be handled, but it does present a case for doing something, does it not?
When crime seems to be concentrated in poorer areas, do we still need to keep from hardening our hearts against them? How do you keep a soft heart for criminals, especially if you or someone you know has been a victim of crime?
Thursday: The Threat of Death
All through chapter 7 is the warning to stay away from the harlot. We can safely perceive that Solomon is presenting a case against sin itself. Women are frequently used as symbols of the church, so this seductress would no doubt represent sin or Satan himself.
Another image that is hard to forget is in verses 22 and 23 (especially about the bird):
“Immediately he went after her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, Or as a fool to the correction of the stocks. Till an arrow struck his liver. As a bird hastens to the snare, He did not know it would cost his life.”
It’s easy to see that instant gratification and pleasure are what usually motivates us to sin. We seldom take time to reflect on the final result of our actions, just like the little bird who goes after the bait and finds himself in a death trap.
But we must constantly put sin in the right perspective and associate it with death, if we are to escape its clutches. This isn’t just Old Testament theology. Paul agrees by saying, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
Solomon concludes chapter 7 with these gripping and frightful words:
“For she has cast down many wounded, And all who were slain by her were strong men. Her house is the way to hell, Descending to the chambers of death.”
Discussion Questions: Think of some people you have known who have fallen in a big way. A recent celebrity’s past life of sin would not be so repugnant were it not for his reputation for clean, family-oriented programs. How do these revelations affect you personally?
Why should we not be shocked when even pastors succumb to shockingly perverse behaviors? Aren’t they considered “strong men”, as described in the previous verse in Proverbs? Are strong men more or less apt to fall into sin than the average believer? Or are the temptations about equal?
How can we focus on the serious threat of sin without becoming fanatical or legalistic? What should also we focus on?
When parents expect cooperation and good behavior from their children, they often couple the rule to be kept with a consequence of breaking that rule.
God does the same, by declaring outright that the consequence of our sinning will be death. He wants us to be fully aware of the serious nature of our actions.
We must therefore see the law as:
- written on our hearts (must obey it out of love)–Sunday
- the guide of all our decisions in life–Monday
- the giver of life (a more fulfilling, abundant life)–Monday
- a means to fight temptation (our defense and protection from sin)–Tuesday
- designed to be kept in its entirety, not just parts and bits of it–Wednesday
- seen for its ability to give life or death (depending on our commitment to God)–Thursday
Study prayerfully Psalm 51–a prayer that David prayed after his sin with Bathsheba. How does it outline the steps God takes to forgive and cleanse us? What is David’s part in this transaction?
This is a good chapter to memorize, if you are able.
Next week: Divine Wisdom
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