Sabbath School Lesson for March 14-20, 2015
Micah 6:8 reveals that one of the main duties of man is to walk humbly with God. As a matter of fact, it says with YOUR God. And we are not to walk behind Him or in front of Him, but WITH Him. This intimate relationship takes a great deal of humility on our part, because of who God is.
We will see more on this theme of humility in Proverbs 30 this week, written by a man named Agur, or “collector”.
I noticed that Agur’s chapter included many lists, which are much valued in the internet blogosphere today. Busy people are attracted to numbered lists. They seem to get to the heart of the matter more quickly. And make recalling of the information easier.
Notice several magazine covers today will have article titles such as “13 Things Homeschoolers Won’t Tell You”, or “123 Ways to Make Wiser Choices for Your Health, Home, Family, and Budget”. Even a long list will attract readers. So, Agur’s popular proverbs on wisdom ended up in Solomon’s collection as chapter 30.
We will see how they support Solomon’s writing and even add to his original premise of “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…” (Proverbs 1:7).
Key Text: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3 NKJV
I’ve often wondered about the expression used here, “poor in spirit”. Who are they? Are they depressed and downhearted? Are they lacking God’s spirit in their lives?
Strong’s Concordance and a search of the original language for these words did not reveal many answers. But The Living Bible paraphrase called them “humble men”. It is really the only meaning that makes sense. Being “poor in spirit” must means they have humility. Realizing our spiritual inadequacy, compared to God’s massive spiritual nature, should make all of us humble.
Old and New Testament writers have spoken about humility. Isaiah said all our righteousness was as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). The book of Acts says “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). And even Jesus said we need to humble ourselves as a child (Matthew 18:4).
This week we will learn ways to become humble. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
Sunday: Who Do You Think You Are?
Kings of the ancient Near East, and probably kings and leaders in all times and cultures, tend to boast about their accomplishments and victories. You can’t be a politician today without loudly “selling yourself” to the voter.
But chapter 30 of Proverbs shows us how foolish this self-exaltation really is. Boasting is not only unattractive and makes us appear foolish in the end, but it implies pride, which encompasses the very character trait that brought about sin in the first place. See Isaiah 14:12-14.
King Nebuchadnezzar and even King Solomon, two of the greatest kings of all time, suffered episodes in their lives when they exhibited foolish pride, and they paid dearly for their mistake of boasting and the pride that was behind it. See Daniel 4:30 and Ecclesiastes 2:9.
Agur, the writer of Proverbs 30, doesn’t seem to have this problem. The first three verses indicate his own humble perspective:
“Surely I am more stupid than any man…Nor have knowledge of the Holy One.” v. 2, 3 NKJV
And his final words summarize his thoughts on pride and humility:
“If you have been foolish in exalting yourself, Or if you have devised evil, put your hand on your mouth.” v. 32 NKJV
What an image this presents…just put your hand on your mouth and don’t say it! What appears to be difficult to accomplish is brought down to size. We CAN close our mouths, even if it means slapping our hand over it and keeping it there!
Discussion Questions: Read II Corinthians 11:16-21, where Paul talks about his own reluctant, but rightful boasting. Why do you think Paul feels right about boasting about his sufferings as he continues to do in the verses that follow?
Read Luke 18:9-14, the parable of the Pharisee and the sinner’s prayer. The difference seems so obvious here, but how easy is it really to pray or even think like the Pharisee? How can we make sure we don’t fall into the same trap of boastful praying?
It’s usually understood that many people who boast are trying to hide their insecurities. What better way is there to deal with our insecurities? How can we help people who are feeling inadequate and suffering from low self-worth?
Monday: A Knowledge of God?
What message does Agur have for us regarding our knowledge of God?
“Who has ascended into heaven, or descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has bound the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son’s name, If you knew? Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, Lest He rebuke you and you be found a liar.” Proverbs 30:4-6 NKJV
These five rhetorical questions which identify God are a reference to the Creation story found in Genesis 1, where God created the firmament (gathered the wind) and divided the dry land from the waters (bound the waters in a garment). We clearly see His power and majesty in awe-inspiring acts of nature.
The fifth question, “What is His name, and what is His Son’s name, If you knew?”, summarizes the other four questions by forcing us to recognize that we don’t fully understand God as well as we might think.
Living in communion with God should produce humility in us, because we are constantly reminded just how powerful He is.
Discussion Questions: Why are some people humbled in God’s presence and others are just afraid? Think of Moses’ story. When he came down from the mountain, his face shone because he had been with God, but the people were afraid of him. Exodus 34:30.
If knowing God makes us humble, how can we be expected to have humility in order to come before Him? Is it the same with faith? [We need just a mustard seed’s worth of faith to come to God, but our faith grows, the longer we are with Him.]
God seems to be the only Being entitled to be proud. Yet, in what ways does Jesus show that even God has humility?
The longest speech by God in the Bible is found in the book of Job (ch. 38-41). Notice how God used similar rhetorical questions to reveal Himself to Job. And He always refers us to Creation and His role in that event. Why is being Creator so important to God’s identity? Does this make it easier to understand His emphasis on the Sabbath in the Ten Commandments? When we forget the Sabbath, are we forgetting God?
Tuesday: Neither Too Much nor Too Little
Since Proverbs 30 is written by someone other than King Solomon, it shouldn’t surprise us to find it contains the only prayer recorded in that book. And it comes on the heels of Agur’s recognition of God’s wonderful creative powers. Consider what Agur prays for:
“Two things I request of You (Deprive me not before I die): Remove falsehood and lies far from me; Give me neither poverty nor riches–Feed me with the food allotted to me, Lest I be full and deny You, And say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or lest I be poor and steal, And profane the name of my God.” Proverbs 30:7-9 NKJV
So, this is what Agur prays for:
- that lies are removed from him (this seems to be a confession and request for cleansing from any dishonest dealings he may have had)
- that he’s given neither poverty nor riches (as both conditions can separate us from God for different reasons)
One of the first things we should always do when we pray is to confess our sins. Because only as we confess them, can God forgive and cleanse us (I John 1:9).
This is why the posture of prayer has always been to lower ourselves physically, either by simply bowing our head and kneeling down when possible, or even the full prostration position of spreading our bodies on the ground, reducing ourselves fully to dust like the dead (Lamentations 3:29). These are indicators of our humility before God.
After this confession, Agur made his request. Notice his mention of food–“Feed me with the food allotted to me.” The first time the word “give” is used in the Bible in relation to people was in Genesis, chapter 1. Here God gave us our first and best food allotment (Genesis 1:29).
But Agur seems more worried about the amount of food. If he were poverty-stricken, he might be tempted to steal; and if he were rich, he might not recognize his need of God. His main fear is losing his relationship with God and the opportunity to bring Him glory.
Discussion Questions: Where do you see Agur’s two requests of God reflected in The Lord’s Prayer that Jesus gave His disciples (Matthew 6:9-13)? In what ways would these requests cover the two basic needs of humanity? [the physical and the spiritual needs]
Since food was God’s first gift to us, what importance do you see in giving thanks or asking a blessing on the food we eat?
In what ways do other cultures and religions associate God with food? And why do you think this is so?
Wednesday: The Actions of the Arrogant
Agur points out several actions of the arrogant.
- cursing our parents (v. 11 and 17).
- expressing our self-righteousness (v. 12 and 20).
- showing contempt for others (v. 13 and 14)
Let’s look at each one and see why these behaviors are so abhorrent in God’s eyes.
- “There is a generation that curses its father, And does not bless its mother….” “The eye that mocks his father, And scorns obedience to its mother…” These verses help identify the culprits. But when you recognize our parents as our source of life, next to God, you can understand God taking it personal when we mistreat our parents.
- “There is a generation that is pure in its own eyes…” …says, ‘I have done no wickedness.’ “ These people think and talk like they have done nothing wrong; in other words, they feel self-righteous. But God knows our true condition. No wonder He despises it when we deny our mistakes.
- “There is a generation whose teeth are like swords. And whose fangs are like knives, To devour the poor from off the earth…” And this is where arrogance leads us…from mistreating our parents, to feeling we are better than others, and finally to act on our superiority complex and mistreat those around us. Jesus told us that when we do anything harmful to someone else, it’s the same as doing it to Him. He feels the pain of the downtrodden. Once again, God is hurting.
Discussion Questions: Read Exodus 20:12 and Ephesians 6:2, 3. What implied advice to parents might be included in the fifth commandment, according to Paul?
What’s the meaning of the promise of life which God includes in this commandment? Is it talking about eternal life or life here and now?
Discuss how humility is the only true antidote for arrogance and where can we get this priceless commodity?
Thursday: Lessons From Nature
Agur’s famous lists in this chapter contain common things that humble us in the presence of their mysterious, complex nature.
- Proverbs 30:18, 19 Four things too wonderful for him to understand
- how an eagle flies
- how a serpent slithers on a rock
- how a ship navigates the waters
- how a man and woman conceive and bear children
- Proverbs 30:24-28 Four things that are exceedingly wise
- ants, not strong, but they prepare for winter
- rock badgers, not strong, but they make their homes in the rocks
- locusts, how they move in ranks without a leader to direct them
- spiders, skillfully grasping its prey
These lists cover small things he sees in nature that mystify him. But there are larger things that intrigue him as well, listed in Proverbs 30:29-31.
- a lion, mighty among beasts
- a greyhound
- a male goat
- a king, leading his troops
Truly, one of the best ways to learn about God is to study the world He made. Even with the effects of sin blatantly disturbing nature, we can see evidence of His workmanship in both the large and small creatures of earth. They provide mysteries that only God can reveal to those humble enough to recognize and appreciate His power.
Discussion Questions: How does the theory of evolution devalue animals and nature?
Besides evolution, how has forgetting the Sabbath encouraged us to forget the God of creation?
What can the study of nature teach us about the character of God and the plan of salvation?
This week emphasized how humility leads to our being wise.
- Boasting was exposed as prideful language, and not becoming for one seeking to be wise.
- The more we know God, walking with Him on a daily basis, the more we will manifest humility in our relation to Him and others.
- A humble prayer consists of confession and modest requests.
- Actions of arrogance, the opposite of humility, include: mistreating parents, being self-righteous, and showing contempt for others.
“The Lord can do nothing toward the recovery of man until, convinced of his own weakness, and stripped of all self-sufficiency, he yields himself to the control of God.” ~Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 300.
- Study some Psalms of David this week (for instance, Psalm 19, 33, and 104), and discover how praising God for His creative powers can increase our humility. What other Psalms can you find that abound with references to nature? In what ways do you think David’s job as a shepherd boy contributed to his appreciation of nature?
- Get out into nature yourself this week and, like David, explore the mysteries God has waiting for YOU there. (Sabbath would be an excellent opportunity for this exercise.)
Next Week: Women and Wine
To read the Sabbath School lesson quarterly and find more resources for its study, see www.ssnet.org