- The Explore the Bible Lesson for July 26 focuses on Proverbs 15:33-16:11.
One of the challenges in teaching a Bible study of Proverbs is the sheer diversity of the material. Paul’s letters follow a logical train of argument. Narratives have an extended story. But Proverbs? In many sections of this book, each individual verse is a different idea, with not much—if anything—tying all the verses together. This “anthology” structure gives great diversity, but it poses a challenge for those seeking threads that tie all the pieces together.
The passages in this lesson fit in the anthology style. Simply going verse-by-verse through the text will likely feel disjointed and awkward. Instead, our verses for today may be grouped together under a handful of broad thematic headings: God’s sovereignty, God’s judgment and God’s justice.
The subject of God’s sovereignty appears innumerable times across the Bible, all the way from Genesis to Revelation. As such, it is a vitally important concept. And just like most of the Bible’s vitally important concepts, it has been and remains heavily disputed by Christians who read Scripture differently.
What is the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human free will? Do you hold a compatibilist or libertarian view of human agency? In what way is God “sovereign” over sin and evil? Is “open theism” a legitimately orthodox position for Christians to hold? These are just a few of the vexing questions about God’s sovereignty, but they are beyond the scope of this study and are not answered by our text.
What does our text say, then? Multiple verses highlight divine sovereignty (16:1, 3-4, 9). Rather than elucidate this complex theological idea, they simply assert it. God is in control. Nothing can overpower God, and no one can outsmart him. How does this fit with free will, which Proverbs also presents as real (e.g., 16:3a)? The author doesn’t tell us.
This paradoxical mystery might hurt our heads, but it also can comfort our souls. On one hand, we know our choices matter, and we are not simply automatons. On the other hand, we can rest assured that the universe is not careening out of control. Nothing we say or do will catch God off-guard or undermine his ultimate purpose.
Just like God’s sovereignty, God’s judgment also shows up throughout the Bible. At many key points in history, God has intervened to rectify wrongs and redress injustice. And there will come a day in the future when Christ will return to set all things right once and for all.
Proverbs also bears witness to this truth (16:4-5, 7). God does not simply wink at sin or “let it go.” Rather, God sees the world in its throes of injustice, and he will do something about it. It might not be immediate, but God’s judgment nevertheless is certain.
For Christians this is a source of both comfort and warning. On one hand, we can know every evil we see in the world today ultimately will be dealt with by God. On the other hand, we of all people should know there is sin in our own hearts for which we one day must answer. Even though we are saved by faith in Christ alone, we still will have to stand before God on the last day and give an account of our actions, both good and evil (2 Corinthians 5:10).
God’s judgment goes hand-in-hand with his justice. But what does “justice” mean, biblically speaking? The term is quite contested in our contemporary American context and has been disputed for much of human history. Our text today can help shed light on the answer (Proverbs 15:33; 16:5-8, 10-11).
The heart of justice is “fear of the Lord.” Full justice cannot exist where people do not know and worship the one true God. Any “justice” absent universal fear of the Lord is only an approximation of justice—good and worthwhile, but not ultimate. There are many occasions in our world when we as Christians will have the opportunity to work alongside non-Christian for just causes. We should take those opportunities, but we should also use the chance to point others to the source of our hope for ultimate justice: Jesus Christ.
Also central to justice are “love and faithfulness” (16:6). Biblically speaking, love is a self-sacrificial commitment to the well-being of others. The ultimate example is, of course, Jesus dying for us while we were his enemies (1 John 3:16). Love is not affection, infatuation or “warm, fuzzy feelings.” Love is self-sacrifice for another’s good. Faithfulness is commitment, following through on your word and being reliable.
But justice is not simply an individual affair. Justice also is a state of affairs in which all people are treated rightly. This requires the abolition of unjust laws and the dismantling of unjust societal structures/systems. Our earthly rulers have a uniquely important role to play in this matter (Proverbs 16:10).
The good news about God’s justice is that it does not depend on us. Although God both invites us to participate in his redemptive work and uses us to accomplish his purposes, he does not need us. He is sovereign. And God’s justice is guaranteed in the future. He will bring judgment.
Joshua Sharp is a writer and Bible teacher living in Waco. He holds a Master of Divinity from Truett Theological Seminary.