The Knowledge of the Holy

Proverbs 1-9 are like the dining table in a palace, and chapters 10-31 are like the spreading of the banquet. With her own strong hands, Lady Wisdom has hewn a mansion with seven magnificent pillars (9:1-6). Thus, every Proverb we discover is another course in her sumptuous meal. Every bite of insight warms our bellies and sweetens the tongue. Wisdom calls out for us to enjoy this banquet in her house—a home-cooked meal for wayward souls.

What we may not see is the foundation of that house—always important but rarely observed. The foundation of Wisdom’s house is stated at every key juncture—at the beginning (1:7), the middle (9:10), and the end of Proverbs (31:30). The foundation of Proverbs and the foundation of life is to fear the Lord who made us. This fear of the Lord can be defined in two complementary ways: reverent obedience and worshipful joy. Knowing God so well that we revere him through our obedience and worship him with joy. By illustration, the child who knows her father’s character, moral standards, and loving discipline (3:11-12) will fear her father by following his instruction. Yet this very child will also run with joy into her father’s arms because she knows her father’s kindness and desire for her good. So also, our loving heavenly Father receives both our obedience and our joy when we come to know him as we should. As A. W. Tozer rightly stated, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”[1] It changes the way we live our lives, see the world, and interact with others. Wisdom is not how much we know but how well we engage with God and the people in our life.

The book of Proverbs addresses many of life’s challenges to show God’s Word sufficient in all matters pertaining to life and godliness. We can explore pride and humility, grief and loss, biblical friendship, marriage and parenting, anger, anxiety, truth and deception, godly speech, gossip and slander, wealth, addictions, laziness, and God’s will. Proverbs also has much to say about peace and conflict, envy and contentment, self-control, forgiveness, long life, health and aging, worship and sacrifice, leadership, consequences, time management, and grace for any form of sin and suffering in this fallen world. Yet, the study of Proverbs ultimately climaxes in God himself as we reflect on certain aspects of his divine character, which he declares as true. We discover many of these attributes in the wisdom of Proverbs and follow them throughout Scripture. We then take this knowledge of God’s attributes and show how knowing the God who exudes them will radically change the way we live our lives. Spurgeon called this study of God “a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity.”[2] We can reach to all eternity and still never fully plumb its depths.

This banquet in Proverbs presents a feast for the soul, yet we must never forget our gracious host. Let us not spend our days consumed by his gifts without acknowledging him as Giver. The Proverbs reveal to us a magnificent God whom we trust and obey with intimate love. We, therefore, study the Word of God to know better the God of the Word who welcomes us into a personal relationship with him. We read each Proverb as we read the rest of Scripture: How does God reveal himself to me in this portion of His Word? How does this Proverb teach me to fear the Lord better, and how does knowing him radically change my life?

God’s Holiness

We begin our study with God’s most essential attribute—his holiness. “Reflected in [Old Testament] wisdom is the teaching of a personal God who is holy and just and who expects those who know him to exhibit his character in the many practical affairs of life.”[3] In Proverbs 9:10, he is called “the Holy One” (see 30:3) as the word “holy” means “to be set apart, to be wholly other.” Every aspect of God’s character is immeasurably perfect: He is perfectly loving, infinitely wise, and sovereign in power.

In his omnipresence

He is omnipresent, possessing all of his attributes and all of his abilities in all places at all times. This means that God will never abandon us, for he is always present in every place we find ourselves (Ps 139:5-12). He will never be unavailable to us.

In his eternality

God is also eternal and unchanging—the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8). He neither gets old nor worries about the future. He does not change along with cultural trends and fads but remains our rock of refuge in a sea of shifting shadows.

In his beauty

God is also glorious in his beauty. Everything he is and does direct our hearts to worship him. He is the inspiration of our joy and the wonder of our love. How would it change our outlook to see each circumstance and person in our life and every material possession as simply a reflection of God’s beauty? We are living in the Shadowlands where everything of delight on earth is but a shadow of the truer, better reality in the heavens.[4] God is ultimately happy in his blessedness, for within the Holy Trinity, he has everything he needs. He did not make mankind out of feelings of loneliness or his need for affirmation. Instead, he created us so that we might enter into joy with him. So ask yourself: “Am I fully satisfied in God, or am I seeking sin because my heart is not fulfilled in him?”

In his moral perfection

Morally, in his perfection, the Lord is without sin as the holy standard of the law itself. Thus Proverbs 6 declares that God hates sin:

There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers (vv. 16-19).

God hates sin, yet startlingly in those last two abominations, God appears to hate the sinner as well: “a false witness . . . and one who sows discord.” We may often use the trite phrase: Love the sinner; hate the sin. And yes, God loves the sinner, but at some level, sin is so ingrained in us as sinners that God finds us an abomination to his holiness. Throughout the Proverbs, we can follow this thread that God hates the sinner and not merely the sin: “Those of crooked heart are an abomination to the LORD” (11:20a). “The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD” (15:26a). God hates the “arrogant in heart” (16:5; see 8:13), the devious person with lying lips (3:32a; 12:22a), the one who cheats and steals (11:1; 20:10, 23), and “he who justifies the wicked [yet] condemns the righteous” (17:15). The Lord is angry with adulterers (22:14) and against hypocrites who worship falsely (21:27; see 15:8; 28:9). Yet why does God hate both sin and sinner? Again from Tozer, because “the essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him.”[5] Pursuing sin is an act of idolatrous rebellion—the worship of someone or something other than the holy God. We are declaring ourselves to be enemies of God, for sin offers our allegiance to his rivals (Jas 4:4).

Yet, that is not how our relationship was meant to be. We are called to be holy throughout Scripture as God is holy (Lev 19:2; 1 Pet 1:16). Man was created to be an image-bearer of Creator God (Gen 1:26-27). So also, the Proverbs calls us to holiness as image-bearers of the Holy One. God’s people understand his righteousness (Prov 2:9) as we meditate on his Word in order to obey. Our thoughts about God then transform the way we act, speak, and love. We act in righteousness (1:3) since true faith always leads to works (Jas 2:14-26). We speak in righteous words which can be trusted (Prov 10:11a; 12:6b, 17a; 15:28a; 16:13) and pursue righteous desires as the passion of our hearts (15:9). “Whoever walks in uprightness fears the LORD” (14:2a; see 2:20-21; 11:20; 12:2), since what we think about God transforms the way we live. So also, we possess a heart of worship: “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him. The way of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but [the LORD] loves him who pursues righteousness” (15:8-9; see v. 29; 21:3, 12). What we think about God transforms our worship, exposing any idols we carry with us into his holy presence.

Application Insight: So, how does this truth apply to our everyday life? It calls us to worship God above all else, for every person comes before the Lord with idols that creep into our hearts. The mother enamored by her children can worship them as idols. Her emotions rise and fall on their success. So she gets angry or despairing whenever they rebel. She harbors pride in their accomplishments and pushes them for more. She will defend her idols at any cost—including sin. Does the clutching mother worship her children more than God?

The businessman piles up money to purchase the good life for his family. Why does he work those extra hours and find such delight in the accolades of men? Why does he dread the loss of his job—his passions riding on the waves of the economy? He is willing to cheat to get ahead. Does he worship his career instead of God?

The teenage girl makes the beauty of her body into an idol that she worships. She spends gobs of time picking out clothes and fixing her hair, and comparing herself to fashion magazines. A classmate’s critical comment about her appearance can send her reeling for weeks at a time. Then secretly, she begins to purge as she worships a body sculpted in the image of thinness. She is willing to sin to get what she wants. The Scriptures call us back to the holiness of God.

The frazzled mother, the driven businessman, and the selfish teen all need the same truth. They are called to holiness as God is holy, yet they cannot simply change behavior. They must change the One they worship, for they are not worshipping the holy God who is set apart above all others. They need new hearts to worship God—new thoughts, emotions, and desires which spring up in a life of newfound holiness. We cannot worship rightly unless we have set apart the holy God as our first love. For God hates our idolatrous worship and calls us his enemies (Rom 8:7) not simply when we worship what the world calls wicked, but even when we worship good desires in place of God. He wants more than the words on our lips and our presence in the church. He wants our hearts completely devoted to him.

God’s Love

In his personal relationship

God knows we cannot change our hearts by human effort, so he must change us by his love. God’s love is personal. He did not simply create the world and leave us be, for all creation shouts his name (Ps 19:1-6). In God’s Word, he then explicitly reveals his glory. As Lady Wisdom calls out: “I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me” (Prov 8:17). God personally spoke with young king Solomon to offer him the gift of wisdom (1 Kgs 3:3-15). And God designed the wisdom of his Word to be passed down in personal relationship from parents to their children (Prov 1:8-9).

In his goodness

Therefore, “whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the LORD” (16:20; see 13:13). God loves us by revealing himself to us in his Word. The parallelism in this proverb equates giving thought to the Word with trusting in the Lord. Faith and doctrine cannot be torn asunder. So we must not say, “I believe in God,” but never read his Word, and we must not read his Word without being strengthened in our faith. For God’s love reminds us that we are known by the One who made us: “The poor man and the oppressor meet together; the LORD gives light to the eyes of both” (29:13). God knows our joys and also knows our pain. He sympathizes with the struggles we face in a fallen world, for he is active and personally involved.

In his patience and peace

God’s love is also patient as he disciplines us: “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (3:11-12). According to 27:8, “Like a bird that strays from its nest is a man who strays from his home.” God’s Word, like a nest, is a place of nourishment and growth. Within God’s Word, we find intimacy, care, and loving protection. It has boundaries that limit us for our good, so our Father brings us back with loving discipline when we stray from home. He uses circumstances and people in our lives to return our gaze upon him. He patiently allows us time to repent and change. He does not settle for false repentance but waits until our pride has brought us low (16:18). For God is not rushed into panic by insecurity or any threat to his character. He is God, and his love is infinitely patient.

In his gracious gifts

God’s love is also gracious, for he gives good gifts to the one who keeps his commandments (3:1): “Length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you” (v. 2). The one who cherishes the Word of God (v. 3) “will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man” (v. 4).[6] God will lead the faithful in righteous paths (vv. 5-6), bring physical refreshment (vv. 7-8), and material gain (vv. 9-10). One example of these blessings: “A prudent wife is from the LORD” (19:14b).

In his salvation

Thus, every good and perfect gift comes down from our Father in heaven (Jas 1:17), yet the greatest gift of all is salvation from the Lord: “By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the LORD one turns away from evil” (16:6).[7] God atones for past iniquity and pardons every sin. He then gives strength to turn away from future sin and empowerment to obey. For the fear of the Lord produces steadfast love and faithfulness in the hearts of those forgiven. So also, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (28:13; see v. 14; Ps 32; 1 John 1:6-9). The penitent person gives public praise to God by declaring a desperate need for mercy and forgiveness. Therefore, we must not hide our sin or try to outwit God. For he knows our hearts and will only grant forgiveness if we confess and forsake our sin—a dual commitment to walk in the way of his holiness. God then overcomes our weakness by his sufficient grace and does all this without resentment. He never gives grudgingly of his grace or shames us for seeking his forgiveness. God’s love has overcome our sin.

That teenage girl must ask herself: “Does the loving God love me? Has he really structured every aspect of my life that I might personally know him?” By God’s grace, she starts to listen to the wisdom of her parents and the wisdom from God’s Word. She begins to see herself as an image-bearer whose sole delight is to reflect God’s glory (Rom 11:36). She learns that “charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised” (Prov 31:30). She discovers a God who has known her intimately since the moment he formed her in her mother’s womb (Ps 139:13-16). Her Maker and Creator delights in her and is ravished by the beauty of his bride. By her fear of the Lord, she turns away from evil as the gracious God atones for her sin and fills her heart with steadfast love and faithfulness. She, therefore, comes before the Lord confessing her worship of self in place of God:

O Lord, instead of bearing an image of your glory, I have worshiped the image of my body. I failed to believe you were truly good, wishing you had made me thinner or taller or more beautiful like my friends. I was ungrateful for the way you fashioned me by your loving hand, so I sold myself to vanity and pampered myself with beauty. I’m even starving myself to death. I feel guilty every time I purge, but I can’t stop it on my own. I need your grace to forsake my sin—to seek your favor instead of seeking the approval of others.

God is patient in his love for her—his blessed daughter. He knows she cannot change herself and knows that change is slow. So he agonizes with her as she fights against temptation and despair. He trains her to find her identity in him instead of in herself. He rejoices with every calorie she intakes and every pound she gains. He is present as her body convulses while she fights each urge to purge. Then as God leads her into abundant life, he begins to change her heart. She now recognizes that despite her physical and emotional flaws, the death of Christ declares that she is perfectly loved. His love covers all her imperfections. She is convicted by her jealousy of others and her friendships based solely on performance. She sees her struggles to reflect God’s patience with her parents and her little brother. But by God’s grace, she begins to open up and be more vulnerable with her peers. She invests in them with a life of service despite fearing their rejection. She seeks to personally minister the gospel every day with her attitude and her words. For the loving God has shown his love for her as he transforms her heart of worship.

Application Insight: Do you struggle to believe that God intimately loves you and is personally active for your good? Take a moment to write down your greatest trial or temptation to sin. Do you know the love of God even in that suffering? Do you know the grace of his loving discipline, and can you recognize his patience? Do you believe his promises of blessings for obedience? Do you know his comforting presence in every hardship? Do you know him as the Savior who forgives all sin and gives you the power to obey? Take time to reflect on the attributes of God, which he reveals in his Word. And as you study them, ask yourself: “How does believing in each attribute of God change the way I think about him, the way I think about my struggle, and the way I think about serving others?” For what we think about God is the most important thing about us.

God’s Wisdom

In his creation

Consider how God’s wisdom which he first demonstrated by his ordering of creation: “The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding, he established the heavens; by his knowledge, the deeps broke open, and the clouds drop down the dew” (Prov 3:19-20; see 8:22-31; 20:12). God operates in this world without confusion or disorder. Despite all the complex moving parts, he remains completely in control. He does not worry, or rush about in panic, or regret his past decisions. He is perfectly at rest in the enjoyment of creation.

In his comfort and peace

He is a God of order and peace even in the midst of suffering: “The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble” (16:4). God has ordained a future judgment for the wicked, yet still, they have a purpose in his sovereign plan. Sometimes we look at the trials in our lives or at those who have sinned against us, and we cry, “Why, O God, would you allow this to happen?” We forget to trust that, in God’s wisdom, he works all things together for our good (Rom 8:28). Even the crucifixion of his beloved Son—the most wicked act of sinful man, God planned for good (Acts 4:24-28). He planned it out to display his glory and purchase our salvation.

In his truth

Then in his wisdom, God is truth, for he alone declares what is and what is not. We learn God’s truth with the attitude of humility: “The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor” (Prov 15:33). We must worship the Lord before receiving his wisdom and humble ourselves before receiving his honor. “For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity” (2:6-7). God bestows his wisdom on the upright and protects the one who walks in integrity. So the first step in receiving God’s wisdom is trusting in Jesus and becoming God’s child. We must first know the Lord before we begin to trust his truth, for the child who obeys and delights in her father does so out of love. Relationship then leads to wisdom as we “trust in the LORD with all [our] heart, and do not lean on [our] own understanding. In all [our] ways [we] acknowledge him, and he will make straight [our] paths” (3:5-6). We trust in God for salvation, then we trust in him to make us wise. We trust the Lord to order our steps and to keep us walking in the truth. Soon, we trust not simply as his child but also because he proves himself trustworthy time and time again.

In his omniscience

He never fails, for in God’s wisdom, he is omniscient. Without any effort, he knows the outcome of every event in life. Amazingly, he has never had to learn a thing, for if God ever learned a single thing, it would mean that his knowledge at some point was imperfect. We can never catch him by surprise. He also knows each of us with perfect intimacy. According to 21:2, “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart” (see 16:2; 17:3; 20:27). God knows the motives for our actions better than us: “If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?” (24:12). God knows the hearts of so-called religious people who ignore those burdened by life’s troubles (Luke 10:31-32), and he commends the Good Samaritan though no one else may see his act of kindness (vv. 33-37). God, in his wisdom, will repay each man according to his work. “No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the LORD” (Prov 21:30). We can’t outsmart the Lord or hide from his omniscience, for he knows our every action and the motives of our hearts. Therefore, God’s omniscience will either strike us with great terror or bring tremendous comfort. We may be horrified that God can see our every sinful action down to the motives of the heart (Heb 4:13; Num 32:23). Yet if we are righteous or unjustly accused, God’s wise omniscience is a source of comforting hope (Ps 139:1-4).

In his justice

In his wisdom, God is also just: “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Prov 15:3; see v. 11; 5:21). God knows if we’ve been bad or good. He watches out as if from an elevated tower on the city walls. He sees everything below and will grant our just rewards. Human leaders often fail to grant justice (29:26; see 23:10-11), for human courts are only just insofar as they do the work of God. So we must not despair when human authorities get justice wrong. Instead, we trust that God will render all things right as he demonstrates in the gospel.

Although we stood as defendants guilty before a holy Judge, that Judge himself has taken our place. The Judge came off the bench and took our sentence upon himself. “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD” (17:15), yet through the gospel, the wicked were justified and the Righteous One condemned (Rom 4:5). Through the gospel, the Righteous One was made ransom for the wicked (cp. Prov 21:18; see Isa 53:4, 12), “for Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18a; see 2:24; 2 Cor 5:21). This is the gospel—the good news that we are guilty, yet not condemned. God’s justice provides grace for sin, for he will judge every sin either at the cross or in the depths of hell. By God’s grace, we are convicted to feel the horrifying prospect of eternal judgment in the depths of hell. Yet by God’s grace, he forgave our sin by pouring on his Son the dreadful wrath that we deserved. Because of Christ, we stand forgiven at the cross.

In his grace

God’s justice provides grace for sin and also comforts us in suffering. For every wrong, he will eventually make right. When sinned against, we know that God will either graciously forgive or else display his wrath on the day of judgment. Therefore, “do not say, ‘I will repay evil’; wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you” (Prov 20:22). We are not the judge and jury of our enemies, but leave both vengeance and forgiving grace to God alone (Rom 12:14-21). Because of Christ, we stand forgiving at the cross.

So how does this work in everyday life for the businessman driven to further his career? By God’s grace, he finds a Bible in the room of his hotel and starts to read. He is reminded of the close relationship he once experienced with the Lord. He discovers wisdom in God’s Word and authority in God’s truth. He is convicted of not trusting God to give order to his life or resting in the peace which only God provides. With sorrow, he realizes that his lust for money has taken over his schedule and his budget, his family life, and his lack of rest and service to the Lord. Alone and broken by his sin, he starts to weep:

O God, what have I done? You know all things. You have never taken your eyes off me, yet I have abandoned my first love. I have sold my soul for the trappings of success. I’ve been drifting in and out of the church with my Bible dusty on the shelf. I have not served you by a life of worship. So I confess the lies I’ve told at work and home. I’ve been struggling to keep them straight. I confess my anger and irritation at my wife and kids. Preoccupied with work, I’ve not loved them as I should. I confess using flattery in public and slander in private to climb over coworkers on the company ladder. In my pride, I got upset when others were promoted in place of me. I fumed for not receiving the highest company bonus. O Lord, would you forgive me. Cover over my iniquities with the cleansing sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

As God leads this man into life abundant, God begins to change his heart. He pours himself into serving his wife and children. He makes peace with his boss and with his coworkers. He begins to budget his time and money according to principles from God’s Word. He starts to reread his Bible and fellowship with the church. He even joins a men’s group and starts discipling other men. He is living his life as a man transformed by the wisdom and the grace of God.

Application Insight: So what about you? Your struggle against both sin and suffering takes place not in circumstances but the arena of your heart. It is a battle over whom you will worship, for, with each decision, you are moving either closer or further away from God. What you think about God is the most important thing about you. We all have circumstances that are the stuff of life. The question is how we respond to them. So ask yourself: “How well do I rest in the wisdom of God? Do I trust in God and his Word? Do I believe that he knows better than me the circumstances that I need?” God uses every temptation to sin and every life-stopping trial to reveal the one we worship in our hearts. He wants to change our hearts to worship him, for what we think about God will determine whom we worship.

God’s Power

In his self-sufficiency

Along with God’s holiness, love, and wisdom, other attributes reveal his power. First, God is self-sufficient. He does whatever he wants whenever he wants and cannot be coerced by his creation. According to Proverbs 22:2, “The rich and the poor meet together; the LORD is the maker of them all” (see 29:13; 30:4). As the Creator, he is Ruler over rich and poor alike. He is a debtor to no one—King of kings and Lord of lords. When the Lord takes action, it is out of his unwavering desire to achieve his own good purposes (Eph 1:11). No one can blackmail or intimidate or guilt him to act outside his own good pleasure (Isa 40:13-14). Being independent from us, he becomes dependable for us. Therefore, we can trust that God’s actions stay consistent with his character.

In his omnipotence

Likewise, God is omnipotent—all-powerful. He is completely capable of completing every effort of his sovereign will. He never fails. He never grows weary or faints with exhaustion. The Lord grants victory over the most shameful of sins and redeems even the most difficult suffering. When we face the challenges of life, we want the omnipotent God to be on our side, for “the name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe” (18:10; see 10:29; 29:25; 30:5; Ps 61:3). We have nothing to fear when we trust in the name of the Lord, for his name represents his holy character. God, encompassed by all his attributes, will powerfully move to protect his people. People did not live in towers in ancient times but fled to them for safety when enemies attacked. So ask yourself: “When I am in trouble and enemies attack—when bombarded by life’s trials and temptations and the torment of others, where do I run? Do I try to stand and fight in my own human strength? Do I freeze in panic, or do I seek refuge in the Lord?” The righteous man instinctively runs to the safety of the Lord.

In his security

So also, “the fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death” (14:27; see v. 26; 10:27; 13:14; 15:16; 19:23). God is the life-giver who snatches us from the jaws of death. He is an oasis in the desert for the weary traveler dying of thirst. The fear of the Lord does not entail trembling in anguish that some Zeus-like deity will strike us down with lightning. Instead, the fear of the Lord is living water to the soul, for as we dwell in an intimate relationship with God, he offers daily refreshment for our soul. So also, “the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught” (3:26; see 2:12-19; 4:6, 12). He is our firm footing and confidence in unfamiliar times because life is no walk in the park, but a treacherous hike down into the valley of death’s shadow (Ps 23:4) and up the cliff’s edge of mountain peaks (Hab 3:19). The Lord will show us where to walk and where to plant our feet. He is the lamp that guides our way and lights the path of righteousness (Prov 4:11-27).

In his sovereignty

God is also sovereign in his power. He is Creator of all, the Author of history, and the One who breathed out Scripture (2 Tim 3:16-17). He owns all things both by right of creation (Rev 4:11; Ps 50:10-12) and by the blood of Christ at Calvary (Eph 1:10). God, in His sovereignty, governs kings (Prov 8:15; 21:1) and circumstances (v. 31), and even the casting of the lot (16:33). So “the heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (16:9; see vv. 1, 3; 19:21; 20:24). Ask yourself: “Do I ever struggle with not feeling in control? Is it hard to trust the Lord with my life?” As Spurgeon declared, “No doctrine in the whole Word of God has more excited the hatred of mankind than the truth of the absolute sovereignty of God. The fact that ‘the Lord reigneth’ is indisputable, and it is this fact that arouses the utmost opposition of the unrenewed human heart.”[8] If we do not trust the holy God as all-wise and all-loving, then we will cringe to know him as all-powerful, like seeing a nuclear weapon in the hands of a terrorist. God’s sovereignty, however, is meant to be a comfort, for the child of God can trust his redeeming purpose even in our suffering. We have faith that if God calls us to a task, he will empower us to complete it. God will use our lives to tell a story that somehow fits into his grander story for all creation.

In his jealous wrath

Finally, we encounter the jealous God who is wrathful in his power. God does all things for the sake of his name. So when we foolishly worship idols, God uses all his sovereign power to root out those adulterous desires of the heart. God is jealous for his glory and burns with anger when we pander our affections to lesser gods. “The LORD tears down the house of the proud but maintains the widow’s boundaries” (15:25; see 3:33-35; 22:28; 23:10-11). He gets angry when we elevate our wealth and livelihood, or lack thereof, above the Lord. When we pursue these idols more than the God, who must be worshiped, he makes a point of tearing down our pride (16:18). Only those who are humble, like the helpless widow, receive the protection of the Lord. Now God does not use his power to punish but to protect his children. Yet often, in his wrath, he must protect us from ourselves. He works against the idols of our heart to root them out and bring us to repentance. God’s wrath, therefore, may be painful, yet always for our good.

So how does the truth of God’s power help the frazzled mother? It convicts her that her children make unsatisfying idols who must not be worshiped. Her good desires for their health and safety, growth and maturity, success, and accomplishments have ruled her heart and overwhelmed her life. The sovereign God was working to expose her sinful heart desires (23:26), tearing down the idols she had made of her children using every tantrum, dirty diaper, messy room, sibling spat, and broken piece of furniture. Every time her children failed in character, fumbled with politeness, and fell short in academics or athletics, she was convicted of how she had made them into idols. This frazzled mother now returns to the gospel day after day:

O Lord, I am a helpless sinner trying to raise unruly reprobates. I’ve been a fool to put my faith in them and make my children into idols. My emotions rise and fall on their success. I’m also trusting in myself, in human wisdom, and the right techniques. Lord, let me put my faith in you. I now confess my misplaced worship and the many ways it led me into sin. Lord, teach me, as you are, to be holy, wise, and loving. Teach me to exercise my parental power in the way that you wield authority. Transform my heart to honor you and raise up children who bring you glory. My hope, Lord, rests in you alone to change my heart and theirs.

With joy, this mother finds that God uses sinful children to change her heart and uses her, a sinner, to work on theirs. Thus, Paul writes, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom 8:28-29). What we think about God is the most important thing about us because God is making us like himself.

God sets himself apart as the Holy One whom we must worship, for he is the personal God who comes to us instead of waiting for us to go to him. He is the gracious God who works all things together for our good. He grants us peace and knows all truth. He is the God of justice whose jealous wrath will right all wrongs. His sovereign, omnipotent power affords him patience with our growth, having planned our salvation from before time began. For “those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (v. 30). Our conformity to Christ and freedom from false idols is as good as done! God’s character allows him to slowly massage his Word into our hearts as it takes time to become what we behold. “[For] we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18a). To quote from Tozer once again: “With the goodness of God to desire our highest welfare, the wisdom of God to plan it, and the power of God to achieve it, what do we lack? Surely we are the most favored of all creatures.”[9]

Life Application Study:

  1. Study an attribute of God daily and ask how each Scripture specifically reveals God’s character. Do this each day for a different attribute. Here are some additional verses for reflection:
  • God is holy (Ps 99; Isa 6; Matt 5:43-48; 1 Pet 1:13-25)
  • God is omnipresent (Ps 139:7-12; Jer 23:23-24; Acts 17:28)
  • God is eternal (2 Pet 3:8-13; Isa 46:9-10; Heb 13:8)
  • God is beautiful (Pss 27:4; 73:25; Rev 22:1-5)
  • God is blessed (1 Tim 6:15; Gen 1:31; Isa 62:5)
  • God is personal (Matt 10:28-31; Ps 56:8-11; Rom 8:26-27)
  • God is gracious (1 John 4:7-12; Eph 2:1-10; Titus 2:11-14)
  • God is good (Luke 18:18-30; Pss 107; 34:8-22)
  • God is patient (Rom 2:1-11; Jonah 4; Exod 34:6-9)
  • God is peace (1 Cor 14:33; Rom 15:33; Phil 4:9)
  • God is truth (John 14:5-14; Jer 10:10-13; Prov 30:5)
  • God is omniscient (Ps 139:1-4; Heb 4:12-13; 1 John 3:16-20)
  • God is just (Ps 19; Job 40; Acts 10:34-35)
  • God is self-sufficient (Ps 115:3; Prov 21:1; Dan 4:35)
  • God is omnipotent (Jer 32:17; Eph 3:20; Luke 1:37)
  • God is sovereign (Eph 1; Acts 4:24-31; 1 Tim 6:13-16)
  • God is jealous (Exod 34:13-17; Rom 1:18-27; Ps 103)
  1. For each attribute:
  • Do you take pleasure, comfort, and security in this aspect of God?
  • Does your character increasingly resemble this attribute of God?
  • How does your understanding and application of God affect your current struggles with suffering? With sin?

[1] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: HarperCollins, 1961), 1.

[2] Charles Spurgeon, “The Immutability of God,” a sermon on Malachi 3:6 (1855).

[3] Louis Goldberg, “647 hakam,” in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, electronic ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 283.

[4] Adapted from C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle (Collier, 1956), 171.

[5] Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy, 5.

[6] That word “favor” is the Hebrew word for “grace.”

[7] “Steadfast love and faithfulness” elsewhere refer to God’s character (e.g., Exod 34:6-7), but in the Proverbs always refer to godly human character (e.g., 3:3; 14:22; 16:6; 19:22; 20:6, 28). This is not a denial that salvation is by grace alone, but a declaration that true salvation will be accompanied by good fruits befitting genuine repentance.

[8] Charles Spurgeon, Sermon on Divine Sovereignty (1856).

[9] Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy, 99.


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