Just hours before wildfire smoke choked our valley, about 100 fluttering, diving, and looping barn swifts near my home caught my eye. Clustered together, the birds seemed frantic, and I now wonder at their innate sense that something stagnant was storming toward them. At the time, I simply marveled at the fleeting dance show, knowing that if I hadn’t slowed, I would have missed the swirl of birds. Proverbs 23:4-5 uses a bird flying toward heaven to describe a person’s overtime efforts to acquire wealth. The stuff of this world can never transfer to life in the next. It will flutter away.
One of my favorite books is The Hedge of Thorns, a short parable published 200 years ago about a boy and his little sister who lived in the English countryside. Each day they walked back and forth to school along a hedge of thorns. Overly curious and suffering from the modern-day FOMO (fear of missing out), the boy convinces his sister that they should find out what is on the other side of the hedge. Acting the gentleman, he invites her to go first, but as he pushes her part way through the hedge, she begins to cry out in pain. Their adventure is cut short as blood drips from her beautiful face.
According to I Kings 4, an incredible peace covered Judah and Israel during the reign of King Solomon, who boasted 12,000 chariot and saddle horses in 4,000 stables spread throughout the country. These beasts of burden, which were first introduced in Israel’s warfare under the reign of Absalom, signified power. A nation with horses was a nation to avoid. When Solomon writes in Proverbs 21:31 of the war horse, he knows what he’s talking about, and yet he declares that the Lord has the ultimate victory. Solomon, in his God-granted wisdom, understands that the animal kingdom and the human race is limited. The Lord alone will claim final victory and grant complete peace in His eternal kingdom.
The world is full of prickly, porcupine-like people who, when irritated, leave painful reminders that they aren’t happy. Throughout Proverbs they are called quarrelers. In the animal kingdom, they are known as quill pigs, the prickliest of rodents with coats of more than 30,000 sharp quills that warn predators they won’t be an easy meal to digest. The porcupine-like person is ever ready to engage in controversy, especially over trivial matters with the very people they call friends. The woman who keeps her tongue in check and lives with her spirit in line with God will avoid quarrels and ultimately establish a good reputation.
In Genesis 3 after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, God pursued them and in love asked, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (3:11). Adam replied, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (3:12). You. With this simple pronoun, Adam leveled so much accusation at God and initiated a terrible cycle of blame. Eve also pointed her finger — at the serpent — and now, generations later, mankind continues to struggle to accept personal responsibility for sin and its consequences. Today’s proverb identifies this ugly reality (vs. 3) and calls us to a life of wisdom (vs. 20) and the fear of the Lord (vs. 23).