Proverbs in 365 Devotions
Proverbs 17 Part 1
Don't Be A Dolt!
I was commissioned by my friend, Robin Aylor, to write a devotion over the 17th chapter of Proverbs. I must say that I was pretty ignorant of this chapter before I started my study. However, after spending some time in this text I have found it to be incredibly enriching. So much so that I didn’t feel like one devotion would be enough. Therefore, you are reading the first of what Lord willing will be a five part devotional series. Before, we jump into the actual devotion I want to set up some of the foundational beliefs behind it.
One of the things I love about Proverbs is the practical nature of the book. In one of the commentaries I read while preparing for this devotional the point was made that in ancient Israel there were two types of Biblical thinkers; the sages and the priests.* The priests were concerned with getting things right. For the priest, there wasn’t a grey area - there was only right and wrong. This type of theologian still exists today - these are the people who are concerned with doctrine and understanding what the Bible says and how we are to respond to it rightly. This type of thinker is and was obviously important. Doctrine is essential. Our faith is about some things and definitely not about others. In these matters there isn’t a grey area - we don’t get to make up our own faith. There is truth and we must pursue it as God reveals it to us.
I resonate with the role of the priest and in the circle of thinkers I run with I see many priest types. However, in ancient Israel there was another type of thinker - the sages. The sages and priests were to work together not against each other, but with very different roles in God’s family. The sages lived in the gray area. In fact, they weren’t concerned at all with contradicting themselves. They focused on living wise in the practical day to day matters of life. They let the priests make the rules and instead focused on how we actually live in a complex world. For example, with a priest mindset lying would always be wrong. A rule is a rule. But to a sage, lying may be wrong or it may be necessary. If you are lying to the Nazi’s about the jews in your home you are not a rule breaker - you are wise and Godly. It is from this practical sage type of thinking that I have tried to frame and write this devotional series.
As I read Proverbs 17 it became clear to me that the entire chapter is about people. Why we need them, how to treat them and what to do with the way they treat us. I have five points I’d like to make from this chapter over the course of this series and one major point that frames them all.
I find my major point in the Message Paraphrases rendering of Proverbs 17:21 Having a fool for a child is misery; it’s no fun being the parent of a dolt. - Proverbs 17:21 (MSG)
My main point for this series is simple. Don’t be a dolt! Why? Well to be honest mainly because I love the word dolt. It is a nice way of saying idiot or fool. It made me laugh to myself and I felt like it would be a memorable way for me to frame this devotion. My prayer is that every time you are dealing with a difficult person or being a difficult person yourself you would hear my voice saying, “Don’t be a dolt!”
With that being our framework let's jump into the first of what I believe will be a five part devotional series in Proverbs 17.
Lesson #1 - Don’t be a dolt...
Get the right people in your life. Why? Because the quality of the people you have in your life will determine the quality of your life. According to Proverbs 17:1, peace is found and lost within the people you choose to surround yourself with.
Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife. -Proverbs 17:1 (ESV)
Here the author basically says, it is better to have a piece of toast with people of peace, than a ribeye steak with the wrong type of people. There is no wealth worth the peace found in surrounding yourself with the right people. Notice I say ‘right’ people. This is key! Just any community won’t do - in fact, if you are surrounded by the wrong people the result can be disastrous according to Proverbs17:12.
Let a man meet a she-bear robbed of her cubs rather than a fool in his folly. - Proverbs 17:12 (ESV)
This verse immediately reminded me of another verse found earlier in the book of proverbs. The verse is Proverbs 13:20 and it is a verse I constantly referenced as a student pastor. The verse says that if you walk with the wise you will become wise and then the author says if you walk with fools -and one would expect him to say ‘you become a fool’ but that’s not what he says - instead he says you will suffer the harm of fools. In other words, you don’t have to be doing what the fool is doing to suffer harm. If you are in the proximity of the foolish you might get caught up in the suffering coming their way. I would bet that if we could have a conversation you would be able to tell me stories and I could certainly tell you stories of times when I was caught up in trouble not of my own doing.
Now, if you are like me the problem isn’t surrounding yourself with the wrong people, rather it's not surrounding yourself with anyone at all. My wife is an extrovert, she gets depressed if she is alone for more than two hours. I am the complete opposite! Give me a good book, a 12 pack of diet coke, a hot tub and I’ll see you in 7 days. If I am not careful I can gladly isolate myself from community with others. Allowing myself to do this for too long is very dangerous. Because I am made for community and without it I am in trouble! A life without the right people is truly a sad life. A life with the right people is beyond beautiful. The kind of life that is available only to those who pursue these relationships is found in Proverbs 17:17
A friend loves at all times,and a brother is born for adversity. - Proverbs 17:17 (ESV)
When someone in my congregation tells me about someone they know who has died or suffered a great tragedy the first question I ask is, “did they go to church?” I think the one telling me of the news probably assumes I am asking to see if they went to heaven or hell or to get a sense of the type of person they were. I am not. I ask to see if they have a community to care for them and their family. You see having the right relationships is wonderful when things are going well, but having them when everything falls apart is essential.
Do you have people who know your struggles? Do you have people who will weep with you? Care for you when you are sick? Encourage you when you’ve fallen?Who you can call when your world is falling apart? Moreover, who would be the first to call you when your world is falling apart?The message of this devotion from Proverbs 17 is clear! Don’t be a dolt, get the right people in your life!
Who are the right people and where do you find them? The right people are those who also seek to follow and trust in Christ in all of life. Those who seek first and foremost God’s Kingdom. You can find them in His family - the Church. The beauty of gathering with the saints each Lord’s Day has many blessings, the least of these is not the community we are surrounding ourselves with. Gather when you feel like it, gather when you don’t. Pursue relationships with those ahead of you and those behind you in their journey of following Christ. Invite people into your home, open your heart, be therefor them and ask them to be there for you. Pursue and keep pursuing this kind of community with God’s people. You won’t regret it if you do and you are a dolt if you don’t.
* Found in the introduction to Proverbs on Page 1062 of The Complete Jewish Study Bible.