Proverbs in 365 Devotions
Proverbs 27:18 Whoever tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, and he who guards his master will be honored. 19 As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man. 20 Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man.
Rewards Of The Heart
So, right away when looking at this passage, I find myself asking “What on earth is a fig tree anyways?” Which led me down a rabbit hole of Googling pictures of fig trees that eventually led to threads on how to care for them. As it turns out, fig trees are pretty temperamental. In fact, they need tons of sunlight in order to produce healthy fruit. But why is this verse coupled with something that has to do with protecting one’s master? And then it skips on to talk about water and then these random places that are “never satisfied”. In order to properly understand how this passage can apply to us, I think it would be best to digest each verse on its own, and then weave them together to help illustrate how these verses can help us best live out our lives as followers of Christ.
We’ll start with verse 18:
18 Whoever tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, and he who guards his master will be honored.
Let’s break this down into two parts. The first part talks about fig trees, and the second talks about guarding, or protecting, a master. Taking into account our exhaustive research surrounding fig trees and the fact that we have discovered that they need immense amounts of vitamin D in order to produce fruit, I think it goes without saying that without adequate care or attention, a fig tree could easily wither and die.
And also, for some reason, Jesus and fig trees have a “thing”. In Matthew 24:32 Jesus compares the fig tree’s bloom to being prepared for his Second Coming:
32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
Also near the end of John chapter 1, Jesus calls Phillip and Nathanael, saying:
47Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
And of course we can’t forget the famous story of Jesus cursing the fruit-less fig tree in...
Matthew 21:18 In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.
I’m not sure why God’s Word continually uses fig trees in illustrations, but the symbolism in our passage is effective. What if the fig tree that Proverbs 27:18 talks about is your heart? In fact, if we substituted the words ‘fig tree’ for ‘heart’, how would the passage read?
18 Whoever tends a ‘heart’ will eat its fruit,
Just as a fig tree needs sunlight in order to produce fruit, so our heart needs the light of Jesus in order to bear fruit as well. Our heart condition produces two kinds of fruit: good and bad.
Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 7:15-20:
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
Every healthy tree bears good fruit, and the diseased bears bad fruit. Makes sense, right? Similarly, if our hearts are healthy, then we will see an outpouring of good “fruits”. Jesus even says that we will be recognized by our fruits! That could be a scary thing if our hearts aren’t in the right place.
Let’s continue this ‘heart’ theme onto the second half of verse 18:
18b and he who guards his master will be honored.
I think each of us can agree that we have been ruled by our heart over our head at one time or another. I can think of one particular main character of the Old Testament that ruined his life because he followed the desires of his heart. When King David took another man’s wife as his own, he felt the consequences of that sin for the rest of his life. His kingdom was never the same. The relationships with his children were never the same. The impact of that one sinful, heart-driven desire was cataclysmic. Let’s take the same approach to this verse as we did on the first half, and swap one word with ‘heart’, purely for illustrative purposes:
18b and he who guards his ‘heart’ will be honored.
Our hearts must be guarded, or another way to say it, is that we must protect that thing which can control, or be “master” of our actions - our heart! Let’s look at the whole of verse 18 again:
18 Whoever tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, and he who guards his master will be honored.
We must tend to our hearts, filling it with the light and life of Jesus through the truth of God’s Word so that it might produce good fruit. And we must also protect our hearts at all costs! That verse says that “whoever guards his master (his heart) will be honored.” A couple of ways that we can tend to and guard our hearts is provided in Philippians 4:4-7. It says:
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Moving on to the rest of our passage, verse 19 says:
19 As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man.
This simple phrase echos what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 7:17: 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.
Just as water shows what your face looks like, your heart shows “the man”. Another way to look at the phrase “the man” would be a person’s “character”. So just like water can be a mirror for your outer expressions, one’s heart can be a mirror of one’s inner expressions. If we are tending to our heart through rejoicing, and guarding it through prayer, and in turn, the peace of God, then our heart should reflect that. It should bear good fruit.
20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
Moving on, Proverbs 27:20 requires a little scriptural sleuthing. It says:
20 Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man.
So where (or who) are these things? Sheol is referenced several times throughout the Old Testament. In an article from Desiring God titled ‘What is Sheol’, Sheol is described as the Enemy’s Bunker, or a house of death. Not somewhere I’m trying to pay a visit any time soon. Sounds dark and gloomy... In Habakkuk 2:5 Sheol is described as:
5 His greed is as wide as Sheol; like death he has never enough.
This aligns with Proverbs 20:20. But what (or who) is Abaddon? I had to Google this one as well. This article from christianity.com says:
“Also known as Apollyon, Abaddon makes an appearance in the last book of the New Testament: Revelation (Revelation 9:11)...
11 They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.
He carries out his role during the fifth trumpet of destruction, as we mentioned above with the locusts. They swarm out of a seemingly bottomless pit... Overall, we know that Abaddon has ties with destruction in both Testaments, and he appears to unleash misery via the form of sharp-toothed locusts in the last days.”
Got it. So this guy Abaddon is a demon that controls hoards of razor-toothed locusts that swarm out of a bottomless pit during the fifth trumpet of destruction in the last days. Sounds like a good dude... OR HOW ABOUT NOT?!?!
So why does this verse apply in our context here? Doesn’t it seem juxtaposed to the feel-good verses about the heart? As we read on, verse 20 says that just like “Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied”, and our eyes aren’t either. The eyes of man are insatiable. We want the things we don’t have. We desire the things that lead to our destruction. It’s a harrowing analogy, comparing the rewards of the heart and these two terrible things, Sheol and Abaddon.
On the one hand, you shepherd your heart well and reap the benefits of that. You produce good fruit. You are known by your fruit because it is reflected in every area of your life. On the other hand... Well, verse 20 implies Sheol and Abaddon are waiting.They’re impatient and they’re always wanting more, perfectly content and expectant upon your arrival. THIS is why we must tend to our fig tree and guard our master. So that Sheol and Abaddon will be quenched. We must fill our hearts with the light of the Lord, so that His peace will guard our hearts in Christ Jesus. Then, and only then, will we reap the rewards of our heart.
Lord Jesus, we rejoice in your goodness and grace. We humbly come and ask that you search our hearts, and make known to us any transgressions. Help us to not be anxious in anything, and to trust you more each and every day. Thank you for loving us unconditionally, and pursuing our hearts. Give us your peace, Father, so that our hearts might be guarded in you, that we might see good the results of good fruit produced in our lives. In your precious and holy name, amen.