A month ago I called our parish to renew our devotion to Scripture by reading the ACNA Daily Office with particular emphasis on the Old Testament readings during Epiphany and Lent: the Psalms, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Proverbs. In a secular, post-Christian age, the words of the prophets take on new significance because they reveal the catastrophe of idolatry in its personal, local, and institutional forms.
Yet the latter chapters of Jeremiah and the book of Lamentations make for some of the most difficult reading in the Bible. The images and scenes surrounding the fall of Jerusalem are gruesome. The desolation of the Holy City is total—it is the image of chaos, of un-creation. Our modern sensibilities make us ask, “how could God’s judgment be so severe?” Yet the prophet would have us see that these are the outcomes of corrupt worship over many years. False worship leads to death; right worship leads to life and flourishing. God brings judgment over Israel’s false worship to lead her back to right worship again.
Lamentations trains us to speak the truth of our failures from the deepest places of the soul.
Regaining the Crown of Wisdom
Israel has lost her God-given power, a message I preached on yesterday. Jeremiah conveys Israel’s downfall in the loss of her crown, a symbol of Israel’s God-given authority.
The crown has fallen from our head; woe to us, for we have sinned! For this our heart has become sick, for these things our eyes have grown dim, for Mount Zion which lies desolate; jackals prowl over it.” (Lamentations 5:16–18, ESV)
We need Lamentations to learn how to confess our sins rightly and well, to get to the heart of the matter, to expose any and idols that have burrowed in our hearts. Faithful kings repent of even their most egregious sins (Psalm 51); faithless kings persist in their sins.
Yet prophetic writings and lamentations are not just dystopian literature. The prophets always speak the word of hope on the other side of judgment. God judges his beloved in order to draw them back to himself:
For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men. (Lamentations 3:31–33, ESV)
From Lamentations to Proverbs
As the Daily Office progresses from Jeremiah to Lamentations to Proverbs, we find a helpful progression in the life of virtue: judgment prepares us to learn lamentation; lamentation prepares us to answer anew the call of wisdom.
That’s a good progression in the life of virtue, but that’s not how Israel’s story progresses. The events of Jeremiah and Lamentations come several centuries after the sayings of Proverbs, most of which date to the reign of King Solomon. In other words, we’re going back in history when we walk the scriptural bridge from Lamentations to Proverbs (from the 6th century BC to the 10th century BC).
That’s significant when you begin this new sequence of reading wisdom sayings in Proverbs. Straightaway from Proverbs 1 (March 2), we hear the warnings for rejecting Wisdom (who is personified in Proverbs).
If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you. Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded, because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you, when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. (Proverbs 1:23–27, ESV)
Notice the way of wisdom: for the one who receives the word of correction, God pours out his spirit and speaks his words, a sign of life and flourishing. Judgment only comes for the one who refuses to listen, who “ignores all (the Lord’s) counsel).” But the one whose ear is turned to the Lord, there is a different outcome: “whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” (Proverbs 1:33, ESV)
Applied to our times, that sounds like a calling to renew our commitment to listen deeply to the words of God. No matter how our culture may drift; no matter how idols may increase (sensuality, greed, and the cult of self, to name a few); we turn our ears and our hearts to the call of wisdom, trusting that God’s wisdom alone is solid ground in uncertain times (Matthew 7.24-27)
Solomon’s Fall from Wisdom
As our readings from Proverbs open, we hear the words Solomon embraced for himself and his nation. They are the words a father speaks to a son, for the sake of ruling with wisdom, mercy, and justice. In other words, these are royal words. We ought to read Proverbs remembering our baptism into the royal priesthood of God.
And we also ought to read Proverbs with humility. Solomon asked for wisdom more than any other gift when he began ruling Israel (1 Kings 3). But in his life, Solomon also chose the way of foolishness, marrying numerous wives who introduced idols in Israel. These idols sowed seeds of division in Solomon’s kingdom. At the end of his life, it was said of Solomon, “when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.” (1 Kings 11:4, ESV).
And there you have the seeds of a divided, compromised nation. Though they are separated by several centuries, there’s a direct connection between Solomon’s fall from wisdom and Jeremiah’s lamentations.
Reading Christ in Proverbs
Though Solomon is the source for many (but not all) proverbs, we ought to read the book of Proverbs in light of Christ. Christ alone is the truly wise King.
In a forthcoming post, I’ll outline some guidelines for reading Proverbs in the Daily Office, but let’s begin with Christ. Only Christ fulfills all of God’s wisdom. Only Christ helps us walk the wisdom. Only Christ redeems and heals us when we depart the way of wisdom.
And let’s also remember this larger story as we read Proverbs. The way of wisdom teaches us the good and right ways of God. We see in the story of Israel, especially in the eras of Solomon and Jeremiah, that the rejection of God’s wisdom means embracing idolatries, which bring division and eventually death. Idolatries always bring serious consequences.
In this season of Lent, we pray that our Lord Jesus would “come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations, and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save” (Collect for the First Sunday of Lent). Both in prayer and in Scripture this Lent, we are being shaped to resist idols that cannot save. We are learning to turn our hearts to wisdom. Let these words from Proverbs guide us through Lent and in our daily meditations on Scripture:
Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck. My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. (Proverbs 1:8–10, ESV)