A Study of Proverbs 18:9-12
I’m sure you’ve followed the story of the collapse of that beautiful beachside condominium building in Florida. People went to bed that evening thinking they were safe and secure from all alarm, and in the darkness of night they were suddenly buried under tons of concrete.
But I’ll tell you who may be the most insecure going to bed tonight. It’s the residents of San Francisco’s lavish Millennium Tower. I read a news story that said their 58-story skyscraper, with its dazzling views and luxury amities, has sunk 18 inches into the soft soil on which is was built. The whole skyscraper is tilting. Right now it is tilting at eighteen inches. And the people who bought multi-million dollar condos are worried about it. One said, “It affects our peace of mind.”
Anything that affects your peace of mind is an issue having to do with feelings of security. Personal security. And that’s what I want to talk about today. You don’t have to be living in a collapsing condominium or a tilting tower to be insecure. We’re living in an age of insecurity.
Today I want to show you four verses that speak to this. They are found in Proverbs, chapter 18:
- One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys.
- The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.
- The wealth of the rich is their fortified city; they imagine it a wall too high to scale.
- Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.
We’re in a series of pulpit studies on the book of Proverbs. Pastor Tommy and I talked the other day about the challenge of preaching from the book of Proverbs because much of the book is made up of random short statements without much context. The various proverbs appear haphazardly.
But as I prepared this message, I studied a commentary on Proverbs by Duane Garrett, an acclaimed Old Testament professor at Southern Seminary in Louisville. He said something I found helpful.
Perhaps the most arresting feature of [the body of Proverbs] is what seems a complete lack of structure of arrangement in the collection of proverbs. They appear to have been assembled altogether at random. This feature seems odd in light of the Hebrew passion [clear literary techniques and] modes of structuring the written word….
The Old Testament has a great deal of structure to it. The Hebrew writers loved using various literary devices to outline and arrange material. When I study the Bible, I try very hard to find and follow the structures in the books of the Bible, because it reveals the coherence of God’s thinking. So it seems strange that the proverbs are so unstructured. But Garrett goes on to say:
The very disorder of a collection of proverbs [serves a purpose]. The proverbs are presented in the seemingly haphazard way we encounter the issues with which they deal.
In other words, life appears to be haphazard in many ways. We never know what will happen next. And so every time we pick up the book of Proverbs and read a few verses, we’ll probably find one that fits us where we are right now.
Garrett had one other thing to say:
Each proverb has its own meaning, but it may also have a more specific meaning in the context of a small collection of proverbs…. Identifying the small collections of proverbs is essential for the use of Proverbs in the church. By observing the context of individual proverbs in small collections and noting how the message of each collection coheres, the preacher or Bible teacher can actually take a congregation through a series of chapters of Proverbs without resorting to rearranging verses topically.
As you read Proverbs, you do notice that sometimes you come upon a series of verses that seems to focus around one issue. To illustrate, Garrett sees such a collection in Proverbs 18, which we’re coming to today. He suggests that verses 9 through 12 are all about security. How do we feel secure in life? Why are people tentative and worried and insecure while others are confident and composed and very secure. Garrett said:
Several proverbs on personal security here stand together. First, it is axiomatic in Proverbs that laziness leads to personal calamity (v. 9). Second, Yahweh is the only real source of security (v. 10). Third, wealth does afford a measure of protection, but the danger of wealth is precisely that it gives its possessor the illusion of greater security than it can provide (v. 11). Fourth, the very time when one feels most secure (and thus is most arrogant) is when disaster is likely to occur (v. 12).
So let’s look again at these four verses: One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys. The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe. The wealth of the rich is their fortified city; they imagine it a wall too high to scale. Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.
We Find Lifelong Security in the Work God Assigns
Verse 9 tells us we find lifelong security in the work God assigns us. A lazy person doesn’t have much security in life. One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys. The New Living Translation says: “A lazy person is as bad as someone who destroys things.”
Laziness is the failure to realize God has an exciting plan for every moment of every day. The absence of that plan engenders a spirit of insecurity and uncertainty about life, and it results in insecurity.
The positive way of saying it is this: We find security in the work God has assigned. If we don’t know what we’re supposed to be doing, we’re living in a state of uncertainty. Our security is related to our purpose in life, and our purpose in life gives us significance and direction.
Recently I was with some missionary aviators, and I picked up a book about their ministry. It was written by Bob Griffin, who was one of the first missionary aviators. He said that he was hooked on flying as a child. He grew up during the last of the barnstorming days, and he never forgot the time when an old biplane landed on the hill behind his farmhouse, the wheels making narrow tracks in the wheat field. The pilot took Bob’s dad up, but it was too late in the day for Bob to go. But later, his father gave him $15.00 to take a ride in the airplane, and it was the most exciting day in his life. For his high school graduation, Bob’s father paid for his flying lessons, and as he grew in Christ he knew the Lord wanted him to be a missionary aviator. Because it was a divine calling on his life, he poured himself into it, heart, mind, and soul. It gave him a tremendous sense of security, and it was his life’s work.
Not all of us know from childhood what God wants us to. But most of us can say, “Lord, what do you want me to do this week?” And if you will do what God directs you to do today, He’ll unfold the future for you in His perfect timing.
As many of you know, about five years ago we made a transition in our staffing here and I moved from being senior pastor to the role of teaching pastor. I did that in large part because of my wife’s illness. And then Katrina passed away, and I thought, “What do I do now? I’m no longer a senior pastor and I’m no longer a husband.”
I spent a good deal of time thinking and praying about that. I know my most important ministry is to my grandchildren. But other than my family, what does God want me to know? I also made a list of ten different areas of ministry that I’m excited about.
- One of those areas is my ongoing opportunity to serve here. It’s wonderful to still be preaching here once a month and to have teaching opportunities.
- Another area involves my books.
- And then there’s my Bible study podcast, my daily 59-second sermons on social media, and the online courses we’re trying to create.
- There’s also an annual retreat I conduct in Pigeon Forge, and other speaking engagements the Lord provides.
I’ll not go through the whole list with you, but what I’m telling you is this. If you don’t have any direction in life, you’ll be insecure. But if you sit down and prayerfully say, “Lord, what are the different things You want me to be doing at this point in my life?” He will show you. And there is lifelong security is simply doing the next best thing as God shows it to you.
We Find Ultimate Security in the Name God Has Revealed
Second, we find ultimate security in the name God has revealed. Verse 10 says: The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous run into it and are safe.
The people in Bible times would have understood this. Turn with me to Judges, chapter 9. In verse 50, there’s a story about a man named Abimelek who was leading his troops to destroy a certain town by the name of Thebez. It happened suddenly, but some of the people were able to run into the tower, which was made from stone and it gave them some protection.
Next Abimelek went to Thebez and besieged it and captured it. Inside the city, however, was a strong tower, to which all the men and women—all the people of the city—had fled. They had locked themselves in and climbed up on the tower roof. Abimelek went to the tower and attacked it. But as he approached the entrance to the tower to set it on fire, a woman dropped an upper millstone on this head and cracked his skull.
And that was that. The cities of Judah had their strong towers and it was a place of safety. And just to make sure, they kept millstones at the top to crack the skull of anyone attacking them. So the writer of Proverbs used this an analogy for the name of the Lord.
The phrase, “The name of the Lord,” simply means, “The Lord Himself” or “Yahweh.” The Lord Jehovah Yahweh is a place of safety.
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.
One day Adolf Hitler tried to intimidate the German churchman, Martin Neimoller. Hitler wanted him to choose Nazism over Christ. But the courageous clergyman didn’t flinch. “We, too, as Christians and churchmen, have a responsibility to the German people,” said Neimoller. “That responsibility was entrusted to us by God, and neither you nor anyone in this world has the power to take it from us.”
That didn’t go over very well with the Fuhrer. That evening Neimoller’s rectory was ransacked, and a bomb later went off in his hall. Shortly after, Neimoller mounted the pulpit of his church in Berlin, saying, “It is a testing time, and God is giving Satan a free hand.”
In June 1937, Neimoller was seized by the Gestapo and held in solitary confinement until his trial the following February. His situation was perilous, for the indictment against him comprised fourteen typewritten pages. On the morning of his trial, he was led from his cell by a green-uniformed official. Through eerie underground passageways they went, the two of them, from the prison to the Nazi Court. A sense of terror overwhelmed Neimoller, a dread for himself, his family, his church. He feared the death camps.
The maze of tunnels was dark and silent but for the echoes of their footsteps. As the two men ascended their last flight of stairs, Neimoller seemed to hear a voice, hushed and whispered, repeating some words. He strained to listen, and they came again more clearly. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower,” said the voice. “The righteous run to it and are safe.”
It was the guard, speaking under his breath. Neimoller gave no sign of hearing the words, but from that moment his fear was gone, replaced by an indescribable peace and assurance that never left him, even during the next seven years of suffering, even through his darkest days at Dachau.
We find ultimate security in the name God has revealed. The Bible says so much about hiding in Him, about hiding in Christ. The Bible says, “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).
We Find Little Security in the Possessions We Accumulate
Verse 11 continues this thought of a fortified city. While the name of the Lord is the fortified tower for those of us who know Him, the wealthy depend on their wealth as their fortification: The wealth of the rich is their fortified city; they imagine it a wall too high to scale.
We need to take this very seriously because it’s a very persistent theme in Scripture. This principle is filled out a little in 1 Timothy 6: Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant or to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of life that is truly life.
Sometimes I come across interesting documents that I want to share with you. Recently, Billy Graham’s last will and testament was released. And even in this document he preached the Gospel. It’s a sixteen page document that begins with his testimony and with a call to his children to maintain and to defend at all hazards the blessed doctrine of the blessed atonement through the blood of Christ.
And then he got down to material things. He said:
Concerning the material things that we leave behind, I would like to share with you in a couple of paragraphs what our family financial policy was and from whence these things came. From the beginning of our marriage, we determined that we would be tithers. We have tithed our income over the years. God has wonderfully honored us and blessed us beyond all measure because of this decision that we made many years ago. As you will learn later in this document, ten percent of my residuary estate will go to the Lord’s work.
We determined many years ago not to be preoccupied with material things, which leads to covetousness and which the Scripture calls idolatry. Jesus said, “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” We certainly found that to be true. I had very little in my early life to call my own—and in the first years of our marriage we had very little to live on. We never dreamed that we would be given so much. We have tried to use our material blessings for the glory of God. We have always tried to keep a somewhat detached attitude from them. We never wanted our roots to be very deep in this world. We wanted to live “loose” so that if all of it were suddenly taken away it would not disturb us. Yet I must confess that we were always faced with a certain dilemma as to how high a standard of living to maintain as servants of the Lord. We feel that we have maintained a proper balance over the years.
Whether I have handled things properly or not, we will have to await the judgment at the Judgment Seat of Christ when all things will be revealed. I have done my best before the Lord and I have confidence in all of you that you will consider that you are only trustees of what I have left.
We Find Quiet Security in the Humility We Possess
Finally we find quiet security in the humility we possess. Pastor Tommy spoke last week about humility, so I don’t need to dwell on this. I just want to add one insight from this verse—12: Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.
Proud people are insecure. They always have to be concerned about their standing. They are in a competitive mindset, and they always have to measure themselves by others. It’s a miserable way to live.
That was the problem with the disciples. They were all worried about which one was greatest, and it caused great insecurity among them. That was true even after our Lord’s resurrection. Look at John 21:20-21. Jesus and Peter were walking along the Sea of Galilee, and Peter looked around and saw the apostle John. He said, “Lord, what about him?”
Jesus said, “If I want John to stay alive and to thrive on earth until I come back, what is that to you? Your job is just to follow Me.”
When we just say, “Lord, here I am. Use me today,” so many of our insecurities evaporate. It’s the most secure and peaceful life possible.
We find lifelong security in the work the Lord assigns.
We find ultimate security in the name He reveals.
We find little security in wealth, but we find great security in humility.
It’s our Lord who keeps us safe and secure from all alarms on this earth. As someone said…
We sigh for human love,
From which a whim or chance may sever,
And leave unsought the love of God,
Though God’s love lasts forever.