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“The Lord's Purpose Prevails”

Proverbs 19:21 and others
Bob DeGray
May 11, 2003

Key Sentence

The God of Proverbs is the sovereign creator who watches the hearts of men.


I. Sovereign
II. Creator
III. Heart Watcher
IV. Judge


        Did you ever notice that daily life is made easier by the presence of signs? Signs help us decide what to do and give us information we need. Every business we enter has it’s sign, from the donut shop to the multi-million dollar corporation. They are an important form of advertising. Even more important are the warning and instruction and information signs we use constantly while driving. Traffic signs tell us how fast to go, what street is coming up, what lane to be in and they try to tell us how to be safe. Of course, some communicate this information better than others. Some signs make things crystal clear and leave no doubt as to their intent. Other signs are more obscure, leaving us wondering what was really meant. Others are just frustrating.

        The book of Proverbs is a book of road signs which give us warnings, instructions and information to use while living. Along the road of our lives they tell us which way to go, what’s coming and the perils of a wrong turn. The instructions in Proverbs, like road signs, come one after another almost randomly. These instructions, like road signs, are brief and to the point. And like road signs, some are a little hard to understand. But they provide practical guidance for getting where you want to go, and it’s for that reason we will be opening the book of Proverbs together for the next several months. Here we will find wisdom for right living. We’ll find practical help on topics such as relationships, diligence, finances, anger and the care of our hearts. We’ll be told in clear and unmistakable terms what’s right and what’s wrong and what the blessings are for doing right and the consequences for doing wrong.

        In fact, at times, you and I may argue with this book, because it makes everything so clear cut it seems to miss the randomness and chance and unexpected evil that we know are part of life. We’ll have to remember that Proverbs is not the whole Bible. Even Solomon, who wrote Proverbs to say ‘things make sense’ also wrote Ecclesiastes, which says things don’t always make sense. It’s important to remember that proverbs are in fact, proverbial. They describe with wisdom and common sense the way things normally work, not the way things always work. Reading Proverbs, we ought to hear a voice saying “all other things being equal, you ought to do this, because this is what’s most likely to have the results you’re looking for.”

        But to gain this understanding, we first need to understand the world view of Proverbs, the underlying assumptions about God that shape the individual instructions of this book, just as you have to have some underlying knowledge of what driving is and how it works before the road signs along the way can make sense. As we approach Proverbs we need to have a certain point of view about the one who placed it here. We need to adopt the world view and the God view of the authors of Proverbs so we’ll know what to think about the many instructions we encounter.

        Who is the God of Proverbs? That’s the question we want to answer. In one sense, he’s simply the God of the Bible. Nothing in Proverbs contradicts or questions the truths we learn about God from Genesis to Revelation. Yet certain aspects of his character are emphasized here, certain truths about his nature are most important to this book. What are they? First, his sovereignty. God controls the affairs of men. The Lord’s purposes prevail. Second, Proverbs emphasizes that God is man’s creator. That impacts our view of people and God. Third, Proverbs affirms that God is a personal God, not just a remote force. He watches over each heart. Finally, Proverbs knows that God is the one who brings judgment and justice to men. It’s this kind of God who has set out the road signs we’ll follow as we study this book.

I. Sovereign

        Let’s look at these truths in more detail. Each of these points is supported by a number of verses from Proverbs. Let’s start with the realization that God is sovereign, with Proverbs 19:21, which is the verse where I got this sermon’s title. “Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails.” God’s purpose prevails. That’s the core truth of Proverbs on the subject of sovereignty. No matter what plans for evil a man may make, God will achieve his purposes. And those purposes will be greater than the greatest good we can conceive. This truth was well expressed by Twila Paris in a song she wrote a few years ago: “God is in control; We believe that His children will not be forsaken. God is in control; We will choose to remember and never be shaken. There is no power above or beside Him. We know God is in control.” That’s the attitude of Proverbs.

        There are many verses that make the same point. Proverbs 16:9 “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” We have free will: the heart is free to choose it’s own course. But we are not big enough to control the outcome: only God can do that. Proverbs 16:4 “The Lord works out everything for his own ends–even the wicked for a day of disaster.” God is achieving his purpose, taking into account even evil choices, not overriding them, but weaving them in to his plans for our good and his glory. But that doesn’t meant that God is not just – he holds us accountable for our choices and he is prepared to judge wickedness.
        Proverbs 16:33 “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” God works through what appear to be random events. He is never taken by surprise by a decision we make or by things that happen to us. In fact I’m convinced that as Jesus holds the universe together by his powerful word he controls the seemingly random behavior of every particle in every atom in every molecule of creation. There is no randomness in a universe where God is sovereign. Therefore, Proverbs 21:30-31 “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord. 31The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord.” God is not only sovereign but omnipotent, more powerful than any human or combination of humans or innovation by humans can possibly be. If God is going to be sovereign this has to be true: that no plot of man can succeed against his plan.

        God is sovereign. Listen to one of the authors of this book. His name is Agur, but he sounds like Isaiah. Proverbs 30:1-4 The sayings of Agur son of Jakeh--an oracle: This man declared to Ithiel, to Ithiel and to Ucal: 2"I am the most ignorant of men; I do not have a man's understanding. 3I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy One. 4Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands? Who has wrapped up the waters in his cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and the name of his son? Tell me if you know!” What is his name and the name of his son? The one who is sovereign is God the Father and his son is Jesus our Lord.

II. Creator

        So Proverbs knows a sovereign and powerful God and also a God who is the creator of mankind. Proverbs 22:2 “Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all.” The word ‘maker’ can mean to ‘do’, ‘accomplish’ or ‘fashion’. It is used in Scripture of God fashioning man and forming the universe. It’s not the same word as Genesis 1: "In the beginning God created’, but it does indicate God’s creative power. So the God of Proverbs is the one who fashions, shapes and makes the universe, and also fashions, shapes and makes you and me. He is our creator.

        Let me share a few other verses in Proverbs that make this point. Proverbs 14:31 “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” 17:5 “He who mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker; whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished.” Proverbs 20:12 “Ears that hear and eyes that see– the Lord has made them both.” 29:13 “The poor man and the oppressor have this in common: The Lord gives sight to the eyes of both.”

        Notice in these verses that when God is spoken of as Creator it is to remind us that all people are at the same level. If the same God made you and me, one of us cannot be lord over the other or god to the other. No one can say “I’m better than others. I have a natural right to rule” or look down on someone or even destroy people. Many nations and races have tried this path superiority, but they’re wrong. We’re all the same, all created: only the creator is intrinsically superior. Therefore in Proverbs the rich are called not to oppression but compassion on those made in the image of God. “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” “He who mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker; whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished.”

        By the way, these two verses show forms we’ll be seeing all through Proverbs. Proverbs 14:31 is a contrasting proverb: the second half is a contrast to the first. He who oppresses the poor won’t recognize the truth that God is the creator of all people, but in contrast he who is kind to the poor, honors God. Proverbs 17:5, on the other hand, is a synonymous proverb: the second half amplifies and augments the thought of the first: He who mocks the poor is really mocking the God who made them in his image, and he who gloats over their disaster will be punished.

        The fact that God is the maker of all people is used in Proverbs to bring home an ethical truth: that we must not be trapped into thinking of ourselves as better than others, whether because of economic status, culture, ethnic background or even religion. If we lose this view, we open ourselves to one of the greatest dangers in world history. The evils of oppression and genocide and war have at their root a simple ‘us versus them’ mentality. Proverbs calls us to examine our heart attitudes and remember that God is the creator of the poor, the maker of all people in every nation and culture, loving creator of every Muslim and Hindu and Buddhist in the world, and we must see these as people God loves and wants us to love and care for. He wants us to show kindness and compassion to those near at hand and to those far away. He wants us to bless them by sharing the best truth in the world: that Jesus loves them and died for them. When we do so, the author says, we honor God. Do you see how practical Proverbs is going to be? It takes a lofty truth like ‘God is creator of all’ and applies it at the level of kindness to the next person you meet. Proverbs is going to challenge us to many practical changes in our behavior.

III. Heart Watcher

        So the God of Proverbs is sovereign, he’s omnipotent, he’s our maker. But he’s not ‘The Force’. He is anything but an impersonal God out there who wound up the universe and let it go. He is intimately involved on the heart level with his creatures. He is, in fact, a heart watcher. This third key truth is found in many places. Proverbs 17:3 “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart.” One of the most familiar images in the ancient world was the metalworker, who needed to test the gold he’d collected from various sources. The material would be melted in a clay crucible in a refiner’s fire, a very hot fire. In the crucible the craftsman would place both lead and flour, which would cause a separation between the low melting point lead and gold, and the impurities, lighter but with a higher melting point. These would float to the top and be removed. Then the lead would burn off and only the precious metal would remain. This both tested and purified the gold.

        The image in the proverb is that God both tests and purifies the heart. He does it by the heat of the fire of the circumstances of the life he puts us through. He cares about our hearts and works to purify them. Throughout Proverbs we find God looking at, testing, assessing and guiding the hearts of his people. I want to look at several of these verses a little more closely than we have the others. Proverbs 15:11 “Death and Destruction lie open before the Lord– how much more the hearts of men!” Death and destruction are places in this verse: Sheol and Abaddon, the place of death and the place of destruction. These are Satan’s empires, yet all that goes on there is plain to the Lord: how much more the hidden thoughts of our hearts. No thought of yours, righteous or unrighteous, is hidden from his knowledge. For me that’s a sobering truth, because many of my thoughts are not worthy to be shared with people, let alone with God. I’m far too often petty, far too often sinful in my thinking. God sees this - and it’s only his grace that keeps us from judgment.

        Proverbs 20:27 “The lamp of the Lord searches the spirit of a man; it searches out his inmost being.” What is the ‘lamp of the Lord’. Some have said it is the conscience, which God has placed in us to prevent us from being too dark. Others have said, no, Psalms teaches that God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Both those things are true, but a better image even than these is of God himself as a lamp bearer bringing light into the dark places of our souls and revealing the hidden thoughts and intentions of the heart. Of course he does use his Word as the instrument by which he reveals these things, so the two metaphors are not very different: God is the agent - the Word is his instrument. Whether you know it or not, whether you like it or not, God is intimately interested in your heart.

        Proverbs 15:3 “The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.” This verse could have been included in the first section. It is in fact a great proof text for the omniscience of God, which is as much a part of his sovereignty as his omnipotence. But I put it here because of what God does with that omniscience - he keeps watch. The word can be used of the watchman guarding a city, or even of a spy searching out the secrets of a foreign country. More than anything else it implies diligence in focusing on something. God is not removed from us, but is diligent in focusing on us whether we are doing evil or good.

        Finally, listen to Proverbs 24:11-12 “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. 12If you say, "But we knew nothing about this," does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?” Verse 11 may be familiar to you as the theme of ‘Operation Rescue’, the anti-abortion protest movement of the last decade. ‘Rescue those being led away to death’. We’ve already seen that this active compassion for the oppressed is a strong theme of Proverbs. We’re going to spend a whole week on compassion later in the series.

        But our author has a realistic knowledge of human nature. Verse 12: “If you say, ‘but we knew nothing about this!’ – as so many Germans and others did after the holocaust of the Jews in World War II – ‘does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?’ In other words ‘can you lie to God?’ No - he doesn’t judge based on your words but on your heart. He is involved with us not just out here where we live and work and worship, but in here where we feel and think and act. He is the Sovereign God of the heart, and as we read the road signs of Proverbs, we need to take them to heart, not just give them lip service. This may be the key principle we’re establishing this week - the foundation for getting something from Proverbs: deal with these truths on a heart level so they result in changed behavior, not just mental assent. If you are driving down the street and you see that sign ‘children playing, 20 mph’ its not enough just to say ‘Oh yea, children playing’. You’ve also got to take your foot off the accelerator. Proverbs is intended to be bring change to our lives because the God of Proverbs is a sovereign creator who watches the hearts of men.

IV. Judge

        Ultimately God judges our hearts, justly. We see this presumption throughout. Proverbs 16:4 and 5: “The Lord works out everything for his own ends– even the wicked for a day of disaster.” We mentioned that verse already - and the next one says “The Lord detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.” The acts of the wicked cannot deter God’s sovereignty and wickedness will not go unpunished. But notice that the basis of the judgment is an evaluation of the heart: the proud of heart, those who are selfish and self centered and hard hearted toward God and toward others are the ones who receive this judgement.

        Of course, from the perspective of the whole Bible we know this describes each of us until we’re saved by Christ. We deserve punishment and it’s only by God’s grace we escape judgment. Part of the purpose of Proverbs is to show us, by means of these road signs, that right living is impossible without God. There are many benefits to right living - we’ll be seeing them during this study, but we have to remember that those benefits can only be fully reaped by those in Christ, those who have trusted Christ and received from the heart watcher a new heart, an ability to do what’s right. In Exodus and Leviticus we see our need for God in our inability to keep His law. Our inability to follow the wisdom of Proverbs shows us the same need.

        Because the God of Proverbs is a God of justice. Listen to a few of these verses: Proverbs 11:20 “The Lord detests men of perverse heart but he delights in those whose ways are blameless.” Proverbs 21:12 “The Righteous One takes note of the house of the wicked and brings the wicked to ruin.” Proverbs 29:26 “Many seek an audience with a ruler, but it is from the Lord that man gets justice.” Our God is righteous. He delights in righteousness, judges wickedness, and also gives justice to those who cannot get it from men.

        As always, this truth is intended to impact our behavior. Proverbs 20:22 ‘Do not say, "I'll pay you back for this wrong!" Wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.’ Because God is a righteous judge we leave justice in his hands. That’s the teaching of the Old Testament and the teaching of the New. And it’s practical: don’t take revenge - let God be the one who judges.

        Similarly, Proverbs 22:22 “Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, 23for the Lord will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them.” Proverbs 23:10-11 Do not move an ancient boundary stone or encroach on the fields of the fatherless, 11for their Defender is strong; he will take up their case against you.” Who is the defender of the fatherless, the lover of widows and orphans? It is our righteous God. We should be afraid to oppress or misuse anyone because the Lord is the defender of the downtrodden, and he tells us, as we would say today “I’ll see you in court.” He’ll take up his case against us: and He never loses at the bar of justice.

        So what have we learned? That the God of Proverbs is the God of the whole Bible. We don’t see every aspect of his character here, but we do see several key things. We see that he’s sovereign. We can trust him to work out his purposes. We also see that he is the one who made each of us - therefore we ought to care for one another rather than oppress one another. Finally, we see that he is a personal God who looks on the state of every person’s heart. He cares about our hearts, he is close to our hearts, and yet he also judges our hearts and he does not let any of us live in a moral vacuum. He is not remote from anybody.

        This week I heard a couple of the most recent commercials from ‘Onstar’. Do you know what that is? The Onstar people put a global positioning system receiver in your car, as well as a cell phone type transmitter. That combination gives them almost God-like capabilities. Say for example you get lost: you punch the button, talk to Onstar, and they plot where you are, figure out where you want to go and give you directions to get there, just as God does in the book of Proverbs. More than that, though, say you lock yourself out of your car: the Onstar people can send a signal that will unlock your doors remotely. One of the transcripts I heard this week in their commercials was of a lady who had accidently locked her baby in the car: snap it was open. In the same way we deal with a sovereign and powerful God when we deal with the God of Proverbs.

        Finally, Onstar can call emergency services. One of the commercials has a man with a defibrillator implant that keeps going off - apparently his heart keeps stopping. His wife calls Onstar, they call 911, give the emergency personnel the exact location and driving directions, and critical help is there within moment. In another one someone with Onstar in the car has an accident, and the Onstar center is alerted to the deployment of the air bag without the person even making a call - and they send emergency personnel without even being asked. In the same way, in Proverbs, we deal with a God who knows the state of our hearts, and is able to send help for our hearts within moments, often without even being asked. The only difference is that though he sends that help supernaturally, he also sends it by means of these road signs. They are wisdom for right living, and they not only bless us, but when we follow them they delight the heart the sovereign heart watcher.