Inspired Utterance

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 30.1-5
1 The sayings of Agur son of Jakeh—an inspired utterance. 
This man’s utterance to Ithiel:
“I am weary, God, 
but I can prevail. 
2 Surely I am only a brute, not a man; 
I do not have human understanding. 
3 I have not learned wisdom, 
nor have I attained to the knowledge of the Holy One. 
4 Who has gone up to heaven and come down? 
Whose hands have gathered up the wind? 
Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak? 
Who has established all the ends of the earth? 
What is his name, and what is the name of his son? 
Surely you know! 
5 “Every word of God is flawless; 
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. 

Reflection: Inspired Utterance
By John Tillman

We do not know who Agur, Jakeh, or Ithiel are. They are mentioned nowhere else in scripture. 

Agur expresses that without God’s wisdom, humans are little better than brute animals. This could be a general description of our culture. 

Our culture claims to set us free, allowing our individual hearts, feelings, experiences, and opinions to self-determine truth, right, and wrong, however, this doesn’t set anyone free. “Personal truth” makes every person a dictator who must either enslave the world to their “truth” or be enslaved by the conflicting “truths” of others.

“Follow your hearts” sounds supportive until someone follows their heart to commit adultery, rape, or create pornography. “Do what feels good” sounds fun until someone “feels good” making racist artwork, overdosing on drugs, or defrauding the poor. “Speak your truth” sounds freeing until one person’s truth causes deaths (or war) over a lie.

Agur, whoever he is, must have read Job. His writing reflects Job’s concepts. Agur knows we need a dose of humility. He issues a challenge to himself and to the reader — a challenge for those who think themselves wise. “Have you gone to heaven? Have you gathered the wind, held the waters, set the boundaries of the earth? If you didn’t, surely you know who did!” 

If Agur read Job, Jesus seems to have read them both. Jesus echoed Agur when he said, “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.” (John 3.11-13) Jesus also expected that those who “study the scriptures diligently” should find, not just wisdom, but testimony about himself. (John 5.39-40) All scripture testifies about Jesus and the wisdom we find there is from him. (Luke 24.27)

We may not know who Agur is, but we know the name of the Holy One he reveres and references — the source of true wisdom. The setter of the boundaries of the earth, the holder of the waters, the gatherer of the wind, and the one who comes down from heaven, is Jesus. He is the flawless Word of God and is a shield to all who take refuge in him.

In his refuge, we find wisdom, peace, mercy, and understanding that can change us from brutish beings enslaved to our urges into true humans — images of God upon the earth.

Lord, give us inspired utterances that reveal you to others as the source of wisdom.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Fear the Lord, you that are his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing — Psalm 34.9

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.
Today’s Readings
Proverbs 30 (Listen – 3:51)
Psalm 99-101 (Listen – 2:48)

This Weekend’s Readings
Proverbs 31 (Listen – 2:50) Psalm 102 (Listen – 2:45)
Ecclesiastes 1 (Listen – 2:21) Psalm 103 (Listen – 2:07)

Read more about Blessings of the Dispossessed
“Cause I can see a people dispossessed 
Broken and brave in the face of so much fear 
Driven from their homes by the greed of a nation 
Whose treaties were as good as litter 
Along the trail of their tears”

Read more about Honoring The Truth
Seeking the truth is not only a spiritual quest. It is sometimes a civic one. Or a legal one.

Miracles of Deliverance and Judgment

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 29.1-2, 4, 12
1 Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes 
will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy. 
2 When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; 
when the wicked rule, the people groan.

4 By justice a king gives a country stability, 
but those who are greedy for bribes tear it down.

12 If a ruler listens to lies, 
all his officials become wicked. 

Psalm 97.1-3, 10
1 The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad; 
let the distant shores rejoice. 
2 Clouds and thick darkness surround him; 
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. 
3 Fire goes before him 
and consumes his foes on every side. 

10 Let those who love the Lord hate evil, 
for he guards the lives of his faithful ones 
and delivers them from the hand of the wicked. 

Reflection: Miracles of Deliverance and Judgment
By John Tillman

Imprecatory Psalms and proverbs about people being destroyed might not make sense in a quiet suburban, well-to-do neighborhood. In our comfortable life in the United States, there is something seriously wrong with our hearts if we find ourselves praying that God’s fire would consume our enemies. James and John are rebuked by Christ for this desire (Luke 9.53-55) and they had far more justification than any modern Western Christian.

In a warzone, however, wickedness removes its disguises. Death is dealt out by aggressors, and many aggressors receive death as their reward. The lies of wicked rulers corrupt those around them and cost lives. Wicked men following wicked leaders kill and are killed carrying out the will of their leaders. The innocent suffer in war, just as they do at any time, but God often uses the evil of war to destroy evil men who stir up the destruction. 

God appealed to Pharaoh through Moses to soften his heart and release the Israelites. However, after repeated refusals, God hardened the hearts of Pharaoh and his army specifically so that he could destroy them in the Red Sea. It is a miracle of judgment that they would be so foolish. (Exodus 14.2-9, 23-28)

Three companies of soldiers came to arrest Elijah. The prophet called down fire to destroy the first two. But the commander of the third group softened his heart, begged for his life and they were spared. (2 Kings 1.9-15)

There have been reports out of Ukraine of miraculous events causing the crashing of aircraft, the failure of rockets to hit targets, and the miring of tanks and vehicles of war in the mud. Many surrendering Russian soldiers have reported both reluctance and ignorance of their mission. It is a miracle of deliverance that they would lay down arms.

We pray for more than just miracles of fire that fails to burn God’s children (Daniel 3.26-27) and weapons that do not prosper against the innocent. We pray also for the even more miraculous deliverance of the hearts of evil leaders to change. We pray commanders holding unjust orders would rebel, and the fingers of those told to fire upon the innocent would freeze as they think of their own families.

May wickedness be defeated not only on battlefields in the countryside and cities but on the battlefields in the hearts of men and women sent to war.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling. — Psalm 43.3

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 29 (Listen – 2:44)
Psalm 97-98 (Listen – 2:19)

Read more about Ways of Canaan, Ways of Christ
We must admire gentleness instead of brutality in our leaders…Our priestly task is to set before the world a better way, a light in the darkness.

Read more about Prayer for the Poor at War
We pray for the poor at war and the powerful who send them. Lord, fight for the weak and the powerless. Frustrate the plans of the powerful.

The Church Underground

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 28.12, 28
12 When the righteous triumph, there is great elation; 
but when the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding.

28 When the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding; 
but when the wicked perish, the righteous thrive. 

Reflection: The Church Underground
By Erin Newton

This is written a week in advance. By the time this is published, the war in Ukraine may be drastically different.

When we read verses about power, our minds will quickly spawn the images of this war. For some, it includes the memories of past conflicts. Corrupt leadership can come in the form of local leaders, bad bosses, or abusive parents. It is not difficult to imagine someone who fits the role of a wicked leader.

These two proverbs tell a story. When the righteous are leaders, celebration and joy fill the air. Their righteousness is a means of safety and security for everyone because this type of person is filled with mercy and justice. There is the sense of freedom to live one’s life in a carefree manner because of this leader.

But the wicked leader creates a suffocating atmosphere where hiding is necessary. Emotions are suddenly guarded. There is no freedom in expression because the leader creates a sense of danger.

The Israelites were accustomed to living under the rule of wicked leaders. Some were domestic kings: Rehoboam, Ahab, Manasseh, etc. Some were foreigners who invaded the land and subjugated the people: Sennacherib of Assyria and Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

During these wicked reigns, some Israelites went into hiding. Prophets hid in a cave from the threat of Ahab. David fled to the wilderness to escape Saul. Jeremiah hid as Jehoiakim burned the prophet’s scroll.

Courage is rightly applauded and admired, but we learn from history that there are times in which removing oneself from danger is the best option.

We can learn how to persevere under the leadership of a wicked ruler by looking at those who went into hiding. David spent years in the wilderness wrestling with his frustrations about God and his circumstance. He expressed the depths of his pain. Yet, songs of praise were penned to help buoy his faith in God.

Already, word of churches going underground has circulated. Orthodox priests travel to air-raid shelters to commune with believers. This has been the way of God’s people for millennia.

Churches in intolerant nations go underground. Believers may hide their faith from wicked rulers, but within each heart, a greater depth of faith can be found.

May we pray for the time to come that the righteous may thrive and that the power of wicked leaders will perish. Come, Lord Jesus.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
“Be still, then, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.” — Psalm 46.11

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 28 (Listen – 3:07)
Psalm 95-96 (Listen – 2:37)

Read more about Praying for the Persecuted
May we hold up before God’s throne in prayer, members of God’s church threatened by the state, by religious militias, and by other dangerous forces.

Read more about A Hymn of the Oppressed
History might be very different if rather than idolizing the martyrs, we could study how not to become the oppressors.

Prayer for Outcasts — Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 27.8
8 Like a bird that flees its nest 
is anyone who flees from home.

Leviticus 19.34
34 The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

Image: Today’s image comes from the painting, War Refugees in the Snow by Alfred Ost, painted in 1914.

Reflection: Prayer for Outcasts — Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

There have been many crises in history that have caused waves of migrants, refugees, and immigrants to flee their homes.

Some of the largest refugee movements in history happened during World War II when from 1939 to 1959 approximately 20 million people fled Europe. Our current decade, however, has nearly matched that 20-year stretch. Approximately 17.8 million refugees have fled Ukraine, Myanmar, Venezuela, Syria, South Sudan, and Libya, since 2011.

Refugee crises will continue to grow as nations and prideful leaders continue to choose violence.

Welcoming the stranger is a consistent command throughout the Bible. One must work hard not to pick up on it, but some do go out of their way to avoid it. It may be normative in the world of politics to stigmatize, persecute, and ghettoize foreigners, but it is antithetical to biblical living.

Welcoming the stranger is counter-cultural, not only today but in its original context. The evil treatment Israel received in Egypt is the experience God holds up as the source of his commands to welcome and treat well strangers and foreigners. “As Egypt was, you must not be. As you were treated, you must never allow others to be treated. Do unto others as you would wish they had done to your ancestors.” (Exodus 22.21; Leviticus 19.33-34; Deuteronomy 10.18-19)

In reflection on the continuation of the Ukrainian war, the widening flow of refugees, and a sobering awareness that this conflict has the potential to encompass other countries, we pause today to pray for migrants, immigrants, and refugees.

Prayer for Outcasts
Lord, we pray, today, for those who flee. Aid their flight.
May they avoid danger, escaping the fowler’s snare.
May they find fair winds, lifting their wings and spirits.
May they settle among the branches of the righteous who are like trees, providing healing for the nations.

We pray for those who are called by God to welcome them.
May our hearts overflow with the love of God for his children
May our eyes see the image of God in each face
May rivers of living water flow from our hearts that will satisfy, not just their physical needs, but their needs for emotional shelter, food, and healing.

When they flee violence, let us show gentleness.
When they flee hatred, let us show love.
When they flee scarcity, let us sate them.
When they flee abuse, let us console them.
When they flee oppression, let us free them.

Music: “God Help the Outcasts” — Hunchback of Notre Dame

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
May God be merciful to us and bless us, show us the light of his countenance and come to us. — Psalm 67.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 27 (Listen – 2:43)
Psalm 94 (Listen – 2:08)

Read more about Abandon Human Vengeance
The tactics of human vengeance are escalatory. We always hit back harder than we were struck.

Read more about Grief Unable to be Counted
If secularism were capable of bringing peace we would look to Europe, who would be well on the way.

Answering Fools

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 26.4-5, 9, 12
4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
or you yourself will be just like him.
5 Answer a fool according to his folly,
or he will be wise in his own eyes.

9 Like a thornbush in a drunkard’s hand
is a proverb in the mouth of a fool.

12 Do you see a person wise in their own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for them.

Reflection: Answering Fools
By John Tillman

Answer a fool. Don’t answer a fool. This famous mirrored pair of proverbs is almost a metaphor for the entire collection. Alone, either one of them makes sense. Together they seem absurd. Surely they can’t both be right? Surely neither of them can be wrong?

Firstly, we shouldn’t become fools.

Being wise isn’t as easy as just quoting a proverb or even putting it into practice. Even wise words can cause harm when foolish people quote them. Proverbs’ vivid picture of this is a drunken man, wildly swinging a thornbush. The man, anyone around him, and anyone trying to help are likely to be harmed.

We need wisdom to know how to use wisdom. When we quote aphorisms without regard to the situation, we are like that drunken thornbush-waving fool. “Pray more.” “Have a little faith.” “Is there sin in your life?” All three of these statements are scripturally valid and, at the right time, could be wise things to say. They will also wound someone who is suffering if we wave them around wildly. To a mother whose child is sick, any of the above statements are likely to feel like an attack.

Secondly, we should pursue wisdom humbly. 

Proverbs is a book of hope for fools. It calls to us to become wise and warns of something worse than being a fool — being wise in our own eyes. We all start foolish and simple. Lady Wisdom invites us to wisdom. Lady Folly whispers a lie that we’ve already arrived. Can we prevent others from falling into this trap? Can we prevent ourselves from doing so?

Do we answer fools or not? Do we try to remove the thornbush from the drunkard’s hand? 

Frustratingly, I think the answer is, “sometimes.” Sometimes, perhaps we can help fools stumble toward true wisdom. Sometimes the best thing we can do is help others avoid the thornbush-waving fools. In either case, we should take care and be humble. We can’t save everyone from their own foolishness, especially when we are still at risk of it ourselves.

Whatever we can do to prevent ourselves and those around us from becoming wise in our own eyes is probably worth the risk. We may be scratched by the thorns, but so was our savior. And he endured them to save fools like us.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. — Isaiah 1.18

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 26 (Listen – 2:37)
Psalm 92-93 (Listen – 2:09)

Read more about Destiny of Grass vs Cedars
There are purposes for the flourishing of the wicked and one of them is that one day the world will see them fall.

Read more about RSVP to Wisdom or Folly
Two hostesses beckon. Which banquet will you enter? Who gets your RSVP?