A Foray into the Proverbs
The desire of a man is his kindness, Proverbs 19:22.
It had been my intent to work continuously on the theme of true conversion but I was arrested this morning by a thought in Proverbs 19:22. I pondered that verse for a while and rolled it around in my mind a few different ways. Finally, I did what I was supposed to do. I believed exactly what it said. Then, an hour later, for the first time in my 43 some years of reading a King James Bible, someone asked me what the first part of that verse meant. If ever I have received marching orders to write, I received some this morning.
First, I want my readers to imagine Solomon's throne room. We know that his throne was carved from ivory and that there were six steps leading up to it. It was flanked by two lions at the stays of the throne and twelve lions on either side of the throne. (Stays: Something that supports or steadies something else; esp. an appliance for holding up or securing in position some part of a structure; a prop, pedestal, buttress, bracket, or the like.)
Imagine this great king sitting on his throne with the two heavy wooden doors of the throne room closed. Around him are a few officers and servants. With a heavy sigh, he orders the doors to be opened. Outside of that door is a long line of litigants, people whose cases were too difficult for the local judges or priests to make final decisions. Solomon will need that great wisdom as the first little knot of people draw nigh to his throne.
He did that for 40 years. You can be sure that after 40 years he had heard every imaginable issue that can arise between family members, neighbors, strangers, business parties, and the like. He has heard the virtuous poor. He has heard the lazy poor. He has endured smug rich men and he has heard virtuous rich men. He has heard shameful sons, mourning fathers and sorrowful mothers. He has seen the effects of wealth and of poverty. He has heard skillful liars seeking to bamboozle him. He has heard the cry of the truthful man who no one is willing to believe.
He has heard it all. The Book of Proverbs is therefore the single greatest and most valuable tool for any person who would seek wisdom to know how to judge.
The Book naturally divides into sections depending on the source and target of Solomon's specific observations. Chapters 1-3 are Solomon's admonitions to his son. In Chapters 4-9, Solomon introduces us to those things that he learned from his Father. He is quoting what David taught him. Chapters 10-24 are his own observations. Proverbs 25-31 are a special batch of Proverbs that had not been originally included but wise King Hezekiah directed his men to copy them out of the 3000 proverbs that Solomon had left behind.
What Solomon has done for us is to compress his 40 years of wisdom and judgment. Those, along with his memories of King David's admonitions to him are divided into 31 chapters ranging from 18-36 verses each. You can be sure that after a number of years of hearing case after case, there came a point when certain truisms would pop into Solomon's mind and he would guide his judgment based on one or more of those truisms. God has graciously given us the summation of those truisms in the Book of Proverbs.
New readers are often discouraged over how little of it they understand. This is a good place for Mark Twain's oft quoted remark wherein he advised us not to worry about the parts of the bible that we don't understand. Worry about the things that we do understand. A new reader to Proverbs will often only understand two or three verses out of the 20 or 30 in a chapter. If that reader should set his heart and mind to incorporate the truth of those two or three verses, his or her life will be greatly improved. As that novice reader reads and rereads the Proverbs of Solomon, he will slowly understand more and more of them.
What then should we say about Proverbs 19:22? The desire of a man is his kindness? Perhaps looking at a couple of new versions will help. By looking at them you can see what the devil wants you to get out of the verse, and you can see exactly what it doesn't mean.
ESV: What is desired in a man is steadfast love.
NIV: What a person desires is unfailing love.
Like the false witnesses at Jesus Christ's trial, these two verses testify against the truth, but they agree not with each other.
What if Proverbs 19:22 meant exactly what it said; and the desire of a man really is his kindness? This morning, I relaxed and believed what it said. I asked myself; "what is a man's desire?". Actually, a man may have many desires that can change in various circumstances or in various times of his life. Imagine the cynicism of Solomon if he were to hear a car salesman explain how kind he had been to an old woman when he offered her the best chair in his office. His desire had been to sell her a car. His desire was his kindness.
Think of David's faux kindness to Uriah the Hittite. Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee, Proverbs 23:7. What was David's Kindness? It was his desire. It was a ploy by him to get Uriah to sleep with his wife who was already pregnant so that David's sin could be hid.
What about a person who desires the salvation of his neighbors? His kindness to them will sprout from that desire. What about a mother or father who desires that their family dwell peaceably together. Great will be the kindness of that home!
The key to understanding any verse in a King James Bible is to believe it exactly as it says.