RPM, Volume 16, Number 40, September 28 to October 4, 2014

The Peaceful Life

Proverbs 16:31-33

By D. Marion Clark


We have an interesting selection of proverbs. We are told that gray hair is a glorious crown; patience is more effective than strength; and an act of chance is a sure thing of being of God. What I hope you will obtain from these lessons is the solution to a peaceful life.


31 Gray hair is a crown of glory;
it is gained in a righteous life.

Gray hair is a crown of glory. I like that. Let me read a similar proverb: The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair (20:29). If there was only another proverb that said something like, "How magnificent is the head unencumbered with temporal hair"!

We take the opposite view of gray hair. We think it is gained in a trying life. "You kids are enough to give me gray hair!" "I didn't have gray hair until I took this job." We envy the man or woman able to enter middle age with no gray hairs. If Solomon is trying to lure us into living a righteous life with the promise of gray hair as our crown, he needs to hire a marketing firm. This will not fly. "Would you like to turn your hair gray? Try living a righteous life."

This proverb comes out of a culture that honors old age. The law, in Leviticus 19:32, commanded respect: You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD. In general, the older the person, the more respect he or she was given for possessing wisdom. The elders of Jewish society were the authorities and judges. Thus the term, which originally refers to age, took on the added meaning of leader. The proverb already quoted — The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair (20:29) — is not exalting a hair color but wisdom. Young men have strength; old men (and women) have wisdom.

Though the biblical writers honored old age, they were also realistic about its problems. Psalm 71 was written by someone who had entered into old age. His problem is this: Now that he is old and no longer strong, his enemies are trying to take advantage of him. That certainly is a problem the elderly can relate to today. So he prays to God to be his protector.

In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame!
2 In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
incline your ear to me, and save me!
3 Be to me a rock of refuge,
to which I may continually come…
9 Do not cast me off in the time of old age;
forsake me not when my strength is spent.
10 For my enemies speak concerning me;
those who watch for my life consult together
11 and say, "God has forsaken him;
pursue and seize him,
for there is none to deliver him."
12 O God, be not far from me;
O my God, make haste to help me…
17 O God, from my youth you have taught me,
and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
18 So even to old age and gray hairs,
O God, do not forsake me,
20 You who have made me see many troubles and calamities
will revive me again…

Old age literally has its aches and pains. Perhaps the most unsettling factor of growing old is growing weaker, unable to protect and provide for oneself as once able.

Even so, old age is to be valued by those who attain it because (and this is the essential element) of living a righteous life. Gray hair is not this proverb's focus. It is being a righteous person, i.e. a person who is morally good, treats others justly, and is devoted to God. Long, productive life is often the reward for such persons, whose gray hair serves as evidence.

God rewards a good life with length of life. But also to the point is that living a righteous life avoids the pitfalls of the wicked and foolish life so that one is able to live out one's days. How many men and women have died young because of their foolish ways? Poor decisions about lifestyles, ways to pursue pleasure, were as Proverbs 16:25 says, seemed right at the time, but in truth were ways to death.

32 Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.

This is an important principle to learn, and the ones who have learned it (both the righteous and the wicked) have achieved great success in life. Even the wicked know the truth of this proverb.

Anger is a powerful passion. Anger (as the Hulk will testify!) can increase strength due to the rush of adrenaline, giving an individual the power to accomplish more than expected. When two football teams are preparing to play one another, the coaches often try to find ways to make their players upset with the opposing team. They will post articles that quote the opposition coaches and players badmouthing their team. "Are you going to let them say those things about you?" They want their team fired up.

But oftentimes such a strategy backfires. More often, anger leads to defeat rather than victory. The smartest coaches and competitors know this. They know that though anger may increase strength, it clouds thinking. They know, furthermore, that it is not anger that produces the strength, but the adrenaline. The key to victory is harnessing that adrenaline and using it productively.

I remember a basketball team of talented players that nevertheless struggled because of the inability of most of the players to handle anger. The most talented member often had to sit on the bench because of losing her anger during the game. She would get fouled, then get mad, and then get reckless. Another player would sulk if the ball was stolen from her. But there was another player who would get knocked down, perhaps have the ball stolen, but would immediately bounce back up and keep playing aggressively. Indeed, she would take advantage of the opposing players by getting them angry with her aggressive play. She did not need anger to motivate her. She simply kept focused on her goal.

It is the one who keeps focused, who remains patient and preserves that wins the victory and keeps the victory. That is the point of the second half of the proverb: he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. Many persons have won victories in sports or business or the military, only to lose what they gained. Their anger got them the burst of energy to win the battle, but they had not the wisdom to know what to do when they won. Essential to military success is knowing one's limits and not overstretching. An army can win too much territory too quickly, exposing itself to counterattack.

Besides leading one to fail because of clouding one's ability to think well and to focus, anger creates opposition that causes further difficulties. People who would be supportive draw back and even become opponents. A leader looses devoted followers who witness him for the first time go into a rage. A store clerk ready to help a customer becomes an obstacle when the customer vents his frustration. People willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, suddenly give you no break when they are exposed to your anger.

Anger can be helpful and even the right emotion to have depending on the circumstance. But the key is that we must control our anger to make it useful rather than let anger control us, which is what happens most of the time. We should be angry at injustice; sometimes it takes anger to get us doing something that normally we would be afraid to do or indifferent about. Even then, the anger needs to be harnessed, controlled by our wisdom. It is difficult to do; thus, we need to be those who are slow to anger.

33 The lot is cast into the lap,
but its every decision is from the Lord.

Casting the lot is the same as flipping the coin or choosing straws for us. It is an odd activity when you think about it. An act "chance" used not merely to make a decision but to determine the will of the divine. King David organized the work of the temple priests by the method. The priest Zechariah, John the Baptist's father, entered the Holy Place to offer incense because the cast lot fell on his name finally after many years. By casting lots Joshua discovered whose sin led to the Israelites' defeat in battle. By casting lot, it was determined that the Lord had chosen Saul to be Israel's first king. The High Priest carried the Urim and Thummim, lots cast to inquire of the Lord decisions to be made. By casting lots the sailors singled out Jonah as the guilty one bringing the storm upon them. The last mention of casting lots in the Bible is Acts 1:23-26 where the eleven disciples choose another to replace Judas:

And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, "You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place." And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

Casting lots does seem a precarious method of determining God's will. Some commentators even believe that the Acts passage is an example of the disciples' unfaithfulness rather than their faith. We never hear of Matthias again, and it is Paul, supernaturally called by God, who rises to pre-eminence. One would think that such a book as Proverbs would disapprove of the method because its writings exalt wisdom, knowledge, and counsel. Casting lots seems to be diametrically opposed to such things, depending upon the chance roll of the dice to settle difficult issues. When the two women came to King Solomon to settle their dispute of who was the true mother of a baby, the king did not cast lots to solve the matter. He used wisdom.

Actually, Proverbs does not instruct us to turn to the casting of lots as a normal means of making decisions. It mentions the activity one other time in 18:18: The lot puts an end to quarrels and decides between powerful contenders. This proverb seems to use lots for much the same reason we do today; when there is no clear reason why to choose one side over the other, flip a coin. Parents may do that to determine which child gets the last piece of pie; football game officials do it to determine who gets the ball first, and so on. It is amazing at how well such a method works. Quarrels will most of the time stop immediately.

Here is the point that I think our proverb is making: whatever the "lot" may be, we should take the outcome as being the Lord's will. That lot may be a coin or a straw; it may be a decision made after arduous study, and seeking the Lord's will through prayer and counsel. However we arrive at a course of action, we are in essence casting our lot. Who knows if we have really made the right decision? We are sinful beings limited in our ability to reason well and without prejudice. And even if we take a rational course based on the facts at hand, who knows the future? Who knows where lightening will strike or a terrorist? Who can anticipate every possible consequence of every decision? Every day, every conscious and unconscious decision is a "casting of the lot" before the Lord. Take comfort: the Lord causes all things to work for the good of those who love him, including the bad stuff (Romans 8:28). Furthermore, he causes all things to work towards his ends for his glory. Your life is not a waste, whatever may have occurred.

The wise understand this. The reason they become wise is that they learn from everything that happens to them. They see a purpose even if the purpose is to teach them how bad life can get. But more to the point is that we are to take every decision that has impacted our lives as God's will for us, even when the decisions occurred from our sin and foolishness. We are then to learn, grow, and bring forth good from the "lots" cast for us or cast by us in life.


I have titled this sermon "The Peaceful Life." Because I select titles in advance to preparing my sermons, sometimes I am off base connecting title with scripture text. But I think I got it right this time, for those persons who have arrived at old age and are peaceful are those who have learned and practiced the lessons of these proverbs.

To live the righteous life is to be freed of the guilt that plagues many people who must carry in their minds the hurt they have caused in their lives — shattered marriages and families, the shattered dreams of others broken by their mean-spiritedness, the shame of immorality, the years of rebellion against their Lord. Living a righteous life is living a life with fewer regrets. One may experience great trials, and, indeed, we are told in 2 Timothy 3:12 that all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But it is one thing to suffer because of trials; it is another to suffer because of the trials you have brought on yourself and others.

Those who continue to live righteous lives in their old age continue to experience the peace that such living brings. They sleep well at night with a clear conscience. And as Proverbs teaches many times, such a life tends to cause good things to happen.

Certainly we should see the connection between being slow to anger and possessing peace. It is the person at peace who is most capable of controlling his anger, and such control leads to peace. Contrary to popular belief that venting one's anger releases stress, what truly releases stress is learning to be at peace with, well, with others, with oneself, and mostly with God.

How does one obtain such peace? Two factors make the difference. One is to grasp the truth of our last proverb that the circumstances of our lives are in the hands of the Lord. When we can appreciate the meaning this truth gives to our lives, we will have peace that takes us through the most trying times. We never do really know what our lot will turn out to be no matter how well we try to prepare for the future or make decisions. Did we take the right job? Choose the right school, the right major? Did we make the right choice for marriage or the right decision to reject someone for marriage? Did we…? It can be endless. The young person keeps worrying about how his decision affects his future. What if he made the wrong turn and is locked into a dismal life? The "gray hair" ponders whether his life has been worthwhile. Too late now to change the years. What peace it is to know that the Lord makes whatever our lot is, will be, or has been meaningful in some way.

But the other factor is even more important, and that is to know redemption. Let's be realistic; there is no one perfectly righteous. The best are guilty of breaking every commandment, and everyone has left a trail of mistakes, failures, and pain. None of us can stand before our Maker and give an adequate account of our lives. We can say we did the best we could, but even that is not true. More accurate is that we did the best we could without having to yield fully to God and keeping our own interests our priority. What we need is redemption, for our Maker to forgive us and to turn us around.

Old age is truly gained in a righteous life, the righteous life of Christ exchanged for our sinful life. And it is not merely old age that is gained, but eternal life in glory. The individual who has peace is the one whose lot is cast with Jesus Christ. That decision surely is from the Lord. Make it your decision and hold on to it. Wherever your next toss of the lot takes you, peace will be yours as you abide in your Savior and Lord.

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