This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Proverbs 30:15-16
Author: Sermon prepared by Pastor Ralph Koops, Cambridge, ON
(First of a series of sermons on Proverbs 30)
Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in its life, more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth. From the moment it leaves the nest it searches for a thorn tree, and does not rest until it has found one. Then, singing among the savage branches, it impales itself upon the longest, sharpest pine. And, dying, it rises above its own agony to out-carol the lark and the nightingale. One superlative song, existence the price. But the whole world stills to listen and God in heaven smiles. For the best is only bought at the cost of great pain…Or so says the legend.”
These words are found at the beginning of a very powerful novel by Colleen McCullough called, The Thornbirds.
How different that bird singing once in a lifetime from the amazingly persistent enduring cry of our text. It is one endless, scary, fascinating, but also discouragingly consistent cry, “Give, give.”
Proverbs is a book filled with wisdom. It’s theme you find in chapter 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” This book shows a real contrast between the righteous and unrighteous or foolish. Often in this book wisdom speaks as a person. The wisdom of which it speaks finds full personification in Jesus Christ. No one measures up to the standards of this book. Consequently, it sends us, points us to Jesus Christ in whom are hidden all the treasures and knowledge and wisdom of God.
Chapter 30 and 31 are two separate sections of the book. Chapter 30 is words of Agur, someone possibly of Arab background, who knew the God of Israel. Chapter 31 is words of Lemuel.
The author shares in the opening words that he does not know much. He is not the Creator. He in effect says, I may not know much but God does. He asks God to keep him from falsehood and to have him be neither rich nor poor. He then states the four types of evil people. After that he gets into Proverbs using symbolic numbers. These verses are cast in the form of numerical proverbs or synonymous parallelisms, that is parallels that are the same. By using a lower number first and then increasing it, the suspense mounts. You find the same thing in the prophets like Amos, who writes, “For three sins of Damascus, even for four…for three sins of Moab, even for four.” (Amos 1:3; 2:1)
There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, “Enough.” Before these proverbial numbers there is this message, “The leech has two daughters, Give! Give! they cry.” The leech is a bloodsucking worm. The word it comes from means to hang, to be suspended, cleave, and adhere. This bloodsucker lived in Palestine’s swamps and pools. With his sharp tiny teeth he would cling to people and animals and suck himself full of blood and then let go. The leech has two daughters. They are the leech’s greedy descendants. Two daughters indicate double greed.
Agur now applies this rule of the never satisfied blood-sucking worm to three even four life situations. The author looks at that bloodsucker and says that in the bloodsucker, he sees a picture of life.
There is the grave. The Hebrew word is Sheol; the Greek N. T. equivalent is Hades. It signifies (in the O.T.) the realm of the dead. It refers to the state of death, the grave. The grave. There are three things that are never satisfied four that never say enough. This verse says that our cemeteries are never big enough. When one grave is filled in today, another one is dug tomorrow. The grave, or Sheol, Hades, death, swallows up life. The cemetery is never satisfied. It always asks for more. If the Lord tarries, we will all end up there. No one escapes that, no one.
There is also the barren womb. In ancient Israel, a wife who did not have children, despaired, like Rachel saying to Jacob, “Give me children, or I will die.” The barren womb is a womb hindered, restrained, and kept from childbearing. In human life, there is an urge to bear. We want to continue to exist in future generations. How a woman can feel that cry for a child in her womb! Throughout the ages the womb cries, “Give, give.”
There is a third one who never says enough. It is land that is never satisfied with water. Here we think of often drought stricken Palestine. A dry earth always calls for more water. Earth always absorbs the water. Without rain, crops will not grow.
A fourth situation of which the bloodsucking worm can be an example is fire. Fire has something very fascinating about it. Around a campfire everyone just stares into that fire. Fire never says enough. Fire cannot burn without being fed. As the fire gets bigger, it cries for more. (Children never play with fire.) The bigger the fire gets, the more it wants. The more you supply the more it rages.
It has been observed that the four things in our text are like two pairs. Those pairs are part of a bad drama. The grave opposes the womb. The mother’s womb gives life, but the grave takes it. The womb produces, the grave cuts off, terminates. The grave and the womb chase each other in an endless race, but they never catch up with each other. Says the book of Ecclesiastes, “Generations come, and generations go.” And, “What has been will be again.” (See Chapter 1:4, 9)
The heat of the fires of the sun makes earth really dry. But then the rains come. It is life-giving water. After the sun’s scorching rays have done their job, earth cries for more water—just as the fire cries. An endless cycle, never enough.
Agur, congregation, under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, gives us a picture of life. Our history has become an endless cycle of births and deaths. You will hear people say, “Our friends are all having children,” or you will hear them say, “All our friends parents are dying.” We are living in the twenty-first century. We love, we get married, go to weddings, and visit beaming new mothers. We also go to funeral homes and funerals. “Give, give”, they cry—four who never say enough. Malcolm Boyd, prayed long ago, “I want to go home, but the traffic won’t move. Oh, God my life is slipping away. Who am I, and where am I going?”
Life’s troubles, seeming senseless cycles, date back to the foreign intruder called sin. God made everything beautiful. Through sin, we messed it up like you would not believe. If God is not in your life you are part of a purposeless merry-go-round.
After sin entered the world, God said, “I will make a new start. The cries on earth must be responded to”. No one on earth could do that.
The greedy cry of our text is perhaps a reflection on the arrogance and greed portrayed in the two verses preceding the text. It places us before the great question of the meaning of life.
Earlier I said that the wisdom of which Proverbs speaks comes to us fully in the wonderful person of Jesus Christ, God’s son. His own word was that the Old Testament was all about him. The text before us does not mention him by name. However, in these verses of our text, I see a longing for Him and His coming. He alone can break apparent senseless cycles.
Jesus Christ by his life and death on the cross, and through His resurrection, sheds light on the unsatisfied cries of our sin-sick times. Come to Jesus in faith. Stand at the foot of His cross as well as at the empty tomb, and in faith say, “Lord, save me by your grace. Holy Spirit, fill me. Make me a new person.”
Then with the light of Easter, resurrection light, look at these four once more. I see the grave. Isn’t it awful? How we miss those we loved so much. Death is such a destroyer. Yet in death we entrust our dear ones to God. Jesus overcame death. He was stronger than death. The grave is not the end. There will be a resurrection day. What a comfort that is even through the tears.
To have no children can be a real burden to childless couples. Some people just cannot get children. That was especially sad in Israel. You would never bring forth the Messiah, the Christ. The barren womb, how it can cry. Some unmarried, whose womb never bore cry in their own way. Yet in Jesus, the barren womb also has purpose. All who know God are part of His family. After the fall, the cry of the womb became in its deepest sense, a cry for the Christ child.
One day the womb’s cry will end. There will be the full number of the redeemed in God’s presence. This gives perspective on life, on life in its totality.
And I saw a new earth. That earth will not cry, “Give, give” anymore. Instead there will be a river and trees bearing fruit twelve months of the year. Everyone will be satisfied, no more drought or parched land.
After the last judgment day, fire will have finished its job, except that Jesus spoke of the fires of hell as a warning for us—fires that will not be put out.
Where are you at in your life? What do you think of the cycle of birth and death? You and I have already been born. We still have to die. Whoever believes in Jesus Christ and shows that in life, will live forever. The text also spoke of water. Just think of the water of our baptism, it either saves or drowns us. Are we committed to Jesus and serving Him? Perhaps there is a moral in the following story:
“For many days an old farmer had been plowing with an ox and a mule together and working them pretty hard. The ox said to the mule, ‘Let’s play sick today and rest a little while.’ But the old mule said, ‘No, we need to get the work done, for the season is short.’
But the ox played sick, and the farmer brought him fresh hay and corn and made him comfortable. When the mule came in from plowing, the ox asked how he made out. ‘We didn’t get as much done, but we made it all right,’ answered the mule. Then the ox asked, ‘What did the old man say about me?’ ‘Nothing,’ said the mule.
The next day the ox, thinking he had a good thing going, played sick again. When the mule came in again very tired, the ox asked, ‘How did it go?’ The mule said, ‘All right, I guess, but we didn’t get much done.’ Then the ox also asked, ‘What did the old man say about me?’ ‘Nothing to me,’ was the reply, ‘but he did stop and have a long talk with the butcher.’”
Follow Jesus wholeheartedly while you have time, before He talks to the butcher, so to speak.
Then I look at that foursome in the text one more time. They keep on calling, crying, and they never say, “enough.” But I know of the New Testament which completed, was fulfilled in, and satisfied the Old Testament. I know of Jesus and his love. He points us away from the womb and the grave and the water and the fire, and He points us to Himself. I hear Him say, “I am the resurrection and the life. Let everyone, including the children inside and outside the womb, come to me. I am here for you. I am also there at the cemetery. It was all bought at a high cost of great pain, on a day called Good Friday. Amen.