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Sabbath School Lesson Begins

The Book of Proverbs

Lesson 3 *January 10–16

A Matter of Life and Death

Sabbath Afternoon

Read for This Week’s Study: Matt. 5:21–30; Prov. 6:21; Prov. 7:3; Prov. 6:23; Prov. 7:2; Prov. 6:24; Prov. 6:30-31; Prov. 7:26-27.

Memory Text: For the commandment is a lamp, and the law a light; reproofs of instruction are the way of life (Proverbs 6:23, NKJV).

Two brothers were left home alone, but given a strict warning by their mother not to eat the cake that she had just baked. To make sure that the boys would obey, she added the threat of punishment.

When she left, it took the boys only a few minutes to decide to eat the cake anyway. This is not a matter of life and death, they reasoned. Our mother would never kill us; so, let’s eat!

For the teacher in Proverbs, though, the issue he speaks about is indeed a matter of life and death. His language is strong and sometimes graphic. Of course, Jesus used very strong language Himself when talking about matters of eternal life and death (see Matt. 5:21–30). And no wonder. In the end, our ultimate destiny, our eternal destiny (and what could be more important than that?), rests upon the choices that we make here now. So we should take the urgency of the strong language at face value.

*Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, January 17.

SundayJanuary 11

The Law in Our Life

Read Proverbs 6:21 and 7:3. How are we to understand the bodily images used in these texts regarding how we should relate to God’s law?

As we saw in an earlier lesson, in Proverbs the heart represents the seat of emotions and thoughts. By telling us to bind the law upon our hearts (Prov. 6:21), the teacher means that we should always be in close connection with the law. There is no moment we may lose contact with the law, because the law is what defines sin (Rom. 7:7). The teacher also insists that this law should even be written on the tablets of the heart (Prov. 7:3), just as the Decalogue was written by God on the stone tablets (Exod. 24:12).

To speak about the law written on the heart means that the law is not just an external set of rules imposed on us. The law should penetrate our motivations, our secret intentions, and so be part of our intimate self. It’s another expression of having the Pauline promise of Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27) be a reality in our lives.

To tie the law around the neck also means that we should keep it close to ourselves. Ancient people used to tie their precious belongings around their necks. The neck is the place through which air travels to the lungs, allowing breath and life, an association of thoughts that is attested in the Hebrew word nephesh (soul), which refers to life and is derived from a word meaning throat and breathing.

To bind the law on one’s fingers means to bring the law into the domain of actions. The teacher focuses on the fingers to suggest the most delicate and intimate actions. The law should affect not only the grand choices we make but the smaller ones as well (see Luke 16:10).

Although the biblical intention of these images was purely symbolical, it is noteworthy that these symbols have been taken literally in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions. It is seen through the use of the Jewish tephillin around the head and the fingers, the Christian crosses around the neck, and the Muslim (and Christian) rosaries around the fingers.

Symbols can be helpful, but why must we be careful not to mistake the symbol for the reality it represents?

MondayJanuary 12

Light and Life

Read Proverbs 6:23. How is the law related to light?

In the Bible, the word of God or His law has been compared to light: Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Ps. 119:105, NKJV). In the Hebrew mind there is a connection between the idea of law and of light. Just as the lamp illuminates the path where we walk, the law will help us stay on track; that is, when we face moral choices it will help us to know what the right choice is, even if at times reason or personal expedience would tempt us to disregard the law.

What examples can you find in the Bible of those who chose to follow God’s law despite powerful reasons not to? What can we learn from their obedience? In what cases, if any, did their choice to be faithful seem to be the wrong one at least from a human perspective?

Along with Proverbs 6:23, read Proverbs 7:2. Why is the law related to life?

Since the Fall, our hope for eternal life cannot be found in the law, but only through faith in Christ. However, obedience to the law and the principles it represents continues to play a central part in the life of faith (see Matt. 19:17, Rev. 14:12). We obey because, as the Lord said to Israel thousands of years ago, I am the LORD your God (Lev. 18:4). The law of God is related to life, simply because of who God is — the source of our life. This principle represents true spirituality: we trust God and His promises for our present life, just as we trust His promises for eternal life.

Jesus said: I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life (John 8:12, NKJV). How have you experienced the reality of this wonderful promise in your walk with the Lord?

TuesdayJanuary 13

Fighting Temptation

As we have just seen, the author of Proverbs 6:23, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, directly links light and life to God’s law. In the next verse he gives a solid example of how the law, as light and life, can offer us powerful spiritual protection.

What are we being warned about in Proverbs 6:24? Besides the obvious, what more subtle warning is given here?

When a religious person is tempted, the greatest temptation is to find a religious reason to justify the iniquity. Using God to rationalize bad behavior is not only a terrible form of blasphemy — it’s powerfully deceptive. After all, if someone thinks that God is with me, then what can you say in reply? This can happen even in cases of adultery. God has shown me that this [man or woman] is the one I should be with. If that’s what they believe, who or what can trump what God has shown them?

Notice, too, it’s not just her physical beauty that lures him. She uses language, flattering words, to draw the victim into her trap. How often have men and women been led into compromising situations by subtle and seductive words, sometimes even couched in religious language? The author of the book of Proverbs seeks to warn us against this deception.

The law is the perfect antidote against the flattering tongue of a seductress. Only the imperative of the law and the duty of obedience will help us resist her alluring words, which can sound so true and beautiful. Indeed, the seductress will find you not only handsome but also wise and bright. She may even evoke her spiritual needs; and ironically, dangerously, the love of God might become the justification for sin.

Just think how easily we can be led, even under the guise of faith, to justify wrong actions of any kind, not just adultery. Why, then, is an absolute commitment to the law of God our only real protection against even our own minds and the tricks that they can play on us?

WednesdayJanuary 14

You Shall Not Steal

Right after his warning about adultery (Prov. 6:24–29), the author starts talking about another sin: stealing (Proverbs 6:30-31). The relationship between the two commandments (stealing and adultery) shows how disobedience to one commandment can affect our obedience to the others. The attitude of compromise, to pick and choose in regard to God’s law, could be even more dangerous than complete disobedience to the law. The strongest bulwark of vice in our world is not the iniquitous life of the abandoned sinner or the degraded outcast; it is that life which otherwise appears virtuous, honorable, and noble, but in which one sin is fostered, one vice indulged. . . . He who, endowed with high conceptions of life and truth and honor, does yet willfully transgress one precept of God’s holy law, has perverted his noble gifts into a lure to sin. — Ellen G. White, Education, p. 150.

Read Proverbs 6:30-31. What are these verses saying about what even a desperate person does?

Poverty and needs do not justify stealing. The thief is guilty even if he is starving (Proverbs 6:30, NKJV). Although the starving thief is not to be despised, he must still restore seven times what he has stolen; this shows that even the desperateness of his situation does not justify sin. On the other hand, the Bible insists that it is our duty to meet the needs of the poor, so that they don’t feel compelled to steal in order to survive (Deut. 15:7-8).

How interesting that after going from adultery to stealing, the text now returns to adultery (Prov. 6:32–35). The two sins are indeed somewhat similar. In both cases someone is illicitly taking something that belongs to someone else. A crucial difference, however, between stealing and adultery lies in the fact that the former sin concerns only the loss of an object, while the latter deals with something much greater. In some cases one can make restitution for stealing an object; in the cases of adultery, especially when children are involved, the damage can be much more severe than when stealing is involved.

Thou shalt not commit adultery. This commandment forbids not only acts of impurity, but sensual thoughts and desires, or any practice that tends to excite them. . . . Christ, who taught the far-reaching obligation of the law of God, declared the evil thought or look to be as truly sin as is the unlawful deed. — Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 308.

ThursdayJanuary 15

The Threat of Death

Most people don’t think of death when they sin; they have other things on their minds, usually the immediate gratification and pleasure that they derive from their sin. It doesn’t help, either, that popular culture often extols adultery and other iniquities. In contrast, the book of Proverbs places sin in the right perspective, a view echoed many years later by Paul: The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).

Read Proverbs 7:22-23 (NKJV). What makes the adulterer vulnerable to the threat of death?

The one who goes after her is described as someone who has lost his personality and will. He is no longer thinking. The word immediately suggests that he does not give himself time for much reflection. He is compared to an ox who goes to the slaughter, to a fool who goes to the correction of the stocks, and to a bird who hastens to the snare. None of them realize that their life is threatened.

Read Proverbs 7:26-27. What makes the immoral woman lethal?

It’s possible that the woman here depicts more than a mere adulterer. In fact, she represents values opposite to wisdom. Solomon uses this metaphor to warn his pupil against any form of evil. The risk is huge, for this woman does not just wound; she kills, and her power is such that she has slain even the strongest of men. In other words, others before you, stronger than you, have not been able to survive in her hands. The universal language of this passage clearly suggests that the biblical author is speaking about humankind in general. (The Hebrew word sheol in the text has nothing to do with hell, as commonly thought; it designates the place where the dead now are: the grave.)

In the end, the point is that sin, whether adultery or something else, leads to annihilation, the opposite of the eternal life that God wants us all to have through Jesus Christ.

No wonder, as we said in Saturday’s introduction, the language is strong — we are dealing, literally, with matters of life and death.

Think of some strong people who have fallen in a big way. Why should this make you tremble for yourself? What is your only protection?

FridayJanuary 16

Further Study: Satan offers to men the kingdoms of the world if they will yield to him the supremacy. Many do this and sacrifice heaven. It is better to die than to sin; better to want than to defraud; better to hunger than to lie. — Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, p. 495.

Choose poverty, reproach, separation from friends, or any suffering rather than to defile the soul with sin. Death before dishonor or the transgression of God’s law should be the motto of every Christian. As a people professing to be reformers, treasuring the most solemn, purifying truths of God’s word, we must elevate the standard far higher than it is at the present time. — Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 147.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can we be serious about the gravity of sin without falling into the trap of fanaticism? At the same time, how can we be obedient to the law of God without falling into legalism?
  2. Read Exodus 20:1–17. How are all the Ten Commandments related to each other? Why, if we openly violate one commandment, are we likely to transgress other commandments as well? (See James 2:11.) What examples can you find in which transgression of one commandment has led to the transgression of others?
  3. Dwell more on the idea of how people might use religion in order to justify wrong actions. It’s not that hard to do, especially if you tend to hold up love as the ultimate standard of right and wrong. After all, think about all the bad things done under the pretext of love. How, then, does the law continue to act as a way of protecting people, either from themselves or others, who might otherwise be led into sin?
  4. Look again at the question at the end of Sunday’s lesson, which deals with mistaking symbols for reality. How might we do that? For example, how might idolatry be one way of doing this? What traditions, which are symbols of spiritual truths, could be mistaken for those truths themselves?

Inside Story~  NAD: Alaska

“This Isn’t Yogi Bear!”

Being from the tropical country of Puerto Rico, Paola never dreamed that she would end up in the wilds of Alaska. It’s just so out there, Paola says. It’s one of those places that you’re never going to go to because it’s so far away.

But when the recruiting team from the Alaska conference came to Walla Walla University (Wash.), looking for summer camp staff, Paola decided to check them out. She was hired, and that summer she found herself lifeguarding on the shores of Lake Aleknagik at Camp Polaris.

It was nothing like I expected, Paola admits. I pictured snow and igloos, but it was gorgeous and green!

In addition to the natural beauty, Paola experienced other surprises. During orientation, staff were warned that bears frequented the camp. We were instructed that these bears aren’t like Yogi Bear [a friendly children’s cartoon character], Paola remembers. But even though we were warned, a lot of us were still thinking, it’s just a bear.

One day Paola noticed a bear coming into camp. Wanting a picture, she quickly grabbed her camera and looked down as she walked toward the lake. Looking up, she suddenly froze– directly in front of her was a Grizzly bear!

Everything stopped. I couldn’t hear anything. Everyone else was in the lodge; no one could see me. The bear was frozen too. The only thought I had was– This isn’t Yogi!

Suddenly, the Grizzly headed toward a garbage container, and Paola moved quickly back into the lodge. Sometimes you don’t know how bad something is until you come face to face with it, she says.

Working at the camp opened her eyes in many ways, admits Paulo. I realized that I’m not a kid anymore. These are the kids now, and I needed to take care of them.

Sometimes Paulo found drawing the line of authority challenging. When there were issues, I learned to maneuver around the child, not making them feel unwelcome or inferior, but working with them in a way so they could see they needed to stop their tantrum and come back with the others who were having fun.

“There had to be a certain amount of respect going on so that they would know you were the authority, but would still feel comfortable coming to you if they had any problems–especially spiritually. At Camp Polaris, there is a spiritual aspect to everything.

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