Proverbs 30:18-20  
This passage grabbed me right out of the gate with “three things are beyond me; four I can’t understand.”  The word for “beyond” is one of my favorite Hebrew words.  It describes something that is beyond man’s capabilities or comprehension, something that can only be of God—His works and actions.  As a result, it is wonderful, extraordinary, and to us, miraculous.  It’s the word that surrounds the miraculous birth of Isaac.  When Sarah laughed, saying, ‘Can I really have a baby when I’m old?  The Lord answered, “Is anything impossible for the Lord?  Or Jeremiah’s amazement at God’s creation of the heavens and earth, “Nothing is too difficult for You!”  So, what is it that is so amazing in this proverb that evokes our wonder at God’s works?

This proverb is very similar to a parable.  We need to do some digging and observation to get at what the writer wants us to understand.  The key word “way” is repeated five times in this short passage.  It signifies behavior, a course of action, a pattern of life, such as we see in Ps 1:6 with the “way of the righteous” and the “way of the wicked.”  This is the same pattern we see contrasted throughout the book of Proverbs as well.  Another observation that parallels this thought is the contrast that we have between the “way of the man with the young woman” and the “way of the adulteress.”

So here we are, at the end of Proverbs, with an illustration involving a man and two women, which is also how Proverbs begins—with a young man and two women.  Each illustrates a pattern of behavior.  The first woman is Wisdom, whose approach to life is understanding, discernment and prudence.  However, the second woman, Folly, has a contrasting approach to life that is driven by a lack of sense and the seductive, illicit desire of an adulteress.  But here in Prov. 30:18, we encounter several other examples tied to way as well—the “way of the eagle in the sky, the way of the snake on a rock, and the way of a ship at sea.”  How are they significant?

A couple observations stand out.  Each example pairs an object with the environment in which it behaves, based on its nature.  Each finds its way through the varied environments (air, rock and sea) by naturally and instinctively responding in accordance with the nature of that environment.  But another characteristic common to their respective ways is that following their transit, they leave no evidence or trace of the path taken—the path is trackless.  Ps 107:40, describes God’s chastising as “He… makes them wander in a trackless wasteland.”  Where are these three examples leading us?  What comparisons are we to make as we look at the fourth example (which is the combination and contrast of the final two ways that are illustrated)?

This also raises a question—what is the environment in the final example?  Each of the first three examples is physical in nature and while there is definitely a physical aspect present between the people in the final example, something more is at play.  The “way” of the man with the young woman is the “way” of the heart.  The way of the first three is determined by the laws of nature, but this final picture has a moral component which is absent from the other examples.  No longer is instinct the determining factor in which way is chosen but rather, understanding and desire are the defining characteristics that shape the way that is followed. One passage that speaks to the distinction between instinct and understanding is God’s statement in Ps 32:8-9, “I will instruct you and show you the way to go; with My eye on you, I will give counsel.  Do not be like a horse or mule, without understanding, that must be controlled with bit and bridle or else it will not come near you.”

The second observation regarding the ways of the first three examples is that they are trackless. And to a certain extent, the environment of the heart is as well.  The idea of trackless also expresses a certain anonymity in one’s way, a way that is concealed or secret.  However, the heart is revealed by its actions, which isn’t an issue for the man with the young woman, but it is for the adulteress who deliberately acts in a way to conceal her actions, attempting to appear innocent by wiping her mouth, to externally try to eliminate traces of her “way” as well as verbally denying she did anything wrong (literally, I’m not a worker of evil) by her behavior.

Finally, what stands out is the illustration that God uses to teach us, not only here in Proverbs but throughout His word—the relationship of a man with a woman, whether in marriage as a picture of our relationship with Jesus as the Bridegroom or even negatively, when Israel is shown as an adulteress in her unfaithfulness to God.  Even the verbiage that goes with this pursuit of relationship—desire, embrace, delight, longing, etc. begins to give us a sense, an understanding of God’s ultimate intent when He views us as His own, His treasured possession. God isn’t looking for a relationship of grudging obedience that must be controlled with a bit and bridle but rather the focus that desire brings, that orients everything around the priority of that desire, overcoming any obstacle in the pursuit of that love, valuing Him for Himself alone.

What an amazing thought, especially during this Christmas season, to reflect on the wonder of all that was set in motion to make us His own.  Just the thought is so amazing that we can’t help but wonder at God’s works.  He is indeed our Wonderful Counselor.

Ps 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you your heart’s desire.”  Pr 4:6-9, speaking of Wisdom, “Love her,… cherish her,… embrace her!”  Ps 143:8, “Reveal to me the way I should go because I long for You.”  Pr 5:3-23, v 21, “For a man’s ways are before the Lord’s eyes and He considers all his paths.”  Pr 3:13-18, “Happy is the man who finds wisdom and who acquires understanding,… She is more precious than jewels; nothing you desire compares with her… Her ways are pleasant and all her paths, peaceful.  She is a tree of life to those who embrace her, and those who hold on to her are happy.”
On the other hand, Pr 4:26, “Carefully consider the path for your feet and all your ways will be established… 5:6, “She (the forbidden woman) doesn’t consider the path of life; … v 8, “Keep your way far from her.  Don’t go near the door of her house.”  Pr 5:20-21, “Why my son, would you be infatuated with a forbidden woman or embrace the breast of a stranger?  For a man’s ways are before the Lord’s eyes, and He considers all his paths.”

by Mark Ott, Elder

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