************ Sermon on Proverbs 30:24-28 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 1, 2000
"The Wisdom of Bugs and Rodents"
Everyone needs models to imitate and follow. This is especially true for the young. When it comes to that business we call life, children and young people learn more by example than by words or books. It is important, then, that our children and youth have good models. Every parent cringes at the thought of a son or daughter imitating Madonna or Mike Tysen. Wise Christian parents want their son or daughter to imitate various Bible figures.
"Son," you might say, "it is important that you be a man of prayer like Daniel." Or you might say, "Daughter, learn to have the patience of Job." Or, "Have the courage of Daniel's three friends thrown into the fiery furnace." Or, "Have the faith of Rahab who hid the spies and hung a scarlet thread out her window."
Agur, a little known figure in the Old Testament who wrote the proverbs of our text, sat down with his son and daughter and took an entirely different approach. He said, "Children, I want you to imitate the ant, the coney, the locust, and the lizard."
This sounds strange, to say the least. What kind of parent would tell his son to be like a lizard or his daughter to imitate a locust? This sounds strange because – let's face it – neither the ant, nor the coney, nor the locust, nor the lizard are particularly appealing – that's why ordinary people do not have these as pets. In fact, if pressed, most of us would admit we find these creatures repulsive. Yet Agur turns to these simple, small, ugly creatures to give us wisdom for life and for living.
A The first creature that Agur points to is the humble ant. He says,
(Prov 30:25) Ants are creatures of little strength, yet they store up their food in the summer; The ant works today for tomorrow. Or, to put it another way, the ant knows and understands the time.
A lot of people don't know, don't understand, the time. Some live in the past. They always talk about the good old days. If you believe them, everything was better in the past than in the present: children were more obedient, people were more religious, schools did a better job, neighbors were more dependable. Or they live on the sins and tragedies of the past. They remember every time and every hurt that others have inflicted upon them. They can never forget and always remember the sins of their youth. With relish they relate every tragedy that has ever happened to them. They drive through life looking in a rear-view mirror.
Others live only in the present. They live only for today and give no thought to tomorrow or yesterday. Since yesterday doesn't exist for these sort of people, the sins and lessons of yesterday don't exist either. So they never learn, they never make amends, they never attain progress. And, of course, they never save up for a rainy day or give a thought to their future.
Then there are those who live in the future. They never do today what they can do tomorrow. Their constant and favorite refrain is "after" or "later." After I get married, after I graduate, after I get promoted, after I retire, then I'll do this or that.
The ant, in contrast, knows and understands the time. It has developed an instinct to prepare itself in the present. It knows it has to work in the summer to prepare for the winter. Though it has little strength, it uses what it has to prepare for the future. Ants love picnics, but not as a time to relax. Before you are gone the ants are carrying off the cookie and hamburger crumbs – one crumb at a time. The whole time you are eating and enjoying yourself they are busy, busy, busy – working, straining, carrying the load.
B Like the ant we are to know and understand the time. Like the ant, we are to use the present in order to prepare for the future. Of course, the biggest and most important preparation any of us can make has to do with the Lord Jesus. Paul says,
(2 Cor 5:20,6:2) We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God ... I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation. Right now, today, we must get ready to meet our Maker. Right now, today, we must give our heart to Jesus. Right now, today, we must commit ourselves to the Lord. Now, right now, is the time to fall on your knees before God and accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior; now, right now, is the only time because it is too late if you die or if the Lord returns – and neither of those times none of us ever know ahead of time.
I want to ask every person here: are you reconciled to God? Have you asked Jesus into your heart? I urge you to do this, and to do this now because "now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation." Do it now because later may be too late. Like the ant, we must use today to get ready for tomorrow.
C Another way we can use today to prepare for tomorrow has to do with Bible Study. Throughout the Book of Proverbs wise teachers urge us to know the Word: to study it, to memorize it, to meditate upon it. We are to do so because the Word will guide, guard, and protect us in the days to come. Like the ant, we are to take advantage of the summer because the winter lies ahead.
Winter can be different for each one of us. Perhaps a disease you always thought belonged to other people becomes either a part of your life or the life of someone you love. Perhaps it has to do with children you brought into your home with hope and joy and deep expectation, only to see them turn their backs on you and everything you value. Perhaps it is a marriage that has gone sour. Perhaps it is a series of crop failures or losses on the dairy that almost drives you under. However it happens, one thing is certain: for all of us, sometime, winter will come. And, we must use the summer to get ready for the winter. Like the ant we must use today to get ready for tomorrow.
A The second creature that Agur points to is the coney. About them he says,
(Prov 30:26) coneys are creatures of little power, yet they make their home in the crags; The coney is a rock badger, a bit like our marmots. They are gray in color, just like the rocks they live among. As long as the coney is on the rock, it is almost impossible to see. And, when a predator does come to attack, the coney will run into a hole in the rock. To get at the coney you have to knock down a mountain of rocks.
Coneys know two things. First, coneys know their weakness. If a coney decides to go onto the plain, venturing away from the rock, it becomes very vulnerable. No matter how brave a coney is, away from the rocks the most courageous falls victim to the smallest wolf or lion or coyote. When it wanders away from the rocks a coney becomes road kill. So coneys know better than to venture onto an open field.
Second, coneys know where their security lies. They know that to be secure they must stay among the rocks. They know that the rocks are their protection and fortress. They know they are safe if they stay where they belong.
B Those in Agur's audience would have immediately known the lesson here. Wise people, like the coney, must know their weakness and they must know where their security lies.
First, like the coney we must know our weakness. Our weakness, of course, is sin; it is corruption and guilt and evil; it is life apart from God.
Topic: SinWhen we live apart from God, we run the danger of being swallowed up by the sinkhole of sin. When we live apart from God, we have no hope and no security. We must know this about ourselves.
Title: A Devouring Sinkhole
In December 1985 a 70-foot-wide sinkhole swallowed one home and a carport and forced the evacuation of four homes in a retirement community in Florida. The hole was about the size of a pickup truck when it was discovered. Within three hours it had grown to 30 by 40 feet and had swallowed half of a small house. Two hours later the house was gone.
Second, like the coney we must know where our security lies. Every Christian knows the answer to that one too:
(Ps 62:5-7) Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. (6) He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. (7) My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. My refuge, my rock, my strength, my fortress, is the Lord. Without Him I have no security at all.
If we have truly learned this lesson, then we look to God alone. Think of the coney again. It knows better than to spend part of its time among the rocks and part of its time in the field. It realizes it must depend upon the rocks fulltime for its safety and security. We are the same way. We need to depend upon God alone; we must let go of all else that we depend upon; it is either God or nothing; it is not both God and something else.
A The third creature that Agur points to is the locust. About them he says,
(Prov 30:27) locusts have no king, yet they advance together in ranks; A locust or a grasshopper by itself is harmless. If you come across one in your yard or garden, it may startle you as it jumps suddenly from under your feet; but other than that you ignore it.
Yet if the grasshopper joins a league of grasshoppers, it can do all kinds of damage. Think, for instance, of the plague in Egypt. What the locust or grasshopper cannot do alone, it can do in community with others. Indeed, at the turn of the century, a plague of locusts wreaked havoc in Nebraska, Iowa, and Kansas. In less than a week, they did well over ten billion dollars worth of damage. After their attack every plant – every single plant – was reduced to a barren stalk, stripped of all leaves and buds.
The locust, says Agur, has no king to get them organized. They do not have a draft board to enlist them. By instinct, locusts know they have to be in community with other locusts. When that occurs, they are able to topple kingdoms. The wisdom of the locust is the wisdom that tells us we must have community.
B The need for community – that is the lesson here. The Old Testament speaks of the covenant people of God. The New Testament speaks of the church. What this tells us is that while we must have a personal faith, we can never have a merely individual faith. You, in other words, cannot be a Christian alone.
Topic: ChurchLunatics never unite. But locusts do. And, Christians should – for if we don't, we can't accomplish much.
Subtopic: Need for
Title: Lunatics don't unite
A man visited an asylum for the criminally insane. He was a bit surprised to find that only three guards were assigned to take care of a hundred inmates. He said to one of the guards, "Aren't you afraid that the inmates will unite, overcome you, and escape?" The guard said, "Lunatics never unite."
Think of Jesus sending out His disciples. He sent them out two by two. Or think of the Apostle Paul. He never traveled alone on his missionary journeys. And, in every city in which he established a church he depended upon local people to help him.
Without a community you are not going to make any impression upon this culture. It is Christians as a community and not as individuals that are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. God never calls us to service or ministry that we are to do by ourselves. What we do, we do as a body, as a community. That's why we are part of a church. That's why we have a Christian School Society. That's why we are part of the Christian Reformed denomination. That's why we join with Christians everywhere in opposing abortion through the Right to Life movement. If we don't understand the need for the group, we don't have the good sense of a locust.
A The fourth creature that Agur points to is the lizard. About them he says,
(Prov 30:28) a lizard can be caught with the hand, yet it is found in kings' palaces. You can hold a lizard, but you probably wouldn't want to. It is small and ugly. But there it is, in the presence of the king. Imagine that: lizards found in palaces; a dry, scaly lizard surrounded by the finery, culture, and riches of the court.
B Lizards in palaces. What is the lesson Agur wants to give us here? We are to see, first of all, the upside down values of the Kingdom of God.
Subtopic: Of God, upside down values
Title: Reverse Screw
I remember the time a fellow student -- a girl -- at Calvin College had a flat tire on her old Chrysler. She had no idea of what to do. I grabbed the tire wrench and tried to loosen the lugs. After 15 sweaty minutes on a cold winter's night I had not succeeded in loosening a single lug. In fact, they all seemed tighter than before. When I mentioned this the young lady said, "I think dad told me Chrysler has a reverse screw." Sure enough, on that Chrysler I had to turn the lugs the wrong way.
There is a sense in which the Kingdom of God is a kind of reverse screw. Everything in our culture that seems right is wrong in the Bible. The way up is down. The way to spiritual wealth is to acknowledge your spiritual poverty. The way to live is to die. The way to rule is to serve. It is like Chrysler's reverse screw. It is like a lizard in a king's palace.
C Lizards in palaces. Lizards are not warm, cuddly creatures that you want to hold in your arms and clutch to your heart. The sight of them loose in the house causes shrieks of fear by many a young lady. Yet, there they are in the palace of a king. We are to see, secondly, a message of grace.
In a certain way we are like lizards. There is nothing warm and cuddly about us. We are poor, miserable sinners. And, in the eyes of the world we are nobodies and nothings (cf 1 Cor 1:26-29). Yet, someday – because of grace – we will be found in the palace of the King.
Says Agur, "Four creatures on earth are small, yet they are extremely wise." Therefore, my son, my daughter, you are to imitate them. Therefore, my son, my daughter, you are to learn from them. Therefore, my son, my daughter, be like the ant, the coney, the locust, and the lizard.
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