Both Small And Exceedingly Wise

Whenever you’re at a loss as to what to read in the Bible, I highly suggest the book of Proverbs. It is a thirty-one-chapter collection of Solomon’s wisest aphorisms and insights, many of which are cleverly written and very memorable. I always seem to find something relevant to whatever I’m dealing with when I read them, and I always close the Word of God feeling encouraged.

Today, I came across Proverbs 30 and 31, written by Agur and Lemuel respectively. Some scholars believe they were penned by Solomon and/or Hezekiah, but regardless of the author’s identity, they both remain worthy of study. Chapter 30 is the more abstract and metaphorical of the two and is divided into shorter statements, several of which are “lists.” The one that caught my eye, Proverbs 30:24-28, reads:

Four things are small on the earth, but they are exceedingly wise: The ants are not a strong people, but they prepare their food in the summer. The rock badgers are not mighty people, yet they make their houses in the rocks. The locusts have no king, yet all of them go out in ranks. The lizard you may grasp with the hands, yet it is in kings’ palaces.

On a first read, the surface meaning is easy to see. These animals survive because of their adaptability and their smarts. However, I think there’s some symbolic value regarding the Christian life as well.

The Ants

From what I know of ants (most of which, I’m sad to say, comes from A Bug’s Life), they work as members of a team to harvest food they will use survive the hard months when nothing grows. One ant alone might not be able to gather enough for the time of famine; however, by working together, they provide plenty for all. I see a connection to Christians; we should work together for the greater good here on earth, providing for one another. However, the same can be said of our work for God’s kingdom. Remember, Jesus advises in Matthew 6:19-21:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;  for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The Rock Badgers

With no Disney movie to guide me, I had to ask the all-knowing Google what a rock badger is exactly. Apparently, it’s called a rock hyrax and is a “terrestrial mammal, superficially resembling a guinea pig with short ears and a tail.” They live in little families and forage in groups while one or two stand lookout and warn the rest if predators are coming. If they’re threatened, they all scamper back up to the rocks that cover their nests. In essence, to get at one, a hunter would have to pull apart the side of a mountain. Pretty secure digs!

Wikipedia, the other great source of knowledge on the web, mentioned something I thought rather interesting: “In Israel, the rock hyrax is reportedly rarely preyed upon by terrestrial predators, as their system of sentries and their reliable refuges provide considerable protection. Hyrax remains are almost absent from the droppings of wolves in the Judean Desert.”

Our connection to this animal is even more obvious. As Christians, Jesus Christ is our rock and our strong refuge. Nothing in this world can rob us of our salvation, our eternal life in Him.  Like God did with Moses, He puts us “in the cleft of the rock” and covers us with His hand for our protection and deliverance (Exodus 33:20-23).

The Locusts

Like the ants, locusts aren’t a problem individually. However, get them in a group, and you’ve got trouble. (Just ask the Egyptians!) This passage isn’t telling Christians to descend upon others and eat them out of house and home, but that is something I think we Baptists could manage with little effort. 🙂

What the proverb is saying is that believers were never meant to go it alone in this life. We’re instructed time and time again in the Bible to work as one body, using our spiritual gifts in ways that make light work of anything. We are each blessed with talents God means for us to use in His service, and none of us should ever compare those talents. Some are born to serve, others to lead. Teachers are meant to educate fellow believers to help them better understand God’s Word, and those who have the power to exhort should always encourage others. Healing, prophecy, tongues–the list goes on and on! This is now though no one person (“a king”) leads us,  we “advance in ranks” with Jesus Christ as our leader. Because of that, we can change the world in the power of His name!

The Lizard/Spider

This last one is an interesting translation conundrum. In most versions, it reads “A lizard you may grasp with the hands.” However, in the KJV and NKJV, the text is “The spider skillfully grasps with its hands.” There is even a third translation that lists the animal as something “poisonous,” which lends itself to either animal, though more readily to the spider. All three versions, however, close with “And it is in kings’ palaces.”

Whatever way it is translated, the animal (like the ant, rock badger, and locust) is small and seemingly helpless. However, its size is of no consequence because that is exactly what allows it to dwell in the home of a king. At the risk of sounding like Yoda, “Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you?”

The animals in question here could dwell happily in the palace of a king, often going unnoticed for their entire lives because of their size. In the opulent home of a ruler, they would be protected from the elements, provided with an ample supply of food, and experience less exposure to predators than they would in their natural environment.

Like them, we will dwell in the home of our heavenly Father, but instead of skulking around or weaving webs in corners, we are joint heirs with Jesus, and each room of the heavenly palace is as much ours as it is His. We did nothing to earn our place there, but it is one of the many blessings we are granted because of His great atoning sacrifice on the cross.

Interestingly, these four animals appear to be part of a pattern.

  • Ants–Symbolize our life on earth, our labor and our toil. This pertains to all humans (both saved and unsaved).
  • Rock Badgers–Those of us who know Christ as Savior are like these creatures. As the psalmist said, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1).
  • Locusts–Rather than dwell in our own land, we are meant to go out as a part of the Great Commission and do to so as Christian soldiers.
  • Lizards–We will receive our reward in heaven when our lives are over and dwell in the place Jesus left to prepare for us.

Yes, the Book of Proverbs does offer amazing insight and wisdom, most of which is packed into portions of text so compact they would make IKEA engineers jealous!

Yes, I may be small in comparison to this world and the universe that surrounds it. However, the same God who made it all knows me. The very hairs on my head are numbered by Him, and nothing escapes His notice. Why should I ever be afraid when that great God is with me?

I’d love to hear your favorite Bible passages, be they from Proverbs or another book. Please take a moment and share your thoughts below!

Fairy Tale Envy

Glass Slippers: Neither Necessary Nor Practical

This weekend, I had to do a little soul-searching regarding my reaction to another person’s joyous moment. I volunteered to play French horn in the pit orchestra for a local production of Cinderella, which was great fun and allowed me to make some new friends and grow as a musician. The young woman playing the lead role was playing opposite her real life boyfriend of several years. During the Saturday evening performance, he matched her with her missing shoe but then deviated from the script by pulling her center stage and asking her if he would be his “forever princess” and presenting her with a diamond engagement ring. The musical then continued on to the wedding sequence and ended as planned.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I don’t like ostentatious displays of emotion. I’m not comfortable watching them or participating in them, and I am rarely motivated to cry. It isn’t that I don’t feel things very deeply; I am just distressingly uncomfortable with expressing my feelings. (Aside from anger that is…I’ve got that one down fairly well.) Therefore, my first reaction to this heartwarming little scene was not that of 99.9% of the women in the audience that evening. Unlike them, I did not tear up, scream with joy, or clap my hands. I might have smiled a little, but that’s all. It was the second performance of the day, and after eight performances of a fairy tale musical, it begins to grate on the nerves.

My nearly Vulcan reaction to the scene wasn’t what gave me great pause, but my thoughts on the matter afterwards did. The young lady in question, I’m told, is the picture of loveliness and kindness. She and I have spoken exactly three words together, and they happened the night of her engagement:

Me: “Congratulations.”

Her: “Thank you.”

That’s as far as our relationship goes, and barring our working together in another musical, I doubt it will develop to any further.

On the way home, I began to think about the difference in her life situation and mine, and in my writerly way, I began to cull details I had noticed and learned about her to create a story that would allow me to dislike her intensely. I began playing my own version of “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not” with my memories and imaginings, alternating between what she (likely) has and what I have. For instance, she’s been the star of several well-received musicals. She’s young, beautiful, wealthy (from what I could see), and has very few limitations placed on her life. She is earning her doctoral degree from a prestigious university and, again I’m guessing here, has likely never known suffering or compromise. The version of her I created is every bit the princess she played on stage, and that was what began to stick in my craw the more I thought about it.

In contrast, I spent those nine shows dressed in black, stuck in a corner and playing what seemed to be an endless series of upbeats. The only time I was noticed was when I missed a note or a rhythm, and I’m sure few even took note of those mistakes (pun intended). Unlike the paper doll I’d envisioned in my mind, I am hardly princess material. I stand nearly six feet tall and boast few physical graces.  I know what William Faulkner described as “the old thrill and the old despair of a penny more or less,” my dreams of a Ph.D. and a university career grow more ephemeral with each passing year, and I’ve been beset by more health and personal troubles in the last half decade than I care to admit. In essence, while she was being waltzed around the stage, I was emptying spit out of my horn during a tacet number.

Envy, the “green-eyed monster which doth mock / The meat it feeds on,” was what was gnawing at me. That and nothing else. After all, from where I sat, she had just about everything I (and any other red-blooded American female) want, and I started ruminating on that and losing perspective on life. I was positively catty most of the next day because of it, but the more I pondered both that moment and my reaction to it, I realized that it was not justified.

It also wasn’t Christian. So I went in search of scripture to help me “get my mind right” as the Captain from Cool Hand Luke might say. A search through both the Old and New Testaments turned up several instructive passages, the most relevant of which were:

“For wrath kills a foolish man, And envy slays a simple one.”–(Job 5:2)

“A sound heart is life to the body, But envy is rottenness to the bones.”–(Proverbs 14:30)

“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”–(1 Corinthians 13: 4-7)

“For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.”– (James 3:16)

The truth of the matter is quite clear from these few scriptures. Envy is something everyone is prone to as it is a weakness of the flesh and is not of the spirit. Focusing on what she had and what I “lacked” only weakened me spiritually. I couldn’t take joy in the things that I do have–a loving family, a husband who adores me, good health despite my MS diagnosis, friends, a church home, and above all, a God who loves me and who has a plan for me that is right and just though I lack the power to discern it as of yet. To wish I had another’s life is fallacious as it would deny me all the good things I enjoy in my own, and wasting my time in envy is only harming my soul and sense of well-being. Unless the young lady in question ever reads this blog entry, she will never know my thoughts or what it took for me to see the error in them.

I may never get the “glass slipper,” and instead of spending my life “bemoan[ing] my outcast state” as Shakespeare put it in “Sonnet 29,” I am meant to trust and obey and to be content with my lot. Quite honestly, I have neither earned nor deserved the blessings that are already mine, and to wish them away for those of another is nothing but injurious to my own soul and detrimental to my fellowship with God.