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"PROVERBS OF ASHES"
by Philip Owen

            “God helps those who help themselves.” At one time or another, we’ve probably all heard someone recite that saying in the mistaken belief that he was quoting the Bible, or at least stating a true principle. After all, the adage has “God” in it. It sounds a lot like the Bible. It has a religious tone to it. It encourages self-reliance. All pretty good arguments for commending the proverb. But again, it is not scriptural. And, in fact, it fails to set forth an accurate description of the duty of man in relationship to the will of God. Someone acting on the principle set forth in this proverb will act impetuously and feel justified in taking matters (whatever they may be) into his own hands. He will believe—mistakenly—that taking the bull by the horns (to use another pat saying) will commend him to God and guarantee his success. But proverbs, maxims, principles, and traditions, no matter how revered, are neither equivalent to the inspired truth of the Word of God nor satisfactory substitutes for its infallible verity.

            Job dismissed all such statements, telling one of his friends who had given him erroneous advice: “Your memorable sayings are proverbs of ashes” (13:12a). The world at large lives by just such advice. Sadly, many of us who know the Lord govern our lives by proverbs, principles, and religious traditions that are not biblical. “My mother told me . . .”, “I was taught . . .”, or “I have always heard . . .” are not statements that offer a sound foundation for thought or action. They are the sand upon which a foolish man builds a house that will not withstand the storms of life. Such ideas introduce “proverbs of ashes.”

            Of course, many of the false principles we rely on mistakenly are not couched in memorable terms, but they still carry the weight of truth in the minds of the careless. “It felt like the right thing to do.” “I had peace about it.” “Everyone agreed that it was the right decision.” “I prayed about it first.” Not one of those thoughts is based on the objective truth of God’s Word. They are proverbs of ashes.

            What does God think? What does God say? The answers to those questions, to be found only in the pages of Scripture, provide the only valid basis for proceeding. Living any other way, making decisions on any other basis, will result in disaster. We deceive ourselves when we justify some action on the basis of some proverb. We might think that we are providing legitimate authority for our conduct, that we are removing self-will from the process; in reality it is just a clever means of exonerating self-willed conduct. Unwittingly, perhaps, we have brought ourselves under the condemnation that God pronounced upon His people during the period of the judges: “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jud. 21:25b). After all, we have acted or decided, and we have chosen the so-called principle that has validated what we wanted.

            Every time we take a significant step without truly consulting the will of God (“It’s just a small thing.” “God won’t care.” “God won’t notice.” “God is good, so it will turn out all right.”), we are relying on a proverb of ashes. Ashes are those almost weightless specks of material left after a fire has consumed the substance of something. They soil you if you touch them, choke you if you breathe them, and disappear at the slightest puff of wind. They serve no useful purpose except to remind you that fire has consumed something.

            Satan loves it when believers abandon the Word of God for traditions, human principles, proverbs, and plausible justifications for their decisions and actions. And he really has a heyday when we are deceived that our proverbs provide reliable authority for our course of action. Ground your life, believer, on the objective truth of God’s Word. The fact that you are a believer will not keep you from error or sin if you fail to consult and follow God’s Guide Book. Could we believe for one moment that God would go to all the trouble to provide us with His Word if it had no practical value? He did not write a book in order to entertain us; He “has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness” (II Pet. 1:3b). May we reject the proverbs of ashes and heed the eternal truth of God’s Word.

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