God’s Word for You
Proverbs 31:26 Instruction about mercy
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, November 1, 2019
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and instruction about mercy is on her tongue.
Seventeenth letter in the Hebrew alphabet: pe. First word of this verse: pihah “her mouth.”
Here wisdom and mercy are synonymous since this is a classic example of synonymous parallelism. In the second line, “instruction” (torat) is in the construct state, meaning that what follows is either to be taken as an adjective describing the style of teaching (“merciful instruction”) or the content of the teaching: “instruction about mercy.”
Throughout Proverbs, wisdom is Godly wisdom, which is to say, faith in Christ (Proverbs 1:6-7). For example, compare Proverbs 10:8 “The wise in heart accept commands,” with Matthew 28:19, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” True wisdom is Godly wisdom; the gospel of Jesus Christ. Instruction about mercy is exactly the same thing, for Godly wisdom and faith in Christ are nothing more than instruction about the true mercy of God which comes only through Christ (John 14:6).
There are men, women, and children in the world who don’t know that they are guilty of sin because they are ignorant that what they do displeases God. There are also those who don’t know the depth of their sinfulness because they are ignorant of God’s law. There are others who think they know about the law of God because they’ve seen it misrepresented on television, they’ve heard it misquoted or quoted out of context, and dismiss its seriousness because the people they’ve seen quoting Scripture (especially on TV or in other media) are laughable and mere caricatures of actual Christians. They’ve never listened to a real preacher of the gospel, to a serious disciple of Jesus Christ, or to a true, Godly and heroic woman. When Priscilla of Pontus the wife of Aquila heard Apollos of Alexandria preaching in a synagogue about Jesus but with only a part of the gospel message correct, she and her husband took him aside to teach him more thoroughly who Jesus was and what he did for mankind. He became a vigorous preacher, refuting the Jews of Ephesus that Jesus was truly the Messiah (Acts 18:24-28).
Many people want to make Jesus out to be a kind of moral teacher, a good man with perhaps naïve ideas about goodness, peace, and what’s right and wrong. But that kind of understanding about Jesus completely undoes his message. True wisdom, any correct understanding of the Bible, must grasp the “instruction about mercy” that Solomon describes on the tongue of the ideal wife in this verse. There is no mercy at all from God if mercy is not required. Mercy is God’s good will, his affectionate disposition to those who have earned eternal damnation on account of their sins. “God’s grace is not in the least affected, motivated, or influenced by any worthiness in us; in fact, the slightest injection of man’s merit and worthiness utterly destroys the concept of grace” (E. Koehler, A Summary of Christian Doctrine, p. 79). We are all deserving of this punishment. Why? “Sin entered the world through one man (Adam), and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12), “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But God in his mercy sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world. In the innocent suffering and death of Jesus, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). This doesn’t seem very certain to some people, because they are thinking in terms of human courts and legal matters between sinful men who lie, cheat, and swindle each other and who have motives resting in greed or revenge. But “the judgment of God is another thing altogether. Here mercy is God’s clear and certain promise and his command. Properly speaking, the Gospel is the command to believe that we have a gracious God because of Christ” (Apology IV,345). “God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned” (John 3:17-18).
When I first met my wife in the early 1990s, she was a member of Grace Lutheran Church in Milwaukee. She served at Grace on the Sunday School staff, field-testing a new Sunday School curriculum that would eventually be called “Christ Light.” She was passionate about getting the matter of the gospel message correct as she taught her students. She knew what the truly Godly and heroic wife knows: the way to heaven through Christ alone is the most important teaching for all mankind. A man can go through life and have the wrong idea about many things, be blissfully ignorant of many things, never learn about or even dream about many things, be unable to read or write, and yet have faith in Jesus Christ our Savior. That is nevertheless a person who will spend eternity in heaven. On the other hand, there might be a woman who is intellectually brilliant. She might have several degrees, teaching philosophy or mathematics, she might be generous and care about the poor, the abused, the oppressed. But if she rejects Christ as her Savior, she will be forever lost and eternally punished for her sins, because none of the seemingly good things she did were done out of faith; none of her great learning will merit anything toward her salvation. She might even imagine that heaven doesn’t exist, but like a forest fire, it doesn’t have to be understood or even believed in to be destructive and inevitable.
The wise, Godly, ideal and heroic wife knows that Christ needs to be shared and proclaimed. She will do this with her own children first, and with her husband if he doesn’t know his Lord. Instruction about mercy will be on her tongue; she will open her mouth with wisdom. If every wife were like my wife, every marriage would be blessed.
Pastor Timothy Smith