The Fountain of Life

Proverbs 14 – Proverbs: Wisdom for Life
First Sunday in Lent – March 10, 2019 (am)

I.                   Introduction:

It was probably 3 years ago when I taught in our ABF and opened the class with this question: “Has anybody  here, this week, come face to face with any of  the fundamental realities of this world?” The answer I was looking for, and the answer I got was a clear “yes!”  Hands went up and  difficult situations were described, family finances gone awry, relationships in extended family seemingly beyond mending, health challenges staring people in the face.

Should the question itself have  come under scrutiny?  After all, there is an inference buried in the words.  If some realities in this world are fundamental, then some other ones must be somehow less ‘real.’  The question infers that the things that really, really matter are those that we can see and touch, those that hit us between the eyes in our experience day by day.

This morning we are going to examine Proverbs chapter 14, and the first takeaway before we even begin is this,  Proverbs 14, like all scripture, speaks of the fundamental realities of this world…… and the next.  And this might be a good time to  state what I hope to communicate this morning. It is simply this, that Proverbs, and all of scripture, paints a picture of life as it really and truly  and actually is…… and that we would do well to  desire the fountain of life so badly that we will be willing to plead for it.    Let’s begin with prayer.  

II.                 Overview of Proverbs 14: [read the chapter stop at verse 10]

As we start, I would like to address a question that may be out there.  You may be thinking,  ‘Wait a minute,  I have seen plenty of times when it seems like the wicked prosper, when the scoffer gets away with it,  when the foolish stumbles into honor and wealth, and the wise person gets a kick in the stomach!’ ……. We must certainly grant this.  Not only that, we also recognize that scripture itself speaks to the wild cards of time and chance in Ecclesiates 9:

11 Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.

But we will not resolve the tension  by suggesting that these are merely general principles that usually work out, but not always.  These words are presented to the son as descriptive of the realities of life, not as guidelines suitable to make great refrigerator magnets, or bookmarks!

It is possible that you may find a bend in the river where the water actually flows upstream but the  anomaly underlines the consistent,  persistent, insistent nature of the world as we live it.  Maybe an illustration will help.  Many years ago we installed a window into a north facing wall of an artist’s studio.  His name was John Sweemer and he and his wife Millie were  faithful believers in the Lord Jesus, and he was also an artist who considered it a matter of integrity  that his landscapes  were accurate. [It was a small project, and I sheepishly asked if  he might pay me in a painting or two, and if you come by our house as I hope you will,  you can see it for yourself.   If there was a light house [and there were many!] the details would be authentic, in every respect.  Yet if you or I went to the actual scene of one of his new England shorelines, the picture we would see today would not resemble the rendering on the canvas.  And the reason of course is that the details change with the season.  The change does not undermine the authenticity of the painting.  On the contrary, the painting is a snapshot of a moment in time, carefully drawn and detailed, and that snap shot enables us to really take in the scene in a way that is both authentic, not contrary  to the reality that it seeks to represent.

Okay,  let’s get our bearings  set for a moment as we dive in.  These are the  earnest words of a father to a son, and the chapter contains 35 verses.   Thirty-one of those verses are framed as a comparison between ‘wisdom’ and ‘folly’.  The comparisons are stark, dramatic and unequivocal.  Consider verse 1:

“the wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down.”…… Does this sentence resonate with us?  Ever know anyone who is busily engaged in tearing down their own house, their own life? Ever observe that it may take six months to build a house properly………. And yet it can be torn down in about fifteen minutes?   How about verse two: “Whoever walks in uprightness fears the Lord, but he who is devious in his ways despises him.”  Notice here that the labels ‘upright’ and devious have replaced ‘wisdom’ and ‘folly’.  Throughout the chapter various descriptors are used.  Wisdom is characterized as righteous,  a faithful witness, prudent, understanding and good.   The foolish are characterized as devious, a false witness, a scoffer, fools, the simple, and evil………………. 

So,  for those of you in jr. high [excuse me,  middle school] let me ask a pretty simple question, given these choices, whose team do you want to be on?   Middle schoolers,  the sound you hear is of your siblings and parents  leaning forward to hear your response!  It is a question with a pretty obvious answer is it not?  In fact it seems like a ‘no-brainer.’  And yet…………….. and yet!  There is something deep inside each of us that gets a kick out of knocking a wall down.   Our compass tilts toward the mystery of a dark path in spite of the warning signs every step of the way.  In some perverse way we want to know what it is like to ‘live in a van down by the river!’ “ O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death!”

In this chapter  31 verses  fairly shout the fundamental realities of this world, realities that we don’t need especially discerning eyes to see.  Our experience and our reason testify to the flint-like hardness of  these warning verses, and we know,  we know that we row upstream  against  them to our great peril……[by the way, it was pointed out to me that there is a distinction between rowing upstream against prevailing culture and rowing upstream against the current of God’s word and the reality it proclaims!]   And that leads me to the second take-away,  true wisdom has been well described as aligning your boat with the current of truth and not forever paddling furiously against it!   C. S. Lewis [of course]  put words to  a profound insight in his little book ‘The Great Divorce’.[1]  The visitors to heaven step off the bus and the very grass they walk on hurts their feet. It is too hard, too sharp,  too fundamentally real for the feet of those who have lived in shadows.

III.              A look at some stand alone verses:

There are a handful of verses in the chapter that stand out because they do not follow the comparative pattern of the rest of the verses.  They are like monuments of stone,  so self-evident that they rightly cause us to pause for a moment in their utterly clarity and implications. Verse four is the first of these.

a.     ‘where there are no oxen the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.’

Okay,  back to you middle schoolers for a moment!  This could be your life-verse! If the floor of your sleeping space is ankle deep in cast off clothing, crumbs, dirty dishes, bits of rubbery blubbery macaroni,  scraps  of homework, dirty socks………….. you get the picture?   When challenged by Mom or Dad about this,  you could pull out the first half of this verse, yes?  However you could be hanged out to dry by the second half, true enough?   Now,  you younger set may feel like I am picking on you unfairly, and it is true,  I am.  And in fact it has been so long since I have been in your shoes that I have little real memory of what those years were like.  What I do know and testify to is that  though  you may bring in little in the way of ‘abundant crops’  you bring an energy and a teachability and a life to this place that is a delight to our souls and that is worth more than it’s weight in alfalfa or hay! [I must have an ‘amen’ here and will pause until I get one!]

I do want to pause for a moment to consider the weighty implications  in this verse.  It is a rock that has sunk many a ship.  In the great Christian novel, ‘Moby Dick’ [2] there is a silent, aged blacksmith whose story is a mystery to all of his shipmates.   It is perhaps the most beautiful and the most tragic story in this book of many stories.  It seems the blacksmith in his middle years had married a young woman and settled down with her to raise a family, and build a home together.  He set up his blacksmith forge in the open air basement under the house,  and every day,  all day long his young bride heard the jarring ring of the hammer on the forge.  She saw the wisps of smoke from the charcoal fire below and the occasional ember floating up past her feet.  But these things were strangely not an annoyance to her.  Every loud hammer stroke was to her as a bell,  ringing out with strokes of provision and care and effort.  Every wisp of smoke,  every rising ember was to her, as she went about her work,  a sign of care and security, a reminder of protective presence,  and  a source of fundamental  peace and rest……………………….. until the hammering became over time, less and less frequent, and the fire less and less reliable.  And one day the forge grew cold and the hammer went unused……….. and her husband/provider increasingly nursed his bottle of gin in the cellar.  In the end she dies of neglect and a broken heart, and he seeks escape from his gnawing guilt on board the whaling ship.  Of such are the fundamental realities of this world!

b.      Turn your attention to verses ten and thirteen.  They express a combined thought:   “ The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy.’….. Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of of joy may be grief.’  Wow!  This thought sort of takes the bloom off the rose does it not?   Here is the jist,  laughter will often be a thin veneer covering a great grief or a deep and abiding emptiness.  Not only that, but there are aspects of even our greatest joy that are difficult to share.  The reason  this is true is that our greatest joys are founded upon our greatest longings, aches that we bear alone.  Think of Hannah in 1 Samuel, chapter one for example, who fairly aches with what to her feels like the reproach of barrenness.   Her husband Elkanah, a model of sensitivity, says when he observes her sorrow……. ‘Am I not worth more to you than ten sons?’  [Btw,  I have tried this once or twice and I got about as far with it  as Elkanah!]

Without diving in more deeply here, can we agree on these two take-aways? First,  we may not have as much cause for envy of one another as we think! And second,  might we simply be a bit more kind to one another in our shared lonliness!

c.      Follow down to verses 26-27.   “in the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.  The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life.” I would like to dwell on this thought because it is the keystone to our response,  especially vs 27.   There is irony here, yes?  To think that our surrender to the one who made us, who has the power to cast out and to raise up  is paired with the very fountain of life!  This is an extraordinary thing.  Proverbs 13:14 says it a little differently.  It says,  ‘the teaching of the wise is a fountain of life.’  The fear of the Lord, grown and cultivated over time  is al earned surrender.  It is learned by being carefully taught.  It requires submission, and humility, and courage.

IV.               Consider John chapter 4.  This is the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.  The dialogue goes like this beginning in verse 10.

Jesus: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, Give me a drink, you would have asked him and he  would have given you ‘living water’.

Woman:  Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep.  Where do you get that living water?  Are you greater than our father Jacob? ………….

Jesus:  Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Woman:  “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.

The full dialogue is marvelous to read.   The authority of Jesus is paired with the promise of living water.  And so it is in Proverbs 14:27.  The recognition of the power and authority of God is paired with real, true life.  Is it not extraordinary that Jesus invites her to ask for living water?

V.                A fountain of life:

a.     This description of life as a fountain is all over the place in scripture.  Psalm 36:7-9 says, 

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
    The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
    and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light do we see light.

Jeremiah also uses the metaphor in 2:13

for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
    the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
    broken cisterns that can hold no water.

b.     I think I should take a moment to define this word.  The definition of ‘fountain’ is not rooted her in a machine that sprays recycled water into the air.  Nor is it a place to pitch pennies, or make wishes.  A fountain is emblematic of life itself,  and it  is obtainable in the fear of the Lord,  and according to the words of Jesus, all we have to do is ask!  Really?  Is that it? How does it happen?  What does it cost?  Where do we sign up?  Let’s take a closer look. Turn if you would to Ezekiel  47: 1-12.  I have asked Paul Rupsis  to read this, partly because I thought maybe it would capture your imagination more easily if you heard it from a different voice, but also because I personally like to hear him read the scriptures.  [go ahead Paul.]

c.      [a small detour here:  Pastor Daryle  mentioned the sheer vastness of the world’s oceans a couple of weeks ago.  Remember when he mentioned that you could take Mt. Everest, place it on the deepest ocean floor and there would be a mile of water above it?  I looked up a few facts about the world’s largest river, the Amazon and did you know…………that the amazon river is 3977 miles long, [the second longest river in the world]  that it originates from small streams in the Andes mountains,  that 20% of the world’s fresh water passes through its mouth on the way to the sea,  that its discharge is larger than the combined output of the world’s next seven largest rivers,  that it contains  3000 species of fish,  that the water of the ocean is sweet 100 miles out beyond the river’s mouth,  that it has no delta![3]…………………… and it is a powerful representation in this world of  the great river of God spoken of in Ezekiel 47  and in  Revelation 22?

d.     A word of disclaimer here:   This vision of Ezekiel is part of a larger narrative of hope and encouragement for the exiled nation of Israel.  It is picked up on in remarkable fashion in Revelation 22.  It is certainly fair to state that it was not written just as  a means of illuminating Proverbs 14:27!  Nonetheless,  I do not think it is possible to have a more clear picture  of the nature of water that is living, water that is a fountain of life.  There is so much to contemplate in this picture that it is hard to know where to begin.  Let me simply point out a few things:

e.     The first is pretty obvious.  Its headwaters are the temple, the place where God lives.  The river begins there as an insignificant trickle, but its life flows from its source.  [by the way as an aside, the river here is first seen as a tiny rivulet, dribbling over the threshold…… If you come back from vacation and open your front door, and a stream of water overflows the threshold onto your shoes………… under no circumstances that I can think of would  this a good thing!]

f.       Second,  as the river grows it reaches unstoppable proportions.  It becomes vast in its power, colossal in its reach. [ and just as a point of interest, I think we may take it as a matter of record that Ezekiel never saw the Amazon!]

g.     Third, in the picture it is not simply that life pops up on its banks,  it is riotous, vibrant, varied and spectacular life within the water, above the water, and all around it.

h.     Fourth, notice that the great river leaves its mark. Flowing east to the Dead Sea, even its waters will be made fresh.

i.        Lastly, and this is fascinating to me, the marshes and swamps will remain.  Why are they not overwhelmed by the flood?  It is because they will remain as the reservoir for salt. [Swamps are great! When I was a child we had a swamp behind the Nachtman’s field off of Glencoe road.  Most of the year it was a breeding place for mosquitos, and a place to dump off your rusted washing machines and refrigerators! But in the winter is was a different story.  We skated and played hockey till our ankles were jelly.  We discovered that you could skate right through the tall grasses, making paths…….. I wonder how many hockey pucks are still there, forever lost in the muck?  Why am I relating this story?  To illustrate that wherever the river of life goes, even the swamps have purpose and are redeemed to become part of the story.

j.       So here’s the next take-away.  The fountain of life, apprehended in the fear of the Lord is a place where life dwells because God lives there!   It is a place where even the swamps and the hit-you-between-the-eyes realities of life are redeemed.  It is a place that will leave its mark in places and names and ways unlooked for.  It may extend so far beyond the banks of our expectations that generations yet unknown to you  may find life and rest in its vitality.   This river will make the saltiest water sweet.  [I feel like I need to pause long enough to ask, ‘are you feeling water-logged yet?  Well,  get ready to get keel-hauled once again!]

VI.              The bad news……….. the sermon to the sharks!

I have a confession to make.  Part of the reason that I told you the story from the novel ‘Moby Dick’ was that I wanted to set us up for another one.  It illustrates our danger and in the awareness of that very danger lies our  real and strong hope. “It seems that the whaling ship the Pequod,  scouring the oceans looking for the white whale,  also from time to time catches other fish, and other whales.  After a day long struggle they catch a huge whale, as long as the ship.  By the time they bring it alongside the ship, it is late in the day and they lash it there, leaving the hard work of rendering the great fish until the next day.

But sometime in the middle of the night the crew is awakened by the sound of the sharks ripping and tearing the carcass of the whale in a feeding frenzy.  They have seen  it before,  cannot stop it, and most importantly of all, the racket is robbing them of  precious sleep.  So they wake the old cook and instruct this seemingly feeble minded gentlemen to go topside and tell the sharks to stop all the racket!....... and so,  he does.

And as he stands there looking over the side with lantern in hand, he delivers the sermon to the sharks. …….”Ho there you sharks.  You are going about this all wrong.  Look, the bigger ones among you are getting all the meat! If you would raise your natures even a little bit, you would make sure that the young and the small would get their fair share.  Not only that, you are all in such a hurry that you are just as likely to bite one another as you are to take a bite out of that whale.  The blood in the water that you are churning into froth is your own blood.  I have even seen some of you turn and in the chaos bite yourselves.  Stop it I say!

Of course the sharks do not listen and by morning the whale is a shredded  mess!  So let me ask you this morning, ‘who do you identify with in the story?’  Maybe you feel like the whaling men, who  have just seen the work of your hands ruined in a moment and you cannot stop it?  Or maybe you are the whale,  swimming along, minding your own business  when all of a sudden you find yourself bound and being chewed to shreds by an indifferent predator?  Or maybe you identify with the old cook,  with important words to say, words of life that must be heard,  thoughts to share and no one,  absolutely no one hears you?’  I think you can guess who the author would have us identify with.   Scripture,  that chronicle of reality so pointed that we often cannot stand it would agree…….. We are the sharks of course.   And we have just about as much capacity to fear God as the shark has to reform its nature!  But……………….

VII.           Conclusion:

Praise the Lord, we are not the sharks,  not quite! And here is the good news!

For us,  God, according to His word,  has made a way of escape,  not a route of our own cunning, or our own crafting.  It is the quickening unto life of anyone who by the grace of God…… asks for living water.  It is nothing less than surrender to the fear of the Lord Jesus Christ.  But it can happen right now, at this moment.  If you have not surrendered to the fear of God in Jesus Christ, it may be that today is the day,  like it was for me  50 years ago in the living room of a friend’s house.  So,  my plea for you this morning is that you would turn your kayak around and paddle down stream,  as you were intended, aligned with the current of what is really and truly real in this world.  I was going to say that it will be easier for you,  less exhausting,  but the truth is that it will take all you have to give to navigate the river of your life.  The work is exhausting, it is demanding and depending on how many people you are carrying with you,  and the condition of the water,  the number of rocks and the length of the journey you  will  by the grace of God in the end have nothing left to give………. But,  that is what you have been made for.  You may indeed by shredded like the whale in the story, and the manger may not be tidy,  but the abundance of your harvest will be real, and you  will at the end of days hear the words,  ‘well done good and faithful servant’ in all earnestness  from the lips of the only one whose opinion really matters!………..  else you remain sharks till your dying day, and beyond! And finally,  we will let scripture have the final word:

Revelation 22:17. 

17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

Pray with me,  and while I pray, would the men who are serving communion,  as well as the musicians,  join me at your battle stations!

End notes:

[1]  The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis. 

[2] Moby Dick,  Herman Melville

For two interesting articles on the consideration of Moby Dick as a Christian novel, here are two links:

 [3] Amazon river facts: