01 July 2008

Sovereign grace in Proverbs

by Dan Phillips

We recently looked at reflections on substitutionary atonement in (what many would see as) an unlikely place: the book of Proverbs. Does Solomon also say something about sovereign grace?

For brevity's sake, I'll focus on one specific verse: Proverbs 20:12 —
The hearing ear, and the seeing eye,
Jehovah [Yahweh] hath made even both of them (ASV)
At first glance, the point of the proverb seems plain: Yahweh created the faculties of sight and hearing. The flows from the doctrine of creation, stressed often in the Canon as a whole, and in Proverbs in particular (cf. 3:19-20; 8:22-31, etc.).

But we remind ourselves that biblical proverbs are not meant to be skimmed, scanned, glanced at in passing. They are designed to be singled out, ruminated over, meditated upon. Does this proverb say more than the obvious?

The obvious is almost too obvious, to the point of being banal and insipid — and Proverbs is neither. So at the least, perhaps Solomon is saying that these faculties are creations of Yahweh, to be taken seriously and used in a way that pleases Him. Or he could be saying that, if we have these faculties, certainly Yahweh has them to a vastly greater degree, and hears and sees us. Both of these are Biblical thoughts (cf. Luke 12:48 and Psalm 94:8-11, respectively).

But I think Solomon's word-usage in Proverbs points us in a different direction.

"Hearing ear." For instance, the word translated "hearing" is from the verb šāma`. You know if from the "Shema": "Hear, O Israel..." (Deuteronomy 6:4). It does mean to hear. It also is the verb usually translated obey. šāma` commonly means not only to hear, not only to listen, but also to respond obediently, as in the phrase "to hear is to obey." Every parent (and pastor) knows that not all hearing is listening, and not all listening is obedience: but this word regularly takes in all three dimensions.

See this for yourself in its uses in Proverbs 1:5, 8, 33; 4:1, 10; 5:13; 8:33-34; 12:15; 13:1; 15:31-32; 19:27; 28:9. This list is not exhaustive, but you will readily observe that mere physical hearing does not satisfy the meaning of any of these verses.

Similarly the ear in Proverbs is meant to be employed not merely in hearing the birdies sing nor the brooks babble. The ear is to be used in accepting and accumulating God's wisdom, as you readily see in Proverbs 2:22; 4:20; 5:1, 13; 15:31; 18:15; 22;17; 23:12; 25:12; 28:9.

So both of the first two Hebrew words point strongly beyond a surface reading. What of the next two?

"Seeing eye." Similarly, the "eye" has many uses in Proverbs, but is also used of the organ of perception and evaluation. The "eye" is spoken of in warning (3:7; 5:21; 12:15; 16:2) and encouragement (3:4; 4:21, 25). We should use our eyes to perceive and learn wisdom (23:26). And the common verb "to see" (rā) is used of looking and learning, of picking up wisdom through the eye-gate (6:6; 7:7; 22:3; 24:32; 27:12).

Could Solomon have meant more? I've shown that Solomon's own usage heavily weights the case for thinking he means more than the mere physical powers of seeing and hearing. In fact, I'd say that if that's all he meant, this is actually an unusual use of the words, for Solomon.

But even more persuasive are some earlier Canonical uses he surely would have known: Deuteronomy 29:4 — “But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.” Here are all the elements of Proverbs 20:12. Clearly, Moses is not speaking of the mere physical ability to receive and decipher light and sound waves. He's talking about responding to the revelation of God receptively, understandingly, believingly, and obediently.

Another verse may or may not have a bearing, depending on the date of Psalm 119. Verse 18 voices the prayer, "Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law." The writer is not asking for physical eyesight. He sees just fine. He is praying that he'll have the spiritual insight to perceive and receive what is already there in Yahweh's word — the ability, in other words to see what he sees.

Putting this all together, I might suggest this interpretive paraphrase of Proverbs 20:12 —
The ear that hears, listens and obeys;
speand the eye that perceives God's truth —
Are not even both of them direct acts of spcYahweh?
And thus I concur with Derek Kidner's characteristically pithy observation:
“Hearing is the Heb. term for ‘obedient’ (so translated in 25:12; cf. 15:31; I Sa. 15:22). It can also, like ‘seeing,’ express understanding: cf. Isaiah 6:9, 10. The proverb makes a constructive companion to verse 9, pointing with it towards Ephesians 2:8-10” (Proverbs, p. 138)
The doctrine of sovereign grace is called Reformed, or Calvinistic. But Calvin and the Reformers got it from the Bible — all of it.

Dan Phillips's signature


James Scott Bell said...

Dan, I think you meant "skimmed" in para. 3, although I like the sound of "smimmed." I think that could come in as a perfectly acceptable word, perhaps meaning "giving a cursory glance and thinking one has mastered the material."

Which is why I am not going to smim your post, but give it further reflection.

James Scott Bell said...

BTW, I'll remove the above comment (and this one) if you like (or you can) once you make the correction.

Rick Frueh said...

Even Arminians believe in a sovereign Creator, which is what this verse confirms. The Calvinistic connection? Not so much.

DJP said...

Perhaps, Johnny — but still, it's true: Biblical proverbs are not meant to be smimmed. I think we all acknowledge that.

Mitch said...


So you disagree with the exegesis of this post? How do you interpret the verse?

DJP said...

Now now Mitch, you know perfectly well that stuff like data and facts and exegesis and context can all be trumped by a simple "I don't see it that way."

Rick Frueh said...

"Now now Mitch, you know perfectly well that stuff like data and facts and exegesis and context can all be trumped by a simple "I don't see it that way."

Wow, an interjection and pre-emptive strike that demeans before an answer is even given.

Mitch - I thought it was just a simple testament to God being the Creator of everything and not man. However I am hesitant to go against data and facts and exegesis and context which need an entourage of demeaning other opinions to stand.

DJP said...

Flat dismissal, followed by pouty bluster. It's a potent one-two.

Would I have been more persuasive to you, Rick, if I'd just quoted the verse, said "I think it means this," and left it that? None of that icky Hebrew, parallel usages, hermeneutic reasoning, background context stuff?

Or did you just smim it, anyway, so it had the same effect?

Rick Frueh said...

"Would I have been more persuasive to you, Rick, if I'd just quoted the verse, said "I think it means this," and left it that? None of that icky Hebrew, parallel usages, hermeneutic reasoning, background context stuff?"

I believe I agreed with the core of your post, but politely disagreed with the Calvinist connection. You seem to see opinions as attacks resulting in a detour from the verse to creative assessment of the literary content of comments.

Again, I believe that verse cannot in and of itself connect with Calvinism because most Arminains belive what most Calvinists believe about this verse. A simple pronouncement of God as the Sovereign Creator.

PS - I liked most of your series on Proverbs very much. A little disagreement on the expanse of this ONE verse. One man's opinion without tears.

Mitch said...

A simple testament to God being creator of everything?

The hearing ear and the seeing eye, The Lord has made both of them (Proverbs 20:12, ESV)

Really? That is all it means to you?

DJP said...

Thank you, Rick; agreement is, of course, not required.

Perhaps you could do this for me:

Why do none of the exegetical data point to my conclusion, in your eyes?

What indications would point to my conclusion, in your eyes?

Rick Frueh said...

I have to go out, I will get back to you, Dan. :)

Solameanie said...

Two comments.

First, I think many Arminians are just confused Calvinists.

Second, if you've ever been "smimmed," you know how painful that can be.

Our beloved DJP has just added a new word to the lexicon. It should have its own definition so Bill O'Reilly can add it to "blooter," "jackanapes" and "popinjay."

DJP said...

The true test of this word, as of all words, will be: can it be used Biblely?

Randy said...

Very good post and great food for thought. Phil had a lesson on the same context last month in his SS class I believe.

I thought about as a father raising 2 boys (along time ago)I would tell them to behave in certain situations or settings and of course they would misbehave and I would say to them afterwards, Did you not Hear what I said? I knew they had heard me because they're little heads would bob to the affirmative.

So to hear is to obey. They have to go hand-in-hand for obedience, discernment, and faithfulness.


Mitch said...

Almost forgot to give my two cents, great post and great exegesis Dan!

Mike Riccardi said...

A question for Rick and for anyone else who thinks the entire scope of this verse is to merely point out that God is the Sovereign Creator of everything.

The verse says Yahweh created the seeing and the hearing ear. According to your (principles of) interpretation, wouldn't that imply that He didn't make the non-seeing eye and the non-hearing ear? If not, why make the distinction?

J♥Yce Burrows said...

The same vein of thought as the hearing and seeing in Matthew 13, Dan? This post is a blessing; thanking God for you. Joyce :-)

DJP said...

Yes, Joyce, there are a number of other Biblical parallels on seeing as insight rather than mere eyesight, and hearing as volition rather than mere audition.

(Dang, that was good. Sorry, let me just pause and marvel at those turns of phrase... okay, okay, I'm all right now. < wipes away tear >)

I was focusing on earlier texts, and texts within Proverbs, because only they give us a clue as to what Solomon meant by his choice of phrasing. Obviously, Solomon wasn't influenced by anything Matthew or John would later write; but Moses, or David, certainly.

Find out what the author was saying, and you find out what God was saying.

TwistTim said...

The verse says Yahweh created the seeing and the hearing ear. According to your (principles of) interpretation, wouldn't that imply that He didn't make the non-seeing eye and the non-hearing ear? If not, why make the distinction?

Who said He didn't make those?

This verse Points out that these things (Obedience and Perception) Come directly from God and are not things man does on his own....

BTW if that is Jehovah in the older versions that is used that misnomer because of the Vowel Pointer thing it would mean Yahweh Adonai did it... The Lord God.... So God calls Himself Sovereign several times.... Sovereignty of God is not a new concept and didn't come from Reformation Theology, rather from Hebrew Scriptures.....

Let us never Smim these passages again, but let us Dive Deeper and Deeper still.... Thanks Dan for this great study.....

Mike Riccardi said...


I think you may have misunderstood me. I agree with Dan's post and find the link to a Calvinistic understanding of salvation absolutely unavoidable.

I was responding to folks who might think that the verse simply means God created eyes and ears, seeing and hearing, and doesn't mean that He regenerates to give sight and hearing to those who might only then exercise faith.

DJP said...

Pyromaniacs: The Smim-Free Zone

Rick Frueh said...

"First, I think many Arminians are just confused Calvinists."

Funny. I guess we Arminians joke about Calvinists, we ought to be able to take it in good humor and I do. We have a bunch of crazy uncles in our camp.

To the verse. In the context of that chapter one of the themes is accountability, practical and spiritual. I contend that is why in the midst of all the verses that deal with dishonesty, drunkenness, child rearing, deception, and lying there appears this proclamation about the Lord being the Creator of our senses, in essence, the Creator of the ones about who the verse address.

That speaks to me of accountability which in a broader sense is tethered to sovereignty. I think Mike's question is a stretch. I found Dan's post good, as I said, but I disagreed with any furthur support for a reformed theology. There are many better and specific verses that can be seen as Calvinistic. It seemed to me to be gleaned partly from a presupposition.

I like these discussions and I again reiterate a previous comment both here and on a previous post about Proverbs (atonement) from Dan that I have read every one more than once and have been astounded by what he has been able to extract from Proverbs. Some of the topics are usually never seen in Proverbs and his scholarship in this book is especially refreshing since it has uncovered subjects in Proverbs that I have not seen hitherto.

Thank you allowing a fruitfull discussion. I honestly have learned new things from this series, and this from a poor Arminian! :)

DJP said...

(This is to be read as a friendly poke)

MAJOR PREMISE: the Bible can't teach Calvinism

MINOR PREMISE: Proverbs 20:12 is part of the Bible

CONCLUSION: Proverbs 20:12 can't teach Calvinism

More seriously: thanks for your gracious encouragement. I very much enjoy doing these posts, sharing what I've learned.

One thing I've learned, though: Proverbs is an exception to the context-rule. We aren't meant to read it as we do John or Romans. Proverbs, by definition, are a different genre of literature.

The book itself is a context; preceding revelation is a context. But each Proverb (after chapter 10, until the last chapters) is its own context. Each is a distinct unit; you don't really gain light by reading the immediately-preceding and immediately-following verses.

Recent scholars who've argued otherwise (Waltke, Garrett) haven't convinced many, because each scholar's scheme is individual.

If you want context, you'll pretty much have to do as I've done. Look at Solomon's other writing, and look at Scripture available to Solomon.

Rick Frueh said...

Thank you, Dan, for your love for His Word.

Rachael Starke said...

Now look boys - you all stop being kind and gracious to each other and go back to whacking each other over the head with Hebrew this instant!!

Rick Frueh said...

Reformed mommy - I know just enough Hebrew and Greek to be dangerous, however I am still waiting for all of us to just obey the English!

A. Yepiz said...

"The Seeing Eye"

Where you watching LOTR last night?

**Sarcasm off**

All kidding aside, I really enjoy whenever you post on the Provs. Thanks DJP.


A. Yepiz said...

oops, I guess I'm not the only one with poor spelling.

I meant to say were, not where.


Penn Tomassetti said...

"The ear that hears, listens and obeys;
and the eye that perceives God's truth —
Are not even both of them direct acts of Yahweh?"

It is so humbling when the Scriptures exalt God as All SOVEREIGN. Makes me feel like a worm (like Jacob!) or a flea (like David!), but Scripturally, I should just repent and despise myself (like Job).

Wow! Praise God for this wonderful insight! God's grace is Sovereign over salvation and sanctification as well.

Solameanie said...


Is smimming a potential Emergent trait? It seems it ranks up there with hemming, hawing, obfuscating, pettifogging and diverting. Perhaps it deserves it's own Emergent-See poster?


Believe me, it was intended in totally good humor. I couldn't be mean to that lion avatar if I wanted to. I love cats. Even big ones.

Rachael Starke said...


Ah yes. English. God's language.

greglong said...


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Actually, I thought it meant "to skim with a smile".

S.J. Walker said...


"I love cats" ??? Did you become a democrat or something?

Well, I guess I love them too--with enough sweet-n-sour sauce at least.

Great post Dan. Some very good food for thought and some very over my head Hebrew. I am beginning to study it now, but eeeck! I'm bad enough at Rick's language. (No offense Rick.)

Speaking of whom, I have one little tid bit that you might consider.

You said: "...It seemed to me to be gleaned partly from a presupposition."

This may sound very elementary and I am not implying you have not considered it, but you still might make sure that you're own conclusions are not derived from your own presuppositions. Don't smim over why you believe what you believe re: redemption, and only come from the same angle as always, like saying something like "well, I MUST have free will". Must you? Can God not have a will that predates our own? (This is something we all could do a little more diligently.) I could just easily say "well, God must be sovereign". And indeed, He has convinced me that He is.

But we all need to make sure we do not come with presuppositions. I do not believe Calvin was right. I know he believed what was right in many respects. How do I know? I read the same book. The more I read it, the more I see a non-partially sovereign God. I find God to be completely sovereign in all His attributes including Grace.

Therefore, I can hold to one presupposition now for sure: He will grant success in ministry as He saw, sees, and will see fit.

I know this will likely not end the debate. But while we are debating, people are not worshiping God as He deserves to be worshiped, and in the process are lying in their graves. I would debate this Truth anywhere for it worthy of all defense. But I would much rather preach it to the lost ear that God causes to heed Truth and not just "hear" it.

Thanks Rick. See ya around.

Thanks Dan for another very good post.

DJP said...

You know, in three months everyone will be saying "smim."

And Frank will say, "I love that word! I think Phil made it up... like emerg***."

(Which I totally made up.)

Oh well; doesn't matter which Beatle you are, as long as you're a Beatle.

DJP said...

(Difference is, I made up emerg*** deliberately. "Smim" — not so much.)

Rick Frueh said...

"but you still might make sure that you're own conclusions are not derived from your own presuppositions."

SJ - I have been totally free from presuppositions, biases, and any subjectivity since April 3, 1993 at 4:27 PM with one minor relapse on September 4, 2003 for about 1/2 hour.

DJP said...

Yepiz[Were] you watching LOTR last night?

I surprised there hasn't been more about The Eye.

S.J. Walker said...


....nevermind, I give up. :)


I know the feeling. MacArthur's been copying my stuff for MONTHS now. It's shameless. That whole "Truth War" thing--mine.

S.J. Walker said...


On second thought, I don't give up just yet. (stubbornness runs in my family all the way back to Adam)Your response was humorous and gracious. Thanks. But I don't want to get distracted by a humorous note that might cleverly or more likely unwittingly smi---, skip over the portage of doctrine to land softly in the water on the other side not having touched dry land.

I can't make you, or ensure at this time that you have taken the second thought suggested. But I would ask that it be taken seriously as well as graciously.



Mike said...

SJ - I have been totally free from presuppositions, biases, and any subjectivity since April 3, 1993 at 4:27 PM with one minor relapse on September 4, 2003 for about 1/2 hour.

What abvout September 11, 2001? :>

Rick Frueh said...

Mike - 9/11/01 I was asleep.

SJ - I did not even consider C or A when I was reading that verse and Dan's post. Most people do not and that is why I suggested presuppostion. There are many verses that I approach with an Arminian bent. I confess.

Michelle said...

Thanks, Dan, for your excellent unpacking of this Proverb. You have mined some undeniable gems there. I think your interpretive paraphrase of it is spot on and absolutely consistent with scripture as a whole.

Mike said...

I am neither Calvinist nor Arminian. These are extremes that fly in the face of some scripture; the truth is somewhere in between.

Susan said...

Dan said: "...[E]ach Proverb (after chapter 10, until the last chapters) is its own context. Each is a distinct unit; you don't really gain light by reading the immediately-preceding and immediately-following verses."

Would Prov. 26:4-5 be considered one proverb or two? (V.4: "Answer not a fool...." V.5 "Answer a fool....") I would think it's one proverb, no?

Also, based on Dan's conclusion of Prov. 20:12(which I'm not so much disagreeing with as I'm trying to chew on), God's sovereignty is magnified. He gives the hearing ear and the seeing eye to some and not to others; he orders our lot in life; he ordains everything that comes to pass. In C.S Lewis's metaphor, Aslan is not a tame lion--but he is a GOOD one. Unfortunately during this phase in my life I'm having prolonged and deep trouble believing that God is GOOD to me personally. I say this because it's as if I've LOST the seeing eye and the hearing ear and cannot perceive his goodness in my life. Maybe someone out there can pray that I'll get my hearing and eyesight back PRONTO, s'il vous plait? Thank you. :)

James Scott Bell said...

Dan, I would argue Proverbs does have a context. As wisdom literature, the context is responsibility for one's actions. Generally, that IF you do X, you will get Y; but if you do Z, you will not.

It is suffused with the premise of choice. As is the entire OT.

All this said with utmost respect for you, Dan. But I don't see Calvinistic style monergism here. And I did not smim. Woe to those who try to smim here!

DJP said...

Susan, writing as I was at work, I used a bit of fudgy-words when I said "the last chapters." I wasn't aiming at writing an exhaustive intro and survey of Proverbs, so I approximated.

So, first: I am saying that virtually all Proverbs from chapter 10 to around 22:16 are standalones. Thereafter, you get some triplets and longer (i.e. three-line, four-line, and so forth), culminating in the ode to the Excellent Wife (31:10ff.).

Also, even from 10 - 22, you see some groupings -- that is, individual proverbs of similar topic grouped together. Like chapter 16, which has a number on the theme of the sovereignty of Yahweh.

The two you mention may be one proverb, or it may be two standalones set side-by-side because each has a different stress. As for instance if I did a collection of proverbs and put down "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread" right next to "He who hesitates is lost."

For the rest, you have my sympathy. John Piper's Future Grace was helpful to me in that regard. Have you read it?

Anonymous said...

I got smimmed once. Not so bad once you get past the smell...

Seriously though, I think there may be something to the presupposition thing. While I don't disagree with your exegesis here Dan, I wonder if that could be because I share the same presuppository bent towards the doctrines of grace as you. While I think that having a proper view of the transcendency and sovereignty of God in all things is a necessity for proper Biblical exegesis, it's a fine line between that and a presuppositional filter that sees only Calvinist interpretations of such disparate texts as Romans and Proverbs.

HSAT - great post Dan. Hope your day has gone smimmingly...

Susan said...


No, haven't read Piper's Future Grace. I'm afraid I'm not as well-read as most of your commenters (-ors?) on Pyro. I have read Bryan Chapell's Holiness by Grace, however, and it's a good book. Lots of things to think about after reading. John Colquhoun's Spiritual Comfort is also good (can be ordered from the Ligonier site). Thank you for the recommendation!

Oh, I'm going to write an html tag for the first time right now, and what better link can I think of other than Phil's Spurgeon Archive? This Evening's Meditation (July 1) has to do with hearing! Let's see if this tag works...if not, please forgive me!

Susan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Strong Tower said...

Wisdom literature written by whom? Learned from whom? Being that neither David nor Solomon gained an iota from the wisdom within the wisdom literatrue, I wonder just who is the wise one who wrote this. Let me quess, mmmm....

Oh yah...here it is..., ,"Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”

10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you."
Rather a prophetic passage would you not say? Because this is referring to Jesus not Solomon.

Now, to truly understand what DJP is saying wouldn't it be wise to look at the context of where the context came from if there is a context for the context? This was not Solomon's wisdom, not his understanding, and therefore could not have been his obedience that is being spoken about in proverbs.

Pride test here: Who do you see yourself to be, the fool of proverbs (the sinner in the temple) or the wise son of proverbs (the Pharisee in the temple)? Now, it is truth that the WISE SON is one Jesus Christ who Solomon does represent. But, the fact is that God granted him this request right after Solomon had violated the Law and deserved death. Such grace is, not according to obedience to commands, but according to the grace of God's sovereign choice. The historic record is that Solomon is the fool of proverbs, not the wise son. Yet, God gave him wisdom so that he might rule His people called after His name, Israel.

The pragmatist would say, well we just need to obey and all will be okay, trust and obey, cause there's no other way to be happy in Jesus, then to trust and obey... The man of faith though says, yes there is, and God shows us his love not in that we loved him, but he loved us, first, and gives himself up for us so that we obtain the truth, he obeyed. Just like he did for Solomon and David and all those of faith who can calim the proverbs as their own. And, that faith gives us a happiness that is beyond external understandings, mechanisms; talismans of obedience by which we can shake down God. Our blessings are of grace, and not the result of pragmagic.

I like the doubly intended meanings of proverbs (small case for the emer**** who might be reading), of course when did Jesus not speak in proverbs ;) things like do not become a pleadge for another or you will pay, or something like that. Which is interesting because Jesus became a pledge for us and paid. But I digrease (doubly intended for the purpose of the wheel that is now coming round).

What we know of the commandments is that "if" we keep them, it demonstrates that we have love for him. The interesting thing is that it is the love of God spread abroad in our hearts that makes all the difference. And we do not spread it, nor do we know how to, and we don't even have the right knife.

Commandments are imperatives and always, the indicative is contained in the commandment if it is obedient. If it is disobedient the indicative is without the imperative, operative as it is, autonomously, doing its own thing by its own volition and not according to the commandment.

Anyway, it is always curious that God would choose such losers as Solomon, such a fool- in fact, there is no sin that anyone here, reading this, can say they sinned that Solomon hasn't already laid claim to- yet, this is the man who was taught by his father who was not his better. And by his mother, having perfumed her own bed so to speak, who went on, but not in shame, to concieved him, a bastard. She, who was still an adultress when she taught him these sayings. She who died an adultress. They were taught to Solomon by Solomon's adulterer of a father (many times over having spilt his fountain far and wide) who died, cold, and unable to comfort himself, nor able to be comforted by others; his life long mode of narcissitic appetites, unabated. No wonder he was depressed.

The only obedience either man ever knew was that which was worked in them, both to will and to do.

But, I got side tracked, from the wisdom of Job, who, though a righteous man, also forgot who created the ear, and all other things including the understanding and the obedience. Such was Job's sin that he did not recognize who the potter was and so says that he had heard but did not understand, but having seen gained wisdom.

And of course I presuppose some things differently now because I am Calvinistic where I would not have before. Still, if we step back, the creation account is about a God who made man in his image. And the eyes of his understanding were not darkened when he did so, nor was that image in man such that he could knowingly choose to disobey Himself.

My vote is with DJP, cause he's bald...

Susan said...

Ok, I confess: I was smimming the Spurgeon page (see my link above) when I posted a comment, so when I went back and reread it, I had to delete it. I was musing about Spurgeon's apparent shift of the responsibility of hearing from God to man in the entry (his being a Calvinist and all), but then if one reads the last sentence to that entry (Spurgeon ends with a supplication to the Lord), one can see that God is still the initiator of our hearing! How interesting....

"My Father, my elder Brother, my sweet Comforter, speak now in lovingkindness, for Thou hast opened mine ear and I am not rebellious."--CHS, Evening by Evening, July 1.

Mike said...

If you already know the concept, you can "smim" it.

Susan said...

That's true, Mike, but had I simply left my smimming alone, I wouldn't have gotten the concept! (BTW, the more I look at "smimming", the more it resembles an Olympic sport....)

DJP said...

Johnny DialecticBut I don't see Calvinistic style monergism here

Well, that does tell us about you.

I'm still waiting for someone to tell us more about the text, as I've tried to do.

Stefan Ewing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stefan Ewing said...

I'm concerned, because a couple of commenters (Penn and Strong Tower) have alluded to God's sovereignty in our sanctification. God is sovereign over all, and sovereign over our salvation, and ultimately sovereign over our sanctification as well.

But I'm concerned because for the last six months, I got hung up on the idea that it's all up to the Holy Spirit to magically turn me into a mature, sanctified believer. As a result, I stagnated, and the passion I had when I was first saved left me. In fact, the reality is that in book after book of the Bible, the Lord
—either directly or through His human writers—calls believers to take an active role in their spiritual growth. Nothing happens except by the grace of the Father, the work of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, but within those parameters, it is up to us as believers to live up to our calling.

God gives us believers the ability to discern (see) and obey (hear)—and praise His Mighty Name for that. But it's up to us to choose to actually discern and obey. We do not automatically please God simply by virtue of the fact that we are saved. Although we have assurance of salvation—and praise God from everlasting to everlasting for that as well—we are called nevertheless to serve God, to obey God, and to walk in His ways.

If non-believers attempt to do this, they are just digging themselves further into a hole, for then it amounts to nothing more than salvation by works. But on the flip side, it is incumbent upon believers to do just this—to actively take up the Cross of Jesus and follow Him—to walk in the ways of the Lord. Now, if believers do this for the wrong motivations—thinking that if they don't they won't get into heaven, or fearing judgement by their churchgoing peers, for example—then it still amounts to works-based righteousness. But we are called upon to do lead godly lives from the right motivation—out of love for the trinitarian God, out of gratitude for what He has done to us and for us, and out of a sense of service to Him.

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind...[and] You shall love your neighbour as yourself," said Jesus in Matthew 22:37-39, alluding to Deuteronomy 6:5 (the Shema, which starts with "Hear, O Israel" in 6:4) and Leviticus 19:18. "On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets," he added in Matthew 22:40, meaning the whole of Scripture. Over and over again, the fundamental call in Scripture is to hear and obey the Lord. Non-believers are incapable of doing this or pleasing the Lord, but it is incumbent upon Believers to do just this.

So to get back to the Proverb at hand, the Lord God has indeed made the hearing ear and the seeing eye and given it to us (believers in both Old and New Testament times, and post-New Testament as well), but it is up to us to hear and see what God calls us to hear and see, and not use our gifts of discernment and obedience for purposes that do not glorify God.

And/but ultimately, it is all by His grace alone, and all for His glory alone. All praise be to the Lord God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, from everlasting to everlasting.

James Scott Bell said...

Dan, your treatment of the text is fine...until a)last two sentences of your post, and b) the "exception to the context rule" comment you made.

Regarding a), it's a matter of opinion. I just don't see the strict monergism, without Calvinist lenses on. It seems to me a bit of round hole/square peg idea.

On b), I gave you a context argument which undermines the whole monergism thesis. I'd be happy to consider your response.

Mitch said...

Sorry I’m confused and need a little guidance-

As wisdom literature, the context is responsibility for one's actions. Generally, that IF you do X, you will get Y; but if you do Z, you will not.

The hearing ear and the seeing eye, The Lord has made both of them (Proverbs 20:12, ESV)

Where is the *If YOU do X, you will get Y* part in this text?

Mitch said...

Knowing you said generally, but I also fail to see how this is “suffused” with the premise of choice for us. Are you saying that this verse is “suffused” with the premise of choice for the Lord or for Man?

Not wanting to stir up a hornets nest, just would like some further clarification.

James Scott Bell said...

Mitch, I was responding to the "no context rule" comment Dan made. Don't you think this book called Proverbs, overall, calls upon man to "get" wisdom and "act" wisely, and NOT act "unwisely"? And giving the general promise that wise acts will have good results, and unwise acts bad results? And therefore, it tells us, choose the wise way?

This does not fit with strict monergism.

Of course God made "ears to hear and eyes to see." But we must "call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding" (2:3) and then "walk in the ways of good men and keep to the paths of the righteous." (2:20)

Or do you believe that we have no part to play in obedience to the precepts of Scripture?

Mitch said...


I took it as you applying that to Pr.20:12; it does not fit with what you wrote so I wondered how you saw the verse. Are you saying that Pr. 20:12 is related to Pr. 2:3, 20?

You seem to disagree with Dan’s exegesis of the text, all I wanted was what you think the text says. Again, not wanting to get anything started, just wanting to try to understand where you are coming from on this verse.

Stefan Ewing said...

Johnny Dialectic: The call to obey, etc., does not contradict mongergism. Non-believers cannot obey God, they cannot please Him. Monergistically regenerated believers can, but they must still choose to do so.

Mitch: Just because we have ears to hear and eyes to see doesn't necessarily mean that we will hear and see in the way God calls us (believers) to do so. If we automatically obeyed and pleased God, why then would every book in the Bible—possibly without a single exception—at some point implore the audience to lead godly lives, to walk in the ways of God, to take up Christ's cross and follow Him, and so on?

I'm not talking about a works-based righteousness, here. Even a backsliding believer is still saved, praise be to God! But God calls us to participate in His glorification and exaltation; to participate in His saving of lost souls through the Great Commission; and so on. And on the most intimate level, we will never overcome sin in this lifetime, but He calls us to be vigilant against temptation, and to avoid sinning. All of this is stuff that we choose to do out of love for Christ. We can't do it alone, which is why we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us to help us. But we can choose to obey and be helped by the Holy Spirit, or disobey, in which case the Holy Spirit won't do it for us. As believers, we have that choice. Non-believers don't even have the luxury of choosing to disobey God, since that's all that they are capable of doing.

Hope my comment makes sense and isn't too rambling.

Dan, if I'm off track, please correct me.

Stefan Ewing said...

"Mongergism" in the first paragraph should, of course, be "Monergism." That's why merely "smimming" over one's own writing is never a good idea.

Mitch said...


Thank you for your input; I am a bit perplexed though. Where have I said or implied that believers “automatically obey and please God”? All I wanted was more information on why JD disagreed with Dan’s exegesis, nothing more. If I said or even implied that we do absolutely nothing in our sanctification then please forgive me, for that is not what I believe.

Stefan Ewing said...

Sorry, Mitch, I should have been clearer. In one of your comments, you were questioning Johnny Dialectic, when he wrote:

"It is suffused with the premise of choice. As is the entire OT."

Since he's writing it from an Arminian point of view—meaning that we choose even whether to be saved or not—I disagree with it as well. But since I had brought up the question of "choice" (regarding obedience to God) in one of my own comments, I thought I should clearly enunciate where I myself stand on this.

I know, I was belabouring a patently obvious point. But duh, sometimes one can't see the nose in front of one's own face (or whatever the expression is—I'm referring to myself here).

Mitch said...


No worries, I thought somehow I wrote or implied that our sanctification was like auto pilot. I am trying to square Johnny Dialectic’s premise with this particular Proverb and still can’t see it. I was hoping to get some further clarification from him about 20:12 and how it fits with “premise of choice” or the “if you do x, you will get y”.

I guess in the end Dan said it best when he wrote I’m still waiting for someone to tell us more about the text, as I’ve tried to do. It seemed that Johnny Dialectic would be ideal for this since it appears that he does not agree with Dan’s exegesis.

Anyways, sorry if I played any part in the confusion.

DJP said...

Believing that men must respond believingly and obediently is not a dividing-point between Arminianism and Calvinism.

The dividing-point is the answer to the question: how to dead, blind, God-hating, useless, helpless people manage to do that?

Or, put in terms of this verse: both believe man must "see" and "hear." But how do the deaf and blind manage it?

This verse answers THAT question.

James Scott Bell said...

It's really not that complicated, but people are now eise-smimming. I already said I agree with Dan's exegesis of the text. What Dan said about "eyes" and "ears" is not controversial at all. It's rather obvious this is not mere physicality here.

It's trying to stuff the verse into a Calvinist hole that is an added jump that just doesn't work (we've moved from exegesis to theological pegging now). Proverbs itself and the OT won't allow that. You can believe in monergistic soteriology if you like, but this verse doesn't help the case. There are others that do.

That's all. I don't think I can't be any clearer. So...he who has ears to hear, let him hear.

(sorry...a little...)

Stefan Ewing said...

JD: You're not accusing anyone of eyes-egesis, are you?

Dan: Point taken. And I agree with your point.

Mitch said...

Johnny Dialectic,

Sorry for the confusion, I thought that you did not agree with Dan’s exegesis. Since you do, how is this verse not monergistic? Dan’s interpretive paraphrase-

The ear that hears, listens and obeys; and the eye that perceives God’s truth – Are not even both of them direct acts of Yahweh?

I’m struggling to see how this is not monergistic, perhaps you could shed a little more light to this dim lit brain of mine.

James Scott Bell said...

As I said, I can't be any clearer -- which may be my bad (see? No Pelagianism here!) But I think if you'll read all my comments thus far, in order, and ponder them, you'll see the simple points I'm trying to make.

Or, you can go enjoy a good book.

I recommend the latter.

Mitch said...

This dim lit brain of mine sees that you disagree with the last two sentences of Dan’s post which read-

The doctrine of sovereign grace is called Reformed, or Calvinistic. But Calvin and the Reformers got it from the Bible — all of it.

Not sure why you disagree with the first sentence, but easy to understand why you disagree with the second:)

You also do not agree with the “exception to the context rule” that Dan stated. This is all I’ve been able to glean from your comments thus far.

It still does not answer how the verse is not monergistic? Seeing as the last two sentences of the post are not applicable to the meaning of the verse and I fail to see how even in context this verse is not viewed monergisticly. I do appreciate the recommendation of reading a good book, Lord knows I need to read good books. I also thank you for your time and trying to teach me something new.

God bless

James Scott Bell said...

Oh, and just to "be clear" (!) my recommendation to read a good book was not meant snootily (as in, "Try reading a book sometime, pal") but as, Read a book instead of my feeble commentary. As I reviewed the comment, I could see it could be taken the first way, and that was not my intent.

Thanks to you, too, Mitch. And Dan, for starting it. Lighting the match, in true Pyro fashion.

Mitch said...

Johnny D.

I did not see your comment that way at all, so no worries.

Please also know that I really wasn't trying to light a match. I always want to hear from people with different views than me, it will I strengthen mine own or cause me to reconsider what I think.

Praise be to God