Day 301

Challenging Contradictions

Wisdom Proverbs 26:3-12
New Testament Titus 2:1-15
Old Testament Habakkuk 1:1-3:19


I have often heard it said that ‘the Bible is full of contradictions’. It is certainly true that there are many apparent contradictions.

When faced with challenging contradictions:

  • seek to harmonise the apparent contradictions within the message of the Bible as a whole
  • avoid artificial means of harmonisation
  • be patient – be prepared to wait and live with unresolved questions

Proverbs 26:3-12

3 A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey,
   and a rod for the backs of fools!
4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
   or you yourself will be just like him.
5 Answer a fool according to his folly,
   or he will be wise in his own eyes.
6 Sending a message by the hands of a fool
   is like cutting off one’s feet or drinking poison.
7 Like the useless legs of one who is lame
   is a proverb in the mouth of a fool.
8 Like tying a stone in a sling
   is the giving of honour to a fool.
9 Like a thornbush in a drunkard’s hand
   is a proverb in the mouth of a fool.
10 Like an archer who wounds at random
   is one who hires a fool or any passer-by.
11 As a dog returns to its vomit,
   so fools repeat their folly.
12 Do you see a person wise in their own eyes?
   There is more hope for a fool than for them.


To answer or not to answer?

The words ‘fool’, ‘foolish’, ‘folly’ occur ninety-six times in the book of Proverbs. The fool is the opposite of the wise person commended by the writer of Proverbs.

He says,

  • Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be like them yourself’ (v.4).

  • ‘Answer fools according to their folly, or they will be wise in their own eyes’ (v.5).

This couldn’t be a clearer apparent contradiction. If the two verses appeared in different sections of the Bible, it would be hailed as an obvious contradiction. However, the fact that they appear right after each other suggests that in the author’s eyes there is no actual contradiction.

Criticism can often be extremely helpful and we can learn from it. However, sometimes criticism comes from ignorance (from ‘fools’). How do we respond? There is a tension: on the one hand, we do not want to reply because, in a sense, it is descending to the level of the critic (the fool, v.4).

On the other hand, we want to reply because otherwise the critic may feel they are right and they ‘will be wise in their own eyes’ (v.5).

It may well be that the writer of the Proverbs is using the dilemma to make a humorous point, that when it comes to talking with fools – whether you respond or stay silent – you can’t win.

It is very tempting to think that the fool is someone else and not me. If we think this, then we are ‘wise in our own eyes’: ‘Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for fools than for them’ (v.12)! This is the sting in the tail. After making us smile by showing how silly fools can be, we are reminded that when we think we are wise we are even worse off than a fool!


Lord, preserve me from being wise in my own eyes. Give me wisdom in all my decisions and how I answer my critics.

New Testament

Titus 2:1-15

Doing Good for the Sake of the Gospel

2 You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. 2 Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.

3 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. 4 Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

6 Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. 7 In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness 8 and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.

9 Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, 10 and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive.

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

15 These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.


‘Boring’ or ‘attractive’?

If Christianity is to be credible and attractive to the world, Christians must live authentic and attractive lives.

Paul writes to Titus that in every way we should ‘make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive’ (v.10). The instructions he gives about teaching women to be reverent, self-controlled, pure, kind and so on, are so that ‘no one will malign the word of God’ (v.5).

Similarly, the instructions he gives to Titus about self-control, integrity and so on, are so that ‘they have nothing bad to say about us’ (v.8).

However, as we read his instructions, they are the very opposite of what our twenty-first century culture would think is attractive. He speaks of ‘sound doctrine’ (v.1), being temperate (v.2), self-controlled (v.2), sound in faith (v.2), reverent (v.3), not addicted to too much wine (v.3), virtuous and pure (v.5, MSG), living disciplined lives (v.5, MSG), showing integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech (vv.7–8), saying ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and living self-controlled, upright and godly lives (v.12).

All this sounds very unattractive to modern ears. Yet when we actually see someone living like this – Mother Teresa or Pope Francis, to name but two – it is very attractive. Our culture dislikes the idea of holiness, but when people see a holy life they are captivated by it. True ‘holiness’ is when you leave every person more alive than when you found them.

As Simone Weil put it: ‘Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvellous, intoxicating.’

There is something beautiful about lives of ‘dignity and wisdom’, ‘healthy faith’ and ‘love’ (v.2, MSG); people who are ‘models of goodness’ and ‘virtuous and pure’ (vv.3,5, MSG); lives of good character shining through action; ‘God-filled, God-honouring lives’ (v.12, MSG).

Jesus died for you and me ‘to free us from a dark, rebellious life into this good, pure life, making us a people he can be proud of, energetic in goodness’ (v.14, MSG).


Lord, help me by my life and by my love to make the teaching about you attractive.

Old Testament

Habakkuk 1:1-3:19

1 The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.

Habakkuk’s Complaint

2 How long, Lord, must I call for help,
  but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
  but you do not save?
3 Why do you make me look at injustice?
  Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
  there is strife, and conflict abounds.
4 Therefore the law is paralyzed,
  and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
  so that justice is perverted.

The Lord’s Answer

5 “Look at the nations and watch—
  and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
  that you would not believe,
  even if you were told.
6 I am raising up the Babylonians,
  that ruthless and impetuous people,
who sweep across the whole earth
  to seize dwellings not their own.
7 They are a feared and dreaded people;
  they are a law to themselves
  and promote their own honour.
8 Their horses are swifter than leopards,
  fiercer than wolves at dusk.
Their cavalry gallops headlong;
  their horsemen come from afar.
They fly like an eagle swooping to devour;
  9 they all come intent on violence.
Their hordes advance like a desert wind
  and gather prisoners like sand.
10 They mock kings
  and scoff at rulers.
They laugh at all fortified cities;
  by building earthen ramps they capture them.
11 Then they sweep past like the wind and go on—
  guilty people, whose own strength is their god.”

Habakkuk’s Second Complaint

12 Lord, are you not from everlasting?
  My God, my Holy One, you will never die.
You, Lord, have appointed them to execute judgment;
  you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish.
13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
  you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.
Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?
  Why are you silent while the wicked
  swallow up those more righteous than themselves?
14 You have made people like the fish in the sea,
  like the sea creatures that have no ruler.
15 The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks,
  he catches them in his net,
he gathers them up in his dragnet;
  and so he rejoices and is glad.
16 Therefore he sacrifices to his net
  and burns incense to his dragnet,
for by his net he lives in luxury
  and enjoys the choicest food.
17 Is he to keep on emptying his net,
  destroying nations without mercy?

2 I will stand at my watch
  and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
  and what answer I am to give to this complaint.

The Lord’s Answer

2 Then the Lord replied:

“Write down the revelation
  and make it plain on tablets
  so that a herald may run with it.
3 For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
  it speaks of the end
  and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
  it will certainly come
  and will not delay.

4 “See, the enemy is puffed up;
  his desires are not upright—
  but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness —
5 indeed, wine betrays him;
  he is arrogant and never at rest.
Because he is as greedy as the grave
  and like death is never satisfied,
he gathers to himself all the nations
  and takes captive all the peoples.

6 “Will not all of them taunt him with ridicule and scorn, saying,

“‘Woe to him who piles up stolen goods
  and makes himself wealthy by extortion!
  How long must this go on?’
7 Will not your creditors suddenly arise?
  Will they not wake up and make you tremble?
  Then you will become their prey.
8 Because you have plundered many nations,
  the peoples who are left will plunder you.
For you have shed human blood;
  you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.

9 “Woe to him who builds his house by unjust gain,
  setting his nest on high
  to escape the clutches of ruin!
10 You have plotted the ruin of many peoples,
  shaming your own house and forfeiting your life.
11 The stones of the wall will cry out,
  and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.

12 “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed
  and establishes a town by injustice!
13 Has not the Lord Almighty determined
  that the people’s labour is only fuel for the fire,
  that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing?
14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord
  as the waters cover the sea.

15 “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbours,
  pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk,
  so that he can gaze on their naked bodies!
16 You will be filled with shame instead of glory.
  Now it is your turn! Drink and let your nakedness be exposed!
The cup from the Lord’s right hand is coming around to you,
  and disgrace will cover your glory.
17 The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you,
  and your destruction of animals will terrify you.
For you have shed human blood;
  you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.

18 “Of what value is an idol carved by a craftsman?
  Or an image that teaches lies?
For the one who makes it trusts in his own creation;
  he makes idols that cannot speak.
19 Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’
  Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’
Can it give guidance?
  It is covered with gold and silver;
  there is no breath in it.”

20 The Lord is in his holy temple;
  let all the earth be silent before him.

Habakkuk’s Prayer

3 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth.

2 Lord, I have heard of your fame;
  I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
  in our time make them known;
  in wrath remember mercy.

3 God came from Teman,
  the Holy One from Mount Paran.
His glory covered the heavens
  and his praise filled the earth.
4 His splendour was like the sunrise;
  rays flashed from his hand,
  where his power was hidden.
5 Plague went before him;
  pestilence followed his steps.
6 He stood, and shook the earth;
  he looked, and made the nations tremble.
The ancient mountains crumbled
  and the age-old hills collapsed —
  but he marches on forever.
7 I saw the tents of Cushan in distress,
  the dwellings of Midian in anguish.

8 Were you angry with the rivers, Lord?
  Was your wrath against the streams?
Did you rage against the sea
  when you rode your horses
  and your chariots to victory?
9 You uncovered your bow,
  you called for many arrows.
You split the earth with rivers;
  10 the mountains saw you and writhed.
Torrents of water swept by;
  the deep roared
  and lifted its waves on high.

11 Sun and moon stood still in the heavens
  at the glint of your flying arrows,
  at the lightning of your flashing spear.
12 In wrath you strode through the earth
  and in anger you threshed the nations.
13 You came out to deliver your people,
  to save your anointed one.
You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness,
  you stripped him from head to foot.
14 With his own spear you pierced his head
  when his warriors stormed out to scatter us,
gloating as though about to devour
  the wretched who were in hiding.
15 You trampled the sea with your horses,
  churning the great waters.

16 I heard and my heart pounded,
  my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
  and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
  to come on the nation invading us.
17 Though the fig tree does not bud
  and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
  and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the sheepfold
  and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
  I will be joyful in God my Saviour.

19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
  he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
  he enables me to tread on the heights.

For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.


Faith and doubt?

Are doubts, questioning and fears compatible with faith? Are you facing problems with your relationships, your marriage (or lack of marriage), your family, your job, your health, your finances or a combination of all of these? Does this make you doubt the existence of God? Should you stop believing?

Many people regard faith as unquestioning. They think faith and doubt are opposites. In fact, faith and doubt are two sides of the same coin. There is no doubt that 2 + 2 = 4. However, it does not take any faith to believe it. On the other hand, to believe that someone loves you is open to an element of doubt. To put your faith in God is similar to loving a person. There is always the possibility of doubt. Without doubt, faith would not be faith.

Likewise, it is not wrong to question God within the context of faith. The book of Habakkuk starts with a man who believes, yet questions. It ends with a towering expression of faith, scarcely equalled anywhere else in the Old Testament.

Habakkuk looked at the world and was perplexed and fearful. He saw ‘violence’ (1:2), ‘injustice’ (v.3a), ‘destruction’ (v.3c), ‘strife’ and ‘conflict’ (v.3d). Yet the Lord did not seem, to him, to be doing anything about it (vv.2–4). He saw pain and suffering and asked, ‘How long, O Lord…? Why…?’ (vv.2–3).

He took the problem to God and asked genuinely heartfelt questions. God replied that he was going to do something amazing, but not what Habakkuk expected (v.5). He was raising up the Babylonians (v.6). Consequently, Israel was to be overwhelmed and would go into exile.

Habakkuk was perplexed. Surely God was in control of history and all-powerful (v.12)? How could a pure God use the cruel and idolatrous Babylonians to punish a godly nation? ‘God, you chose Babylonians for your judgment work? … You can’t be serious. You can’t condone evil!’ (vv.12–13, MSG). Habakkuk didn’t seem to get a direct answer. However, he took his puzzled complaints and problems to God and left them with him as he waited (2:1).

God told him first to write down the vision (v.2). When you sense God speaking to you and giving you a vision, it is good to write it down so that you can refer back to it and hold on to it. Second, God told him that he may have to wait for the answer: ‘Wait for it; it will certainly come and not delay’ (v.3).

God wants you to bring your doubts, problems and questions to him. You may not always get immediate answers to all your questions. While you wait for answers you are called to trust in God, even when you don’t fully understand what he is doing.

Faith involves believing what God has said in spite of the difficulties you face: ‘The righteous will live by their faith’ (v.4). Habakkuk foresaw that judgment was coming on the ungodly Babylonians. He also foresaw that, one day, the outlaws would be destroyed and ‘the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea’ (v.14). He foresaw the ultimate triumph of good over evil.

Until that time, he resolved to stay close to God whatever happened.

Like Habakkuk, commit yourself to praise and not complaint. Resolve to take the long-term view and be patient. Resolve to rejoice whatever the circumstances. Commit yourself to faith, even when there is no fruit (3:17–19).

God is concerned, not so much about the harvest as about your heart. Even if you can find nothing else, you can rejoice over your relationship with the Lord. Habakkuk says, ‘I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour’ (v.18). God made him sure-footed and light-hearted: ‘The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights’ (v.19).

As Joyce Meyer writes, ‘We need to allow our difficulties to help us develop “hinds’ feet”. When we have hinds’ feet… we will walk and make progress through our trouble, suffering, responsibility, or whatever is trying to hold us back.’


Lord, help me trust completely in you as I honestly express my doubts and questions to you, and to rejoice in you even when I do not immediately see an answer.

Pippa adds

In Habakkuk 3:17-18 it says:

‘Though the fig-tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.’

You may feel your life is as bleak as this picture that the writer Habbakuk paints, but he says, ‘yet I will rejoice in the Lord and I will be joyful in God my Saviour.’

He is making a choice and focusing his eyes, not on his circumstances but on God who can save him.



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Joyce Meyer, The Everyday Life Bible (Faithwords, 2018), p.1434.

Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace (Routledge, 2002), p.70.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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