The Words of King Lemuel
Dr. Joe Temple


Turn in your Bibles, please, to the book of Proverbs, that portion of the Word of God that we have been studying together. We want to notice with you chapter 31. We are drawing to a close our exposition of the book of Proverbs, which we have been presenting for quite a long time. As we come to chapter 31, I think we are going to find some things that should be good for our mutual blessing.

When we began our study of the book of Proverbs, we suggested to you that chapter 30 and chapter 31 we designated as supplements: chapter 30, supplement number one, and chapter 31, supplement number two. We use the word supplement because the subject matter in these two chapters does not follow a continuity with the rest of the book of Proverbs. That is not to suggest that these two chapters are any less important than the rest of the book. It is simply a matter that will help you to understand their relationship to the subject matter in the previous chapters.

In chapter 30, supplement number one, we considered with you The Words of Agur . In chapter 31, supplement number 2, we want to consider with you The Words of King Lemuel . I would like for you to follow in your Bibles as I read verses 1-9, for that is going to be the basis for our consideration. Notice:

Proverbs 31:

1 The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him.
2 What, my son? and what, the son of my womb? and what, the son of my vows?
3 Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings.
4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink:
5 Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted.
6 Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.
7 Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.
8 Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.
9 Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.

Identification of King Lemuel

This passage of Scripture represents the advice of a mother to her son, but as usual, when we are studying passages of Scripture which are not as familiar as others, it is wise for us to have a word of identification concerning the characters involved. This is the only reference to King Lemuel that you will find anywhere in the Word of God, and it is quite natural for us to wonder who he is.

Some Bible scholars look at the word prophecy , which you find in verse 1, and interpret it in the same manner that we have suggested to you that the word prophecy could be interpreted in chapter 30, verse 1. Perhaps you will remember that when we interpreted that word prophecy , we showed you how, by a difference in vowel points, the word massa could be included in the text. If that procedure of identification is followed, then one might designate King Lemuel as King of Massa, an Ishmaelite, king of a very small territory about which not a great deal is said in the Bible.

I would emphasize that a number of Bible scholars feel that this is the manner in which Lemuel should be interpreted, and some of the renderings of the Scripture have followed that suggestion. For example, the Living Bible renders that verse: “These are the wise sayings of Lemuel, king of Massa.”

The Amplified follows the same suggestion, saying: “The Words of Lemuel, king of Massa.” He might be identified in that fashion; however, the majority of Bible scholars, and I include myself among them, would rather identify Lemuel as King Solomon, for Lemuel was a family name for King Solomon. Lemuel simply means “devoted to God,” and if we are correct in interpreting in this fashion, Lemuel was another name for King Solomon. We could understand this being the family name of Solomon because Bathsheba would have been his mother, and you will recall the first child of that union of David and Bathsheba was taken as the chastening of God because of their sin of adultery and murder. It would be quite natural then, when God blessed that union with a second child, for them to speak of him as being devoted to God. I think you will see before we are through that the actual text itself lends credence to that idea.

If Lemuel was Solomon, we need to recognize that there is in this chapter an illustration of the grace of God. Think of Bathsheba. Think of the sin in which she was involved, and then recognize that God used her to train a child in the manner in which Solomon was trained. Recognize that God's grace is an amazing thing. Only when an individual comes to know the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and becomes a recipient of His grace can all of the mistakes and ill-training of the past be blotted out and a person become a receptacle and a channel through which God can work in an amazing, marvelous way. Truly God's grace is amazing.

It is an interesting thing to also recognize that if Solomon is the person under the subject of discussion, his mother was doing something that his father had already done, which reminds us that the training of a child is a mutual responsibility, not primarily the responsibility of the father nor of the mother, but a mutual responsibility.

Turn back to Proverbs, chapter 4, verse 1, as we read:

Proverbs 4:

1 Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding.
2 For I give you good doctrine, forsake ye not my law.

Solomon is teaching his sons, as we learned when we were studying the first ten chapters of the book of Proverbs. The interesting thing is, he is teaching them the things his father taught him, for in verse 3, he said:

Proverbs 4:

3 For I was my father's son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother.
4 He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live.

Notice Solomon's testimony. He said, “I was my father's son, but I was tender and especially beloved in the sight of my mother, and my father taught me.”

Go back to chapter 31. King Lemuel—Solomon—is recording for us the words which his mother taught him, the words which Bathsheba taught this beloved son, who was very special to her, so much so that she could refer to him as “the one who was devoted to God.”

Good Groundwork for Advice

I would like for us to think about the advice that Bathsheba gave to Solomon, and all mothers could follow the example that was set by Bathsheba. The first step in the example is to have a good groundwork for the advice that is to be given because you will keep in mind that the advice that we read was not the advice Bathsheba gave to a little child; it was the advice Bathsheba gave to her son, a grown man, who was fulfilling the responsibilities of the throne. Many mothers attempt to give their grown children advice, and it is not well received. More times than not, the advice is rejected with words such as: “Let me alone. I am old enough to make my own decisions.” “Get off my back. Don't be telling me what to do all the time. I am not a baby any more.”

I would not say that always the reason is that a good groundwork had not been laid, but I do believe that a great many times this is true. The reason that a great many grown men do not want to take the advice of their mothers is that the groundwork has not been carefully laid.

What was the groundwork that Bathsheba laid when she gave advice to her son? The first thing that I would like to call to your attention is a genuine concern. Bathsheba manifested a genuine concern for her son that did not begin the moment that he was ready to ascend the throne. It was a concern of long standing. It was a continual burden of her heart. So often mothers become concerned about their sons when they face some special thing that the mother thinks is of great importance and because that concern is manifested only at that special time, it becomes an irritating thing to the recipient of the advice instead of another indication of the tremendous love that a mother had for her son.

Notice, please, verse 2:

Proverbs 31:

2 What, my son? and what, the son of my womb? and what, the son of my vows?

Notice the word what is mentioned three times over. This is an idiomatic expression peculiar to the day in which these folk lived, which evidenced a continuing, a genuine concern. One of the other renderings indicates that concern by substituting for the word what three times repeated, “What shall I advise my son?” You see, Bathsheba was not a mother who assumed that she knew everything and that her opinion would be respected. Consequently, she did not voice that opinion without a great deal of prayerful thought and concern.

This rendering is well advised: “What shall I advise my son?” I am sure before she ever phrased the advice that was given, she gave it a great deal of prayer, so that when the advice was given, Solomon could not interpret it as a mere matter of maternal opinion. He could recognize it coming from a deep and abiding concern for the welfare of her child.

Look again at the questions, “What, my son?” and what, the son of my womb? and what, the son of my vows?” Notice that last statement “and what, the son of my vows?”. You will recognize that the groundwork for this advice was laid in the dedication of Solomon to the Lord either before his birth, as many mothers did in that day, or at his birth. The dedication of Solomon to the Lord was not a formal dedication, necessarily, that was marked by the sprinkling of water on a baby's head or the assumption of vows which would be impossible to keep. Rather the dedication of Solomon, I am quite sure, had the tenor that the dedication of Samuel had when Hannah said to God, “For this child have I prayed. Now, I lend my child to Thee.” I am sure that the dedication involved the same idea that is expressed by the parents of Gideon when they told God that God had given them the child, and now He had the responsibility of telling them how to direct the child and how to guide him and how to instruct him.

You see, when you show a genuine concern for your child from the day of his birth, when you let your child know that from his birth or even before he was dedicated to the Lord and that you sought the mind of the Lord for his direction and guidance, he is not going to resent advice, in all probability, that is given when he becomes of age. He is not going to interpret advice when he becomes of age that comes from his mother as being something that is related to maternal fretting. He will recognize it for what it is.

Early Training

One other thing that is connected with the groundwork that I think it would be good for us to notice I have designated by the words early training. I use that phrase by what I read in verse 1:

Proverbs 31:

1 The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him.

What Lemuel records here is related to the advice that he was given when he prepared to ascend the throne. This word taught is an interesting word, for it involves the idea of teaching that actually began at his mother's knee. You see, when Bathsheba spoke to Lemuel, he would not say, “What's wrong with the old lady? What is she so concerned about all the time? Why is she so upset right now?” He recognized that her concern was the same concern that she expressed when she took time while he was yet a toddler and could stand at her knee and be taught the things that needed to be taught. With all due love and understanding for mothers who have to work, with all due consideration to people who have a problem which can be solved in no other way, I want to say that I do believe that one of the problems that we face when our children reach maturity is connected with the fact that there hasn't been enough teaching at mother's knee.

Now that school is beginning sooner and room will be made for preschoolers at even an earlier age, I shudder to think what is going to happen to the next generation when they reach their maturity and mother attempts to tell them something. I would not be at all surprised that they would be apt to say, “I don't know why you are so concerned now. You weren't concerned when I really needed you.” Mothers, think twice before you entrust that very tender teaching at mother's knee to somebody else. When you have laid a groundwork such as this that I have suggested, I think that you will discover that when it is needful to give more mature advice to older children, they will be more willing to accept the advice that is given.

Avoid Promiscuity

Just what advice did Bathsheba give? She was an intelligent woman. Perhaps her own experience of the sins of the flesh reminded her of the dangers that her son would face, so the first bit of advice was related to something that he should avoid. I have suggested that she advised Solomon to avoid promiscuity, and I read that in verse 3:

Proverbs 31:

3 Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings.

“Don't give what you possess unto women in promiscuous relationships because it will take a toll upon you,” Bathsheba said, “like nothing else will.” I hesitate to say that any one sin is worse than another because, in God's sight, sin is sin; but the Bible is very careful to make a distinction about the quality of sin as it takes its toll upon man. Look with me at I Corinthians, chapter 6, and notice an illustration of fact. The Apostle Paul is discussing the subject of promiscuity. He is discussing the subject of illicit sex. In verse 16, he said:

I Corinthians 6:

16 What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh.

Pause for a moment, will you? Young man, recognize that there are no one-night stands in the sight of God. There is no one-moment sex adventure in the sight of God. It is much more serious than that. An individual who has sexual relations with a prostitute is joined to that person, in God's sight, as one flesh. It is a serious thing. We continue to read in verse 17:

I Corinthians 6:

17 But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.

This is the verse that I want you to notice, particularly, in the light of the comment I have made, as we read:

I Corinthians 6:

18 Flee fornication…

As I have pointed out to you before, the word fornication describes any illicit sex relation. We read on:

I Corinthians 6:

18 Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.

The King James text is not as clear as far as emphasis is concerned, as it might be. What Paul is actually saying is, “There are many sins that a man commits that does not affect his body, but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.”

What that passage of Scripture is saying is that your promiscuity will take a toll on your body. We are not talking about sinners in that passage of Scripture; we are talking about believers. We are talking about Christians. We are talking about young men and young women who are reared in Christian homes. We are talking about young men who become interested in the opposite sex and have inclinations which are perfectly natural, but they can be terribly frightening because of the very newness of them, because there are not enough Christian mothers who can say to their sons, “Son, you are going to have opportunities to waste your strength and give your ways to women. I advise you not to do it.”

There are many reasons that a Christian mother in this dispensation can give to their sons. They could talk about social diseases. They could talk about health problems, and that should not be ignored, but the reason that a Christian mother in the age of grace can give is found in verse 19:

I Corinthians 6:

19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.

The last statement does not belong in that verse, and I wish it were not in our English translations because I think sometimes it tends to water down. When you speak of too many things, you can be confused. The thrust of the verse is: “For you are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”

There are many ways you can use your body that would indicate that either you are not aware or have forgotten that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. We are not talking about those many ways, nor is this immediate text. We are talking about promiscuity. We are talking about fornication. We are talking about what Bathsheba told Solomon about giving his strength to women and his ways to that which destroyeth kings.

Because she was speaking to a king, she said, “…ways which destroy kings,” but she could just as well have said, as any Christian mother could have said today: “…ways which destroy your whole life and your whole purpose.”

If you could have dealt with as many folk with whom I have dealt who are in marriages that they wish they were out of, marriages which have curtailed their activity and ruined their careers because they were free sexually with the girl who is now their wife and out of a sense of decency or the proverbial ancient shotgun, they had to marry the girl. Their marriages are intact. Both partners are miserable and—young men, I am speaking figuratively now—are digging ditches when they could be sitting on thrones. This is advice which needs to be heeded, and mothers, you had better lay the groundwork so that you can give the advice when it needs to be given and it will be well received.

Young people, look with me at another passage of Scripture which suggests the same idea that has what people of the world might refer to as an element of paradise because in our day, young people are involved in many things which they do not want to be involved because they don't want to chicken out. They don't want somebody to think that they are not as brave as someone else. Look at II Timothy, chapter 2, verse 22, Paul's advice to a young preacher. I don't know where anybody got the idea that the moment a person becomes a Christian, or God forbid, the moment he enters the ministry, he dies. Some folk think that a minister has no inclinations and no feelings that any normal man has. That is ridiculous.

Timothy was a young preacher, and Paul was giving him a lot of advice. In verse 22, he said:

II Timothy 2:

22 Flee also youthful lusts…

“Timothy, you are young, and the female sex is going to be just as attractive to you as it is to any young man.” Notice, he didn't say, “Run away from women.” He said, “Flee youthful lusts. Don't yield to the lusts of the flesh which will cause you to fall and dishonor the body for which Christ died and in which the Holy Spirit dwells.”

You never want to flee aimlessly. You don't ever get anywhere that way, and so Paul added:

II Timothy 2:

22 …but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

Notice three things in this advice: follow. Then faith, maturing. That is the meaning of all these suggestions that you follow after, and then fellowship. Keep company with those who call upon the Lord out of a pure heart.

Young people, hear me. You are very, very foolish if you attempt to do what you believe God wants you to do and still keep company with the wrong people. It just can't be done. Find folk with whom you can have fellowship and together call on the Lord.

Avoid Drunkenness

Back to Proverbs, chapter 31, and notice the second bit of advice that Bathsheba gave to Lemuel. She said, “Avoid promiscuity,” and she said, “Lemuel, avoid drunkenness.” Notice in verse 4, please:

Proverbs 31:

4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink:

I think enough has been said about intoxicating beverages that there is no need for us,at this particular point in our discussion, to think with you about the evils of drunkenness. We have done that before in our study of the book of Proverbs, but Bathsheba is saying to Lemuel: “Lemuel, you need to avoid drunkenness because you are a king and you have certain responsibilities.”

You see, Lemuel might have responded, as oftentimes young people respond and say, “What is wrong with my doing thus-and-so? So-and-So does it.” That is really not the point. There are a lot of people who get drunk, but kings ought not to. There are a lot of people who get drunk, but believers ought not to because “it will keep you from doing, Lemuel,” Bathsheba said, “the thing that you need to do as a king.” She pointed out to Lemuel something that many of us are prone to forget. She said, “Lemuel, you want to know why it is wrong to drink.” Look at verse 5, where Bathsheba said: “It is wrong to drink for a king, at least, because:

Proverbs 31:

5 Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted.

I would suggest in a very general way that drunkenness is the root of all perversion, not the only root, but it is the root of all perversion. The perversion that is mentioned in the text before us is the perversion of judgment. God had given Solomon wisdom. He asked for it and God gave it to him. You would think with a gift of wisdom like that there would be no need for advice like this, but Bathsheba was not as foolish as many Christian mothers are today. Many Christian mothers today say, “I never give my children any advice. I have taught them, and if they don't walk in the way that I have taught them, there is nothing that can be done about it.”

Bathsheba could have said, “I don't need to tell Solomon anything. God gave him the gift of wisdom,” but she didn't. She said, “Solomon, you are a king, and there are going to be many cases brought before you for judgment. If you are drunk, you will pervert the very gift that God gave you. You won't even be able to exercise the wisdom that God gave because you have yielded yourself to drunkenness.”

We could go on and talk about other perversions that come from drunkenness, but we don't have the time. I suggest that you read carefully the newspaper reports of many of the crimes that have been committed and find out how many of the perpetrators of the crime were either under the influence of drink or of drugs which pervert judgment.

If you will look at verses 6-7, you will notice two verses of Scripture that some people have used as a proof of the suggestion that it is all right for some people to drink sometimes, and they interpret these two verses in the way that Paul's advice to Timothy is rightfully interpreted. You remember that the Apostle Paul said to Timothy, “Timothy, drink no longer water, but take a little wine for your stomach's sake.”

Timothy was not being advised by the Apostle Paul to tie one on; he was being advised that there were times when wine could be used for medicinal purposes and he did not need to worry about doing it. As I said, some people interpret these two verses in the same sense, but I would suggest to you that they should not be so interpreted. Let us look at them. Notice verse 6:

Proverbs 31:

6 Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.
7 Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.

Very generally, some people interpret these verses as teaching that if you find somebody with a heavy heart, somebody that says, “I am just ready to die,” give him a drink and it will lift his spirits, and there is nothing wrong with doing that. But Beloved, we must interpret this portion of the Word in the light of its context, and if we do that, we will find that Bathsheba was advising Lemuel to have nothing to do with strong drink because not only was it a perversion, but he would be tempted to use strong drink as a panacea for all the ills with which he, as a king, should rightfully deal. It would be much easier, for example, to give a man a drink of wine if he was blue and discouraged than to sit down with him and, from the Word of God, show him where true peace lies. It would be much simpler to give a man a drink who was ready to perish than to sit down with him and give him the solutions to his problems. There are many folk who believe that intoxicating beverages are a panacea for all evils. That is one of the reasons that they become alcoholics.

I want you to notice the suggestion that is made in verse 6:

Proverbs 31:

6 Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish…

That word perish is an interesting word. It comes from a Hebrew word that speaks of one destroying himself, one with suicidal tendencies. I spoke of a phone call I received at three o'clock one morning, and the individual with a suicidal tendency was attempting to get up enough courage to kill himself with a gun that he held in his hand by drinking enough liquor to ease the pain—emotional pain that he was suffering. Bathsheba was saying, “Lemuel, you have a choice. You can discharge your responsibilities as king on the man who is ready to perish, who is ready to commit suicide, offering the solution to his problems so that his life can be better than death or you can give him a drink and say that he won't feel his pain.” Mother said to Lemuel, “Son, stay as far away from strong drink as you can, for it doesn't do anything but pervert judgment and provide false hope and security for those who are really in need.”

You remember that Paul told Timothy to flee youthful lusts, but he didn't stop there. He said, “Follow after righteousness.” Bathsheba is saying to Lemuel, in the same spirit, “Avoid promiscuity; avoid drunkenness, but aid the less fortunate.”

Never in the Word of God will you find a negative emphasis without a positive challenge. Keep that in mind. Let me repeat that: “Never will you find a negative emphasis without a positive challenge.” We who are parents might learn a lesson from that in the training we give to our children. So often we are negative and we never follow the negation with a positive challenge. You will find that the negations will be more readily received if they are accompanied by a positive challenge.

Help Those Who are Unjustly Accused

We will look hurriedly at the remaining verses in the paragraph. Notice verse 8:

Proverbs 31:

8 Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.
9 Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.

The phrase, “Open thy mouth,” could be very literally translated, “Come to the aid of.” Then several classes of unfortunate people are mentioned. One of them is characterized by the word dumb : “Open thy mouth for the dumb…” The word dumb here is a word that described individuals who are not able to speak for themselves. Keep in mind that Bathsheba is giving advice to a king, so she is saying, “You are a king. There are individuals who have no voice. They can talk all right, but nobody is going to pay any attention to what they say. You are a king. They will pay attention to what you say. Be sure that you come to the aid of those who don't have any argument that they can present for themselves.”

Make application of that to your own life. She said, “Open your mouth. Come to the aid of him who is unjustly accused.” The phrase, “unjustly accused,” is brought to our attention because of the phrase, “all such as are appointed to destruction.” The literal language suggests the idea of an individual who has been unjustly accused and is going to be executed and nothing can be done about it. “Solomon, you will have the opportunity. Don't miss out on the opportunity to help those who are unjustly accused.”

Don't Forget the Orphans

I would like to suggest to you another thought that is involved in the very literal translation of this phrase, “appointed for destruction.” There is nothing in this text about orphans, but this phrase “appointed for destruction,” comes from a Hebrew word which has come to be used in ordinary civil transactions as a phrase that describes orphans.

It is a picturesque phrase, isn't it? Could anything more aptly describe a true orphan than an individual appointed for destruction, for particularly in the day in which this was written, what chance did an orphan have? But Bathsheba said, “Solomon, don't you forget the orphans.”

Aid the Poor and Needy

The last group of unfortunate people she asked him to aid are the poor and the needy , and that, of course, covers a broad spectrum of society. What is the advice Bathsheba gave to Lemuel? “Lemuel, avoid promiscuity. Avoid drunkenness. Come to the aid of the less fortunate, but more widely still, use your talents, your abilities, your strengths to exercise the responsibility that God has given you.”


Hear me. There aren't many kings any more, and nobody is going to be appointed to accept the responsibility of a king; but mothers, God has a place for your child, and when your child reaches that age when he is to assume the responsibilities of that career that God has outlined for him, don't hesitate to warn him of the pitfalls that are related to the career. Encourage him to use his career for the glory of God.

You start your advice-giving while he is still entranced and intrigued with everything that you say as he stands at your knees. He will be willing to listen when he could walk away.

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