Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.
I was once asked to give my testimony at a gathering of young people. I began my talk with this verse because I was also supposed to share with them my favorite verse of Scripture. I then went into a detailed story about my dog, Penny, and how she illustrates the teaching of this verse. I will spare you the gory details though.
I’m sure you are all familiar with the imagery that is used here. You’ve probably seen a dog that has been sickened. Maybe you’ve even wondered how the furry little creature could turn green. You may even be quite familiar with the foul noise that it makes as its stomach begins to lurch. But what is even more putrid than what has been vomited out is that the dog comes back to it. It may avoid it for a little while. It may take a lap around the yard to regain its composure, but it eventually makes its way back to fill its stomach again.
I have to admit that this is one of the most vile pictures in all the Bible. And each of us will probably acknowledge that dogs, while being man’s best friend, are also man’s grossest friend. What possesses them to do this is beyond me. As a friend of mine used to say, “You would think that with how powerful a sniffer they have they would be more choosy about what they go around smelling.” You would think that they would be repulsed by that thing for which they hunger.
But that’s what makes this such a good Proverb. That nasty dog keenly illustrates how inhumane our craving for sin is. And this morning I want to talk about that desire we have. I want to talk about how base our hunger for sin is.
This proverb might be disgusting. But it accurately illustrates how reprehensible and how irrepressible our hunger for sin really is. And when I say that this is reprehensible, I don’t think that I’m even getting close to really describing how hideous it is.
I. How reprehensible our sin is
When you read this passage you cannot help but be nauseated by it. The thing is foul. What do you see when you read this passage? You see the dog there salivating over a bunch of half digested, dog food. Th Dog food is gross enough. But regurgitated dog food is beyond gross. Its grosser than gross. And you have to remember they didn’t have your basic Purina dog chow back when Solomon was writing this! They were probably eating whatever they scavenged off the streets. You should imagine here some mangy little pooch putting his face down into a decomposed bird and ripping out some of its flesh with its teeth, chewing it up and licking his lips. And after it has been half digested, out it comes again with all the acids and whatever else Fido managed to scrounge up in the compost pile.
Dog food is gross enough. But when you think of the real context and what this might look like, that makes it all the more vile!
But to what is that nasty pile of wretch compared? It is compared to our sin. God wants you to realize something about your sin. He wants you to see it for what it really is. He wants you to recognize something of how really grotesque you are and how vile your sins really are!
The shorter catechism is really good on this. The catechism asks, “Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous? Then it answers, “Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.” That’s a choice word that the Westminster Divines use: heinous. Sin is gross (Atrocious! vile! hideous!). The men of Westminster were acknowledging that, yes, there are some sins that God hates more than others. But don’t forget the fact that every sin, no matter how “small” we may deem it, is utterly repulsive to God.
Every sin is absolutely odious!
We like to say that some sins are lesser than others, don’t we? I mean we almost neutralize how nasty our sins are by comparing them to other sins that are much worse. And it is true. Some sins are more heinous in the sight of God than others. But we like to sanitize ours by making the comparison to other people’s sin. We like to think that our “little” sins are nothing compared to those sins. They almost come out looking like a prime rib, rather than a pasty pile of dog wretch.
But no matter how we try to pretty up our sin, it is still infinitely repugnant. The smallest of our sins is so reprehensible to God that we cannot even begin to imagine how wicked it really is.
That’s why Jesus said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones to sin, it would be better for him to have a millstone hung around his neck and be cast into the sea.” It doesn’t mention any specific sin, does it? It doesn’t say, “if you cause them to commit perjury, then you deserve to drown. But if you only cause them to tell a little white lie, then you only deserve to be water boarded.” No. Jesus doesn’t specify the sin because he wishes to communicate something of how repulsive ANY and EVERY sin is. Sin is sin, and it’s all abhorrent to God. Yes, some sins are worse than others. But all sin is wretched. It is like comparing garbage. Some garbage is more wretched than other garbage, but it is all garbage. You may be in a situation where you are forced to eat garbage and you will say, “Well this one is not as bad as that one.” But you are still eating garbage! And that is gross!
What I’m trying to say is that part of our problem is that we don’t see sin for what it really is. We don’t see it as the contemptible thing that it really is. We don’t see it as God does. To us, the dog’s vomit is an awful thing. But to the dog, he’s saying, “Hmm. It’s not so bad.” To God sin is an abomination. But to us, it’s not that bad.
But that’s the point. We have to pray that God would give us the eyes of Christ. We have to ask God to give us this regard for our evil. Otherwise we will not turn from it in the way we should.
In another place the Shorter Catechism talks about repentance. It says that part of repentance is having “a true sense of his sin.” And it says that repentance consists of “a grief and hatred of his sin.” In other words, repentance involves utter disgust of your sin. Repentance is becoming so repulsed by it that you turn away from it.
And that is what should happen. You need to come to grips with how vile a thing your sin is to God.
But let me also say this. Sin is not just reprehensible because of how vile it is by nature. Part of its repulsive-ness (if I can coin a term) is found in how harmful it is.
This might not be overtly stated in our passage, but I think it is a direct implication that can be drawn. You should ask yourself, “Why did the dog puke in the first place?” It was because something didn’t settle right. Something in his stomach wasn’t supposed to be there. It was making him sick. So, in order to be rid of the irritation, his stomach convulsed and he heaved it up.
You’ve all seen this. The dog goes out in the yard and eats a bunch of grass. The next thing you know they are out there hacking it up. You yell out, “What’s going on with you? Why did you eat the grass, you stupid dog?”
So you need to realize that sin is not just gross, it is harmful. It is harmful because it is gross. And you need to be aware that every time you sin it is like eating grass. We are doing something that causes us harm.
Young people, let me ask you a question. Do you like to sin? OF COURSE YOU DO! You love it! Why else do you do it? You would never do anything you don’t want to do. And why is it that you like to sin? It is because whatever it is is attractive and it offers you some temporary pleasure. Face it, making fun of your brother is fun, isn’t it? It’s a real whoot.
But I want you to remember that while it may tickle you for a moment, but its pleasure won’t last. It will come back to bite you. Its bitterness will cause you some kind of grief in the end.
That’s why a lot of people I see are so miserable. It’s not just because they are surrounded by miserable people. It is because they have not been able to overcome their own sin. If they would just begin to follow what God says about relationships, then they would find that their lives would not be so dog gone miserable.
Let me put it this way: Sin is like the venom of a snake. A number of years ago there was a man by the name of Frank Buckland who made it his life’s aim to study snakes. He engaged a professional viper catcher to collect some for him. The biggest viper in the catch was then chosen for study. While the professional held the animal the scientist placed a glass slide before him. Immediately the viper struck at it with its fangs. When the scientist pulled the glass away he found that the snake had left two translucent drops of fluid. He put it under his microscope and was amazed at what he saw. When he looked through the scope he saw slender fiber-like lines crossing each other. It resembled the crystals of a morning frost on your car windows. But in the beauty of the aurora there was the deadly venom of the viper.
Sin often presents itself as a beautiful and alluring thing. But despite its outward appeal, there is much misery contained within it.
And that’s why you purge it, isn’t it? I mean that’s the point of the passage, right? The dog let’s go of the thing that it ate and walks away—at least for a while. And we’ll all agree: Our sin is gross. We can’t stand it. It causes us pain. So we get rid of it. At least for a while.
And that’s where we can transition to our second point. We may come to a point where we find our sin repulsive, but we can’t avoid it. We all know that sin is reprehensible, but we cannot shake it. We cannot break with it or the pattern of going after it again. The passage is very clear in this and shows us just how irrepressible it is.
II. How irrepressible our sin is
It uses the illustration of this dog coming back to his vomit. And we are just like that dog in that we come right back to our sin—our folly.
Sure, he takes a walk around the yard. At first his ears are back and his tail is between his legs. Oddly enough you can even see through all that fur that he even looks a little green. But it’s not but a minute later that he has recovered and is feeling all jolly again. And he is right back where he started. He gives it a little sniff. He is so tantalized that he gives it a lick. Then before you know it he’s gobbling it all down again.
It is so inconceivable that he would do that. But that’s exactly the way we are! How many times have we turned away from our sin? How many times have we vowed, “Lord! I’m never going to do that again!” But then we find ourselves right back where we started. It is like a magnet, and we’re pulled right back.
And we are just like that dog giving it a little sniff. At first we say, “Oh, its not that bad.” Or maybe we hear the little voice in the back of our heads—our conscience says, “Oh, I shouldn’t.” But the attraction is too much. Before we know it we dive right in again. Hardly any time has passed before we are broken our pledge to stay away from that sin.
Tell me: How many times have you pledged to stop feeding your face like a glutton, but then just a few hours later you right back at the cupboard looking for something to eat? Ladies, how many times have you said, “I’m going to stop spending my money so erratically.”? You said, “I’m going to stop buying things I don’t need and I’m going to be more fugal.” But before you know it you’ve swiped the credit card and you’ve wasted what you were going to save.
Or guys, how many of you have vowed that you weren’t going to let your lust get the best of you? But in no time flat you’re right back at the computer clicking on sites you know you shouldn’t. Or you’ve got the images dancing around in your head.
You can’t get away from it can you? It’s an addiction. It’s just impossible to stop. These things just seem to have a pull on you. You feel so powerless. You felt so zealous at first, but then you are right back where you started.
You know, in a sick sort of way, it’s comforting to know that the Apostle Paul had the same problem. In Romans 7 the Apostle Paul admits that he has some besetting sins that he deals with. In verses 14 and following we read how even the apostle Paul succumbed to the same old sins time and again. He was just as vulnerable as we are. He said, “I do not understand my own actions. I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” He even compares it to a war being waged within him. And he cries out in anguish, “What a wretched man that I am!
It is like the story that has been told of a blacksmith who was taken prisoner. A famous blacksmith was once taken prisoner and thrown into a dungeon. As he sat in the dungeon he began to examine the chain in which he was bound to see if he could find a flaw in it that would make it easier to be broken. His hope was in vain. As he examined it he found by the marks that he himself was its maker. All his life he had boasted that his chains he forged were unbreakable.
That is how it is with a sinner. Our own hands forge the sin that binds us. And it is a chain that no human hand can break.
If our chains are going to be broken, we have to admit what the Apostle Paul admits: we cannot save ourselves. In Romans 7 Paul cried out, Who will save me from this body of death?” And his immediate response is, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
We are sin-oholics, and we can do nothing to break the chain themselves. We are so inextricably bound to our sin. We cannot escape it by our own power. We need someone to come in and pry us away. The only way to stop the dog from eating its vomit is if you grab him by the collar and pull him away.
So too for us. The only way we will cease our sin is if the Lord comes in by His Spirit and delivers us from this body of death. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. He is the one who saves us from this body of death. He is the one who sends the Holy Spirit into our lives to grab us and yank us away from our sin.
You see, Jesus not only saves us from the condemnation of sin. He also saves us from its power. Of course, it might not happen all at once. And there are some instances where we will never experience complete victory in this life. But we do have one we can resort to. Christ will one day come again, and he will loose the bonds that now chain us. And by his grace he is even now weaning his children away from their sin.
There is a sweet scene in John Bunyan’s famous work, Pilgrim’s Progress. The main figure, Christian, has come to the house Beautiful and he’s taken to several different rooms and each room has a different scene which is used to pass on a spiritual truth. One room that they came too was filled with dust. A woman came in and began sweeping, but her commotion only caused the dust to fly up and clog the air. The dust clouded up the room to such a degree that she began to choke. She was forced to leave the room to find relief in fresh air. After the dust settled another woman came in to clean. This time before she sweeps she sprinkles water about so as to keep the dust from pluming up.
Christian inquired as to the meaning of the vision. His guide explained that the first person who swept the room was a person who tries to clean up their life. He can sweep and sweep but he can do nothing of his own power. The law will only stir up sin and his efforts will be fruitless.
It is only when the waters of the gospel come in and the Savior cleans the heart can the sin be put away aright.
My friends, the sweet waters of the gospel are here for you today. Your sins can be vanquished and subdued only the saving power of Jesus Christ. And he calls for you to look to him today, to be your Savior. Go to him and ask him to extradite you from the sins that beset you. The victory is not in your hands. The battle can only be won through Him. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.