August 1, 2017
A Table of Lessons for August
Job 33, Mt. 20:17-34
Job 34, Heb. 4
Elihu’s anger wanes a little in this chapter, but his self-righteousness does not. He is sure his words are full of uprightness and his lips utter knowledge clearly (3). He repeats Job’s words (8-11) only to rebuke Job for striving against God and not listening to what Elihu believes is the word of God to Job coming through his friends (11). He reiterates the previous assertions of the friends, saying God chastens the wicked with pain as a message to turn from sin and live (16-23). He confidently asserts that God receives the penitent sinner and blesses him with good things in life (24-30) The chapter concludes with an arrogant command to Job to take Elihu’s words to heart (mark them, vs. 31), because he will teach Job wisdom (32).
How often the young account themselves wise. A young man with a very limited exposure to the Bible will gladly dispute the words of a Godly minister who has devoted a lifetime to studying Scripture. A person who has experienced very little of life, and very little of its sorrows, eagerly instructs those struggling under heavy burdens of grief, loss, and regrets. A person with a degree in counseling, and two years of marriage considers himself and expert in marriage and family life. Each new generation happily discards the “foolishness” of its elders and embraces the “wisdom” of its young and inexperienced trend setters. Elihu does repeat the words and ideas of the older men, but he is convinced that he is better able to dispute with Job than they. His is the confidence of youth.
Elihu continues to mock Job’s words. His restatement of them is sarcastic and caustic. He is still more concerned with appearing to be wise, and justifying his own views, than he is about Job’s sorrows. We cannot help noticing here that, though Job’s friends can quote his words with great accuracy, none has really listened to them. None has tried to see Job’s point of view or understand his complaint. None has really attempted to answer Job’s questions or explain why God allows innocent people to suffer. The uniform response of his friends has been the assumption of Job’s guilt and the constant restatement of the view that his suffering is God’s punishment for sin.
We continue to hear this today. We hear that if we only have enough faith, or know the correct way to pray, or live in obedience to God’s commandments, or give the right amount of money to the right “ministry” with the right attitude, God will give us our miracles of healing and happiness and prosperity. The book of Job refutes all such claims. It says the wicked often prosper at the expense of the innocent, and God often allows faithful people to fall into grievous sorrow. The Elihus of the world have no answer to this.
Job 35, Mt. 21:1-23
Job 36, Heb. 5
We cannot help noticing that the friends of Job do understand much of the ways of God. There is much truth in their words. Even Elihu, though quick to anger and eager to find fault with his elders, has an amazing understand of the power and glory of God. This understanding is coupled with a logical mind and an eloquent tongue so that he speaks with great power.
He knows human beings are powerless to affect God, unless God Himself allows it. He says, profoundly, “If thou sinnest what doest thou against Him? or if thy transgressions be multiplied, what doest thou unto Him?” (6). In other words, our sins, even multiple and gross repeated sins cannot really hurt God. At the same time, “If thou be righteous, what givest thou Him? or what receivest he of thine hand?” (7). Our sins hurt other people, and our good deeds may help other people. But we can't help God, neither can we hurt Him (8-13), unless, by some miracle of Grace, he allows himself to be touched by our actions, feelings, and needs.
Elihu’s major flaw is his continuing insistence that God rewards righteousness with worldly riches, and punishes wickedness with worldly woes. It is this belief that leads Elihu to be angry at Job and to continue to accuse Job of being a wicked man. He accuses Job of lying (15) and confidently states that, because of Job’s wickedness, God has visited him in His anger, meaning, brought this suffering upon Job.
Elihu claims to speak on God’s behalf (1-4). This may be a simple claim to speak from a fuller understanding of God’s ways than the other men possess, or it may be a claim to speak from Divine inspiration. Either way, Elihu’s claim is incorrect.
Verses 5-33 further and eloquently expound the belief he shares with the other friends of Job, that God, “preserveth not the life of the wicked; but giveth right to the poor” (6). Verse 17 reiterates his belief that Job is one of the wicked, therefore, God’s judgment and justice take a “hold on thee.”
Job 37, Mt. 21:23-46
Job 38, Heb. 6
Here we come to the conclusion of the remarks of Elihu, and the “comforts” offered to Job by his friends. Verses 1-14 comprise yet another discourse on the power and wisdom of God, and call on Job to listen to his words and consider the wondrous works of God. He implies that Job either has a false view of his own righteousness, or has been lying to the friends in an attempt to appear righteous to them.
Verses 15-24 mock Job. They accuse him of claiming knowledge he does not possess. It is, of course, true that Job was not there when God disposed (performed and showed) His wonders. Elihu refers primarily to God's creation of the universe. But Elihu’s sarcasm is seen in verse 19, where he says, “Teach us what we shall say unto Him; for we cannot order our speech by reason of darkness.” He is sarcastically saying, teach us, wise man, since you know so much about God; and since we are so foolish and we speak from darkness, and you speak from light.
Chapter 38 ends the bantering between Job and his friends. Their argument has consumed the greater part of the book. Their respective views have been repeated so often they have almost become tiresome to us. They have contained beautiful statements of the wondrous glory of God. They have contained wondrous pictures of his love and compassion, and of his protection of the righteous and punishment of the wicked. Yet the friends of Job remain blind to the fact that even the righteous suffer in this life. They have failed to acknowledge the fact that the wicked often prosper in this world by oppressing and abusing other people, including the righteous.
Job, on the other hand, fails to understand that he is a sinner. Because he has not oppressed the poor, or gained his wealth by paying unfair wages or corruption in business; and because he has been a generous and helpful friend of the working man and poor, he believes he is righteous. Job believes his former wealth and luxury were the due reward of his righteousness. They were not just blessings from God, there are what God owed him for being good. The passages in which Job hopes for a redeemer to take his side, are not based on the knowledge of sin and the need of the Lamb of God to take away his sin and cleanse him of all unrighteousness. They are based on Job’s wish that someone would speak to God on Job's behalf, convince God of Job’s righteousness, and, on the basis of that righteousness, persuade God to stop afflicting Job, and return his wealth and other due rewards of righteousness.
In chapter 38, God Himself begins to speak, and the clamouring disputants are silenced. His first words to Job are; “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?” It is as though God asks; “Who dares to speak to Me in such arrogance? Who presumes to tell Me what I must do? Does a foolish man, whose life is a vapour, whose wisdom is vanity, whose very nature is fallen and sinful, now lecture Me about goodness and justice, and about how I am required to deal with man? Is this Job, the man who thinks himself righteous? Does he not remember that I am God? Does he not remember that he is My servant? Where were you when I laid the foundations the earth? Tell Me how I did it. I needed neither your help nor your permission.
How we poor humans elevate ourselves in our own eyes. We presume to tell God how to be God and on what terms we will “allow” Him into our lives. Our prayers become means of getting things we want from God, as though a certain formula of prayer or righteous living compels Him to do our bidding. Even our worship easily degenerates into self-centred entertainment rather than genuine recognition of His greatness, and devotion to obedience to Him. Like Job’s friends we make confident assertions about the Almighty and His ways from the darkness of our own fantasies of what we want God to be, rather than from the light of His revelation in Scripture. Therefore, we often curse what God blesses, and bless what God curses, calling evil good and good evil.
One day we will stand before God. We will see Him in all His power and glory. On that day we will not need anyone to tell us how foolish and selfish and sinful we are. God will not need to read four chapters of the book of Job to us to humble us before Him. The light of His glory will make our filthiness and sin more abundantly clear than we would ever want to see.
Job 39, Mt. 22:1-22
Job 40, Heb 7
God reminds Job of His continuing care and provision for His creation. Just as He did not need Job’s help or permission to create, neither does He need Job’s help or permission to sustain His creation. Just as Job is not able to create the universe, he is equally unable to cause the hinds to calve, the peacocks to fly, or care for the ostrich’s eggs left defenseless in the dust. The horse is stronger and braver than Job. Such things are beyond the abilities of man, yet God does them continually and effortlessly.
Finally Job begins to understand. He who maintained that he was righteous now sees himself a vile sinner. He who dared to call God wicked and unjust, now recognises the depths of his ignorance of God. He no longer arrogantly accuses God. Instead he admits he has wrongly answered God in the past, but now he will “proceed no further.”
Beginning in verse 6, God challenges Job to make himself equal to God. The equality expected is actual, not theoretical. Let him deck himself with majesty equal to God’s. Let Job cast abroad his rage, and abase those who assert themselves against him, as God can do. Let Job punish the wicked with the same power God has. Then God will acknowledge the validity of Job’s complaint. Then Job can prevail over God, or at least, be not overcome by God.
In verse 9 God means does Job have the strength God has? If two warriors meet in battle, the strength of their arms may decide the outcome. God is telling Job to test his arm against God’s. If he is able to do what God does, then God will say Job has delivered himself, won the battle, and Job’s right arm is stronger than God’s (14).
But, God warns, Job cannot prevail against God. He cannot even prevail against Behemoth, who, though far stronger than Job, is but a tiny creature, compared to God. Verses 15-24 describe Behemoth, and many have wondered what animal is described here. Some have suggested it is the hippopotamus, while others believe it is the elephant. Job is obviously no match for either. Therefore, he can never hope to be a match for the One who creates and sustains many such creatures.
Job 41, Mt. 22:23-46
Job 42, Heb. 8
God now describes another fearful creature. While Behemoth is a land animal, Leviathan is a water dweller. There is some disagreement over the identity of the beast, some believing it is the whale; others believe it is the crocodile. It does seem to live near people, who dare not stir him up (10), and the crocodile’s skin does resemble scales. But what are we to think about the smoke going out of his nostrils, and the flame that “goeth out of his mouth” (20,21)?
Whatever this creature’s identity, Job is no match for him. Therefore, he is no match for the One who created and controls him.
At last Job is beginning to understand. God is in control, and, odd as it may sound to human ears, we as His creatures have no rights in His eyes. He owes us nothing. He does not owe us love. He does not owe us answers to prayer. He does not owe us life. He does not owe us Heaven. This is the same point the Apostle Paul makes in Romans 9:19-24. Romans 9:21 is especially clear. “Hath not the potter power over the clay?” God is the potter, we are the clay. He makes and forms us according to His plan and purpose. We do not create and form God according to our plans and purposes.
Job now sees that his anger toward God is unjustified. His questioning of the wisdom and justice of God is very wicked. Even though he thought he was right at the time, Job cannot see the whole picture as God can, therefore, he is incompetent to pass judgment on God, or on the way God’s Providence leads and affects his life. Matthew Henry’s devotional commentary states it thus;
“God's judgments are a great deep, which we cannot fathom, much less find out the springs of. We see what God does, but we neither know why he does it, what he is aiming at, nor what he will bring it to. These are things too wonderful for us, out of our sight to discover, out of our reach to alter, and out of our jurisdiction to judge of them. They are things which we know not; it is quite above our capacity to pass a verdict upon them. The reason why we quarrel with Providence is because we do not understand it; and we must be content to be in the dark about it, until the mystery of God shall be finished.”
It is important that we note that Job never gets his questions answered. God never tells him about allowing Satan to test Job’s faith. He never tells Job why He allows evil to flourish, or why He allows His faithful people to suffer. He never tells Job about Heaven or Hell. At least, He doesn’t say anything about these very pressing issues in the book.
God does restore Job’s fortune. He “blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning” (12). But He never gives answers to the issues Job and his friends raise in the book. He leaves Job, as the Reverend Matthew Henry said, “in the dark about it.”
Thanks be to God, we have a little more light. We know “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom.8:28). We know that “the trying of your faith worketh patience” (James 1:3). We know tribulations build patience, patience builds experience (Godliness of character) and experience builds hope, or faith in God (Rom. 5:3-5).
Yet, even with these promises, we are still much in the dark about things. We still wonder why God allows some things to happen, why He allows evil people to rise to positions of power, and to persecute those who attempt to follow Him. In these things we have only two recourses. One, we can contend with God in anger and frustration, as Job did through most of the book. Many choose this recourse, and live joyless, bitter lives. Two, we can trust and obey God. This is the more difficult choice. It truly is easier to let the tribulations of life make us angry at God, and live in bitterness against Him. Of course such bitterness may harm others, and definitely harms those who choose it, but it does not hurt God. Many choose to trust and obey. Abraham, Sarah, Paul, and millions of others whose names we will not know until we meet them in glory, have trusted God, and made themselves learn to be content in whatever circumstances God places them. Like them, the book of Job challenges and invites us to trust and obey.
Proverbs 1:1-19, Mt. 23:1-24
Prov. 1:20-33, Heb. 9
Verse 1 identifies the author of the book as Solomon, son of David and king of Israel. So, here we are reading the words of an ancient king who was known for his wisdom. This fact alone makes the book worthy of our reading.
Verses 2-7 give the purpose of the book. The proverbs it contains are not mere witty sayings spoken for amusement at family and social functions. They are not for entertainment, like crossword puzzles or video games, They are not even subjects for learned people to discuss and debate. They are given so the reader may know wisdom (2).
The purpose of the book is further revealed in verse 10. It is written to Solomon’s son. That son is probably Rehoboam, who was destined to become king of Israel after Solomon. Proverbs is written to guide the young boy as he grows and matures. It is written to shape his thoughts and form his character that he may become the kind of person who should be entrusted with the service of leadership.
But what is wisdom? It is the knowledge of God’s revelation in Scripture, applied to every aspect of life. Wisdom applies, and lives by, the teachings of Scripture in our relationships to God, nature, other people, and even to our own selves. “The wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels.” Thus, wisdom begins with the fear (reverent knowledge of, and willing obedience to) God as He is revealed, especially in Scripture. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”
Verses 7-19 begin with Solomon’s ernest plea to his son to choose and follow the ways of wisdom. Beginning at verse 11 Solomon depicts the practices of the foolish. They are wicked, greedy, and proud. They are the life styles of self indulgence made possible by cheating and oppressing others in order to make money. They are the ways of those who are, “greedy of gain.” These particular people are greedy enough to kill for money. But all corrupt practices are condemned here, even those which do not cause the death of their victims. It is possible to kill a person’s will, emotions, or finances without actually killing his body.
Beginning in verse 20, Solomon uses the literary technique of personification to make Wisdom speak. Her words are directed to those who ignore the teachings of Scripture and pursue the foolishness of sin. Such people hate knowledge, do not choose the fear of the Lord, and despise the counsel and reproof of wisdom (29,30). Their destruction will come, but those who choose the ways of wisdom, “shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.”
Prov. 2, Mt. 23:25-39
Prov 3. Heb. 10
Proverbs gives a constant comparison between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God. The wisdom of the world tells us our greatest happiness in life is found in the indulgence of our fleshly appetites, therefore, we should indulge them to the fullest extent possible by any means necessary. The wisdom of God tells us our greatest happiness comes from knowing God and living according to His will in every aspect of life. Those who follow the world’s wisdom believe they can define for themselves what is best for them, and how to acquire it. Those who follow the wisdom of God believe God is wiser than man. He knows what is good for us, and what produces true happiness better than we do, therefore, we will follow God and trust Him.
Solomon has already told us that the world’s way will actually destroy us, while God’s way produces safety and quietness in the soul. There is a sense in which this happens on earth, for the wicked constantly need new and more things to satisfy their appetites, while the Godly can rest in the peace of God that passes all understanding. Ultimately, of course, this happens after we pass from this world to the next. There the wicked face the lake of fire known as the second death, but the people of God find joy and peace so wonderful our language cannot express it and our minds cannot perceive it. We will exist in a realm without sorrow, and in the closest possible fellowship with God and His people, forever.
Therefore, Solomon encourages his son to seek wisdom as others seek the riches of this world. Verses 1-9 promise that those who seek wisdom will know God, who is the highest good and most valuable treasure. They will be enabled to know every good path, which are the ways of true happiness here and forever.
10-19 present the ways of the evil man and strange woman. The point of the passage is that we should seek and find the wisdom of God rather than fall into the temptations presented by evil men, or ungodly women. Such people will lead the unsuspecting into wanton, licentious living, which appears to be fun and fulfilling, but is actually the way of death. The upright and Godly will find and follow Wisdom. They will dwell in the land. “But the wicked shall be cut off from the earth, and transgressors shall be rooted out of it.”
There is probably no better statement of the blessings of following God than that found in Proverbs 3:5-7. Our tendency is to trust our own judgment rather than the clear commandments of God. We forget that our judgment is impaired by our limited experience and knowledge, and is partial and prone to error. God’s judgement is absolute and inerrant. Even worse, our judgement is warped by our natural inclination toward sin, and we forget that sin is death. Like Eve we are easily convinced that God is withholding true happiness from us, and, if we just take that “fruit” for ourselves, we will be as happy and complete as God Himself. This is the very reason why we must, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”
Verse 11 is often thought to mean God chastises our sin by causing us to suffer in this life. And indeed He does. The Old Testament prophets frequently warned Israel that their oppression and suffering were the means by which God punished their sins. In the New Testament also, we read that many were weak, and sick, and even dead as punishment for the sin of taking the Lord's Supper in an unworthy manner (1 Cor. 11:29,30). It is also true that the Scriptures chasten and correct us. In other words, wisdom corrects our lives and leads us into the things that are “health to thy navel and marrow to thy bones” (8). The navel once connected us to the lifeline of our mother. Our spiritual navel connects us to the lifeline of God. In the womb our bones received their marrow. In God the spiritual “body” of our character is formed and strengthened.
Prov. 4, Mt. 24:1-22
Prov. 5. Heb. 11
Solomon encourages his children, especially Rehoboam, to hear the instruction of their father, through which they will receive good doctrine, understanding, and wisdom. The young are prone to reject the counsel of their elders, and put blind faith in the ideas and views of other young people and themselves. Each generation considers itself the most enlightened and wisest generation to date, eagerly dismissing the values and experience of past generations to embrace whatever is new and “cool” now. Often the new generations believe the values of the past are the cause of all problems and injustices. Their generation, with its new values and greater understanding, will right the wrongs of the past and create a better future for themselves and humanity.
There are several problems with this. First, it fails to see the good that has come to the younger generation through the efforts of earlier generations. The freedom and peace they enjoy, the technology that makes their lives comfortable and healthy, the infrastructure of highways and cities and farms, and the tools of language have all come to them from earlier generations. Often older generations have fought and sacrificed every thing to secure these things and pass them down to the new generation. Second, the youth often fail to see that it is not the values of the past that have caused our problems; it is the failure to live up to those values. War, crime, abuse, and oppression, have not happened because older people valued hate, oppression and violence. They happened because some would not live by the values of peace, and justice, and generosity so eloquently taught in the Ten Commandments, and in the words of Christ, “whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even unto them.” Third, the reason all people, in all generations, including the present and future generations, fail to live up to these values is the natural tendency of all people to live by our own rules, rather than God’s, even when their rules cause distress and harm to others. We are all as inclined toward selfishness as water is inclined to go downhill. Until this inclination is changed, humanity in general, and individuals specifically, will continue to act out the same patterns and actions that caused, and continue to cause, the problems we face in this world today.
Rehoboam is a prime example. Taught to personify wisdom, goodness, and justice, he rejected his teaching and listened to the advice of his young friends. The result of his actions divided his nation, making it an easy target for enemies who wanted its land and resources (2 Chron 10, and 12:1).
Just as children are encouraged to hear the wisdom of their elders, elders are encouraged to be wise. Parents should apply themselves to becoming wise. Otherwise parenting becomes simply a case of the blind leading the blind and fools leading fools. Unfortunately for our children, parents are often too busy chasing their own pleasures to learn or apply wisdom to the task of parenting. Most of our wisdom is gained from making mistakes, for which our children and families suffer. No one can live without making mistakes. No one can live without sin. But we can apply ourselves to wisdom through diligent study of the Bible. Such study is not merely learning the contents and meaning of the Scriptures. It is letting our minds, values, and character be shaped and formed by the Scriptures, such that our attitudes and actions conform more and more to the teachings we find in the Bible.
Next to refusing to acknowledge God as our God, whose ways are wisdom and life and peace, some of our worst failures in life are due to our lack of respect for the Biblical teachings on sexuality and marriage. Few of us ever attain positions of power that enable us to cause wide scale oppression, abuse, or strife. But sexual temptation is ubiquitous in western culture, and, combined with our natural desires, it presents many opportunities for sexual sins. It often seems that the devil distracts us from the important issues of life, by focusing our attention on the gratification of our sexual urges. He has also convinced us that, with the exception of sexual relations by force, or with minors, all forms of sexual gratification are good and acceptable. We have come to believe that, with exceptions already noted, consensual sexual expression outside of Biblical marriage, harms no one. Untold numbers of physically or emotionally abandoned children, and the emotional scars carried by many adults who have been used as sexual toys and abandoned, show the fallacy of this belief, yet, western culture has accepted the lie, and our obsession with sex is one of the reasons why our culture is decaying under us.
By contrast, the Bible teaches chastity for the unmarried, and fidelity for the married. Marital faithfulness, rather than sexual promiscuity, is the Biblical model. Verses 15-23 are quite graphic in their depiction of sexual expression within marriage. It is figuratively expressed in verse 15; “Drink waters out of thine own cistern,” (15), and literally expressed in verse 18; “rejoice with the wife of thy youth.”
Prov 6:1-19, Mt. 24:29-51
Prov. 6:20-35, Heb 12
The Bible often equates sin with slavery and salvation with freedom. Jesus himself said, “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin,” and, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (Jn. 8:34, 36). The Apostle Paul wrote, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). The things we are warned about in Proverbs 6 are things that enslave us. Most of them are sins, but one, surety, may arise out of of good and pure intensions. Yet Solomon warns his son to avoid it. This is good advice for the young boy who will become king. Foolish treaties, especially those with ungodly nations, could force Israel into wars in which she should have no part. Financial agreements, in which Israel becomes surety for the debts of other nations, or even for individuals or businesses within Israel are also foolishness, which the king should avoid. The soundness of this advice, and its application to leaders and governments today is obvious, though generally unheeded, as governments routinely pledge the income, property, and the very lives of their people as surety for their foolish or greedy agreements. A king could expect people to approach him with schemes and plans, for which they want loans, or for which they want him to pledge himself or his people as surety. Kings of other nations did this routinely in Solomon’s time, resulting in debt, recession/depression, and war. A wise king will avoid such agreements.
The advice applies to the average citizen also. Pledging our hard earned income or savings as surety for a another's spending puts our income or savings at risk. Solomon calls this a snare. The Apostle Paul calls it slavery (1 Cor. 7:23). In a way this warning applies to all irresponsible financial actions, such as debt and wasteful spending. The Bible teaches us to work wisely and hard, live below our means, spend wisely, save much, and view ourselves as stewards of the Lord’s resources, which are all to be used to His glory.
Those trapped in financial snares must do all they can to escape. Their actions must be as intentional and concentrated as those of a roe seeking to escape the hunter and a bird seeking to escape the fowler.
There may, of course, be times when it is good or necessary to become surety for another person. Paul offered himself as surety for Onisimus (Philemon 19). Parents also may need to become surety for their children. Few of us could afford a house, or even a car, without debt. But usually it is best if we avoid such things.
Verses 6 through 11 deal with the sin of sloth, which is a love of ease and idleness. Becoming surety to for another’s debts may cause poverty and hardship to you and your family, but sloth will always cause poverty and hardship unless you are wealthy enough to be able to afford to live a life of idleness.
Rather than idleness, Solomon instructs us to learn from the ant. She needs no boss, she needs no urging. She works hard when it is time to work. For the ant, that time is summer. For us it is whenever our jobs require it. But when it is time to work, work. Because the ant works when she should, she reaps when the harvest comes. The Bible is not promising health and wealth. Droughts and natural disasters may destroy the fruits of our labours before the harvest comes. Our prosperity can be affected by everything from office politics to national and world economic conditions. Hard work does not always guarantee prosperity, but sloth does guarantee poverty.
There is also such a thing as spiritual sloth. Neglect of the things of God and the means of grace is sloth in spiritual things. Such people, if they have any faith at all, should not be surprised to see it dwindling weaker and weaker as it is neglected. Nor should they be surprised if a storm of life destroys it altogether. Paul told the Philippians to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). He told Timothy to study to show himself approved unto God (2 Tim. 2:15). Should we expect to be spiritually idle, and yet enjoy strength of faith and the fulness of God? Those who suffer under the sin of sloth are well advised to pray with F.B. Meyer, who authored the following prayer.
“O God, the God of all Goodness and all Grace, Who art worthy of a greater love than we can either give or understand; fill my heart with such love towards Thee as may cast out all sloth and fear, that nothing may seem too hard for me to do or to suffer in obedience to Thee. AMEN.”
The rest of the chapter deals with other things that cause spiritual poverty. Verses 12 through 15 describe the character of a wicked person. 16 through 19 describe things God hates, and, therefore, separate us from God. 20 through 23 encourage us to learn the word of God, the Bible. 24 through 35 deal with sexual purity and are particularly relevant to our sexually obsessed culture.
Prov. 7, Mt 25:1-30
Prov. 8, Heb. 13
In chapter 7, the particular dangers of sexual sin are continued and described in more detail. The woman in the chapter entices the man intentionally. Her words and invitation to “take our fill of love until the morning,” lure the man into her bed. She is symbolic of all sexual temptation.
Men who yield to her, are like oxen being led to slaughter, fools being led to the stocks, and birds flying into a snare (21-23). “Let not thine heart decline to her ways, go not astray in her paths” (24). “Her house is the way to hell” (27).
There is another meaning in this passage. It does not come out as clearly, because the passage is written to men, but it is still there. It is a message is to women, and it is simply, don’t be this woman. Don’t be the alluring siren with the revealing clothes and flirtatious ways. Be known for Godliness, modesty, and chaste ways.
Instead of the harlot or strange woman (a woman who is not his wife), a man is to pursue Wisdom. Nor is Wisdom hard to find. “She standeth in the top of the high places” (2), and crieth at the gates at the entry of the city” (3). We might say she shouts from the housetops and in the places where people come and go. Our problem is not that God’s wisdom is unavailable to us. He is revealed in the creation (Ps. 19, Rom. 1:18-20), and the Bible (2 Tim 3:16), which is easy to find in large parts of the world. Our problem is that we reject His wisdom. We call the Bible, “myths” and “fairy tales.” We call God’s commandments outdated, burdens, and, even immoral. We think we are wiser than the Bible, and professing ourselves to be wise, we show ourselves to be fools (Rom. 1:22).
The Wisdom of God is like the leaves of the tree of life in Revelation 22:2, it is for the healing of the nations. If the powerful and influential people of the world live and rule by it, they will decree justice (15,16). Again we see that the teaching of Scripture is not just about being saved and going to Heaven. It is also about how to live in this world. Throughout history philosophers have asked and debated the great questions of life. What is truth? What is the good life? How can we ensure the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people? What is the purpose of government, and how should government use its power? All of these questions are answered in Scripture. If we would fully apply the Wisdom of God to the laws and policies of government, we would see the end of wars and oppression. Justice and peace, not the silly impersonations of them invented by people, but real justice and real peace would heal lives and families and nations. It is the neglect and perversion of Biblical Wisdom, not the acceptance and adherence to it, that cause the problems of this world.
The picture of Wisdom given in verses 22-36 is clear, vivid, and personal. He is the wisdom of God, for “the Lord possessed me” (22). He is eternal, “the Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way (22), meaning, from all eternity. He is from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was (23). He is the Creator in verse 27, “When he prepared the heavens, I was there.” He is personal, or, a Person. “The Lord possessed me.” “I was set up from everlasting.” “I was there.” “I was by him.” “I was daily his delight.” The repeated use of the personal pronoun is clearly more than personification as seen in earlier chapters (though even they hint at the Person of Wisdom) It designates a real and living being who is somehow part of God, one with God, and yet a distinct person in Himself. This Wisdom can be none other than our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, who was with God and who was God, and became flesh to reveal the glory of God to us (Jn. 1:1-14).
Prov. 9, Mt. 25:31-46
Prov. 10, James 1
Wisdom is set before us as a gracious hostess inviting us to a glorious banquet. She bears the expense of the banquet. She has bought and prepared the food. She has furnished the table. The table has bread, meat, and wine, and reminds us of the words of the Lord, “I am the bread of life.” My flesh is meat indeed” (see Jn. 6:32-58). “This is my body which is given for you.” “This… is my blood , which is shed for you” (Lk 22:20,21). “Come,” says the Hostess, eat of my bread and drink of my wine. There is no cost to the guest. The banquet is a free gift, as Christ is the free gift of God, along with all the benefits of His life, death, and resurrection.
The benefits of seeking Wisdom are impressed upon us. It is not the ideas of man that make us wise, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the Holy is understanding” (10). Only His Scriptures are able to make us wise unto salvation. But foolish women (the wisdom of the world) also shout from the high places and gathering places (13-18). We must beware that we heed not the foolish woman, thinking we are heeding the word of God. And, we must remember that the foolish woman is very adept at making herself sound like the voice of Wisdom.
The preceding chapters have been like an introduction to the Proverbs. We have been told what real Wisdom is, and we have been exhorted to apply our hearts to Wisdom, in a way that allows it to shape our being and character. In chapter 10 we enter into a series of wise sayings, which compare and contrast the ways of the wise and the foolish. The wise are those who hear and heed Wisdom. The foolish may hear, or refuse to hear, but in either case, they do not heed. They build their hope and trust for now and eternity on human ideas, rather than the word of God. They are hearers, but not doers of the Word.
The difference between them is expressed in short, but graphic and memorable phrases of contrast. “Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins” (12) is but one example. Read each one slowly, one-by-one. Pause after each one to let its meaning reach your thoughts and your soul. Read with the intention of learning and doing Wisdom.
Prov. 11, Mt. 26:1-35
Prov. 12, Jas. 2
The the contrast between the wise and the foolish continues in chapter 11 with a heavy emphasis on interpersonal relationships and actions. We are often tempted to think our relationship with God is purely personal and experiential. But the Bible continuously teaches that being a Christian includes being part of a community of faith. And much of “true religion” has to do with our relationship to, and treatment of others, especially those of the house of faith.
Much of the Bible emphasises justice and integrity in business. The false balance of verse 1 refers to a scale that is rigged to register more then the weight placed upon it. This causes a buyer to get less than he pays for. A false balance may indicate that a quantity of flour weighs 16 ounces, when it actually weighs only 15 ounces. This cheats the buyer out of 1 ounce of flour in every purchase. So, in 16 purchases, he pays for 16 pounds, but receives only 15.
We are so accustomed to deception in the marketplace today, we hardly notice it anymore. Cereal boxes and liquid containers are made larger than necessary, to make them appear to hold more than they actually contain. What is this, if not a false balance?
The false balance is symbolic of all forms of corruption and cheating in commerce. All such cheating is abomination to the Lord, “but a just weight is his delight.”
Notice the words that describe the Godly: integrity and upright (3), righteous (10), understanding (12), faithful (13), gracious (16), and merciful. Notice the words that describe the ungodly: transgressors (3), wicked (5), void of wisdom (12), cruel (17), death (19), froward (20). Froward is not a common word anymore, but it should be. It means to be distorted from the right and obstinate, or, proud, in error.
Perhaps no verse encapsulates and communicates the intent of Proverbs, and the entire revelation of God as well as verse 15; “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes.” These words remind me of the words in Judges 17:6; “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” The people of Israel, during the time of the Judges, followed their own rules and made their own gods. The result was disastrous for them, and always will be for those who persist in their own ways instead of God’s. The fool is always right in his own eyes, but “he that harkeneth unto counsel is wise.” The “counsel” is the advice of wise friends and elders who have been where we are going. Look for people who are wise, and become imitators of them as they are imitators of God. We can learn much about business, family, and life from those who have more experience in it than we. We can even learn from their mistakes. This is especially true in spiritual things. Let us seek older and more experienced Christians as our models and counsellors. Let us look for pastors and teachers who are wise in the Word, and in being doers of the Word.
Ultimately, the wisest counsellor is God, and His counsel is given to us in the Bible. He that harkeneth unto it is wise indeed.
Prov. 13, Mt. 26:36-75
Prov. 14: 1-15, Jas. 3
Since the wise sayings in the following chapters are not always gathered in order by subject, it would take many volumes, and many years to write worthwhile comments on each one. Therefore, we will look at the best known verses, or look more deeply into some of the topics presented.
Verse 24 may be the most widely known and most controversial in the thirteenth chapter. Most people, reading it, focus on the word, “rod.” Many immediately picture innocent children mercilessly flogged by cruel religious bigots. But, “rod” is not the operative word in verse 24. “Hateth” is the operative word. The question is do we love our children, or do we hate them? If we hate them, we will allow them to fall into actions, habits, and attitudes that will harm others and them. If we love them we will guide them into the things that benefit them and others.
This verse is based on the assumption that children need to be taught even the most basic rules of interpersonal interaction. They need to be taught good manners, respect for the rights and needs of others, and how to conduct themselves in ways that put that respect into action. The parent who loves his children will teach these things. The parent who hates his children will not teach them.
There's another aspect to this; our actions have consequences. This is one of the constant themes of the book of Proverbs, of which Proverbs 13:4 is an example: “The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing.” In other words, the person who does not apply himself to gaining employable skills, and diligently using them, may dream of riches and luxury, but will probably live in poverty and want. His actions of laziness and being a sluggard, have very real consequences in life. A loving parent wants his children to understand this, and begins teaching it at home.
Correction, involves letting the child reap the consequences of his actions. He needs to know that hurting others is not acceptable, and may result in being hurt in return. It need not always require the rod. There is a place for time outs, corners, loss of privileges, grounding, and taking away electronics for specified periods of time. Certainly the schools will use such things to control and teach the children.
The state certainly believes in using the rod, even where it forbids parents to use it. The state has police and courts, prisons and jails, and even the death penalty, and it uses such things regularly on those who do not learn that their actions have consequences.
Today, a permissive view of parenting demands that we let children do what ever they want in all things, and shield them from all consequences. But we cannot shield them from all consequences. We may be able to end a pregnancy (life) by abortion, but we cannot erase the physical and emotional scars caused by the experience. Even if we could shield children from all earthly consequences, their Creator sees all, and we cannot deliver them out of His hand.
There are so many wise sayings in this chapter it is hard to decide where to begin the commentary. Some of these sayings are well-known. “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man; but the end thereof are the ways of death” (12) is well-known to most students of the Bible, and it should be studied and pondered by all people. “The poor is hated even of his own neighbor: but the rich hath many friends” (20) is often quoted today, and its truth is demonstrated by the way people fawn over the rich and famous. Verse 34 is often invoked in prayers by people around the world: “Righteousness exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people.” How we wish our people and the people we have entrusted with government, would learn and live by these words. Each of these verses is worthy of meditation and comment, but today's comment will focus on verse seven: “Go from the presence of a foolish man, when thou perceiveth not in him the lips of knowledge.”
What is a foolish man, and how can we perceive that he has not in him the lips of knowledge? If the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of God is life and peace, then a man whose words and life do not communicate the fear of the Lord and the knowledge of God, is the foolish man of verse seven. “If we find there is no relish or savour of piety in his discourse, that his communication is all corrupt and corrupting, and nothing in it good and to the use of edifying,” we may conclude him to be a foolish man” (Matthew Henry). He may be wise in the ways of the world. He may be skilled in business and in gaining wealth. He may be popular and prominent, yet he lacks that one essential foundation of wisdom, the fear of God.
Go from his presence. Do not receive his instruction. This does not mean we cannot learn from such people. They may teach us much in the fields of science and the humanities. They may teach us how to build bridges, learn new languages, and love art and music. They may even be more decent and compassionate then many we meet in the Church. But we cannot learn from them the wisdom of God, the way of salvation, or the hope of Heaven. Instead we may find ourselves being drawn to steadily away from the ways of God by their influence. We may not be able to escape associating with them in the various occupational and social circles, but we must not allow their ungodly ideas to supplant the clear teachings of Scripture in our hearts.
By contrast we must associate ourselves with the Godly. It is the habit of many to forsake the assembly of the Church, the fellowship of believers, and the instruction of Godly ministers (Heb. 10:25, Eph. 4:11-13). This is foolishness, and we are not to adopt the ways of the foolish man.
Prov. 14:16-35, Mt.27
Prov. 15:1-20, Jas. 4
“A soft answer turneth away wrath; but grievous words stir up anger” (vs. 1). Here again we read widely quoted words, though many who quote them are unaware of their source. We are all too well acquainted with the belligerent, offensive speech of some people. They are experts at giving offence. They are skilled at stirring up anger with their words. Often such people are simply bullies, but sometimes Christians adopt the same aggressive patterns of speech in the belief that they are simply speaking the truth and letting us deal with it. There are times when the truth of God must come forth from our lips as thunder from the Almighty. But, more often, hard things are best said in gentle words and humble ways, remembering that we, too are sinners whose only hope is the grace of God.
Our Lord knew when to thunder against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He also knew when to speak gently, as to the woman at the well. Since we are not the Lord, it may be best for us to err on the side of soft answers rather than grievous words.
Prov. 15:21-33, Mt. 28
Prov. 16, Jas. 5
Here begins a new section in the book of Proverbs. We move from the contrast between the wise and the foolish, to how the wise conduct themselves in the various aspects and circles of their lives. Sometimes the teaching is followed by a warning or a promise. A warning is found in verse 2. After teaching, “All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes,” it gives the warning that God sees us more clearly than we see ourselves, for He “weigheth the spirits.” A promise is found in verse 3. The teaching is, “Commit thy works unto the Lord.” The promise is, “and thy thoughts shall be established.”
Verse 25 repeats the phrase, “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man; but the end thereof are the ways of death. It would seem that our Lord wants us to take notice of these words, therefore He repeats them here.
Verses 10-15 are a collection of wise teachings about the king or those entrusted with the service of government. Some of the verses deal with the power of government, and warn us to be wary of transgressing the righteous laws of the king. Verse 12 warns the king to be righteous and just in all things. It reminds him that he is not above the law, and is certainly not above God. He, too, must conduct himself in the fear of the Lord. Wickedness refers first to lying, fornicating, and riotous living. High office is not a license for immorality. Second, it refers to the use of government power to increase personal wealth. This is an ever-present temptation to people in positions that give them power over others. They are tempted to give special treatment to the select few who become the elite of the country. Actually they are cronies, and they often manipulate the government through flattery and bribery of officials, with the intent of receiving favourable treatment. Perhaps they want to receive contracts for building roads or military equipment, which will divert billions of dollars to them from the tax payers’ pockets. Perhaps they want to profit by having a road, or airport built in a place that will be profitable for them. Airports, roads, and military equipment are necessary to the survival and well being of a nation, but special treatment for political cronies is wickedness in the eyes of the Lord. “It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness.”
Prov. 17:1-14, Mark 1
Prov. 17:15-28, 1 Peter 1
There is so much wisdom in these chapters, it is hard to choose one verse for comments. But today let us look at verse 15: “He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the Lord.”
Like so many other verses in Proverbs, this applies first to those entrusted with the service of government. Since this book is written to Rehoboam, who is destined to become king of Israel, we are not surprised by this. But the fact that it is written to the future king of a small country long ago does not preclude it's application to all rulers in all places and in all times. Reading the verse, we naturally think of civil authorities, but it applies equally well ecclesiastical authorities. Anyone who is familiar with the facts of history can easily recall civil and religious leaders who abused their power and did much harm to innocent people. Where ever power exists people exist who seize that power and use it for their own enrichment at the expense of others.
Civil authority exists primarily to protect the rights of the people by executing “wrath upon him that doeth evil” (Rom. 3:4). This is accomplished through the impartial enforcement of the principles of punishment and restitution. Punishment is exemplified in the Old Testament principle of an eye for an eye. This means one who causes harm to another suffers the same harm to himself. If your actions cause another to lose an eye, you lose your eye. Restitution means you owe the injured person for the value of his injury or loss. Thus, a thief restores the stolen property, or its value, to its rightful owner, with interest. This is justice, and it is the task of civil authority to enforce it without partiality, favoritism, or exemption. All just laws apply to all people at all times.
But people in power often use the power of government to justify the wicked and condemn the just. A famous example of this it is found in first Kings chapter 21. Naboth had a vineyard which Ahab, the king, wanted. His wife, Jezebel, used the legal system to have Naboth killed so her husband could take possession of the vineyard. Through false charges and lying “witnesses,” Naboth was convicted of blasphemy, and executed by stoning. This is a terrible sin and abuse of power by Jezebel. It is the epitome of mocking the poor (Prov. 17:5). Ahab and Jezebel, should have devoted themselves to protecting the rights of people like Naboth. Since they did not, and since they used their power to steal and murder, they, along with their co-conspirators, should have been deposed from office, tried and convicted of murder, and treated according to the principles of justice and restitution. But, because they held power, their crimes went unreported and unpunished, at least, as far as the legal system of man is concerned. Their crimes were punished at the bar of God’s justice, but they did much harm to many people during their reign.
We may wish the visible Church were free of such sin, but we know better. Righteous Micaiah was mistreated while false prophets were honoured (1 Kings 22), and some of our Lord’s most incriminating words against Jerusalem were, “thou that killest the prophets and stonest them which are sent” (Mt. 23:37). Today we see ecclesiastical authorities deserting the clear teachings of the Bible and joining forces with those who distort justice in the name of God and justice.
In a second sense the words of this Proverbs apply to everyday people. They apply to those who see injustice, but do nothing about it. They apply to those who call evil good and good evil. They apply to those who vote for legislators and laws that steal the fruits of legitimate labour from workers in order to advance policies and laws that pervert true justice. They refer to employers who steal from employees through poor pay and benefits to people trapped in their systems.
Prov. 18, Mk. 2
Prov. 19, 1 Pet. 2
“The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost part of the belly” (Prov. 18:8).
We are all aware of the Bible’s instruction to bridle our tongues (Jas. 3:1-12), speak gently (Prov. 15:1), and speak in ways that build others up in Christ (Eph. 4:29). Here is the reason for this; our words have the power to hurt. We all have people in our lives who are susceptible to our influence. Therefore, they can easily be hurt by our words as well as by our actions. Who cannot remember being hurt by words from other people? Perhaps they happened long ago, yet, if we let ourselves, we can still feel their pain. To those feeling the pain, the Bible says, forgive. But that is not easily done. We may feel the pain many times during our lives, and each time we feel it again, we must re-forgive the person who spoke the words. It may help to remember that other people are imperfect, just like us, and even loving family members, fellow Christians, and friends can and do sin. When we were children, our parents, were young and inexperienced, and they were burdened with the heavy responsibilities of earning a living and guiding children through life, which was still very perplexing to them. It is no wonder they often made mistakes, or spoke too harshly to us. Remember, too, that we were no angels, and that our own actions may have contributed to their burdens. Forgive them, and pray that your children will forgive you.
To all, remember that your words can hurt others. To “go down into the innermost parts of the belly” means your words can hurt the deepest and most vulnerable parts of a person. Psalm 64:3 speaks of the froward as those who, “whet their tongues like a sword, and shoot out their arrows, even bitter words.” Swords and arrows are what Solomon had in mind when he wrote this verse. Such weapons penetrate deep into the vital core of a person, inflicting mortal wounds. Our words also penetrate deep into the vital core of a person; not the physical core, not the chest and thorax which contain vital physical organs; but the spiritual core of mind and feelings, and character. Since our words have such power, let us be very careful how we use them.
A talebearer is a gossip. Specifically it is a person who spreads rumours and/or lies about other people. Such people assassinate the character and well-being of others.
“A false witness shall not be unpunished; and he that speaketh lies shall not escape” (Prov. 19:5).
Gossips, and those who assassinate the characters of others with false words, are not usually charged with crimes, and punished. Courts and churches usually allow such people to go on about life as though they were completely righteous and in good standing in the community and the congregation. But they are not. They are guilty of terrible crimes. And, though they may not suffer censure in community or church, their sins are seen by a greater Judge, and they shall not escape.
Prov. 20, Mk. 3
Prov. 21:1-16, 1 Pet. 3
“Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (Prov. 20:1).
Let us first understand what this verse does not mean. It does not mean all use of alcoholic beverages is sin, or even to be avoided. The Passover feast of the Old Testament used real wine, and Jesus used real wine after the Passover meal when He instituted the Lord’s Supper. One of the charges hurled at Him by the Pharisees was that of being a wine-bibber. This means He did not abstain from wine, nor did He drink only heavily diluted wine as some of the Pharisees may have drank. There is no Biblical commandment for total abstinence from alcohol. But there are many warnings about alcohol, so, if a person chooses to drink it, he must do so very cautiously and very sparingly.
Now let us see what this verse does mean. It does mean that a life of drunkenness and revelry is forbidden. It does mean that a person under the influence of alcohol is liable to say and do things that are embarrassing and foolish. That is the primary meaning of the words, “wine is a mocker, strong drink is a raging.”
But there is a secondary meaning in this verse. It means wine entices us to drink, then laughs at the consequences of drunkenness. It is as though wine speaks to us, promising joy and happiness, or at least relief from the sorrows of life for a while, but brings ruin on those who habitually resort to it for relief. To fall into its control is to bring ruin to homes and families, jobs and incomes, and to the life of the one who has become dependant upon it. It then laughs at them. It mocks those who have believed its lies, and allowed it to ruin their lives.
“He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man: he that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich” (Proverbs 21:17). This verse warns against a self-indulgent, pleasure oriented lifestyle. The person pictured spends his life and his money on passing pleasures. He lives for pleasure and loves it more than he loves God (2 Tim. 3:4). He is the opposite of the man who lives below his means, saves his money, and finds his contentment in knowing God, and loving his friends, family, and church.
This verse does not rebuke us for enjoying the legitimate fruits of Godly labour. It does not teach us to live a life of poverty and self-denial. It does teach us to love God first, and to honour Him with the substance over which He has made us His stewards.
It is sometimes assumed that the love of pleasure is only for those with the financial means to devote themselves to its pursuit. It is indeed true that the rich face strong temptations to make pleasure their first love. Our Lord Himself said it is harder for a rich man to get into Heaven than for a camel to get through the eye of a needle (Mt. 19:24). The rich man in Mt. 19:16-22 loved his possessions more than he loved God. Luke 12:16-21 speaks of a man who was rich in the world, but was poor toward God. He wanted to live by the motto, “take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry,” not knowing God would soon say to him, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee.”
It is also true that the lack of luxuries can produce an inordinate desire for them. Many are the people who dream of the life of ease they would live if they were wealthy, rather than working to improve their lot in life, or enjoying the blessings God has given them.
Prov. 21:17- 35 , Mk.4:1-25
Prov. 22:1-16, 1 Pet. 4
“Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
There is some controversy over how this verse should be translated from its original form in the ancient Hebrew language. Rather than “train up a child in the way he should go,” it is possible to translate it, train up a child “in accordance with his way.” If this interpretation is correct, it has several possible meanings.
First, it could mean in accordance with his natural inclinations. There are many ways to train up a child this way. The child can be given minimal expectations of behaviour, and, thus minimal instruction in all things that form his character, values, and mind. He may be taught that his natural inclinations are usually good and should be indulged. Or, things like values and life-views may be intentionally not taught so the child can decide such matters for himself as he grows. In the end, there is not much practical difference between these views. Each, essentially throws the helpless child to the wolves by forcing him to rely on his own resources for learning about and coping with life. The problem with this is that a child is not ready to face the wolves. He must be protected from them, and taught how to protect himself from them, and this is one of the primary tasks of the parents.
If this verse is saying that a child raised according to his own inclinations will not depart from them when he is old, it means such a child will be hardened in his own ways, which are always shaped by his natural inclination toward sin and selfishness. The verse, then would be saying something like: letting the child run wild will lead to his ruin.
Second, it could mean something like, train up a child in ways that recognise and develop his God given skills and talents. This will enable him to reach his full potential, and will best enable him to learn the ways of goodness and Godliness.
Third, it could mean we are to train up our children according their ability to understand what they are learning. Don’t try to feed a child the strong meat of the Bible. Instead, give him the sincere milk of the word, and move slowly to solid food, similar to the way we introduce physical food to children.
The interesting thing about each of these meanings is that they all support the conclusion of the translation in the King James Version. All agree that children must be taught the ways of Godliness. All of them agree that children left to their own devices are vulnerable to the attacks of the world, the flesh, and the devil. It is our duty, therefore, to both God and the child, to train him in the way in which he should go.
“When he is old, he will not depart.” Like many of the proverbs, we should take this as a general principle, rather than a promise. Cautions against sloth, for example, do not promise that hard work and financial wisdom will always accumulate wealth, or that sloth will always result in poverty. Economic conditions beyond his control may cause a frugal man’s finances to vanish, and a slovenly man may win the lottery. But, as a general principle of life, hard work and financial prudence pay off, while sloth does not. I have seen children from the most Godly homes and teaching reject the Faith and live as complete reprobates. I have seen people raised as complete reprobates become solid believers and pillars of the Church and community. Such things are part of the mystery of God’s Providence and sovereign grace, and we must be content to leave them in His hands. But, even as we do trust in God’s Providence, we do so in hope.
Prov. 22:17- 29 , Mk. 4:26-41
Prov. 23:1-21, 1 Pet. 5
The Proverbs in chapter 23 are longer than those in other chapters. Verses 1-5 urge caution when in the presence of the king, but its warning applies to the presence of all people of wealth and power. Verse 2 tells us to refrain from gluttony at their tables. Again this can be expanded to all the luxuries and dainties of the rich. We are neither to spend our time desiring them (3) nor to greedily partake of them when in the houses of the rich and powerful. The implication seems to be that such luxuries may cause us to be contemptuous of our own blessings, thus spoiling our contentment with God and life; and may anger the host and owner of the luxuries, which may cause him to harm us.
Verses 6-8 expand the warning to cover all greedy and envious people. The “evil eye” is not a magical power, or ability to cause harm with a look or spell. It is an eye that looks with greed and jealousy on worldly possessions. The person wants more than he has, and is jealous of those with more, and very vengeful towards anyone he thinks might covet his things. He is the opposite of the person with the bountiful eye in Prov. 22:9.
Verse 9 warns of the futility of speaking wisdom to a fool. Only God can change the heart of a person, and, until He begins to work in a heart, the person will always reject Wisdom. He may reject it in the most polite and winsome ways, but he will still reject it.
Verses 10-11 returns to a warning against oppressing the poor. Ancient landmarks are the boundary markers of the property, given to each tribe and family when Israel entered Canaan after being released from Egypt. Greedy people might attempt to move the markers in order to claim property belonging to another. Such people often controlled the courts, which then enabled, rather than punished such theft. Verse 11 warns that God will plead the case of the wronged, and His court cannot be corrupted.
12-18 exhort us again to the pursuit of Wisdom. We are to apply our hearts to it, and teach our children to do the same. 19-35 warn against sloth, drunkenness, and sexual sins.
Prov. 23:22- 35 , Mk. 5::1-20
Prov. 24, 2 Peter 1
This chapter brings us to the close of this collection of wise sayings, which compare and contrast the ways and end of the wise and the foolish. Verses 19 and 20 very fittingly tell of the end of the foolish/wicked person (the foolish man is wicked because he defies the Wisdom of God). And though he may sometimes prosper, his end will come, and his candle shall be put out. In a land where candles were great luxuries, most homes were dark during the evenings and nights. The wealthy could afford candles and lamps. The value of light in the darkness of night is almost impossible for those with ample electric power to imagine. But such wealth, if garnered by wicked and immoral means will not last. That candle will be extinguished.
Surely this refers to the final end of the wicked. Job correctly noted that they often seem to go unpunished in this world, yet the Bible has numerous references to their facing the judgment and wrath of God. Luke 16:19-31 shows how this punishment comes about, as does Revelation 20:15.
Prov. 25, Mk. 5:21-43
Prov 26, 2 Pet. 2
Here begins a collection of warnings and instructions. They were written by Solomon, and collected by Hezekiah, who was one of the better kings of Judah, and actually led a revival among his people. The main difference between these proverbs and those of the previous section is that the earlier ones usually contained statements about what is wise or what wise people do, followed by a statement of what is foolish, or what foolish people do. The proverbs in this sections are usually statements of instruction or warning. Verse 28 is such a warning:
“He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.” We all know ancient cities were, essentially fortifications, surrounded by walls from which the inhabitants hoped to be able to fend off invaders. To be without a wall was to be defenceless against invading armies, and roving bands of of thieves and killers which preyed upon the weak or vulnerable. The point made in this verse is that a person who refuses to control his passions and desires is like a city whose wall is broken down. He will follow his passions wherever they lead, even to his eternal doom. The Reverend Matthew Henry expressed the meaning of this verse well. He wrote that the wise and virtuous man:
“is one that has rule over his own spirit; he maintains the government of himself, and of his own appetites and passions, and does not suffer them to rebel against reason and conscience. He has the rule of his own thoughts and desires, his inclinations, his resentments, and keeps them all in good order.”
Self control, temperance, and self restraint are always urged upon those who would follow the Saviour. His service is perfect freedom, and His ways are peace that the world cannot give.
Prov. 27, Mk. 6:1-29
Prov. 28, 1 John 1
“A prudent man seeth the evil, and hideth himself; but the simple pass on , and are punished.”
Like many of the proverbs, this verse gives light to our conduct in worldly and spiritual endeavours. “Evil” can refer to the problems and troubles of life. These can come to us from other people, natural catastrophes, or from social problems and upheavals. The wise man prepares for such things. He knows other people can hurt him, so he tries to avoid dangerous people, and dangerous places. He avoids exposing himself to danger. He knows jobs can end, so he saves money for emergencies. He knows electricity can go off, so he keeps emergency supplies on hand. He sees possible problems, and prepares to keep himself safe if they happen. The simple (foolish) man pays no heed to potential problems or dangers. “It can’t happen to me,” seems to be his motto. So he exposes himself to danger, walks into dangerous places, and does not prepare for the storms of life. He often suffers because of this. The simple man is also often conspicuous for bad habits, sloth, overspending, and revelry.
“Evil” can also refer to problems in our spiritual lives. We all face the temptations of spiritual sloth, neglect of the means of grace, and neglect of the fellowship of the Church. The prudent man doesn’t expose himself to temptation or join others in sin. He makes diligent use of the means of grace, associates with the Church, forms the habit of prayer and Godliness, and avoids revelry and dissipation.
Prov. 29 Mk. 6:30-56
1 Jn. 2
Chapter 29 returns to the thesis/antithesis form of proverbs. A thesis is stated, such as, “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice” (29:2). This is followed by the antithesis, which proves the truth of the thesis by declaring the opposite; “but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.”
The best known words in this chapter are in verse 18, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” They have been used to encourage people to plan for the future, and to envision what the future can be. That is excellent advice, but “vision” actually refers to the activity of God, by which He reveals Himself and His will to people. In verse 18 it refers primarily to the law of God, which directs us in the ways of goodness and peace (see Ps. 19:7-13). Without the knowledge of God, people perish: life at every level, from personal to national, is thrown into chaos. Corruption and violence rule the street; alienation and abuse destroy homes and lives. Without standards of conduct, which apply to all, life becomes a free-for all. Or a group of people seizes power and enforces arbitrary standards, which reward them and their cronies, at the expense of the masses. In such circumstances, many may people perish physically at the hands of those in power. But many more perish spiritually as freedom and hope die within them.
Obviously, the difference between a solid standard that applies to all, and a fluid or arbitrary standard for the benefit of the elite, is a spectrum, and cultures and societies can be found at many points between the two extremes. But the further they stray from the solid standards given by God, the more the people perish. Fortunately, completely arbitrary cultures are rare, if they exist at all. People naturally know it is wrong to murder and plunder, and even if their standards allow them to murder and plunder people in other villages, races, religions, cultures or classes, they usually forbid it among their own. And they usually have some limits on what they do to others. If this were not so, the human race would have annihilated itself long ago.
The thesis of this verse, “where there is no vision, the people perish,” is now proven by the antithesis, “but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” The law of God is perfect justice. Its standards are just, and, if applied equally to all people in all stations of life, they are the way of peace and contentment for all people.
Prov. 30, Mk. 7:1-23
Prov. 31, 1 Jn. 3
Agur, which can mean, “collector,” probably refers to Solomon, who authored the Proverbs and collected them into the document we call the book of Proverbs.
Ithiel can be translated as, “God is with me,” and Ucal as “The Mighty One.” Accordingly, many scholars ascribe the names, in their fullest sense, to Christ, and see verses 1-9 as fulfilled in Him. According to Matthew Henry, the author has a three-fold purpose as he writes.
First, he writes to abase himself. Solomon acknowledges his failures, and his unworthiness to write anything about God. According to Rev. Henry, it is as though Solomon is saying, “Surely I cannot but think that I am more brutish than any man; surely no man has such a corrupt deceitful heart as I have. I have acted as one that has not the understanding of Adam, as one that is wretchedly degenerated from the knowledge and righteousness in which man was at first created; nay, I have not the common sense and reason of a man, Else I should not have done as I have done.” Most of us would use similar phrases about ourselves in those rare moments when God allows us to see some of the depth of our sin and sinfulness. Even Paul called himself the chief of sinners (1 Tim 1:15).
Second, he writes to “advance Jesus Christ.” Ithiel and Ucal refer to God the Son and God the Father. Henry especially sees Christ in the One who has ascended up (Eph. 4:10), bound the waters in a garment (Jn. 1:3) and the Son (Jn. 1:18) and word (Jn. 1:1) of verses 4 and 5.
Third, he writes to “assure us of the truth of the word of God, and to recommend it to us.” Solomon’s words have the effect of saying, “I cannot undertake to instruct you; go to the word of God; see what He has there revealed of Himself, and of His mind and will.” Everything you need to know about God is taught there, and you may rely on it as sure and sufficient. “Every word of God is pure” (5). “Add thou not to His words,” (6).
Verse 10 warns against abusing people with less money or power than we may have. Rather than arrogance and mistreatment, they have the right to our encouragement and good treatment. We are not to allow our own estimation of ourselves to become lofty, or our own teeth to become swords. The rest of the chapter continues with wise sayings and proverbs.
Ecclesiastes 1, Mk. 7:24-37
Ecc. 2, 1 Jn. 4
Commentary, Ecclesiastes 1 and 2
Boredom is one of the major social problems of our time. Not too many generations ago children were in the workforce. Elementary school age children worked long, hard hours in dangerous factories and sweatshops and mines and farms. And they worked not to buy new trinkets, but to put food on the family table. We, as a culture, have done much to get children out of that predicament. We have passed laws against child labor, and built schools to give them a chance to do something safer with their lives. In addition, we have formed extra-curricular activities, and summer athletic leagues, We have given them movies and TVs and cell phones and cars and computers, and everything under the sun. Kids today have more free time, more freedom, less work, less responsibility, more money, more things, and more time to enjoy their things than any previous generation But what do we hear from kids today? “I’m bored.”
Adults, too, are often just plain bored with life. Here again, we have more time, more freedom, more money, more leisure, more toys than any previous generation, and we’re bored to tears. And this is across all lines of race and class. At a social event I was standing within earshot of young adults of two of Virginia’s wealthiest families. They didn’t know I heard them, but I did, and their conversation went something like this, “Get drunk last night?” “Yeah, wasted. You?” “Yeah, I don’t remember nuthin.” “Must have had a great time.” These were the pampered rich. They had everything, yet the only thing they could think of to do was drink away their boredom. And they’re not alone. Could part of the hectic pace that is so prevalent in our culture be due to our need to relieve our boredom by filling every minute with so much stimulation we don’t have time to notice how bored we are? Could the illegal drug and alcohol pandemic be due in part to bored people just looking for their next thrill to help them forget how bored they are?
If boredom truly is a social problem, ours is not the first generation to notice it. Solomon wrote about that very issue almost a thousand years before the time of Christ. He didn’t use the word, “boredom.” He wrote of vanity. “All is vanity.” But, if you listen to his story you find he is just plain bored with life. Solomon was a man who had it all. He had power, money, possessions, fame, houses, land, servants. There was no finery or luxury of that time, that he didn’t have, and he indulged his every whim. Yet life had brought him to the point of total boredom. Listen to his own words. Hear the boredom in them.
“One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh.” “The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down.” “The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.” “The rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.” “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.”
Solomon did not come to this conclusion in a philosophical discussion about the meaning of life. Solomon was not reiterating the teachings of a philosopher, or some favourite teacher at school. We sometimes adopt ideas simply because we admire the person who holds them, but Solomon did not become bored because someone told him he should be. He was bored because he had tried it all, and none of it gave the thrill and meaning to life he wanted. He gave himself to the pursuit of wisdom, but he found that the increase of wisdom brought a corresponding increase in sorrow. Furthermore, there are anomalies in life that simply defy human understanding. Why do the wicked prosper? Why do the good suffer? Why doesn’t God, who claims to be good and who promises that the meek shall inherit the earth, do something about it?
He turned to revelry and drunkenness. Many today are following his example. They give themselves to alcohol and drugs, club hopping, and keg parties trying to escape from their boredom. But Solomon became bored with these things, too.
Next, Solomon gave himself to building wealth. He became fabulously rich, by opening ports in his country and transferring goods from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Mediterranean Sea through his land. But he soon had everything money could buy, and he became bored again.
He tried art and culture, and he built great cities and palaces. And one day he just said, “this is boring.” Someone said classical music is just a thin veneer over our savagery. If the music is simply a way to make an appearance, he is right. And the same can be true of art, architecture, and culture in general, for these things must be an expression of ourselves to have any deeper meaning. Trying to conform to a certain form of music that means nothing to us, is boring.
So here is the conclusion of Solomon. It is found in Ecclesiastes 1:14. It says;
“I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.”
Reading these words is like reading today’s paper, or the latest best selling book, or watching some of the contemporary films, or listening to the words of popular “music.” The Bible’s assessment of the human situation is as up to date and relevant as this morning’s news. Its answer and solution is equally up to date and relevant. The answer is Christ. Solomon did find temporary relief in his pursuits. They all helped for a time. But soon he began to see the emptiness, the vanity of them, the boredom of them. People today are trying to end their boredom in the same ways, and finding the same results. Those forms of escape cannot bring long-term help. But one thing can. One person can. His name is Jesus, and He lived and died and rose again to give meaning and hope to life by freeing us from the burdens of sin and unbelief. Life as His disciple is often tough, but never boring. God grant us grace to trust Him.
Solomon makes two important points in this first two chapters of his book. The first; life is boring. The second; life is meaningless. The hippie generation had a motto, “drop out, tune in, turn on. It referred to the view that life is meaningless, and the best way to get through it is to stop striving after material things, “drop out” of the rat race, “tune in” to the sheer meaninglessness of life, and “drop in” on LSD. In the 1960s, meaninglessness was the view of a vocal minority. Today, it is widespread and is the prevalent view of life among the children and grand children of the hippie generation. It is expressed to perfection in their motto, “whatever.” Whatever, means life is empty, vain, and meaningless, therefore, nothing matters.
You can see that it is a short hop from “whatever” to “don’t bother.” If life has no meaning, why bother to apply yourself to anything? Why bother with school, or a job, or family, or anything that gets in the way of your pleasures for the moment? And so, “whatever” has robbed many of today’s young people of their initiative to make a life for themselves. But theirs is not the first generation to feel this way. Solomon felt the same way 3,000 years ago. “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” is his way of saying all of life, and therefore, all manner of pursuit in life, is meaningless.
Solomon is not reciting the philosophy of a favourite teacher, or even voicing the “spirit of the age.” He is speaking from his own experience in life, and he voices his conclusion from having tried it all. Solomon gave himself to the pursuit of wisdom. We may read this as the pursuit of knowledge and understanding. Solomon was renowned for his wisdom. Yet he realised there were things he would never understand, and that these were some of the most important issues of life. So he concluded that the pursuit of knowledge is a meaningless pursuit. Young people today are throwing away their opportunities for education with both hands. It is no secret that our public school system is broken. It was once the envy of the world, but now is outclassed by many nations. But, whether a school is first rate or fifth rate, the education is there for anyone who wants to get it. I know many public school teachers with whom I disagree radically on fundamental issues of life. But I don’t know any who will not help a child get an education. The problem is that many American students don’t want an education. Why? Because, to them, life is meaningless, so, why bother?
Solomon turned to the party circuit. The pursuit of pleasure and mirth. This is a time honoured tradition, and is prevalent today. Why do people drown their lives in pleasure, alcohol and drugs? In part because they find no meaning in life, and the weight of that thought is too much to bear. On a deeper level, if life is meaningless, then the pleasure of the present moment is all they have.
It is the same with art, culture, wealth, fame, and success. Solomon tried them all and he found them empty, meaningless, and powerless to make life worth living. Do you know why he found them meaningless? Because, once you take God out of the picture you remove the meaning of life. Remove God, and you reduce the universe to chance and chemical reactions. Remove God, and you remove morality. Remove God and you remove purpose. You remove good and evil, and right and wrong. Remove God and you remove the reason for anything. There is no reason for manners, or modesty in dress, or family, or relationships, or work, or being a good citizen or a kind person, or driving your car in a responsible manner. Remove God, and all you have left is, “whatever.” That is exactly the point Solomon is trying to make in his book. And he knows because he tried it. So have others. The German philosopher, Nietzsche said God died in the 19th century, and an astute observer added, “and man died in the 20th century.” Surely Western culture is rapidly abandoning God, and the further we get from Him the deeper we sink into despair and decay. Look at America. Crime, corruption, hate, violence, and abuse are killing our country like cancer. And every new solution offered by our various institutions simply creates more problems.
But with God, everything is different. With God life means something. It has purpose. We have a reason to do everything. With God, we are alive, and “whatever” is dead.
But we cannot simply adopt “god” as a philosophical principle because the idea of a god is good for people and good for the world. It is good for us, but we must have something far greater than an idea adopted for purely utilitarian purposes. We must have not the god of philosophical speculation, we must have the Living God. Only the true Creator can make sense out of life, and sense out of death. Only the true God can give the answers to all our great questions and all our great problems. Only Divine help can change the souls of people, and thus, change the world. No god of any religion offers this, except one. In that religion there is a story of a world created good, but gone horribly wrong. In that religion there is a story of a world lost in darkness, very similar to that described by Solomon. In that religion there is a story of people caught in a death trap of evil and sin with no way out; of people justly under the penalty of everlasting banishment from the One Thing that is everything they need and want, but don’t know it, and when they find out, they resist it because it reproves their sin and calls them to repent and do right. In this religion there is a story of a wonderful God who somehow became a Man and lived in this world, and set aside His rights and privileges, and lived and laughed and cried, and finally died, just like other men, except for two things. First, He died for our sins. He died on a cross, and He bore in His own flesh there the wrath of God for the sins of the world. He died, not for His crimes, but for ours. Second, He rose again. Do not look for His body in a tomb or an ossuary. They are not there. He is risen. And He offers meaningful life, and forgiveness, and peace with God as a free gift. All you have to do is let Him give it to you. That “religion” is Christianity, and that God is Jesus Christ. He is the God we need. May God grant us the wisdom to receive Him.
Ecc. 3, Mk 8:1-26
Ecc. 4, 1 Jn. 5
Millions of people have accepted the view of the absolute meaninglessness of life. Why? Many have grown up with the idea that happiness consists of having things. That is simply another way of saying meaning is found in things, whether toys or circumstances, or friends, or something else. There are many variations of this theme. For one person, it could be having a yacht with a helicopter pad. For another it could be having a hot rod tractor to take to the tractor pull competitions. For yet another it could be landing a big promotion and salary. But when they get their things, and reach the pinnacle of success, they find out there is something missing in their lives. Siegfried Sassoon wrote in Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man that the winner of the last race is forgotten as soon as the next race begins. And so it is in all of life. Fame is fleeting, worldly goods rust, and the new toy that lights up the child’s eyes on Christmas morning, is forgotten by Christmas evening. The hard truth is that things can never provide happiness or meaning. When these people learn that truth, they conclude life has no meaning.
Others have concluded that the presence of insurmountable obstacles shows the meaningless of life. You may reach the top of your field and exceed all your dreams, but you can’t stay there. You may be Miss America this year, but another golden girl will take your place next year. You may be young and beautiful and filled with potential, but soon youth will pass, and you will experience health problems, and, one day, the little empire you create for yourself will go to someone else. There are problems in life and issues in life, like poverty, the success of the wicked and the oppression of the righteous, sickness, suffering and death, that cannot be escaped, and which we seem to be unable to eradicate. And because of them many people have concluded that life is ultimately meaningless.
Some have said life would have meaning if only they could see God, but they have looked for Him and not found Him. Instead they have found war and famine, oppression and suffering, sorrow, loss, grief and death, and they have concluded there is no god, therefore, there is no meaning in life.
Many have accepted the idea that science disproves God, and that we are merely chemical reactions on a rock in space, who got here by pure chance and accident. Therefore, life has no meaning.
No wonder people today are depressed. No wonder people today need drugs, illegal or prescription, to get them through life. No wonder the psychologists and psychiatrists have people standing in line to see them. No wonder suicide is a growing problem. People are searching for ways to help them deal with this utter meaninglessness.
Here is how some people deal with it, apart from drugs and therapy. Some adopt the view that says, “life is short, play hard.” Some try to invent their own meaning by finding their “passion” and throwing themselves into it. Some just try to act like life has meaning, even though they “know” it doesn’t. Some adopt another option that has always been popular, and, which is growing rapidly today. Let’s call it “theistic agnosticism.” It is simply the general idea that “god” exists somewhere, but we can’t know very much about Him/Her/It/Them. So just do the best you can. Be a good person, play fair, give a little back to your community and your world, and hope for the best. One reason people accept this idea is because the god they conjure up this way requires nothing of them. He is just a nice feeling which doesn’t make any demands, doesn’t require worship, and doesn’t require obedience, discipleship, and sacrifice. In other words, this god is easy, and many prefer it to the tough, demanding God of the Bible. But many adopt this view because it does give some meaning to life, and they desperately want meaning.
None of this is new “under the sun.” Solomon came to these same conclusions 3,000 years ago, and he was not the first or the last. If you have studied philosophy you know these ideas have a long history with humanity, and you can give the philosophical names for them, along with influential thinkers who have taught them. But Solomon is significant for three reasons. First, he was the civil ruler of the people of God, therefore, he should have been a man of exemplary faith, not a skeptic and critic of it. Second, he chronicled his conclusions in this book, which was a rare thing in those days. Third, he changed his mind. As Solomon traveled through life he came to an entirely different conclusion, and his book chronicles his journey from doubt and despair back to faith and confidence. You could make a Hollywood movie out of this book. Start with an elderly man reminiscing about his life. Then flashback to his early days as king. See him young and confident, full of hope, believing God has brought him to this point, and determined to be the best king in the world. See him grow weary of the never ending problems, disillusioned at the lack of cooperation among his own people, and disappointed at the fact that the harder he worked to make things better for his people and his country, the more things stayed the same. See him turn from God to pleasure and power. See him sink into despair until he concludes, “vanity of vanity, all is vanity.” Then see him find his way back to God. In God, see him find meaning again, and life, and hope. His story has everything Hollywood wants, money, sex, power, exotic locations, a cast of thousands. The only thing some producers might not like is his return to God, but they could edit that out.
So in the third chapter we see a change in Solomon’s book. The first two chapters express despair. Look at these verses from chapters one and two.
“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity,” (1:2). “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun, and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit,” (1:3). “Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit,” (2:17).
Now look at these verses from the third chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes.
“To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven,” (3:1). “He has made everything beautiful in his time,” (3:11).
Solomon has discovered a sense of order in the world. “To everything, there is a season.” He refers to work, to life, even to the trials of life, such as death and war. He has found purpose in life. There is a time for every purpose under heaven. Notice the change here from “under the sun” to “under the heaven.” The sun is just a ball of fire that crosses the earth everyday, but heaven has a religious meaning. It is the realm of God which lies beyond this physical universe. So, you can see Solomon changing, and even though he continues to give the arguments for the meaninglessness of life through the rest of his book, he no longer believes them. He presents them only to discredit them. He presents them to say they are wrong, because there really is meaning to life. There really is purpose to life. And if you live according to this meaning and purpose, you will find “fulfilment,” “self-actualisation,” and a way out of your “existential angst.” You will find peace in your soul, and the happiness you always hoped for but could never find “under the sun.” One of the most telling marks of Solomon’s conversion is found in 3:11, “He hath made everything beautiful in his time.” Beautiful is a term of value and worth. It is a term of meaning. A mass of accidental chemical reactions on a rock in space, has no meaning. Therefore, it cannot be beautiful in the philosophical sense of the word, no matter how pretty it might be to look at. But “He,” God, “has made all things beautiful.” He has given them meaning, because meaning comes from God. Purpose comes from God. Existence comes from God.
Ecc. 5, Mk. 8:27-38
Ecc. 6, 2 Jn., 3 Jn.
Midway through the fourth chapter, Solomon turns again to writing short proverbs, similar to those in the book of Proverbs. In chapter 5, the first 7 verses are proverbs about right conduct in the worship of God, and how that applies to the rest of life. This is an important connection, for, to the Christian, worship is not a compartment in our lives, it is our lives. We live to worship God, and everything we do is, or should be, worship. This does not preclude special times and places and means of worship. It does not mean we can dispense with private and family prayer, or the meetings and liturgies of the public worship of God’s Church. It does mean that worship in these settings overflows into the rest of life, directing and colouring everything we do.
Reverence in the House of the Lord, is commended, along with a humble spirit that is more willing to hear and learn than to speak and attempt to teach others. Completion of vows made to God is stressed in verses 4 and 5. How lightly people take such vows today. The marriage vow is not only a vow to your spouse, it is a vow to his/her family, your children, and to God Himself. Yet people utter the words thoughtlessly, and break the vows as though they were simply nice words instead of a life commitment. The same thing occurs in the membership vows of the Church. Every Church has some requirements for membership, and joining is a solemn vow and commitment to the congregation, minister, and God Himself, that you will faithfully perform and submit to those requirements. A reasonable summation of the vows is found in the Anglican 1928 Book of Common Prayer, pages 273-299. Though these refer specifically to Anglican Churches, the requirements for other denomination are similar. They basically require a belief in Christ as Lord and Saviour, acceptance and agreement with the major doctrines of the Bible, and a commitment to support the Church and its ministry with cheerful giving and obedience.
Verses 8-20 deal primarily with financial problems and responsibilities. We are warned that riches can actually be a source of harm to us (13), and that it is better to pursue Godliness than wealth.
The chapter continues the description of the the problems that accompany wealth. Most of the problems in this chapter are caused by the shortness of life, and the fact that all our wealth is left behind when we leave this life. We labour to build wealth, but someone else will enjoy it. Of course, this can be good, if we leave our children in prosperity. But the point is that there are things more valuable than money, which we should pursue with more energy than we expend chasing money.
Ecc. 7, Mk. 9:1-30
Ecc. 8, Jude
Wealth is still a primary topic in this chapter, which can be summarised in verse 11, “Wisdom is good with an inheritance; and there is profit to them that see under the sun.” Money is good. Prosperity is good. A person should work, and should enjoy the fruit of his labour. And it is good to leave an inheritance for your children. Money can be a defense from many things. But money without wisdom is a terrible burden, or wasted on riotous living. Wisdom, meaning, the wisdom of God, especially as it is revealed in the Bible, not only teaches us how to deal with money, it also teaches us about our relationship to God and the perils of sin. Thus, wisdom is a defense against more dangerous troubles than poverty.
Wisdom, here, as in Proverbs, means the wisdom that is from God. In Solomon’s time it came through visions and dreams and the words of the prophets, as well as the Books of Moses. In our time it is found in the Bible. This wisdom is our defense against the temptations and troubles of life. Here we are taught to respect legitimate government (2-5), and warned that government can become oppressive (9). Especially, we must submit ourselves to the government of God, trusting that He will deal with evil and establish justice for His people.
Ecc. 9, Mk. 9:30-50
Ecc. 10, Jude
Things happen to us in life that are beyond our control. Storms can destroy our homes and crops; economic recessions can destroy our savings. These things can happen to the wise and Godly, the foolish and wicked, the rich and powerful, and the poor and powerless. A faithful and dependable employee may be fired while a sluggard is promoted to a position of great power and influence. We see this often in America, where the selection of political, business, and church leaders is often more of a popularity contest than a search for qualified people. Thus, Solomon concludes, “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, not yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to the man of understanding, but time and chance happeneth to them all” (11). In other words, there is an element of “chance” to life. Sometimes it is just a matter of being in the right place at the right time, or having the right connections. Or, it could be a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and having the wrong connections. These things are in God’s hands, not ours. Yet the question remains, how can we live best in this kind of a world?
The answer is found in verses 7 through 10. We could summarise it by saying, enjoy the blessings you have, while you have them. Prodigal spending is never encouraged in the Bible. Hard work, frugal living, supporting the Church, and saving money is the financial advice given throughout the Scriptures. However, neither is miserly stinginess taught in Scripture. Wholesome, good food and wine, are to be enjoyed. Nice, practical clothing, is preferred over rags. Love and joy at home are part of the blessings of God and of our portion in this life. We are encouraged to enjoy these things in a godly manner, not as the goal of life, but as gifts of God.
Wisdom is better than fame or fortune, for these are fleeting, and, like all things, can be taken from us. Nor should we expect the world to always appreciate or reward our hard work, skill, or wisdom. It may, or it may not. But let us enjoy the blessings of God as he gives them and leave the rest to Him. Perhaps this is part of what Paul meant when he wrote, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Phil.4:11,12).
Chapter 10 is another collection of proverbs and short wisdom sayings. Knowing when to speak and when to be silent is the subject of several of these proverbs. “A fool also is full of words,” says verse 14. Verses 3, 13, and 20 also address this issue. The blessings of good government, and the sorrows of bad government are also addressed. A child king (16) is a ruler who is unqualified by age, inexperience, or foolishness. Woe to the nation that has such rulers. A land with qualified rulers who rule for the benefit of the people, rather than for their own enrichment (drunkenness) is a blessed and happy land (17).
Ecc. 11, Mk. 10:1-31
Ecc. 12, Romans 1
The uncertainties of life do not excuse sloth. We may not know whether the seeds we plant today will prosper or not, but we are to labour and plant anyway. Naturally, we try to make good decisions based on facts and evidence. It is foolish to try to plant seed in a high wind or gather the harvest in rain because the wind will blow it away, and the rain will rot the grain.
But even good decisions may not produce the results we want. It is common for us to look at the past and wish we had done something different. But we didn’t know the future then, anymore than we know the future now. Our task is to work, try to make good decision, enjoy what we have, and trust God to take care of us according to His will and His grace.
Solomon ends his book with a description of some of the problems of aging. He himself is aging as he writes this book, and he can't help comparing his own life to the maxims and proverbs in Ecclesiastes. Like most of us, he is aware of the years and energy he wasted chasing unimportant dreams and trinkets, while ignoring the things that really are important. Why didn’t he apply himself to wisdom and Godliness when he was young? Why didn’t he devote himself to learning the Law and the Prophets, not just intellectually, but devotionally? Why didn’t he devote himself to God, home and family, and country, instead of all the vanities he wasted so much time chasing? These are the kinds of things we ask ourselves, too, as we mature in mind as well as body. We may well echo his advice to the young, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth.”
So Solomon brings us to the conclusion, not only of the book, but of the whole meaning of life: “Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (12:13). He is saying, this is what life is about. This, alone, is the way to a full and meaningful life. “Fear,” means reverence unto God in recognition of His limitless power. It is not a cowering, paralysing fear; it is a recognition that your happiness, for now and eternity, depends completely on His good will toward you.
Obedience, likewise, is not the grudging, forced compliance of fear, but the loving and cheerful response of love. It involves the realisation that, this is why we were created, and it is the highest good which we can have. It alone will secure our contentment and happiness, now, and for all eternity (Ecclesiastes, Pulpit Commentary, vol. 9, p 306).