Wise Words Have Sharp Points

Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
(Ecclesiastes 12:9-12)

We are about to wrap up our study of the book of Ecclesiastes in our congregation. At the end of the book, Solomon speaks of wise words.

Here a few quick thoughts from this passage:

These wise words come from One Shepherd. I would assume that Solomon is talking about the Lord here as the source of these wise words. If someone is sharing sound wisdom and truth with you, that truth did not originate from the person counseling you.

The “Preacher” had to take great care and time in knowing, preparing and delivering these wise words. He “weighed,” “studied,” “arranged,” “sought out” these words of wisdom from God with “great care.” Solomon, like Timothy, was diligent to be approved by God because he handled God’s word with the utmost reverence (2 Tim. 2:15). When we are seeking to teach and advise others, we must show the same thoughtful care.

Wise words have sharp points. They are “goads,” which I believe is a sharp implement used to prod oxen on while plowing. Being prodded with a sharp pointed tool is not pleasant, but it moves the ox in the direction he needs to go. God’s word is called a sharp two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12), and those points hurt at times, but they are moving us in God’s direction. They are also sharp points in that they are well-driven nails. Nails are used to fasten things together to provide stability. Again, those sharp points from God’s word may hurt at times, but they are setting our feet on stable, solid ground.

Beware of anything beyond these. Beware…a strong warning to watch out for something dangerous and harmful. Watch out for advice and the words of worldly wisdom that go past what God has already given you.

Solomon and the Greek Philosophers

I was looking over Paul Earnhart’s notes on Ecclesiastes that my son received when at a Bible camp several years ago. There was a really cool observation about Solomon and how he was not like a Greek Philosopher. I’m going to include just a small section of this outline for your consideration today.

Solomon does not write as a Greek philosopher.

  • He is not a Stoic – he believes in enjoying God’s gifts (2:24; 5:18).
  • He is not an Epicurean – he believes in divine judgment (11:9; 12:14). Pleasure is not an end in itself.
  • He is not a Cynic – he believes life has purpose and meaning, that God is in control and that there will be a righteous and just conclusion (2:26; 7:18; 8:12).
  • He is not a pagan – he reveres one God, knows His commandments, and urges the serious worship of God (5:1-7; 12:13-14).

I just thought that was a great observation about Solomon. It made me think of the apostle Paul in the book of Colossians and how he spoke of those who were being “cheated” by man’s philosophy.

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
(Colossians 2:6-8)

Solomon’s wisdom did not come from Solomon, nor did it come from the prevailing thinking of His day and that is why it is so wise!

The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these… 
(Ecclesiastes 12:10-12)

Thank you brother Earnhart.

Using Wisdom Wisely

We are studying Ecclesiastes in our adult Bible class right now. Very good discussions. Two comments were made last night that really stuck with me and I will paraphrase them for you this morning.

One comment had to do with Solomon being so wise, but not doing the right things with his wisdom. He was the wisest man ever to live (except Jesus), and yet look at all the foolishness he chose to follow. It comes down to the choices we make, regardless of how much knowledge or wisdom we have. We can be real geniuses with all kinds of awards for intellect and tons of letters behind our name, but God may call us a fool for the path we have chosen. Solomon was wise, but late in life, his heart was not loyal to God (1 Kings 11).

Another comment had to do with Solomon being the wisest person on the planet, so to whom did he turn for advice? Where did Solomon go for advice? We see his regret in Ecclesiastes as he seems to describe himself as an old and foolish king who will be admonished no more (Eccl. 4:13). Did he not see anyone as his equal? Did he not respect the wisdom of anyone else because he had so much wisdom? We don’t know, but we do know that Solomon had the clear wisdom of Scripture before him, and the prophets of God who tried to teach him. He was very wise, but He later in life didn’t listen to the wisdom of God revealed in the Word, nor did He listen to those who were sent to correct him. I’ve found a lot of folks who are always in teacher mode, and have a hard time being taught. We may consider ourselves wise, and we may really value the input we give to others, but are we wise enough to listen to the advice godly people are giving us?

Great thoughts shared by the brethren in our class last night. That’s why I love Bible class.

God Has Given Them Work To Do

For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
(Ecclesiastes 2:26)

We all have work to do, whether we are righteous or wicked. God keeps us busy. But in the Scripture we see that God keeps the wicked busy preparing money and things that will in some way end up in the hands of righteous people. This is not to mean that we as God’s people sit around on our duffs and wait for God to take away money from others and give it to us. Nor is it to mean that because we are Christians we are going to be blessed with tons of money.

What it does mean is that God will take care of His people, and sometimes that means He takes care of His people by “transferring funds” from the wicked. How the Lord does that is up to Him, but we see lots of examples of this in Scripture.

What it also means is that the wicked think they are busy taking care of themselves and heaping up riches, but they are only busying themselves in vain. Their purpose in life is selfish and focused merely on getting more stuff. All that stuff eventually goes away, and it is through the merciful hand of God that He directs it toward caring for His children.

Though he heap up silver like dust, and pile up clothing like clay, he may pile it up, but the righteous will wear it, and the innocent will divide the silver.
(Job 27:16-17)

Disaster pursues sinners, but the righteous are rewarded with good. A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous.
(Proverbs 13:21-22)

Whoever multiplies his wealth by interest and profit gathers it for him who is generous to the poor.
(Proverbs 28:8)

The Israelites walked out of Egypt with the wealth of the Egyptians. It looks like a lot of that wealth ended up being used to build the Tabernacle (Genesis 15:14; Exodus 12:35-36; 35:21-22). God’s house was built with the wealth of the Gentiles (compare with Isaiah 60:5,11). Moses’ mother, Jochebed, was paid wages from Pharaoh’s house to nurse her own son (Exodus 2:1-10).

Let’s end with two more passages, one from Deuteronomy and one from the Psalms. Why did God pour out the wealth of the Gentiles upon Israel? Look at the following passages.

He brought out His people with joy, His chosen ones with gladness. He gave them the lands of the Gentiles, and they inherited the labor of the nations, that they might observe His statutes and keep His laws. Praise the LORD!
(Psalm 105:43-45)

Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, lest–when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; who led you through that great and terrible wilderness, in which were fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty land where there was no water; who brought water for you out of the flinty rock; who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do you good in the end–then you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.’ “And you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. Then it shall be, if you by any means forget the LORD your God, and follow other gods, and serve them and worship them, I testify against you this day that you shall surely perish. As the nations which the LORD destroys before you, so you shall perish, because you would not be obedient to the voice of the LORD your God.
(Deuteronomy 8:11-20)

Let’s not forget our purpose! Let’s not forget why God put us on our earth. If we are busy, let’s remember God in the busy-ness! Otherwise, we are just busy heaping up stuff that will go to someone else.

It’s All About Perspective

What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?
(Ecclesiastes 1:3)

I’m preparing right now to teach a class on Ecclesiastes at our congregation, so I’ve been reading it quite a bit and trying to get the flow of the writer’s thinking. I’m assuming the writer is Solomon, but I know there’s debate about that. Solomon begins with a question, “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?”

In the first two chapters, Solomon goes through all the things he has tested, seen, experienced and observed. He tries everything including, wisdom, work, wine and women. It all leaves him wanting. By the middle of chapter 2, he gives an answer to his question…there is NOTHING to be gained.

Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.
(Ecclesiastes 2:11)

Where does this leave this great and wise king?

So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind. I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil.
(Ecclesiastes 2:17-21)

He hates life! He hated all his toil! He gives his heart up to despair! “What’s the point?”, he asks in anguish.

But then at the end of chapter 2, Solomon seems to completely contradict himself and say that you should enjoy your toil.

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?
(Ecclesiastes 2:24-25)

What? Are you barking mad, Solomon? You just said you hated it and life, now you told me to enjoy it?

Go back and read through chapter 1:1 through chapter 2:23 and look for what you don’t find there. What you don’t find there is God. There is one reference to God in 1:13 but it is not a positive outlook on God. God is basically missing from the first two chapters. Why was Solomon’s conclusion about his work so despairing and negative? Because he was doing all this without a mindset of connecting it all to his relationship with God.

If life only consists of going to work, getting money, building stuff, going places, being entertained and getting in and out of relationships, then yes life is quite the unhappy business! Is it any wonder why the suicide rate is so high? Solomon’s question answers that with Spirit-filled wisdom and accuracy:

For apart from Him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?”

When Solomon turned his perspective to God and looked for God’s involvement, then things turned around in his mind. When the great-old-wise king began seeing God’s purpose and God’s working in things, the enjoyment came back. Brightness comes back to his eyes, and a spring comes back in his step. There is meaning to all of this, and yes, we can enjoy this fleeting life, because God is here with us.

It’s all about perspective. You can go to the same job and do the same work, but have two very different attitudes about it. We can live with the same wife and kids, and have two very different perspectives. As you look around the house and property and see all that you have and all you have to do, you can look at it as a curse and drudgery, or you can see it as a blessing.

So which will you be? Will you be the Ecclesiastes 2:18 Solomon that hates work or the 2:24 Solomon that loves work and finds enjoyment in it? It all comes down to where your focus is.

It will not be well with the wicked

Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil. Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him. But it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God.
(Ecclesiastes 8:11-13)

It may seem that the wicked get away with their wickedness, but as Solomon reminded us here, it will not be “well” with them in the end.

Read it again, “Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life…but it will not be well with the wicked.” There is no “getting away with it” when it comes to God. But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out (Numbers 32:23).

Many times in the Scripture, we see God’s people groaning and lamenting over the wickedness done around them. They, like God’s people today, wonder why God lets it go on and when God’s going to do something about it. It is especially hard when the good people suffer so much at the hands of these wicked people. But remember that God is very aware both of the righteous and the wicked. He will eventually deliver those who fear Him, and He will bring swift justice on those who do not fear Him.

Here is a passage from 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 that once again brings comfort to the righteous that God will take care of them and He will punish those who do not fear God.

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering–since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

Do Not Take to Heart

Sorry for no article yesterday, wasn’t feeling well.

Anna and I were reading Ecclesiastes 7 and came across this passage:

Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.
(Ecclesiastes 7:21-22)

Is that wisdom or what? Don’t take to heart all the things people say. How easy is it to get caught up in everything that people say or think. I’m not sure if it is harder now, but it seems even harder with so many people freely and quickly posting their thoughts and judgments through internet, text, social media, etc.

Here are a few quick things that we observed when talking about this passage:

  1. “Lest you hear your servant cursing you.” It’s better not to know sometimes what people are saying. Do you really WANT to know what people are saying about you? Of course there are times you need to hear something so you can make the proper changes and address a situation. But sometimes people just get frustrated and say things they shouldn’t. Then they work through it and all is better. Do you really need to know that whole process? Your servant may have been temporarily upset, but he’s better now.
  2. Don’t be so quick to be offended. It just seems that so many folks are just waiting for the wrong word to be said so that they can be upset. That shouldn’t define us as Christians.
  3. Remember the things you’ve said about others. Before you get all self-righteous with indignation, look in the mirror. We’ve all gotten fast and loose with the tongue at times and said things about others that we later regretted. We want grace and mercy when we behave that way, so let’s extend it to others as well.
  4. Keep this in mind as a parent. Do you remember all the things you said either to your parents or about your parents when they weren’t around? Yeah, reflect on that for a bit. Don’t be so hasty to react and step on every thing your kids say, otherwise they won’t want to talk to you. Again, if you want grace as a parent, give grace to them. It is so easy to get caught up in reacting to the things our sons and daughters say. A simple conversation can turn into a nightmarish battle because we are all reacting instead of responding. I know this parent constantly needs this reminder. Don’t take to heart everything they say, and that is very easy to say. We can really get hurt in a hurry by taking to heart everything our kids say, but let’s calm down and put things in perspective. If God took to heart everything you said to Him or about Him, would you still be alive? God’s loving-kindness should be our model in how to handle all those words that get thrown around and spoken to us carelessly.

Solomon’s Perspective on “Toil”

I’m studying Ecclesiastes right now in preparation for our next class, and yesterday I was in chapter 2. Solomon sure seems all over the board about whether he likes work (toil) or not.

At first he found pleasure in the toil, and the pleasure was his reward for doing the work (2:10-11).  Then he started to get tired, older and reflective, and he realized that he will work his whole life and hand his life’s toil over to someone who didn’t work for it and probably wouldn’t appreciate it. What if that person doesn’t have the sense to tie his own shoes? Seems like a waste doesn’t it?

But then at the end of chapter 2, Solomon is back to saying that we should enjoy our work. What happened? Is Solomon mental or something? No, he realized that his mindset and purpose for work was all out of whack and that God wasn’t in the center of his purpose for work. When pleasing God is your purpose, then work becomes fun again. If you’re out to please yourself and acquire stuff, then it all eventually becomes “vanity” (a complete waste of time).

Is God at the center of your purpose? How would you know? What does that look like when your focus for working is pleasing God versus pleasing yourself and getting stuff? Take time to talk this over with a wise godly brother and do some praying and reflection about it.

Below are the passages I referenced from Ecclesiastes.

And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.
(Ecclesiastes 2:10-11)

I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
(Ecclesiastes 2:18-26)