Friday, July 31, 2009

Reflections on Ecclesiastes 12

    Ecclesiastes 12 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Keep your Creator in mind while you are young! In years to come, you will be burdened down with troubles and say, "I don't enjoy life anymore."
  2. Someday the light of the sun and the moon and the stars will all seem dim to you. Rain clouds will remain over your head.
  3. Your body will grow feeble, your teeth will decay, and your eyesight fail.
  4. The noisy grinding of grain will be shut out by your deaf ears, but even the song of a bird will keep you awake.
  5. You will be afraid to climb up a hill or walk down a road. Your hair will turn as white as almond blossoms. You will feel lifeless and drag along like an old grasshopper. We each go to our eternal home, and the streets are filled with those who mourn.
  6. The silver cord snaps, the golden bowl breaks; the water pitcher is smashed, and the pulley at the well is shattered.
  7. So our bodies return to the earth, and the life-giving breath returns to God.
  8. Nothing makes sense. I have seen it all-- nothing makes sense.
  9. I was a wise teacher with much understanding, and I collected a number of proverbs that I had carefully studied.
  10. Then I tried to explain these things in the best and most accurate way.
  11. Words of wisdom are like the stick a farmer uses to make animals move. These sayings come from God, our only shepherd, and they are like nails that fasten things together.
  12. My child, I warn you to stay away from any teachings except these. There is no end to books, and too much study will wear you out.
  13. Everything you were taught can be put into a few words: Respect and obey God! This is what life is all about.
  14. God will judge everything we do, even what is done in secret, whether good or bad.

We come to the last chapter of Ecclesiastes and Solomon comes full circle to where he began - "Everything is futile." But now we have a better understanding of his message. What seemed at the beginning to be a very negative and depressing message turns out to be one of narrowing the focus of one's life. Basically his message is that all other pursuits apart from God are futile. "So remember your Creator in the days of your youth." If all other pursuits are futile, latch on to the one pursuit that is not futile while you can enjoy it for the maximum amount of time. Especially so you can enjoy it before the adversities of age creep up on you and you have not the capacity to enjoy the "fruit of your labor."

Solomon does not mention enjoying the fruit of our labor in this chapter, but it has been a central point in much of the book. In fact the message of the book might be stated as this: Remember your Creator and thus live responsibly as you enjoy the fruit of your labor. All other pursuits are futile and lead nowhere, so concentrate on this and enjoy life the best you can.

His descriptions of old age are not especially cheerful. From Solomon's perspective, once the body began to decline it was beginning its march toward death. It was a time when "the keepers of the house tremble" (arms and legs growing weak), when "the grinders cease because they are few" (teeth becoming fewer), "those looking through the windows grow dim" (eyesight failing), and "the grasshopper drags himself along (body is bent and one's walk is slowed), to mention a few of his descriptions. Before these things occur, remember your Creator. Otherwise your days will be filled with futile pursuits.

In the last verses of the chapter, which is also the conclusion to the book, Solomon sites the authority behind his message. As for his personal qualifications as a wisdom teacher, Solomon said he was wise and imparted knowledge to the people. Teachers were one of three kinds of leaders through whom God revealed His will to Israel. The other two were priests and prophets. He was placing himself in this group. In addition he weighed and explored and arranged many proverbs in arriving at his teaching, and he sought to make them aesthetically pleasing without sacrificing truth (verse 10). But above all, "The sayings are given by one Shepherd" which is the Lord. Having sited these sources, Solomon then cautions against looking further for wisdom for two reasons: There is no end to this pursuit and you will wear yourself out doing it, and besides the conclusion of the matter is to "fear God and keep His commandments, which applies to everyone. No need to look further. You can do so, but you will find nothing of meaning beyond this. Don't think this conclusion applies to only a few and there is another truth for you. It applies to everyone, for God is the Creator of everyone. So remember your Creator now and forever.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Reflections on Ecclesiastes 11

    Ecclesiastes 11 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Be generous, and someday you will be rewarded.
  2. Share what you have with seven or eight others, because you never know when disaster may strike.
  3. Rain clouds always bring rain; trees always stay wherever they fall.
  4. If you worry about the weather and don't plant seeds, you won't harvest a crop.
  5. No one can explain how a baby breathes before it is born. So how can anyone explain what God does? After all, he created everything.
  6. Plant your seeds early in the morning and keep working in the field until dark. Who knows? Your work might pay off, and your seeds might produce.
  7. Nothing on earth is more beautiful than the morning sun.
  8. Even if you live to a ripe old age, you should try to enjoy each day, because darkness will come and will last a long time. Nothing makes sense.
  9. Be cheerful and enjoy life while you are young! Do what you want and find pleasure in what you see. But don't forget that God will judge you for everything you do.
  10. Rid yourself of all worry and pain, because the wonderful moments of youth quickly disappear.

Solomon seems to express a tension in Ecclesiastes between diligence and enjoying the fruit of one's labor. This tension is no more evident than in this chapter. The first half of the chapter is about diligence while the second half is about enjoyment. As for diligence, Solomon offers good business advice in verses 1-6, which, in my terminology, is to diversify and to avoid over analyzing. As for diversification, he gives two examples. One relates to maritime trade. "Send your bread on the surface of the waters," he says. Though some have understood this to be a reference to generosity in giving to others, I prefer the maritime trade meaning. In sending out your bread, or products, across the waters you may have a return. But don't send it to just one location. Send it to seven or eight places instead. Why? "Who knows what disaster may happen?" Thus, if there is a shipwreck or some other disaster with one market a return can still be expected from the other markets.

A second example of diversification relates to farming. Solomon says to be continually sowing your seed. You don't know what sowing will succeed, and if you have only sown in one field and it doesn't produce, you have nothing. But don't over analyze. If you spend too much time trying to discern the weather before you sow you will never get anything done. Besides, what do you really know about the weather or the future for that matter? He says the one who watches the wind or looks at the clouds will neither sow nor reap. To further emphasize our ignorance of these things, he points out our lack of understanding about the direction of the wind, the developing of a child in the womb, and the work of God. There is too much we don't know so it is useless to try to figure out the best timing or environment to sow our seed. Just do it!

Then we come to the other side of the equation - enjoying the fruit of our labor. As with the first half of the chapter, there are also two parts to this half: Enjoy life because death is coming, and enjoy life while you are young because youth is fleeting, but do so responsibly. Solomon's remarks in verses 7-10 are sandwiched between two statements emphasizing the brevity and uncertainty of life. In verse 7 he says, "it is pleasing for the eyes to see the sun," because there will be many days of darkness. In other words, enjoy the light when you have it. He comes back to this thought in verse 10, "Remove sorrow from your heart . . . because youth and the prime of life are fleeting." Life is too short to spend it sorrowing. Together the thoughts send the message to enjoy life when you can. Don't use up the days of sunshine in sorrow over what cannot be changed. Enjoy them. This thought is filled in more with the verses that come between them. "Walk in the ways of your heart and in the sights of your eyes." (verse 9) Or as it is stated in the Message bible, "Follow the impulses of your heart. If something looks good to you, pursue it." This sounds like an open license to do anything, but it is immediately followed with the admonition, "but know that for all of these things God will bring you to judgment." Our enjoyment must be done responsibly.

In overview, Solomon's counsel is to have balance in life. We do need to be diligent or we have nothing, but if we become overly diligent we cannot enjoy life and the fruit of our labor. On the other hand, we cannot spend all our time enjoying life or there is no fruit from labor to enjoy. Most of us have difficulty with balance in our lives. Depending on our personalities we are either inclined toward too much diligence or too much enjoyment. But one is not possible without the other. The trick is to have balance and this is where Godly wisdom is needed.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Reflections on James 2

    James 02 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. My friends, if you have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, you won't treat some people better than others.
  2. Suppose a rich person wearing fancy clothes and a gold ring comes to one of your meetings. And suppose a poor person dressed in worn-out clothes also comes.
  3. You must not give the best seat to the one in fancy clothes and tell the one who is poor to stand at the side or sit on the floor.
  4. That is the same as saying that some people are better than others, and you would be acting like a crooked judge.
  5. My dear friends, pay attention. God has given a lot of faith to the poor people in this world. He has also promised them a share in his kingdom that he will give to everyone who loves him.
  6. You mistreat the poor. But isn't it the rich who boss you around and drag you off to court?
  7. Aren't they the ones who make fun of your Lord?
  8. You will do all right, if you obey the most important law in the Scriptures. It is the law that commands us to love others as much as we love ourselves.
  9. But if you treat some people better than others, you have done wrong, and the Scriptures teach that you have sinned.
  10. If you obey every law except one, you are still guilty of breaking them all.
  11. The same God who told us to be faithful in marriage also told us not to murder. So even if you are faithful in marriage, but murder someone, you still have broken God's Law.
  12. Speak and act like people who will be judged by the law that sets us free.
  13. Do this, because on the day of judgment there will be no pity for those who have not had pity on others. But even in judgment, God is merciful!

[Another detour into James] The first half of this chapter speaks to the issue of partiality within the ranks of these early Christians whom James is addressing. He makes it clear that this partiality is a sin, one which is a total contradiction of who we are as bearers of the name of Christ. First of all, he points out who it is we call Lord. It is Christ we call Lord, not the rich to whom they were showing favoritism or partiality. So it is Christ to whom they should give their allegiance, not the rich. Christ he called glorious, but the rich, he pointed out, were those who took them to court and blasphemed the name of Christ that they bore. Where is their value here? Is it not misplaced?

We can never forget that in the kingdom of God things are turned upside down. The things normally valued among people are not those that are valued in God's kingdom. Christ, who is King of Kings, was not born in a palace or have servants or wealth. He was born in a lowly manger and served rather than be served. Thus, he was discounted by most. He didn't fit their expectation. Now we, who have accepted Him, receiving Him as Lord and King, do we operate under a different value system than our Lord by showing a favoritism He does not show? We must remember that if Christ were to show favoritism we would likely be left out. But He leaves no one out regardless of their standing in terms of earthly values. Any who will receive Him as Lord will be received by Him.

I suspect one reason this favoritism was an issue for this group of Christians addressed by James is that they had just come out of Judaism and had long been in a culture that considered the rich to be favored and blessed by God. It was a form of "prosperity theology." If one had wealth and health it was an indication they were in good standing with God, and if they did not, an indication of sin in their life and thus not in good standing with God. Before viewing these actions too critically we should consider the culture in which we live that practices celebrity worship. Though we may not consider ourselves too caught up in this craze, who might we push out of the way in order to rub shoulders with a person of celebrity? Such attitudes lie near the surface in many Christian settings. Who is it we like to hold up in our illustrations of those who follow Christ? Do we not highlight the celebrity rather than the person of low standing? Who do we fall all over ourselves to have speak at our gatherings giving testimony of their faith in Christ? Is it not the celebrities? And do we not justify this with the argument that they will draw a larger crowd and thus have greater opportunity to bring unbelievers to Christ? But in doing this, how close do we come to falling under James' admonitions on favoritism?

We just need to keep some things clearly in mind. It was the lowly that God has chosen to make rich in faith. If we are to hold up examples in our gatherings let it be of those rich in faith. In addition, let us also keep in mind that in Christ we are made equals. There are no celebrities and there are none against whom He discriminates. We are motivated by the "royal law" which is to love our neighbor as ourselves. In Christ's value system we do not ask, "who is my neighbor" but we ask, "whose neighbor am I?" In so doing, we seek to be a neighbor to all, and thus to love all as we do ourselves. In so doing, we will be judged with mercy by our Lord.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Reflections on Ecclesiastes 10

    Ecclesiastes 10 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. A few dead flies in perfume make all of it stink, and a little foolishness outweighs a lot of wisdom.
  2. Sensible thoughts lead you to do right; foolish thoughts lead you to do wrong.
  3. Fools show their stupidity by the way they live; it's easy to see they have no sense.
  4. Don't give up your job when your boss gets angry. If you stay calm, you'll be forgiven.
  5. Some things rulers do are terribly unfair:
  6. They honor fools, but dishonor the rich;
  7. they let slaves ride on horses, but force slave owners to walk.
  8. If you dig a pit, you might fall in; if you break down a wall, a snake might bite you.
  9. You could even get hurt by chiseling a stone or chopping a log.
  10. If you don't sharpen your ax, it will be harder to use; if you are smart, you'll know what to do.
  11. The power to charm a snake does you no good if it bites you anyway.
  12. If you talk sensibly, you will have friends; if you talk foolishly, you will destroy yourself.
  13. Fools begin with nonsense, and their stupid chatter ends with disaster.
  14. They never tire of talking, but none of us really know what the future will bring.
  15. Fools wear themselves out-- they don't know enough to find their way home.
  16. A country is in for trouble when its ruler is childish, and its leaders party all day long.
  17. But a nation will prosper when its ruler is mature, and its leaders don't party too much.
  18. Some people are too lazy to fix a leaky roof-- then the house falls in.
  19. Eating and drinking make you feel happy, and bribes can buy everything you need.
  20. Don't even think about cursing the king; don't curse the rich, not even in secret. A little bird might hear and tell everything.

In the verses of chapter 10 Solomon again proclaims the advantages of wisdom but he also points out how easily those advantages can be nullified. In fact, this point is made from the outstart in verse 1. Folly can spoil wisdom and honor, he says, as dead flies will spoil a perfumer's oil. One may have a strong history of acting wisely and spoil it all in one act of folly. This is no reason to abandon wisdom, though, for the wise man inclines to the right while the fool inclines to the left. A person's right was a reference of strength and protection and good and the left is a contrast to that. Then walking along the road, or in the way, is a reference to moral behavior, and the fool's lack of sense is obvious even as he walks this road, says Solomon. Though wisdom may be readily nullified, it is still a better road to travel.

Offering an example of wisdom's advantage, Solomon mentions how wisdom can protect a person. If a ruler's (or supervisor's or boss's) anger rises against you, remain calm. Don't go off in a huff as would be the inclination of a fool. Your calmness and steadiness at your job can put the offense to rest. Possibly suggesting that such a situation is the result of a ruler who is a fool, Solomon states an evil he has seen in which the acts of a capricious or foolish leader brings about role reversals. Therefore, position is assigned, not on merit, but on the bases of the ruler's caprice. Thus you have fools in high positions while the wise remain in lowly positions, and slaves on horses while princes walk. Such folly can nullify wisdom, as can improper timing which causes one who digs a pit to fall into it or one who quarries stone to be hurt by the stones. But the wise person is more inclined to success because he will not do such things as to work with a dull axe which requires additional strength and prolongs the job or hinders successful completion of it.

The use of the tongue is probably the clearest distinction between the wise and the foolish. While the words of a wise man will be gracious, those of a fool will consume him. From beginning to end, he speaks folly and is so oblivious of it that rather than shutting up, he talks on endlessly, making claims that have little likelihood of success. No one knows what will happen, but the fool makes his claims just the same. He is so clueless, though, that he can't even find his way to the city, much less have success with his claims.

The chapter concludes with another example of fools in leadership. Woe, he says, when your king is a household servant. This isn't to say that a household servant is necessarily a fool, but without experience or background for leadership, he will likely act the fool in the role of a ruler, particularly if he has come to the position through capricious appointment rather than by merit. In such a case, those who rule will be more inclined to enjoy the pleasures of their position without attending to the responsibilities it brings. Thus through negligence the roof caves in and the house leaks. But, the wise man in this situation will keep quiet. He will not even give thought to criticizing the foolish king, let alone speak of it even in his bedroom. What one thinks can easily slip out and one never knows when they might be overheard and "a winged creature may report the matter."

Monday, July 27, 2009

Reflections on Ecclesiastes 9

    Ecclesiastes 09 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. I thought about these things. Then I understood that God has power over everyone, even those of us who are wise and live right. Anything can happen to any of us, and so we never know if life will be good or bad.
  2. But exactly the same thing will finally happen to all of us, whether we live right and respect God or sin and don't respect God. Yes, the same thing will happen if we offer sacrifices to God or if we don't, if we keep our promises or break them.
  3. It's terribly unfair for the same thing to happen to each of us. We are mean and foolish while we live, and then we die.
  4. As long as we are alive, we still have hope, just as a live dog is better off than a dead lion.
  5. We know that we will die, but the dead don't know a thing. Nothing good will happen to them--they are gone and forgotten.
  6. Their loves, their hates, and their jealous feelings have all disappeared with them. They will never again take part in anything that happens on this earth.
  7. Be happy and enjoy eating and drinking! God decided long ago that this is what you should do.
  8. Dress up, comb your hair, and look your best.
  9. Life is short, and you love your wife, so enjoy being with her. This is what you are supposed to do as you struggle through life on this earth.
  10. Work hard at whatever you do. You will soon go to the world of the dead, where no one works or thinks or reasons or knows anything.
  11. Here is something else I have learned: The fastest runners and the greatest heroes don't always win races and battles. Wisdom, intelligence, and skill don't always make you healthy, rich, or popular. We each have our share of bad luck.
  12. None of us know when we might fall victim to a sudden disaster and find ourselves like fish in a net or birds in a trap.
  13. Once I saw what people really think of wisdom.
  14. It happened when a powerful ruler surrounded and attacked a small city where only a few people lived. The enemy army was getting ready to break through the city walls.
  15. But the city was saved by the wisdom of a poor person who was soon forgotten.
  16. So I decided that wisdom is better than strength. Yet if you are poor, no one pays any attention to you, no matter how smart you are.
  17. Words of wisdom spoken softly make much more sense than the shouts of a ruler to a crowd of fools.
  18. Wisdom is more powerful than weapons, yet one mistake can destroy all the good you have done.

Solomon offers little that is positive in this chapter, other than his common theme that it is good to enjoy the fruit of one's labor. The chapter starts by pointing out the common destiny for both the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad. That is, that everyone is destined to die. No matter what type of person we have been or what accomplishments we have had, we all will die. It would not be accurate, though, to say that all share the same fate after death, but that is not what Solomon is addressing. He is merely saying that no one will escape death. He considers this an evil.

As long as one is alive, though, there is hope. Hope for what? Hope to enjoy the fruit of one's labor. We can still eat and drink with cheerful hearts and can enjoy the wife we love. But once we are dead there is no opportunity for any of this. In this, too, however, we all share a commonality - we are subject to uncertainty of the future and do not know what will happen to the fruit of our labor. There is no difference in this for the swiftest or the strongest, the wisest or the richest, "time and chance happen to all."

Having said this, he commends wisdom. The wise die the same as anyone else and they are subject to the same uncertainties of life as anyone else, but there is still an advantage to wisdom. It can trump the strong and the great. The calm words of the wise are better heeded than "the shouts of a ruler over fools." He adds a caution to this as well, though. A wise man may save the day, but he may also go unrecognized, and though wisdom is better than weapons of war, wisdom's value can be nullified by a little folly.

What can be concluded from this passage? Do we learn from this an attitude of cynicism? I don't think so. Solomon has merely pointed out what becomes evident to any of us eventually. Regardless of what we do or who we are, we will die. And no matter how blessed we may be at any given time, everything is subject to loss. We don't know what the future brings. It is uncertain and in a moment without any warning, it can all be gone. Nevertheless, what advantage is there in cynicism? What advantage is there to living recklessly? The cynic loses his ability to enjoy anything, and the reckless one runs the risk of cutting it all short. It is still best, as Solomon points out, to enjoy the fruit of one's labor and to seek the benefits of wisdom.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Reflections on Ecclesiastes 8

    Ecclesiastes 08 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Who is smart enough to explain everything? Wisdom makes you cheerful and gives you a smile.
  2. If you promised God that you would be loyal to the king, I advise you to keep that promise.
  3. Don't quickly oppose the king or argue when he has already made up his mind.
  4. The king's word is law. No one can ask him, "Why are you doing this?"
  5. If you obey the king, you will stay out of trouble. So be smart and learn what to do and when to do it.
  6. Life is hard, but there is a time and a place for everything,
  7. though no one can tell the future.
  8. We cannot control the wind or determine the day of our death. There is no escape in time of war, and no one can hide behind evil.
  9. I noticed all this and thought seriously about what goes on in the world. Why does one person have the power to hurt another?
  10. I saw the wicked buried with honor, but God's people had to leave the holy city and were forgotten. None of this makes sense.
  11. When we see criminals commit crime after crime without being punished, it makes us want to start a life of crime.
  12. They commit hundreds of crimes and live to a ripe old age, in spite of the saying: Everyone who lives right and respects God will prosper,
  13. but no one who sins and rejects God will prosper or live very long.
  14. There is something else that doesn't make sense to me. Good citizens are treated as criminals, while criminals are honored as though they were good citizens.
  15. So I think we should get as much out of life as we possibly can. There is nothing better than to enjoy our food and drink and to have a good time. Then we can make it through this troublesome life that God has given us here on earth.
  16. Day and night I went without sleep, trying to understand what goes on in this world.
  17. I saw everything God does, and I realized that no one can really understand what happens. We may be very wise, but no matter how much we try or how much we claim to know, we cannot understand it all.

This chapter of Ecclesiastes might best be understood by approaching it with two questions: What are the benefits of wisdom? and What are the limitations of wisdom?  As for the benefits of wisdom, Solomon first says that wisdom brightens a person's face, removing the sternness that would otherwise be there. Is this because a wise person is lighter in heart which is reflected in a more pleasant demeanor, or as one commentator suggests, is it that the wise person knows how to act graciously and avoid brash behavior, and this more pleasant behavior is reflected in a more pleasant appearance? I lean toward the first understanding, that the brighter face is a result of a lighter heart, as the Contemporary English Version also understands it to mean - "Wisdom makes you cheerful and gives you a smile." (CEV)

Another benefit of wisdom, according to Solomon, is that a wise man understands and practices proper decorum in the presence of the king. We might apply this to any person of authority. It is best, he says, to obey the orders of the king and not to oppose him once his mind is made up. By so doing, one can stay out of trouble. He says, "a wise heart knows the right time and procedure," in other words, a wise person learns what to do and when to do it. The right thing at the wrong time is not good, and there is no proper time for a wrong thing.

Furthermore, the wise man restrains himself in the face of an uncertain future. He understands there is a right time and procedure for everything and patiently discerns when it is right to do something. Neither the wise man nor the foolish one know what the future will bring. Neither can control when they will die, but the wise man does not resort to wickedness in an effort to stave off the inevitable day of his demise. Just as the wind cannot be restrained, and no one has authority over when he will die, nor does anyone get a break during a war, neither can any one hide behind evil. As Solomon continues in verses 9-13, he emphasizes the outcome for those who try to hide behind evil. Those in authority will bring harm to them. This point also references the earlier statement about proper decorum before the king. Failure to obey the king, or obey the laws, will result in harm to oneself. There will be some people, however, who will persist in wickedness since justice is often slow to work its course. When sentencing for criminal acts is delayed, those with a bent toward crime will continue in crime thinking there will be no recompense. But whether the criminal gets his due before the justice system or not, it will not go well for him before God. Solomon is still speaking here to the benefits of wisdom. The wise man avoids this course and persists in doing the right thing at the right time.

Now we come to the limitations of wisdom, starting with verse 14. First Solomon recognizes that there are injustices in life for which the wise cannot understand. Why do righteous people sometimes get what the wicked deserve and the wicked sometimes get what the righteous deserve? This is an ageless question to which only God has the answer. In addition, Solomon sought to pursue the depths of wisdom and found it was an endless task that could not be accomplished. Man cannot understand all there is to understand. It is beyond him. Although wisdom is good and has it benefits, man is limited in his ability to acquire it. So what is Solomon's conclusion? Much the same as in earlier chapters - enjoy the fruit of your labor. Be content with what you have and accept the life God gives you.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Reflections on James 1

    James 01 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. From James, a servant of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ. Greetings to the twelve tribes scattered all over the world.
  2. From James, a servant of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ. Greetings to the twelve tribes scattered all over the world.
  3. My friends, be glad, even if you have a lot of trouble.
  4. My friends, be glad, even if you have a lot of trouble.
  5. You know that you learn to endure by having your faith tested.
  6. You know that you learn to endure by having your faith tested.
  7. But you must learn to endure everything, so that you will be completely mature and not lacking in anything.
  8. But you must learn to endure everything, so that you will be completely mature and not lacking in anything.
  9. If any of you need wisdom, you should ask God, and it will be given to you. God is generous and won't correct you for asking.
  10. If any of you need wisdom, you should ask God, and it will be given to you. God is generous and won't correct you for asking.
  11. But when you ask for something, you must have faith and not doubt. Anyone who doubts is like an ocean wave tossed around in a storm.
  12. But when you ask for something, you must have faith and not doubt. Anyone who doubts is like an ocean wave tossed around in a storm.
  13. If you are that kind of person, you can't make up your mind, and you surely can't be trusted. So don't expect the Lord to give you anything at all.
  14. If you are that kind of person, you can't make up your mind, and you surely can't be trusted. So don't expect the Lord to give you anything at all.
  15. (SEE 1:7)
  16. (SEE 1:7)
  17. Any of God's people who are poor should be glad that he thinks so highly of them.
  18. Any of God's people who are poor should be glad that he thinks so highly of them.
  19. But any who are rich should be glad when God makes them humble. Rich people will disappear like wild flowers
  20. But any who are rich should be glad when God makes them humble. Rich people will disappear like wild flowers
  21. scorched by the burning heat of the sun. The flowers lose their blossoms, and their beauty is destroyed. That is how the rich will disappear, as they go about their business.
  22. scorched by the burning heat of the sun. The flowers lose their blossoms, and their beauty is destroyed. That is how the rich will disappear, as they go about their business.
  23. God will bless you, if you don't give up when your faith is being tested. He will reward you with a glorious life, just as he rewards everyone who loves him.
  24. God will bless you, if you don't give up when your faith is being tested. He will reward you with a glorious life, just as he rewards everyone who loves him.
  25. Don't blame God when you are tempted! God cannot be tempted by evil, and he doesn't use evil to tempt others.
  26. Don't blame God when you are tempted! God cannot be tempted by evil, and he doesn't use evil to tempt others.
  27. We are tempted by our own desires that drag us off and trap us.
  28. We are tempted by our own desires that drag us off and trap us.
  29. Our desires make us sin, and when sin is finished with us, it leaves us dead.
  30. Our desires make us sin, and when sin is finished with us, it leaves us dead.
  31. Don't be fooled, my dear friends.
  32. Don't be fooled, my dear friends.
  33. Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father who created all the lights in the heavens. He is always the same and never makes dark shadows by changing.
  34. Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father who created all the lights in the heavens. He is always the same and never makes dark shadows by changing.
  35. He wanted us to be his own special people, and so he sent the true message to give us new birth.
  36. He wanted us to be his own special people, and so he sent the true message to give us new birth.
  37. My dear friends, you should be quick to listen and slow to speak or to get angry.
  38. My dear friends, you should be quick to listen and slow to speak or to get angry.
  39. If you are angry, you cannot do any of the good things that God wants done.
  40. If you are angry, you cannot do any of the good things that God wants done.
  41. You must stop doing anything immoral or evil. Instead be humble and accept the message that is planted in you to save you.
  42. You must stop doing anything immoral or evil. Instead be humble and accept the message that is planted in you to save you.
  43. Obey God's message! Don't fool yourselves by just listening to it.
  44. Obey God's message! Don't fool yourselves by just listening to it.
  45. If you hear the message and don't obey it, you are like people who stare at themselves in a mirror
  46. If you hear the message and don't obey it, you are like people who stare at themselves in a mirror
  47. and forget what they look like as soon as they leave.
  48. and forget what they look like as soon as they leave.
  49. But you must never stop looking at the perfect law that sets you free. God will bless you in everything you do, if you listen and obey, and don't just hear and forget.
  50. But you must never stop looking at the perfect law that sets you free. God will bless you in everything you do, if you listen and obey, and don't just hear and forget.
  51. If you think you are being religious, but can't control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and everything you do is useless.
  52. If you think you are being religious, but can't control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and everything you do is useless.
  53. Religion that pleases God the Father must be pure and spotless. You must help needy orphans and widows and not let this world make you evil.
  54. Religion that pleases God the Father must be pure and spotless. You must help needy orphans and widows and not let this world make you evil.

[NOTE: I am taking a brief detour from my reflections in Ecclesiastes into James as I prepare to teach a lesson from James 1:19-27]
James speaks throughout this book of a very practical religion, and this passage (1:19-27) is no exception. There are many ways people fool themselves concerning their religious fervor or spiritual maturity. Two are mentioned in this passage.  One is having scriptural knowledge and the other is doing good towards others. Both can give a false sense of our spiritual maturity.

Concerning the first, having scriptural knowledge, we tend to believe ourselves spiritually mature if we have a fairly comprehensive knowledge of scripture and our beliefs are compatible with scripture. But this is not equivalent with being obedient to the teachings of scripture. I once heard said of a person that they thought saying something was equivalent to doing it. In this case, many seem to think that believing something is equivalent with obedience. But James says such a one deceives himself.

The second way people fool themselves concerning their spiritual condition is in doing good toward others. Though helping people in need is a teaching of scripture, simply doing so is not an indication of obedience to God's Word or of one's spiritual maturity. Many people help others in need, even non-religious people and people who don't believe their is a God. It is our motivation that determines whether helping others is an act of obedience to God's Word and people are easily fooled concerning their motivations.

But James provides us a test of our spiritual condition and whether or not we are truly obedient to God's Word. It is the control of our tongue. This cannot for long be faked. Sooner or later the true person will come out through the use of their tongue. As Abraham Lincoln said, "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time." Why is it that we cannot fool ourselves and others all of the time? It requires controlling our tongues all of the time and that cannot be done unless that is our true nature - the nature we have allowed God to give us.

How do we allow God to give us this nature? James says in verse 21 it is by providing fertile soil in our hearts for the implanting of God's Word which then allows it to grow and produce fruit in our lives. Galatians chapter 5 tells us what fruit is produced in our lives when we provide fertile soil for the implanting of God's Word.  It is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. When this fruit of God's Spirit is present in our lives the tongue will come under the control of these characteristics which have become a part of our nature.

What should be our motivation for allowing God's Word to be implanted in our lives to produce such fruit? It is the accomplishment of God's righteousness (v. 20). This, really, is another test of our spiritual condition or maturity. Whether or not we are motivated by a desire for God's righteousness to be accomplished in us or in anyone. It is actually the initial motivation which brings the transformation in our lives that makes possible the controlling of our tongues, which is a test of whether or not the transformation has taken place.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Reflections on Ecclesiastes 7

    Ecclesiastes 07 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. A good reputation at the time of death is better than loving care at the time of birth.
  2. It's better to go to a funeral than to attend a feast; funerals remind us that we all must die.
  3. Choose sorrow over laughter because a sad face may hide a happy heart.
  4. A sensible person mourns, but fools always laugh.
  5. Harsh correction is better than the songs of a fool.
  6. Foolish laughter is stupid. It sounds like thorns crackling in a fire.
  7. Corruption makes fools of sensible people, and bribes can ruin you.
  8. Something completed is better than something just begun; patience is better than too much pride.
  9. Only fools get angry quickly and hold a grudge.
  10. It isn't wise to ask, "Why is everything worse than it used to be?"
  11. Having wisdom is better than an inheritance.
  12. Wisdom will protect you just like money; knowledge with good sense will lead you to life.
  13. Think of what God has done! If God makes something crooked, can you make it straight?
  14. When times are good, you should be cheerful; when times are bad, think what it means. God makes them both to keep us from knowing what will happen next.
  15. I have seen everything during this senseless life of mine. I have seen good citizens die for doing the right thing, and I have seen criminals live to a ripe old age.
  16. So don't destroy yourself by being too good or acting too smart!
  17. Don't die before your time by being too evil or acting like a fool.
  18. Keep to the middle of the road. You can do this if you truly respect God.
  19. Wisdom will make you stronger than the ten most powerful leaders in your city.
  20. No one in this world always does right.
  21. Don't listen to everything that everyone says, or you might hear your servant cursing you.
  22. Haven't you cursed many others?
  23. I told myself that I would be smart and try to understand all of this, but it was too much for me.
  24. The truth is beyond us. It's far too deep.
  25. So I decided to learn everything I could and become wise enough to discover what life is all about. At the same time, I wanted to understand why it's stupid and senseless to be an evil fool.
  26. Here is what I discovered: A bad woman is worse than death. She is a trap, reaching out with body and soul to catch you. But if you obey God, you can escape. If you don't obey, you are done for.
  27. With all my wisdom I have tried to find out how everything fits together,
  28. but so far I have not been able to. I do know there is one good man in a thousand, but never have I found a good woman.
  29. I did learn one thing: We were completely honest when God created us, but now we have twisted minds.

Solomon, in chapter 7, turns his attention to matters of life and death advising us to consider both. He states it a bit strangely, though, saying, "It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting," and, "Grief is better than laughter," and, "The heart of the wise is in a house of mourning." He also says that listening to the song and laughter of fools is "like the crackling of burning thorns under the pot." Thorns make a lot of noise when they burn, snapping and crackling, but they do not produce much heat. So it is when we spend excessive amounts of our time having fun. As it is said, laughter is good for the heart, with which I agree, but too much laughter innoculates us against the realities of life. And I suspect many like to spend much of their time having fun so they don't have to think too much about the issues of death and the brevity of life. But Solomon says it can do us more good than the laughter.

There are two big questions man wonders about but often tries to avoid. Death and the brevity of life, mentioned above, is one. This includes also the meaning of life. The second big question relates to prosperity and adversity. Why does prosperity come to some and adversity to others? This is where Solomon turns his attention next. We never really question prosperity, wondering why it has come to us, nor even considering God much in regard to it. But we nearly always question adversity as to why it has come to us, usually blaming God for allowing it to happen to us. Adversity tests our true character. Solomon says not to be tempted under adversity to turn to extortion or bribery, He advises us to be patient in the midst of the adversity allowing it to play out, for the end is better than the beginning. Neither should we rush to anger due to our adversity or bemoan the fact that it used to be better than it is now. This is not wise, he says. It does not help us deal with the adversity or to learn from it. Adversity is an important teacher and we should learn its lessons. But we won't if we only whine about it and want to return to a better time, or blame God for allowing it to happen to us.

As for prosperity, Solomon says it is an advantage if it is accompanied with wisdom. Wisdom, added to prosperity "preserves the life of its owner." But whether prosperous or overcome with adversity, consider the work of God "who has made one as well as the other." We often assume prosperity is a result of one's righteousness and adversity a result of their wickedness, but not so. It is in God's sovereignty that we have what we have and we can't change that by trying to be overly righteous or overly wicked. Thus it is best to accept God's sovereignty and learn from it. Trying to manipulate it through our own actions will only mess things up. We certainly cannot be righteous enough to 'earn' prosperity, and wickedness is self-destructive. Our only hope is in God. Solomon says that in his search he has found only one in a thousand who is true or righteous. This is not how God made us. He made us upright but we continually mess it up with our schemes. Our only hope is to return to God and to what He made us to be and abandon our schemes.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Reflections on Ecclesiastes 6

    Ecclesiastes 06 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. There is something else terribly unfair, and it troubles everyone on earth.
  2. God may give you everything you want--money, property, and wealth. Then God doesn't let you enjoy it, and someone you don't even know gets it all. That's senseless and terribly unfair!
  3. You may live a long time and have a hundred children. But a child born dead is better off than you, unless you enjoy life and have a decent burial.
  4. That child will never live to see the sun or to have a name, and it will go straight to the world of darkness. But it will still find more rest than you,
  5. (SEE 6:4)
  6. even if you live two thousand years and don't enjoy life. As you know, we all end up in the same place.
  7. We struggle just to have enough to eat, but we are never satisfied.
  8. We may be sensible, yet we are no better off than a fool. And if we are poor, it still doesn't do us any good to try to live right.
  9. It's better to enjoy what we have than to always want something else, because that makes no more sense than chasing the wind.
  10. Everything that happens was decided long ago. We humans know what we are like, and we can't argue with God, because he is too strong for us.
  11. The more we talk, the less sense we make, so what good does it do to talk?
  12. Life is short and meaningless, and it fades away like a shadow. Who knows what is best for us? Who knows what will happen after we are gone?

A drawback to reflecting on scripture chapter by chapter is that often the chapters do not make a clean break in the thought. Chapters 5-7 in Proverbs are an example. The thought at the end of chapter 5 is completed in chapter 6, and the thought begun toward the end of chapter 6 is completed in chapter 7. So I will follow the thoughts rather than the chapter breaks.

Solomon's thought at the conclusion of chapter 5 was that man's reward in life is to enjoy the fruit of his labor. Earlier in the chapter he discussed things that could keep man from enjoying this fruit which he should try to avoid, contenting himself to this simple enjoyment of what he has. This thought is continued as we move into chapter 6 and Solomon speaks of the tragedy of a man not being able to enjoy the fruit of his labor. And the irony, in many instances, is that a person may have abundant wealth, great honor, and lack nothing he would like to have, yet they do not enjoy what they have. Even if they had many children and lived a long life they still do not enjoy the fruit of their labor. Why? He is not satisfied with the good things he has. Is this really surprising? When has man ever found real satisfaction in life due to his accumulation of things?

How tragic is this occurrence? Solomon likens it to a stillborn child. In fact he says the stillborn is better off. It comes in futility, never sees the light of day, and is never conscious, but at least it has more rest than the one who has not enjoyed the fruit of his labor. Is the futility of this stillborn any greater than living a long life yet not enjoying it? But it is not as if man does not have a choice in the matter. He does have a choice. What makes the lack of enjoyment in life an even greater tragedy is that the person does have a choice and does not use his option of being satisfied with what he has and enjoying life.

Man's appetite is never satisfied and his lack of enjoyment in life comes, at least in part, from trying to satisfy an appetite that won't be satisfied. Thus, Solomon's conclusion is to be satisfied with what one has. All of us are susceptible to this pursuit of more, including the wise, the poor, the fool, and the rich. The wise may know better how to get along in the world than a fool, but in this respect he is no different unless he allows his wisdom to inform of this truth. Solomon says, "Better what the eyes see than wandering desire." Better to enjoy what we have than to be coveting what we don't have. Constantly longing for more is futile, a meaningless "pursuit of the wind."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Reflections on Ecclesiastes 5

    Ecclesiastes 05 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Be careful what you do when you enter the house of God. Some fools go there to offer sacrifices, even though they haven't sinned. But it's best just to listen when you go to worship.
  2. Don't talk before you think or make promises to God without thinking them through. God is in heaven, and you are on earth, so don't talk too much.
  3. If you keep thinking about something, you will dream about it. If you talk too much, you will say the wrong thing.
  4. God doesn't like fools. So don't be slow to keep your promises to God.
  5. It's better not to make a promise at all than to make one and not keep it.
  6. Don't let your mouth get you in trouble! And don't say to the worship leader, "I didn't mean what I said." God can destroy everything you have worked for, so don't say something that makes God angry.
  7. Respect and obey God! Daydreaming leads to a lot of senseless talk.
  8. Don't be surprised if the poor of your country are abused, and injustice takes the place of justice. After all, the lower officials must do what the higher ones order them to do.
  9. And since the king is the highest official, he benefits most from the taxes paid on the land.
  10. If you love money and wealth, you will never be satisfied with what you have. This doesn't make sense either.
  11. The more you have, the more everyone expects from you. Your money won't do you any good--others will just spend it for you.
  12. If you have to work hard for a living, you can rest well at night, even if you don't have much to eat. But if you are rich, you can't even sleep.
  13. I have seen something terribly unfair. People get rich, but it does them no good.
  14. Suddenly they lose everything in a bad business deal, then have nothing to leave for their children.
  15. They came into this world naked, and when they die, they will be just as naked. They can't take anything with them, and they won't have anything to show for all their work.
  16. That's terribly unfair. They leave the world just as they came into it. They gained nothing from running after the wind.
  17. Besides all this, they are always gloomy at mealtime, and they are troubled, sick, and bitter.
  18. What is the best thing to do in the short life that God has given us? I think we should enjoy eating, drinking, and working hard. This is what God intends for us to do.
  19. Suppose you are very rich and able to enjoy everything you own. Then go ahead and enjoy working hard--this is God's gift to you.
  20. God will keep you so happy that you won't have time to worry about each day.

It is important to keep in mind as one reads Proverbs that the overarching question Solomon is addressing is this: "What does a man gain for all his efforts he labors at under the sun?" So it is fitting that chapter 5 is all about enjoying the fruit of one's labor, mentioning various ways that this fruit might not be enjoyed. This is of importance since Solomon's conclusion, mentioned in 3:22 and again here in the last verses of this chapter, is that man's reward in life is to be able to enjoy the fruit of his labor. Any other pursuit is futile.

So what might threaten this reward, the ability to enjoy the fruit of one's labor? First he mentions rash vows. Though the first verses of the chapter seem to be about proper devotion before God, the bottom line is about not losing the fruit of one's labor through rash vows. Verse 6 sums it up, "Why should God be angry with your words and destroy the work of your hands?" In the midst of this discussion Solomon counsels not to speak too much when one is before God. "Let your words be few," he says. Also, he says, "When you make a vow to God, don't delay fulfilling it." He says further that it is better not to vow at all than to vow and not fulfill it.

Another way the fruit of one's labor might not be enjoyed is through the extortion of corrupt officials which could take it away. He says it should not surprise us if this happens. We can avoid losing the fruit of our labor through rash vows, but he offers no solution to avoid losing it to corrupt officials. In fact, he describes how they protect one another, "one official protects another official, and higher officials protect them." An unspoken 'buddy' system.

Furthermore, one may miss the enjoyment of his labor through covetousness. The covetous person accumulates wealth but never enjoys it. He must be constantly on guard to protect his wealth from those who would try to consume it. The only benefit he gains from his wealth is to watch it. Rather than bringing increased enjoyment, increased wealth brings increased anxiety.

Solomon concludes in verses 13-17 that too much striving to accumulate is futile since the fruit of our labor is so transitory. Too much striving keeps us from enjoying it and besides, it can so easily be lost. The way one comes into the world is the same way he will leave the world - naked. "What does he gain who struggles for the wind?" he asks.  What is good, he concludes, is to "experience good in all the labor one does under the sun." That is man's reward. He points out that God gives riches to every man and allows him to enjoy them. It is a gift of God. His point, as I understand it, is why worry too much over accumulating wealth. God will provide it if we will look to him instead of trying to do it on our own. What He gives can be enjoyed. What we try to accumulate on our own can easily be lost.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Reflections on Ecclesiastes 4

    Ecclesiastes 04 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. I looked again and saw people being mistreated everywhere on earth. They were crying, but no one was there to offer comfort, and those who mistreated them were powerful.
  2. I said to myself, "The dead are better off than the living.
  3. But those who have never been born are better off than anyone else, because they have never seen the terrible things that happen on this earth."
  4. Then I realized that we work and do wonderful things just because we are jealous of others. This makes no more sense than chasing the wind.
  5. Fools will fold their hands and starve to death.
  6. Yet a very little food eaten in peace is better than twice as much earned from overwork and chasing the wind.
  7. Once again I saw that nothing on earth makes sense.
  8. For example, some people don't have friends or family. But they are never satisfied with what they own, and they never stop working to get more. They should ask themselves, "Why am I always working to have more? Who will get what I leave behind?" What a senseless and miserable life!
  9. You are better off to have a friend than to be all alone, because then you will get more enjoyment out of what you earn.
  10. If you fall, your friend can help you up. But if you fall without having a friend nearby, you are really in trouble.
  11. If you sleep alone, you won't have anyone to keep you warm on a cold night.
  12. Someone might be able to beat up one of you, but not both of you. As the saying goes, "A rope made from three strands of cord is hard to break."
  13. You may be poor and young. But if you are wise, you are better off than a foolish old king who won't listen to advice.
  14. Even if you were not born into the royal family and have been a prisoner and poor, you can still be king.
  15. I once saw everyone in the world follow a young leader who came to power after the king was gone.
  16. His followers could not even be counted. But years from now, no one will praise him--this makes no more sense than chasing the wind.

Solomon continues to pursue the question he raised in 1:3 - "What does a man gain for all his efforts he labors at under the sun?" His initial response to this question, which took us through chapter three, led us through a series of pursuits that each resulted in his conclusion that it is all futile. But he did reach a partial answer in 3:22 concluding that "there is nothing better than for a person to enjoy his activities, because that is his reward." If one follows his discussion through these three chapters, they understand him to be saying here that the pursuit of anything as an end in itself is futile. It will bring no satisfaction. The best one can hope for is to be able to enjoy the fruit of his efforts. Pursue your interests, but allow opportunity to enjoy what you have accomplished. This conclusion brought us to a more positive note following a series of futile pursuits.

In chapter 4 Solomon turns his attention to such issues as oppression, envy, and covetousness along with the advantage of having friends and the fleeting nature of power. It may be good if man can enjoy the fruit of his labor, but what about the oppressed? Not so for them. Solomon sees their plight as a hopeless one with no one or no where for them to turn for help. Those who oppress hold all the cards with no options for those they oppress. Solomon suggests it would be better if they had not been born. He offers no other solution.

He turns then to envy. This, he says, is the motivation behind man's efforts in life - jealousy of his friends. Man does what he does to keep his friends from being better off than himself. This is a broad generalization, but probably true for many. People see what others have and are not satisfied until they too can have it. But Solomon concludes that this is merely a pursuit of the wind. One's envy will never be satisfied. Better off is the fool who is lazy and has little but who is content with what he has. Thus, it is better, he says, to have one handful (of anything) and being content with it than to have two handfuls and wanting more.

Similar to envy is covetousness, both in nature and in its futility. Covetousness causes a man to endlessly pursue more riches, never being satisfied with what he has and never sharing what he has with anyone else, including family. It raises the question, "Who am I struggling for, and for what purpose am I depriving myself from good?" Such addictions as envy and covetousness that drive people to endless pursuits they can never satisfy are little different from drug and alcohol addictions.

Solomon turns from the one who covets riches to the exclusion of friends and family to the advantages of having companions. Though he doesn't state it, he makes a case for companions being of greater value than riches. In fact, with a companion to help, one can acquire greater profits with less effort. But consider also when one needs help. What does the person do who has fallen without another to lift him up? He is to be pitied, says Solomon. Furthermore, when there are two they can keep each other warm. I suspect there is more meaning here than simply keeping one's self warm from the cold. There is also greater inner warmth from having a companion. Solomon isn't through, though. He gives two more examples of the advantages of having a companion. Two can resist the one who attempts to overpower them, and a cord of three strands is not easily broken. There is greater strength when there are more companions.

Finally, we come to the fleeting nature of power and influence. The pursuit of power is not unlike being driven by envy or covetousness, either in nature or outcome. The one who pursues power is also pursuing the wind. Solomon says it is better to be a poor but wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer gives attention to warnings. Then he describes a fairy tale scenario of which many might dream could happen to them. But those who live supposed fairy tale lives seldom live "happily ever after." In Solomon's fairy tale, a youth advances from a life of poverty and imprisonment to become king. He eventually masters innumerable subjects - his accomplishments are great. But it is all short-lived. What happens when he is no longer king? He is soon forgotten and people are critical of his accomplishments. This, too, says Solomon, is a pursuit of the wind.

Where is Solomon going with all this? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Reflections on Ecclesiastes 3

    Ecclesiastes 03 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Everything on earth has its own time and its own season.
  2. There is a time for birth and death, planting and reaping,
  3. for killing and healing, destroying and building,
  4. for crying and laughing, weeping and dancing,
  5. for throwing stones and gathering stones, embracing and parting.
  6. There is a time for finding and losing, keeping and giving,
  7. for tearing and sewing, listening and speaking.
  8. There is also a time for love and hate, for war and peace.
  9. What do we gain by all of our hard work?
  10. I have seen what difficult things God demands of us.
  11. God makes everything happen at the right time. Yet none of us can ever fully understand all he has done, and he puts questions in our minds about the past and the future.
  12. I know the best thing we can do is to always enjoy life,
  13. because God's gift to us is the happiness we get from our food and drink and from the work we do.
  14. Everything God has done will last forever; nothing he does can ever be changed. God has done all this, so that we will worship him.
  15. Everything that happens has happened before, and all that will be has already been-- God does everything over and over again.
  16. Everywhere on earth I saw violence and injustice instead of fairness and justice.
  17. So I told myself that God has set a time and a place for everything. He will judge everyone, both the wicked and the good.
  18. I know that God is testing us to show us that we are merely animals.
  19. Like animals we breathe and die, and we are no better off than they are. It just doesn't make sense.
  20. All living creatures go to the same place. We are made from earth, and we return to the earth.
  21. Who really knows if our spirits go up and the spirits of animals go down into the earth?
  22. We were meant to enjoy our work, and that's the best thing we can do. We can never know the future.

The first of this chapter may be Solomon's version of "what goes around, comes around."  There are a couple of interpretations of this phrase. One is that a person's actions will often have consequences for that person. The other is that the status of things will eventually return to its original state after completing a certain cycle. It is this interpretation that is fitting for this chapter. Life is cyclical and whatever has happened will happen again and things go on. The word translated "activity" literally means “desire,” meaning that what man desires to do has its time. We have a longing in our hearts, though, that goes beyond this temporal nature of things that is eternal. We long to know what is outside and beyond this merry-go-round that is life. But "man cannot discover the work God has done from beginning to end." All he can do is to accept what God reveals and trust Him for the rest. We should simply consider it a gift of God when we can enjoy our efforts and the fruit of those efforts.

Many take exception, however, to the perfection of God's plan when they look at the injustice and oppression in the world. How could a just and loving God allow such things to happen? Solomon notes this as well in verse 16. But his response to it in verse 17 is that God does not let it pass. He says, "God will judge the righteous and the wicked, since there is a time for every activity and every work." Though there is a time for everything, not everything is appropriate for man to do. Yes, God will judge our actions, but why allow it in the first place? It is either that or leave man without the option of choice and to treat him as a puppet. Those who complain the loudest about a God who would allow injustice would complain just a loudly if that God did not give them the choice to do what they want to do. However, it is those choices we make that bring about the injustice in the world - not God.

Then Solomon returns to the futility of life comparing man's fate to that of the animals. Both die. Both return to the dust. But it is only man who is judged for his actions. What about man's fate beyond the grave? Solomon states man's inability to observe whether man's spirit "rises upward." He is not necessarily questioning this as a reality, only that man cannot observe it and be certain beyond a doubt that it is true. Therefore, his conclusion is that man should enjoy what he knows to be true. That is, to enjoy his activities, for that is his reward. This is a rather negative view with which I would not agree. Solomon acknowledges earlier that man has in him a sense of the eternal which I believe is put there by God as confirmation that there is more beyond the grave. Man seeks that 'more' not knowing where to find it until he turns to God who fills that void and makes eternal life a possibility for those who seek life in Him.

Solomon ponders questions that most thoughtful persons ponder at some point in life. Many never find the answers, willfully refusing to accept whatever answer they might find in God. But it is only in Him that answers of an eternal nature will be found.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Reflections on Ecclesiastes 2

    Ecclesiastes 02 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. I said to myself, "Have fun and enjoy yourself!" But this didn't make sense.
  2. Laughing and having fun is crazy. What good does it do?
  3. I wanted to find out what was best for us during the short time we have on this earth. So I decided to make myself happy with wine and find out what it means to be foolish, without really being foolish myself.
  4. I did some great things. I built houses and planted vineyards.
  5. I had flower gardens and orchards full of fruit trees.
  6. And I had pools where I could get water for the trees.
  7. I owned slaves, and their sons and daughters became my slaves. I had more sheep and goats than anyone who had ever lived in Jerusalem.
  8. Foreign rulers brought me silver, gold, and precious treasures. Men and women sang for me, and I had many wives who gave me great pleasure.
  9. I was the most famous person who had ever lived in Jerusalem, and I was very wise.
  10. I got whatever I wanted and did whatever made me happy. But most of all, I enjoyed my work.
  11. Then I thought about everything I had done, including the hard work, and it was simply chasing the wind. Nothing on earth is worth the trouble.
  12. I asked myself, "What can the next king do that I haven't done?" Then I decided to compare wisdom with foolishness and stupidity.
  13. And I discovered that wisdom is better than foolishness, just as light is better than darkness.
  14. Wisdom is like having two good eyes; foolishness leaves you in the dark. But wise or foolish, we all end up the same.
  15. Finally, I said to myself, "Being wise got me nowhere! The same thing will happen to me that happens to fools. Nothing makes sense.
  16. Wise or foolish, we all die and are soon forgotten."
  17. This made me hate life. Everything we do is painful; it's just as senseless as chasing the wind.
  18. Suddenly I realized that others would someday get everything I had worked for so hard, then I started hating it all.
  19. Who knows if those people will be sensible or stupid? Either way, they will own everything I have earned by hard work and wisdom. It doesn't make sense.
  20. I thought about all my hard work, and I felt depressed.
  21. When we use our wisdom, knowledge, and skill to get what we own, why do we have to leave it to someone who didn't work for it? This is senseless and wrong.
  22. What do we really gain from all of our hard work?
  23. Our bodies ache during the day, and work is torture. Then at night our thoughts are troubled. It just doesn't make sense.
  24. The best thing we can do is to enjoy eating, drinking, and working. I believe these are God's gifts to us,
  25. and no one enjoys eating and living more than I do.
  26. If we please God, he will make us wise, understanding, and happy. But if we sin, God will make us struggle for a living, then he will give all we own to someone who pleases him. This makes no more sense than chasing the wind.

In this chapter Solomon speaks to three topics: The vanity of pleasure, riches, and accomplishment, the inadequacy of human wisdom, and enjoying life according to God's will.

Solomon was considered the wisest and richest man of his time, yet he did not find these attributes adequate to overcome a sense of futility in it all. So he decided to experiment and see what might seem of greater value in life starting with pleasure. Along with pleasure he also tried wine and then he turned to achievements. He succeeded with his achievements in becoming great, surpassing all who went before him, and was able to maintain his wisdom throughout. But his verdict was that everything was futile and "a pursuit of the wind." Whatever pleasure or sense of fulfillment and accomplishment derived from these pursuits was short lived. He was left wondering what else there was to life that was of greater or lasting meaning.

Considering his accomplishments, what more was there to be done? He could only do what had already been done. What fulfillment was there in that? And, who knows what the next king would do? All of his accomplishments may well be for nothing if the next king was not able to sustain them. So, he was ready to turn his attention to another subject. What are the merits of wisdom versus madness and folly? After considering this question he concluded that there is an advantage to wisdom over folly as there is an advantage to light over darkness. The wise man can see where he is going while the "fool walks in darkness." But he decided that even this was futile. What was the advantage to being overly wise when both the wise man and the fool share the same ending. They will both die and neither will be remembered for long. I think he is missing a couple of points. For instance, the wise man's death is likely to be delayed longer than that of the fool. Solomon himself points this out in Proverbs. The lifestyle and choices of the fool are likely to bring him to an early death. Also, I think the wise man may be remembered after death well beyond the memory of the fool. Particularly if his accomplishments are significant. But we will bear with Solomon here to see where he goes with all this. He addresses three topics in this chapter and concludes all three in the same manner, "everything is futile and a pursuit of the wind."

Again, in verse 18, Solomon considers the value of all his accomplishments when he must leave them to whomever follows him, "and who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool?" He decided it was all futile and gave himself over to despair. All of his effort and accomplishments and it was for nothing. He must turn it all over to someone who has not worked for it and who may let it all go to nothing. What is a person to do then? Solomon's conclusion was that it is best to " eat, drink, and to enjoy his work." In other words, to enjoy the fruits of one's labor. Don't give yourself over completely to accomplishments and amassing of wealth. Allow yourself time to enjoy what you have accomplished. But the key to all this is recognition that enjoy life is only possible if it is permited by God. "Who can eat and who can enjoy life apart from Him?" he asks. It is only those who are pleasing to God who are granted the enjoyment of life. As for the sinner, the one who is not pleasing in God's sight, what he has accumulated will be given to those who are pleasing to God. "This too is futile and a pursuit of the wind," he says. Thus, there is only one activity Solomon has determined is not futile. That is to please God and enjoy the fruit of one's labor.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Reflections on Ecclesiastes 1

    Ecclesiastes 01 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. When the son of David was king in Jerusalem, he was known to be very wise, and he said:
  2. Nothing makes sense! Everything is nonsense. I have seen it all-- nothing makes sense!
  3. What is there to show for all of our hard work here on this earth?
  4. People come, and people go, but still the world never changes.
  5. The sun comes up, the sun goes down; it hurries right back to where it started from.
  6. The wind blows south, the wind blows north; round and round it blows over and over again.
  7. All rivers empty into the sea, but it never spills over; one by one the rivers return to their source.
  8. All of life is far more boring than words could ever say. Our eyes and our ears are never satisfied with what we see and hear.
  9. Everything that happens has happened before; nothing is new, nothing under the sun.
  10. Someone might say, "Here is something new!" But it happened before, long before we were born.
  11. No one who lived in the past is remembered anymore, and everyone yet to be born will be forgotten too.
  12. I said these things when I lived in Jerusalem as king of Israel.
  13. With all my wisdom I tried to understand everything that happens here on earth. And God has made this so hard for us humans to do.
  14. I have seen it all, and everything is just as senseless as chasing the wind.
  15. If something is crooked, it can't be made straight; if something isn't there, it can't be counted.
  16. I said to myself, "You are by far the wisest person who has ever lived in Jerusalem. You are eager to learn, and you have learned a lot."
  17. Then I decided to find out all I could about wisdom and foolishness. Soon I realized that this too was as senseless as chasing the wind.
  18. The more you know, the more you hurt; the more you understand, the more you suffer.

Ecclesiastes has the same writer as does Proverbs - King Solomon, son of David. But the message of the book would seem to say otherwise. Whereas in Proverbs Solomon told his son to get wisdom at any price, on the surface, at least, it seems that he gives a different message in this book. In verses 17-18 he says, "I applied my mind to know wisdom and knowledge, madness and folly; I learned that this too is a pursuit of the wind. For with much wisdom is much sorrow; as knowledge increases, grief increases." So how are we to understand this book and its message? A key phrase that is repeated 29 times throughout the book is "under the sun." For instance, he says in verse 9, "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun." As the message of the book will bear out, the futility to which Solomon refers is not total, but only 'under the sun'. In other words, apart from God, all is futile. Even the pursuit of wisdom apart from God is futile and only increases grief.

Who has not felt some of the futility of which he speaks? A generation goes and a generation comes, the sun rises and then it sets, the streams all flow to the sea but it never becomes full, all things are wearisome, and we are never satisfied by all we see or hear. We get up every day, go to our jobs, return home, have another nights sleep and then do it all again. Everything just keeps going around and around and on and on like a merry-go-round and we want to get off because of the seeming endlessness and futility of it all. This is the futility of life apart from God. But with God we find hope and meaning and purpose. The futility dissipates and life becomes fulfilling. We can face each day with enthusiasm and anticipation. But the writer of Ecclesiastes is not there yet by the end of this first chapter.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Reflections on Proverbs 31

    Proverbs 31 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. These are the sayings that King Lemuel of Massa was taught by his mother.
  2. My son Lemuel, you were born in answer to my prayers, so listen carefully.
  3. Don't waste your life chasing after women! This has ruined many kings.
  4. Kings and leaders should not get drunk or even want to drink.
  5. Drinking makes you forget your responsibilities, and you mistreat the poor.
  6. Beer and wine are only for the dying or for those who have lost all hope.
  7. Let them drink and forget how poor and miserable they feel.
  8. But you must defend those who are helpless and have no hope.
  9. Be fair and give justice to the poor and homeless.
  10. A truly good wife is the most precious treasure a man can find!
  11. Her husband depends on her, and she never lets him down.
  12. She is good to him every day of her life,
  13. and with her own hands she gladly makes clothes.
  14. She is like a sailing ship that brings food from across the sea.
  15. She gets up before daylight to prepare food for her family and for her servants.
  16. She knows how to buy land and how to plant a vineyard,
  17. and she always works hard.
  18. She knows when to buy or sell, and she stays busy until late at night.
  19. She spins her own cloth,
  20. and she helps the poor and the needy.
  21. Her family has warm clothing, and so she doesn't worry when it snows.
  22. She does her own sewing, and everything she wears is beautiful.
  23. Her husband is a well-known and respected leader in the city.
  24. She makes clothes to sell to the shop owners.
  25. She is strong and graceful, as well as cheerful about the future.
  26. Her words are sensible, and her advice is thoughtful.
  27. She takes good care of her family and is never lazy.
  28. Her children praise her, and with great pride her husband says,
  29. "There are many good women, but you are the best!"
  30. Charm can be deceiving, and beauty fades away, but a woman who honors the LORD deserves to be praised.
  31. Show her respect-- praise her in public for what she has done.

This concluding chapter of Proverbs, as with the previous chapter is an appendix to the book. It is unusual on two counts. It is instruction given by a mother instead of a father, and it extols the virtues of a noble wife in contrast to the teaching of Proverbs against the dangers of non-virtuous women such as the adulteress or prostitute. Some bible translations refer to it as an oracle, which means a weighty message. Older translations call it a prophecy, but oracle is more appropriate.

Though the son to whom the instruction is given was a king, most of it is fitting for a man of any position. Only the first few verses relate specifically to a king, but even these could be applied in principle to any man. They are just four things:
  • Don't spend energy on women or things that destroy. This does not speak of evil or non-virtuous women, just women. I imagine it is a reference to the practice of a kingly harem. It is a practice that has been referred to as the curse of Eastern kingdoms. This practice would certainly expend much of a king's energy and attention. The rest of verse 3 which says, "or things that destroy kings," suggests the mother considered this practice to be destructive.
  • Don't get drunk. Getting drunk is not wise for kings for it will cause them to forget their edicts and pervert justice. This mother considered it important for a king to be just.
  • Speak up for those who have no voice. Provide justice of all who are dispossessed.
  • Judge righteously. Judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy.
Following these brief instructions, the mother moves on to the subject of finding a capable wife, and proceeds to describe a woman any man would want to have as his wife. It is a description that leaves us wondering if any such woman ever existed, but keep in mind, this description comes not from a man, but from a woman. Rather than list all that this woman does, let's give attention to the basic virtues she possesses.
  • She is trustworthy, rewarding her husband with good and not evil.
  • She is creative, weaving and sewing enthusiastically.
  • She is reliable in providing adequately for her family, giving them good and interesting foods and being sure they are well clothed in all seasons. She even makes the cloth for their clothing.
  • She is industrious, buying a field and planting a vineyard.
  • She is caring and helps the poor and needy.
  • She is wise, capable of speaking with wisdom.
Because of the virtues of this wife, the husband has a good reputation among the other men. The mother concludes her description of the capable wife by pointing out that charm and beauty are not the best attributes on which to choose a wife. Charm can be deceptive and beauty is fleeting. She also points out that if her son finds such a capable wife, he should appreciate her by rewarding her and giving her praise.

As a personal aside, I might add that I found such a wife, or I should say that God provided her. I was too young and ignorant to have made such a find on my own. So I praise God for her, and have now enjoyed 45 years of marriage with her. Many have lost faith in the institution of marriage with so many that have failed. They wonder if marriage with one person for a lifetime is even possible anymore. But it is not marriage that is failing, it is people who are failing. Most importantly they are failing to approach marriage with the seriousness it deserves, selecting mates based on superficial and insignificant qualities and leaving God out of it altogether. Many are "religious," but give little thought to seeking God's help in choosing a marriage mate. From there, it goes downhill. A good, and lifelong marriage is still possible, we just have to seek God's help in the beginning and throughout.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Reflections on Proverbs 30

    Proverbs 30 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. These are the sayings and the message of Agur son of Jakeh. Someone cries out to God, "I am completely worn out! How can I last?
  2. I am far too stupid to be considered human.
  3. I never was wise, and I don't understand what God is like."
  4. Has anyone gone up to heaven and come back down? Has anyone grabbed hold of the wind? Has anyone wrapped up the sea or marked out boundaries for the earth? If you know of any who have done such things, then tell me their names and their children's names.
  5. Everything God says is true-- and it's a shield for all who come to him for safety.
  6. Don't change what God has said! He will correct you and show that you are a liar.
  7. There are two things, Lord, I want you to do for me before I die:
  8. Make me absolutely honest and don't let me be too poor or too rich. Give me just what I need.
  9. If I have too much to eat, I might forget about you; if I don't have enough, I might steal and disgrace your name.
  10. Don't tell a slave owner something bad about one of the slaves. That slave will curse you, and you will be in trouble.
  11. Some people curse their father and even their mother;
  12. others think they are perfect, but they are stained by sin.
  13. Some people are stuck-up and act like snobs;
  14. others are so greedy that they gobble down the poor and homeless.
  15. Greed has twins, each named "Give me!" There are three or four things that are never satisfied:
  16. The world of the dead and a childless wife, the thirsty earth and a flaming fire.
  17. Don't make fun of your father or disobey your mother-- crows will peck out your eyes, and buzzards will eat the rest of you.
  18. There are three or four things I cannot understand:
  19. How eagles fly so high or snakes crawl on rocks, how ships sail the ocean or people fall in love.
  20. An unfaithful wife says, "Sleeping with another man is as natural as eating."
  21. There are three or four things that make the earth tremble and are unbearable:
  22. A slave who becomes king, a fool who eats too much,
  23. a hateful woman who finds a husband, and a slave who takes the place of the woman who owns her.
  24. On this earth four things are small but very wise:
  25. Ants, who seem to be feeble, but store up food all summer long;
  26. badgers, who seem to be weak, but live among the rocks;
  27. locusts, who have no king, but march like an army;
  28. lizards, which can be caught in your hand, but sneak into palaces.
  29. Three or four creatures really strut around:
  30. Those fearless lions who rule the jungle,
  31. those proud roosters, those mountain goats, and those rulers who have no enemies.
  32. If you are foolishly bragging or planning something evil, then stop it now!
  33. If you churn milk you get butter; if you pound on your nose, you get blood-- and if you stay angry, you get in trouble.

These last two chapters of Proverbs (30 & 31) are an appendix to the book whose author is one known as Agur. We know nothing of this writer other than what we have in these chapters. Though he claims to have no knowledge of God, his point seems rather to be that compared to all there is to know about God his knowledge is nothing. Then he proceeds to tell us a few things about God. For instance, he mentions things God can do that are impossible for us. He also says that God is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Furthermore, he tells us that God's words are pure and we are not to add to them for we will be proved a liar.

From there, the writer launches into several lists. What is his point in these lists? It would seem that he has condensed his knowledge and wisdom down to these key things:

  • Two things he asks before he dies - Keep falsehood far from him and give him neither poverty nor wealth. Little or no explanation is offered with this list or any of the others as to why they are significant. Concerning poverty and wealth in this list, he does say that if he had too much he might deny his need for God, and if he had nothing he might be tempted to steal. What about the need for honesty instead of falsehood and deceit? Honesty represents reality. Life itself becomes a falsehood if we do not know reality or refuse to accept.

  • Four kinds of undesireable behavior - He finds most undesirable a generation that does not respect its parents, that is hypocritical, that is arrogant, and that is oppressive. What is meant by generation? It could refer to an age as with a time period. For instance, he could be speaking of the age in which he lived or to a time period that was to come later, say at the end of time. It could also refer to an age group such as the young or old. Our natural inclination would be to interpret this as a reference to the young, particularly when it refers to disrespect for parents. I suspect he lists these particular behaviors as undesirable because they are roots of all bad behavior. In keeping with the language of Proverbs it might be better said that these behaviors are the root behaviors of all wickedness.

  • Four things that are never satisfied - In this list he includes Sheol, or the grave, a barren womb, the earth that is never satisfied with water, and fire. We readily understand that death never takes a break, so the grave is never satisfied. It is always taking more. Also concerning the earth, no matter how much rain falls, it can always absorb more. And fire, obviously, will consume all that comes in its path, and will never burn out as long as it has consumable material. But what about the barren womb? I think it must speak of the desire for motherhood that is never satisfied when the womb is barren. That desire does not go away and there is an unwillingness to accept such a condition.

  • Four things he doesn't understand - Things he doesn't understand are the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship at sea, and the way of a man with a young woman. I wonder if the main point in this list is the last item - the way of a man with a woman. If so, he would be saying, "As I don't understand the eagle, the snake, and the ship, neither do I understand the way of a young man with a young woman and the instinct of courtship." But he may also simply be pointing out the marvel of flight for the eagle, the movement of a snake without benefit of legs, arms, or wings, and the ability of a ship to float on the water and move about with the power of the wind, being guided by a relatively small rudder, along with the instinct of courtship. How is it that a man and woman are attracted so strongly? Why is it that at the mere sight of the other one can feel so strongly and be so moved? It is a marvel.

  • Four things under which the earth trembles - The earth trembles at a servant that becomes king, a fool stuffed with food (that is prosperous), a hateful woman that marries, and a serving girl who succeeds her mistress. The servant who becomes king or the serving girl who succeeds her mistress are stuff of fairy tales, but in real life rarely happen and even more rarely turn out well. The servant who becomes king neither knows how to rule nor can his pride handle it. The fool who is stuffed is one who has experienced some prosperity, and as the English writer,  Thomas Tusser, wrote, "A fool and his money are soon parted." A fool and prosperity are not a safe combination, one under which the earth trembles. The hateful woman will only bring grief to a marriage. Whatever her attractions that might cause a man to be drawn to her, the man needs to beware. Her attractions may not offset her hatefulness. The serving girl who succeeds her mistress will be much like the servant who becomes king, unable to fill the role and with a tendency to possess unwarranted pride.

  • Four things on earth that are small but extremely wise - The small things listed here are the ant, the rock badger, the locust, and the lizard. What is the point? It seems to be that wisdom triumphs over physical strength. Physical strength is primarily a gift with which a person is endowed at birth. It is not something one has any power to choose. If strength were the primary determinate of success, many would have no hope. But the primary determinate is wisdom, and this is an acquired attribute. We can choose to seek wisdom and better our situation. On the other hand, we may not choose to seek wisdom and better our situation, but we at least have the choice. Each of the insects or animals wisely choose a strategy that overcomes their weakness. Wise people will do the same. They may have weaknesses over which they have no choice, but they can choose a strategy in life that will overcome or offset the weakness.

  • Four things that are stately in their walk - Stately in their walk is the lion, a strutting rooster, a goat, and a king at the head of his army. These all contrast the four small things. As with a previous list, I suspect one of these four are really the main focus of this list, and the other three are comparisons. The one that is the focus, I believe, is the king moving out at the head of his army. I believe the writer is saying, "As the lion, rooster, and goat strut or walk stately, so goes the king at the head of his army. It is a regal thing to watch. It represents strength and confidence of victory. However, it is a misplaced confidence. I believe the closing two verses are a follow up of this stately list, saying to us that it is foolish to exalt yourself, and if you are tempted to do it you should "put your hand over your mouth," and stop it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Reflections on Proverbs 29

    Proverbs 29 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. If you keep being stubborn after many warnings, you will suddenly discover you have gone too far.
  2. When justice rules a nation, everyone is glad; when injustice rules, everyone groans.
  3. If you love wisdom your parents will be glad, but chasing after bad women will cost you everything.
  4. An honest ruler makes the nation strong; a ruler who takes bribes will bring it to ruin.
  5. Flattery is nothing less than setting a trap.
  6. Your sins will catch you, but everyone who lives right will sing and celebrate.
  7. The wicked don't care about the rights of the poor, but good people do.
  8. Sneering at others is a spark that sets a city on fire; using good sense can put out the flames of anger.
  9. Be wise and don't sue a fool. You won't get satisfaction, because all the fool will do is sneer and shout.
  10. A murderer hates everyone who is honest and lives right.
  11. Don't be a fool and quickly lose your temper-- be sensible and patient.
  12. A ruler who listens to lies will have corrupt officials.
  13. The poor and all who abuse them must each depend on God for light.
  14. Kings who are fair to the poor will rule forever.
  15. Correct your children, and they will be wise; children out of control disgrace their mothers.
  16. Crime increases when crooks are in power, but law-abiding citizens will see them fall.
  17. If you correct your children, they will bring you peace and happiness.
  18. Without guidance from God law and order disappear, but God blesses everyone who obeys his Law.
  19. Even when servants are smart, it takes more than words to make them obey.
  20. There is more hope for a fool than for someone who speaks without thinking.
  21. Slaves that you treat kindly from their childhood will cause you sorrow.
  22. A person with a quick temper stirs up arguments and commits a lot of sins.
  23. Too much pride brings disgrace; humility leads to honor.
  24. If you take part in a crime you are your worst enemy, because even under oath you can't tell the truth.
  25. Don't fall into the trap of being a coward-- trust the LORD, and you will be safe.
  26. Many try to make friends with a ruler, but justice comes from the LORD.
  27. Good people and criminals can't stand each other.

Central throughout Proverbs is the truth that our attitude toward God is the fulcrum on which our lives pivot. If we respect Him and seek His ways we will become wise and have a good life. If not, we go another path that brings with it trouble and pain. Verse 18 of this chapter is a much quoted and used verse that is in keeping with this central truth, though it is often misapplied. In the King James it says "Where there is no vision the people perish," which often leads to misapplying it to the subject of vision. But it is saying that "Without revelation people run wild." In other words, where God's word is not taught people throw off restraint and run wild. This is how central God and His ways are to the direction of our lives. He establishes the standard by which life is to be lived, and without that standard every man does what is right in his own eyes, in which case there is no standard, no right or wrong, no justice. There must be a standard before any of these can exist.

A prominent topic in this chapter is rulers. It is upon the bases of God's standard that we can even have a discussion of good or bad, wise or foolish, just or unjust rulers. Whether we understand this or not, we understand clearly when we are being oppressed and our lives made miserable due to an unrighteous or unjust ruler. Solomon says that everyone rejoices when rulers are righteous, but groan when they are wicked. We may not be righteous ourselves, but we want to be treated righteously. Furthermore, Solomon tells us that it is through justice that a ruler establishes stability in the land. But if the ruler is more interested in his position and having people shower him with gifts, he will demolish the land. If the king wants longevity he should judge the poor fairly. Bottom line, though, we need to realize that justice comes not from the ruler but from God (verse 26).  This takes us back to the central truth. The standard of justice is established by God. If a ruler rules justly he is merely operating on God's standard.

Another prominent topic in this chapter is the wicked versus the righteous. I will mention, as in previous reflections, that Solomon uses the terms 'wicked', 'fool', and 'unrighteous' interchangeably, and contrasts them with the terms 'wise' and 'righteous'. He characterizes the wise and righteous as fearing or respecting God and seeking His ways and the wicked, fools, and unrighteous as not respecting God or His ways. Would he use the term 'wicked' with anyone who goes contrary to God's ways or reserve the term only for those who do really vile things? I would not want to venture a dogmatic response to this question, but lean toward his use of the term for all who behave contrary to God's ways. I say this having in mind that God's ways include justice, fairness, and kindness toward all. He teaches humility and concern for others rather than selfishness. Considering these practices, those who go contrary to them would take unfair advantage of others, would practice injustice, would be unkind to others, and would be proud and selfish. These behaviors along with others that could be included lean heavily toward a definition of wickedness.

So what does Solomon have to say in this chapter about the wicked versus the righteous? First, he characterizes the wicked as encouraging rebellion. Where their numbers increase, so does rebellion. But just know, they and their practices will not last. They will come to an end and the righteous who suffer from these practices will see their end come. In other words, the righteous will prevail. Not by force, not even by trying to prevail. It will happen because wickedness is self-destructive. As Solomon says in verse 6, "An evil man is caught by sin." Their actions catch up with them. Furthermore, the wicked do not hold back their anger, and I would add, take pride in not holding it back. They hate those who are honest and detest those who are upright. I assume this is because those who are honest and upright expose their guilt. Nor do the wicked understand the rights of the poor, which suggests they tend to take unfair advantage of those who are defenseless. But the wicked need to know that they and the poor are on common ground. The same God gave them both sight. The implication here not only suggests that they were both created by the same God, making them equal, but that they are at the mercy of this God who can not only give, but can also take away.

What about the righteous? Solomon contrasts all his statements about the wicked, evil, mockers, foolish, with opposite statements about the righteous or wise. They are not caught by sin so they are free to sing and rejoice. They understand the rights of the poor and do not take advantage. While the wicked stir up trouble, the righteous bring calm. While a fool will not hold back his anger, a wise man will. And, although the wicked detest the upright, the righteous detest the unjust.  A good point on which to conclude is that the righteous have a completely different worldview than the wicked. They are guided by their trust in the Lord and are thereby protected. The wicked place their trust, or lack thereof, in man. Therein are they directed differently and have no understanding of the worldview of the righteous. They have no basis on which to understand it. It makes no sense to them.