Monday, October 8, 2012

Ecclesiastes 7:19-29 " Living between Wisdom & Foolishness" #2


TEXT:  Ecclesiastes  7: 19-29
THEME: Living between Wisdom and Foolishness  #2
DATE:  07/10/2012                     

We continue to listen to  Solomon, as he speaks about  wisdom and foolishness in this  7th chapter.  He is  speaking to believers.  All  believers  live between  wisdom and foolishness, since all of us  are born in a  state of sinfulness. All of us  are influenced  by the  sinful world  so manipulated  by that  arch – sinful being, the devil! Paul freely admits this in  Romans 7. Thankfully however,  believers  are no longer  held captive by  sinful foolishness. The Lord Jesus  Christ has died to set us free from  our natural addiction to foolishness , so that  every believer is empowered to live a holy life  and  gain true wisdom  as we live under  the life giving Holy Spirit  and  under sound of  the wisdom of God’s Word.
We are no longer slaves, but it is very possible for  Christians  to be enslaved by foolish  living once more  - and in this sense we continue  to  live between wisdom and foolishness. The fear of God , or lack thereof,  will dictate the direction in which we move!

A true Christian  will desire  to live  wisely.  Paul encourages us in Eph. 5:15 -17 to “look carefully how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best  use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.   

Biblical wisdom  challenges our conventional thinking  which  is influenced by the flesh , the world and the devil. Every time  Solomon speaks about wisdom  in this chapter (13x) he  formulates  aspects of this wisdom in  an utterly   unconventional way: Here are some samples:
·          The  heart of the wise in in the  house of mourning (v. 4)
·         Better to hear the  rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools ( v.5)
·         Why were the former days better than these? It is not from wisdom that you ask this  (v.10)
·         Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise (v.16)
·         Wisdom gives  strength  to the wise man more than 10 rulers who are in a city (v.19)
·         All this I have tested by wisdom. I said: “ I will be wise, but it was far from me.” (v.23)

Godly  wisdom, as v. 23 indicates   is   elusive, and the Bible counsels us  that in  this  pursuit of  godly wisdom  we must  learn  to  ask God who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James  1:5). This wisdom is  rooted in the fear of the Lord (v. 18b)  and it is life giving (Proverbs  9:6).
Human wisdom,    expressed in  being too wise in our own eyes cf. v.16; Prov.  3:7Be not wise in your own eyes ; fear the LORD, and  turn away from evil.” ) and being  too  self- righteous    can be extremely damaging  to  us - cf. v.17Why will you die before your time?” 

With these few opening thoughts in mind let us continue to look  and learn from   Solomon’s wisdom  in Chapter 7 : 19-29

V. 19:  Godly wisdom  is  profounder than  conventional political  wisdom : “Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.”  One   person with godly wisdom in any city  has more  ‘strength’ than a city  that has 10 appointed rulers.(see  also Ecclesiastes 9:17,18).  The Hebrew word for “wisdom” (hokmah) refers to “the skill of living”.  It relates to having emotional intelligence  which is derived from having  a godly perspective and a godly power to live life.  The history of the world amply illustrates that  most  political rulers, gifted as they may be with verbal ability and charisma , very quickly get lost  when they  smell  the  scent of power. “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely “  said  Lord Acton  (1834 -1902 ), an  English historian  and politician. [1]  And so,just because you have “10 political rulers”, in a city or country does not mean that you are in  good  hands. Pray that you will have truly wise men, informed by the Word of God and led by the Spirit of God  in your city and country. There is  a wonderful example of a wise  woman  in  2 Samuel 20 :16-22 who saved her city by her wisdom.  The Word of God is  the source book of the wise. A man with a Bible could stay in a cave for a year, (without TV and newspapers) and at the end of that time, he could know from his reading what everybody else in the world was doing, and what the answer to the world’s dilemma’s  would be.

V. 20: Godly wisdom is never found perfectly upon this  earth. “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.”  Whilst possessing wisdom  is a wonderful  thing, it is never  perfectly possessed  by any  righteous man.  Solomon is our “Exhibit A”.  He was the wisest  man alive in his day. His wisdom was legendary  and known beyond the borders of his own land   (1 Kings  4:29-34; 1 Kings 10:7) and yet  we read in the Bible  how  he made fatal   mistakes and  some very unwise decisions. It was particularly his relationship with  many women that  caused  him  to be foolish (1 Kings 11).    
So here is wisdom that we need to  get. Don’t look for perfect wisdom in any  man on the face of this earth. Learn that  the  wisdom of the most righteous man imaginable on earth  is mixed  with  sin. “There is no one righteous … not even one “ (Rom 3:10-12 - see  Psalm  14:1-4; Ps 53).  We must not overlook this humbling testimony to the universal and total corruption of the whole race of man. It is indeed true  that  this has been so often overlooked. The general assumption of modern Psychology  is that man  is essentially good, and given time, it is thought that man  will improve and evolve into  perfection.  This is of course a very naïve  view, and mankind in its records of  written history  has shown absolutely no promise into this direction.   

Augustine in his “Confessions” maintained  that  the only reason why one might  think a baby is good, is that the  baby has not  got the  ability to  show of its evil nature.  He said, (jokingly) that if   a baby had the strength when he emerged from the mother’s womb, he would seize the mother by the throat and demand his milk!  The only  good  that we can do is the good that  Jesus does  in us and through us, but apart from that fact  the  wisdom of  Solomon’s observation  stands: “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.”   

V.21,22: Here is  great wisdom to live by:Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others. Most  of us do not have ‘elephant skins’  when it comes to  gossip and criticism  directed against us.  Words”, says  Solomon  in  his Proverbs,   go very deep”   (Prov.  16:27,28 ). “The words  of a whisperer are like  delicious morsels; they go  down into the inner parts of the body.” (Prov. 18:8;26:22) 
How do we deal with  such a matter?  This requires wisdom.  C. H.  Spurgeon (1834-1892)    offers very  good advice  for  preachers, who like most public figures have to endure their fair share of gossip, malicious speech and criticism. What he has to say  on this matter in his book “Lectures to my Students can be used by all sensitive  Christians who have become victims of  gossip and malicious  talking. In a chapter  entitled  The Blind Eye and the Deaf Ear [2]  , which is essentially an exposition of this text (Eccl. 7:21), he says that  you cannot  stop people’s tongues, and therefore the best thing is to stop your own ears…”.
So don’t eavesdrop; don’t listen in on every conversation. Public  persons like myself must learn not to take everything to heart that  people  say.
Also remember this:  If you get upset when people talk about us,  remember  that you have been  prone to do the same thing!  
So how do you deal with gossip?  The general  rule  is that  you should  be quick  to defend  other people’s integrity  and say, “Don’t talk about my brother or sister like that.”  In  general  make it your aim  to  stand up for others and not to defend yourself.  One man said, “I never worry about people who say evil things about me because I know  much more about myself  than they do, and I know that  it is  worse than what they are saying.”  

REFLECTION :  Can you see how difficult  it is to learn or cultivate  wisdom? It does  not come naturally.  True wisdom comes only from God. You may wonder why  Solomon  could make such a statement about the failure of his wisdom, when God had granted him apparently such  an abundance of wisdom (1 Kings 3:9–12).  However, remember  that  God gave Solomon wisdom primarily to discern and administer justice in his kingdom. As he writes  this  book Ecclesiastes,  Solomon realizes that his wisdom has limits. No human being (affected by the fall v.29) possesses the capacity to understand God’s mind.  And so  Solomon’s search for that kind of wisdom brings  him to the same conclusion as those reached by Job (see Job 28:12–13). The ultimate wisdom “is not found in the land of the living” (Job 28:13).  Yes, such wisdom “is deep , very deep ; who can find it out ?”  (Eccl 7:24).
That is why  Solomon makes  the next statement :

Vv. 23, 24 : The limitations of human wisdom :  “All this I have tested by wisdom. I said, “I will be wise,” but it was far from me. That which has been is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out?
Here  is the next bit of wisdom that we may learn: It is wisdom to  accept the fact that we cannot understand  everything that  God is doing in the world! It is wisdom to accept the fact that the corruption  that sin has brought about makes  life very confusing  at  the best  of times.

The  battle in Solomon’s mind is  clearly stated in  v.26 :  I turned my heart to know and to search out and to seek wisdom and the scheme of things, and to know the wickedness of folly and the foolishness that is madness. Solomon’s search  for wisdom  was sincere, thorough, and intensive.  The desire  in us ‘ to know’  is probably connected to our being made in the image and likeness of God  (Gen 1:26-27). Again we need to be reminded that  sin has damaged  and limited our ability  to understand (cf.  1 Cor 13:12). For this  we need the Lord to reveal His thoughts and ways to us.  We are encouraged in this regard to ask , seek and knock (Lk. 11:9 ; James 1: 5-8). The wise man knows that he does not know, and this is what helps to  make him wise!

Vv. 26-28 : And I find something more bitter than death: the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God escapes her, but the sinner is taken by her. Behold, this is what I found, says the Preacher, while adding one thing to another to find the scheme of things—which my soul has sought repeatedly, but I have not found. One man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found.
This  may be a disturbing text  for  our women, but I think that  we must be very  careful to read this as a general statement. Solomon is clearly speaking  about  a  woman who  seduces   weak men  like himself. Solomon knew  the powers of a woman’s  seduction. This  very fact eventually led to his downfall.  His many  women  collectively turned his heart away from God  (1 Kings 11). Now it is significant  that  in his introductory chapters to Proverbs  he speaks a lot about this type of woman, and he associates her with folly  (Prov 9:13–18). As you will remember,  the discussion of wisdom and folly  form the background  to this passage, and so  this interpretation makes sense.
Now remember that Solomon is not running women into the ground. Elsewhere  he has depicted wisdom as a woman (Prov 1:20–33; 9:1-6) and spoke highly of a number of good women (Eccl 9:9; Prov 18:22; 31:10–31).
There is no justification to take the statement  made in v. 28 as a universal truth regarding all women.
So, what does Solomon mean when he declares, “I have found one man among a thousand, but I have not found a woman among all these” (v. 28)? He  was referring to his own situation, where he was ill advised by all these women.Let’ s be honest; what godly woman would place herself willingly in the midst of the jealousies, ungodliness, and politics of Solomon’s royal harem? There was not one woman there  that captured his heart  back to God.   The  true wisdom  that Solomon needed her was this. Find yourself with God’s help that one good woman, and be satisfied with her. Let her be your minister!
And,  mind you,   what is true for  the  perceived deficiencies of  women is actually also true for men!

V.29 See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.  God is not to blame for the absence of wisdom— mankind is. From the Fall to the present, people have turned away from God and away from wisdom. They have all walked the path of foolishness.   Isaiah nailed the issue down so very powerfully: “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isa 53:6). 

Thus, the chapter concludes with the observation that  all people pervert the right way of God—they twist  that which He had created straight.
It is wisdom to  see that, and thus  in humility turn to God and to seek His  forgiveness in Christ  and to walk from there in daily dependence  with Him . For this  you were created. Amen !

[1] See also Samuel’s warning in  1 Samuel 8: 10-18 !
[2] C.H. Spurgeon : Lectures to my Students : Chapter 22, p.321

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