REMEMBER THE ROLLING STONES?

“Older” readers no doubt remember the Rolling Stones and most “younger” readers probably have heard their best known song I Can’t Get No Satisfaction (1965). I’ve been reading the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes and could not help but think of the their first number one hit in the US and what is considered by many the greatest song they ever recorded. The writer of Ecclesiastes relates how he did not find satisfaction in work, pleasure, wealth, wisdom, or power.

Ecclesiastes comes right after the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament and both are in the category of wisdom literature. When I read the book of Proverbs I am challenged and encouraged, but when I read the book of Ecclesiastes, if I am not careful, I am confused and almost depressed. Parts of it seem to contradict not only the book of Proverbs, but a lot of the rest of the Bible as well.

The second verse of chapter one declares, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” The Teacher not only can’t get any satisfaction, he thinks everything is futile and pointless. Most of us have felt the same at times in our lives. But this is the Bible; you can see why I am confused and almost depressed! In their book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth authors Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart affirm “There is good reason for the reader to be puzzled, because Ecclesiastes is a very difficult book to read.”

Even with the unsettling parts, there are numerous notes of wisdom throughout the book. We just have to read it carefully and with discernment. For example, 3:1 tells us “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” There follows a list of 14 pairs of opposites beginning with “a time to be born and a time to die” and ending with “a time for war and time for peace.”

I appreciate the insight of 4:9 that “two are better than one” and the examples of why that is true that follow: “they have a good return for their labor,” “if either of them falls down, one can help the other up,” “if two lie down together, they will keep warm,” and “two can defend themselves.”

The Teacher’s observation on money and wealth in 5:10 gets my attention: “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.” The wisdom of 7:5 gives us something to consider: “It is better to heed the rebuke of a wise person than to listen to the song of fools.”

In reading the Teacher’s honest assessment of things it’s helpful to keep in mind he is talking about life “under the sun.” Chuck Swindoll notes that life “under the sun” is life without the Lord. The writer of Ecclesiastes doesn’t use the phrase, but Swindoll suggests that to find happiness and meaning in life “we must get above the sun”—by including God and faith in our lives.

Philip Yancey sums up the book, “Ecclesiastes endures as a work of great literature and a book of great truth because it presents both sides of life on this planet: the promise of pleasures so alluring that we may devote our lives to their pursuit, and then the haunting realization that these pleasures ultimately do not satisfy.”

The conclusion of the book provides perspective, a warning, and a challenge: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (12:13 and 14).

It all reminds me of a question Jesus asked, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36). We might ask ourselves where we are looking for satisfaction and where we can find it.

I invite and welcome your comments below. Also share this post on social media if you think others would appreciate it.

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HOW TO ANSWER A FOOL

As I was getting ready to cover the book of Proverbs in my History and Literature of Ancient Israel class I was reminded of what many think is a clear contradiction in the book. Proverbs 25:4 instructs, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.” The very next verse cautions, “Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.”

Sure sounds like a contradiction doesn’t it? But it isn’t. This apparent contradiction provides the opportunity to suggest a few things for reading and applying this book of wisdom to our lives.

First, getting a handle on the meaning of wisdom in the book of Proverbs will be helpful. It’s not about intellect, a high IQ, or significant knowledge. According to Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart it is not theoretical and abstract. Wisdom in the book of Proverbs is practical insight for living a godly life. It’s about attitude and behavior in daily life. And Proverbs 1:7 gives the foundation, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” My sense of what it means to fear the LORD is to recognize and honor Him through worship and obedience.

Second, the affirmations in the book of Proverbs are not absolute laws. They describe life in terms of how things generally work; what they say is not always and universally the case. The first principle of interpretation Fee and Stuart list is “Proverbs are not legal guarantees from God.”

Finally, and flowing from the previous paragraph, what a Proverb teaches must be applied at the right time and in the right situation. In the words of Old Testament scholar Tremper Longman III, “Wisdom is knowing the right time and the right circumstance to apply the right principle to the right person.”

This brings us back to Proverbs 25:4 and 25:5. Do we answer or do we not answer a fool according to his folly? It all depends. It depends on the person and the situation. Sometimes to answer a fool would only give credibility to him. At other times not to answer a fool would only result in him thinking he was right.

Would you like to grow in wisdom? For the past several years I have been reading the book of Proverbs every January—one chapter a day, 31 chapters in 31 days. If you are not committed to a Bible reading plan I invite you to join me as we begin the month of April with Proverbs 1:1-7 and then go to chapters 10 through chapter 29. (You can go back and pick up the rest of chapter 1, chapters 2-9, 30, and 31 later because these chapters are not in the same form.) Go at your own pace—don’t rush—slow down and reflect on what you read.

And since we are coming to April 1, I close with, A proverb in the mouth of a fool is like a thorny branch brandished by a drunk” (Proverbs 26:9 NLT).

Share these thoughts on social media and feel free to comment below.

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HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK YOU KNOW?

I love the Old Testament book of Proverbs and have reread it every January for several years now. There is no way I could choose one favorite verse, but one I return to again and again is Proverbs 9:9. The New International Version renders this verse “Instruct the wise, and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.” Here are four things I take from this verse.

I DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING. You may think that is obvious, but the truth is I sometimes come across as though I know a lot more than I do. I am finally learning that it is good to keep in mind that I don’t know everything; I don’t even know as much as I sometimes think I do.

Not only do I not know everything, I COULD BE WRONG. I don’t like to be wrong, but there have been plenty of times when I have been wrong. I’ve been wrong on some little things, and I have been wrong on some big things. It hasn’t always been easy for me to admit that I could be or was wrong.

If I could be wrong, then it follows that THE PERSON WHO DISAGREES WITH ME COULD BE RIGHT. If it is hard to admit you could be or were wrong, it’s probably even harder to admit that the person who disagreed with you was right.  I know people who have disagreed with me have been right at times.

In light of these first three revelations (that I’m sure surprise no one), I NEED TO KEEP LEARNING AND GROWING IN WISDOM. I don’t need to know everything, I don’t need to always be right, and it’s ok that someone who disagrees with me is right. What I need to do is to keep on learning and growing. And these four affirmations indicate at least some progress.

Going back to Proverbs 9:9, A CERTAIN LEVEL OF WISDOM IS ASSUMED if a person who is instructed will become even wiser. And A CERTAIN LEVEL OF RIGHTEOUSNESS IS ASSUMED if a person who is taught will learn more. I don’t think we can be too optimistic for those who think they know everything, who don’t think they are ever wrong and someone else could be right, or don’t realize they need to continue to learn and grow.

Proverbs 1:7 gives the theme of the book: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” By “fear of the LORD” the Bible does not mean that we shrink back in terror from God, but rather that we acknowledge Him as Creator, worship Him as God, and submit to Him as Lord. That is a good beginning point, isn’t it? From there we can continue to welcome wisdom and instruction into our lives.

Share this post with others if you think it will encourage them and I welcome comments below.

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