Trust Conquers Uncertainty

Eccles 10 2

Ecclesiastes 9:13-11:6

“An example of wisdom that greatly impressed me.” Wisdom that greatly impressed the man that chose wisdom over all of the world’s riches? Okay, you have my attention. It was wisdom that impressed him and saved a city from a superior force. But fools neglect and forget the wise. In times of trouble the wise find themselves surrounded by the lost and afraid, looking for direction. But as soon as they feel safe again they cast off the wise and get back to their hollow lives.

Forget about the wise. Besides it only seems to take a little bit of foolishness to nullify all that the wise do. Whether it is a wise man doing himself harm from his own stupidity or being harmed from someone else, we have seen this and have likely experienced it firsthand. “One sinner destroys much good.” Foolishness is so common. It almost seems incomprehensible that people continue to act the way they do. But I guess that it is easier to believe the unbelievable, to follow the fools way that appears flat and smooth rather than to face the hard truth, to take the difficult path of wisdom and honor. Jesus said it best when he said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few will find it.” Matthew 7:13-14. The great value of wisdom is lost on the foolish.

Despite what many might think, verse 2 has nothing to do with our modern political party system or whether you are conservative or liberal. The people of Israel understood that the right hand of God is a place of authority and protection. The wise, who we have described as godly, would seem to naturally be inclined toward the right while fools go in the opposite direction. What’s more, the fool flaunts his stupidity. It says he “walks along the road” and “shows everyone how stupid he is.” If you doubt the truth in this I suggest you take an objective look at social media! “Preach it brother!”

Solomon spends a lot of time in these passages reminding us that life is not fair. We may work hard and not get the results that our works merit. Someone else may get all the benefits of what we do while not contributing to it themselves. And of course there are dangers all around us, accidents do happen after all. He urges us to see the dangers, to be aware of them. Preventing us from falling into a pit, literally and metaphorically. The fool though will walk himself right into a pit, into “wicked madness.”

I want to take a moment to address 10:19, specifically “money is the answer for everything.” This is how my NIV puts it and this is a great example of a red flag moment in Bible reading. I personally look at this and I am stunned by most of the commentaries I read concerning this verse. At best they say this is Solomon’s wry humor or his attempt at sarcasm. At worse it is a passage that feeds all the prosperity preachers out there. “You may be struggling to pay your bills right now but God will provide a great bounty, a time of plenty. God knows what you need.” Yes, God does know what you need! We need a relationship with Him, with His son Jesus, and with one another. We need to be like the flowers of the field and be content with what we have. So why does Solomon say this? The original Hebrew reads something more like the NEB version, “money is behind it all” or the NIrV, “people think money can buy everything.” I find it interesting that the young reader version of the NIV is so dramatically different from the standard version on this passage. Apparently kids can handle this truth better than adults can.

Solomon urges us to be diligent and trust in God else we find our heads in the clouds and daydreaming. We cannot get caught up playing with “what ifs” and “what could have been”. We can only affect what we can and trust God to handle the rest.

God has asked His people to trust Him from the very beginning. He has made promises and He has kept those promises. He has worked in and through various people and revealed Himself in many ways. And then the world went dark. For 400 years God was silent, still working but not revealing as He had been. That all changed when an angel of the LORD appeared before Zechariah letting him know that his wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son. That son, known as John the Baptist, would herald in the time of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus, the son of God, knew what he must ultimately do. He could only go to the cross with confidence if he fully trusted in God. After he ascended to the right hand of God the world once again seemingly went dark. …

Indeed it is dark for those who lack trust in God, who do not have a hope through His son Jesus. God calls for trust. Solomon wrote God’s words to teach us how to trust. Jesus’ sacrifice was a display of trust. We remember that sacrifice and know that his was the only death that actually has meaning, for Jesus’ death is the one that gives life.

-Jeff Ransom

Advertisements

What We Deserve

eccles 9 10

Ecclesiastes 8:2-9:12

Solomon begins here with examples of improper decorum before a king. In his great authority he can do whatever he pleases, his word is law. So who in their right mind would say to him. “What are you doing?” We see this same idea applied to God in Job 9:12 and Isaiah 45:9. So Solomon says to obey the king, be loyal and not rebellious. Do not do something that is bad or wrong just because you do not like or agree with someone. Seems like common sense but we see it every day on the street level all the way up to those with the greatest wealth, power, and influence. There is even a saying that goes with it, “You cut off your nose to spite your face.”

So do not ask, “What are you doing?” but submit, for “whoever obeys will come to no harm.” This is the way of the wise. The wise person has a better chance of knowing the best course of action and when to act, knowing the proper time and procedure. And yet they still find misery as none knows what the future holds. Misery because we do know that there are consequences for our wickedness. And just as no one can control the wind or delay death, no one can escape the consequences for our wicked, sinful ways.

Life is not fair! … Solomon talks about the wicked being buried. In this context it implies that they receive undeserved respect. A proper burial given to an undeserving wretch. False believers who say the words and make a show of faith. So much so that they receive praise, but they are wicked none the less. They reach this status when justice is not dealt out in proper time. He may commit a hundred crimes and yet live a long life. Worse, he is adored by others who wallow in their own sin, rejoicing that this glorious example has been set for them to work towards. But there will be judgment! The righteous, God-fearing man will have life and the wicked … death!

Life is not fair! … Righteous men get what the wicked deserve and the wicked get what the righteous deserve. Circumstances and choices can lead to what might appear to be unrighteous judgment. Verse 13 tells us that justice will come … in time. Until then, verse 15 points to the wisdom of trusting God and enjoying the many ways in which we are blessed. See, we do not see the “big picture” that God does so we cannot fully understand why things happen when and in the ways that they do. It is better to accept what we are capable of and not stress ourselves with what we are not.

We are in God’s hands. He alone knows what awaits the righteous and the wise and all that they do. “All share a common destiny – the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.” … Death! Death is the destiny we share and the answer to the question, “What does the future hold, what awaits us?” Solomon refers to this as “the evil in everything.” It cuts down the young and old alike. Death does not care whether you are good or bad. Some believe that because death is so arbitrary that it is excusable to rush into sin, to relish in it all their days. It is where we get sayings like, “Live like there is no tomorrow, live life to the fullest” and of course the most popular one in recent years, “YOLO, you only live once.”

For the wicked I guess this is pretty much true. They have no hope for the eternal life promised by God through His son Jesus so this is all that they have. But the living, those who have life through Jesus, they have hope. But in death we will know nothing. No longer able to learn or grow and in time we will be forgotten. God will not forget you though. We can believe this, we can trust it. He did not forget Saul who became Paul. He did not forget Peter, who denied Jesus. He did not forget Ezra, Nehemiah, Joseph or Job. He will not forget you!

Life is not fair! … I hear this all the time from people of all ages. I used to say this myself in frustration, thinking of the ways that I have been hurt or wronged. I stopped saying it when I took Romans 6:23 to heart, “For the wages of sin is death.” If life was fair and was as immediate as our impatience would hope it was, we would be dead the moment we sinned for the first time. In other words, man-kind would be extinct! If we got what we deserved we would not exist! Instead we have received mercy and compassion that goes beyond our comprehension and that we do not deserve.

I for one am grateful, not for what I deserve but for what I do not.

-Jeff Ransom

Wisdom In…Wisdom

Eccles 7 2

Ecclesiastes 7:1-8:1

In Solomon’s time, perfume or oil was a symbol of joy and prosperity and often used as a metaphor for one’s reputation. Solomon combines these ideas with birth and death. He suggests that it is better to have a good name or reputation at the end of your life than to have a joyful and favorable beginning which, by one’s own actions could result in nothing. “The day of death is better”, in his second letter to Corinth and in his letter to Philippi, Paul reminds us of how true this is for those found in Christ. But Solomon’s point is valid for everyone as he explains that we generally learn less from the good times than the bad.

Solomon was pretty big on wisdom so he wrote about the wisdom of reflecting on the brevity of life, “Death is the destiny of every man.” He said that the “living should take this to heart.” or reflect on it. The heart was considered the seat of reflection and of moral decision and action. Seems like the opposite of what most people think today. Anyway, here he recommends that we not only reflect but do so soberly rather than delving into foolish pleasures. Through serious reflection we may achieve some level of moral and spiritual growth or maturity. Moses understood this as he said “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” These words, this message, is desperately needed in this day that emphasizes and encourages self-centeredness. It is common for us to laugh at troubles rather than face them, to joke about what we should take seriously. People are living life like it is an all-you-can-eat buffet that will never run out. This is the fool’s way but the wise live life in light of life’s brevity. Not cautiously or in excess but with purpose and meaning. There is also wisdom in listening to and taking to heart the warnings, corrections, and rebukes of the wise. It is in this that we learn and grow.

With that being said, let us heed the words of a wise man. Solomon warns against adversity and prosperity bringing temptations – temptations that draw us away from wisdom and God. Drawing us into foolishness. Adversity and prosperity alike may lead one to become impatient or be provoked to anger, or complain about where they are, longing for the “good old days.” Each of these is contrary to the trust we ought to have in God. But he was not condemning either of these. He had already made a case for how we can learn more from adversity than times of plenty and he was also in favor of prosperity. In both cases though, wisdom is present. The wise learn from adversity and enjoy the fruits of their prosperity.

It is the wise who would “consider what God has done.” Some try to find fault in God’s ways. The fool is blinded to the ways in which God works through the good and the bad. It is a matter of perspective and … ours is limited. Solomon warned against depending on our perceived righteousness while living wickedly. Those who become “holier-than-thou”, the “high and mighty”, are often the first to fall. Over righteousness occurs when we begin to think too highly of ourselves. We lose the humility that helps balance our relationships … with God, Jesus, and each other. He suggests that we try to strike a balance in life. “Did Solomon just tell us to be a little wicked?” not at all. He is just acknowledging that we are already wicked by our fallen nature. We cannot escape it but we can work to counteract it.

We are not righteous in and of ourselves. The great part about being on this side of the cross is that we know that we can be made righteous through the blood of Jesus. This knowledge brings wisdom. Wisdom makes one powerful but it does have limitations. In itself, wisdom is inadequate to provide us protection or offer salvation. Additionally, we are not able to gain full wisdom. Solomon, yes that Solomon, said that true wisdom was far beyond him.

What he did discover though is that true righteousness and true wisdom does not exist among men. In his searching he finds that there is only one upright man among a thousand it says and none among women. This speaks to the rarity of such a person but if Scripture and experience have taught us anything it is that such a person is all but nonexistent. In fact I question whether this statement was more prophetic than observational. Could Solomon’s one upright man have been speaking of the coming Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus the Christ? The reason for man’s universal depravity is his own doing, not God’s. “God made men upright.” He made us perfect and we screwed it up. We follow our own schemes thus we lack true uprightness, true righteousness, and true wisdom. And we fail to please God.

Solomon asks many questions in this book. Some that we find in this reading will be answered when Jesus returns. At his return we will have true righteousness, true wisdom. Then we will be changed and made new. Into the glorious creations that He intended us to be. In knowing God, pleasing Him, we gain wisdom but in growing closer to Him through His Son we gain life everlasting. Do you see the wisdom in this?

To be continued …

Jeff Ransom

Stand in Awe of God

Eccles 4 4 (1)

Ecclesiastes 4:1-5:7

Solomon, as cheerful as ever, writes about what he witnessed around him; the tears of the oppressed, power on the side of the oppressor, and no comfort for the oppressed. Who are the oppressed today, in our world, our country, our community? People are oppressed based on ethnicity, religious beliefs, economic status, gender, you name it. Some appear to less oppression than others but it is an illusion. We are all subjugated to one great oppressor, sin! Solomon rightfully says that we have no comforter … here on earth at least. He reminds us to look at what role we each play in the oppression of others for we cannot be a comfort if we are part of the problem, whether we realize it or not.

The dead! The dead are free from oppression … and happiness … and joy … and living. Peter wrote that it is only those who trust in God that may see the good that can come out of suffering. Thank you Peter for being a ray of sunshine! He says this though because we have a hope in Jesus of an eternity where sorrow and suffering will be no more. Peter was, as we are, on the other side of the cross so to speak so we have a better understanding of the impermanence of this life and its troubles and of the future promise of life in the coming kingdom.

But for today, greed and envy are tremendous motivators for oppression. When people strive for more wealth and power they rarely care for who gets pushed aside, trampled on or abused. It is a grabbing after that which will only give momentary happiness. Solomon suggests that it is better to have one handful with tranquility. … Yeah I read that and did not get it at first either. He is saying that we should not over reach or overextend ourselves. His wisdom guides us to be content with what we have, with what God has provided.

In chapter four Solomon gives two examples. The first is of a rich man whose insatiable thirst for more isolated him to the point that he had no partnership. He did not share with anyone and one day realized the immensity of that loneliness. In contrast, Solomon commends sharing in relationship. There are advantages in this as he points out. In companionship we find greater profit, a good return from our labor. We are able to help one another in difficult times when we are together. He pities those who have no one to help them when they fall. Together we can provide each other with comfort but there is no one to comfort the selfish and greedy. Companionship also affords greater protection when facing dangers. He goes further with that by saying that two is good but three is even better.

The second example is that of a poor but wise youth who succeeds the foolish king. He comes from nothing and it is implied that he was imprisoned at one point. But he rose to power and everyone followed him. He had it all! In time the people grew tired of him and he lost everything. All of his striving after money, power, and adoration was ultimately meaningless. It all comes and goes like the wind.

You might look at the opening verses of chapter five as advice or instruction on proper worship, the proper attitude, appropriate practice of prayer, and the respectful payment of vows. The reality though is Solomon is warning against straining our relationship with God. He warns against making rash vows. Rash vows become the “sacrifice of fools” and the “speech of a fool”. He advises us to be thoughtful before coming to God with an oath or vow. To consider our own limitations and our motivations. We ought to weigh all things against God’s word so that we know that it is good according to His perfect will. “What is the big deal about making vows?” A vow is a promise and for the God who always keeps His promises, breaking our promise is detestable to Him.

Whether facing oppression or battling against the sins of greed and envy, trying to stay humble enough to be content with what we have or avoiding quick words and rash vows, Solomon always returns to our Creator God. ”Therefore stand in awe of God”, trust in Him and His providence. In awe of Him rather than standing in awe of ourselves. Then we can face the troubles and strife with great endurance. Then we can rise above our baser nature. We can find contentment and dare I say … meaning!

To be continued …

 

Jeff Ransom

 

Under the Sun

Eccles 1_9

Ecclesiastes 1:1-2:16

Ecclesiastes does not exactly seem like the perfect book for uplifting and encouraging one another but let us take a look at it anyway.

We can assume from the titles the author gives himself and other clues that Solomon wrote this book. The wisest man, excluding Jesus, to walk the earth and he begins by saying that “everything is meaningless!” What is meaningless? From the third verse of chapter one and a number of arguments made throughout the book, we can understand Solomon to mean that all human endeavors are meaningless. With the number of times he repeats the word meaningless several translations/versions read as “utterly meaningless”. Our labors are totally and completely useless. So he asks the question, “What does man gain from all his labor?” It is almost like he is daring us to give a positive answer to that question.

He argues in broad strokes that our efforts can have no permanent value. “Generations come and generations go” speaks of how short life is and the insignificance of our efforts. He contrasts our efforts with the earth which will remain and yet even the things that happen on earth are without meaning. Solomon gives examples of the sun, wind, and water to illustrate his point. Each of these cycling around in ceaseless activity. But what does the sun, wind, or water gain from their activities? Nothing! It is all monotonous and wearisome without effecting any progress or reaching some goal.

“But there are so many advances every day. In technology, medicine, industry, you name it. With everything we have and what is coming, Solomon obviously had no idea what he was talking about when he said there is nothing new under the sun.”

Cell phones – just an update on old technology which in turn is just two people talking only over greater distances. The computer – just a dumbed down version of our own brains. If you know me you will find it difficult to believe that a computer is a dumbed down version of my brain but it is true. Computers only mimic the pathways and impulses of our brains. Space travel – it is still just traveling from one place to another, adventuring into the unknown. So Solomon is correct, there really is nothing new under the sun.

Let’s not forget either that Solomon was not only incredibly wise but he was insanely rich and powerful. With all of that he tried to discover something, anything that had not been done before. He even sunk into madness and folly. The conundrum to this endeavor however is that he did so under the guidance of wisdom. He did not indulge blindly or in uncontrolled excess. He denied himself nothing and undoubtedly gained some measure of satisfaction from his experiences but he discovered that it was all fleeting, gone in an instant. Nothing was truly gained from any of it.

Solomon’s verdict on all of this is that wisdom enabled him to enjoy both pleasure and the fruits of his labor sensibly, to cherish them rather than to pass numbly through them. So there is an advantage to wisdom over foolishness. Yet both the wise and foolish share the same fate. So what does wisdom gain us? What is the point?

Paraphrasing Proverbs 2:1-8, “my son, if you accept my words, turning your ear to wisdom, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom, He holds victory in store for the upright, He is a shield, He guards and protects the way of His faithful ones.”

There is a glorious purpose; Trust in Him and His plan, His power. We can gain knowledge and understanding from God’s Word but it only becomes wisdom when we apply it to our lives. When we live out what we have learned from Scripture we will be able to enjoy this life and all of our “meaningless” endeavors. Without God, everything is meaningless.

To be continued…

Jeff Ransom

The Wisdom of Solomon?

wisdom

When you read about the Kings of Israel or Judah, their life is always summed up in one sentence, as a kind of Eulogy: King ­___ did right/evil in the sight of the Lord. That’s really all it boils down to, if we do right or we do evil in the sight of the Lord. None of the other things that they did matter. Take King Solomon for example. The wisest man who ever lived, the Lord appeared to him twice. Once he told him, “Ask what you wish me to give you.” He asked for wisdom to be able to lead the Israelites. God was so pleased with his answer that he said he would give him wisdom, riches, and honor, and if he followed his commandments that he would prolong his days. Solomon went on to build the temple for the Lord in Jerusalem.

It sounds like he lived his life to bring God glory, but Solomon had one small problem.  Chapter 3:3 “Now Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David, except he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places.” And in chapter 11 vs.1-6 it says (paraphrase), “King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women.  They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites ‘You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.’  As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord….”  Contrast this to Ch.15:11&14 “And Asa did what was right in the sight of the Lord.” “The high places were not taken away, nevertheless the heart of Asa was wholly devoted to the Lord all his days.” You do not want your epithet to read:  He loved the Lord, EXCEPT….. We need to make sure that we keep our hearts wholly devoted to God. Solomon started out loving God, but then he put other people before him and his heart was pulled away.

Sherry Alcumbrack

2500 Years Later

Sunday Intro by Graysen Pack

God's Word RemainsLiving & Active

As we continue our readings in Proverbs (Chapters 22-26 this week), we are going to be leaving a collection of sayings by Solomon that contrast the wise and the foolish.  We’ll then move into a new section of Proverbs, the sayings of the Wise.  These proverbs, unlike previous ones, aren’t written down by Solomon directly but put down to paper by the servants of King Hezekiah years later.


This reveals one of the defining characteristics of Wisdom literature as it’s found in Scripture: it is a product of the dynamic tension that ancient people faced in their day to day lives.  These are sayings that were passed down for generations from the time of Solomon to the days of Hezekiah and then put to paper.  Unlike some portions of the Hebrew Bible, the Wisdom literature found in Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Job, and Ecclesiastes are intrinsically shaped by the ways that the Jews of ancient Israel were trying to understand the role of faith in their daily actions.

 

This is what makes these scriptures deep, meaningful, and particularly relevant to the struggles we still face today.  So, as we explore the Proverbs this week, I encourage you to not see them as a detached set of sayings from a time long gone, but as markers laid out by individuals of faith who found themselves in older variations of the exact same challenges we encounter in our own lives some 2500 years later.