Wisdom Really Works

He who digs a pit will fall into it,
    and a serpent will bite him who breaks through a wall.
He who quarries stones is hurt by them,
    and he who splits logs is endangered by them.
10 If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge,
    he must use more strength,
    but wisdom helps one to succeed.
11 If the serpent bites before it is charmed,
    there is no advantage to the charmer.

12 The words of a wise man’s mouth win him favor,
    but the lips of a fool consume him.
13 The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness,
    and the end of his talk is evil madness.
14 A fool multiplies words,
    though no man knows what is to be,
    and who can tell him what will be after him?
15 The toil of a fool wearies him,
    for he does not know the way to the city.

16 Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child,
    and your princes feast in the morning!
17 Happy are you, O land, when your king is the son of the nobility,
    and your princes feast at the proper time,
    for strength, and not for drunkenness!
18 Through sloth the roof sinks in,
    and through indolence the house leaks.
19 Bread is made for laughter,
    and wine gladdens life,
    and money answers everything.
20 Even in your thoughts, do not curse the king,
    nor in your bedroom curse the rich,
for a bird of the air will carry your voice,
    or some winged creature tell the matter. Ecclesiastes 10:8-20 ESV

Solomon continues his discussion about wisdom that he began in the opening verses of this chapter, but now, he does so in a more proverbial form. In verses 8-10, he outlines the positive influence of wisdom. It helps one to succeed. Yet, he also describes several scenarios where wisdom won’t necessarily prove to be an asset. It may help, but it cannot prevent the unforeseen or unexpected.

For instance, if someone is in the process of digging a pit, they face the very real risk of falling into the hole they have dug. Wisdom can cause a man to be cautious, but it can’t completely eliminate an accident from occurring.

When doing demolition work on an old wall, and removing the rocks or bricks by hand, there’s always the chance you might get bitten by a snake. Again, wisdom advises discernment and caution, but it can’t control the actions of a snake.

Working in a quarry can be a profitable and potentially harmful occupation. The very stones you seek to gather can end up crushing you. And while the wise will work carefully and cautiously, they may still find themselves in harm’s way, because they can’t control nature. The same thing could be true for someone who splits logs. It’s a potentially dangerous occupation that can end up harming even the wisest of men.

But Solomon’s point seems to be that if wisdom is not used in and applied to the everyday affairs of life, things could turn out even worse. Solomon gives the example of a log-splitter who attempts to do his job with an unsharpened ax. He will find himself expending more energy than necessary, creating undue exhaustion, and increasing the chances of harming himself. But wisdom, when applied properly to life, can help one succeed. It can also help protect against unnecessary risk. But it is not a cure-all or preventative for any and all dangers associated with everyday life lived under the sun.

The sad reality is that there are situations and scenarios in life that cannot be prevented by wisdom. A snake charmer who gets bitten by a snake before he has had the opportunity to train it is the victim of bad timing. His fate has little to do with his abilities as a snake charmer but speaks volumes about the risk associated with his profession. Snake bites are a common hazard for those who attempt to charm snakes. It comes with the territory.

While verses 8-11 deal with wisdom as it pertains to man’s occupation or work life, verses 12-15 take on the tongue, or how wisdom can influence our speech.

Wise words bring approval,
    but fools are destroyed by their own words. – Ecclesiastes 10:12 NLT

The words of a wise man can earn the favor of others. They positively impact his life because they leave a good impression on all those around him. But a foolish man tends to say things that do more harm than good. And he is the one who suffers the most because he speaks self-destructive words that elicit rejection and animosity from others. From the minute a thought comes into his head to the moment he expresses it, the fool’s fate is sealed.

Fools base their thoughts on foolish assumptions,
    so their conclusions will be wicked madness;
    they chatter on and on. – Ecclesiastes 10:13-14 NLT

Their speech is foolish because their thinking is foolish. And as Solomon wrote in one of his proverbs, the real issue is the heart.

Guard your heart above all else,
    for it determines the course of your life.

Avoid all perverse talk;
    stay away from corrupt speech. – Proverbs 4:23-24 NLT

And it was Jesus who said, “whatever is in your heart determines what you say” (Matthew 12:34 NLT). A foolish heart produces foolish words. It’s unavoidable and inevitable. And fools tend to speak of things they don’t know, droning on and on about matters beyond their level of comprehension or regarding the future, of which they have no knowledge.

No one really knows what is going to happen;
    no one can predict the future. – Ecclesiastes 10:14 NLT

They speak because they can, not because they should. And Solomon reasons that it is silly to listen to the words of someone predicting the future who can’t even find his way into town. Their self-professed wisdom is of no practical value. It can’t even prevent them from getting lost. But the sad truth is that our world is filled with foolish individuals who constantly spout their opinions and spew their foolish rhetoric for all to hear. And far too often, the world listens. Social media has provided a platform for fools to spout their opinions on anything and everything. Rock stars and celebrities use their fame as justification for sharing their thoughts on virtually any and every topic under the sun. And the world gathers around them like they’re listening to the Oracle of Delphi. We treat them as if they’re sages or some kind of prescient diviners of all truth. But in reality, they are nothing more than fools, and fools have a bad habit of attracting more of their own kind. As the old saying goes: Birds of a feather flock together. And because that statement is true, you end up with the sad scene that Jesus once described as the blind leading the blind. And the end result of that little parade is never positive.

In verses 16-19, Solomon now turns his attention to wisdom as it relates to leadership. He starts out by describing a nation ruled by a child-king and a collection of princes who lack self-control.

What sorrow for the land ruled by a servant,
    the land whose leaders feast in the morning. – Ecclesiastes 10:16 NLT

In Proverbs 22:15, Solomon makes the observation: “A youngster’s heart is filled with foolishness.” Children make lousy leaders because they lack wisdom. And if you gather a group of children together, you multiply the foolishness exponentially. Young, inexperienced princes who love to feast in the morning will end up making bad decisions all day long.

Of course, Solomon may be speaking of a king who simply acts like a child. We all know what that looks like. In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul made a personal statement regarding his attitude toward maturity and spiritual growth: “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11 NLT). Adults are to act like adults. But sadly, far too many grownups still behave like children, lacking self-control and exhibiting simplistic thinking that can destroy marriages, families, cities, and nations.

But when a leader approaches his responsibilities wisely and nobly, those under his leadership prosper. They find themselves joyful and at peace because they have someone leading them effectively and justly.

Happy is the land whose king is a noble leader
    and whose leaders feast at the proper time
    to gain strength for their work, not to get drunk. – Ecclesiastes 10:17 NLT

Leaders who feast in order to gain strength are dramatically different than those who feast to get drunk. Wise leaders understand the seriousness of their role and do everything with forethought and careful consideration as to how their actions will influence the well-being of those under their care. But young, foolish leaders end up making unwise decisions. In some cases, they put off making decisions at all, procrastinating, or simply postponing their responsibilities. And Solomon compares this kind of leadership to the slothful individual who puts off fixing his roof, only to watch it leak and eventually cave in on him.

You can put off your responsibilities, but not the consequences for doing so. Wisdom is what helps us make use of the gifts God has given to us. Bread is of great value and can produce much joy and laughter when used wisely. Wine is a wonderful gift from God and can make life more enjoyable but only when accompanied by wisdom. Money can be a powerful tool to solve all kinds of problems but it requires wisdom and discernment.

All of these gifts can be abused and misused. A fool can take what God has given and use it to self-destruct. He can over-indulge. He can drink to excess. And he can make money his god. And a fool, sitting in the privacy of his own home, may think it is safe for him to speak ill of the king, but what he doesn’t realize is that even words spoken in private have a way of going public. His foolish criticism of those in authority over him will eventually come back to haunt him.

Wisdom really does work. When used appropriately, as God intended, it can have far-reaching benefits that bring added value to life. Wisdom is not a cure-all that guarantees a problem-free life. It is a God-given resource for making the most out of life – including the good and the bad. Wisdom provides discernment and self-discipline. It promotes diligence and discourages laziness. It produces a life of meaning and significance, marked by a reverence for God and a reliance upon His grace and goodness.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

Wine, Women, and Words

1 The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him:

What are you doing, my son? What are you doing, son of my womb?
    What are you doing, son of my vows?
Do not give your strength to women,
    your ways to those who destroy kings.
It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
    it is not for kings to drink wine,
    or for rulers to take strong drink,
lest they drink and forget what has been decreed
    and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.
Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,
    and wine to those in bitter distress;
let them drink and forget their poverty
    and remember their misery no more.
Open your mouth for the mute,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
    defend the rights of the poor and needy. – Proverbs 31:1-9 ESV

These proverbs are presented as the words of King Lemuel and the first nine verses come in the form of an oracle taught to him by his mother. The Hebrew word translated as “oracle” is maśśā’ and it refers to a message with a heavy burden. These are weighty or substantive teachings that were passed down from mother to son and then collected for distribution in Solomon’s book of Proverbs.

It would appear that Lemuel was a foreign king because his name appears nowhere in the chronicles of the kings of Israel of Judah. He could have been a proselyte to Judaism and, therefore, a worshiper of Yahweh. His mother, the former queen, could have been a descendant of Abraham or a convert to Judaism who passed down her faith to her young son. If the remainder of the chapter is biographical in nature and refers to Lemuel’s mother, it would be safe to say that she was a godly woman and had a tremendous influence on her son.

Verses 2-9 are the loving words of a mother to her son but they are rather unique in that they address the dangers facing a king. These words of warning come from someone who seems to have had firsthand experience in the matters she raises. As the former queen, it is likely that she had seen her husband, Lemuel’s father, struggle with these matters.

Her words are rather succinct and deal with three main topics: Women, wine, and words. She presents the first two as potential hazards to be avoided. It is not that either is particularly evil but that, for a king, they can prove to be dangerous and even deadly. Perhaps her husband had been a philanderer who allowed his love for women to destroy his marriage and weaken his kingdom.

Over the centuries, there has been repeated speculation that Lemuel was a pen name for Solomon. That would make the mother referred to in this chapter none other than Bathsheba. She would have had ample knowledge of the seductive influence that a woman can have on a man. And she knew what it was like to be the target of a man’s fatal attraction. After all, as a married woman, she had been seduced by King David and committed adultery with him. In an attempt to cover up the son their sin produced, David had Bathsheba’s husband murdered. He then took Bathsheba to be his wife and she bore him a son, the fruit of their adulterous affair. But that son died in infancy, a punishment from God for David’s transgression. Then God blessed Bathsheba with another son, Solomon.

And when Solomon grew up and ascended to the throne of his father, it would make sense that Bathsheba would express concern about his apparent weakness for women.

“What are you doing, my son? What are you doing, son of my womb?
    What are you doing, son of my vows?
Do not give your strength to women,
    your ways to those who destroy kings. – Proverbs 31:2-3 ESV

The book of 1 Kings paints a rather lurid picture of Solomon’s attraction to the opposite sex.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The LORD had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the LORD.

In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the LORD his God, as his father, David, had been. – 1 Kings 11:1-4 NLT

Whether Lemuel was Solomon’s pseudonym and the loving mother in this passage was Bathsheba is all nothing more than speculation. But the biography of Solomon provides ample evidence that the maternal counsel found in this passage is more than merited.

But she didn’t stop there. She also warned her son about the dangers of wine.

It is not for kings, O Lemuel, to guzzle wine.
    Rulers should not crave alcohol. – Proverbs 31:4 NLT

This loving mother seems to have firsthand experience with the dangers of alcohol. Perhaps she had watched Lemuel’s father struggle with controlling his consumption of wine and had seen how it had negatively impacted his ability to rule wisely. So, she pleads with her son to practice moderation and self-control. Notice her words. She does not forbid the use of alcohol but warns against its abuse. Lemuel is not to “guzzle” wine. He is not to “crave alcohol.” In other words, Lemuel is to avoid addictive behavior.

While the Scriptures do not completely prohibit the use of alcohol, there are plenty of verses that warn against it. And while there are some religious groups that abuse and misinterpret these verses, there are just as many that ignore them altogether.

In our desire to justify our use of alcohol, we tend to portray the Scriptures as seemingly silent on the topic. But repeatedly in the Book of Proverbs, we have seen Solomon warn his sons about the inherent dangers of alcohol consumption. In Proverbs 31, King Lemuel is warned against drinking to excess. This passage isn’t prohibiting the use of alcohol. In fact, in those days, to deny the use of alcohol in the court of a king would have been unheard of. It would have been absurd.

But excessive use of alcohol should be avoided at all times, especially by those who hold positions of responsibility and authority over the lives of others. The problem is that alcohol distorts the senses, muddies the mind, and can lead to poor decision-making. Whether you’re a king, national leader, company president, or a parent, the last thing you should want is to have your mind clouded by alcohol, rendering your judgment impaired and your ability to perform your responsibilities diminished.

There are far too many stories concerning wives whose husbands have struggled with a drinking problem. In many cases, these men were hard workers and loving husbands and fathers, who allowed alcohol to destroy their ability to lead and protect as they should. As Lemuel is warned, when they drink, they tend to make unwise decisions. They lose the capacity to think and rule wisely. Under the influence of alcohol, “they may forget the law and not give justice to the oppressed” (Proverbs 31:5 NLT).

They lose their moral bearings, their sense of right and wrong, and their understanding of justice. In the end, they make poor decisions that put their families at risk – financially, emotionally, and even physically. Alcohol in all its forms can be deadening and even deadly. Solomon warns us, “Wine produces mockers; alcohol leads to brawls. Those led astray by drink cannot be wise” (Proverbs 20:1 NLT). Here are a few of the other admonitions about wine and alcohol in the Book of Proverbs:

Those who love pleasure become poor;
    those who love wine and luxury will never be rich. – Proverbs 21:17 NLT

Wine produces mockers; alcohol leads to brawls.
    Those led astray by drink cannot be wise. – Proverbs 20:1 NLT

Don’t gaze at the wine, seeing how red it is,
    how it sparkles in the cup, how smoothly it goes down.
For in the end it bites like a poisonous snake;
    it stings like a viper.
You will see hallucinations,
    and you will say crazy things.
You will stagger like a sailor tossed at sea,
    clinging to a swaying mast. – Proverbs 23:30-34 NLT

In Proverbs, wine and mixed drinks are closely associated with the wicked and the immoral woman. It is almost always used in the sense of excess and over-indulgence. It appeals to the sensual side of man. It can dull our senses and feed the sinful side of our sensual nature.

There is a need for wisdom when it comes to the use of alcohol. We must be fully aware of its dangers. We must acknowledge its ability to impact and impair our judgment. It is a mind-altering, mood-enhancing substance that, if used wisely and appropriately, can have positive benefits. But it can also be misused and abused. It can destroy and divide. It can be used to escape reality and avoid responsibility. It can bring pleasure but it can also produce immoral behavior.

The final word of motherly advice has to do with words. Lemuel’s mother warns him to watch his tongue. Just as women and wine can have a negative influence, so can words. As a king, Lemuel wielded tremendous power. With a word, he could condemn or commend. He could use his authority for good or evil. So, she calls on her son to use his sovereign power to protect the less fortunate within his kingdom.

Open your mouth for the mute,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
    defend the rights of the poor and needy. – Proverbs 31:8-9 NLT

A wise king understands that he serves God and acts as a steward of His divine authority. God defends the downtrodden and disadvantaged and He expects His vice-regent to do the same. Lemuel’s mother wanted her son to use the power inherent in his words for the good of all. She longed for him to judge righteously and to rule wisely.

Women, wine, and words. These three simple topics have the capacity to make or break any man, especially a king. And Lemuel’s mother loved him enough to warn him to tread carefully with all three.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Beyond Healing

11 For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed.

When I restore the fortunes of my people,

1 when I would heal Israel,

    the iniquity of Ephraim is revealed,
    and the evil deeds of Samaria,
for they deal falsely;
    the thief breaks in,
    and the bandits raid outside.
But they do not consider
    that I remember all their evil.
Now their deeds surround them;
    they are before my face.
By their evil they make the king glad,
    and the princes by their treachery.
They are all adulterers;
    they are like a heated oven
whose baker ceases to stir the fire,
    from the kneading of the dough
    until it is leavened.
On the day of our king, the princes
    became sick with the heat of wine;
    he stretched out his hand with mockers.
For with hearts like an oven they approach their intrigue;
    all night their anger smolders;
    in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire.
All of them are hot as an oven,
    and they devour their rulers.
All their kings have fallen,
    and none of them calls upon me. Hosea 6:11-7:7 ESV

Not all of God’s condemnation was reserved for the ten northern tribes of Israel. He also had more than enough reasons to appoint a “harvest” for the southern kingdom of Judah. In essence, God is warning both nations that they will one day reap what they have sown. Their iniquity will produce a bounty of God’s righteous judgment, and they will end up eating the fruit of their labors. Their years of feasting on faithlessness will be followed by a time of spiritual drought and famine. They will experience leanness of soul.

But even as God reveals His pending judgment, He offers His assurances of future blessing. He speaks of restoring the fortunes of people. That is the desire of His heart, and He will end up doing so for the southern kingdom of Judah. While He will eventually punish them for their sins, sending them into captivity in Babylon, He will also restore them to the land. Because He has plans for them that include the sending of His Son as a descendant of David, born of the tribe of Judah. For that to happen, the tribe of Judah will have to be in existence and living in the land of promise. God will redeem and restore Judah from their exile in Babylon, but not because they deserve it. He will do so because His plan of redemption requires that the Messiah be born of the tribe of Judah and of the seed of David. God would eventually restore the fortunes of rebellious Judah so that He could reconcile sinful mankind to Himself through the Lion of Judah, the Messiah of Israel.

But even as God hints at the hope of restoration for Judah, He confesses that He is unable to offer the same outcome for Israel. While He longs to heal them, He can’t look past the egregious nature of their sin. Everywhere He turns, He is confronted by their wickedness and immorality. From the largest tribe of Ephraim to the capital city of Samaria, the entire nation is filled with iniquity and infected by sin. Their rejection of God had resulted in moral decay and social injustices of all kinds. They were dishonest, uncaring, deceitful, cruel, and completely driven by self-centered motives. In fact, they seem to illustrate the very kind of people Paul warned Timothy about.

…in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 NLT

And the worst part about Israel’s sinful behavior was that they failed to recognize that could see everything they were doing.

Its people don’t realize
    that I am watching them.
Their sinful deeds are all around them,
    and I see them all. – Hosea 7:2 NLT

They had lived without God for so long that they were no longer aware of His presence or feared His punishment. He was completely out of sight, out of mind. But He was watching. And He was appalled at and incensed by their behavior. But, unlike God, the king of Israel derived a perverse sense of joy in it all.

The people entertain the king with their wickedness,
    and the princes laugh at their lies. – Hosea 7:3 NLT

Those who should have been concerned by the growing wickedness in the land were actually pleased with it. When there is chaos among the people, it provides the government with justification for increasing its power and asserting its authority. A peaceful and well-behaved populace does not require the heavy hand of government. But civil unrest and a breakdown in the moral fabric of society create the perfect environment for the growth of dictatorial rule. Anarchy tends to breed tyranny.

God describes a society that is completely out of control. From the prince in the palace to the peasant in the street, everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes. It was a moral free-for-all, with no one adhering to any sort of standard for justice and righteousness. The signs of ungodliness were everywhere. But that shouldn’t be surprising. When they abandoned God, they also left behind His law. There was nothing to regulate and guide their behavior. They were each operating according to their own moral compass and the outcome was not a pretty picture.

The nation of Israel was marked by literal and spiritual adultery. The upper echelons of society were known for their drunken parties and immoral behavior. God describes their sinful actions like a baker’s oven that is maintained at a constant high temperature, with its fire never going out. Their sinful lifestyle could be “cooked up” at any time, day or night.

Their hearts are like an oven
    blazing with intrigue.
Their plot smolders through the night,
    and in the morning it breaks out like a raging fire. – Hosea 7:6 NLT

They never gave their sin a rest. And a lifestyle of unrepentant sin has a habit of escalating in intensity. It becomes like a fire raging out of control. With no godly means of regulating its sin-prone behavior, mankind is destined to endure a steady downward spiral of moral and spiritual decay. It is exactly what happened after Adam and Eve sinned. Their decision to disobey God led to an immediate collapse in the social fabric of society. One of their sons ending up killing his brother. And before long, the descendants of the first couple had polluted the earth with their wicked and ungodly behavior. So much so, that God decided to destroy all that He had made.

The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the LORD was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the LORD said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them.” – Genesis 6:5-7 NLT

And the state of affairs in Israel was no better. The extent of human wickedness in Israel was beyond belief. Everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. And God points out that their spiritual decline had reached such a low point that the nation had become self-destructive. They were literally annihilating themselves.

Burning like an oven,
    they consume their leaders.
They kill their kings one after another,
    and no one cries to me for help. – Hosea 7:7 NLT

And that last line says it all. In the midst of all the chaos, confusion, societal decay, and moral decadence, no one was bothering to seek God’s help. There was no godly remnant within the society calling out to God in repentance and begging for His intervention. The cancer of sin had spread so deeply that it had left no one free from its influence. The spiritual health of the nation had been completely compromised. They were beyond healing and in need of complete purging.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Intoxicated With the World

15 “Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink—
    you pour out your wrath and make them drunk,
    in order to gaze at their nakedness!
16 You will have your fill of shame instead of glory.
    Drink, yourself, and show your uncircumcision!
The cup in the Lord‘s right hand
    will come around to you,
    and utter shame will come upon your glory!
17 The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you,
    as will the destruction of the beasts that terrified them,
for the blood of man and violence to the earth,
    to cities and all who dwell in them.” Habakkuk 2:15-17 ESV

It’s quite obvious that God had no love affair with the Babylonians. He was going to use them as His instruments of wrath against the disobedience people of Judah, but He despised their ways. They were a wicked and degenerate nation marked by ungodliness and driven by immoral passions that knew no bounds. They were opportunistic oppressors who took advantage of their superior military strength to extend their borders and expand their vast wealth at the expense of smaller, more vulnerable nations.

The “Babylon” described in Habakkuk’s book is the Neo-Babylonian Empire, which rose to power and prominence under the leadership of King Nabopolassar and would dominate that region of the world from 626 BC until its defeat by the 539 BC. It would be under the reign of King Nebuchadnezza that Babylon would reach the zenith of its power. But in 539 BC, the Medes and Persians would invade and conquer Babylon, bringing an end to the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Yet, for the biblical authors, the name “Babylon” would come to represent all those ungodly nations which stood opposed to God and His people, glorying in their own power and worshiping their self-sufficiency and autonomy. It was King Nebuchadnezzar himself who bragged about the glory of the magnificent capital city he had constructed with the revenue he had gained from his many conquests.

“Twelve months later he was taking a walk on the flat roof of the royal palace in Babylon. As he looked out across the city, he said, ‘Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.’” – Daniel 4:29-30 NLT

In the book of Revelation, Babylon comes to represent the kingdom of the Antichrist, the world leader who will come to power in the last days. He will set up a great vast empire that spans the globe and his capital city will become the economic, military, and political epicenter for the world. And like the ancient nation from which it borrows its name, the end-times Babylon will be destroyed by God.

“Babylon is fallen—that great city is fallen!
    She has become a home for demons.
She is a hideout for every foul spirit,
    a hideout for every foul vulture
    and every foul and dreadful animal.
For all the nations have fallen
    because of the wine of her passionate immorality.
The kings of the world
    have committed adultery with her.
Because of her desires for extravagant luxury,
    the merchants of the world have grown rich.” – Revelation 18:2-3 NLT

And notice John’s reference to “the wine of her passionate immorality.” The power and influence of this future Babylon will tempt the nations of the world to become intoxicated by its vast wealth and attracted to the ungodly lifestyle it represents. Decadence and immorality will be the order of the day in the kingdom of the Antichrist. But it too will fall, leaving the nations of the world staggering under the weight of their loss.

…the kings of the world who committed adultery with her and enjoyed her great luxury will mourn for her as they see the smoke rising from her charred remains. – Revelation 18:9 NLT

The merchants of the world will weep and mourn for her, for there is no one left to buy their goods. – Revelation 18:11 NLT

“The fancy things you loved so much
    are gone,” they cry.
“All your luxuries and splendor
    are gone forever,
    never to be yours again.” – Revelation 18:14 NLT

“How terrible, how terrible for that great city!
    She was clothed in finest purple and scarlet linens,
    decked out with gold and precious stones and pearls!
In a single moment
    all the wealth of the city is gone!” – Revelation 18:16-17 NLT

“How terrible, how terrible for that great city!
    The shipowners became wealthy
    by transporting her great wealth on the seas.
In a single moment it is all gone.” – Revelation 18:19 NLT

In this fourth “woe,” delivered by God against the Babylon of Habakkuk’s day, we see a reference to “him who makes his neighbors drink” (Habakkuk 2:15 ESV). God accuses Babylon of using its vast power to degrade the nations of the world, causing them to stagger and reel like drunks, incapable of defending themselves against the immoral intentions of their adversary.  God exposes the true intentions of the Babylonians: “You force your cup on them so you can gloat over their shameful nakedness.” (Habakkuk 2:15 NLT). The imagery is that of sexual abuse, as the more powerful forces himself on a helpless and defenseless victim. 

But God warns that this kind of behavior will not go unpunished.

“But soon it will be your turn to be disgraced.
    Come, drink and be exposed!
Drink from the cup of the Lord’s judgment,
    and all your glory will be turned to shame.” – Habakkuk 2:16 NLT

The perpetrator would become the victim, getting a taste of their own medicine as God pours out His cup of judgment upon them. And rather than glorying in their power and prominence, they will experience shame and humiliation at the hand of God Almighty.

As has been the case with the previous three woes, God is making a not-so-subtle point, aimed at His rebellious and stubborn children, the nation of Judah. They stand guilty before Yahweh, having committed many of the same sins as the ungodly Babylonians. Prior to their fall to the Assyrians, the prophet Isaiah described the northern kingdom of Israel as drunks, who had willingly rendered themselves intoxicated and insensible, completely incapable of living up to God’s righteous standard for them.

Now, however, Israel is led by drunks
    who reel with wine and stagger with alcohol.
The priests and prophets stagger with alcohol
    and lose themselves in wine.
They reel when they see visions
    and stagger as they render decisions.
Their tables are covered with vomit;
    filth is everywhere. – Isaiah 28:7-8 NLT

God had blessed them with fertile and fruitful land, but they had taken the gift of His abundance and used it in ways that were out of step with His will for them.

What sorrow awaits the proud city of Samaria—
    the glorious crown of the drunks of Israel.
It sits at the head of a fertile valley,
    but its glorious beauty will fade like a flower.
It is the pride of a people
    brought down by wine. – Isaiah 28:1 NLT

They had become drunk on their own success, enjoying the fruits of God’s undeserved blessings, and arrogantly bragging that they were immune to His judgment.

You boast, “We have struck a bargain to cheat death
    and have made a deal to dodge the grave.
The coming destruction can never touch us,
    for we have built a strong refuge made of lies and deception.” – Isaiah 28:15 NLT

But they were wrong. Like the Babylonians, the people of Israel would see their immoral lifestyle come to an abrupt end.

I will cancel the bargain you made to cheat death,
    and I will overturn your deal to dodge the grave.
When the terrible enemy sweeps through,
    you will be trampled into the ground. – Isaiah 28:18 NLT

This fourth woe was intended to indict the people of Judah as much as the nation of Babylon. Just as their northern neighbors would fall to the Assyrians, the rebellious and arrogant Judahites would fall to the Babylonians. And, eventually, in His own timing, God would deal with the Babylonians themselves.

“The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you…” – Habakkuk 2:17 ESV

They would all reap what they sowed. Their glory would be turned to shame. Their self-sufficiency would result in self-destruction. Their love affair with wealth, power, and prominence would leave them staggering under the weight of their own poverty, weakness, and humiliation.

The prophet Isaiah warned the people of Judah that their fate was sealed. They had refused to listen to the messages of the prophets, calling them to repentance. So, God had chosen to keep His promise to bring curses upon them for their disobedience and unfaithfulness. And, like Habakkuk, they would find God’s decision difficult to fathom and even harder to accept, it was the just reward for their rebellion against Him.

Are you amazed and incredulous?
    Don’t you believe it?
Then go ahead and be blind.
    You are stupid, but not from wine!
    You stagger, but not from liquor!
For the Lord has poured out on you a spirit of deep sleep.
    He has closed the eyes of your prophets and visionaries. – Isaiah 29:9-10 NLT

They had become drunk on the things of this world. But they had also been blinded by God, spiritually incapable of comprehending the danger of their situation and insensitive to His call to repentance. How easy it is to allow temporal treasures and worldly delights to blind us to the reality of God’s love. We can even allow His blessings to become distractions, focusing on the gifts rather than the Giver. This is why the apostle John warned us to never allow the love of the world to replace our love for God.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Filling of the Spirit

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. – Ephesians 5:15-21 ESV

We’ve discussed the power of the indweling Holy Spirit. At the moment of salvation, the third person of the Trinity takes up permanent residence in the believer, enabling them to be “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation,” (Philippians 2:15 ESV). It is the indwelling Spirit who makes it possible for the believer to conduct their life “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27 BSB).

Yet, we all know that our lives don’t always reflect the Holy Spirit’s presence or demonstrate His power. If He indwells us and His power is meant to enable us, why do our lives so often appear as if He has abandoned us?

Paul would have us understand that it is an issue of obedience and submission. The Holy Spirit, just like the Father and the Son, must be obeyed. His permanent presence within us doesn’t mean He forces Himself upon us. Paul commanded the believers in Galatia to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:16-17 ESV).

He reminded them that their new life in Christ was due to the Spirit. He said, “we live by the Spirit,” but he added, “let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25 ESV). The Holy Spirit is the one who had made possible their new life in Christ. Paul told Titus that God “saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5-6 ESV). And yet, this new life requires that we “keep in step with the Spirit.”

The danger each believer faces is the temptation to live the Christian life in their own strength. In fact, Paul saw the Galatian believers doing that very thing and asked them, “After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (Galatians 3:3 NLT). They were falling back on their own ability to keep the law or, to put it another way, on their own self-righteousness. But in doing so, they were circumventing the power made available to them by the Holy Spirit.

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul was attempting to remind the believers of their need to be distinct and different from the world around them. He wanted them to imitate God and to live lives filled with love, following the example of Christ Himself. He warned them to “carefully determine what pleases the Lord” and to “take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness” (Ephesians 5:10-11 NLT). They were to live as people of the light, influencing others and exposing the darkness around them.

But how were they supposed to pull this off? What would make this kind of life possible? Paul warned them to be careful about how they conducted their daily lives, and to make sure they lived wisely and not like fools. But it all sounds so impossible. So, Paul gave them the only possible way to live the lives they’ve been called to live. And he used a very interesting comparison to make his point.

Strangely enough, Paul chose to use the imagery of drunkenness to illustrate the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. I don’t think he wrote these words because the believers in Ephesus had a drinking problem, but because the imagery would have made perfect sense to them. They had all seen the affects of alcohol and knew from first-hand experience what drunkenness looked like. So, Paul used this very down-to-earth analogy to help them understand that the Christ-life required submission to a power outside of themselves. It was all about control. Paul makes a direct comparison between being drunk and being filled.

drunk = filled

To be drunk with wine is to be controlled by or under the influence of wine. To be filled with the Spirit is to be controlled by or under the influence of the Spirit. Control has to do with submission to someone or something else. It is to submit to the influence of another. In the case of alcohol, to become drunk is to place yourself under its influence and control. When drunk, people say things they wouldn’t normally say. They do things that are out of character. They allow themselves to be controlled by a substance that influences their behavior and their thinking.

Paul’s audience knew what it meant to be drunk with and controlled by wine. And he used that imagery to help them understand what it means to be filled with the Spirit. He was calling them to live controlled by the Spirit, not their own sinful flesh. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you (Romans 8:9 NLT). It’s a matter of control.

As believers, we are to live under the influence of the Spirit of God. And when Paul writes, “if you have the Spirit of God living in you,” he is not questioning their salvation. He is making a point about a positional truth. They did have the Spirit living within them, so they should have been living under His influence. Just like a drunk person can’t help but be influenced by alcohol, a believer can’t help but be influenced by the Spirit of God. For Paul, the power of the Spirit in the life of the believer was non-negotiable and non-debatable.

And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. – Romans 8:10-11 NLT

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. – Romans 8:12-13 NLT

We have a power available to us that is beyond our wildest imaginations. It is the very same power that raised Jesus back to life after His body had laid lifeless in a grave for three days. That power resides within us and is available to us. It is designed to control and empower us. The Spirit of God is to fill us and flow from us, influencing our thoughts and actions. He makes it possible for you to “make the most of every opportunity in these evil days” (Ephesians 5:16 NLT). He allows you to “understand what the Lord wants you to do” (Ephesians 5:17 NLT).

But we must choose to live under His influence. Just as we can choose to get drunk with wine, we can choose to be filled with the Spirit by submitting to Him on a daily basis. We must seek Him. We must desire Him. We must obey Him. We must live under the influence of the Spirit of God if we want to have an influence in this world. And it’s all about submission and control.

As long as we think we are the masters of our own fate and the ones who control our lives, we will live powerless and pathetic lives, marked by defeat rather than victory and disappointment rather than joy. Jesus came that we might have abundant life, but that life is only possible through the power of the indwelling Spirit of God. But we must allow the Spirit of God to control us. We must willingly submit ourselves to His authority and avail ourselves of His divine power. When Paul said, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 ESV), he knew the source of that strength was the Spirit of God. And he was more than willing to live under the Spirit’s control and according to the Spirit’s plan.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Proverbs 31d

Some New Year’s Eve Advice.

“It is not for kings, O Lemuel, to guzzle wine. Rulers should not crave alcohol. For if they drink, they may forget the law and not give justice to the oppressed.” – Proverbs 31:4-5 NET

There is no other day more associated with drinking and alcohol consumption than New Year’s Day, and as we stand on the cusp of yet another year-end celebration, it’s interesting that our Proverb for today carries a warning against the consumption of alcohol.

While the Scriptures do not completely prohibit the use of alcohol, there are plenty of verses that warn against it. Yes, there are some religious groups that abuse and misinterpret those verses, but there are just as many that ignore them altogether. In our desire to justify our use of alcohol, we tend to portray the Scriptures as seemingly silent on the topic. But repeatedly in the Book of Proverbs we have seen Solomon warn his sons, and vicariously, us as well, about the inherent dangers of alcohol consumption. In Proverbs 31, King Lemuel is warned against the guzzling of wine. This passage isn’t prohibiting the use of alcohol, but the abuse of it. To deny the use of alcohol in the court of a king in those days would have been unheard of. It would have been absurd. But excessive use of alcohol should be avoided at all times, especially by those who hold positions of responsibility and authority over the lives of others. The problem is that alcohol distorts the senses, muddies the mind and can lead to poor decision making. Whether you’re a king, national leader, company president, or parent, the last thing you should want is to have your mind clouded by alcohol, rendering your judgment impaired and your ability to perform your responsibilities diminished.

I have had far too many conversations with the wives of husbands who have a drinking problem. These men, while in most cases, hard workers and loving husbands and fathers, allow alcohol to destroy their ability to lead and protect as they should. As Lemuel is warned, when they drink, “they may forget the law and not give justice to the oppressed.” They lose their moral bearings, their sense of right and wrong, their understanding of justice. In the end, they make unwise decisions and put their families at risk – financially, emotionally and even physically. Alcohol in all its forms can be deadly and deadening. Solomon warns us, “Wine produces mockers; alcohol leads to brawls. Those led astray by drink cannot be wise” (Proverbs 20:1 NLT). Here are a few of the other admonitions about wine and alcohol in the Book of Proverbs:

“Those who love pleasure become poor; those who love wine and luxury will never be rich.” – Proverbs 21:17 NLT

“Wine produces mockers; alcohol leads to brawls. Those led astray by drink cannot be wise.” – Proverbs 20:1 NLT

“Don’t gaze at the wine, seeing how red it is, how it sparkles in the cup, how smoothly it goes down. For in the end it bites like a poisonous snake; it stings like a viper.” – Proverbs 23:30-32 NLT

In Proverbs, wine and mixed drinks are closely associated with the wicked and with the immoral woman. It is almost always used in the sense of excess and over-indulgence. It appeals to the senses and the sensual side of man. It can dull our senses and feed the sinful side of our sensual nature. There is a need for wisdom when it comes to the use of alcohol. We must be fully aware of its dangers. We must acknowledge its ability to impact and impair our judgment. It is a mind-altering, mood-enhancing substance that, if used wisely and appropriately, can have positive benefits. But it can also be misused and abused. It can destroy and divide. It can be used to escape reality and avoid responsibility. It can bring pleasure but it can also produce immoral behavior.

As we get ready to celebrate another New Year, alcohol will be a major player in many of the parties we attend. There will be the temptation to drink, and with it will come the risk of getting drunk. As a result, under the influence of alcohol, things will be said and done that would normally never take place. Guards will be let down, inhibitions will be let go of, and regrets will be many when it is all said and done. “Wine produces mockers; alcohol leads to brawls. Those led astray by drink cannot be wise” (Proverbs 20:1 NLT). Be careful out there! And Happy New Year!

Father, we need wisdom. Give us insight and understanding that we might make wise decisions when it comes to the use of alcohol in all its forms. Open our eyes to its uses and abuses. Don’t let us think we can escape its dangers or that we are above its negative influences. We see the destructive nature of it in our society on a daily basis – lives ruined and even ended. In our pursuit of personal rights and pleasure, we tend to lose sight of reality and jettison our need for wisdom and understanding. Protect us from ourselves. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org