Why Wisdom is Worth It.

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 began in the opening verses of this chapter, but now, he does so in a more proverbial form. In verses 8-10, he contrasts the positive influence of wisdom: it helps one to succeed. And he uses several scenarios where wisdom won’t necessarily prove to be an asset. It may help, but it cannot prevent the unforeseen or unexpected. In the process of digging a pit, there is always the risk that the one digging falls into the very hole he has created. A wise man will be cautious, but it is no guarantee that an accident still might happen. When doing demolition work on an old wall, and removing the rocks or bricks by hand, 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. And if wisdom is not used in, and applied to, the everyday affairs of life, things can turn out even worse. Solomon gives us a for-instance, stating that a log-splitter who attempts to do his job with an unsharpened ax, will find himself having to expend more energy than necessary, creating undue exhaustion and, therefore, increasing his 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 to any and all dangers associated with 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 snake charmers. It comes with the territory.

While verses 8-11 have dealt 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. The wise man’s words win him favor. 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, speaking self-destructive words that cause rejection and animosity from others. From the minute a thought comes into his head, to the moment he puts those thoughts into audible words, the fool’s fate is sealed. His speech is foolish because his thinking is foolish. And as Solomon wrote in one of his proverbs, the real issue is the heart.

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

24 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 speaks 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. They speak because they can, not because they should. And it’s ridiculous to listen to the words of someone predicting the future who can’t even find his way into town. Their so-called and 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. We have rocks stars and celebrities who use their fame as a platform to share their words of wisdom on virtually any and every topic under the sun, and the world gathers around them like they’re the Oracle of Delphi. We treat them as if they’re sages or some kind of prescient diviners of all truth, when in reality they are nothing more than fools. And fools have a bad habit of attracting fools. 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: The blind leading the blind. And the end result of that little parade will never be 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. 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 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. 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 of how their actions will influence the well-being of those under their care. But 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 given to us by God. 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, if used wisely. Money can be a powerful tool to solve all kinds of problem, if used wisely. But all of these things 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 get drunk. 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 may become back to haunt him.

 

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.

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

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The Weakness of Wisdom.

1 Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a stench;
    so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.
A wise man’s heart inclines him to the right,
    but a fool’s heart to the left.
Even when the fool walks on the road, he lacks sense,
    and he says to everyone that he is a fool.
If the anger of the ruler rises against you, do not leave your place,
    for calmness will lay great offenses to rest.

There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, as it were an error proceeding from the ruler: folly is set in many high places, and the rich sit in a low place. I have seen slaves on horses, and princes walking on the ground like slaves. Ecclesiastes 10:1-7 ESV

There is little doubt that Solomon was a big fan of wisdom. He knew first-hand the value that wisdom could afford a man. But he also knew that wisdom had its limits. In the world in which he lived, there was no one who possessed perfect wisdom. Even he, the wisest man who ever lived, had made foolish mistakes. In spite of the vast amount of God-given wisdom he possessed, he had ended up violating the commands of God. During his long life, he had made many unwise decisions that had left their indelible mark on his life and his reign as king. That seems to be his point in verse 10, where he uses the metaphor of the fly in the ointment. The ointment Solomon had in mind was most likely olive oil, which was used as both a perfume and a healing agent. Like wisdom, the ointment was intended to have a positive effect, acting as a sweet-smelling perfume or a health-inducing medicine. But one dead fly could turn the positive properties of ointment into a diseased-filled, stench-producing product that was of no good to anyone. And in the same way, one foolish act can destroy years of wise decision-making. The damaging effects of just a little bit of foolish behavior are immeasurable. It doesn’t take much. And Paul uses a similar metaphor when he warns against the impact of false teaching on the church.

This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough! – Galatians 5:9 NLT

There are two ways we can look at this verse. The first is that a wise person can destroy their reputation for wisdom by making one foolish decision. It can become like a fly in the ointment, quickly nullifying the years of beneficial value established by living a life of wisdom. But it can also refer to the impact one fool can have on a family, community or nation. All it takes is one individual making one foolish decision to destroy years of wise counsel and leadership. And interestingly enough, Solomon’s own foolish decisions were going to eventually result in the end of the kingdom of Israel as it had been established by God under the leadership of Solomon’s father, David. The book of 1 Kings provides us with a description of Solomon’s fly-in-the-ointment failure that led to God’s removal of him as king and the division of the Davidic Kingdom.

The Lord was very angry with Solomon, for his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. 10 He had warned Solomon specifically about worshiping other gods, but Solomon did not listen to the Lord’s command. 11 So now the Lord said to him, “Since you have not kept my covenant and have disobeyed my decrees, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your servants. 12 But for the sake of your father, David, I will not do this while you are still alive. I will take the kingdom away from your son. 13 And even so, I will not take away the entire kingdom; I will let him be king of one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, my chosen city.” – 1 Kings 11:9-13 NLT

And perhaps it was because Solomon had seen the error of his ways, even if a bit too late, that he spoke so often and so highly of wisdom. He knew that godly wisdom was a deterrent to poor decision-making because it tended to direct one down the right path. While the heart of a fool, devoid of godly wisdom, inevitably led in the wrong direction. And it’s easy to spot the fool, because the course of his life gives ample proof that his decision-making is devoid of godly wisdom. His choices provide evidence of his lack of wisdom. And Solomon provides an example that contrasts the actions of a fool with those of a wise man. If you find that someone in authority is angry with you, don’t act like a fool and impulsively quit. Instead, respond in wisdom, remaining calm and allowing your superior time to cool off. Use self-control. Don’t allow your pride to dictate your response.

This is not a guarantee that the ruler will calm down. It doesn’t mean that your wise response will necessarily produce a right reaction from the one who is angry and acting unjustly. But a wise person will not allow the foolish behavior of another to infect and affect their own behavior.

The truth is, there are sometimes fools sitting in places of authority and wielding great power. That seems to be Solomon’s point when he says, “folly is set in many high places, and the rich sit in a low place” (Ecclesiastes 10:6 ESV). The sad reality is that the undeserving and unqualified sometimes find themselves in positions where they rule over those with greater skills and a proven track record of success. Solomon refers to them as “rich”, but the Hebrew word can refer to someone who is honorable and noble. In other words, they are someone of worth and character, but they find themselves in an inferior position having to submit to the authority of a fool. Solomon describes this sad state of affairs as an evil under the sun. It’s just a reality of life.

Like Solomon, we live in a world that is sometimes topsy-turvy, where everything appears to be just the opposite of what it should be. In his day, he put this incongruity in visual terms, describing the disturbing sight of “slaves on horses, and princes walking on the ground like slaves” (Ecclesiastes 10:7 ESV). This was just another proof of the injustice and inequities that abound in this life. And we see the same thing in our day. How many times have we had to sit back and witness the promotion of the less-qualified individual for a position of prominence in our company? How often have we seen the undeserving fast-tracked to promotion while the more gifted and talented are overlooked? More than likely, we have experienced this kind of injustice ourselves. But it does not disqualify the value of wisdom over folly. It is simply proof of the pervasive presence of sin in the world in which we live. 

The prophet Isaiah provides us with a glimpse into the mindset that pervades the world.

20 What sorrow for those who say
    that evil is good and good is evil,
that dark is light and light is dark,
    that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.
21 What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes
    and think themselves so clever. – Isaiah 5:20-21 NLT

That is the world in which we live. And it was the world in which Solomon lived. It is the nature of life in a fallen world. And while wisdom is essential and to be desired above all else, wisdom alone will not suffice to rectify the problem we face in this world. As Solomon so aptly put it in Proverbs 1:7:

Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge,
    but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Without a knowledge of God and a reverence for who He is, we lack the ability to understand right from wrong, truth from falsehood, good from evil, and righteousness from wickedness. Without God, we turn to our own wisdom – human wisdom – which always proves insufficient and incapable of guiding us through this life. Paul gives us a wonderful description of the difference between worldly wisdom and that which comes from God.

18 Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. As the Scriptures say,

“He traps the wise
    in the snare of their own cleverness.”

20 And again,

“The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise;
    he knows they are worthless.” – 1 Corinthians 3:18-20 NLT

Surviving in this world requires wisdom, but it must be wisdom that is founded on a relationship with God Almighty. It must be based on who He is and what He desires. Without Him, our wisdom is foolishness. Apart from Him, our wisdom will always prove insufficient and our ability to understand the fallen world around us, inadequate.

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.

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

Time and Chance.

Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.

Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

11 Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. 12 For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.

13 I have also seen this example of wisdom under the sun, and it seemed great to me. 14 There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it. 15 But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. 16 But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard.

17 The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. 18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good. Ecclesiastes 9:7-18 ESV

According to Solomon’s way of seeing things, there are two things that can make the life of man miserable and meaningless: Time and chance. He makes that clear in verse 11.

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. – Ecclesiastes 9:11 ESV

From his experience, these two things played irrefutable roles in the lives of men, determining the outcome of their lives far more often than ability, intelligence or preparedness. The fastest runner doesn’t always win. The most powerful army isn’t always the victor. Wisdom won’t necessarily put food on the table. A surplus of intelligence doesn’t guarantee wealth or success. And those with know-how aren’t always appreciated or given a chance to show what they know. Sometimes it’s all in the timing. Or it’s all a matter of chance. Things just happen. The faster runner trips and falls, leaving a slower runner to win. The wise go hungry. The weaker win. The one lacking discernment gets the promotion. It’s like a grand cosmic crap shoot, where no one knows how it is going to work out. It just happens. So, once again, Solomon offers up the sage advice to “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do” (Ecclesiastes 9:7 ESV). As we noted before, this is not a recommendation to embrace unbridled hedonism, or to spend your days in a drunken stupor. It is counsel designed to encourage the enjoyment of what you already have – your job, spouse, children, and life. Solomon knew what it was like to spend his life in pursuit of what he didn’t have. He had wisdom, but he wanted more. He had houses, but he built more. He had hundreds of wives and concubines, but always needed more. He spent so much time adding to his already overstocked life, that he never took time to enjoy what he had. So, writing the book of Ecclesiastes at the end of his life, he passed on what he had learned: To enjoy what you have while you have it. No one knows what tomorrow holds. In a sense, he is telling us to stop and smell the roses. And his advice is supported by a story Jesus told His disciples.

16 Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. 17 He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ 18 Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. 19 And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’

21 “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” – Luke 12:16-21 NLT

There is a danger in always living with our hopes set on tomorrow. This doesn’t preclude planing for the future, but if we do plan, we should not short-change the present day. None of us know what tomorrow holds. In that sense, Solomon is right. But notice the emphasis behind the story Jesus told. His point is that the man in story was neglecting his relationship with God. He found his significance and satisfaction in things. And it was only when he thought he had enough, that he believed he could truly enjoy life. There is a certain dissatisfaction and discontentment portrayed in the man’s decision-making. And that same problem seemed to have plagued the life of Solomon.

But in his latter years, Solomon had learned the lesson of being satisfied with what he had. He recommends seeing your wife or husband as a gift from God and a reward for all your hard work in this life. He strongly advises that we take time to enjoy good food, the feel of clean clothes, and the fragrance of fine perfume. But there remains a certain sense of nagging pessimism in his words. He says, “Whatever you do, do well. For when you go to the grave, there will be no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom” (Ecclesiastes 9:10 NLT). In other words, this is it. Enjoy it while you can. Because once you’re dead, you won’t get the opportunity again. Solomon never qualifies or clarifies his views on the hereafter, but he gives the distinct impression that he prefers the here-and-now. All his emphasis is on what he can see, touch, and feel. He was a man driven by his senses. Pleasure was important to him. Enjoyment was a high priority for him. And he seemed to operate on the premise that death would bring all of that to an abrupt stop. So, he learned to live in the present, taking in all that he could while he could. And what drove that mentality was the recognition that “man does not know his time” (Ecclesiastes 9:12 ESV). He compares man to a fish caught in a net or a bird trapped in a snare. When we least expect it, our end comes. Which led Solomon to resort to his quest for immediate gratification. He seems to have lived his life based on the old Schlitz Brewing Company slogan from the mid-1960s: “You only go around once in life, so you’ve got to grab for all the gusto you can.” But as Jesus warned, what a waste of time if you don’t seek a right relationship with God.

Solomon next provides us with a real-life example of wisdom on display, but unappreciated. He tells the story of a city that was besieged by a powerful army. The citizens of the city were few in number and their fate was sealed. But help and hope came from an unexpected source: A poor wise man. Notice Solomon’s emphasis. The man was wise, but poor. Remember Solomon’s earlier point: “The wise sometimes go hungry.” And yet, this man’s wisdom saved the day. We aren’t t old how, but this man used his wisdom to rescue the city from destruction. “But afterward no one thought to thank him” (Ecclesiastes 9:15 NLT). His efforts went unrecognized and unrewarded. And Solomon concludes, “even though wisdom is better than strength, those who are wise will be despised if they are poor. What they say will not be appreciated for long” (Ecclesiastes 9:16 NLT).

And what insight does Solomon provide us from this story? It’s better to listen to one man speaking quiet words of wisdom, than to the shouts of a powerful king who rules over fools. And while wisdom is more beneficial than weapons, all it takes is one sinner to destroy all the good that wisdom brings. Once again, you can sense Solomon’s cynicism. The advise of the wise isn’t always heeded. Their efforts aren’t always appreciated. And it only takes one foolish, unrighteous sinner to undermine all the efforts of the wise.

You can see why Solomon repeatedly went back to the recommendation: Eat, drink and be merry. To him, the world was controlled by time and chance. Man is the unwilling occupant of a canoe hurtling through rapids without a paddle. The best he can do is hang on and enjoy the scenes along the way. He knows there’s probably a less-than-pleasant ending around every bend, but he has no way of knowing when it will come. So, as far as Solomon could tell, the best thing was to sit back and enjoy the ride. But what a defeatist attitude. There is some value in living life in the moment. There is truth in Solomon’s assessment that the strong don’t always win and the swift don’t always come in first. But the apostle Paul would strongly disagree with Solomon’s assessment, instead arguing: “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!” (1 Corinthians 9:24 NLT). And he supports that argument even further in his letter to the church in Philippi.

14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

15 Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. – Philippians 3:14-15 NLT

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.

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

Wisdom Without God Is Folly.

1 Who is like the wise?
    And who knows the interpretation of a thing?
A man’s wisdom makes his face shine,
    and the hardness of his face is changed.

I say: Keep the king’s command, because of God’s oath to him. Be not hasty to go from his presence. Do not take your stand in an evil cause, for he does whatever he pleases. For the word of the king is supreme, and who may say to him, “What are you doing?” Whoever keeps a command will know no evil thing, and the wise heart will know the proper time and the just way. For there is a time and a way for everything, although man’s trouble lies heavy on him. For he does not know what is to be, for who can tell him how it will be? No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death. There is no discharge from war, nor will wickedness deliver those who are given to it. Ecclesiastes 8:1-8 ESV

It shouldn’t be surprising that Solomon has a lot to say about wisdom. After all, he was known for his wisdom. In the early days of his reign, when given an opportunity by God to ask of Him whatever he wished, Solomon had asked for an “understanding heart” so he could govern the people of Israel well. And God responded, “Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies—I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have!” (1 Kings 3:11-12 NLT). And God followed through on His commitment, blessing Solomon with unsurpassed wisdom. Even when the queen of the nation of Sheba (modern-day Ethiopia) made a royal visit to Jerusalem, she was blown away by Solomon’s wisdom.
2 When she met with Solomon, she talked with him about everything she had on her mind. Solomon had answers for all her questions; nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her. When the queen of Sheba realized how very wise Solomon was, and when she saw the palace he had built, she was overwhelmed. – 1 Kings 10:2-5 NLT
Like everything else in his life, wisdom became an obsession for Solomon. Seemingly unsatisfied with what he had been given by God, he constantly pursued wisdom. He even wrote and collected wise proverbial statements and put them in a book. In this book, known as The Proverbs of Solomon, he describes wisdom as a woman calling out from the streets, attempting to get the attention of those who pass her by.

20 Wisdom shouts in the streets.
    She cries out in the public square.
21 She calls to the crowds along the main street,
    to those gathered in front of the city gate:
22 “How long, you simpletons,
    will you insist on being simpleminded?
How long will you mockers relish your mocking?
    How long will you fools hate knowledge?
23 Come and listen to my counsel.
I’ll share my heart with you
    and make you wise. – Proverbs 1:20-23 NLT

But everyone ignored her calls. They rejected her advice and shunned her correction. Nobody wanted what she had to offer. And as a result, they were left in their ignorance and complacency. But when the time came when wisdom was needed, she would be nowhere to be found. For Solomon, wisdom was a commodity worth pursuing. He even explained his purpose for writing his book of proverbs by stating:

Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline,
    to help them understand the insights of the wise.
Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives,
    to help them do what is right, just, and fair.
These proverbs will give insight to the simple,
    knowledge and discernment to the young. – Proverbs 1:2-4 NLT

Wisdom became one of many obsessions for Solomon. He pursued it with a vengeance, and never seemed to think he had enough of it. But it seems that he often forgot his own advice, failing to remember that “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7 NLT). The pursuit of wisdom without a healthy fear and worship of God is a futile effort. But too often, we make wisdom the focus of our attention, not God. And Solomon knew the benefits of wisdom. He had experienced them firsthand. Which is why he could sing the praises of a life of wisdom. “How wonderful to be wise, to analyze and interpret things. Wisdom lights up a person’s face, softening its harshness” (Ecclesiastes 8:1 NLT). 

And it’s interesting to note that in the following verses, Solomon provides those to whom he is writing a number of examples of what wisdom looks like in real life. But notice that they all have to do with their allegiance to the king. In other words, their faithful service to him.

He starts out with a not-so-subtle admonition to “Keep the king’s command.” This is the king telling his own people that if they’re wise, they’ll obey him. Sounds more like a threat than a recommendation to live wisely. While there is tremendous truth and wisdom in what Solomon has to say, it can’t help but come across as a bit self-serving. Yes, it makes sense for a servant of the king, someone who has made an oath to faithfully serve the king, to follow through on their commitment. It would be unwise to shirk your duty or to join in a plot to overthrow the king. It’s also a bit foolish to question the decisions of the king, because his word is final, and he has the power to enforce whatever he determines to do. If you obey him, you won’t be punished. The wise person will know when to speak up and when to shut up. He will understand that there’s a time and place for everything, even when facing trouble. And it’s our inability to control our words during times of difficulty that can get us in hot water. We say things we end up regretting. We express thoughts that haven’t been fully thought through. And hasty words spoken in the presence of the king can expose our folly and prove deadly. This thought sounds reminiscent of something Solomon said earlier in his book.

Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. – Ecclesiastes 5:2 ESV

The apostle Paul shared a similar word of counsel in his letter to the church in Colossae.

Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone. – Colossians 4:5-6 NLT

For Solomon, it simply made sense not to question the wishes of the king. Of course, since he was the king, we can somehow understand why he felt this way. As king, he had probably heard more than one citizen of his kingdom say to him, “What are you doing?” And he most likely found the tone of that question offensive and, its timing, unwise. No one likes to have his wisdom and authority questioned, especially the king. And Solomon appears to view his authority as supreme, almost all-knowing in nature. He states that the one who questions the king “does not know what is to be, for who can tell him how it will be?” (Ecclesiastes 8:7 ESV). This individual has no control over anything, including their day of death. Nobody can hold on to their spirit when the time comes for it to depart. Nobody can get out of their obligation to serve when conscripted for battle. They simply have to go. They must do their duty. And the one who chooses a life of evil will find himself hopelessly stuck, experiencing the inevitable outcome of his decision. There is a certain sense of fate in Solomon’s words. You can’t know the future, so you have no control over it. Which brings us back to Solomon’s earlier admonition: Keep the king’s command.

But what are we to do with this? How are we to take what Solomon says and apply it to our daily lives? I believe it is essential to read the book of Ecclesiastes with a clear understanding of the state affairs in Solomon’s life at the time of its writing. He is an old man, having served as king of Israel for a long period of time. He has not finished well. His kingdom is marred by the presence of many idols to false gods. He has repeatedly disobeyed God, marrying more than 700 different women and amassing a harem of 300 concubines. He has been unfaithful to Yahweh. And his unfaithfulness would ultimately lead to God ripping the kingdom from his hands and dividing it in two. Solomon was still a wise man when he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes. But it is safe to say that he no longer feared God as he once had. His wisdom had been marred by sin. His perspective had been skewed by his pessimistic take on life. There is a lot of truth in the words that Solomon speaks, but we must remove the gems of truth from the muck and mire of Solomon’s sin-distorted viewpoint. Wisdom is a good thing. Remaining faithful in your service to the king is solid and sound advice. The one thing that is missing is a recommendation to fear the Lord. To his credit, Solomon will weave that message into the verses that follow. But it seems that Solomon struggled with maintaining the vital connection between wisdom and the fear of God. At times, wisdom became a stand-alone for him. He seems to have applied to wisdom the same philosophy of life he used with everything else: More is better. There were occasions when he seemed to sincerely believe that wisdom was all you needed. But wisdom without a fear of God is useless. It too will prove futile and meaningless. It is our fear and reverence for God that gives wisdom its power. Knowing right from wrong, good from evil, and righteousness from wickedness, begins with knowing God. Being able to make good decisions stems from a solid understanding of who God is and what He expects of us. When we live to please God, we make wise decisions. When we live to please self, we end up living like fools and, as Solomon put it, eating our own flesh. In our effort to make it all about ourselves, we end up destroying ourselves.

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.

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

Fear God.

15 In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. 16 Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? 17 Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? 18 It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.

19 Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.

20 Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.

21 Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. 22 Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.

23 All this I have tested by wisdom. I said, “I will be wise,” but it was far from me. 24 That which has been is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out?

25 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. 26 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. 27 Behold, this is what I found, says the Preacher, while adding one thing to another to find the scheme of things— 28 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. 29 See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes. Ecclesiastes 7:15-29 ESV

Don’t be too righteous, but don’t be too wicked. Don’t be too wise, but don’t be too foolish. Sounds like strange advice, doesn’t it? Solomon almost sounds like he’s recommending a life of mediocrity – a middle-of-the-road kind of mentality that avoids the ditches on either side. After all, he observes, the righteous die in spite of their righteousness and the wicked succeed in spite of their wickedness. So, avoid the extremes. Instead, fear God. What Solomon seems to be saying is that if we pursue righteousness and wisdom thinking these things will provide us with a long and prosperous life, free from trouble and trials, we will be highly disappointed. A life of righteousness, marked by wisdom is no guarantee of immunity from difficulty. Good people still suffer and die. Wise people still make dumb decisions. But at the same time, Solomon warns that a life of wickedness may bring you a semblance of pleasure and happiness, but you’ll end up paying for it in the long run. Which is what leads him to conclude: “Pay attention to these instructions, for anyone who fears God will avoid both extremes” (Ecclesiastes 7:18 NLT).

It’s important that we not misunderstand or misinterpret what Solomon has to say. He is not diminishing the importance of righteousness or wisdom. He knows that both are essential and, when pursued properly, honoring to God. He even acknowledges that “One wise person is stronger than ten leading citizens of a town!” (Ecclesiastes 7:19 NLT). But wisdom has its limits. So does righteousness. There is no one who is all wise. There is no one who is fully righteous. “Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 NLT). Not exactly a revelation, but it’s so important that we recognize and come to grips with this reality. In this lifetime, we will never experience unvarnished righteousness. We will never be completely holy and sinless. So, while righteousness is a worthy and worthwhile pursuit, we must remember that it will never keep us from suffering. Or to put it another way, no amount of righteousness in your life will protect you from pain and suffering. The righteous and wicked both experience difficulties in life. In fact, sometimes it appears as if the righteous suffer more than the wicked. The prophet Jeremiah pointed out this disturbing realization to God Himself.

1 Lord, you always give me justice
    when I bring a case before you.
So let me bring you this complaint:
Why are the wicked so prosperous?
    Why are evil people so happy?
You have planted them,
    and they have taken root and prospered.
Your name is on their lips,
    but you are far from their hearts. – Jeremiah 12:1-2 NLT

From our limited perspective, it can appear as if the wicked are blessed by God. They seem happy and content. Their lives appear to be relatively free from pain and marked by prosperity. But as the saying goes, “Looks can be deceiving.” Solomon had lived long enough to realize that the righteous and the wicked both suffer. And wisdom can’t guarantee a trouble-free life. Remember, he had tried it all. And he had used his wisdom in an attempt to understand life.

13 And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 14 I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity[g] and a striving after wind. – Ecclesiastes 1:13-14 ESV

Solomon had been given great wisdom by God, and then he had spent years acquiring even more wisdom. In his commentary on the book of Ecclesiastes, J. S. Wright describes wisdom as “not the knowledge of accumulated facts but the inner strength that comes from a God-instructed conscience” (J. S. Wright, Ecclesiastes). John Piper describes wisdom as “that practical knowledge of how to attain true and lasting happiness. It begins with the fear of the Lord and consists in humbly hearing and doing God’s will perceived both in Scripture and in the unique circumstances of the moment” (John Piper, desiringgod.org, “Get Wisdom”).

Solomon knew and understood the importance of wisdom, so he went out of his way to get his hands on it. But it seems as if he treated it as just another commodity, like gold, silver, horses, houses, chariots and servants. As John Piper stated, the fear of the Lord is central to getting the full advantage from wisdom. And if anyone should have understood that, it was Solomon, who included the following proverb in his collection of proverbs. “Fear of the LORD is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment” (Proverbs 9:10 NLT). So, as a result Solomon’s pursuit and acquisition of wisdom left him less than satisfied.

16 I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind. – Ecclesiastes 1:16-17 ESV

Solomon had lived a long life. He had accomplished much and enjoyed all the perks that came with his achievements. And while he could put abundant wisdom at the top of his long list of assets, he still found himself operating in the red.

23 I have always tried my best to let wisdom guide my thoughts and actions. I said to myself, “I am determined to be wise.” But it didn’t work. 24 Wisdom is always distant and difficult to find. 25 I searched everywhere, determined to find wisdom and to understand the reason for things. I was determined to prove to myself that wickedness is stupid and that foolishness is madness. – Ecclesiastes 7:23-25 NLT

The real benefit of wisdom, as far as Solomon could tell, was that it kept you from succumbing to foolishness. As he does in the opening chapters of his book of Proverbs, Solomon characterizes folly as a seductive woman. And when Solomon spoke about seductive women, he did so from experience. He was addicted to women. You don’t amass 700 wives and 300 concubines without some kind of a physical and psychological obsession with the opposite sex. And so, when Solomon attempted to describe the attractive nature of folly and the life of foolishness, he used the allure of a promiscuous woman.

For the lips of an immoral woman are as sweet as honey,
    and her mouth is smoother than oil.
But in the end she is as bitter as poison,
    as dangerous as a double-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death;
    her steps lead straight to the grave.
For she cares nothing about the path to life.
    She staggers down a crooked trail and doesn’t realize it. – Proverbs 5:3-6 NLT

Here in Ecclesiastes, he reiterates his warning.

 I discovered that a seductive woman is a trap more bitter than death. Her passion is a snare, and her soft hands are chains. Those who are pleasing to God will escape her, but sinners will be caught in her snare. – Ecclesiastes 7:26 NLT

Solomon knew that the life of foolishness was highly appealing, but also extremely deadly. It was a trap that ensnared both men and women. In fact, when he makes the statement, “Only one out of a thousand men is virtuous”, he uses the Hebrew word adam, which can be translated as “man” but is actually a generic term that can refer to both men and women. It would seem that his use of the term “woman” in the second half of verse 28 is a direct reference to the seductive woman in verse 26. Folly is never virtuous. The individual who pursues a life of foolishness will never discover virtue or righteousness. While wisdom can prevent us from succumbing to the temptation of folly. Folly will never produce wisdom or result in a life of righteousness. Which is why Solomon closes out this chapter by saying, “God created people to be virtuous, but they have each turned to follow their own downward path” (Ecclesiastes 7:29 NLT). God created man to be right or righteous. But ever since the fall, we have made a habit of following our own downward path, of pursuing darkness rather than light.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning or foundation of wisdom. The pursuit of wisdom apart from or devoid of a healthy reverence for God turns wisdom into a commodity to be coveted and acquired. Rather than viewing wisdom as a gift from God, designed to help us live in obedience to Him, we make it our end goal. Wisdom becomes nothing more than a tool to make us wiser, wealthier, healthier and happier. Solomon made wisdom and wickedness parallel pursuits, viewing either as potential sources for finding meaning in life. But God and a healthy reverence for Him were, and still are, the only ways for man to discover his purpose and to enjoy his days under the sun.

 

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.

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

Wisdom, Madness and Folly.

12 I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 14 I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.

15 What is crooked cannot be made straight,
    and what is lacking cannot be counted.

16 I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.

18 For in much wisdom is much vexation,
    and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow. Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 ESV

Solomon established the theme of his book in verse two: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” He is the “preacher” or speaker in the assembly. He is addressing his audience with words of wisdom and worldly experience, expressing what he has learned after years of living on this planet. And his words are intended to shock and surprise us. After all, he is the king of Israel, and one of wisest and wealthiest men who has ever lived. He ruled over one of the greatest nations of the world, populated by a people who had been chosen and set apart by God. He lived in an opulent palace, surrounded by treasures of all kinds. His was a life marked by luxury and a lavish lifestyle that made him the envy of every man on earth, including other kings. And yet, as he stood at the end of his life, looking back, he could not help but recognize that all his wealth, wisdom, and worldly goods had resulted in vanity.

But what does that term mean? The NLV and NIV translate it as “meaningless.” The Hebrew word is hebel and it can best be described with terms such as “vapor” or “breath.” It conjures up the image of something that is without form or substance. It is here one minute and then gone another. Like fog or dew, it appears and then disappears, leaving no trace that it ever existed. It’s not so much that it’s without meaning, but that it lacks sustainability. It seems that Solomon is attempting to describe the transitory nature of life. Just look at the descriptions he used in the opening verses.
A generation goes, and a generation comes – vs 4
The sun rises, and the sun goes down – vs 5
The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns… – vs 6
All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full… – vs 7
There is a certain futility to life because it all appears to be cyclical in nature. These are the words of a man who is near the nadir of his life, and who recognizes that all his many accomplishments and acquisitions will amount to nothing when he is gone. His words would be echoed by James centuries later.
How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. – James 4:14 NLT
It was this somewhat morbid perspective that had led Solomon to pen this book. But it is doubtful that his only motivation was to journal his dying thoughts. These are not the ramblings of a depressed man mired in self-pity, but the reflections of a wise man who had taken a wrong turn somewhere along the path of life and was warning those behind him not to make the same mistake. At this stage of his life, he describes himself not as a king, but as a preacher, a bearer of vital news, whose sole intent is to instruct others and to open their eyes to the realities of life. His role had changed. In fact, he describes his kingship in the past tense. He had been the king of Israel and he had lived in Jerusalem. It is not that he was no longer king when he wrote this book, but that he was looking back with a sort of detached perspective, viewing his life from the outside. His is a message based on hind site, the wisdom that comes from analyzing something from retrospect. Solomon is contemplative and more objective than he had ever been in his role as king. As he nears the end of life, his position and possessions mean little to him. He is an old man nearing death, who knows that his days are numbered and that his title and treasures will do him no good when he is gone. Which is what lead him to conclude:
I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. – Ecclesiastes 3:14 ESV
Solomon had spent his life acquiring everything from wisdom and knowledge to wealth and women. He had been the consummate collector and consumer. He openly admits:
“I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” – Ecclesiastes 1:16 ESV
But Solomon’s quest for knowledge had been all-encompassing, including the pursuit of madness and folly. He will refer to these two things several more times in his book, always linking them together. What Solomon means by these two words is essential to understanding the rest of what he has to say in this book. Madness and folly are not references to mental illness, but to moral perversity. For Solomon, wisdom and knowledge represent his pursuit to know truth and righteousness. He was on a quest to discover the meaning of life and to find significance for his life. But when he didn’t find what he was looking for, he turned to immorality. In some sense, Solomon used his brain and his body in an attempt to find meaning in life. He pursued information by using his intelligence, but he also pursued experience by utilizing his physical senses and fulfilling his passions and desires.
Solomon describes his life in stark terms, stating:
I devoted myself to search for understanding and to explore by wisdom everything being done under heaven. – Ecclesiastes 1:13 NLT
Notice his words: Everything done under heaven. He had no barriers. He had removed the guard rails from his life, allowing himself the right to experiment with anything and everything, in a vain attempt to discover meaning and significance. But what is glaringly missing is any mention of God. He was not looking to God for meaning. He was not pursuing God for fulfillment and satisfaction. It had been God who had made him king and granted him his wisdom and wealth. But Solomon had an insatiable desire for more. He was not satisfied with God.
It brings to mind the scene in the Garden of Eden after God had made Adam and Eve. He placed them in the garden and surrounded them with everything they would need for life, including an intimate, unbroken relationship with Him.
And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. – Genesis 2:8-9 ESV
They had it all. There was nothing they lacked. And the only thing God denied them was access to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He had warned them, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die”(Genesis 2:16-17 ESV). In other words, they could even eat of the tree of life. In fact, I believe it was the fruit of this tree that provided them with eternal life. As long as they ate it, they would live. Life was not forbidden. But the knowledge of good and evil was. They were to avoid that tree, under penalty of death. God had told them that violating His command by eating of the fruit of the forbidden tree would result in death. And it seems that the death to which He referred was not an immediate extermination of life, but the slow, steady decline that comes with aging. They would suffer a spiritual death, an immediate separation from fellowship with God, but also a physical death, that would come as a result of their removal from the garden and their inability to eat of the Tree of Life. 
It’s important to note that, when Satan tempted Eve, he twisted the words of God, accusing Him of having said, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden.” But that was a lie, and Eve corrected him. But even she got it wrong, because she inferred that God’s ban had included instructions not to even touch the tree. But Satan had responded, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5 ESV). He contradicted God. He called God a liar and painted him as nothing more than a cosmic killjoy. Satan presented the real goal in life as that of pursuing the knowledge of good and evil. He portrayed knowledge and experience as the twin values that make life truly meaningful. His portrayal of good and evil was not an attempt to set up one against the other, but to present them as equally valuable and significant. 
And that seems to be the thought behind Solomon’s strategy for life. He tried it all. He dabbled in wisdom, but also in madness and folly. He tried his hand at the righteous life as well as the wicked. And none of it worked. None of it satisfied. This was a man who had 700 wives and 300 concubines. He denied himself nothing. He was an extremist. But when all was said and done, he found himself extremely unfulfilled and dissatisfied. He had eaten a steady diet from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He had seen the forbidden fruit and wolfed it down. And while Solomon was much the wiser for his efforts, he was far from content. Which is why he so sadly concluded: “The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief. To increase knowledge only increases sorrow” (Ecclesiastes 1:18 NLT). He knew things God never intended him to know. His eyes had been opened to things God had never meant for him to see. Satan had convinced Solomon that God was not enough. He had tempted Solomon to believe that God had been holding out and that the real meaning in life was to be found outside of God’s will, not in it. And now, the wisest man who ever lived, was looking back on his life, recognizing that it had all been a lie. Solomon had taken his eyes off of God and had placed his trust in anything and everything but God. And it had all proved to be vanity.   

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.

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

Wisdom Works.

 

And Sheba passed through all the tribes of Israel to Abel of Beth-maacah, and all the Bichrites assembled and followed him in. And all the men who were with Joab came and besieged him in Abel of Beth-maacah. They cast up a mound against the city, and it stood against the rampart, and they were battering the wall to throw it down. Then a wise woman called from the city, “Listen! Listen! Tell Joab, ‘Come here, that I may speak to you.’” And he came near her, and the woman said, “Are you Joab?” He answered, “I am.” Then she said to him, “Listen to the words of your servant.” And he answered, “I am listening.” Then she said, “They used to say in former times, ‘Let them but ask counsel at Abel,’ and so they settled a matter. I am one of those who are peaceable and faithful in Israel. You seek to destroy a city that is a mother in Israel. Why will you swallow up the heritage of the Lord?” Joab answered, “Far be it from me, far be it, that I should swallow up or destroy! That is not true. But a man of the hill country of Ephraim, called Sheba the son of Bichri, has lifted up his hand against King David. Give up him alone, and I will withdraw from the city.” And the woman said to Joab, “Behold, his head shall be thrown to you over the wall.” Then the woman went to all the people in her wisdom. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri and threw it out to Joab. So he blew the trumpet, and they dispersed from the city, every man to his home. And Joab returned to Jerusalem to the king.

Now Joab was in command of all the army of Israel; and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was in command of the Cherethites and the Pelethites; and Adoram was in charge of the forced labor; and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was the recorder; and Sheva was secretary; and Zadok and Abiathar were priests; and Ira the Jairite was also David’s priest. – 2 Samuel 20:14-26 ESV

Finally, like a cool breeze on a hot summer day, we get a refreshing glimpse of true wisdom in the midst of all the folly that has filled the preceding chapters. Time after time, we have seen impulsiveness, anger, fear and recrimination rule the day. Decisions have been made based on nothing more than raw emotion. Very smart people have made some very dumb choices. Godly individuals have made ungodly decisions. And the results have been death and destruction. Joab has just brutally murdered Amasa, leaving his body laying in the middle of the road for all to see. Now he is besieging the city of Abel, in an attempt to capture Sheba, the leader of yet another rebellion against David. They have surrounded the city and erected siege walls against it. They are in the process of attempting to knock down the city’s walls, and the prospects of yet more bloodshed loom large. Then wisdom shows up.

This short little vignette, located where it is in the narrative of David’s life, provides us with a stark counterpoint to all that we have seen so far. In it, we are introduced to an unnamed woman who is recognized for her wisdom. She is simply referred to as a “wise woman.” And other than that, we know nothing else about her. She resides in the city of Abel. And like everyone else residing in the city, she is having to watch as David’s troops batter the walls in an attempt to wreak destruction. But no one knows why.  There is no indication that anyone inside the city even knew that Sheba was there or what he had done. Outside the walls, Joab has made no attempt to parlay with the city officials in order to negotiate the handover of Sheba. Driven by the same emotions that led him to kill Absalom and Amasa, Joab is foolishly and stubbornly focused on one thing: The capture and death of Sheba. And even the destruction of a city filled with fellow Israelites would not stand in his way.

Then wisdom showed up, in the form of a nameless woman who saw a serious problem and had the foresight to do something about it. As all her fellow residents stood by helplessly and hopelessly, she decided to act. She called out to Joab, asking for an opportunity to talk with him. In the midst of all the chaos and confusion surrounding the siege, she calmly called for a conversation, a chance to discuss what was going on and how they might avert a tragedy. Once she had Joab’s attention, she said to him:

“There used to be a saying, ‘If you want to settle an argument, ask advice at the town of Abel.’ I am one who is peace loving and faithful in Israel. But you are destroying an important town in Israel. Why do you want to devour what belongs to the Lord?” – 2 Samuel 20:18-19 NLT

She reminds Joab that the city had a reputation for wisdom. It was also an important town in Israel. He was not attacking a foreign city filled with pagans. He was threatening the lives of his fellow Israelites. And the woman describes herself as peace loving and faithful, intentionally contrasting herself with Joab and his troops. She wanted peace. Joab wanted to devour what belonged to God. And she wanted to know why. That’s when Joab informs her of Sheba’s presence in their midst and of the crime for which he was guilty. This was apparently news to the woman and the rest of the people inside the city walls. They had no idea they were harboring a fugitive from justice. And when the woman found out that the cause of all their problems was a single individual who was guilty of leading a rebellion against the king, she didn’t waste a minute doing something about it. She met Joab’s demands and delivered Sheba to him. But she chose to do so in an interesting way. She convinced the leaders of the city to cut off Sheba’s head and throw it over the wall. We are not told why she chose this method, but it would seem to indicate that she she didn’t trust Joab. She wasn’t about to open the city walls in order to let Sheba leave, because she feared that Joab and his troops might storm the city anyway. She also knew that if Sheba was guilty of treason against the king, the penalty was death, so she decided to go ahead and speed up the process, giving Sheba the fate he deserved, and Joab his head as proof that the guilty one had been dealt with effectively.

By keeping the city gates closed and throwing Sheba’s head over the wall, she protected the citizens inside and tested the reliability of Joab’s words. If Joab got what he said he wanted and failed to call off the siege, she would have exposed his deceit with a minimum of risk. So her decision to cut off Sheba’s head was a wise move on her part. And it accomplished what she had set out to do: Deliver her city from further harm. Joab and his troops dispersed, leaving the residents of Abel unharmed. Her wise counsel spared the city and presented Joab from committing yet another crime of passion.

What is interesting is how this section of the story is immediately followed by a seemingly out-of-place listing of David’s key administrative heads. You see the names of Joab, Benaiah, Adoniram, Johoshaphat, Sheva, Zakok, Abiathar, and Ira. Among them are David’s military commander, the captain of his bodyguard, his royal historian, court secretary and priests. These prominent men served as David’s inner circle, providing him with counsel and acting as his royal cabinet. They were well-known and revered. They were powerful and influential. Their names and titles are mentioned, but nothing is said about their character. And they stand in contrast to the woman in our story, who though unknown and unnamed, was recognized for her wisdom. It wasn’t who she was that mattered. It was what she was – she was wise. She was known for having the character quality of wisdom and she proved it by her behavior. The men whose names are listed in the closing verses of this chapter had the titles and the prestige of serving on the king’s royal cabinet. But their positions would prove meaningless unless they possessed wisdom. Solomon, David’s son and successor to his throne, was known for his wisdom, given to him by God. And he would later write these important words concerning wisdom.

For the Lord grants wisdom!
    From his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest.
    He is a shield to those who walk with integrity.
He guards the paths of the just
    and protects those who are faithful to him.

Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair,
    and you will find the right way to go.
For wisdom will enter your heart,
    and knowledge will fill you with joy.
Wise choices will watch over you.
    Understanding will keep you safe. – Proverbs 2:6-11 NLT

It was this woman’s wisdom that diverted a tragedy. She had knowledge and understanding. She possessed common sense. She knew what was right, just and fair. She saw the right way to go and she went there. And her efforts kept her city safe and resulted in much joy. We can only imagine the celebration that took place inside the city walls of Abel that night after the siege was lifted and the troops had dispersed. Wisdom had brought joy. Which is why Solomon went on to say, “So follow the steps of the good, and stay on the paths of the righteous” (Proverbs 2:20 NLT).

David would have done well to surround himself with individuals like the wise woman from Abel. He seemed to have a tendency of choosing men who were untrustworthy and prone to foolishness. When it comes to leadership, character should always trump external characteristics. In fact, if we go all the way back to the day when God had sent Samuel to the house of Jesse to anoint the next king of Israel, He told the prophet:

“Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7 NLT

Wisdom is God-given and resides in the heart, not the brain. It is far more than intellect. Some of the brightest people can be the greatest fools. The essence of foolishness is a rejection of God. It is living as if God does not exist or does not matter. Paul describes that plight of those who, in their intelligence, determine they don’t believe in God or end up creating a god of their own choosing.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. – Romans 1:21-22 NLT

Wisdom really does work. But it’s only available to those who know God and fear Him.


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

Fear Foolishness.

When David’s young men came, they said all this to Nabal in the name of David, and then they waited. And Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants these days who are breaking away from their masters. Shall I take my bread and my water and my meat that I have killed for my shearers and give it to men who come from I do not know where?” So David’s young men turned away and came back and told him all this. And David said to his men, “Every man strap on his sword!” And every man of them strapped on his sword. David also strapped on his sword. And about four hundred men went up after David, while two hundred remained with the baggage.

But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “Behold, David sent messengers out of the wilderness to greet our master, and he railed at them. Yet the men were very good to us, and we suffered no harm, and we did not miss anything when we were in the fields, as long as we went with them. They were a wall to us both by night and by day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep. Now therefore know this and consider what you should do, for harm is determined against our master and against all his house, and he is such a worthless man that one cannot speak to him.” – 1 Samuel 25:9-17 ESV

We discover in these verses that Nabal was a man who lived up to his name, which happened to mean “fool”. He had all the classic characteristics of a biblical fool.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
    but a wise man listens to advice. – Proverbs 12:15 ESV

The wise don’t make a show of their knowledge,
    but fools broadcast their foolishness. – Proverbs 12:23 NLT

Short-tempered people do foolish things… – Proverbs 14:17 NLT

He was arrogant, full of himself, quick-tempered, resistant to counsel, and ignorant of the consequences of his behavior. He treated David, a mighty warrior, as if he were a nobody. He showed him no honor or respect. He looked down his nose at him, foolishly saying, “Who does this son of Jesse think he is? There are lots of servants these days who run away from their masters. Should I take my bread and my water and my meat that I’ve slaughtered for my shearers and give it to a band of outlaws who come from who knows where?” (1 Samuel 25:10-11 NLT). He knew exactly who David was. Even the Philistines had heard about David’s reputation as a mighty warrior. But Nabal, knowing that David was a man on the run, made a very foolish decision to treat David with disrespect and disdain. 

One of Nabal’s shepherds, when he had witnessed what his foolish master had done, ran and told Abigail, Nabal’s wife. Even his words reveal the depth of Nabal’s problem: “he is such a worthless man that one cannot speak to him” (1 Samuel 25:17 ESV). Nabal’s foolishness ran so deep that he could not even recognize the folly and danger of his own actions. And he was totally resistant to the wise counsel of those around him who might have been able to protect him had he only listened.

What would have possessed Nabal to act so foolishly and risk the wrath of someone as powerful as David? We have to remember that, according to the Bible, foolishness is not a mental or psychological problem, it is spiritual. At the heart of Nabal’s folly was lack of respect for and fear of God. He had placed himself at the center of his own life, making himself his own god and arbiter of his own fate. Ultimately, foolishness is the lack of wisdom. And Psalm 111 tells us:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
    all those who practice it have a good understanding. – Psalm 111:19 ESV

Scripture repeatedly warns us that a person who denies, ignores, or neglects God lacks wisdom and inevitably displays the characteristics of a fool.

  • He acts thoughtlessly: He gives little or no thought to God; refusing to consider the truth about God. His treatment of others is simply a byproduct of his lack of thought regarding God’s holiness and judgment.
  • He becomes dull-minded:  When a man fails to consider God, his mind becomes dulled by the things of this world. He begins to lose the ability to see clearly, having his spiritual vision clouded by materialism, success, comfort, and pleasure. not being sharp in his thoughts about God. His mind becomes intoxicated with the things of this world and he sluggish toward God.
  • He becomes senseless: A man who neglects God finds himself lacking in wisdom and acting contrary to good common sense. Because he is deficient in his thoughts about God, he becomes in his ability to think clearly and sensibly. He may be smart and successful, but he will be plagued by senseless decision-making and the harmful outcomes it brings.
  • He will be without understanding: Because he fails to grasp or comprehend God; he will end up with wrong conclusions or thoughts about God. He will wrongly assume that God is not there or that God does not care about what he is doing. He will make godless decisions because he is essentially living a God-less life.
  • He will exhibit an ignorance of God: He won’t truly know God. Because he has left God out of his thought processes, he will display behavior that reveals his faulty understand of God. He won’t fear God’s holiness. He won’t worry about God’s judgment. He won’t seek God’s wisdom. He won’t see a need for God’s forgiveness.
  • He will be unwise: Without God in his life, he will lack wisdom. If fact, regardless of what he tries to do, he will act contrary to wisdom. His behavior will make sense to him, but it will actually lead to dangerous and foolish outcomes.

These characteristics, while true of the lost, should be especially scary to the believer, because any of us can exhibit these same qualities at any time. All it takes is for us to neglect God in our lives, to fail to fear Him and treat Him with the honor, respect and worship He is due. When we leave God out of our lives, we open up the door to foolishness. Foolishness if nothing more than a lack of wisdom and, as the psalmist said, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Nabal was a fool because Nabal was ungodly. If he didn’t fear God, why in the world would he fear David? If he was willing to treat God with disrespect, what would prevent him from treating David the same way?

It is interesting to note that, in the Proverbs, there are five different types of fools mentioned. They seem to run on a continuum, moving from bad to worse. There is the simple fool, the silly fool, the sensual fool, the scornful fool and the stubborn fool. Each is characterized by a different Hebrew word. The last one, the stubborn fool, is the word, “nâbâl”, which just happens to be the name of the character in our story.

According to the Proverbs, this is the most dangerous type of fool. A stubborn fool rejects God and His ways. He is self-confident and close-minded. He is his own god, freely gratifying his own sin nature. It is his goal to draw as many others as possible into following his ways. His actions tend to impact all those around him, just as Nabal’s actions were going to result in the deaths of all those around him. The Proverbs make it clear that only God can reprove a stubborn fool. And we will see in the story that, while David had a heart for God, he ran the risk of acting foolishly himself. He was going to let the foolish actions of Nabal cause him to respond in a godless, foolish way. But wiser heads would prevail.

 

 

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

Called To Oneness.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. – 1 Corinthians 3:16-23 ESV

Back in chapter one, verse 8, Paul said, “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.” Unbelievers cannot understand the wisdom of God revealed in the death of Christ – namely, that one man’s death could provide eternal life for those believed in Him. Now, Paul states that “the wisdom of this world is folly with God.” Man’s wisdom doesn’t impress God and it will never make anyone right with God. If anything, the wisdom of man becomes a barrier to accepting the truth of God’s redemptive plan as revealed in the death, burial and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. The wisdom of men is futile and totally incapable of remedying mankind’s sin problem and state of condemnation before a holy and just God. So why, Paul asks, would we make much of men. Why would we create false idols out of men and women, worshiping them for the role they played in our salvation, while overlooking the fact that it was God who sent His Son to die, gave His message of reconciliation to those He called, and sent His Spirit to open the hearts of those who heard that message. No man has the right to boast of his usefulness to God, and no one should elevate the messenger over the One who sent the message.

Paul’s real concern has to do with division in the body of Christ. He started out his letter with the plea, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10 ESV). He accused them of quarreling and bickering over which man they followed – “each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ’” (1 Corinthians 1:12 ESV). Their disunity was causing divisiveness. So Paul reminds them that they are the temple of God. Not just as individuals, but as the local body of Christ. He is speaking to the church, not the individual. How do we know this? Because in the Greek language, the personal pronoun, “you” is plural, not singular. Peter confirms the idea that the local church is the temple of God, indwelt by the Spirit of God.

“…you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 2:5 ESV

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul said the same thing:

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,  built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” – Ephesians 2:19-22 ESV

As God’s temple, the local church is to be valued and protected. If anyone does anything to harm or destroy the integrity of the church, they will answer to God. Paul warns them, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:17 ESV). Disunity destroys. It damages from within. We have been called by God to love one another, not debate and display contempt for one another. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul reminded them of their oneness in Christ.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” – Ephesians 4:1-6 ESV

In the prayer He prayed in the garden on the night of His betrayal, Jesus asked the Father, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21 ESV). It is our unity that displays the reality of the church’s role as God’s temple. God alone can bring together people of every age, from every walk of life, ethnicity, economic strata, and social background, and mold them into one family. All sharing one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. Paul reminds the believers in Corinth, “So don’t boast about following a particular human leader. For everything belongs to you—whether Paul or Apollos or Peter, or the world, or life and death, or the present and the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23 NLT). Each of these men had been given to the church by God. They were to be seen as gifts from God intended for the building up of the body of Christ. As Paul told the Ephesian church:

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.” – Ephesians 4:11-12 NLT

And God gave these gifted individuals to the church in order that it might grow and prosper, “until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NLT). Disunity is destructive. Divisiveness is counterproductive. Boasting in men robs God of glory and the body of Christ of its power. Making celebrities out of God’s servants ends up deifying them and diminishing the effectiveness of the local church. The church may grow in numbers, but it will lack the power of God’s Spirit. When we make much of men, we experience less of God.

Christ: The Power and Wisdom of God.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. – 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 ESV

The concept of death by crucifixion, while not invented by the Romans, was certainly perfected by them. It was a horrific means of death, intended as much for crime prevention as it was for punishment. To those living under the jurisdiction of Roman rule, crucifixion was viewed as a hideous way to die, reserved for the vilest of criminals and the scum of the earth. And yet, Paul reminds his readers, it was the God-ordained means of death for Jesus Christ. The death of Christ on the cross was at the heart of the gospel message preached by Paul, Apollos and Cephas. Paul insisted, “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23a ESV). What made that message even more “foolish” to the ears of those who heard it was the fact that Christ’s death was followed by His resurrection. It was His death, followed by His miraculous Spirit-empowered resurrection, that made the message “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23b ESV).

And yet, the message of the cross revealed the very wisdom of God. It was His chosen means of providing justification for sinful men and women. It was through the “foolishness” of the cross that sinners could be restored to a right relationship with a holy God. But as Paul points out, “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV). There is nothing about the message of the cross that makes sense to the sinful men. It sounds ludicrous, far-fetched and unbelievable. It is written off as a fable or myth by many. It is laughed off by others as nothing more than the wishful thinking of the uneducated. But Paul insists that it is the very “power of God.” As Paul wrote in his letter to the believers in Rome, “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16 ESV). And God was using this message to “destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent” (1 Corinthians 1:19 NLT).

By arguing over who followed who and which leader was more impressive than the other, the Corinthians believers were diminishing the true message of the gospel. They were making the wisdom of man more important than the wisdom of God. They were elevating eloquent speech and impressive oratory skills over the simple, yet profound message of Christ crucified. The ability to debate theology or impress others with your knowledge of the Scriptures meant nothing without the cross. Which is what led Paul to ask, “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?” (1 Corinthians 1:20 ESV). The wise and religious didn’t come up with the idea of the cross. God did. The Jewish scholars didn’t recognize the prophecies concerning the suffering Savior. In fact, Jesus told the religious leaders of His day, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40 ESV). They were unable to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, because He didn’t appear as the kind of Messiah they were expecting. They had been looking for a conquering king, not a suffering servant. The crown the envisioned Him wearing was made of gold, not thorns. They expected Him to free them from bondage to Roman rule, not sin.

The “wisdom of the world” to which Paul refers has little to do with knowledge or book knowledge. He is speaking of the philosophical insights of men designed to explain the world and our place in it. It is man’s attempt to understand and explain the presence of evil, suffering, and pain, as well as present an acceptable, rational path to hope and happiness. But nothing man has come up with has worked. Materialism, religion, hedonism, pacifism, pleasure, wealth, love – mankind has tried it all. But as Solomon said so well, “But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere” (Ecclesiastes 2:11 NLT).

As believers, we are to be followers of Christ, not men. We are to place our hope in the cross, not the clever arguments or convincing messages of this world. Like Paul, we are to believe that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25 ESV). Our salvation was the result of the cross, not the words of men. Our sanctification or ongoing transformation into the likeness of Christ is based on the message of the cross, not human wisdom. And it is the cross that will make possible our ultimate glorification, the resurrection of our bodies and our final transformation into the image of Christ. To some, it all sounds like foolishness. To others, it acts as a stumbling block, preventing them from embracing the good news of Jesus Christ and experiencing the power and wisdom of God as found in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. For Paul, the message of the cross was more than enough. He didn’t feel compelled to trick it up, tone it down, make it more palatable or acceptable, or gloss it over with clever-sounding words or sophisticated philosophical arguments. As he told the Corinthians later in his letter, “when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2 ESV). For him, the message of the cross of Christ was enough, because it revealed the wisdom and the power of God. And if the simplicity of the cross was good enough for God, it was good enough for Paul.