The Mind of Christ

14 But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. 15 Those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others. 16 For,

“Who can know the Lord’s thoughts?
    Who knows enough to teach him?”

But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 NLT

By virtue of his union with Christ, each believer has received the righteousness of Christ. But as this verse points out, he has also received the mind of Christ. The Greek word Paul used is nous and it refers to the understanding or, as the Outline of Biblical Usage puts it, “ the faculty of perceiving divine things.”

We have been given the capacity to perceive the things of God, or as Jesus said to His disciples: “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matthew 13:11 ESV). Jesus was responding to a question regarding His use of parables. The disciples wanted to know why He chose to speak to the crowds using these rather obscure-sounding stories whose messages were not always clear – even to the disciples. And Jesus let them know that there were certain truths that would remain hidden from the majority of those who flocked to hear Him, because they weren’t really interested in the truth. Jesus flatly stated: “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matthew 13:13 ESV). Their presence in the crowds that followed Jesus around was not an indicator that they believed in who He was. They were looking and listening, but they were not really interested in what Jesus was offering. Jesus compares them to the stubborn people of Judah during the days of Isaiah.

“You will indeed hear but never understand,
    and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and with their ears they can barely hear,
    and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
    and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
    and turn, and I would heal them. – Matthew 13:14-15 ESV

The people of Judah had grown so distant from God that they could no longer hear from Him. They had eyes and ears, but a spiritual incapacity to see and hear the truths of God. That’s why they stubbornly refused to hear what Isaiah had to say to them. They rejected His repeated warnings of coming judgment.

And Jesus, when speaking to the crowds who gathered to witness His miracles and hear His teaching, recognized that they had the same problem. They had dull hearts, deaf ears, and dim eyes. So, He spoke to them in parables, which revealed divine truths, but in a somewhat veiled, metaphorical sense. And His use of parables left even His disciples scratching their heads in confusion as they attempted to glean the meaning behind His message. But despite their struggle to comprehend the meaning behind the parables, Jesus told His disciples, “blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:15-16 ESV).

Jesus was revealing concepts to them that even the Old Testament prophets and saints would longed to have know. Moses, Abraham, Noah, David, and many others would have sacrificed everything to hear what Jesus was revealing. But these individuals were all recognized for their faith in God, even though they didn’t know all the mysteries of God in advance. The author of Hebrews states that “these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised” (Hebrews 11:39 NLT).

And yet, here was Jesus, the Son of God, relaying new details regarding the Kingdom of God to His followers. And to make sure they understood what He was saying, He went out of His way to explain every detail of God’s plan hidden by the imagery of the parable.

All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet:

“I will open my mouth in parables;
    I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.” – Matthew 13:34-35 ESV

And when His disciples said “Explain to us the parable” (Matthew 13:36 ESV), Jesus did just that, and followed it with His own question: “Have you understood all these things?” (Matthew 13:51 ESV). And they were able to answer, “Yes!”

Jesus went out of His way to make sure His disciples understood the content of His teaching. He explained His messages so that they would understand the full scope of His ministry and the impact it was going to have on their lives. And Jesus later informed His disciples that they would one day receive a divine capacity to understand all that He had taught them.

“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” – John 14:25-26 ESV

The arrival of the Spirit would be a game-changing moment in the lives of Christ’s followers. With His presence in them, they would discover a new source of power and a new capacity to understand the truths that Jesus had trying to share with them. And the same is true for us today. As followers of Christ, we too have the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. And, as a result, we have the mind of Christ. We are able to comprehend divine truth like never before. Paul describes it as “a secret and hidden wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 2:7 ESV). And Paul makes it clear that the source of new capacity to comprehend the secret and hidden wisdom of God is because of the Spirit of God.

…these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. – 1 Corinthians 2:10 ESV

It is the Spirit of God who allows us to know the things of God. He gives us the mind of Christ, a supernatural ability to apprehend the incomprehensible and appreciate the inconceivable. While the rest of the world responds to our faith with derision and disbelief, we know that the message of the gospel is true and the promises of God are real. Paul described the antagonism of the world against the gospel message using terms of wisdom and foolishness.

The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. As the Scriptures say,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise
    and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”

So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.

But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. – 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 ESV

One of the primary benefits of our sanctification is our ability to understand the deep things of God. Without the sacrifice of Christ that made our restored relationship with God possible, and the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God who makes known to us the deep truths of God’s Word, we would still be fools. We would remain blind to the beauty of Christ and deaf to His offer of salvation. But we have the mind of Christ.

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

 

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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

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

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 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

The Fool On the Hill.

Then the Ziphites came to Saul at Gibeah, saying, “Is not David hiding himself on the hill of Hachilah, which is on the east of Jeshimon?” So Saul arose and went down to the wilderness of Ziph with three thousand chosen men of Israel to seek David in the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul encamped on the hill of Hachilah, which is beside the road on the east of Jeshimon. But David remained in the wilderness. When he saw that Saul came after him into the wilderness, David sent out spies and learned that Saul had indeed come. Then David rose and came to the place where Saul had encamped. And David saw the place where Saul lay, with Abner the son of Ner, the commander of his army. Saul was lying within the encampment, while the army was encamped around him.

Then David said to Ahimelech the Hittite, and to Joab’s brother Abishai the son of Zeruiah, “Who will go down with me into the camp to Saul?” And Abishai said, “I will go down with you.” So David and Abishai went to the army by night. And there lay Saul sleeping within the encampment, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head, and Abner and the army lay around him. Then Abishai said to David, “God has given your enemy into your hand this day. Now please let me pin him to the earth with one stroke of the spear, and I will not strike him twice.” But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?” And David said, “As the Lord lives, the Lord will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish. The Lord forbid that I should put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. But take now the spear that is at his head and the jar of water, and let us go.” So David took the spear and the jar of water from Saul’s head, and they went away. No man saw it or knew it, nor did any awake, for they were all asleep, because a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen upon them. – 1 Samuel 26:1-12 ESV

Chapter 25 provided us with a brief respite from the ongoing conflict between Saul and David. But chapter 26 picks up where chapter 24 left off. When we last left Saul, he was headed home after his near-death encounter with David. He had unknowingly walked right into an ambush, choosing to relieve himself in a cave where David and his men had been hiding. But David had spared Saul’s life, choosing instead to confront him face-to-face and assure Saul that he posed no threat to his kingdom. He was not going to lift his hand against Saul. And we’re told that “Saul went home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold” (1 Samuel 24:22 ESV).

Chapter 25 introduced us to a new character, Nabal, who displayed all the classic characteristics of a biblical fool and whose unwise actions almost caused the unnecessary deaths of everyone associated with him. But Abigail, his wife, had intervened and prevented David from doing something he would long regret. Nabal’s rashness and ungodliness were going to be the death of him – literally. This fool would die a fool’s death. But while David had been able to walk away from Nabal with his integrity intact, he would soon discover that there another fool in his life who had not gone anywhere. Saul may have gone home, but he wouldn’t stay there for long. While he had shown signs of remorse in his last encounter with David, he had not given up his quest to see David put to death. And when the Ziphites betrayed David to Saul a second time (1 Samuel 23:19), informing Saul of his whereabouts, he mustered 3,000 soldiers to hunt him down.

Verse three tells us, “Saul encamped on the hill of Hachilah, which is beside the road on the east of Jeshimon.” Saul’s stubborn refusal to give up the hunt is truly remarkable. His remorse-filled words, spoken to David during their conversation outside the cave had sounded so sincere.

“You are a better man than I am, for you have repaid me good for evil.  Yes, you have been amazingly kind to me today, for when the Lord put me in a place where you could have killed me, you didn’t do it. Who else would let his enemy get away when he had him in his power? May the Lord reward you well for the kindness you have shown me today. And now I realize that you are surely going to be king, and that the kingdom of Israel will flourish under your rule.” – 1 Samuel 24:17-20 NLT

But Saul was a fool. It’s interesting to note that the name of the fool in the last chapter, Nabal, actually meant “fool”. It refers to a particular type of fool, one who is overly self-confident and particularly close-minded. He tends to act as his own god and freely gratifies his own sin nature. This type of fool is the worst kind and can only be reproved by God Himself. The prophet Isaiah describes this type of fool (nabal):

For fools speak foolishness
    and make evil plans.
They practice ungodliness
    and spread false teachings about the Lord.
They deprive the hungry of food
    and give no water to the thirsty. – Isaiah 32:6 NLT

This kind of fool is typically godless in nature. It is not that they don’t believe in God, but that they act as if God does not exist. This was Saul’s problem. He kept pursuing David in spite of the fact that God had clearly ordained him to be Saul’s replacement. Saul refused to accept God’s will and was willing to risk anything and everything in his attempt to circumvent God’s divine authority. He was so busy chasing David, that he had no time to meet the needs of his nation or its citizens. David had become much more than a distraction, he was an obsession.

So, Saul and his troops set up camp on the hill of Hachilah. He foolishly thought he was in the right. He foolishly considered himself safe, falling asleep that night, surrounded by his 3,000 well-trained soldiers. But David and Abishai, his nephew, snuck into the camp that night and crept right up to Saul as he and his crack troops lay fast asleep. Samuel goes on to qualify that their heavy sleep was God’s doing: “a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen upon them” (1 Samuel 26:12 ESV). Once again, David found himself in a tempting situation where his arch-enemy was seemingly handed to him on a silver platter. Even Abishai recognized a golden opportunity when he saw one, begging for permission to put Saul to death right then and there. But David’s response was firm and and crystal clear:

“No!” David said. “Don’t kill him. For who can remain innocent after attacking the Lord’s anointed one? Surely the Lord will strike Saul down someday, or he will die of old age or in battle. The Lord forbid that I should kill the one he has anointed! But take his spear and that jug of water beside his head, and then let’s get out of here!” – 1 Samuel 26:9-11 NLT

David had learned a lot from his encounter with Nabal and Abigail. While the timing seemed perfect and his justification for killing Saul seemed plausible, he knew that he had been given no green light from God to take the life of the king. If vengeance was necessary, that was up to God. If Saul was meant to die an untimely death, that too was up to God. David refused to make evil plans or practice ungodliness. In other words, he refused to act like a fool. He wasn’t going to lower himself to the same level as Nabal or Saul. He chose to do the godly thing. He determined to leave his own destiny and the fate of his enemies in God’s hands. We find in the Proverbs a number of verses that provide apt descriptions of David’s actions:

One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil,
    but a fool is reckless and careless. – Proverbs 14:16 ESV

The anger of the king is a deadly threat;
    the wise will try to appease it. – Proverbs 16:14 NLT

Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom.
    Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil. – Proverbs 3:7 NLT

But the Scriptures also provide us with insights into the nature of Saul’s perplexing behavior.

Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes?
    There is more hope for a fool than for him. – Proverbs 26:12 ESV

Wisdom is better than foolishness, just as light is better than darkness. For the wise can see where they are going, but fools walk in the dark. – Ecclesiastes 2:13-14 NLT

Two men stood on a hill. One was a fool, the other was wise. Both knew God. Both had been appointed and anointed by God. But one was living his life as if God didn’t exist, the quintessential trademark of a fool. As this chapter unfolds, we will continue to see a stark contrast between these two men. Their lives were inseparably linked, but the outcome of their lives would prove to be radically divergent. Wisdom and folly. Two ways of life that lead to two very different outcomes.

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

Wisdom From God.

Then Abigail made haste and took two hundred loaves and two skins of wine and five sheep already prepared and five seahs of parched grain and a hundred clusters of raisins and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on donkeys. And she said to her young men, “Go on before me; behold, I come after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. And as she rode on the donkey and came down under cover of the mountain, behold, David and his men came down toward her, and she met them. Now David had said, “Surely in vain have I guarded all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belonged to him, and he has returned me evil for good. God do so to the enemies of David and more also, if by morning I leave so much as one male of all who belong to him.”

When Abigail saw David, she hurried and got down from the donkey and fell before David on her face and bowed to the ground. She fell at his feet and said, “On me alone, my lord, be the guilt. Please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant. Let not my lord regard this worthless fellow, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he. Nabal is his name, and folly is with him. But I your servant did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent. Now then, my lord, as the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, because the Lord has restrained you from bloodguilt and from saving with your own hand, now then let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be as Nabal. And now let this present that your servant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who follow my lord. Please forgive the trespass of your servant. For the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the Lord, and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live. If men rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the Lord your God. And the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling. And when the Lord has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you and has appointed you prince over Israel, my lord shall have no cause of grief or pangs of conscience for having shed blood without cause or for my lord working salvation himself. And when the Lord has dealt well with my lord, then remember your servant.” – 1 Samuel 25:18-31 ESV

In these verses, we are provided with a stark contrast between Nabal and Abigai, and it shows up in their speech, their choice of words. When Nabal had first encountered the men sent by David, he responded rashly and rather harshly.

“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?” – 1 Samuel 25:10-11 ESV

Nabal treated David’s men with disrespect and dishonor. His words were flippant and filled with disdain. All the time that his shepherds had been tending his flocks in the wilderness of Paran, David and his men had provided protection. One of Nabal’s own shepherds confirmed this fact when he appealed to Abigail to intervene.

“These men have been very good to us, and we never suffered any harm from them. Nothing was stolen from us the whole time they were with us. In fact, day and night they were like a wall of protection to us and the sheep.” – 1 Samuel 25:15-16 NLT

And yet, Nabal refused to acknowledge any of this and treated David with contempt rather than showing him gratitude. He was a fool. He fit the biblical definition of a fool.

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

Fools’ words get them into constant quarrels;
    they are asking for a beating.

The mouths of fools are their ruin;
    they trap themselves with their lips. – Proverbs 18:6-7 NLT

And Nabal was about to get a beating from David. In fact, David was planning on wiping out Nabal and every one of his men.

“A lot of good it did to help this fellow. We protected his flocks in the wilderness, and nothing he owned was lost or stolen. But he has repaid me evil for good. May God strike me and kill me if even one man of his household is still alive tomorrow morning!” – 1 Samuel 25:21-22 NLT

But wiser minds prevailed. Abigail, the wife of Nabal, when apprised of the situation, stepped in and determined to right the wrong her husband had done to David. This was probably not the first time she had been forced to intervene in her husband’s affairs. She is well aware of his reputation and, as his wife, she had first-hand experience with his foolishness. She was extremely blunt when describing him to David.

“I know Nabal is a wicked and ill-tempered man; please don’t pay any attention to him. He is a fool, just as his name suggests.” – 1 Samuel 25:25 NLT

But it was her words of reconciliation to David that provide us with the greatest insight into the difference between Abigail and her husband. Her words and actions were marked by wisdom and insight. And what she exhibited was far more than mere human intelligence. She was not just a smart woman. She was a godly woman.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
    and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. – Proverbs 9:10 ESV

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
    all those who practice it have a good understanding. – Psalm 111:10 ESV

Abigail was wise because she was godly. She feared the Lord. She saw the hand of God at work in the life of David. God had provided her with insight into the circumstances surrounding David’s life. While Nabal saw David simply as a man on the run, a fugitive from justice; Abigail saw him as the next king of Israel.

“The Lord will surely reward you with a lasting dynasty, for you are fighting the Lord’s battles.” – 1 Samuel 25:28 NLT

When the Lord has done all he promised and has made you leader of Israel,  don’t let this be a blemish on your record. – 1 Samuel 25:30-31 NLT

Abigail was not just buttering David up, stroking his ego in an attempt to get on his good side. She had divine insight from God. She had been given wisdom from God that enabled her to assess the situation and recognize that David, as God’s hand-picked successor to Saul, would not want to do anything that would blemish his future reputation or dishonor the name of God. Her words and actions reveal her wisdom.

From a wise mind comes wise speech;
    the words of the wise are persuasive.

Kind words are like honey —
    sweet to the soul and healthy for the body. – Proverbs 16:23-24 NLT

Every aspect of Abigail’s handling of this delicate and dangerous situation reveals a divinely inspired understanding of human nature and the keys to the successful mitigation of difficult circumstances. Her provision of food for David’s men and her choice of words for David’s ears were both divinely inspired. One of the most insightful things Abigail did that day was to get David to see things from God’s perspective. She knew David would be upset, and rightfully so. She fully understood how her husband’s foolish actions and words would cause David to take offense and be tempted to seek revenge. But what would God have David do? She wanted David to understand that God was working through her to prevent the unnecessary slaughter of innocent people, an action that would place a permanent blight on David’s reputation. It is impossible to think about this fact and not fast-forward to a future event in David’s life when he failed to heed the words of Abigail.

“When the Lord has done all he promised and has made you leader of Israel, don’t let this be a blemish on your record. Then your conscience won’t have to bear the staggering burden of needless bloodshed and vengeance.” – 1 Samuel 25:30-31 NLT

Years later, after David had become the king of Israel, he would have an affair with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his soldiers. And when she became pregnant with his child, he would arrange for her husband, Uriah, to be exposed to enemy fire on the front lines, in order that he could legally take Bathsheba as his wife. And he would know what it was like for his conscience to bear the staggering burden of needless bloodshed.

The words of Abigail were wise because they were godly. And they were godly because they came from the mouth of a godly woman. And we will see that David was going to recognize the hand of God in the actions of Abigail. His God would use this woman to accomplish His will regarding David.

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

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.