Power, Possessions and Prestige

1 At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that he had been sick and had recovered. And Hezekiah welcomed them gladly. And he showed them his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his whole armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them. Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say? And from where did they come to you?” Hezekiah said, “They have come to me from a far country, from Babylon.” He said, “What have they seen in your house?” Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house. There is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.”

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my days.” – Isaiah 39:1-8 ESV

There is little doubt that Hezekiah had a love for Yahweh. And he had a deep appreciation for the miraculous healing from his terminal illness and for Yahweh’s gracious pronouncement that his life would be extended an additional 15 years. Hezekiah had even ended his poem with the declaration:

“The Lord will save me,
    and we will play my music on stringed instruments
all the days of our lives,
    at the house of the Lord.” – Isaiah 38:20 ESV

But in the days that followed his healing, a darker side of Hezekiah’s personality becomes apparent. He struggled with pride, and this was not a new characteristic in his life. It had been a problem all along. In fact, the book of 2 Chronicles informs us that, even shortly after his healing, Hezekiah’s pride problem reared its ugly head.

But Hezekiah did not respond appropriately to the kindness shown him, and he became proud. So the Lord’s anger came against him and against Judah and Jerusalem. Then Hezekiah humbled himself and repented of his pride, as did the people of Jerusalem. So the Lord’s anger did not fall on them during Hezekiah’s lifetime. – 2 Chronicles 32:25-26 ESV

While this rendering makes it appear as if Hezekiah’s pride suddenly appeared, the truth is, it was already there. The phrase, “he became proud” is actually one word in Hebrew, and it means “exalted” or “arrogant.” The passage literally reads, “his heart was haughty.” We aren’t told how Hezekiah’s pride manifested itself, but it could have been that he saw his healing by God as a sign of his value to God. There is a good chance that Hezekiah saw himself as somehow indispensable to God. The book of 2 Chronicles goes on to describe Hezekiah as very wealthy and successful. In the Jewish culture, material wealth was often viewed as a sign of God’s favor.

Hezekiah was very wealthy and highly honored. He built special treasury buildings for his silver, gold, precious stones, and spices, and for his shields and other valuable items. He also constructed many storehouses for his grain, new wine, and olive oil; and he made many stalls for his cattle and pens for his flocks of sheep and goats. He built many towns and acquired vast flocks and herds, for God had given him great wealth. He blocked up the upper spring of Gihon and brought the water down through a tunnel to the west side of the City of David. And so he succeeded in everything he did. – 2 Chronicles 32:27-30 NLT

Now, with his health restored and a divine guarantee of an additional 15 years of life, Hezekiah must have considered himself a truly blessed man. He had it all: Health, wealth, power and prosperity. But he also had a problem: Pride. And God, knowing exactly what was in Hezekiah’s heart, determined to put the king to a test, in order to expose the true nature of his condition.

However, when ambassadors arrived from Babylon to ask about the remarkable events that had taken place in the land, God withdrew from Hezekiah in order to test him and to see what was really in his heart. – 2 Chronicles 32:31 NLT

And this is where Isaiah picks up the story. It seems that news of Hezekiah’s miraculous recovery had spread, and enjoys from Babylon showed up with a message of congratulations from Merodach-baladan, the son of the king. But this little expedition was probably far more than a goodwill gesture. Babylon was an up-and-coming force in the Middle East and shared a mutual dislike for the Assyrians with Judah. It is likely that Merodach-baladan was simply attempting to build an alliance with Hezekiah, presenting the king with gifts and convincing him of Babylon’s good intentions toward Judah.

And this is where Hezekiah’s pride goes on full display. Isaiah provides us with a not-so-flattering picture of Hezekiah’s giddy delight at showing off his great wealth to these visiting dignitaries.

Hezekiah was delighted with the Babylonian envoys and showed them everything in his treasure-houses—the silver, the gold, the spices, and the aromatic oils. He also took them to see his armory and showed them everything in his royal treasuries! There was nothing in his palace or kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them. – Isaiah 39:2 NLT

Hezekiah was out to impress, and his pride took precedence over his prudence. He gave these Babylonian envoys a private viewing of every state secret concerning Judah’s wealth and military capabilities. It’s unclear whether these men had shown up with the intention of spying out Jerusalem’s power and prosperity. But it really didn’t matter, because Hezekiah showed them everything they would want to see.

And, when Isaiah approached Hezekiah and asked him who the men were and what they had seen, the king was blatantly honest.

“They saw everything,” Hezekiah replied. “I showed them everything I own—all my royal treasuries.” – Isaiah 39:4 NLT

You can almost sense Hezekiah’s giddy pride at having been able to impress his guests with his vast wealth. He was like a kid on Christmas day showing off all his presents to his friends in the hopes that they would be impressed and just a tad jealous at his good fortune. But God was not impressed. In fact, God was angry with Hezekiah’s blatant display of worldly affection, and He had Isaiah deliver a sobering message to the king.

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Listen to this message from the Lord of Heaven’s Armies: ‘The time is coming when everything in your palace—all the treasures stored up by your ancestors until now—will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left,’ says the Lord. ‘Some of your very own sons will be taken away into exile. They will become eunuchs who will serve in the palace of Babylon’s king.’” – Isaiah 39:5-7 NLT

Hezekiah was going to learn the brutal reality of the truth found in the Proverbs.

When pride comes, then comes disgrace… – Proverbs 11:2 ESV

Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18 NLT

Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor. – Proverbs 18:12 ESV

Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honor. – Proverbs 29:23 NLT

The condition of Hezekiah’s heart had been exposed. He loved the things of this world more than he loved God. He took more pride in his material wealth and physical health than he did in his relationship with God Almighty. And Hezekiah was more concerned with impressing men than honoring God. The apostle John provides a powerful warning to avoid the mistake that Hezekiah made.

Don’t love the world or anything that belongs to the world. If you love the world, you cannot love the Father. – 1 John 2:15 CEV

Even Jesus warned of the danger of falling in love with material wealth.

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” – Matthew 6:24 NLT

And the apostle James adds another stern warning that strongly discourages friendship with the world and all that it offers.

You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. – James 4:4 NLT

There was nothing inherently wrong with Hezekiah’s possession of wealth. It had been given to him by God. But his wealth should have never become a substitute for God. His material possessions were never intended to replace his trust in and love for God. Hezekiah’s problem was that he saw himself as a self-made man. His identity was wrapped up in what he owned and how others viewed him. He had completely forgotten that his very life was a gift from God. He had been at the brink of death, and God had spared him. Had God allowed him to die, all his treasures and trinkets would have been left behind. God was not impressed with Hezekiah’s affluence. What God wanted from Hezekiah were his undivided attention and unwavering devotion. But Hezekiah worshiped wealth. He bowed down at the altar of worldly pleasure and temporal prosperity.

And the truly amazing thing is that Hezekiah took the report from Isaiah as good news.

“This message you have given me from the Lord is good.” For the king was thinking, “At least there will be peace and security during my lifetime.” – Isaiah 39:8 NLT

While Judah may one day fall to the Babylonians and his own sons be taken captive, he was pleased to know that he would enjoy peace and security as long as he was alive. What a short-sighted and selfish outlook. He showed no concern for the future well-being of his own sons, let alone the nation for which he was responsible. Hezekiah was in it for himself. His love of things was directly tied to his love of self. Even the admiration of the Babylonian envoys fed his already swollen ego. Their delight in his vast wealth added fuel to the fire of Hezekiah’s raging pride.

One of the most telling proofs of Hezekiah’s pride problem was his refusal to repent of his actions. Rather than hear the word of God and turn to Him in prayer and repentance, Hezekiah simply rejoiced in the news that God’s judgment would be delayed. He would continue to enjoy his power, possessions, and prestige. And that was all that seemed to matter to him. And the book of 2 Chronicles provides the epitaph to Hezekiah’s life.

When Hezekiah died, he was buried in the upper area of the royal cemetery, and all Judah and Jerusalem honored him at his death. And his son Manasseh became the next king. – 2 Chronicles 32:33 NLT

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

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

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

 

 

It’s Lonely At the Top.

1 Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.

Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh.

Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.

Again, I saw vanity under the sun: one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

13 Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice. 14 For he went from prison to the throne, though in his own kingdom he had been born poor. 15 I saw all the living who move about under the sun, along with that youth who was to stand in the king’s place. 16 There was no end of all the people, all of whom he led. Yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind. Ecclesiastes 4:1-16 ESV

As the king of Israel, Solomon had the God-given responsibility to perform the function of a judge on behalf of his people. That required him to take his place each day at the gate of the city of Jerusalem, where he would hear and try the cases brought before him. This would have exposed him to all kinds of unethical, immoral and unjust actions, perpetrated by one human being against another. And it is likely that Solomon witnessed many examples of injustice, as the poor and oppressed brought their cases to him, hoping for some form of protection and righteous representation.

In his Book of Proverbs, Solomon recorded the words of the mother of King Lemuel, reminding her son of his God-given responsibility to defend the defenseless and to protect the rights of those who who suffered at the hands of others.

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

But Solomon must have seen his fair share of abuses and injustices. And no matter how many times he might have judged rightly and justly, the next day would reveal yet another case of the powerful taking advantage of the powerless. He had seen it all, which is what led him to say, “I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 4:1 ESV). He had a front-row seat to the feature-film that is human life. He had watched the tears of the oppressed, who stood before him helpless and hopeless, with no one to plead their case or protect their lives from the powerful and ruthless. The oppressors had money and authority on their side. It was a mismatch, with the oppressed usually getting the short end of the stick. And for Solomon, it boiled down to a simple, yet sad conclusion: The poor are better off dead, because then they no longer have suffer anymore. And better yet, it would be preferable to have never lived at all. That way you would never have to experience the pain and suffering that comes with life under the sun.

It seems that Solomon, in his daily dealings with the injustices of life, saw a pattern. The oppressors were people who were motivated by greed and a desire for wealth. They were addicted to acquiring and retaining, and would do anything to get what they wanted, even if it meant oppressing others. And, as far as Solomon could tell, the driving force behind their actions was nothing but normal, run-of-the-mill envy.

I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors.– Ecclesiastes 4:4 NLT

James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote some powerful words in the letter that bears his name, where he seems to describe the kind of civil cases Solomon was forced to judge.

1 What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. – James 4:1-3 NLT

And for Solomon, it all added up to yet another example of the futility of life. “But this, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:4 NLT). The poor get taken advantage of by the rich and powerful, and end up with nothing to show for it but tears and greater poverty. The rich get richer, but their lives end up empty and their lust for more, unquenched. Enough is never enough. More never satisfies. It’s a dead-end street with no outlet. So, what should be the proper response? Is accumulating wrong? Is hard work and a drive to attain sinful? Well, if you fold your hands and do nothing, you may keep from hurting others, but you’ll ultimately destroy yourself. He seems to conclude that the answer is somewhere in the middle. You have to make a compromise. Do something, but be willing to be content with less.

“Better to have one handful with quietness
    than two handfuls with hard work
    and chasing the wind.” – Ecclesiastes 4:6 NLT

From sharing his objective observations regarding the suffering of others, Solomon seems to turn his focus inward. He takes a look at his own life as judge and king. This next section of verses seems to be a personal reflection, outlining Solomon’s assessment of his own life. Remember, he is at the latter stages of his life and reign. He is older and facing the realization that his life is not ending well. His kingdom is full of idols to false gods, erected by Solomon on behalf of his many pagan wives, 700 to be exact. And the very fact that he had so many wives was a direct violation of the law of God.

The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the LORD. – Deuteronomy 17:17 NLT

And if there’s any doubt whether Solomon’s disobedience had an impact on his life, the book of 1 Kings clears it all up.

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

In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the Lord his God, as his father, David, had been. Solomon worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites. In this way, Solomon did what was evil in the Lord’s sight; he refused to follow the Lord completely, as his father, David, had done. – 1 Kings 11:1-5 NLT

In verses 7-11 of Ecclesiastes chapter four, Solomon paints the picture of a man lacking companionship. He describes this individual as “one person who has no other, either son or brother” (Ecclesiastes 4:8 ESV). He is alone and lonely. And this is likely Solomon’s own description of himself. Yes, he was the king of Israel, and surrounded by thousands of servants, slaves, concubines, wives and administrative personnel. But he was alone. He was isolated and understood just how lonely it can be at the top. Solomon describes this unnamed individual as someone who “works hard to gain as much wealth as he can. But then he asks himself, ‘Who am I working for? Why am I giving up so much pleasure now?’” (Ecclesiastes 4:8 NLT). And Solomon’s own personal experience requires him to conclude: “It is all so meaningless and depressing.”

Solomon knew what it felt like to be alone, without someone to walk alongside him, to pick him up when he fell. Even with 700 wives and 300 concubines, he knew the lonely feeling that comes with sleeping alone and unloved. Friendship and companionship is vital to human flourishing, and Solomon recognized it and longed for it.

The final four verses of this chapter appear to be blatantly autobiographical. In them, Solomon describes himself as “a foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice”, and compares himself to “a poor and wise youth” (Ecclesiastes 4:13 ESV). That was Solomon at the beginning of his reign. He was young and had yet to accomplish anything. He was poor in the sense that he had not accomplished or accumulated anything on his own. It had been given to him by his father. But he had wisdom. Yet, at the end of his life, Solomon had all the money in the world, but lacked the ability to take wise counsel.

Solomon seems to compare his life to that of his father, David. It was David who had been in “prison” – living as a fugitive, constantly pursued by King Saul. But David had moved from prison to the palace, from living in caves to sitting on the throne. And Solomon would become the “youth who was to stand in the king’s place” (Ecclesiastes 4:15 ESV). Solomon succeeded to the throne of his father, David, and while he ruled over a great land, enjoying the subjection and adoration of the people, he sadly concludes that “those who come later will not rejoice in him” (Ecclesiastes 4:16 ESV). In other words, his 15-minutes of fame will one day end. Another generation will rise up who refuse to accept him as king. And Solomon can’t help but come to the same pessimistic conclusion he has reached before: “Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind.” Even the man at the top, who has everything going for him, who has money, power and influence, will one day find himself rejected and replaced. He is no better off than the poor person seeking justice at the gate or the lonely person desperately in need of companionship. It is lonely at the top, and there is no position or any amount of power or possessions that can remove the futility of life lived under the sun, but without God.

 

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 Unseen Sovereign.

Then Memucan said in the presence of the king and the officials, “Not only against the king has Queen Vashti done wrong, but also against all the officials and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. For the queen’s behavior will be made known to all women, causing them to look at their husbands with contempt, since they will say, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, and she did not come.’ This very day the noble women of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s behavior will say the same to all the king’s officials, and there will be contempt and wrath in plenty. If it please the king, let a royal order go out from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes so that it may not be repealed, that Vashti is never again to come before King Ahasuerus. And let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she. So when the decree made by the king is proclaimed throughout all his kingdom, for it is vast, all women will give honor to their husbands, high and low alike.” This advice pleased the king and the princes, and the king did as Memucan proposed. He sent letters to all the royal provinces, to every province in its own script and to every people in its own language, that every man be master in his own household and speak according to the language of his people. – Esther 1:16-22 ESV

The king is angry. He has just thrown a six-month long celebration for his dignitaries and the citizens of his kingdom. He has pulled out all the stops in an effort to flaunt his vast wealth and power. And it all went south when his own queen refused to respond to his command to put herself on display like a piece of royal property. In his anger, Xerxes summoned his wise men, and in doing so, he turned a family dispute into a national crisis. Queen Vashti’s refusal to obey the king’s command for her to appear in all her royal finery and parade herself in front of his drunken guests was seen as an affront against all men. One of the king’s wise men declared his fear of the shock waves her actions were going to have on the entire kingdom.

Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king but also every noble and citizen throughout your empire. Women everywhere will begin to despise their husbands when they learn that Queen Vashti has refused to appear before the king. Before this day is out, the wives of all the king’s nobles throughout Persia and Media will hear what the queen did and will start treating their husbands the same way. There will be no end to their contempt and anger. – Esther 1:16-18 NLT

At face value, this appears like a bit of over-reaction. But we must keep in mind that the king is asking his counselors for advice, and so they feel they must give it. Did Memucan truly believe that Queen Vashti’s actions were going to have national ramifications? We will never know. But he knew the king was angry and, as we will see, the king seems to have an anger problem. Perhaps Memucan was simply trying to placate the king by providing him with a viable way of dealing with this affront to his sovereignty. It was obvious to all who had just taken part in the king’s non-stop revelry that his power and influence were important to him. He was not a man who was used to being refused. He got his own way on a regular basis. So Memucan came up with a plan that appealed to the king’s pride and gave him a way to reassert his authority in the eyes of the people.

So if it please the king, we suggest that you issue a written decree, a law of the Persians and Medes that cannot be revoked. It should order that Queen Vashti be forever banished from the presence of King Xerxes, and that the king should choose another queen more worthy than she. – Esther 1:19 NLT

What better way to get the king in a good mood than to encourage him to flaunt his power as king by having him issue a royal decree. And this decree was to be “proclaimed throughout all his kingdom.” It would not be enough to simply let Queen Vashti know that she was no longer welcome in the king’s presence and that she was going to be replaced. No, the king needed to send out a royal edict to all 127 provinces, from India to Ethiopia. Yes, this was overkill, but it was intended to be an appeal to the king’s obvious megalomania. Memucan was truly a wise man. He knew exactly what he was doing. He was very familiar with the king and had more than likely seen this episodes of anger before. So he came up with a plan to pacify the king’s anger and feed his overactive ego.

Memucan’s advice pleased the king, so the decree was issued and sent across his vast empire, having been translated into all the languages of the kingdom. Queen Vashti’s fate was sealed. Her snubbing of the king’s command had proven to be costly. We are not told what happens to the queen from this point forward. She disappears from the scene, like an actor who has played her part and exited the stage, never to be seen again. But her absence creates a vacancy, a void that begs to be filled. The king must have a queen.

And this is just another turning point in the story. Queen Vashti’s actions have set the stage for something significant to take place. The king’s edict has left him without a queen. And this was not something a man with an ego like Xerxes could live with for very long. And so a new chain of events was about to take place. God was setting the stage for something significant to happen that no one in the kingdom of Persia could have foreseen or expected. What appears to be nothing more than a series of unfortunate events is actually the hand of God working behind the scenes. There is an unseen Sovereign issuing decrees and orchestrating events and even Memucan and his team of wise men have no idea He is there. All they can see is an earthly king and their influence over him. He is a monarch who is easily upset and just as easily influenced. He is prone to listen to their advice and susceptible to their suggestions. But God is operating on His own. He is truly sovereign, determining the future without the need for human advice or influence. Neither King Xerxes or Memucan have any idea what the outcome of their decisions will be. They think they are in control. They believe they are the arbiters of their fate. But God is at work behind the scenes. His sovereign plan is greater than that of kings and wise men. His will trumps the will of earthly rulers. His decrees are greater than those of despots and dictators. We may not see Him, but God is always at work and always in control.

Proverbs 8c

Health, Wealth and Prosperity, Oh My!

“Those who love me inherit wealth. I will fill their treasuries.” – Proverbs 8:21 NLT

Wow, what a verse! This is what I like to call a coffee mug passage. It’s one of those kind of verses we like to read, and love to claim as a promise from God. Here we have wisdom making a pretty mind-blowing offer of wealth and riches, honor and justice. Who wouldn’t want to sign up for that offer? It’s like the American dream all wrapped up in one verse and found smack dab in the middle of Scripture. If I were a TV evangelist, this would be my signature verse. But is the promise of health, wealth and prosperity what this verse is all about? Upon closer examination we discover that the answer is a simple, yet resounding, NO. Yes, this passage does seem to say that those who find the wisdom of God will also find riches and honor, not to mention enduring wealth and justice. But here’s the problem. We tend to want to interpret this verse based on our working definitions of riches, honor, and enduring wealth. And as far as justice goes, we’ll gladly take it, but we would much rather have the other three. If I read this passage through my worldly lens of materialism and monetary blessings, I hear it offering me everything from power and possessions to recognition and financial rewards. But we have to take all this in context. A few verses earlier in the chapter, wisdom states, “Choose my instruction rather than silver, and knowledge rather than pure gold. For wisdom is far more valuable than rubies. Nothing you desire can compare with it” (Proverbs 8:10-11 NLT). What wisdom offers is more valuable than any precious metal or rare jewel. Then just a few verses later, wisdom says, “My gifts are better than gold, even the purest gold, my wages better than sterling silver!” (Proverbs 8:19 NLT). So the riches, honor, and enduring wealth must have to do with something other than money or financial rewards of any kind. When wisdom states, “Those who love me inherit wealth. I will fill their treasuries” (Proverbs 8:21 NLT), it must not be talking about cash and coins. No, the enduring wealth that comes with the wisdom of God is something of an eternal nature. When we learn to fear God and love His wisdom, the gain far more than monetary in nature. A little later in the same chapter, wisdom clarifies and qualifies the benefits it offers. “for all who follow my ways are joyful” (Proverbs 8:32b NLT). “Joyful are those who listen to me, watching daily for me at my gates, waiting for me outside my home!” (Proverbs 8:34 NLT). The real value of a life lived in the fear of God and in total dependence on the wisdom of God is clear. “For whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 8:35 NLT). Now that is something you can bank on – for eternity – no matter what happens to the economy.

Father, You have filled my life with so much more than anything money could ever buy. May I increasingly discover the value of a life lived according to Your will and in keeping with Your wisdom. Help me to see the real value of godly joy and the peace of living within Your favor and love. That’s truly priceless. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Proverbs 11c

Sad, But True.

“When the wicked die, their hopes die with them, for they rely on their own feeble strength.” – Proverbs 11:7 NLT

The Scriptures can be blunt. Sometimes just reading through God’s Word can cause us to cringe at what appears to be the politically uncorrect nature of some of the statements that flow from its pages. The Word of God pulls no punches. It takes no prisoners. It isn’t afraid to get up-in-your-face and tell you what you need to hear, whether you want to hear it or not. It’s painfully honest at times. But honest is exactly what it is. It is the word of God and it speaks truth – refusing to sugarcoat the hard facts or soften the impact of its message on the souls of men. Verse seven of Proverbs 11 is one of those I-can’t-believe-you-just-said-that kind of statements. “When the wicked die, their hopes die with them, for they rely on their own feeble strength.” The Message puts it this way, “When the wicked die, that’s it — the story’s over, end of hope.” There is not more. Their petty efforts at achieving success in life are proved to be what they have always been – futile and pointless. Any happiness they have enjoyed is short-lived and temporal, rather than eternal. Rather than trust God for their eternal well-being, they have relied on their own “feeble strength” and learned that no amount of money, success, achievements, accolades, or toys will help them when this life is over.

“Evil people get rich for the moment” (Proverbs 11:18 NLT). They live for this life. Their actions and attitudes are self-focused and temporally-based. They may enjoy all that this life has to offer, but this life is not all that there is. “The reward of the godly will last” (Proverbs 11:18 NLT). Those who choose to live their life according to God’s standards and in His strength, not their own, will discover that their reward is long-lasting. “Godly people find life; evil people find death” (Proverbs 11:19 NLT). “The godly can look forward to a reward, while the wicked can expect only judgment” (Proverbs 11:23 NLT). Wow! That’s blunt. That’s cold and seemingly heartless. But it’s the truth. It is a matter-of-fact wake-up call designed to remind us that we are eternal creatures, not temporal ones. Our focus needs to be on eternity, not the fleeting promises of this life. When we have an eternal perspective, we can give freely because we aren’t looking to the things of this world to satisfy us or keep us safe. We don’t look to money to bring us happiness or fulfillment. “Trust in your money and down you go!” (Proverbs 11:28 NLT). No, those who have their eyes focused on God see life differently. Generosity comes naturally. Holding loosely to the things of this world is easy. They inherently know that “riches won’t help on the day of judgment, but right living can save you from death” (Proverbs 11:4 NLT).

These truths are hard to hear and even harder to accept. We hear a steady stream of propaganda telling us that this life is all that matters. We are told to grab all we can while we can because there’s nothing else after this. We are constantly reminded that our own happiness is all that matters. We’re number one. It’s every man for himself. But God has a different perspective. And the godly recognize that there is more to life than pleasure, possessions, popularity and prosperity. There’s eternal life. This world is not our home, we’re just passing through. The best is yet to come.

Father, it’s hard to think about the destiny awaiting those who reject You. It’s difficult to wrestle with the reality that millions of people are willing to sacrifice their eternity for a little temporary pleasure. Give me an eyes-wide-open perspective on life. Let me see it from Your vantage point. Keep me focused on eternity. But at the same time, don’t let me get so heavenly focused that I’m no earthly good. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org