Without God, Even the Wise Become Fools

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

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

It shouldn’t be surprising that Solomon has a lot to say about the topic of wisdom. After all, he was known as the wisest man who ever lived. In the early days of his reign, when given an opportunity by God to ask of Him whatever he wished, Solomon had asked for an “understanding heart” so he could govern the people of Israel well. And God responded, “Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies—I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have!” (1 Kings 3:11-12 NLT).

And God followed through on His commitment, blessing Solomon with unsurpassed wisdom. When the queen of the nation of Sheba (modern-day Ethiopia) made a royal visit to Jerusalem, she was impressed by Solomon’s wisdom and wealth

When she met with Solomon, she talked with him about everything she had on her mind. Solomon had answers for all her questions; nothing was too hard for the king to explain to her. When the queen of Sheba realized how very wise Solomon was, and when she saw the palace he had built, she was overwhelmed. – 1 Kings 10:2-5 NLT

But like everything else in his life, wisdom became an obsession for Solomon. Seemingly unsatisfied with what he had been given by God, he constantly attempted to increase his wisdom through self-effort. He wrote and collected wise proverbial sayings and put them in a book. In this book, known as The Proverbs of Solomon, he personifies wisdom as a woman calling out from the streets, attempting to get the attention of those who pass her by.

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

But despite wisdom’s generous offer of wisdom for all, her calls remained ignored by the simpletons, mockers, and fools. They rejected her advice and shunned her correction. Nobody wanted what she had to offer. And as a result, they were left in their ignorance and complacency. The time would come when wisdom was needed, but they would find it unavailable.

For Solomon, wisdom was a commodity worth pursuing. He even explained his purpose for writing his book of proverbs by stating:

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

Wisdom became one of many obsessions for Solomon. He pursued it with a vengeance, and never seemed to think he had enough of it. It seems that he often forgot his own advice, failing to remember that “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7 NLT). The pursuit of wisdom without a healthy fear and worship of God is a futile effort. But too often, we make wisdom the focus of our attention, not God.

Yet, Solomon knew the benefits of wisdom. He had experienced them firsthand, and this is why he could sing the praises of a life of wisdom.

How wonderful to be wise, to analyze and interpret things. Wisdom lights up a person’s face, softening its harshness. – Ecclesiastes 8:1 NLT

In the verses that follow, Solomon provides his readers a number of examples of what wisdom looks like in real life. But notice that they all have to do with their allegiance to the king. In other words, their faithful service to him.

He starts out with a not-so-subtle admonition to “Keep the king’s command.” This is the king telling his own people that if they’re wise, they’ll obey him. Sounds more like a threat than a recommendation for wise living. While there is a degree of truth and wisdom in what Solomon says, it can’t help but come across as a bit self-serving.

If someone is an official servant of the king and has taken an oath to faithfully serve him, it makes perfect sense for them to follow through with their commitment. It would be unwise for them to shirk their duty or to join in a plot to overthrow the king. But Solomon’s words are not specifically directed at members of the royal household or administrative staff. It would be foolish for anyone, whether they were a civil servant or civilian, to question the decisions of the king, because his word is final, and he has the power to enforce whatever he has commanded.

If you obey the king, you won’t have to worry about being punished. The wise person knows when to speak up and when to shut up. He understands that there’s a time and a place for everything, even when facing trouble. And it’s our inability to control our words during times of difficulty that can get us in hot water, especially if it involves the king.  Without the benefit of wisdom, a person can say things they end up regretting. They run the risk of expressing thoughts that haven’t been thought through fully. And hasty words spoken in the presence of the king can expose foolishness and risk deadly consequences. This thought is reminiscent of something Solomon wrote earlier.

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

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

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

From Solomon’s royal perspective, it made sense not to question the wishes of a king. Of course, since he was the king, it’s easy to see why he felt this way. In his role as king, he had probably heard more than one citizen of his kingdom say, “What are you doing?” And he most likely found the tone of that question offensive and its timing unwise. No one likes to have his wisdom and authority questioned, especially the king. And Solomon appears to have viewed his authority as supreme, almost all-knowing in nature.

He states that the one who questions the king “does not know what is to be, for who can tell him how it will be?” (Ecclesiastes 8:7 ESV). This individual has no control over anything, including their day of death. Nobody can hold on to their spirit when the time comes for it to depart. Nobody can get out of their obligation to serve when conscripted for battle. They simply have to go. They must do their duty. And the one who chooses a life of evil will find himself hopelessly stuck, experiencing the inevitable consequences of his decision.

There is a certain sense of fate in Solomon’s words. You can’t know the future, so you have no control over it, and this brings us back to Solomon’s earlier admonition: Keep the king’s command.

But how are we to take what Solomon says and apply it to our daily lives? It is essential to read the book of Ecclesiastes with an understanding of the state of affairs in Solomon’s life at the time of its writing. He was an old man, having served as king of Israel for a long period of time. But he had not finished well. His kingdom was marred by idolatry. He had repeatedly disobeyed God, marrying more than 700 different women and amassing a harem of 300 concubines. And he had eventually adopted their false gods, an act of blatant unfaithfulness to Yahweh. And his unfaithfulness would ultimately force God to rip the kingdom from his hands and divide it in two.

Solomon was still a wise man when he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, but it is safe to say that he no longer feared God as he once had. His wisdom had been marred by sin. His perspective had been skewed by his pessimistic take on life.

There is a lot of truth in the words that Solomon writes, but we must carefully search for and remove the hidden gems from the muck and mire of Solomon’s sin-distorted viewpoint. Wisdom is a good thing. Remaining faithful in your service to the king is solid and sound advice. But the one thing that is missing is a recommendation to fear the Lord.

To his credit, Solomon weaves that message into the verses that follow. But it seems that Solomon struggled with maintaining the vital connection between wisdom and the fear of God. At times, wisdom became a stand-alone for him. He operated by the misguided philosophy: More is better. There were occasions when he seemed to sincerely believe that wisdom was all you needed. But wisdom without a fear of God is useless. It too will prove futile and meaningless. It is our fear and reverence for God that gives wisdom its power. Knowing right from wrong, good from evil, and righteousness from wickedness begins with knowing and revering God. Being able to make good decisions stems from a solid understanding of who God is and what He expects of us. When we live to please God, we make wise decisions. When we live to please ourselves, we end up living like fools and, as Solomon so graphically put it, eating our own flesh. In our effort to make it all about ourselves, we end up destroying ourselves.

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

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

Abuse of Authority

1 He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck,
    will suddenly be broken beyond healing.
When the righteous increase, the people rejoice,
    but when the wicked rule, the people groan.
He who loves wisdom makes his father glad,
    but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth.
By justice a king builds up the land,
    but he who exacts gifts tears it down.
A man who flatters his neighbor
    spreads a net for his feet.
An evil man is ensnared in his transgression,
    but a righteous man sings and rejoices.
A righteous man knows the rights of the poor;
    a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.
Scoffers set a city aflame,
    but the wise turn away wrath.
If a wise man has an argument with a fool,
    the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.
10 Bloodthirsty men hate one who is blameless
    and seek the life of the upright.
11 A fool gives full vent to his spirit,
    but a wise man quietly holds it back.
12 If a ruler listens to falsehood,
    all his officials will be wicked.
13 The poor man and the oppressor meet together;
    the Lord gives light to the eyes of both.
14 If a king faithfully judges the poor,
    his throne will be established forever. 
– Proverbs 29:1-14 ESV

This chapter continues the collection of wise sayings compiled by the officials of King Hezekiah (Proverbs 25:1). We know from 1 Kings 4:32, that Solomon “composed some 3,000 proverbs and wrote 1,005 songs.” Hezekiah’s royal scholars were assigned the task of finding additional proverbs written or edited by Solomon so that they might be added to the original collection. And while there appears to be no clear categorization of these supplemental proverbs, there does appear to be an underlying theme. Since the men who gathered and curated them were working for the king, the proverbs they chose to add have a distinct leadership tone to them.

They reflect an emphasis on the need for godly wisdom at the highest levels of administrative power.

When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice.
    But when the wicked are in power, they groan.Proverbs 29:2 NLT

All of these proverbs can be applied on a broad scale and are not solely applicable to kings and other authority figures. But it almost appears as if the men who collected these sayings were purposefully concentrating their efforts to find those proverbs that would make the greatest impact on their employer: The king.

A just king gives stability to his nation,
    but one who demands bribes destroys it. – Proverbs 29:4 NLT

The sheer number of references to rulers and kings would seem to indicate that there was a concerted effort to choose those proverbs that might influence King Hezekiah to rule wisely and ethically. It was to their benefit that the king behave in a manner that was in keeping with the will of God.

If a ruler pays attention to liars,
    all his advisers will be wicked. – Proverbs 29:12 NLT

If a king judges the poor fairly,
    his throne will last forever. – Proverbs 29:14 NLT

In a way, these men were acting as unofficial counselors to the king by providing him with advice in the form of these Solomonic sayings. As the king read each proverb, he would have been positively impacted by the wisdom found in them. And while many of these sayings have a positive tone to them, there are some that could easily come across as veiled criticism. Hezekiah’s officials must have realized that, with each negative proverb they included, they were at risk of offending their employer. But verse one would have reminded the king that criticism carried just as much weight as a compliment.

Whoever stubbornly refuses to accept criticism
    will suddenly be destroyed beyond recovery. – Proverbs 29:1 NLT

These proverbs have universal application and appeal because all of us long for power in some form or fashion. Any thought of being weak and powerless is naturally repulsive to us. And the truth is, we all wield some kind of authority over someone or something else. The question is – how do we handle power when we have it? Are we fair and just or do we display our power with pride, arrogance, and in an abusive manner?

Authority is a divine concept and God holds those in authority responsible for their actions. God gave Adam and Eve special responsibility to steward His creation. Abraham was given authority by God to serve as the progenitor of a great nation. And Moses was given authority to lead those very same people out of captivity and into freedom. The prophets were given authority to act as God’s spokespersons and proclaim His word to His rebellious people. God gave the disciples authority over demons, disease, and even death.

But all authority can be abused. We can utilize our positions of power or influence for good or bad. A parent can abuse their child, using their authority to destroy the heart and soul of the one they are to nurture and love. A boss can abuse their responsibility, taking advantage of his employees, and overworking them while he underpays them. Politicians and rulers can abuse their authority, ignoring the needs of their constituents in favor of maintaining their party’s power and their own position.

The godly care about the rights of the poor;
    the wicked don’t care at all. – Proverbs 29:7 NLT

The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about authority and this chapter is no exception. It reminds us that godly leadership is the best form of leadership because it produces positive benefits for its constituents (verse 2). But ungodly leadership produces pain and heartache for those who must bear up under it.

According to God, the kind of leadership or authority He is looking for is just, fair, compassionate, and caring. In other words, God expects those with authority over others to practice His brand of leadership. He wants them to lead the way He leads. That means we must lead through love. We must discipline on occasion, but always out of love. We must judge at times, but never in an unloving manner. We must guide and direct those under our care with love and not with anger.

Fools vent their anger,
    but the wise quietly hold it back. – Proverbs 29:12 NLT

Authority is a huge responsibility. Ultimately, those in authority will be held responsible by God for their actions. There’s no place for pride, selfishness, greed, or self-gain.

Those who hold positions of authority exist for the good of others. They hold the welfare of others in their hands, whether they lead a nation or a family. But ungodly, unethical leaders can use their influence to stir up trouble and cause dissent.

Mockers can get a whole town agitated,
    but the wise will calm anger. – Proverbs 29:8 NLT

People who hold positions of authority but who lack godly wisdom can be dangerous. They lack insight and are incapable of seeing the world the way God does. They view their power as a right and a privilege and fail to understand that they are no better than the people they oppress and abuse.

The poor and the oppressor have this in common—
    the Lord gives sight to the eyes of both. – Proverbs 29:13 NLT

Because they have no fear of God, they do not realize that He watches over the helpless, hopeless, innocent, and powerless. He will hold those in authority responsible for the manner in which they rule, judge, lead, care for, and protect those under their care. And anyone who holds a position of authority is wise to recognize and constantly remind themselves that God is the ultimate authority. He is the one who is in control of all things. All others report to Him. They owe their positions to Him. They get their right to rule from Him. So they should rule well and lead wisely. They should use their god-given authority responsibly.

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

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

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

The King is Coming

11 As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. 12 He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. 13 Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ 14 But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ 15 When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. 16 The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ 18 And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ 19 And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ 20 Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ 24 And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ 25 And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ 26 ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 27 But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’” Luke 19:11-27 ESV

It’s amazing how quickly we can turn this parable into nothing more than a lesson on stewardship. In doing so, we make it all about us, while at the same time, missing the main point of Jesus’ message. Context is essential to understanding what Jesus is saying with this parable. He has just completed His encounter with Zacchaeus, the chief collector, who has shown through his repentant response to Jesus’ words that he has come to believe Him to be the Messiah. Jesus stunned the crowd when He proclaimed the following words over this notorious sinner.

“Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:9-10 ESV

For Jesus, Zacchaeus was the perfect example of those He had come to save. This man was a sinner and everyone knew it, including himself. And he had been willing to confess his sin and take whatever steps were necessary to display “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8 ESV). Zacchaeus had been willing to make restitution by returning the money he had stolen from his fellow citizens of Jericho. Unlike the rich, young ruler, Zacchaeus was ready to give up his vast wealth in order to follow Jesus.

The other important point of context that gets easily overlooked concerns the timing of this encounter. Luke indicates reminds his readers that Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. This brief stopover in Jericho provided a temporary delay in Jesus’ inevitable and unavoidable mission objective. And there were others in the crowd who knew that Jesus was headed to Jerusalem and were anxious that He arrive “because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately” (Luke 19:11 ESV). Luke does not identify who these individuals were, but it is safe to assume that the 12 disciples were among them. These men had become convinced that Jesus was “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 NLT), and were anxious for Him set up His kingdom in Jerusalem so that they might rule alongside Him. It was this enthusiastic but misguided expectation on the part of the disciples that led Jesus to tell this parable.

…he told them a story to correct the impression that the Kingdom of God would begin right away. – Luke 18:11 NLT

Don’t miss all the references to kings, kingdoms, rule, and reign in this parable. They reveal the primary point that Jesus was trying to make. Jesus began His parable by stating, “A nobleman was called away to a distant empire to be crowned king and then return” (Luke 18:12 NLT). This translation provides a much more accurate understanding of what Jesus actually said. The ESV states that the nobleman went “to receive for himself a kingdom and then return.” The key to understanding what Jesus is saying is the word, “kingdom.” When we read that word we think of a place or a realm. And while the Greek word, basileia, can also carry that meaning, it most often is used to refer to royal power, kingship, dominion, and rule. It has less to do with a realm than the right to rule. Notice that the nobleman went somewhere to receive his official designation as the king. He left where he was in order to go and receive His royal commission. But he always planned to return.

In this parable, the nobleman leaves his servants behind so that he might go and return as their king. The land in which they live already belongs to the nobleman, but upon his return, he will be more than their master. He will be their king. It is obvious that the nobleman represents Jesus, and He is attempting to inform His disciples that there will be a delay in the coming of the kingdom. He must leave and then return. But when He comes back, He will do so with all the power and authority of the King. And it will be at that time He sets up His earthly kingdom.

But according to the parable, all those who serve the nobleman were to stay behind and faithfully “engage in business” on his behalf until he returned. In other words, they were to serve as the faithful stewards of his domain until such time that he came back with the full right to rule as their king. The nobleman called ten of his faithful servants and awarded them with “ten pounds of silver, saying, ‘Invest this for me while I am gone’” (Luke 19:13 NLT). He left them in charge and delegated his resources to them so that they might invest them wisely in the management of his estate.

But while the nobleman was gone, those who lived in his land “sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We do not want him to be our king’” (Luke 19:14 NLT). These people had heard the reason for his departure and were unwilling for him to return as their king. Whatever coronation he was going to receive would be unacceptable to them. Not only were they unwilling to accept him as their king, but it seems they also rejected the idea of him returning at all. 

But the nobleman did return and with the full right to rule over these people as their king. Yet, the first people he called were those ten servants to whom he had entrusted his silver. And this is the part of the story we tend to focus on.

“After he was crowned king, he returned and called in the servants to whom he had given the money. He wanted to find out what their profits were.” – Luke 19:15 NLT

The new king calls for his servants and asks them to give a report of their actions during his absence. He wanted to see if they had been trustworthy and proven themselves to be good stewards of all that he had entrusted to their care. The first three servants to report are meant to represent the rest. One has proven himself faithful and highly industrious, by having taken the ten minas entrusted to his care and producing a ten-fold return to his master. He receives a hearty commendation and reward for his service. The second servant also proved faithful, having produced a five-fold return on his original ten pieces of silver. He too is rewarded for his efforts. But the third servant has done nothing with that which the master entrusted to him. He didn’t squander or lose it. He simply refused to do anything with it at all. Motivated by apathy and fear, the servant hid the treasure and was therefore unable to present the master any return on his investment. This servant, rather than receiving a reward, was given a stern rebuke from his master and king.

“‘You wicked servant!’ the king roared. ‘Your own words condemn you. If you knew that I’m a hard man who takes what isn’t mine and harvests crops I didn’t plant, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’ – Luke 19:22-23 NLT

This man had a distorted view of his master and yet, even that had not motivated him to do the right thing. If he truly feared the master, he would have done more with what he had been given. But it seems that he really never thought his master would return. He lived with a sense of false security, thinking that the master’s long absence would become a permanent one. So, rather than invest what he had been given, he simply hid it. He never thought he would have to give an account for his actions. But he was wrong. The master did return and he did so backed by the full authority given to him as the king.

While it is easy to focus on the rewards and the discipline portrayed in this parable, the real point is the return of the king. And that seems to be what Jesus is trying to convey to His disciples. He knows they are expecting Him to set up His earthly kingdom in Jerusalem. He is fully aware that they are expecting their rewards now. But He wants them to understand that there will be a delay in the establishment of His earthly kingdom. He will be leaving them soon and returning to His Father’s side in heaven. And in His absence, they will be expected to use the gifts He gives them to conduct business on His behalf. They will receive the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’ departure and, as a result, the spiritual gifts He makes possible. And Jesus will expect them to use those gifts wisely, investing them on His behalf and producing an abundance of fruit for the kingdom. The apostle Paul reminds us of the expectation placed on each of those who call themselves disciples of Christ and children of God.

For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God. – Philippians 1:10-11 NLT

Jesus ends the parable by telling His disciples, “to those who use well what they are given, even more will be given. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away” (Luke 19:26 NLT). They will get their reward. But it will not be until the King returns to set up His earthly Kingdom. Their job is to stay faithful, hopeful, and fully committed to serving the King until the time comes for Him to return. And then Jesus a stern warning to all those who refuse to honor Him as their Messiah and who will still reject Him as their King at His return.

And as for these enemies of mine who didn’t want me to be their king—bring them in and execute them right here in front of me.” – Luke 19:28 NLT

Rejecting Jesus as King does nothing to diminish His power, rule, or reign. He will return and, when He does, all those who have denied His deity and sovereignty will receive their just reward.

“…and to those who use well what they are given, even more will be given.” – Luke 19:26 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

Good News, But According to God’s Timing

12 I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob;
    I will gather the remnant of Israel;
I will set them together
    like sheep in a fold,
like a flock in its pasture,
    a noisy multitude of men.
13 He who opens the breach goes up before them;
    they break through and pass the gate,
    going out by it.
Their king passes on before them,
    the Lord at their head.
Micah 2:12-13 ESV

The false prophets were busy telling the people what they wanted to hear, but the problem was that their message, while easy on the ears, was not from God. In spite of all that was taking place around them, they were attempting to paint a very rosy picture, portraying Judah’s future as bright and devoid of any destruction. “Disgrace will not overtake us” they claimed. It was as if these guys were quoting the lyrics from an old Timbuk 3 song: “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.”

But little did these false prophets know that they were partially right. Judah’s future was quite bright, but it would be preceded by a long period of darkness and despair. God was going to punish them for their sins, but the day would come when He would redeem and restore them.

Micah wants the rebellious people of Judah to understand the nature of their God. Yes, He was a holy and righteous God who took sin seriously and dealt with it harshly. But He was also a loving and faithful God who kept His covenant commitments. He could be trusted to fulfill each and every promise He had made to the people of Israel.

So, Micah shares the encouraging words of God with the disobedient people of Judah.

I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob;
    I will gather the remnant of Israel;
I will set them together
    like sheep in a fold,
like a flock in its pasture,
    a noisy multitude of men.
– Micah 2:12 ESV

God addresses both the northern and southern kingdoms by using the name of their mutual patriarch, Jacob. Jacob was the son of Isaac who had a personal encounter with God, where he “wrestled with him until the dawn began to break” (Genesis 32:24 NLT). And, after this divine sparring match, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel.

“Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.” – Genesis 32:28 LT

Jacob had spent most of his life as a deceiver and a manipulator, attempting to fulfill his own will by doing things his own way. He had been unwilling to trust God and rest in His divine promises. And with his divinely ordained name change, Israel would become the symbol of the nation who would descend from him. They too would become deceivers and manipulators, attempting to fulfill their own desires according to their own standards, rather than trusting in the promises of God.

And yet, God promises to gather then like lost sheep and restore them to His pasture. But first, they would have to experience the pain and suffering associated with exile. The northern kingdom of Israel and its capital of Samaria would fall to the Assyrians in 722 B.C. The southern kingdom of Judah and its capital city of Jerusalem would fall to the Babylonians in 586 B.C. And for the next 70 years, a significant number of Judah’s population would spend their lives in exile in Babylon. Those who were left behind in Judah would be forced to live in a land that had been devastated by war, struggling to survive the devastation, disease, and despair God’s judgment had brought upon the land.

But eventually, God would bring an end to their suffering in Babylon. Just as He had promised, after 70 years of exile, the Jews were allowed to return to the land of Israel. Nehemiah, a Jew working in the administration of King Cyrus of Persia, approached the king and asked for permission to take a remnant of his people back to Israel in order to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple. Under God’s sovereign plan, the king agreed and funded the entire expedition.

In 586 B.C., a remnant did return from exile. Under the direction of Nemehiam and later, Ezra, the people did rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, restore the temple, and reinstitute the sacrificial system. But God’s promise to restore the fortunes of Israel was only partially fulfilled at that time. From that moment until now, Israel has remained a nation without a king. Over the following centuries, they would remain in a weakened state, defenseless against their enemies and under constant threat of being subjugated once again. In fact, when Jesus appeared on the scene, Israel was under the dominion of the Roman Empire. They were living in the land. They had their capital city of Jerusalem and the rebuilt temple of God, but they were far from free and prosperous. And yet, listen to the words of God spoken through the prophet, Jeremiah:

“Nevertheless, the time will come when I will heal Jerusalem’s wounds and give it prosperity and true peace. I will restore the fortunes of Judah and Israel and rebuild their towns. I will cleanse them of their sins against me and forgive all their sins of rebellion. Then this city will bring me joy, glory, and honor before all the nations of the earth! The people of the world will see all the good I do for my people, and they will tremble with awe at the peace and prosperity I provide for them.” – Jeremiah 33:6-9 NLT

Has that promise been fulfilled? Is Israel enjoying a time of prosperity and true peace? Yes, they have been restored to the land and they are a powerful force to be reckoned with in the Middle East. But they are not living in a time of true peace. They are still surrounded by enemies who despise them and are out to destroy them. The modern history of Israel is one filled with war, hostility, and constant threats to its existence as a nation. So, the prophecy of God contained in the book of Jeremiah must have a future fulfillment.

And Micah predicts a future day when the fortunes of Israel will change dramatically.

“Your leader will break out
    and lead you out of exile,
out through the gates of the enemy cities,
    back to your own land.
Your king will lead you;
    the Lord himself will guide you.” – Micah 2:13 NLT

Again, this prophecy was partially fulfilled in the days of Nehemiah, when he helped lead a remant of the people of Israel from exile in Babylon back to the land of promise. But notice that God predicts that the people will be lead by a king. This can’t refer to Nehemiah or Ezra. So, has this prophecy been fulfilled? Not yet.

But in the book of Ezekiel, we have recorded yet another promise of God, where He pledges to rescue His flock and set over them a king, David.

“So I will rescue my flock, and they will no longer be abused. I will judge between one animal of the flock and another. And I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among my people. I, the Lord, have spoken! – Ezekiel 34:22-24 NLT

“My servant David will be their king, and they will have only one shepherd. They will obey my regulations and be careful to keep my decrees. They will live in the land I gave my servant Jacob, the land where their ancestors lived. They and their children and their grandchildren after them will live there forever, generation after generation. And my servant David will be their prince forever. And I will make a covenant of peace with them, an everlasting covenant. I will give them their land and increase their numbers, and I will put my Temple among them forever. I will make my home among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And when my Temple is among them forever, the nations will know that I am the Lord, who makes Israel holy.” – Ezekiel 37:24-28 NLT

But when this prophecy was recorded, David had been dead for quite some time. So, who is this servant David to whom God refers and has this prophecy been fulfilled? It seems quite obvious that this is a prophecy concerning Jesus, the Son of David. He was the rightful heir to the throne, having been born in the line of David. These prophecies are speaking of a yet future point in time when God will fulfill His promise to David

“Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:16 NLT

God reiterated that same promise to Solomon, the son of David, who ascended to the throne after his father’s death.

“As for you, if you will follow me with integrity and godliness, as David your father did, obeying all my commands, decrees, and regulations, then I will establish the throne of your dynasty over Israel forever. For I made this promise to your father, David: ‘One of your descendants will always sit on the throne of Israel.’” – 1 Kings 9:4-5 NLT

Think about the significance of that promise: “One of your descendants will always sit on the throne of Israel.” There is no king in Israel at this moment. Let alone a descendant of David who is sitting on the throne of Israel. Israel has gone without a king for centuries. And yet, God promised David that his kingdom would continue for all time and that his throne would be secure forever.

And it will. “Your king will lead you; the Lord himself will guide you” (Micah 2:13 NLT). God has promised it and He will fulfill it. In His time and according to His sovereign will. In Romans 11, the apostle Paul predicts God’s restoration of a future remnant of the people of Israel. He is not yet done with His chosen people. And the day is coming when the King, Jesus Christ the Son of David, will restore them to a right relationship with God Almighty.

Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say,

“The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem,
    and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness.
And this is my covenant with them,
    that I will take away their sins.”

Many of the people of Israel are now enemies of the Good News, and this benefits you Gentiles. Yet they are still the people he loves because he chose their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. – Romans 11:25-28 NLT

 Judgment was coming to Judah. But, one day, grace and mercy will come as well. In the form of the Messiah, who will once again fulfill every aspect of the covenant God made with the people of Israel. Because He is a faithful, covenant-keeping God who never fails to fulfill His promises.

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