Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Ecclesiastes: Does Anything Really Matter? Day 20, Proverbs About Foolishness

In our passage today Solomon talks about the value of having wisdom, even if wisdom only does a person good while he lives in this world. He also provides us with some proverbs about foolishness.

First the king relates to us this true story, "I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me: There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siege works against it. Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man. So I said, 'Wisdom is better than strength.' But the poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded." (Ecclesiastes 9:13-16) People from many other tribes and nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Being an intelligent and curious person, I bet he enjoyed hearing tales from their homelands and this may be how he knows the story of the poor man who saved the city. But no one seems to recall the poor man's name and this troubles Solomon. Why wasn't this man honored? Why wasn't he made the leader of the city? Why can't anyone even remember his name? He reflects on the fact that fame, like life, is fleeting.

Now he moves on into a series of proverbs. "The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good." (Ecclesiastes 9:17-18) We need to always keep in mind that in the Bible a fool is a person who is spiritually and morally corrupt, one who is reprobate and has no heart for the Lord. There's a lot of spiritually and morally corrupt advice given to us in this world. Foolishness shouts very loudly so that it can be heard by everyone. But Solomon says to stop our ears to the voice of foolishness and listen only to the calm and quiet voice of wisdom.

He uses a very graphic description about how one fool can influence a whole group to do wrong, in the same way that one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. "As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor." (Ecclesiastes 10:1) The Apostle Paul warned against persons who claim to be Christians and attend church but who are morally corrupt and who constantly stir up trouble. He knew such a person could undo all the good things going on in that church. He or she could lead others astray, so Paul advises the congregation to ask a troublemaker like that to leave the assembly, excommunicating them in other words. (1 Corinthians 5:9-13) This exclusion would hopefully bring them to their senses, but if not at least the entire bunch wasn't spoiled by one bad apple.

"The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left." (Ecclesiastes 10:2) This is not a political statement. In Solomon's time the right hand was the place of honor. The most important guest at a feast would be seated at the right hand of the host. Another example of this is that the Lord Jesus sits at God the Father's right hand in the place of highest honor. What Solomon is saying is something like this, "The wise person sticks to the right path. His life is honorable. He does what he ought to do. But the foolish ungodly person always wanders off in the wrong direction."

"Even as fools walk along the road, they lack sense and show everyone how stupid they are." (Ecclesiastes 10:3) Solomon observes, "A person's true character can't be hidden for long. Even if he doesn't say much, we can simply observe by his behavior that he is an immoral person." The Lord Jesus made a similar observation when He said we would know a person's character by the fruit they produce. (Matthew 7:15-20) If a person claims to be a Christian, but there is no proof of it in the way they live, we are to wise to take note of this and to doubt their claims of belonging to the Lord.

"If a ruler's anger rises against you, do not leave your post; calmness can lay great offenses to rest." (Ecclesiastes 10:4) This is good counsel for our work lives. If we mess up and our boss yells at us for it, we should remain calm and respectful. Solomon recommends, "Don't get all huffy and storm out of the building, slamming the door behind you and losing your job. Things can probably be smoothed over. Your calm and quiet tone of voice will soon make your boss realize he is yelling and screaming like a foolish person, then he will become more reasonable." The king restates this principle in Proverbs 15:1, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."

Next Solomon speaks of an injustice that bothers him. "There is an evil I have seen under the sun, the sort of error that arises from a ruler: Fools are put in many high positions, while the rich occupy the low ones. I have seen slaves on horseback, while princes go on foot like slaves." (Ecclesiastes 10:5-7) Earlier in the book of Proverbs we found Solomon upset over the unfairness of the wrong people being promoted. He's seen foolish people placed in high positions and he's seen wise people overlooked. He's observed people lacking in leadership skills being given positions of honor, while those who live by godly principles are ignored and scoffed at. This is one of the many things in life he doesn't understand. To his way of thinking only those capable of making good decisions should ever be in charge of anything.

We can certainly understand his point. It would be easy to become bitter when we do what's right and are passed over. If we're not careful we will become angry and discouraged when the wrong people are put in charge. Solomon seems angry and bitter over situations like this, but later he will decide to leave such matters up to the Lord and trust Him to work things out. We know he did because the Apostle Peter will quote Solomon's words from Proverbs 3:34 in this speech to the church, "God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time." (1 Peter 5:5b-6) Some versions of the Bible translate it as, "He will promote you in due time." We can't always trust our superiors to promote us. They may have a tendency to show favoritism to the wrong people for the wrong reasons. But we can trust God to keep track of our faithfulness. Our bosses may not recognize or reward us for our good honest work or for our godly character, but God will. He will do it in His own time and in His own way, but I'd rather have blessings from the hand of God than blessings from the hand of man because people can be very fickle. They may love us today but hate us tomorrow. Fame is fleeting, as Solomon pointed out. The name of the poor man who saved a city was soon forgotten by his fellow citizens, but we can be sure his name wasn't forgotten by God. Take heart if you're feeling passed over and forgotten. God is not blind to your godly way of living. He has seen your faithfulness. He knows you've done what was right when it would have been far easier to do what was wrong. He will promote you in due time.

The link below is to a cute little Christian song I often play in the car. It reminds us that fame and popularity are not what's most important in life. What's most important is that God knows our names because we are His.
He Knows My Name

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