Ecclesiastes 2.13-19 – Wisdom – worldly and heavenly
Posted: 25 September 2014 in Ecclesiastes

Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness. The wise man’s eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all. Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity. For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool. Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit. Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity.

Solomon was famed for his wisdom, and yet he apparently understood wisdom to primarily be the means by which fame and worldly fortune were to be acquired. In the light of biblical revelation, it can be said that there is nothing particularly wise in that conception of wisdom.

There is a hint of it in Isaiah, and in some of the psalms, but generally belief in a resurrection, and subsequent judgement, does not seem to have become widespread until the end of the Old Testament period. Even in New Testament times, it was not a truth universally acknowledged. The Pharisees are known to have accepted it, and apparently so did Martha in John 11.24. In any case, Solomon does not appear to have had any conception of a future estate, and so he tried to understand the benefits of wisdom in wholly this worldly terms. The upshot being his disillusionment, as recorded in the above passage. We of course know, or ought to know, that the only genuine wisdom is to live in accordance with God’s will, and to embrace the wisdom which comes from him alone. Only it can lead to eternal life, and all other wisdom, being of our own corrupt and dubious manufacture, is sinful at best.

It is recorded in 1 Kings 11.1-2 that, later in life, Solomon disobeyed one of God’s explicit commands, in taking to himself wives not of Jewish extraction. Subsequently he found himself being sucked into idolatry. If Ezekiel 18.24 is to be taken as any guide, for all his wisdom, Solomon’s experience at the last judgement may not be a happy one:

But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die.

We are not lesser sinners than Solomon, and the warning in Ezek 18.24 applies to all who, preferring their own wisdom and righteousness to that put forward by God, turn away from Christ.

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Jeremiah 36.1-3 and 22-23 – The call to repentance
Posted: 24 September 2014 in Jeremiah

And it came to pass in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, that this word came unto Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, Take thee a roll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken unto thee against Israel, and against Judah, and against all the nations, from the day I spake unto thee, from the days of Josiah, even unto this day. It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the evil which I purpose to do unto them; that they may return every man from his evil way; that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.

Now the king sat in the winterhouse in the ninth month: and there was a fire on the hearth burning before him. And it came to pass, that when Jehudi had read three or four leaves, he cut it with the penknife, and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the roll was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth.

A central theme of the Old Testament is about nothing so much as mankind’s continual rebellion against God. And yet, also to be found in the Old Testament, there is God’s ongoing call for repentance. But, as the second quote mentioned above indicates, men, with their corrupt hearts and sinful ways, will always reject that call. They have no desire to recognise, or submit to, the Lordship of God, and prefer instead to be their own lords. They are no more capable of repenting than a man with a broken leg is capable of walking the four miles to the nearest hospital. If he happens to be located somewhere nobody is likely to find him, then he will die. Our state is as desperate as that man’s. Unable to help ourselves, we can only come to God if the Lord first of all creates in us the desire to do so.

It is a matter of common experience that not all men do, in fact, have their hearts remade in that way, and some are left to suffer the eternal punishment, which is the just reward of their sin. King Jehoiakim was apparently amongst those to whom the Lord chose not to extend mercy. That fact is a salutary reminder that, at the day of judgment, God will, for the sake of his glory, reveal not only his mercy, but also his righteous wrath and absolute sovereignty.

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Genesis 24.1-7 – Trusting in God’s promises and providence
Posted: 12 September 2014 in Genesis

And Abraham was old, and well stricken in age….. And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house….. Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh: And I will make thee swear by the Lord, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell: But thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife unto my son Isaac. And the servant said unto him, Peradventure the woman will not be willing to follow me unto this land: must I needs bring thy son again unto the land from whence thou camest? And Abraham said unto him, Beware thou that thou bring not my son thither again. The Lord God of heaven, which took me from my father’s house….. and which spake unto me….. saying, Unto thy seed will I give this land; he shall send his angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife unto my son from thence.

When Abraham answers his servant in the above passage, he effectively says to him that, “The word of the Lord endureth for ever,” and that, “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent” (Numbers 23.19). God’s words are immutable, and what he has spoken will surely come to pass. To either doubt his word, or to act in a way contrary to his stated will, is a sin. Abraham is guilty of neither sin.

Although he entertains the possibility of failure for his servant’s sake, Abraham takes it for granted that, since whatever comes to pass has been preordained by God, if it be God’s will that Isaac’s wife come from his extended family, then his servant cannot help but be successful in his mission. A little later, in the same chapter, it is said that the servant, upon learning that his mission has indeed been successful, rightly attributed his success to God’s providence, and immediately worshipped the Lord. Which, of course, is how it should be.

Success comes from simultaneously acting in accordance with God’s will, and trusting in his providence. That latter is important, because we are to trust in God, to whom belongs all glory, and we are not to trust in ourselves. Furthermore, it is our duty to disclaim credit for any successes we may have, because any glory which comes our own way is glory which has been stolen from God.

Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. (Matthew 6.2)

Admittedly, that refers specifically to alms giving, but the principle is the same. As the creator, sustainer, enabler and Lord of all things, glory belongs to God alone.

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Psalm 99.1 and 103.7 – God’s holiness
Posted: 11 September 2014 in Psalms

The Lord reigneth; let the people tremble: he sitteth between the cherubims; let the earth be moved.

For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.

From what I read on various Christian forums, I get the impression that some Christians have become so used to hearing “God is love,” and little else, that they no longer have a sense of his transcendence, majesty and absolute holiness. Love is one of God’s attributes, but, if it is the only one ever heard of nowadays, it seems to me that there has been a serious imbalance in the Church’s preaching. Such a one sided view could never be extracted from any serious reading of the Bible.

It might be noticed that, in the second of the two verses quoted above, it is said that the recipients of God’s mercy will be those who fear him – i.e. those with an appropriate sense of his sovereignty, power and overwhelming majesty. To think of God as being a “jolly nice chap,” rather than as somebody who can only be revered, only rightly be approached in fear and trembling, and who, furthermore, is able to cast into hell, is little short of insolent.

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Jeremiah 32.3 – Submission to the words of God
Posted: 10 September 2014 in Jeremiah

For Zedekiah king of Judah had shut him up, saying, Wherefore dost thou prophesy, and say, Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall take it;

Jeremiah’s answer to Zedekiah might well have been the blunt, “Because that is what the Lord said unto me.” It is not an unknown phenomenon for people to close their ears to the words of God, if they don’t like what they are reading or hearing. But God is our Lord, and we are not invited to question what he says. To do so is surely impertinent, and a sin. We are invited only to submit to what is revealed as being inviolably and eternally true, or to what is commanded as being an unchangable and absolute obligation.

The Bible never says anything which is untrue, and, when difficulties arise, it is for us to either resolve them, or to embrace a genuine paradox. In any case, we cannot claim that God has not made his eternal truths known unto us.

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