David Jeremiah - Wisdom to Be Thankful For
Once there was an old man who lived in a tiny village. Although poor, he was envied by all for he owned a very beautiful white horse. Even the king coveted his treasure. A horse like this had never been seen before, such was its splendor, its majesty, and its strength. People offered fabulous prices for the steed but the old man always refused. He would say, "This horse is not a horse to me. It's a person. How could you sell a person? He's a friend, not a possession. How could you sell a friend"? The man was poor and the temptation was great but he never sold the horse. One morning he found that the horse was not in the stable. All the village came to see him. "You old fool," they scoffed. "We told you that someone would steal your horse. We warned you you'd be robbed. You're so poor. How could you ever hope to protect such a valuable animal? It would have been better to have sold him. You could have gotten whatever price you wanted. No amount would have been too high, and now the horse is gone and you've been cursed with this misfortune".
The old man responded, "Don't speak too quickly. Say only that the horse is not in the stable. That is all we know; the rest is judgment. If I've been cursed or not, how can you know? How can you judge"? The people contested, "Don't make us out to be fools! We may not be philosophers, but great philosophy is not needed. The simple fact is that your horse is gone and that is a curse". The old man spoke again. "All I know is that the stable is empty, and the horse is gone. The rest I don't know. Whether it be a curse or a blessing, I can't say. All we know is what we know and all we can see is a fragment. Who can say what will come next"?
The people of the village laughed. They thought that the man was crazy. They had always thought he was a fool; if he wasn't, he would have sold the horse and lived off the money. But instead, he was a poor woodcutter, an old man still cutting firewood and dragging it out of the forest every day and selling it. He lived hand to mouth in the misery of poverty. Now he had proven that he was, indeed, a fool. After 15 days, the horse returned. He hadn't been stolen; he'd run away into the forest. Not only had he returned, he brought a dozen wild horses with him. Once again, the village people gathered together and they told the woodcutter: "Old man, you were right and we were wrong. What we thought was a curse was a blessing. Please forgive us".
The man responded, "Once again, you go too far. Say only that the horse is back. State only that a dozen horses returned with him, but don't judge. How can you know if this is a blessing or not? You only see a fragment. Unless you know the whole story, how can you judge? You read only one page of a book. Can you judge the whole book? You read only one word of a phrase. Can you understand the phrase? Life is so vast, yet you judge all of life with one page or one word. All you have is a fragment! Don't say this is a blessing. No one knows. I am content with what I know. I am not perturbed but what I don't know". "Well, maybe the old man is right," they said to one another.
So they said little. But down deep, they knew he was wrong. They knew it was a blessing. I mean, after all, 12 wild horses had returned with one horse. With a little bit of work, the animals could be broken and trained and sold for much money. Now, the old man had a son. Actually, it was his only son. And the young man began to break the wild horses. After a few days, he fell from one of the horses and he broke both of his legs. Once again the villagers gathered around the old man and cast their judgments. "You were right," they said. "You proved you were right. The dozen horses were not a blessing. They were a curse. Your only son has broken his legs; now in your old age you have no one to help you. Now you are poorer than ever". The old man spoke again: "You people are so obsessed with judging. Don't go so far. Say only that my son broke his legs. Who knows if it's a blessing or curse? No one knows. We only have a fragment. You know, life does come in fragments".
It so happened that a few weeks later the country engaged in war against a neighboring country. All the young men of the village were required to join the army. Only the son of the old man was excluded, because he was injured. Once again the people gathered around the old man, crying and screaming because their sons had been taken. There was little chance they would return. The enemy was strong, the war would be a losing struggle. They would never see their sons again. "You were right, old man," they wept. "God knows you were right. This proves it. Your son's accident was a blessing. His legs may be broken, but at least he is with you. Our sons are gone forever". The old man spoke once again: "It is impossible to talk with you folks. You always draw conclusions. No one knows if it's a blessing or a curse. No one is wise enough to know. Only God knows".
The woodcutter had captured the essence of Solomon's words in Ecclesiastes. We've already learned that sometimes crying is better than laughing. Sometimes funerals are better than weddings. Sometimes a man's dying days better than his birthday. Criticisms can be better than compliments. The long way around is better than the shortcut and today is really better than the "good old days". But all of these thoughts that seem to turn life upside down and make us wonder, "Is this how life works? How do you make this fit"? All of these things which are, which we never thought would be, well, Solomon is going to teach us the lesson of the woodcutter today. He's gonna teach us that in not knowing what we cannot know, there is a great deal of wisdom.
Wisdom is not trying to judge the book by the cover. Wisdom is understanding that you have only a fragment; only God has the entire manuscript. How blessed we are if we have the wisdom of the woodcutter and the wisdom of Solomon. Here in the last half of chapter 7 we discovered two gigantic reasons for gratitude. If we have wisdom we should be thankful for the perspective of wisdom and for its power in our lives. First of all, in verses 11 through 18, Solomon teaches us that we should thank God for the perspective of wisdom. Wisdom may not solve all of our problems. It may not make all of the tough things good but wisdom gives us an understanding of what's going on. It helps us to see things in perspective. For instance, wisdom helps us to deal with prosperity.
Verses 11 and 12 say: "Wisdom is good with an inheritance, and profitable to those who see the sun. For wisdom is a defense as money is a defense, but the excellence of knowledge is that wisdom gives life to those who have it". It is better, said Solomon, to have wisdom than to have a good fortune or a good inheritance. Wisdom does not depreciate, nor is it subject to inflation. And Solomon says that a person who has wisdom and wealth is doubly blessed. In fact, it becomes his defense twice over. Wisdom gives life to those who have it. That is what Solomon said in Proverbs. That's what he says here, Proverbs 8:35. He says: "For whoever finds me," wisdom, "finds life, and obtains favor from the Lord".
According to Solomon, wisdom is like a shelter to those who have it and it's a greater source of security than money could ever be. It is amazing how very few people there are who both have wealth and wisdom. Have you noticed? But a person who is wealthy without wisdom can end up being the most miserable creature on God's green earth. And I've met a few of them. Have you? They have wealth and they have no wisdom. Wealth has become for them a curse, instead of a blessing. Solomon says that wisdom is something we should be grateful for because it gives perspective to us and wisdom helps us to understand that prosperity is not the end-all of everything, that if you have prosperity and you don't have the wisdom to enjoy it, you're better off to be poor.
Next he says that wisdom helps us to deal with providence. Notice verses 13 and 14: "Consider the work of God; for who can make straight what he has made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: surely God has appointed the one as well as the other, so that man can find out nothing that will come after him". Solomon says the truth of the matter is that affliction is the appointment of God and it's the crooked thing we can't fix. We like to, wouldn't we? We'd like to straighten out all the crooked spaces. Solomon says that the crooked thing is adversity. And the truth of the matter is that affliction is this appointment of God and the crooked thing that we think needs straightening is the presence of affliction and adversity.
Walter Kaiser who was a wonderful scholar has paraphrased these verses that we just read like this, and I want to read his paraphrase. Listen carefully. "Look with wonder, admire, and silently wait for the result of God's work. The contrasts of life are deliberately allowed by God so that men should ultimately develop a simple trust and dependence in God. For prosperity and the goods from God's hand, be thankful and rejoice," which is what we're doing today. "But in adversity and the crookedness of life, think. Reflect on the goodness of God and the comprehensiveness of his plan for men". What Solomon teaches us is that we ought to thank God that we have learned from the troubles we've had too.
Job one time, when he was going through the loss of everything that the experienced, you remember he lost everything all in one short period of time: his family, all of his funds, his health, everything. The only thing was left was his wife. And I often thought that God leaving his wife was the biggest curse he ever got, you know, because she was a real pain. And she was chiding him one day about all of the suffering he was going through and telling him what a terrible thing it was that God had treated him this way, and Job turned to his wife and I can almost see this conversation in my mind's eye.
Job chapter 2, verse 10: Job turned to his wife "and he said to her, 'You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?' In all this Job did not sin with his lips". What a wise man he was. We all rejoice when everything's good and we're so thankful but can you learn from God how to be thankful that in the midst of the storm God's there. I'll tell you the truth. God is never closer to you than he is when you're going through adversity and you almost feel sorry for people who have never been in that place to see and to sense the wonderful provision of God.
Warren Wiersbe, one of my good friends, has a sharp pen and he wrote this. He said, "God balances our lives by giving us enough blessings to keep us happy and enough burdens to keep us humble. If all we had were blessing in our hands," he said, "we'd fall right over, so the Lord balances the blessing in our hands with burdens on our backs. That helps us keep steady, and as we yield to him, sometimes we can even turn the burdens into blessings". Now do you get a visual picture of that? What would happen to you if God just gave you all blessings? You'd all be bent over, you wouldn't be able to walk, you'd be all, but God gives you blessings and then he gives you burdens.
Now you can kind of stand up and you can be straight. So be thankful for the wisdom God gives you to understand his providence in your life. And then Solomon adds, if I might paraphrase, "Don't even think about it. You will never figure God out anyway so don't even try to think about it. Don't worry about it. He knows the future, you don't, so just let God be God and you be you". Wisdom to deal with prosperity, wisdom to deal with providence. And then he adds his third thought in verses 15 through 18: wisdom to deal with the puzzles of life. Now, you know, life is full of puzzles. Did you know that? Every day there's a puzzle, things you can't figure out. One of the puzzles he talks about in verse 15 is the puzzle of reversed rewards.
Notice: "I have seen everything," he said, "in my days of vanity: There is a just man who perishes in his righteousness, and there's a wicked man who prolongs life in his wickedness". We've dealt with this one before in this series so I won't stay here long. But why do the wicked prosper and why do the righteous suffer, Solomon says. He wants us to know that we are only seeing the outside of this puzzle, that we must get beneath the surface of this in order to understand what God is up to. And the fact is, we never are able to do all of that in this life.
Listen to what king Solomon says in the 11th chapter of this book we are studying, in verse 5. He said: "As you do not know what is the way of the wind, or how the bones grow in the womb of her who is with child, so you do not know the works of God who makes everything". You don't. You can't figure it out. Does that bother you? You know, at first it bothered me but now it doesn't bother me anymore. It makes me just so excited that I have a God who's so awesome that in my infinite wisdom which is pretty finite, I can't comprehend him. Why? His ways are higher than my ways. His thoughts than my thoughts. He's the inscrutable God of history.
That's why I worship him. If I could fully understand him he would be no more of a God than I am. He's the God of history, the God of providence, the God I worship, the God I give gratitude for all that he does, even though I don't always understand it. We know that God is loving, we know that God cares about his children, and at the same time we know that God is powerful, he can do anything he wants. How God's love and his power are blended together to create his will we do not know and we cannot know. Solomon says we need to accept it. Remember, do not let what you can't understand keep you from enjoying what you have from God. Remember the woodcutter. You only see a fragment. Remember what he said? You people are obsessed with judging. Don't go so far. Who knows if it's a blessing or a curse? No one knows. We only have a fragment. Life comes in fragments as the woodcutter.
Well, that's the puzzle of reversed rewards and now we come to the puzzle of righteous rhetoric. And this is really one of the most difficult passages in the book of Ecclesiastes, and it's the most misinterpreted passage in the entire book. Listen to what Solomon says in verses 16 and 18 and you won't have to ask me why it's misinterpreted after you read it with me. "Do not be overly righteous, do not be overly wise: why should you destroy yourself? Do not be overly wicked, nor be foolish: why should you die before your time? It is good that you grasp this, and also not remove your hand from the other; for he who fears God will escape them all".
Now many liberal scholars say, "Oh, here's the proof text. What you need is moderate holiness. Let's all applaud mediocrity. Don't be very good and don't be very bad; just be medium". Have you ever talked to anybody like that? Sometimes you'll talk to somebody about their walk with the Lord, you say, "Do you know God"? And what do they say? "Well, I'm not as bad as a lot of people I know and I'm surely not as good as some people I know. I guess I'm just sort of medium". They use this as their text. I'll tell you what, medium won't get you into heaven. It won't. Medium will send you straight to hell. You can be medium and get there just as fast as if you're wicked because it's not saying, "Just be partially good, don't be totally bad".
What Solomon is saying here is in the Hebrew language, it's reflexive and he's saying, "Whatever you do, don't go around bragging about how good you are and don't go around bragging about how humble you are. Don't be filled with righteousness that's self-centered. Don't be wise in your own eyes," as he mentions in the book of Proverbs. Don't be going around telling everybody how good you are. And on the other hand, don't be going around bragging about how bad you are. That's not where it's coming from. The fact is, this verse is not cautioning against being too righteous. It's warning us against righteous rhetoric that's not backed up by righteous living.
Solomon has made it clear in verse 20 that there aren't any righteous people so he can't be talking here about true righteousness. He's speaking out against the self-righteousness of the hypocrite and the false wisdom of the proud, and in both cases, these sins lead to destruction. The way to avoid the ditch of self-righteousness and false humility is to stay in the middle. And the middle of the road is verse 18: "It is good for you that you grasp this, and also not remove your hand from the other; for he who fears God will escape them all".
How do you keep from coming off self, have you ever been around a self-righteous person? Oh my, our churches are full of 'em. I mean, you can see it dripping off of 'em when they walk up to you. They even have a little church voice. Have you noticed? Oh, you know, God spare us from those folks. He's saying don't get caught up in self-righteousness and don't be walking around bad-mouthing yourself all the time. What you need to do is walk in the fear of God. That's what Solomon is saying. Stay off each of the side roads and stay on the center road. Fear God and walk with him. But he says you better grab hold of that one. Grasp that one with your hands.
Well, I gotta hurry or we're not gonna get finished. Thank God for the perspective of wisdom, verses 11 through 18, and now let's finish up this chapter and thank God for the power of wisdom. He's gonna talk to us here about how wisdom, while it doesn't solve everything, and it doesn't give you the answers to all the questions you wish you had answers to, wisdom, first of all, gives you perspective as we've learned. Helps you understand providence. It helps you understand prosperity. Helps you figure out some of the puzzles or at least understand what they're all about. But now Solomon's gonna teach us that wisdom also has a power resident in it.
He says in verses 19 and 20: "Wisdom strengthens the wise more than ten rulers of the city. There's not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin". Wisdom to deal with the problems we encounter. The wise person fears the Lord so much that he has power. He is fearing the Lord so much he doesn't fear any man at all. Yeah, that's the kind of a power you need. I fear God so much I don't fear man at all. He walks with the Lord, he's confident that he was gonna be all right, he faces the sinfulness of man and the problem of his own sin. He finds his answers in his God because that is where his Spirit reverence is centered. He is strengthened by his wisdom and he becomes more powerful than ten rulers of the city. He faces problems with confidence because he knows his God. What is it the Old Testament says? They that know their God shall do exploits.
When you know God, you can be strong, not worry about what else people are saying. I always think about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the Old Testament who were told if they didn't bow down they were gonna burn. They didn't bow down and they were supposed to burn but they didn't. And they basically said, "You know, we serve a great God. If he wants to deliver us, fine. If he doesn't, it's okay. He's our God and we trust him and we're not afraid of you, Nebuchadnezzar". When you know God, you can be strong. You can be confident. You can have the wisdom to deal with the problems you encounter.
Here's one that every one of us will get into, verses 21 and 22: wisdom to deal with the people you employ. "Do not take to heart everything people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. For many times, also, your own heart has known that even you have cursed others". Now this is a great, just everyday, kinda good-to-use wisdom. Look up here for a moment, but all of us can take a dose of this, including the pastor. Especially the pastor. Don't get concerned about what people say about you. I quit reading the notes on the back of the bulletin things that are nasty. I get my secretary to read 'em and if they're not good I tell her to throw 'em away.
You say, "Pastor, you shouldn't do that". Well, it keeps me right. Keeps me going forward, you know? So if you wanna write a nasty note, it'll be good for you to do it and get it out of your system but don't think it's gonna hurt me 'cause I ain't gonna see it. Ha, ha, ha. I'm having a little fun with you about this but listen to what Solomon is saying. He's saying don't pay attention to the gossip of the day 'cause you know in your own heart that you've sometimes said things that would not be acceptable to others as well. That's what he says: "For many times, you also, your own heart has known that even you have cursed others".
One man said, "I never worry about people who say evil things about me because I know a lot more stuff about me than they do and it's worse than what they're saying," amen? And Solomon says, "Let's be honest. If we get upset when people talk about us, we're holding them to a higher standard than we hold ourselves 'cause we're prone to do the same thing". Isn't that true? Just when you feel upset 'cause somebody's talking about you, you're talking about them. Wisdom to deal with problems we encounter with the people we employ.
Here's the third one: wisdom to deal with perplexities we experience. He says in verses 23 to 25: "All this I have proved by wisdom. I said, 'I will be wise'; but it was far from me. As for that which is far off and exceedingly deep, who can find it out? I applied my heart to know, to search and seek out wisdom and the reason of things, to know the wickedness of folly, even the foolishness of madness". Solomon says, "I can't understand all these things". There's a whole book full of stuff here that he said he doesn't understand but, you know what, he's okay with it because he understands his God. And his God is in charge of all understanding. It's like that old phrase we used to use when I was growing up as a boy: "I don't know about the future but I know who holds the future. I know him".
Solomon is telling us don't get obsessed with the things you can't understand because if you keep trying to do that, you will just drive yourself crazy. There's so much about this world and this life we can't comprehend but the one thing we do know is that God is good. Remember that little trilogy: God's plan is good, his purpose is clear, but his program's mysterious. I'm gonna live in the first two and let him deal with the third. I love his plan and his purpose. I know that. I don't understand sometimes what he's up to, but that's all right. Wisdom to deal with the problems we encounter and the people we employ and the perplexities we experience, and now number four, and last, wisdom to deal with the pitfalls we escape.
Notice verses 26 through 29. This almost seems like it's out of place in this chapter, but it's not. He said, "And I find more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God shall escape from her, but the sinner shall be trapped by her". Solomon ends this chapter on a really strange note but, especially you men, listen up. This is for all of us. Listen carefully. He talks about the power of wisdom to keep us out of illicit relationships. 'Cause wisdom will keep you from falling into the pit, being snared into an illicit relationship or wisdom will keep you out of an affair, that's what he's saying.
Ray Stedman, a pastor who used to pastor up in the northern part of California who's now with the Lord, wrote in one of his writings about Ecclesiastes, he said, "Solomon was trapped himself by sexual seductions. He went looking for love. Many a man or woman can echo what he is saying. He went looking for love and thought he would find it in a relationship with a woman. He went looking for that which would support him, strengthen him, and make him feel life was worth the living but what he found was nothing but a fleeting sexual thrill. He found himself involved with a woman who did not give him what he was looking for at all. He still felt the same empty loneliness as before". Solomon says, "Be wise, men. Don't get caught up in the idea that the grass is greener on the other side. Don't get caught up and think that you can find meaning and happiness and fulfillment and all that you've been looking for in some woman who's not your wife".
One day, a guy asked me, he says, "Well, Pastor Jeremiah, what if I married the wrong woman"? And I always say the same thing: "If you're married, you're married to the right woman". And you just settle that and get rid of that discussion right there. You better honor that woman and don't let the devil get you caught up in the idea that you can find something better somewhere else 'cause it never really happens that way. It comes with a bitter, bitter price. That's just the way it is. You look back and some of you, I'm not picking on any of you who've had difficult times in your life, maybe you've been through a divorce and you come to church here and you know we love you and serve you and work with you and don't even think about you being any different than the rest of us except if we could sit down over a cup of coffee in the Curbside Café here and talk about what it's like, you would tell your story.
And your story would be filled with God's grace in helping you through this, giving you another chance, but it would also be filled with a sorrow that goes almost to the point of the sorrow of death of a relationship that once was and is no more. And those of us who have been blessed and God has been gracious to us for that not to have happened know what it's like to look back over a long life of marriage together and remember the discoveries and remember the intimacies and remember the joys and remember the growth and remember all the things that we shared together, every memory on the same page. Because we've developed this thing together through life.
Solomon is saying don't let somebody steal that from you because of having a bad day at home or your wife had a bad hair day or whatever, I don't know. Because what you have with that partner of yours is so special you need to step back and take a look at it and give thanks to God. Can I get a witness, amen, amen. Let me just tell you something. When I read all of these things about wisdom in the Old Testament, I'm thankful I'm a Old Testament student and a New Testament saint. Because you know what the Bible says in the New Testament? Listen to me carefully. "In Jesus Christ," watch this, Colossians 2: "In Jesus Christ are all the treasures of the wisdom of God".
Do you know when you're facing all these issues and you don't know what to do? You accept the fact that you're finite, you're human. We all are. We don't have the capacity to understand Almighty God. But you know what? We know Jesus Christ. He's the wisdom of God and he put his Holy Spirit in us. When we accept Christ, we get Jesus Christ and his Spirit comes to live within us. And he is the one who is the discerner in our lives. You say, "Do you have absolute wisdom"? No, but I'll be just bold enough to tell you, I've got more wisdom than somebody that doesn't know Christ 'cause I got Christ. And I wouldn't know how to get through life, as messed up as it is today, if I didn't have Jesus Christ living in my heart.
I know that I can go to him at any time and he'll help me sort things out. He won't give me all the truth that there is. He'll just give me enough to help me know what to do for this day. He gives it to me like the manna in the Old Testament, just enough, one day at a time. Isn't that wonderful? And so I wanna tell you that one of the things I learned about life when I read the book of Ecclesiastes is that you don't wanna go through life under the sun without God. You wanna go through the life with the Son, S-O-N, with Jesus Christ. And if you've never trusted Christ as your Savior, I wanna urge you today. You think life can't get better. Oh, it can get a lot better, even right here. He's come to give you abundant life, life more abundantly.