Wisdom, Pt. 2

  • Steve Hatter
the Cross

Last week, I took on the question of “what is wisdom?” If you saw that blog post, I began explaining King Solomon’s inspired message in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon had been given a supernatural gift of wisdom by God early in his reign as King of Israel. Unfortunately, “the smartest man ever,” squandered his wisdom in disobedience, and both he and Israel suffered.

The Book of Ecclesiastes was Solomon’s late-in-life reflections regarding his own failings. He sought meaning in worldly pursuits apart from God—work, pleasure, health, wealth, power, and other endeavors—only to find his effort and energy ultimately leading to wastes, or vanity. Solomon, in a broader sense, also wrote to offer perspective regarding the vagaries of human existence since Adam’s fall in the Garden of Eden.

In fallen creation, wherein men can never fully know what eternal God is doing or why, the Ecclesiastes message mirrored the conundrum of the Old Testament Book of Job. Job was challenged to trust and surrender to God, even as he suffered greatly. Solomon, as God’s inspired scribe, landed on three “helps” for the Old Testament saint living under the curse—even as God worked His longsuffering redemption plan for all creation in His timing— “Fear God, Work, and Enjoy Good Gifts.”

Fear God

Proverbs 9:10 says: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”

I went deeper into the doctrines of fearing God last week, but Proverbs tightly makes the case that any life apart from humble submission to God was then—and remains today—doomed to frustration, pointlessness, and meaningless death.

However, Solomon wished to tell the Jewish believer who was in humble submission to God, that he could yet live in the cursed creation with purpose, and even joy, albeit limited. Such purpose and joy were found through understanding work and God’s good gifts, and here is where we will go to finish Part 2.

Work: Joy and Frustration

God gave Adam work to accomplish before the fall (Gen 2:15)—which was a good blessing—but part of the punishment for his sin was that man’s work would become painful toil. The gift of work was tarnished with sin, and therefore, Genesis 3:17–19 gives the reason every man on earth, past and present, has a work-is-painful narrative to tell:

“…cursed is the ground because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17–19)

Both realities were borne out in Solomon’s experience, as he found his work to be both satisfying as well as aggravating. His message to the Old Testament saint was this: A man’s understanding regarding the blunt truth that work is both blessing and curse—for now anyway—and accepting the tension as fixed, was wisdom needed to navigate life in a seemingly futile temporal existence. How relevant this “wisdom” is today! Practically, the blessing-curse tension in our work means we adjust expectations while we enjoy the fruits of honest labor. Also, we will never find our true identity in our work.

Grateful Enjoyment of God’s Good Gifts

Solomon spent a great deal of time commenting on the twisted realities of a fallen world, but this also helped him to see the beauty of the world God created, and he did not despise God’s good gifts of human relationships, food, drink, and satisfying labor. These gifts, Solomon concluded, were to be received humbly as blessings from God, and a faithful and wise man was to view them as a glimpse of a promised future restoration. So, a proper balancing of the “enjoy life” theme with that of “divine judgment” secured the wise Jew to Yahweh in faith. Hmmmmm, isn’t it true that sometimes the most meaningful and joyful moments in our close God-given relationships can be found in the minute-by-minute weathering of a storm together?

Relevance Today

Solomon’s imbalanced effort to enjoy life’s good things as ends in themselves—an affluent life led without regard for Yahweh’s certain judgments—led him to tragedy. However, God’s grace was yet still evident in that Solomon’s unique gift of unmatched wisdom, applied to his painful experiences at a point later in his life, provided needed wisdom, certainly for the pre-Christ faithful, but also for us today. Despite the seeming futility involved in existence, so says Ecclesiastes, the wise saint should fear God, accept his lot in the fallen creation, and enjoy life as God’s gift to one made in His image.

But as 21st-century believers, who live this side of the cross, we do not have to stop there! Even as the fallen creation ever groans, we know so much more than the saint of old, do we not? We live under the New Covenant of Grace, with God—the source of all wisdom—indwelling our hearts. How much more confident and assured we should be! Not assured in any hope for the sinking ship that is this present world, but in the eternal hope of Christ and our ultimate redemption!

I began my wisdom hunt in First Kings, and I’ll end in the New Testament Book of James.

 James 1:5 says this:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

That method of seeking wisdom is the same way young Solomon received wisdom (as narrated in First Kings), which is instructive. Unfettered by hubris, young Solomon asked for help from a place of acknowledgment of his own weakness. He also aligned his desires with those of God—faithful, unselfish service to others—before asking for a supply of wisdom. Finally, he humbly concluded the source and provider of all wisdom is God. There is simply no other place to go. 

Now, consider what James says just before verse five:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2–5).

A right “ask” for wisdom follows a correct understanding of suffering. Is that not a good word for all of us in quarantine?

We must never misuse the wisdom God gives to us as Solomon did, and it is our faith—in both the Giver of the wisdom and in His just purposes for it—that will keep us right.