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And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. John 8:32

The Value and Use of Wisdom

By H. A. (Buster) Dobbs

"A good name is better than precious oil; and the day of death, than the day of one's birth" (Eccl. 7:1). The preacher claims that a good name is more valuable than sweet smelling spices and costly ointment. Sane people of all generations agree. Society admires an honorable person. Right-thinking-people covet a reputation for integrity.

The preacher surprises us with the statement that death is better than birth. We don't believe the end of life is better than its beginning. We celebrate at birth and we mourn at funerals. Most of us prefer the rejoicing to the weeping. Is it a morbid eccentricity that causes the writer to declare that looking at a corpse is better than looking at new born babies? Why is a sad and heavy heart better than a broad smile and dancing eyes? Who among us prefers to be with the melancholy instead of the happy? Gloom is not as attractive as ecstasy. The preacher is not done with his sermon, and goes on to say, "It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter; for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools. For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity" (Eccl. 7:2-6).

The teacher is not denying the value of a contented heart and a smiling face, but he is saying there are times when somber things teach us necessary lessons. It is true that "a cheerful heart is a good medicine; But a broken spirit drieth up the bones" (Prov. 17:22). Good medicine is better than dried up bones. Still, the revealing message is that going to the "house of mourning" has benefits better than laughter and joy because it helps us to discover the deepest lessons of life. There is a time for joy and there is a time for solemn reflection and prayerful musing. Grief and sorrow have advantages not available in joking and mirth. The preacher is not trying to clip any white-winged joy, but he is admonishing us not to spend our days behaving always like clowns romping around in sawdust rings.

Sorrow is knowledge. It is the great idealizer, a silence in the heart, and an invitation to go to God. "The tears we shed are not in vain, nor worthless is the heavy strife." Affliction is a test of faith and, if wisely borne, works for us stedfastness, approvedness, and hope that brings no shame "because the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given unto us" (Rom. 5:2-5). "Sorrow is better than laughter" because "by sadness of countenance the heart is made glad." When the tears are wiped away, we are closer to the Fountain of Life than we were before, and our quiet hearts overflow with joy.

Tears can produce dignity and greatness of character. Remembering our frailty can drive us into the "everlasting arms." Worshipping God is also a time for a grave countenance. A time for "listening to the silence of eternity, interpreted by love." Like Moses, when we come to the burning bush, we take off our shoes and walk with "bare hushed feet." "God is not a God of confusion but of peace" (1 Cor. 14:33). Therefore in praising him and magnifying his name "let all things be done decently and in order" (1 Cor. 14:40).

Our worship of God must never be rambunctious and irresponsible. The spirit of worship is not a weekend at the lake, nor hubbub, nor raucous celebration, nor mindless jubilation, nor cheering, nor applause. It is a time of quiet, deliberate, personal devotion -- a time to remember -- a time to be serious -- a time to bow our foreheads to the dust. It is not a time to caper around like little children at a birthday party. It is a time to gird up "the loins of your mind, be sober and set your hope perfectly on the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 1:13). In all this there is profound happiness, but it is not expressed in wild abandonment of sanity and sense. It is a heart overflowing with the joy of salvation, astonished by the matchless love of God, and silently laid upon the altar as a living sacrifice. The mirth of fools is "as the crackling of thorns under a pot." Thorns do not make good fuel. They blaze up quickly, make much noise, soon burn up, and do not give enough heat to warm a person or cook a meal. It is vanity. Tragedy helps us to appreciate the "things that are more excellent," get right with God, and have lasting calm and deep down joy. It is simplicity. Now that we have our priorities straight, the preacher gives a sermon on wisdom, obedience, and providence.

"Surely extortion maketh the wise man foolish; and a bribe destroyeth the understanding. Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof; and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry; for anger resteth in the bosom of fools. Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this. Wisdom is as good as an inheritance; yea, more excellent is it for them that see the sun. For wisdom is a defence, even as money is a defense; but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom preserveth the life of him that hath it. Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider; yea, God hath made the one side by side with the other, to the end that man should not find out anything that shall be after him" (Eccl. 7:7-14).

Those who have been to the house of mourning receive this good advice gladly. The preacher tells us, first, that a godly man will rise in righteous indignation to object to despotism. Injustice deserves the wrath of the righteous. The meek and lowly Jesus placed a curse on a fig tree that promised fair, but bore no fruit. The Son of Man drove the merchants and moneychangers out of God's house of prayer. There comes a time when those made wise by sorrow shake a defiant fist in the face of scoundrels. Anger should never spring from personal motives. When men spurn God and pervert his law, when the strong abuse the weak, when "slaves ride on horses while princes walk," it is high time for the pure in heart to make their voices heard and their fury known. No society should tolerate bribes. When elected officials and appointed magistrates walk around with their hands out, the people are in trouble. Giving and taking graft ruins the ability to think and promotes inequity and oppression.

We see but for a moment, but God sees from eternity to eternity. It is unwise for us to be hasty in branding a thing as either good or bad. When all facts are in, then we can make clear eyed evaluations. Meanwhile, we take a farther-along-we'll-know-all-about-it attitude. Patience is a product of humility. People who think too highly of themselves lack the ability to endure wordlessly until the end of a matter. Pride is an enemy of patience. Patience is passion tamed.

Not all anger is evil. God can be a God of wrath. "Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath" (Eph. 4:26). An elder is to "not be soon angry." Most of the time anger brings shame and regret. When we boil in fury, we are in danger of making fools of ourselves. Unbridled anger is a kind of insanity. Righteous indignation is noble, but haughty indignation is imbecility. A hothead is lonely.

Comparing the present to the immediate past is useless. Comparing the church of our day to the ideal church of scripture is necessary. If we follow an approved model, we are approved. It is shortsighted to take as our prototype fallible guides. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who have gone before us. Still, our standard for conduct is the revealed word of God. Our roots are not in the nineteenth century but in the first century. We tend to idealize the days of our fathers and gloss over their mistakes. Our eyes must look back to the beginning of the gospel. We must make inerrant teaching our only measure.

Those who see the sun -- the living -- should count wisdom as better than an inheritance. An inheritance is good, but wisdom is preferable. An inheritance can be spent and nothing remains. We cannot exhaust wisdom because use does not diminish it but expands it. Wisdom and money fortify those who have it. Money can run out, but wisdom runs on. "The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom; And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" (Prov. 9:10). To honor God and obey his commandments is a strong, impenetrable tower. Wisdom conducts us to a place of refuge and keeps us safely in it. Wisdom brings us to the rock of salvation. Unlike wisdom, mammon protects us while it is destroys us.

God's thoughts are not our thoughts; our ways are not God's ways (Isa. 55:8). God does not need our counsel. He made the universe without our help. We may consider the work of God, but we dare not criticize it. We cannot straighten what God has made crooked. Trying to figure out why one man's investment is profitable and another is frustrated by poor timing is a waste. If things are well with you, thank God and go happily along. If you are in distress, learn the lessons of adversity. Those who do not get good health and great prosperity and bouncing joy, may get something far better -- patience, wisdom, and inner peace. We all live under the fallout of life. Whether we enjoy prosperity or suffer adversity is unimportant -- the important thing is how did you live, and how did you die. There are some things in this life we can never fully understand. If they are sweet and pleasant to the taste, rejoice; if they are heavy and hard to bear, endure. The former may leave us empty. The later may give us character. If our lot is to suffer, then let us do it bravely and turn it to our advantage. To wring our hands and question "Why?" is of no benefit.

The preacher has still more lessons for us: "All this have I seen in my days of vanity: there is a righteous man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his evil-doing. Be not righteous overmuch; neither make thyself overwise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself? Be not overmuch wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time? It is good that thou shouldest take hold of this; yea, also from that withdraw not thy hand: for he that feareth God shall come forth from them all (Eccl. 7:15-18). _e gives an exception. Generally, righteousness brings length of days and wickedness brings calamities. Still, the pure in heart and clean of life sometime die early. Jesus "went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil" but died at the age of thirty-three. Right doing does not always guarantee a pleasant and long life.

The wicked may be happy and their children dance in the street. They may live long upon the earth though they let beggars, with rags for garments and dogs for doctors, lie unnoticed at their gates. God continues to control things. Nature's God works through the laws of nature. "Behind the dim unknown, standeth God, within the shadows, keeping watch above his own."

Truth will out. The books will one day be balanced. All wrongs will be righted and all goodness will be rewarded. These are days of vanity -- fleeting, vain days. Earth is full of pain and sorrow. The mystery of it cannot be solved. Yet, we know that God is still in his heaven and all things will turn out right for those who love him and walk in the light of truth.

Let us then be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

Do not be pompous. Over much righteousness is a vexation. Affected holiness is insincere and hypocritical. We cannot be too good nor too righteousness, but we can be too pretentious. The preacher's advise is don't flaunt your religion. Do not be overwise. We cannot, of course, have too much knowledge or wisdom, but we can brag and strut and crow and make ourselves obnoxious. The person who puts his meager knowledge on display destroys himself and slays his own influence for good. A person puffed up and conceited is witless. The self-important person is ignorant of his inconsequence. None of us is essential. When we pull our finger out of the water, no hole is left.

We are cautioned not to be overmuch wicked. The preacher does not mean to approve a certain amount of wickedness. The advice is, "Do not multiply wickedness." The next clause says "do not be foolish" -- not meaning some foolishness, but none at all. The same is true of wickedness. He is not recommending a modest amount of wrong-doing, but is saying leave it alone -- do not increase it. A person abandoned to sin destroys and kills himself. Pay attention, the preacher says, do not make a show of your righteousness or knowledge; do not magnify wickedness; do not be foolish. These things hurt and ruin. A reverence for God will make you turn your back on them.

More meaty sentence sermons flow from the pen of the preacher. "Wisdom is a strength to the wise man more than ten rulers that are in a city. Surely there is not a righteous man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not. Also take not heed unto all words that are spoken, lest thou hear thy servant curse thee; for oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others" (Eccl. 7:19-21). Wisdom is again exalted. True wisdom fears God and keeps his laws. One wise man -- righteous man -- in a city is more valuable than ten mighty men of valor. The fierce, bloodthirsty ruler bent on military solutions, though multiplied by ten, is less valuable to the safety of the people than one man of wisdom. One counselor who respects God and obeys divine commands, and recommends by act and word such conduct for all others, is more helpful than ten warlords.

The teacher loudly proclaims that all men are peccable. The best of men will sometime do wrong things. If any man says that he has no sin, he is a liar and makes God a liar (1 John 1:8-10). Persons boasting sinless perfection demonstrate by their bragging that God's word is not in them.

There are times when we need to make ourselves blind and deaf. If we have a loyal servant or friend who says an unkind thing about us, we do well to ignore it. If we put ourselves into a defensive posture and in an attack mode every time someone castigates us, we will soon be without friends and in individual misery. Our ally, who loves us, will sometimes make a harsh criticism of us. Pay no attention to it. Go on as if nothing had happened. Remember that you, too, have in an incautious moment said nasty things about others, even people you admire. Do not be too quick to take offense. Do not be thin-skinned. Do not "wear your feelings on your sleeve." If your ear is tuned to every word of censure, you will be wretched most of the time.

The sermon continues: "All this have I proved in wisdom: I said, I will be wise; but it was far from me. That which is, is far off and exceeding deep; who can find it out? I turned about, and my heart was set to know and to search out, and to seek wisdom and the reason of things, and to know that wickedness is folly, and that foolishness is madness. And I find more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and whose hands are bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her. Behold, this have I found, saith the Preacher, laying one thing to another, to find out the account; which my soul still seeketh, but I have not found: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found. Behold, this only have I found: that God made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions" (Eccl. 7:23-29). Everything the preacher has said up to this point in the sermon is wisdom, but now he seeks to unravel the irregularities of life, only to discover his limitations. Some things are too wonderful for man. He may not probe the concealed laws by which God conducts much of the business of the universe. This wise man acknowledges his ignorance. The "far off and exceeding deep" things are beyond the reach of mortals. We need not fret over the unrevealed. Understanding our limitations and accepting them makes sense.

The preacher turned about -- traveled in another direction -- gave up on trying to know the unknowable -- and attempted to find the "wisdom and the reason of things." He discovered that sin is deceptive. "Wickedness is folly, and foolishness is madness." Sin is idiocy. We all know that. Still, we sin! We make ourselves idiots! The absurdity of it cannot be exaggerated. We let sin make fools out of us.

The preacher found that more distasteful than death is a woman who sets out to entice others to sin. She is doubly dangerous because of her wiles and endowments. She can more easily undermine and vandalize because of her fatal attractions. The wicked woman is to be shuddered at and avoided by all who seek to please God. She is a dangerous enemy from whom we must escape. The person whose breast responds to the enchantress is doomed to sin and be a fool, which is lunacy. The witch cannot work her scheme unless the sinner's heart beats with her heart. Femme fatale!

Searching diligently and comparing point by point, the preacher found only one man in a thousand to be honorable, and not even that many women. He discovered that God made man moral, but the creature has worked hard and constantly to invent many engines of iniquity. God gave man intellect and man used it to demolish himself, when he could have used it to honor his maker. The obscene inventions of man are amazing. He works hard to earn his own agony and loss.

The preacher drives his point home: "Who is as the wise man? and who knoweth the interpretation of a thing? A man's wisdom maketh his face to shine, and the hardness of his face is changed. I counsel thee, Keep the king's command, and that in regard of the oath of God. Be not hasty to go out of his presence; persist not in an evil thing: for he doeth whatsoever pleaseth him. For the king's word hath power; and who may say unto him, What doest thou? Whoso keepeth the commandment shall know no evil thing; and a wise man's heart discerneth time and judgment: for to every purpose there is a time and judgment; because the misery of man is great upon him: for he knoweth not that which shall be; for who can tell him how it shall be? There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power over the day of death; and there is no discharge in war: neither shall wickedness deliver him that is given to it" (Eccl. 8:1-8). The preacher declares there is no point in grumbling and resisting. Wisdom decrees submission to duly formed authority. The wise person has a bright, happy face. He knows when to resist and he knows when defiance is moronic.

God appoints that there shall be government (Rom. 13:1-7). He does not appoint a particular government, for a particular people, at a particular point in history, but he does ordain that society shall have enforceable rules and regulations. Otherwise, society is a donkey set for its own destruction. We cannot survive lawlessness. _he preacher advises us to obey the king. The exception is, of course, when the earthly king's edicts differ from the Heavenly King's orders. "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). If the rules of society do not conflict with Bible teaching, we keep the king's commandments. "Be not hasty to go out of the king's presence." A heavy burden is better than mutiny. Rebellion comes only when circumstances leave no alternative. The king has authority and "beareth not the sword in vain." It is not wise to enter hastily into an unequal contest. Honoring the ruler makes life easy. Defying the magistrate may result in forty stripes save one. Still, there is to every purpose time and judgment. If obeying the governor means insulting God, then the same rule of submitting to the greatest authority demands putting God's kingdom and his righteousness first.

The time and judgment argument dictates being quiet even under evil rulers. If obeying the king does not blemish our personal piety, then to endure wordlessly is better than tasting the wrath of the jailer. "Keep the commandment (of the civil ruler) and feel no evil thing." If you do not use good judgment and observe conditions, then your misery will be great upon you. The person who does not carefully note the signs of the times does not know what the future holds and no sage can inform him. If he behaves foolishly, the blow will come, but he knows not when.

The preacher reminds us that we also live under the dominion of still another tyrant. We have no power over the wind to control and direct it, and neither do we have power over death. Death, in the Old Testament, is the "king of terrors." Death, in the New Testament, has its sting removed. We do not know when the pale rider will make his unannounced visit, but we do know that "it is appointed unto man once to die."

Our victory in Jesus makes the thought of death pale into unimportance. It is a small and insignificant thing because Jesus came out of the grave. He promises "all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth." We must die, but the righteous do not fear it. Still, we are under the authority of this inevitable end of human flesh.

You cannot get out from under the rule of the king nor the control of death. When the battle is hot, there is no discharge from the army. Every soldier is pressed into service and none is given respite. The rest comes when the battle is over and done. The crown of life is promised to those who are "faithful unto death" and come from the war with shields undented and swords unsheathed to lay their trophies down at Jesus' feet. We will one day exchange the cross for a crown.

Wickedness is also unrelenting and will not voluntarily release his hold on the hapless sinner. If you are given to iniquity, you are its slave (Rom. 6:16).

"All this have I seen, and applied my heart unto every work that is done under the sun: there is a time wherein one man hath power over another to his hurt. So I saw the wicked buried, and they came to the grave; and they that had done right went away from the holy place, and were forgotten in the city: this also is vanity. Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. Though a sinner do evil a hundred times, and prolong his days, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, that fear before him: but it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God" (Eccl. 8:9-13).

The preacher studied the matter thoughtfully and came to the conclusion that when one man persecutes another it works to the hurt of both, the oppressor and the oppressed suffer. He noted that the wicked rich may be buried with pomp and show but are just as dead as the righteous poor. They may have once done right but went away from the holy place and now lie forgotten in their narrow house.

We lie down in death with "patriarchs of the infant world -- with kings -- the powerful of the earth -- the wise, the good, fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past, all in one mighty sepulcher." At death our earthly form will "mix forever with the elements; to be a brother to the insensible rock, and to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain turns with his share, and treads upon." Death is the great equalizer. The blessed dead in Christ can be sure that "their works follow with them" (Rev. 14:13).

Here is another form of craziness. Because the evil person is not immediately struck down in the midst of his iniquity, his heart is set on sin. If every liar, like Ananias and Sapphira, were to fall dead as soon as the lie was in their mouth, there would be no living liars. That's true of all sin. If this rule was invariably applied, the earth would be denuded of people, for "all sin and fall short of the glory of God." Therefore, sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily and, dumb as a dove, man puts his hand to corruption, deliberately ignorant that a day of final judgment comes. Man, set on sin, consoles himself with the thought that the time of accounting is far away.

A sinner may seem to get away with his evil a hundred times, but the long arm of justice will some day overtake him. Reckoning time may be far away but it is not escapable. Doom comes at last! The only persons who can rest easy are those who "fear God, that fear before him." In spite of appearances, it will be well with the righteous in the long run. "The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away." "It shall not be well with the wicked ... because he feareth not before God." His days shall not be prolonged, but are as a fleeting shadow. The preacher emphasizes the importance of fearing God, for to fear him is to keep his commandments.

"There is a vanity which is done upon the earth, that there are righteous men unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there are wicked men to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also is vanity. Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be joyful: for that shall abide with him in his labor all the days of his life which God hath given him under the sun" (Eccl. 8:14-15). The vanity is that the good often suffer the penalty due the wicked; and the wicked often reap the reward due the righteous. This also is folly, says the preacher. The working of divine providence is insoluble. The mystery may not be known. The law that directs God's moral government of the universe is unfathomable.

The advisement of the teacher is, "Don't worry about things over which you have no control." Do right, and accept any consequence. Enjoy the lawful pleasures God provides. "Eat, drink and be joyful." He is not promoting veiled Epicureanism. He does not commend a licentious life. He is simply saying that God has given us simple, lawful pleasures, and we need to make use of them. God expects us to be happy and therefore commands us to rejoice (Phil. 4:4). If we earn our living and shelter our heads in righteousness, we can expect contentment. Be holy as God is holy. Eat, drink, and be joyful.

"When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done upon the earth (for also there is that neither day nor night seeth sleep with his eyes), then I beheld all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because however much a man labor to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea moreover, though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it" (Eccl. 8:16-17). Though we work at it with sleepless eyes, we cannot trace with our finger the providence of God. The wisest of the wise who think to know it, "yet shall he not be able to find it." Conclusion: Fear God and keep his commandments for this is your whole duty.


H. A. "Buster" Dobbs, email: had@worldnet.att.net
P. O. Box 690192
Houston, Texas 77269-0192
(281) 469-3540

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