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Lamentations 2: Listen to the Right People

Lamentations 2 demonstrate some of what it is like to fall under the judgment of God. I think it is sufficient to say that it is not a place you want to find yourself. God is certainly loving, but He is also a God of justice.

However, there is one thing that stood out to me about this entire chapter. The people of Judah were certainly responsible for their actions. After all, they had the Law, and they could have come back to God, but there was a major problem.

Lam 2:14  Thy prophets have seen vain and foolish things for thee: and they have not discovered thine iniquity, to turn away thy captivity; but have seen for thee false burdens and causes of banishment.

The advice that the leaders of Judah were taking was false. They were listening to people who told them things, but they were not things from God. These advisors were not recognizing the problems that were present because they were not obviously looking at what God had provided.

How often can this happen to any one of us? We need to be very careful about who we are listening to. We need to be careful that the advisors we are listening to actually base their advice on the word of God and not on other purposes. We are not necessarily told here where these advisors were coming from, but they were not pointing out what was going wrong in Judah.

When we are not being told that we are going down the wrong road but are actually being encouraged to continue on that way, we are probably going to find ourselves in a situation like the people of Judah. As has already been established, you don’t want to be on that side of God. The consequences of disobeying God are not pleasant.

The point of this is to be very discerning of who we listen to. Obviously, we are ultimately responsible for our own actions and reactions to advice given by others, but how much better is it to have people who are encouraging you in the right direction? Having brothers and sisters in Christ who are helping you stay on track rather than encouraging you to continue in your sin is a wonderful thing.

Isaiah 5: Bought into a Lie

As we have been going through Isaiah, there has been a lot of talk about the impending judgment that is coming towards the people of Israel for their disobedience. In the middle of chapter 5, Isaiah begins listening the kinds of people who are going to have a hard time in this judgment. Two of them stood out to me as not only true about the people of Israel at that point in history, but also types of people that still exist in the world today.

Isa 5:20  Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

Isa 5:21  Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!

I thought about the first one in terms of the moral relativism that is becoming more and more prevalent in our society. We have fallen into the trap where we really don’t want to say that anything is right or wrong. We don’t really want to call anything evil or anything good. You can say that you prefer something or don’t prefer something else, but don’t you dare say that something is absolutely wrong. It didn’t work out too well for Israel when they started doing this. It really led to a moral crisis.

The second one kind of goes with that. We don’t have any kind of moral bottom line because we all individually know what is best. We have fallen into the myth that each individual is so wise that we don’t need any kind of standard. We are so wise in our own eyes that we have pushed aside the ultimate giver of wisdom.

Isn’t it interesting that history has a tendency to repeat itself? Human nature is just as broken now as it was in the time of Isaiah. Humans do bad things, and that has not improved over time. I would love to say that we are advancing towards a universal understanding that God is the absolute moral lawgiver. I would love to say that everyone on earth was understanding the truth of Christianity. That simply isn’t true. Our world has bought into many lies, and this passage made me think of the few of them.

Ecclesiastes 10: Watch What We Say

The Bible has a lot to say about how we relate to each other, and in Ecclesiastes 10, we hear about how important it is to make sure we choose our words wisely.

Ecc 10:11  Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler is no better.

Ecc 10:12  The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself.

Ecc 10:13  The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness: and the end of his talk is mischievous madness.

Ecc 10:14  A fool also is full of words: a man cannot tell what shall be; and what shall be after him, who can tell him?

It is very similar to the basic message that we have been hearing from Proverbs among other places. People who are wise are gracious with their words. Fools tend to get themselves in trouble by what they say. It begins with simple foolishness, but if it goes unchecked, it can turn into madness.

The obvious lesson for us today is that we need to strive after wisdom. Notice that how we speak is related to if we are wise or foolish. Our words will be a consequence of the person that we are. It makes me think about how people know we are Christians. One way should be in our words. We should be wise in what we say. We should be gracious. We should not be saying things that swallow us up.

I am not talking about some kind of works-based salvation, but as a Christian, there ought to be evidences of a changed life, and our words are one thing that can be an evidence.

This was a review, but it cannot be emphasized enough. It is amazing how many Christian leaders or just average Christians like you or me have had their testimonies destroyed by what they say. We don’t need that to happen anymore.

Ecclesiastes 9: Being Average

I like the fact that Ecclesiastes 9 ends with a kind of parable.

Ecc 9:13  This wisdom have I seen also under the sun, and it seemed great unto me:

Ecc 9:14  There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it:

Ecc 9:15  Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man.

Ecc 9:16  Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.

Ecc 9:17  The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools.

Ecc 9:18  Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good.

I think most of us have probably lived through something like this. We had a great idea that made a big difference. Maybe we haven’t literally saved a city, but we have all done something at some point that made a difference for someone.

However, I assume that most of people who are going to be reading this are pretty normal people. I doubt I have any international power players among my readership. If you are just an average person, even though you might do something great, you fade back into the shadows. That is the end of verse 15, and experientially, we know it is true. You hear about it on the news. Someone is a hero and saves the life of another person. Perhaps he or she even displayed a great deal of wisdom in figuring out how to save that person. After a day or two, that story is old news, and the average person goes back to being an average person.

That’s verse 17. Those of us who are average do things quietly, but we that doesn’t mean we are not important. God uses people who work in quiet to do great things. He has given us all abilities, and we are all supposed to use them. It is interesting how some people become famous while others do not, but when we use the wisdom that God has given us, we can do great things.

Ecclesiastes 7: Praise We Have Earned

I know that some people will deny this, but I think it’s pretty fair to say that most of us have had quite a bit of praise in our lives. It might not be as much as we want, but all of us can at least think of a time where someone praised us for doing something really well.

Why did that praise mean anything?

I guess I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, all praise is not created equal. Sometimes, it means an awful lot when someone gives me a compliment, and other times, while it is certainly appreciated, it doesn’t mean quite as much.

Why is there a difference?

I think that for me, when I receive a compliment from someone who I know is sincere, it means more. When I receive a compliment from someone I respect, that means a lot. When I receive a compliment from someone who doesn’t hand out compliments easily, it means a lot.

I think this is what we are supposed to understand from Ecclesiastes 7. Obviously, we should be grateful for whatever praise people are willing to give to us, but I think that some praise means more than others.

Ecc 7:5  It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools.

Ecc 7:6  For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity.

It is interesting that this passage even goes one step further. We might like praise, but it is better to be rebuked by the wise than praised by the foolish. Why? The praise of the foolish is basically worthless. There is really nothing for you to gain from that praise. On the contrary, even though it might not be as pleasant to be corrected, when that comes from the wise, you are going to be better off than you were before.

Ecclesiastes 4: Social Justice

Social justice has become a popular topic in both Christian and secular circles recently. It can be a little bit hard to pin down a definition for this concept, but the basic idea is to obviously emphasize the need for justice and fairness in society.

This is not a new concept though. Look at the beginning of Ecclesiastes 4.

Ecc 4:1  So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter.

Ecc 4:2  Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive.

Ecc 4:3  Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.

While it is certainly an obvious point, there are a lot of bad things that happen. There are things like oppression. There are things like injustice. There are things like evil in the world. Solomon recognized that even in his day, and these things obviously had an effect on him.

He went as far as to say that because of some of the situations on earth, it was better to be dead than alive. Today, if people start talking like that, we worry that they might be suicidal. This is some serious stuff here. He was incredibly disturbed by this.

Notice what is never mentioned this passage. We never hear about God. We hear about the lack of a comforter, but we never hear about God specifically. That’s interesting.

Let’s try to find some synthesis here. When we read through Proverbs, I think it was rather obvious that God was the one who provided purpose. He provided the wisdom and the direction. Now, we have a passage that speaks to a life without purpose. It might as well be over, and God is not mentioned whatsoever.

I’m not going to lie and say that society is a perfect place. That would ruin whatever shred of credibility I might have. However, I will say that when God is involved, there is hope and purpose. There is a promise that we will live for all eternity in a better society with a perfect ruler who is not oppressive. We still ought to work to meet the present better and to help people as much as we can. However, when God is involved, the future looks great.

Ecclesiastes 1: The Frustration of Wisdom

Welcome to Ecclesiastes! We don’t start off with the happiest chapter in the Bible, but I think that most of the time we think that gain the knowledge is a good thing. We see a little different perspective here.

Ecc 1:16  I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.

Ecc 1:17  And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.

Ecc 1:18  For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

This is problematic. The more wisdom you gain, the more grief you develop. The same applies to knowledge and sorrow. Why?

I have heard it said in academia that one of the most frustrating parts of working on your PhD is the fact that as you learn more and more about your field, the more you realize that you really don’t know very much at all. Sure, your knowledge might be growing, but your awareness of everything else is growing as well. You realize that there is almost an infinite number of things you don’t know.

It seems that that might be the problem here. We are hearing Solomon say that he has more wisdom than any other ruler in Jerusalem thanks to the intervention of God. We also see in verse 17 that he set his heart to find wisdom. He was continually trying to learn more and was committed to that pursuit. Again, this is a lot like that PhD. This was a big commitment for him.

However, on some level it irritated him. In verse 17 it talks about this pursuit is a vexation. It is apparently frustrating just to have wisdom. That is not enough to bring happiness. All the wisdom in the world cannot do that. That reflects the sentiment from verse 14.

Ecc 1:14  I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.

All the works under the sun are simply vanity and a vexation. It is not enough just to have works or to have just wisdom. There needs to be something more than that which is of this world. Fortunately, as Christians, we know that there is someone who is greater and can provide the purpose that makes everything more than mere vanity.

Proverbs 27: Watch Where We Are Going

I wrote about being discerning in our endorsements the other day, but today we also need to be discerning in what we do and where we go. Proverbs 27 counsels us that it is wise to be aware. It is wise to realize where you are heading and what the consequences might be.

Pro 27:12  A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself; but the simple pass on, and are punished.

I think it is most of us would agree that this is simply common sense. If you are walking towards something evil, it is wise if you can see it coming and avoid the problem. If you are simple or not so bright, you are going to miss the warning and end up right in the middle of the imminent trap.

It is amazing how often we violate this concept even though almost everyone would agree that it is common sense. I know I have done that. You walk into a bad situation, and you know that the situation isn’t going to lead anywhere productive, but you still keep walking ahead. Sometimes this is a result of misplaced optimism, but sometimes this is caused by our own ignorance. We miss the obvious simply because we are not paying attention.

Let me tell you, I think this is one of the most dangerous traps that Satan uses. He leads us into evil, and we don’t even realize where we are headed. We are just overly naïve. We don’t truly discern and seriously consider the consequences. We figure it is no big deal.

That is right where Satan wants us. Our defenses are not up, and we are vulnerable. We need to rely on God to provide us with the wisdom to avoid these traps. As we remember from the beginning of this book, wisdom does come from God, so if we want it, we know the source.

Proverbs 24: Discerning Right and Wrong

Proverbs 24 is interesting on a few levels. I want to focus on a few verses near the end though.

Pro 24:24  He that saith unto the wicked, Thou art righteous; him shall the people curse, nations shall abhor him:

Pro 24:25  But to them that rebuke him shall be delight, and a good blessing shall come upon them.

There are a few things going on here. On one hand, the one who calls the wicked man righteous is being dishonest. Perhaps he doesn’t know any better, but the people did not appreciate that he either is denying or not perceptive enough to recognize the wickedness of the other man.

I think that is the first lesson there. I think that we need to make sure that we aren’t too fast to judge. Generally, you think about it in the other direction. We tend to be excited about condemning people. However, it can work in the other way as well. We can be so anxious to say that someone is right that we actually don’t take time for discernment.

The discernment brings up the remainder of the first verse and the second verse. People appreciate discernment. I know that sometimes we get so tied up and not offending anybody that we don’t want to take a stand on anything. However, this verse seems to be advising us in the opposite direction. If we see something wrong, we need to take action to prevent it or at least deter it.

Here is a very drastic scenario that might help. What would you say if I said that Adolf Hitler was a righteous man? You would rightfully be very upset at me. Why would you be mad at me? You would be upset because I obviously have no sense of right or wrong.

Now, if I said that Adolf Hitler committed atrocious crimes and was truly a reprehensible human being, you would be more likely to agree with me. Why? I would be taking a moral position again something that is wrong. I am calling the wicked wicked.

I used a drastic example, but I think that you can see how this applies. We are not called to immediately take a neutral position on all moral issues. Rather, we are called to discern.

Proverbs 18: Follow Your Heart?

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I grew up watching a lot of the traditional Disney classics. I still like them now, but there is one thing that is theologically troubling about most if not all of these films. It seems as if every character is always advised by some old-mentor type person or animal to follow his or her heart. Just look inside, and you will find the answer you’re looking for.

I have a problem with that because the human heart is not a very good thing on its own. Apart from God, there is nothing good in us. Proverbs 18 has some strong words to say about this kind of thing.

Pro 18:2  A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself.

A fool doesn’t really care about true understanding. A fool only cares about his or her own opinions. A fool only looks into his or her own heart to find out what course of action to take. Sorry Disney princesses, but your mentors did not have the best advice.

When it comes to decision-making, we have already gone over some very Biblical advice. If we want to make good decisions, we need to start with the fear of the Lord.

Pro 1:7  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

The answers to making decisions do not come from your heart. If you are on your own making decisions without God being involved, then it isn’t going to work out all that well. God brings the wisdom, and by reading the Bible and by being sensitive to that wisdom, we will get a lot farther than we would by listening to our heart.

I totally understand the idea of listening to your heart, and I understand that the intent of those movies is more to teach young people and not be swayed by others. It seems to be more of a message against peer pressure, but in actuality, I think that we need to be careful with this message.

Jer 17:9  The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?