Category Archives: Wisdom

From Proverbs to Ecclesiastes and the book(s) of wisdom

We know that Ezra is supposed to follow Chronicles because the last statement in the last chapter of Chronicles is repeated and elaborated in the first chapter of Ezra.

So how does Proverbs end and Ecclesiastes begin?

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vapor,
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates.

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
Vapor of vapors, says the Preacher,
vapor of vapors! All is vapor.

I’ve never thought about the order or wisdom books in our English Bibles before. But it looks to me like Proverbs is supposed to be followed by Ecclesiastes. The Proverbs 31 man (not woman) leads to further thought and meditation.

(The Proverbs 31 man is the man who knows what to look for in a woman because he remembers what his mother told him. The Proverbs 31 woman can be derived from the text, but that is not the point. This is King Lemuel’s mother giving her son advice on a wife. Read it for yourself.)

I can’t help wondering if Canticles builds on Ecclesiastes. It certainly seems to extol love as the highest good. Which would fit well with the advice of Ecclesiastes, such as:

Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.

Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

And what about Psalms? If the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, then wouldn’t Psalms naturally come before Proverbs? Could this be how Solomon himself was prepared to be a wise man?

And then Job could be an introduction to both Psalms and Proverbs, the story of a wise king vindicated from his enemies–subject matter for both Psalms and Proverbs.

One book of wisdom in five movements?

The appeal of the past

Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these days?” for it is not wise to ask that. Ecclesiastes 7.10

How can Solomon make such a blanket statement?

The past almost always produces in our perceptions the illusion of stability.

What if every age is an age of transition?

If every age is an age of transition, the transition of the immediate present will always seems so difficult that every age in the past will be remembered as an age of stability. For one thing, other people dealt with past transitions. We the living are dealing with our own perceived disruptions. Actual experience and stress is always more vivid than records of the trials of other people who have long departed. Also, the perceived heritage of the past is perceived as a given that we are accustomed to, while the future is indeterminate and therefore threatening.

Egypt is always remembered as easy.

Thus the trap of trying to go back to a better time.

The common delusions of remembered youth may also be a factor here. About the time you start to get really aware of how life works life has changed from what it was when you were younger. But when you were younger you were protected from much of how life worked. So you think, always, of a past that was more stable than the future.

Time is real and it only goes in one direction. God wants you to trust him for it. The next year is always supposed to be better.

Working hard: there is no substitute

The first rule for improving personal efficiency is:

Act on an item the first time you read or touch it.

I’m not talking about those things that you can’t do now or even those things you shouldn’t do now. I’m talking about all the things that you could and should do, but you don’t. I’m talking about routine paperwork and e-mail of the sort you encounter every day. Take care of these things the first time you touch or read them, and you’ll save yourself a lot of time in the long run.

Call Mary. Respond to that e-mail message immediately. Answer the customer’s letter of complaint. Act on that voice mail as you listen. Talk to the boss about the problem. Do It Now. You’ll be amazed at how little time it actually takes and amazed at how good you feel when it’s done.

If you’re not going to act on your paperwork, don’t waste time looking at it. If you’re not going to return your voice mail messages, don’t waste time listening to them. If you’re not going to respond to your e-mail messages, don’t waste time looking at them. Don’t clog up your day with things you aren’t going to do. Instead, move on to what you are going to do, and Do It Now.

via The Personal Efficiency Program: How to Get Organized to Do More Work in Less Time.

Before there was Getting Things Done there was The Personal Efficiency Program. What I like about that book is that, at the center of all to the promises of new techniques and knowledge sat a fundamental point–a point about virtue.

Don’t wast time; work!

It seems to me that the value of working as a virtue is slighted all the time. I hear companies criticized because “they don’t do anything that no one else could do.” It seems the key to prosperity is having a lock (intellectual “property” monopoly perhaps) on some kind of supply. Actually managing to do something everyone else can do better than they do it doesn’t seem to be an option.

Likewise, we keep hearing about how people succeed by being “brilliant” or “innovative.” But as far as I can tell, mostly they are lucky. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs could have been just as brilliant in many times and places in human history and they would have been no more well known than the many other brilliant people that we have never heard of.

(Let that last point sink in. Every time you hear about how x leads to success, ask yourself how the researcher has found a wide sample of failures and managed to determine that x was not present in those endeavors. Finding what all success stories have in common might tell you something about making sure that you don’t frustrate the success you might otherwise achieve, but it doesn’t give you any reason to claim that x creates success because, for all you know, many failures have shared the same trait. In the world, and even in the United States, I think it is possible to find one or more examples of just about anything bringing about success. [This is something aspiring church planters might do well to meditate upon]).

A slack hand causes poverty; but the hand of the diligent makes rich.

I realize there there are plenty of visible multi-millionaires who think they found a shortcut. But people win the lottery too. Doesn’t make it a strategy. In the meantime, how is dumping money into lawyers and courts a productive allocation of resources? For example, from the summer of 2007, NYT:

The video rental chain Blockbuster said on Wednesday that it had settled a patent dispute with its rival Netflixthat challenged Blockbuster’s entry into online DVD rental. Blockbuster also signaled that the new business was taking a toll on its finances.

Although terms of the settlement were not disclosed, shares in Netflix jumped $1.26, almost 6.5 percent, to $20.78, while Blockbuster slipped 2 cents, to $4.20.

Blockbuster also disclosed in a securities filing on Wednesday that it planned to seek an amendment to its Aug. 20, 2004, credit agreement that would lower earnings requirements.

The company said in the filing that it planned to modify its popular Total Access plan before the end of the year to “strike the appropriate balance between continued subscriber growth and enhanced profitability.”

Now, I confess to having a weird preference to Netflix, but the idea that selling dvds online through mail via monthly subscription (this was about actual dvds, not online streaming) can be patented is a really stupid idea.

There was a time when the past was a gift and people were invited to do their best with it. Now, this form of stewardship is otiose; we’re supposed to go into debt to buy access to exclusive secrets in the trust that they will make us effortlessly rich. (It is God’s joke on the modern world that, when future historians analyze how we economically strangled ourselves to death, they will realize the fingers around our throat belonged to the gloved hands of a cartoon mouse).

Anyway, I think Solomon would tell you to worry far less about access to a monopoly and simply work hard. He would also tell you to read David Allen for lots of good advice but don’t believe the subtitle. There is no such thing as “stress-free productivity.”

Big brother v. the end goal of baptism

As I suspect, it always comes back to baptism, infant baptism in particular.

Kahn: “Liberalism has never produced an adequate explanation of the family, because we cannot understand children” without the framing assumptions of liberalism – its assumption that the individual is the primary unit of explanation and its division between public and private. Liberalism “cannot settle whether the state should protect the child from the coercive influences of his or her family, or whether the private family should be protected from the state.” In short, “every individual effort turned toward a public project . . . is a puzzle for liberalism.”

Baptizing infants poses a deep challenge to liberal order: It rejects the notion that the individual child is a self-standing individual, and by placing the child within the church, a public institution with a political history, it disrupts easy public/private divide. By contrast, believer’s baptism looks to be an accommodation to liberal order (though, more precisely, it may be at the roots of liberal order).

via Peter J. Leithart » Blog Archive » Theology of the child.


And the child under his parents is a refutation of the general prinicple that voluntary transactions always mutually benefit both parties to the exchange. Parents know that they can’t allow their young children to interact freely with merchants. That would be exploitation. They want the right and power to monitor and intervene in voluntary transactions.

But, conversely, people are supposed to grow up. They are not supposed to remain children forever. In fact, remaining a child is slavery. People resent being treated like children, being told that virtue lies in remains dependent (and putting an “inter-” prefix on the word does nothing to sweeten the alleged medicine). They want to have children of their own and (if they have any integrity at all) resent the state’s institutionalize encroachments on their families.

So, for all its faults, I think “liberalism” was a needed upraised fist against the powers. Where things should settle is worth discussing. But I don’t think “liberalism” should be blamed for all the faults of its philosophers.

In my opinion, those philosophers came late in the social movement and were explaining what was already happening rather than causing any of it. Philosophers and theologians always rush to lead every parade, and they all started long before they arrived with their batons.

So I’m happy to make paedobaptism a foundational aspect of social theorizing. But I think it will bolster liberty:

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slavenor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

The good man has faith

A good man obtains favor from the LORD,
but a man of evil devices he condemns.

via Passage: Proverbs 12 (ESV Bible Online).

That word favor is tranlated charis in the Greek Septuagint. It is a word that could be easily rendered “grace” in English. And notice that this favor seems to include the blessing of justification since the man of evil devices is condemned–the other way a forensic verdict could be rendered.

But a “good man” here is not one who relies on the merit of his works. Rather, he is one who trusts in God and therefore follows in his way. Proverbs is talking about the same thing as the author of Hebrews:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

What Proverbs reveals to us is that even the day to day grind involves this same faith. The very next proverb says:

No one is established by wickedness,
but the root of the righteous will never be moved.

But it seems as if everyone is established by wickedness. Think of all the rich and powerful people you know about from the national media. See? It looks as if wickedness is the means of establishing oneself.

But that is a delusion. They won’t last. You have trouble remembering many of the ones who were famous and powerful a couple of decades ago. If you trust God you will pursue his way and he will take care of you and your children.

Be assured, an evil person will not go unpunished,
but the offspring of the righteous will be delivered.

Want freedom, not achievements

Mark Horne » Blog Archive » Maybe our real heroes were forced into janitorial service.

Thinking about this a bit more, especially in light of my ongoing meditations on the book of Proverbs…

People want to do good.

But, as in the case of Katy Perry’s Firework (to name an egregious example because it displays the problem so well), this desire is mostly about wanting praise from (and power over) other people.

If people cared more about being free from slavery to vices and decided that it didn’t matter if they achieved anything “good” they might be much better off. As it stands, we use rather questionable attainments as an excuse to not worry about our bondage to  passions. We feel our achievements outweigh our addictions and compensate for our deeds driven by irrational lusts.

But forget about ever achieving anything. Just learn freedom from from your vices. In the process, you might learn humility and freedom from pride.

That would be a remarkable achievement.

The righteousness of the upright delivers them
but the treacherous are taken captive by their lusts.

God tests us and hides his justice

I state here that God judges sooner than the Last Day. This fact can be taken to infer some mistaken conclusions.

God judges the wicked and rewards the righteous. All of these rewards are delayed because God is patient and because he tests everyone. A huge part of growing up is learning delayed gratification, and living by faith is part of that. If God responded immediately to all provocations, we would never learn to either believe nor be faithful. Both faith and faithfulness require “space” or, more literally, time. God does not stand there when Satan is tempting Adam and Eve. He has withdrawn his presence to evaluate them later. They would be much less likely to disobey if God was standing there behind the serpent. But their obedience wouldn’t indicate much either about their trust in God nor their character and maturity.

And when Jesus does come and judge us, he does so in a way that is not easily understood. There are a thousand variables. Some of these variables may indeed involve what God has reserved for the Final Judgment, the Last Day. But others simply involve factors that are too complicated or numerous for us to track. In some cases, the wicked who should be judged repent in time to delay it or escape it, and in some cases the offspring of the righteous who should flourish lose patience and depart from the Lord (see Ezekiel 18, for example). Plus God tests the endurance of the righteous for a time.

So you can’t condemn anyone who is poor because he is poor and you can’t commend anyone who is rich because he is rich. The evidence for all this is found in the Book of Proverbs which sees no problem assuring people that God rewards on earth but warning them about judging either the poor or the wealthy.

So there is no straight line you can see. But you can’t infer that God is not judging in history. He is. And that is why you can resist constructing a State to establish the “perfect justice” that you think needs establishing. That will not result in judgment. It will be a judgment. Don’t go there. Trust God instead and remain free and wise.

God judges sooner than the Last Day, so statism is wrong

I love this post by Doug Wilson. Love!

I want to offer one minor addition to what he says to combat statism. It is true that God will judge at the Last Day, but it needs to be remembered that he also judges (and saves!) sooner than that (and I’ve learned this from Doug himself, by the way).

God promises to cut off the wicked by the third of fourth generation. We see evil and fear it will spread and destroy society. We have to trust God that he will judge the wicked and cause the righteous to flourish and grow in society.

Sinful actions are not just wrong, but they bring their own destruction. You have to appreciate God’s patience but trust that he will intervene before the sin becomes overwhelming.

I happen to be spending a lot of time in Proverbs. So this happened to be on my mind.

How hard is it to make an accurate scale? You are doing it every day.

It would help to know something about the technology of the Ancient Near East. How hard was it to produce an accurate scale? Did it take a great deal of time and/or attention. Was it a special skill or could anyone do it.

And did the accuracy deteriorate? Did you have to pay attention to make sure that the trustworthiness of a scale did not deteriorate over time? Were people tempted to ignore the developing lopsidedness so they could use it to their advantage?

I wonder about these things when I see three verses in Proverbs in a relatively tight spread about what the LORD finds an abomination and what he delights in:

Proverbs 11:1
A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight.

Proverbs 11:20
Those of crooked heart are an abomination to the LORD, but those of blameless ways are his delight.

Proverbs 12:22
Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who act faithfully are his delight.

Are you a just balance?

Perhaps this question isn’t quite right. Are you making yourself and keeping yourself a just balance? Or are you deteriorating into a false scale?