True Wisdom

In the study of the Hebrew Scriptures, one sometimes runs across the genre of “wisdom literature.”  A distinction is often made between knowledge (facts and information) and wisdom (the ability to use knowledge to live life).  Wisdom literature includes Proverbs, the Song of Songs, Esther, Job, Ecclesiastes, and parts of the Psalms.

The Bible tells us that the “fear of the LORD” is the beginning of both wisdom (Psalm 110) and knowledge (Proverbs 1:7).  This fear describes having a healthy and accurate idea of who God is, and then responding to Him with wonder, awe, and obedience.  (For further treatment, see A Season of Fear.)

A wise person knows who God is and how that knowledge of God helps him live life.  In contrast, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” (Psalm 14, 53).  The “fool” in ancient Hebrew thinking was not one who was an atheist.  Atheism really didn’t exist in a culture where the starting point was, “In the beginning, God…”.  The fool in Hebrew culture was one who, despite knowing there was a God, lived life like there wasn’t any God.  In a way, fools were “practical atheists.”

When wisdom literature reminds the reader that having a proper concept of God (along with a proper response to Him) is the beginning of really understanding the world and knowing how to live in it, a new definition of wisdom arises.  Wisdom is, “living life with God at the core.”

It is interesting that wisdom literature was written during times of great transition for the Jewish people, when they had many questions as to how to live life as everything around them was changing.  Examples include when Jewish society became a monarchy, when the Jews started to have settlements based in cities rather than in tribal villages, and when the Jews changed from being a monarchy to being a people in living in exile.

Why does wisdom literature describe such practical living, as is presented in the Proverbs?  Why give people filled with questions about their changing and uncertain lives practical advice in areas such as finance, speech, marriage, and child-rearing?  Why is Job considered wisdom, when Job has so many questions and so few answers?  Why is Esther included, when the name of God is not even mentioned in the book?  Why is Ecclesiastes a wisdom book, when the main topic is “meaninglessness.”  And why is the Song of Songs, a book about romance and sex given to people struggling with change?

The main question the Jewish people were really asking was, “Where is God in times of change and suffering?”  Wisdom literature gives the answer – He is there.  Always there.  He is in your marriage and family, in your work, and in the daily struggles of life.  The message of Job is that He is there when you have unanswerable questions.  Esther shouts at us that even if God is not mentioned, He is there, saving His people and working behind the scenes setting up and taking down kingdoms.  (Esther, by the way, is a Persian name that sounds like the Hebrew word for “hidden”.)  The Song of Songs reminds us that if God is anywhere, He is present in marital love, which shows us what His love for us is like.  When everything around us is falling apart, when we have many questions, when we wonder where God is, and how we should live in such times of transition, wisdom literature helps us out.  It has a message we all need to remember – He is there even when you cannot see Him.  Look for Him.  And live like He is there.  This is wisdom.

Rejection

The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.  Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the LORD does valiantly, the right hand of the LORD exalts, the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!”  I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.  The LORD has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death.  Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.  This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.  I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.  The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.  This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.  This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:14-24 ESV)

As we prepare our hearts for our Easter celebration, we have explored how Jesus is the King who sets up God’s everlasting Kingdom, the Priest who brings sinful men and a holy God into relationship, the Housebuilder who gives us an eternal home and makes His own home in our hearts, the Giver of Children to the barren, the Passover Lamb who is our sacrifice and pays the penalty for our sin, and the Covenant-maker who fulfills the covenant-relationship responsibilities for both God and man.  It is Jesus who is the Promise Maker who enables us to enjoy God’s promise and blessing, even though we don’t deserve either.  Jesus is incredible!

Yet, today’s passage reminds us that while Jesus is the perfect Cornerstone upon which to build our lives, we don’t want Him.  We don’t want the promises He offers.  We don’t want any part of His Kingdom where we would have to bow before His Kingship.  He is everything we need, but we reject Him.

Jesus quotes Psalm 118 in Mark 12, where He tells the story of a wealthy landowner who makes all the investments needed to make his land a fruitful vineyard.  He then hires workers who will tend to the vineyard in his absence.  When he sends various servants to collect his share of the crop, the tenants beat them or kill them.  When the owner in desperation sends his own son to solve the problem, they kill him, too.

Jesus is this rejected Cornerstone.  He is the Son sent by the rightful Creator and Owner of all things who is killed by those rejecting His authority.  Jesus is rejected and killed, but then on the third day rises again, defeating all enemies who would rise against Him.  May we repent of our rebellion and rejection toward our Creator, and embrace the forgiveness and life that the rejected One, Jesus, offers us despite our rebellion and sin.

Royal

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”  He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.  Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”  I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.  Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.  You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”  Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.  Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.  Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled.  Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2 ESV)

This “royal Psalm” describe the Kingship of the Son, Jesus Christ.  The Jewish people had their hopes that one of the kings of the line of King David would somehow usher in the kingdom they hoped for.  One descendant of David could set up the Kingdom we all hope for and need, Jesus Christ.  The reason that Jesus could do for us what no other king could do is because He is also the Son of God.  Jesus’ Kingdom is eternal, and allows us to be free from all the enemies we now face, including sin and death.  Which kingdom today boasts such claims?

Some see a problem in being part of a kingdom – there is always a king.  The peoples and rulers of this world reject Jesus the King and His wonderful Kingdom, simply because they don’t want to accept His Kingly rule over their lives, despite how wonderful His rule and reign would be for their well-being.  We are so proud, we don’t want anyone else to tell us what to do, even if it is best for us.  Let’s heed the wisdom of this Psalm – serve the LORD and take refuge in Him!

King

The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”  The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter.  Rule in the midst of your enemies!  Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours.  The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”  The Lord is at your right hand;    he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.  He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.  He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head. (Psalm 110 ESV)

A few days ago, we explored how all earthly priests fell short of their calling – to be mediators between and holy God and sinful men.  Perhaps the fact that all such priests are sinners themselves makes such a task impossible.  We also saw how the sinless God-Man, Jesus, is the perfect priest, not of the tribe of Levi but from the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 4-7, Genesis 14).  He alone can truly bring holy God and sinful men into relationship.

Today’s reading highlights the priestly role of Jesus, but also clearly portrays Him as King.  How do we know that this Psalm, the most quoted Old Testament passage by the New Testament, is prophetically referring to Jesus?  One hint is that no earthly, Jewish king can be both priest and king.  Jesus is both the One who brings God and man together in relationship, and the One who rules and reigns on high for all eternity!  Jesus is at God’s right hand – the place of ultimate authority.  Jesus rules over all His enemies, including the greatest enemies of all, sin and death.  Jesus has all power and is dressed in holiness.  Jesus rightly executes perfect justice among the nations.  Jesus alone is the perfect Priest and King.  Who better to give your life to than He!

Dwell

Now when the king lived in his house and the LORD had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” And Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the LORD is with you.”  But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD: Would you build me a house to dwell in? (2 Samuel 7:1-5 ESV)

…from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’” In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David. (2 Samuel 7:11-17 ESV)

King David built a comfortable palace for himself, and felt a little guilty that His God still had a “house” that was a tent called the tabernacle.  Of course, trying to place God, a Spirit who is everywhere at once, in a little tent is rather absurd.  But God, wanting a relationship with men where they could have a home with Him, condescended to man’s finititude and told the Jews to build a tent where God could dwell with man.

The tabernacle was patterned after the heavenly dwelling place of God.  It is that heavenly home where He invites all who belong to Him to dwell with Him for all eternity.  The portable structure seemed to be appropriate for a God who was “wild” and not controlled by man’s restraints.  YHWH (lit. “I am who I am, I will be whom I will be”), the God of the Jews, would go wherever He wanted to go whenever He wanted to.  It certainly helped the Jews to have this tent to meet with their redeeming God as they wandered through the wilderness and as they settled into the promised land.  But now the land was settled.  The King had a palace.  And God still had a tent.  This did not sit well with David, so He asked His God if he could build Him His own palace – the temple.

God’s response was that David’s son (Solomon) would indeed build God a temple.  And while David would not build God a house, God would build David’s “house” – his royal family line.  From David’s royal family line would come the greatest King ever, the Messiah, or anointed One.  The Messiah would build God’s Kingdom that would inhabit the entire world, not just a palace.  But the Kingdom of the Messiah was not just a physical place for man and God to dwell together, it would also be an internal, spiritual home.  The Messiah will ultimately provide an entire new heaven and new earth in which God’s subjects will dwell with Him as family.  But He also gives His subjects new hearts, in which the infinite God would dwell.  Man and God both have a new home.  The question is, does God feel at home in your heart?

 

Mediator

And there came a man of God to Eli and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Did I indeed reveal myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt subject to the house of Pharaoh? Did I choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to burn incense, to wear an ephod before me? I gave to the house of your father all my offerings by fire from the people of Israel. Why then do you scorn my sacrifices and my offerings that I commanded for my dwelling, and honor your sons above me by fattening yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel?’ Therefore the LORD, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that your house and the house of your father should go in and out before me forever,’ but now the LORD declares: ‘Far be it from me, for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed. Behold, the days are coming when I will cut off your strength and the strength of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your house. Then in distress you will look with envious eye on all the prosperity that shall be bestowed on Israel, and there shall not be an old man in your house forever. The only one of you whom I shall not cut off from my altar shall be spared to weep his eyes out to grieve his heart, and all the descendants of your house shall die by the sword of men. And this that shall come upon your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, shall be the sign to you: both of them shall die on the same day. And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever. And everyone who is left in your house shall come to implore him for a piece of silver or a loaf of bread and shall say, “Please put me in one of the priests’ places, that I may eat a morsel of bread.”’” (1 Samuel 2:27-36 ESV)

Hophni and Phinehas, being part of the Jewish Levitical priesthood, were to fulfill the duties of priest.  These include: “to go up to my altar, to burn incense” and “to wear an ephod before me”.  At the altar, the priests would act as intercessors, mediators who would help a holy God and sinful men to meet by performing various types of sacrifices.  Burning incense had to do with sending up the worship and prayers of God’s people before His heavenly throne.  Wearing an ephod was part of the priests’ role to seek God’s wisdom and guidance for a people who wanted to be obedient to Him.  This is what priests were to do.  But Hophni and Phinehas instead performed their duties for personal gain.  They served God and His people to fill their own bellies for their own satisfaction.

God rebukes their sin and pronounces their punishment but also gives a prophetic message of hope to His people.  He promises to one day send a “faithful priest” who would truly bring God and man together.  This priest will do what is in God’s heart and mind.  Of course, this faithful priest comes not from the tribe of Levi, but from the “order of Melchizedek” (see Hebrews 4-7).  This priest is named Jesus, and is the only One who can reconcile sinful men to a holy God.

Barrenness

And Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the LORD; my horn is exalted in the LORD.  My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation.  “There is none holy like the LORD: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.  Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.        The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength.  Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.  The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.  The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.  The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts.  He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.  For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and on them he has set the world.  “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail.  The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven.  The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.” (1 Samuel 2:1-10 ESV)

In ancient Israel, there was no greater shame and pain a woman could experience than being barren.  In a day when ladies did not pursue careers outside the home, and when their identities were found exclusively in their families, to no have a child was a great disgrace.  If a couple remained childless, and specifically had no male heir to carry on the family name and inherit the family fortune, it was as if they had never lived themselves.  Their name, their heritage, must carry on.  In addition, the greatest hope of every Jewish mother was that she would give birth to the promised Messiah, the Great King that God would send to set up His Kingdom in this world.

In chapter one, Hannah was childless, without hope and full of shame.  Others preached that having children was a blessing and that barrenness was a curse.  Did her neighbors whisper behind her back, wondering what great sin she committed to deserve such a punishment?  While loved by her husband, her heart was still as empty as her womb.  To make matters worse, her husband had a second wife who had children, making their home an impossible competition Hannah could not win.  So, in utter desperation Hannah went to the house of God to sacrifice and to pray.  And God heard her prayer.  Her son Samuel was born.  Not just any son, Samuel grew up to be a mighty prophet of God!

No wonder she now prays again, this time with lips filled with praise to a God who takes care of His people.  It is the Lord who makes low and raises up. Our lives don’t always respond up to our attempts to control them, but God always remains in control.  He is to be praised!

Hannah’s song reminds me of another song (Luke 1:46-56) from the lips of another mother named Mary, a young girl who unexpectedly and miraculously gave birth to a Son, Jesus.  Her song also was a song of praise and a reminder of God’s power, mercy, and sovereignty.  Mary, of course, was that one Jewish mother who experienced the blessing to be the mother of the Messiah.  And because He was born, God’s Kingdom can be experienced by all desperate people who cry out to Him in prayer.