Tuesday, 07 January 2014 15:15

An Old Testament Parable

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With our series on parables in the Bible, I thought this time to look with you at an Old Testament parable told by King Solomon. This parable is about a war scene and one great war hero who, sadly, gets all but forgotten. Do you know the story? You find it in the book of Ecclesiastes 9:13-18. God’s Word reads there: “This wisdom have I seen also under the sun, and it seemed great unto me: 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: 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. Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless the poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.  The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good.” 

Let us consider this passage more closely. Apparently the text suggests from first hand observation it is a story King Solomon tells. And Solomon here tells the story as a parable for instruction in the way of true wisdom. What is the story? It is a war story. There was this little town, he tells us, with few inhabitants which gets surrounded by an enemy king and his army. Maybe it was the next tribal chief in the area looking to extend his territory.  Whatever the case, the situation looks bad for the little town. They are vastly outnumbered by the enemy forces not only, but also those enemy soldiers are setting up a massive offensive plan building up great steps and bulwarks against the little city so they can take it over easily with one major assault. Without question it looks like for sure the little town is done for, and either all will be killed or many will be, and the rest taken as captives and slaves. The little city is in dire straits. It looks hopeless for all the city inhabitants. No chance for survival against the great king and his soldiers and their weapons and strategies. 

But wait, as Solomon further tells, listen to what he says in vs. 15.  Now there was found in that city a poor wise man.” So what, you say? “…he by his wisdom delivered the city” Solomon tells us. We don’t know what the wise man suggested, or the solution he came up with, or the peace plan, or the war strategy, and that is not important even. The point is, this poor man’s wise suggested solution to the fearful dilemma caused the city to be spared. No one gets killed, the enemy king and his soldiers depart, and all is well!  But then, sadly, as King Solomon states: “…yet no man remembered that same poor man.” For all the wisdom this man showed and his great heroic feat in sparing the city, still the man just gets forgotten about, and the text suggests largely because of his poverty and lowly station. This unnamed individual was not a man of class or wealth, but he was a wise and most likely godly man. He was the means for all the people in the little town not being killed or dragged away as war prisoners and slaves, but he was not remembered, and simply forgotten about. After the crisis and the enemy people and weapons are gone, the poor wise man is not remembered anymore. 

That is the little parable here.  And what are some of the lessons we need to consider and take to heart from this Scripture passage in Ecclesiastes 9? What truths does this Old Testament parable teach us? For one, doesn’t it show the great benefit of true wisdom over against all might and powers and weapons of this world? We live in a world where power and might and flashy wealth and status and fame are so prized, but what is that all without wisdom?  Doesn’t the whole book of Ecclesiastes proclaim all of life is in vain and empty and without promise when not knowing nor showing the wisdom of the Lord and His Word?  In this regard too the book of Proverbs passionately exhorts, as we can read in chapter 4:5-7: “Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not, neither decline from the words of my mouth. Forsake her not, and she shall preserve you: love her, and she shall keep you. Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all your getting, get understanding.” We know too that the Bible declares repeatedly: “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” as stated in Psalm 111:10 for example, as well as Proverbs 9:10. 

How much good has been done in wisdom’s way by people in family life, church life, and community life, and in world matters?  Who can tell in the history of the world how many times when a word of wisdom prevailed, how it spared lives, marriages, families, churches, countries and even our whole world from terrible and evil consequences overwhelming and unimaginable? How we should thank God for still as much common sense wisdom as is present yet in this fallen world and even more, how grateful we should be for those in our families and churches and land that demonstrate the wisdom of God and His Word in the issues and challenges of life. How indebted the residents of this unnamed little town in Ecclesiastes 9 were for the wisdom of that otherwise poor citizen of their town. His wisdom got them out of a very serious dilemma that could have resulted in their premature and violent deaths even.

But what else then does Solomon make so clear in this Old Testament parable?  He tells us how this poor man’s wisdom was all too soon forgotten and not really recognized and honored for its inestimable worth and value. Verse 15 states about the wise man: “…his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man.” As soon as the crisis was past, the wise man was ungratefully forgotten, and his important service left unrewarded. The text highlights that the wise man was a poor man by and large, and you get the idea, if he had wealth and status in the town, then maybe a monument would have been erected in honor to his wisdom and achievement of saving the town.  But his wisdom by itself was in general neither remembered nor prized. And King Solomon here is making an observation on life as he too has seen it and experienced it all too often. The inspired observation was and is that wisdom gets scorned and sidelined mostly, while so much else gets pursued and glorified in life.  Don’t we see that all around us today as well in all too great measure even, most sadly and tragically so? As Solomon wrote in vs. 16 as a concluding observation on what he witnessed: “Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength [or human power and might, and wealth and reasoning]: nevertheless, the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.”        

Here we learn again, don’t we, the sinful folly of fallen mankind by nature! A most tragic result of our fall into sin is that not only have we each and all fallen from wisdom’s way, but we now no longer can find the way of true wisdom on our own, nor do we even appreciate and prize wisdom, left to ourselves. True wisdom is knowledge keeping in mind other people not only but God Almighty and it thinks not just of the present but the past and future too, and keeping in mind not just this life but eternity beyond. But where is that wisdom among men of themselves? As a Reformation confession, the Canons of Dort, rightly teaches in chapters 3 & 4 in Article 1, on the basis of Scripture, a somber result of the fall as recorded in Genesis 3  is that all people now from conception on have lost true wisdom and knowledge and more, “and on the contrary entailed [brought on] [ourselves] blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity and perverseness of judgment, became wicked, rebellious, and obdurate [stubbornly resistant] in heart and will, and impure in [our] affections.”   Don’t we see that here also dramatically in our text parable?  A man by wisdom saves the town from destruction, and he is but forgotten and despised as soon as the threat is removed.  And the people presumably went on pursuing all their own selfish interests, and goals and futile pursuits in life, mostly unmindful of true wisdom and its inestimable value.

Does this lesson from our text, an actual historical event, serve to humble you and me too? Can you think of areas and situations in your own life presently or from the weeks and months past where you neglected and despised the course of wisdom and chose folly’s path instead? Where are you in your life maybe ignoring and forgetting the way and worth of wisdom?  It is an epidemic problem not just out there in the world, but it can so easily be something we ourselves fall into. Wouldn’t King Solomon himself know and say this also from his own experience? Oh, how he, though given so much wisdom from God and taught in wisdom’s way, nevertheless fell too so miserably from wisdom’s path into great folly.  Every genuine and growing Christian will take most seriously the sinful problem we have by nature, namely, to despise and discount wisdom’s ways, especially wisdom’s ways as taught by God and His Word.  I’m sure there is always reason for each one of us to ask when thinking of this little town forgetting this poor wise man and the excellence of his wisdom for their benefit: “Lord, is it I? Am I too in some way ignoring or despising or forgetting wisdom’s way?” With the last verses of Psalm 139 what reasons to say and to pray, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Will you let this Scripture of Ecclesiastes 9 so scan and bless you? Another lesson surely also to glean from this passage is as confessing Christians walking in wisdom’s way and seeking to teach and model true wisdom, don’t be surprised if you are not respected and appreciated, so living and so giving counsel to others. Let us not be surprised when this noisy busy godless world in all its vain philosophies and pagan ways seems to win the day, and wisdom is largely ignored and despised even.  It is what you can expect in this fallen world and from unregenerate mankind.  Nevertheless, let confessing Christians persevere in seeking to tell and promote and spread the wisdom of God’s Word in all matters and relationships and challenges of life, for only from there is found the way of true wisdom.  And the text also suggests God will have His wisdom be blessed.  The words and way of wisdom will hit home with some, by God’s sovereign grace.

Verse 17 states thus: “The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that rules among fools.” The words of the wise may be little thought of when given, but when people have their times of reflection or circumstances when alone, a word in season may be something that penetrates and leads to fleeing from folly and pursuing after wisdom. When the prodigal son, for example, was alone in the pigsty away from his noisy, boastful, immoral party friends, in quiet and in the misery of his sins, what happened? By God’s Spirit, he came to himself and saw through the hopelessness and wickedness of sin’s path and in repentance and trust he returned to his father pleading mercy and grace. What a calling we have in our families especially as parents to lead and counsel our children in wisdom’s ways by precept and example. And God promises His blessing upon that, even as we, prayerfully and carefully, so seek to live in wisdom’s ways by His grace and Spirit in accordance with His holy Word.

If you and I would do good in this world, in our families, and churches, and communities, let us above all pursue after wisdom and be wise in God’s ways, and wise in counsel always in line with God’s holy inspired Word!  Let us persevere therein even when it seems we are largely despised or ignored or forgotten. For the way of wisdom, the wisdom of God and His Word, gives its’ own boundless rewards, not just in this life, but also for sure in the next life, by God’s grace, forevermore.

What further brings out the importance of this all is what King Solomon says in his additional application of this parable story in vs.18, the last verse of the chapter.  Wisdom” he concludes, “is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good.” Isn’t he saying with this last line that when and if people ignore wisdom’s ways, and follow instead the pathway of sin and this world and one’s own resourcefulness, one can do so much damage in so many ways? How we need to be convicted and convinced of this too! Each person who lives on in the pathway of folly, repeatedly saying “no” to wisdom’s way, not only harms himself or herself but so many others as well. How we should be very conscious of this, each one of us, in our different roles and responsibilities in life. You and I are either helping, by God’s grace, promote true and godly wisdom and the blessings of such wisdom or living sinfully and spreading folly and evil and misery, who knows to what extent and to how many?

As one put it: “The influence of one truly wise and good [person] may be very extensive, both upon the temporal and spiritual condition of others; in preventing evil, and in promoting personal and social happiness. But how much good, on the contrary, may not one sinner destroy!” Indeed, can we not all think of examples from history and to the present day on both fronts? One sinner destroys much good. Will each of us remember that truth of wisdom? And will we remember the opposite truth as well? How wisdom and wisdom’s ways does so much good under God’s gracious blessing and leading.  “The biggest fool” wrote someone, “is he who fools himself” and just will not walk in wisdom’s ways. Don’t fool yourself in thinking you can despise true wisdom and still be wise and not be a fool.  One wise man does a lot of good but one sinner destroys much good. Where are you in regards to this reality?   

Perhaps at this point I could also say “Amen”, and say I have preached God’s Word to you again. However, I hope you would agree with me, there has to be more to say about this Old Testament parable in Ecclesiastes 9. What more? Don’t you think too how this Old Testament parable of King Solomon serves by the Spirit of God as a prophetic word, pointing us also really and ultimately to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the only right response to that gospel?

The sad reality is that the case of dismal inexcusable forgetfulness of wisdom and wisdom’s accomplishment as mentioned by King Solomon here is not the only case of forgetfulness. No, but should we not think of how in the fullness of time there came the Great Deliverer, none other than Jesus Christ, the Saviour of sinners? Is Jesus Christ not the One and only Saviour of sinners in Whom and with Whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, as Paul declares in Colossians 2:3? And did He not come to save sinners in this world from the kingdom of darkness and eternal destruction on account of sin and evil? Yes, He has! And see what Christ has all accomplished when all the assaults of Satan and his demons were out to destroy this whole world forever under the curse and bondage of sin and evil. Christ Jesus in infinite wisdom and holy zeal gave the only remedy and escape from otherwise certain destruction upon all people and this whole world. Indeed, through His once for all sacrifice on the cross and by His resurrection from the dead, there is now complete deliverance, rich and free for all who repent of sin and believe on Him and follow after Him as only Saviour and Lord. That is the one-time all-time gospel message also still for our 21st century world!

Think too, was Jesus not the ultimate poor wise man bringing deliverance through His wisdom in principle and practice, in all His life, even as He gave His life a ransom for many? Oh yes, He came meek and lowly in heart, and how poor He was when here on earth, with no more than a manger in a barn or cave for his baby crib, and with no place of his own later where to lay his head.  Jesus as suffering Saviour was a poor wise man in the ultimate sense, for as Paul says in II Corinthians 8:9: “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.”  As Sinbearer Jesus was despised and rejected of men when he lived here on earth and when He gave His life a ransom for many. And since Jesus’ first coming and the wonderful salvation escape from the certain righteous and eternal destruction we deserve that He accomplished for sinners like us, isn’t it true that the world all but has forgotten Him and shows no regard or respect or gratitude for what He has done?  We may say of that little city so ungrateful to the poor wise man that saved them from destruction, what base ingratitude they showed, what gross inexcusable negligence and unthankfulness towards that poor wise man left all but forgotten! But is this not a picture of what is happening in the whole world throughout the ages and today still in the reaction and response to Christ, the Saviour of sinners? Is our Scripture passage not actually a very real picture of all mankind’s wicked ingratitude before God in Christ Jesus, left to ourselves?

How many totally ignore Christ and what He has done! How many only question it but never investigate it further. How many simply just despise Christ and the accomplishment of God’s infinite wisdom in bringing about a way of sure and just and gracious and full and eternal escape from the grip of Satan, sin, death and hell on us because of our sins and sinfulness.  How many cling to folly’s pathway and refuse even to hear and learn of divine wisdom’s salvation way and accomplishments and the gospel message for us. Sundays too, the one special day God has given for us to worship Him and to learn wisdom’s way from His holy Word, people instead use for themselves and for remembering everything and everyone but Christ the Saviour and His marvelous work of redemption for sinners like us. What comes across all too often by all too many is, who needs the poor wise man, the promised Messiah, the only Saviour of sinners?

Tragically and wickedly sinful mankind is by and large despising and rejecting, discounting and forgetting, and refusing to honor and remember the greatest war hero this world has ever known and that in connection with the greatest battle of all history. But you won’t forget the Lord Jesus Christ and His gospel word and way, will you?  The gospel invitation is still sounded for all to come to Jesus for forgiveness of sins and everlasting righteousness before God, and the gift of eternal life. For wisdom in life’s journey too and following wisdom’s pathway and being of blessing in wisdom’s way for others, let each and all call on the Lord Jesus asking Him for His grace and mercy, and salvation and wisdom in every way. In Proverbs 8 we hear that gospel call in these words: “Does not wisdom cry? And understanding put forth her voice? ….Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of man. O ye simple, understand wisdom: and ye fools, be ye of an understanding heart.” Also in James 1:5 we hear the gospel call, both initially and repeatedly, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that gives to all men liberally, and upbraideth [discourages] not; and it shall be given him…” Indeed, ever looking unto and respecting and following Christ Jesus Who, as Paul tells us in I Corinthians 1:30-31 “is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” 

Seeing our text passage and the wisdom of this Old Testament parable told by King Solomon in this light then indeed we have the full gospel message of our text.  And are you hearing it and seeing it and treasuring it and reflecting it too by God’s grace? Let me end by telling of another city in history which met with a sad end compared to the city in Ecclesiastes 9 which tells about this city saved by a poor wise man. This other city in history I’m thinking of now literally fell and was leveled and destroyed for lack of a wise man saving it. What city was this? It was the old city of Jerusalem from Jesus’ days.  In 70 A.D. the city of Jerusalem, as another put it, “fell into the condition of our city in the parable. A great king came against it, and encompassed it with [Roman soldiers], and built great bulwarks against it, and prevailed so as to overthrow it to its very foundations, and [to kill and] scatter all its inhabitants.   There was found in it none to save; no poor wise man to prevent its destruction.  [Oh], there had been One; but they had cast Him out, and refused to be saved by Him. For the sake of His poverty they had despised His wisdom, so their destruction was inevitable.” Even so, it will be too for this whole world for all those who cast out the only Saviour, Jesus Christ, the poor wise man who was crucified and rose again and is now seated at God’s right hand as King of kings and Lord of lords. All who refuse to repent of sin and believe on Him will perish forever. But as many as take to heart His gospel message and the message of salvation in and through Him, all such shall be saved now and forevermore.

Oh, the wisdom from an Old Testament parable told by King Solomon and inspired by the Holy Spirit…do you too get it, and love it, and live it?  And by God’s grace do you seek to pass it on in our day in your homes and churches and cities and world? Isn’t this still the one thing most needful? What other hope is there for this perishing world and the certain last and final judgment to come, who knows how soon now?  Oh, earth, earth, earth, learn the wisdom from an Old Testament parable told by King Solomon long ago, if you will be wise indeed. Thus saith the Lord! Amen.Hans Overduin, Radio Pastor

 

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