Deuteronomy 18:15-22

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This section continues on the topic of religious leaders within the community. We read yesterday about priests and Levites of Israel, and about the Canaanite shamans. The previous verse (18:14) mentioned that the nations about to be dispossessed listened to their soothsayers and diviners, and this section begins with the command to listen to God’s prophet instead (18:15). I have divided the chapter into two sections because there is too much material for one day, but they are clearly continuous in theme.

Moses promises the Israelites that God will raise up a prophet, someone who would speak God’s words to them, as he had done. Moses had fulfilled this intermediary role since the Israelites had asked to not hear God’s voice directly anymore on Mount Horeb (= Sinai), when they felt they would die from direct contact with the fiery God (cf 4:24). Yahweh approved their request and gave them Moses, and now he promises to give them another prophet, like Moses, from among them. The prophet would speak God’s words to the community, whatever was commanded by him. Anyone who did not listen, God would seek out. The verb here is somewhat ambiguous; some translate as ‘hold accountable/responsible’ and others as ‘demand/require’. It is actually the same verb as is used in 18:11 about seeking the dead. The idea here is probably that God will not allow someone who doesn’t listen to his word to escape.

The chapter closes with the problem of the false prophet, who either speaks in God’s name words not commanded by God, or in the name of other gods. How is the listener to know when the prophet’s message does not come from Yahweh? Moses advises that false messages will not come to pass. He assures the people that they need not fear prophets who speak insolently or presumptuously; they will die. It is helpful to note that the Hebrew does not say, contrary to some English versions, that the false prophet must be put to death or killed.

The main take-away from this passage is that God provides prophets who speak his word to his people. After Moses it would be Samuel, and then Elijah and Elisha in the northern kingdom, and Isaiah and Jeremiah and others in the southern kingdom. In 1 Kings 18 we learn about false prophets speaking in the name of other gods; in Jeremiah 27-29 we learn about prophets who speak falsely in Yahweh’s name. Most importantly, of course, Jesus is the fulfillment of all the prophets, the one who embodied the word of God in himself (John 1:14; cf Heb 1:1-2). This truth is clearly declared in the moment of his transfiguration (Matt 17:3-5), when Jesus appears with Moses and Elijah, and the disciples hear God’s voice commanding them, ‘Listen to him’. If you want to know the will and word of God, listen to Jesus.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for being a God who speaks and is not silent. Help me to hear your word through the prophet you have appointed.

Deuteronomy 18:1-14

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This chapter continues in the theme of religious leaders in Israel. Yesterday we read about the king; tomorrow we will read more about prophets; but today we learn about Levites and priests (18:1-8), and also their Canaanite counterparts (18:9-14).

Honestly, I find the way Moses refers to these religious leaders a bit confusing. My understanding was that priests (cohen) were a subset of Levites. But in Deuteronomy the Hebrew text says ‘priests Levites’, not ‘priests of the Levites’ or ‘priests and Levites’. Jewish communities today still know who is a Levite and who is a Cohen; these men are summoned to read the Bible text in a synagogue before others. They are usually ‘ordinary’ people in other ways, but in the early days of the Israelite community they had a special place in society. They had no land and no other profession except to minister before God. Therefore their ‘pay’ came from the offerings of the people, and Moses even specifies which parts of the animal they could eat, along with grain, wine, oil, and wool. Paul refers to this concept when he talks about evangelists deserving to be paid for their gospel ministry (1 Cor 9:13-14).

In 18:6-8 Moses describes a situation where a Levite has moved from his hometown to the central place of worship, unknown at this stage of history, and yet we understand that he refers to the temple in Jerusalem. He is careful to note that this move was the desire of the Levite’s soul. This man deserves to receive the same portion as all others who serve in the central temple, even though he has ancestral income. But here’s my question: how does he have money from his father if his father was a Levite (cf 10:9)? One commentator suggests that it was from the Levitical towns that became cities of refuge (cf Num 35:2-8 // Deut 19:1-7).

Lastly, Moses contrasts Israelite religious structures with those ‘detestable ways’ they will find in the land of Canaan: child sacrifice, divination, sorcery, witchcraft, fortune-telling, spirit-mediums, and seances. These things are an abomination to God and they are the reason he is driving the people out of the land as a punishment. Note that there is no sense here that these practices do not exist or that they do not work. The Israelites must not do these things because they are wrong in God’s sight. Moses calls on them in this context to be blameless, perfect, without fault (18:13).

When I was searching for spirituality, I practiced some of these things – not child sacrifice of course! I particularly sought contact with spirits of the dead. Thank God for his mercy, that he forgave me and brought me to know him. We see this kind of ‘spiritism’ day-by-day in Asia. How do we respond? We must recognize that it is real, and that it is wrong. In discipling new believers from these cultures, we must teach truth but at the same time be careful to love and care for people in the grip of traditional and familial bonds, especially where there is fear of evil spirits. We are not conquering these lands, or punishing their people, but coming in humility, service, and love.

And secondly, as ministers of the gospel, we deserve the offerings people make. Never feel guilty or awkward about asking the support of people who love the Lord.

Prayer: Thank you Lord, for providing for your servants as they minister before you. Please protect us from evil spirits and help me to remain blameless before you.

Deuteronomy 17:14-20

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This section seems to come somewhat out of nowhere, but it feels related to the selection of God’s chosen place in 12:5-14, which also followed a passage about idolatry and its consequences. We learn here about the appointment of a king for the people of Israel, after taking possession of the promised land. This passage is very important for the development of the theme of kingship throughout the Bible. Some scholars suggest that it was written into the mouth of Moses during the exile, long after the rise and fall of the monarchy, in part to explain to the people of Israel why things happened the way that they did. We will just read it as it comes here, without worrying about its provenance.

The point made here is that having a king is the people’s idea, and it was to be like the surrounding nations (cf 1 Sam 8:4-9). Although monarchy was perhaps not God’s design, he is willing to acquiesce to the people’s demands, as long as they follow his choice and his rules. God will choose the king from among the Israelites, and he must not seek many horses (i.e. military might), many wives, or much money. God does not want the people of Israel to go back to Egypt, from which he had saved them. He does not want the king’s heart led astray, or lifted up above his brothers. The king must have a copy of the torah – God’s instruction and commandments – and read it every day, so that his obedience to God’s law demonstrates his fear of Yahweh. This will lead to a long reign and dynasty. The main point is humility and leadership under God’s authority.

It doesn’t take long in the history of Israel to see that the kings failed to live under God’s rule. Saul was a crazy megalomaniac, David sinned in adultery and murder, Solomon did exactly what is warned against here: acquiring horses from Egypt (1 Kgs 4:26; 10:28), wives who led his heart astray (1 Kgs 11:1-8), and excessive wealth. We only go downhill from there, although with occasional flutters of hope (eg 2 Kgs 22). It is not until the advent of Jesus that Israel finally gets a king who has no interest in horses, wives, or wealth, who studies God’s word, and is humble before him. Ironically, when Israel’s true king arose, they by and large rejected him. And yet he is the one who reigns for ‘length of days’ (cf Dan 7:13-14).

Do we see Jesus as king, owner of our lives and holdings? This is the main application of this passage for me. Secondarily, what kind of leadership do we exercise? Is it one that seeks might and wealth? Or are we constrained by humility to read the Lord’s word and be obedient to it?

Prayer: Lord God, forgive me for exalting of my own heart and its desires. Thank you so much for King Jesus, who shows me how to lead in humility. Help me be obedient to him and to your word.

Deuteronomy 16:18 – 17:13

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It is interesting in this chapter to see how legal and religious code were intertwined for the Israelites. 16:18-20 are about judges and justice (the same root word in Hebrew), but 16:21-22 and 17:1 are about forbidden religious practices. 17:2-7 are about judging someone who has sinned against the religious law, and then 17:8-13 describes how the priests and the judges are both provided by God to make correct judgments about difficult cases. Probably, for some of us, the most challenging aspect of all this is the capital punishment which is commanded (17:5-7,12).

Regarding legal practices, Moses sets up a system of judges for every tribe. They must judge righteously, without showing face (this is usually translated as showing partiality) or accepting bribes, which blind wisdom and twist righteousness. Righteousness will result in life and possession of the land. It seems that they would set up a special court, with both priests and judges, in ‘the place that God would choose’ for cases that were difficult to decide. Guilty verdicts could only be pronounced on the evidence of two or three witnesses, and capital punishment was to be exercised first by the witnesses themselves. Those who arrogantly or insolently rejected the law could also be put to death. The point of punishing by death was to get rid of the evil from the community, and also as a deterrent to others.

Evil was particularly manifest in the form of worshipping other gods and setting up idols. An Asherah pole was a symbol of a popular Canaanite goddess of fortune (see this article for more information), and a pillar was probably more of the same. The other specific case of religious wrong mentioned is offering a sacrifice which was blemished. If someone, whether a man or woman, was found by multiple witness to have worshipped someone or something other than Yahweh, they were liable to death by stoning for transgressing the covenant (cf 5:7-9).

What do we do with this passage in multicultural, pluri-religious communities of the 21st century? The first thing to recognize is that Moses spoke this law to the Israelites about their own community; we are not in the same situation. What we can learn is that: (1) justice and righteousness are to be pursued, with no hint of bribery or twisting of truth; (2) rejection of God’s law is evil and deserves punishment; (3) God desires all of our worship, pure and perfect. However, we ourselves are in no place to judge others. In fact, reflecting on ourselves we know that we have broken God’s law countless times, doing evil in his sight. What a relief that Jesus has taken the punishment that we deserve! Although Paul applies this passage to purging the evil from the community of believers (1 Cor 5:13), let us think rather in terms of those three fingers pointing back at us, rather than pointing out the sins of others. (Here’s another song to reflect on.) Let us be thankful for Jesus, and strive for righteousness in our own lives, rather than demanding it in others.

Prayer: Merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, and in what I have failed to do. For the sake of your Son who died for me, have mercy on me and forgive me, so that I may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your name.

Ashera. Eretz Israel Mus.jpg
Asherah pole found in Judah, C8-6th BCE, kept in Eretz Israel Museum.

Deuteronomy 16:1-17

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Today we return to the Book of Deuteronomy after a hiatus of four weeks. We are in the midst of Moses’ explanation of the law to the people of Israel, in the second main section of the book. In this chapter he outlines the three major feasts for which they are to travel to ‘the chosen place’.

Passover is the festival with the most detailed instructions (cf Ex 12:14-28; Lev 23:4-8; Num 28:16-25). It takes place for seven days in Abib (our March-April) because that is when God brought the Israelites out of Egypt. There is an evening sacrifice of meat which is to be eaten with matzah (unleavened bread), which symbolizes both affliction and also the haste with which they left Egypt, not giving time for the bread to rise. The absence of leaven (yeast) for seven days helps the Israelites to remember the importance of this feast, at the end of which they have an assembly and do not work. The heart of this feast is as a memorial, so that they would not forget what God had done for them (16:3). This was, and is, the most important festival in the Jewish calendar. Its significance in the Christian faith cannot be underestimated (cf John 19; 1 Cor 5:8), particularly the notion that Jesus himself is the Paschal sacrifice which helps us to remember God’s great deliverance (eg Luke 22:14-20). One thing I find interesting is that this feast was originally commanded to be celebrated at ‘the place the LORD God would choose’, but has come in these days, after the destruction of the temple, to be a family celebration in the home.

The second festival is known as ‘Weeks’ because seven weeks are counted from the beginning of the harvest. It also became known as Pentecost (from the Greek for ‘fifty days’), and was counted from the second day of Passover (which is strange because they clearly didn’t do any work on the last day of Passover). It is said that the barley harvest began during Passover and the wheat harvest ended seven weeks later. This passage of the Bible describes it as a feast of rejoicing for the whole family and everyone in the nation, including foreigners, orphans, and widows, as all celebrated God’s provision. Later this festival was associated with the giving of the Law at Sinai, seven weeks after departing Egypt, but this is a tradition rather than coming from the Bible. Nevertheless, this gives extra significance to the miracle of Pentecost in the New Testament (cf Acts 2).

The third festival is known as ‘Booths’ or ‘Tabernacles’ and took place about six months after the Passover, in the seventh month, Tishrei (our Sept-October). It is also a joyful harvest festival which celebrates God’s abundant provision – this time of grapes and presumably other fruits such as dates and olives. Again, everyone is to join in the feast. Lev 23:33-44 outlines instructions for living in temporary structures for these eight days, enjoying the outdoors together during the harvest. It is also a memorial for leaving Egypt, when the Israelites had to live in tents for forty years. Interestingly, given our foray there in the last four weeks, the book traditionally read during this festival was Ecclesiastes. As they enjoyed their harvest, they were to rejoice in their toil and its fruit.

16:16-17 summarizes the three festivals, for which all the men are supposed to appear with a sacrificial gift, according to their ability from the blessing of God, in the chosen place before Yahweh. I wonder what the women were doing while the men were traveling and in Jerusalem? Did they enjoy camping out in the fields during the Feast of Booths? Were they expected to do the final harvesting for eight days while the men travelled to the capital, much as we enjoy picking berries with our kids? Or is there a contradiction between 16:14 and 16:16? The Bible text doesn’t answer these questions but only raises them.

While there are many, many fascinating points to consider from this passage, we must conclude. My take-away is that God wants us to remember what he has done for us in salvation, and in provision, and to rejoice. He has created timely moments in the annual calendar for his people to do this. Let us ensure we create space in our own calendars to remember and rejoice.

Prayer: Lord God, I thank you for all that you have done for me. Thank you for saving for me; thank you for providing for me. Help me to remember and to rejoice in all that you have done.

Image result for passover

Ecclesiastes 12:8-14

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Today we come to the end of the Book of Ecclesiastes, and apart from the first verse, this section appears to be an epilogue, contributed by a different voice than Qohelet’s.

I include 12:8 in today’s reading because it does not belong with the section on old age and death which we read yesterday. It is a natural conclusion to Qohelet’s writing, forming an ‘inclusio’ with 1:2. This statement – that everything is hebel – has been the motif we have heard throughout the book. It means that we can’t hang onto anything; memories and even life itself disappears like smoke into the atmosphere. Nothing lasts, nothing is substantial or satisfying, nothing makes sense or can be relied upon. The conclusion itself is that there is no solid conclusion! As we have been saying throughout the last four weeks, we may want to argue with this as a fact, but we can’t argue with Qohelet’s feeling.

In 12:9 a narrator emerges (cf 1:1), describing Qohelet as more than a wise man, but also a teacher of knowledge and composer of proverbs (cf 1 Kgs 4:32), who sought delightful words to record truth correctly. This raises questions for me as a reader: did Qohelet find delightful words, or even truth? In our reading we have mostly encountered words of pain, ugliness, and contradiction. Perhaps our narrator is giving a subtle critique of Qohelet here. He sought, but he did not find (cf 7:23-28; 8:17).

What is a goad? This Hebrew word is only used one other time in the Bible, in 1 Sam 13:21, where it is clearly some kind of work tool; it was a long pointed stick used to prod sheep and other animals to move, just as we use the verb ‘goad’ when talking about provoking a person to do something. So the words of the wise prompt the reader to action, but they do so by inflicting pain. This fits well with the teaching of Qohelet in Ecclesiastes. Wisdom teachers, under God the Shepherd (cf Ps 23:1), are like under-shepherds prodding us along to right action (cf 1 Pet 5:1-4).

However, the narrator goes on to warn his son (cf Prov 1:8; 2:1; 3:1; 4:1 etc) that these books of wisdom are never-ending and that excessive study of them is exhausting. Hey, no arguments here – I am very tired after four weeks of hard work in Ecclesiastes! His conclusion – yes, he has one, in contrast with Qohelet – after all has been heard, is to fear God and keep his commandments. That is, as Qohelet had also urged (cf 5:7; 7:18; 8:12), respect and honor God, and demonstrate this subservience before God by keeping his commandments. Suddenly I feel we are back in Deuteronomy again (where we will return on Monday), hearing that this is humanity’s chief end. Again, as Qohelet warned (cf 11:9), God will bring every deed, both good and evil, into judgment.

There is a sense in this section that the narrator is both commending Qohelet’s wisdom, but also warning that it must be seen against orthodox teaching. If we weren’t sure earlier whether it was alright to argue with the words of this book, we can be positive now. God means to push and prod us toward right living through this word. All are subject to God’s judgment (Rom 2:1-16; Rev 20:11-13) but those whose names are written in the Book of Life will be saved to live with God, whom they love and honor, forever.

Prayer: Lord God, I honor you. Help me to hear your word, to discern its truth, and to be motivated to right living by it. Thank you that although the Bible is sometimes difficult to understand, there are feelings I can relate to, and clear teachings that I can follow.

Image result for goad
http://www.britishmuseum.org

Ecclesiastes 11:7 – 12:7

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This is the last section of the book before we come to the epilogue. Fittingly, it concerns old age and death. In this context, Qohelet explains how we should live while we are still young and ‘in the light’.

In 11:8 he mentions the ‘days of darkness’ which come along as a person gets older and her eyes begin to fail (cf 12:2-3). The beautiful poetic language of 12:1-7 describes what happens in old age: apart from loss of sight, there is physical weakness and ‘bentness’, loss of hearing, early rising, increased fear, less going out, fewer friends, and failing desire. The imagery of 12:6 illustrates the moment of death itself. At this moment, the dust from which humans are formed returns to the earth and the breath returns to God (cf Gen 2:7).

Because these things will happen, Qohelet urges an enthusiastic approach to life before they do (cf 11:1-6), while light is still sweet and eyes can see (11:7). First of all, he recommends joy and happiness (11:8-9). Secondly, he encourages that we go after the things we see that make us happy, and turn away frustration and pain (12:9-10). Finally, he charges us to remember the one who created us (12:1), God. (The verb used there [i.e. ‘create’] is only ever used with God as its subject; there is another word for ‘make’, used in 11:5, which can be used of humans also.)

But there are a few caveats. He doesn’t want us to forget that there are dark days ahead, and that what we have now, in our youth, is hebel and will pass away (11:8,10). We cannot hang onto our youth and strength, as they are fleeting and momentary. Also, God will bring us into judgment for the paths we choose (11:9); the implication is that we should choose our paths wisely as we follow the desires of our hearts.

There is so much contrast in this section to what Qohelet taught earlier that some scholars have suggested that words were added by a different writer. For example, here he says that life is sweet, but earlier that it was better to be dead (eg 4:2-3). Here he says to think of the future, but earlier that we should ignore it and just enjoy the moment (eg 3:22). Here he says that God will bring us into judgment, but earlier that there is no justice or afterlife (eg 3:20; 6:6,12). What is going on here?

It seems from these apparent contradictions that Qohelet himself, just like us, is struggling to know what is truth. (Another possibility is that he changes his mind over the course of writing, and this is a progression of thought.) This encourages me that the way we have approached the book is correct: that Qohelet wants us to argue with him, to think about what he has written, and listen to its truth but always chew on that grain of salty nuttiness which grates. This is God’s word, and he wants us to know that it’s alright to have questions and arguments, and even faith in our doubts. We are neither to cut Ecclesiastes out of the Bible, nor accept everything it says on face value. Above all, as the book will go on to say, we are to remember and fear God, our Creator.

Prayer: Maker and Redeemer, there is a lot about this life that confuses and scares me, and a lot in your Word that I don’t understand. Help me to trust in you, to remember you, to fear you, and to live the life that you have given me while I still can.

I always try to keep faith in my doubts, Sister Berthe.

Ecclesiastes 11:1-6

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This short chapter has two sections, but 11:7-10 is part of a poem which continues to 12:7, so we will deal with those verses in tomorrow’s post. The first part of the chapter is a set of proverbs which relate to chance and predictability, work ethic, and risk-taking.

The first verse is a common expression which has been interpreted in different ways (cf NIV translation). Although it may refer to generosity, it makes sense in the context to think of it in the sense of taking a financial risk, such as trading at sea, in the hope of reaping a reward. In the same vein but with a totally different slant, Qohelet recommends not ‘putting all your eggs in the same basket’, but rather spreading your investments so that if there is some failure in one area due to natural disaster, another area may yet thrive. (Although it is equally possible to interpret 11:2 as being generous to others, if 11:1 was thought of in that way too.)

Already in the environmental theme, Qohelet’s train of thought continues down this track in 11:3 with two simple observations of reality. When clouds are full, it rains; when a tree falls, it lies where it fell. His point, perhaps contrary to 11:1-2, is that we can predict the future with some small degree of certainty at least. However, sometimes this ability to predict hinders rather than helping us. For example, a farmer who can see from the clouds that it is about to rain doesn’t go out to harvest; or the wind might stop him from scattering seed, for fear that it will not be planted evenly.

It is the whole context of 11:1-6 that indicates to me that Qohelet sees this cessation of labour, because of prediction, as negative rather than a positive from wisdom. (Also, the warnings in 10:15,18 about laziness, cf Prov 22:13; 26:13.) Here in 11:6, he encourages the reader to sow and not rest, whether morning or evening, because either or both might be good. The flavor of the passage is to try, to do, to work, in the hope that whatever you do will pay off. Take risks!

But there is also the sense that we can’t be confident that whatever we do will work out. There might be a natural disaster, the seed might be scattered, the bread might not return. Our investments may fail. We humans cannot know the path of the wind any more than we can know how babies are created inside the womb. But God knows all these things, because he is their creator.

The message, in a nutshell, is that we should take risks in the hope of return. But we should also recognize that things won’t always work out well. (Read this John Piper article on the topic of risk if you want to think about this further.) The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is full of heroes who took risks that paid off: Ruth, David, Esther, Daniel, Peter, Paul. God himself took a risk by sending his Son over the waters. That risk failed in some ways (in that not everyone received him, John 1:10-11) and succeeded in others. What risk is God calling you to take today?

Prayer: Here I am, Lord, with all that I have. Help me to trust in you as I risk it all for you and your sake.

Ecclesiastes 10 (Part 2)

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Today we continue through Chapter 10, looking at the themes of (1) upside-down societal structures, and (2) laziness and work. (The other themes of this chapter were explored yesterday, so if you missed that post you could go back and read that too.)

In 10:5-7, Qohelet begins discussing an ‘evil’ he has observed, which comes about by an unintentional error of a ruler. It is the elevation of a fool to a high post, while the rich man sits in a low estate; he gives the example of slaves on horses while princes walk. This is upheaval of the social order. The theme returns in 10:16-17, where he pronounces woe on a nation whose king is only a young man, and feasting happens in the morning (which would result in drunkenness, and therefore sloth, for the rest of the day). He prefers a blue-blood king, and feasting ‘in its time’ for strength.

We already mentioned about the fool yesterday, but didn’t discuss Qohelet’s preference for wealth and nobility. As an Australian, famous for our ‘flat’ society, this grates on me. I want social upheaval! The Bible overall generally roots for the underdog too, and the elevation of those who are normally at the bottom of society (cf 1 Sam 2:8; Luke 1:52-53). But in contrast, my father remembers with pain what happened in Hungary in the 1940s and 50s, when the soviets intentionally turned society upside-down; the monarchy was abolished, his wealthy family was made to learn manual trades, and people with no education were suddenly elevated. The same thing happened thirty years later in Cambodia, when the Khmer Rouge evacuated the cities, with mostly an educated population, to become forced rural labour, and particularly targeted professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and teachers for cruelty. Which is the greater social evil: to keep slaves in their low place, or to intentionally destroy a society by up-ending it?

The theme of laziness flows on from 10:16-17, noting the princes who get drunk in the morning and therefore are fit for nothing for the rest of the day. But it is spelled out more explicitly in 10:18. As a fool is tired out by working and therefore he doesn’t know how to get to the city (to buy food? to work?, cf 4:5), so also a house is destroyed by laziness. It is only through toil that money can be earned to buy bread and wine, which brings laughter and joy. (The ‘but’ in some English versions of 10:19 is not helpful here, and is better translated as ‘and’.)

However, toil is not always smooth. 10:8-9 list a number of ways that a worker can be injured. It could be that 10:11 is also part of this list of laborers, but it fits better, structurally and linguistically, with 10:10. As the woodcutter must sharpen his axe for better success, so also the snake-charmer must use his tongue before he is bitten. The point of this section is that a worker should use wisdom in their toil.

We can learn from this chapter that work is good and important, but that it must be done sensibly and in the right way for greatest success. This is true at both an individual and a social level. Laziness will lead to hunger and your house – literally and metaphorically – falling down.

Prayer: God, help me to work hard and to work smart. Protect me from sloth and from silly accidents.

Image for post
https://medium.com/@BWHopen/never-again-the-cambodian-genocide-2d9d17a2b7d4

Ecclesiastes 10 (Part 1)

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In our chapter today we have a diverse collection of proverbs with no single discernible unifying theme or structure. However, there are some overlapping ideas that keep cropping up: wisdom versus folly; relating to rulers; societal structures; work, laziness, and accidents. I will attempt to cover these topics thematically (rather than going verse by verse) over today and tomorrow.

10:1 relates back to what we just read in 9:18 (and actually belongs there better, instead of starting a new chapter). The idea is that a lot of what is good – perfume or wisdom and honor – can be destroyed by something small. We have seen that happen in the lives of individuals, churches and nations. Qohelet is not giving advice here, simply stating a reality.

He goes on to comparing the wise with fools (10:2). Although foolishness is easily observed (10:3), still a fool can be appointed to a high position (10:6). I have tried not to show overt political opinions in this blog but I can’t help thinking of a certain (ex-)world leader who demonstrates this sad truth, and also 10:12b-14. It is impossible for me not to think of him as I read about speech that begins with folly and ends with evil madness, multiplying words so that no one knows what’s coming or where it will end, which eventually consume him.

The same person comes quickly to mind when I read 10:4, although this is not the import of the verse. Here Qohelet is again giving advice to officials who work in the royal court (cf 8:2-4). When your boss gets angry with you (literally, ‘the spirit of the ruler rises up against you’), don’t leave. The second half of 10:4 literally says, ‘healing puts to rest great sins’. It is difficult to know exactly what Qohelet had in mind, but it seems to me that he is recommending conciliation in the face of offensive behavior by a ruler towards his subordinates. In other words, play cool in any aggravated situation; keep the peace rather than fighting back or quitting in the moment.

In the last verse (10:20), he instructs the reader – I think still keeping the court official in mind, but it could be more general – not to curse the king (or the wealthy), even in thinking or in private, in case the matter gets back to the ruler. This is a tough rebuke to me. I often find myself, in private, disparaging or despising leaders who affect my life, whether politically, or organizationally. Perhaps I am not literally cursing them, but a better attitude would be to pray for those in authority over me.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to take this advice to heart as I relate to those in authority over me. Give me patience and coolness, give me love and an understanding heart. Let not my foolish words or sinfulness destroy what good my community is trying to do.

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