Solomon’s preacher: flying in the face of a lazy generation

The phrase “should never” appears only twice in the English translations, and a popular song tells people to “never be discouraged” while the facts are that Christ himself was profoundly troubled and needed encouragement in the last hours of his life. There however are lots of verbs with the following meaning:

The phrase “should never” appears only twice in the English translations, even though there are lots of verbs with the following meaning:

  1. let us never
  2. you/they must never
  3. we/I will by no means
  4. they will never 

The first “should never” is not even a command or expectation; it is one of the conclusions from the preacher (of Ecclesiastes).

“When I gave my heart to know wisdom and to see the task which has been done on the earth (even though one should never sleep day or night),”

Ecclesiastes 8:16, NASB

Three Clauses make up this verse.

  1. “When I gave my heart to know wisdom 
  2. and [gave my heart] to see the task which has been done on the earth
  3. (even though one should never sleep day or night),” (Ecclesiastes 8:16, NASB)
  1. כַּאֲשֶׁ֨ר נָתַ֤תִּי אֶת־לִבִּי֙ לָדַ֣עַת חָכְמָ֔ה
  2.  וְלִרְאוֹת֙ אֶת־הָ֣עִנְיָ֔ן אֲשֶׁ֥ר נַעֲשָׂ֖ה עַל־הָאָ֑רֶץ
  3.  כִּ֣י גַ֤ם בַּיּוֹם֙ וּבַלַּ֔יְלָה שֵׁנָ֕ה בְּעֵינָ֖יו אֵינֶ֥נּוּ רֹאֶֽה׃” (Ecclesiastes 8:16, WLC)

The 3rd clause seems to be the preacher’s conclusion that in both day and night (= every 4 hour day) his inner (heart) processes to (a) acquire wisdom and (b) to see [by looking at] the common inyan, business, come up empty-handed.

His conclusion: [my translation]

because indeed daily for sleepy eyes there is no sight.

He was accusing his generation of being busy sleepy heads, unseeing and therefore not wise.  Who is going to dispute the progress of the Israelite kingdom during Solomon’s reign?  The busy sleepyhead is not missing in the modern era. We find them in all the areas of public endeavour and public service. There are employers whose practice is to rob the worker, peace officers and judges who pervert justice, preachers, rabbis, imams, and  prophets who have no master.  If we think the Ecclesiastes preacher is arrogant then consider that lilies of the field and the birds of the sky know their path and follow it, yet they have neither book, prophet nor magic wand. I recommend a pin for that balloon: the idea that busyness is evidence of knowledge or wisdom.

Read, Study, House

I have always believed that diligence yields remarkable results.   It is true that there is a happy benefit in reading the important things, just as there is for hearing and heeding them.  So building on the assurance that a truly diligent experience cannot be equated with the mere reading and reciting of what the Bible has to say we can conclude that a notable outcome is in the making when God’s word – message to humanity – receives the due diligence.  Beyond storytelling, incredible tales of triumph, and confessions of loyalty and obedience is the rich housing of Christ’s message and business in the believer.

Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.

Revelation of John 1:3

Riches housed in the believer!

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Colossians 3:16

It would  be a serious error to argue that the blessings that accrue from hearing and heeding are of the same value as the benefit that comes from simply reading or reciting.  The word of Christ comes to us from a single source: apostolic witness. There is no evidence that anyone can heed (hear, akouo, ακούω) and keep a grip on what the Lord’s witnesses had to say, and particularly what the only prophetic and summative writing contains.   The Book of Hebrews does for the Mosaic legacy and Christ what the Book  of Revelation does for Christ and history.

Read the words, heed and grasp the contents

The content of scripture is not just words. The kingdom business addressed are the things to be heard and kept. What we read can lead to a curiosity about what was said and on to the contents of the book(s). It is only the diligent who realize that reading is not diligence, and that searching for the bottom line cannot be performed by means of the sometimes accurate commentaries on the too often inaccurate translations and paraphrases.

We allow ourselves to be distracted by people who have no intention of getting to the business of Christ’s word, the richness of which is not a ton of commands, but is comprised of total wisdom, teaching and admonition, and grateful singing in the heart to God.

Can the rhetoric

When the consumer closes in on the news these days it is not uncommon to hear references to truth and lies. If human beings are sinners then they are also liars. The scriptures testify to this fact. All of us – no exceptions – are failures when it comes to performing God’s will.  When I go to my Bible I do not expect to be a rhetoric miner.   I do not expect arguments. I go in fully expecting to derive a sense of stability and reliability.  I expect the truth and nothing but.  Exhibit A is the aversion to putting Christ above all authority as the Scriptures affirm.  All the prophets, grind to a halt as the ultimate authority. All the prophets of all the nations cannot be reliable. It dos not take much examination to can see their shortcomings and shortsightedness. “True religion” is rhetoric we can do without.

If you take the wisest man, Solomon, or the leading authority in the Jewish tradition you will most likely hang your hat on fearing God and keeping His commands. You will also be ignoring Moses in his most humble and honest moments.  Solomon did not ghet past the first demand of the Mosaic legacy: you cannot have more than one “god”. Hear Moses now and feel the click.

I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him (18). It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him. (19)

Deuteronomy 18:18-19

The disciples of Christ understood this.  Listen to Peter’s embrace of the message from Moses.

Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed to everything He says to you. (22) And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ (23)

Acts 3:22-23

You can only paint yourself into a corner with your commitment to the law and ancient practices.  Christ is of no effect to the person who confesses confidence in his own compliance with the instruments of condemnation and prejudices that are wholly unattractive and futile.


If people insist that there are individuals in the North American context who have never demonstrated the vileness of our founding national leaders then there is little reason to hope for a just society. Canadians who do not see the criminal streak in Canada’s settlement of the land and confederation will die due to their rhetoric and pass on the lifestyle to their children. Even in our most cospopolitan areas there lurks all the vilest specimens of humanity. The genocidal outrages and the attraction of military-dominated governments are bound to continue. It will take an unprecedented bit of courage and universal agreement to end the silly rhetoric of nationalists and conservative types. Deny, deny, deny. People who refuse to admit their history can be expected to engage in trashy rhetoric, misguided protest, education that leads away from facts, and they will unload their passions on the victims of bad policy.

Solomon’s sleep comes easily

The king slept well and was probably also quite fit!

The fear of the Lord leads to life, So that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil.

Proverbs 19:23, like much of the book, is about Solomon’s accountability for his wisdom to govern. Solomon showed no interest in adopting the ideals of Judaism, the first of which is to belief and worship a single God, namely the God of Abraham, identified as creator of the universe.

Murder by proverb

Proverbs have been a refuge for many believers because of their relation to daily life or because of observations that are common and viewed as helpful. It is often forgotten that Solomon’s wisdom was targeted at ruling the Iraelite nation and it was what he asked for. Much of dismay at what seems like incorrigible malicious behaviour may be attributed to misapplication of commands and observations. People doing business with or for the state are not the same as individuals walking with God.

What’s in a proverb

There are 139 commands in the Book of Proverbs and we are not surprised to find that the terms of the Covenant are not highly featured.  After all Solomon seems to have been oblivious to the first stipulation of the Covenant. Proverbs are for rulers and no one gets life by being in charge of anything. If Genesis has anything to say about the subject, it is that dominion by smarts kills.

The sayings in the Proverbs are observations of human life, warnings about careless living, and declarations about the ruler’s relationship with God.  The  proverbs reflect the life of someone in charge.  A person in possession of proverbs is expected to rule successfully.  If anything seeps in from the covenant it is family life; parents and children in harmony and the dangers of prostitution.

Rule by proverb or power?

Solomon’s exorbitant wealth is no token of divine approval and his rule over Israel mirrors with precision the rule of Adam over the world: disastrous. It is raw power that Adam and Eve shared as dominars of sky land and sea.

Listen to your mom and dad

The message of Messiah’s mighty messenger addresses the quality of the relationship between parents and children. Every generation has an obligation to work on dancing to what is appropriate for parents and children. This can only happen when the parties are willing and courageous to repent of their futile ways. Parents can take little pleasure in seeing only that their children simply follow their lead. Children can take little pleasure only in rebelling against their parents’ simply lead.  To fail this test is to court a curse.

Malachi 4:6
And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

Luke 1:17
And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

All that Wisdom: poof

All that wisdom: poof
Is it a coincidence that the books at the center of Hebrew wisdom are often lacking in the grand themes of divine excellence? Wisdom, righteousness and greatness seem locked up in the Law, but the winds have never found the sails. Like the choice offerings in the sanctuary, the great wisdom has vanished in a flash.

And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day? Deuteronomy 4:8

Wisdom that comes and goes

The nations of the world were impressed with Israel’s holy things, but the covenant lay in ruins from Moses to John the Baptist. Wisdom and understanding were supposed to be manifested in performance

… do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. Deuteronomy 4:6b

What about that great law lends itself to people everywhere? Mercy, justice, and faithfulness appear as God’s priorities in every age.

  1. Job gets dragged through the wringer of adversity to reveal, apart from the Law, that people cannot save themselves. He leaps on and rejoices in the coming resurrection, God’s covering righteousness, and a philanthropic lifestyle.
  2. David is all over those things that are both mysterious and material to the salvation of all people. His vision is not of Moses law as primary. It is a king who saves and rules by extreme righteousness
  3. Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, says nothing about salvation, endurance, worship, idolatry, faith, and forgiveness.

Slinging maxims and proverbs is no way to build a spiritual life

But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple. Matthew 12:6

The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here. Matthew 12:42