Ecclesiastes 1 begins with Solomon reflecting on the meaninglessness of life. “All is vanity,” he says. It’s pointless. Meaningless. People are born; people die. Weather patterns shift around. Nobody does anything new, and nothing changes.
Solomon decided to use his wisdom to try to find meaning in this meaningless landscape. However, he failed. The work of mankind is irredeemably flawed. Nor is there any consolation even in the use of wisdom. All wisdom does is to increase frustration and unhappiness.
Ecclesiastes 2 recounts Solomon’s systematic examination of everything that people do to try to find happiness. However, he found that all the pleasures of humankind are ultimately pointless too. His possessions became so great that he was wealthier than any of the kings who had come before him. It didn’t matter. All of it was still meaningless.
After this, Solomon examined wisdom. Generally, it’s better to have understanding about life. However, whether we are wise or foolish, we’re all going to die anyway. Wisdom provides no lasting earthly benefit.
Additionally, there’s no point to accumulating riches for your heirs. They may well be idiots who will waste everything you worked for, leaving your labor meaningless. Instead, Solomon says it’s better to enjoy what you have now and accept it as the gift of God.
Ecclesiastes 3 begins with the famous “For everything there is a season” section, which The Byrds turned into a Vietnam-War protest song. Contextually, though, this poem is disappointing rather than reassuring. Back and forth, back and forth it goes, without any real change or resolution.
We all have our work to do under the sun, but understanding it is beyond us. God gives us things to enjoy, but we should never think that we can comprehend his will. However, it is reassuring to remember the work of God when we see earthly injustice. He will punish the wicked eventually. Conversely, as far as we can tell, we are no better off than animals when we die.
Ecclesiastes 4 begins with another examination of injustice. Solomon says it’s better not to live at all than to see the oppression that exists on earth. For those who are alive, though, they ought to be aware both of the perils of laziness and the perils of working too hard, whether to impress others or for some reason they can’t even define. However, there are two things that make life better: trusty companions to share it with, and a willingness to listen to advice. In the end, though, even great success is not enough to make life meaningful.
Ecclesiastes 5 first admonishes us to be reverent when we come before God. We need to listen a lot, talk little, and honor the promises that we have made to Him. Social injustice should not be our concern. Similarly, we shouldn’t get caught up in striving for more money, which won’t make us happy. However, the lives of those who have been made poor by circumstance aren’t pleasant either. What is best is for us to work, to savor the fruits of our labor, and to recognize that these things are the gift of God.
Some proverbs are easier for us to handle than others. The grayer we get, the better we like Proverbs 16:31! Others, though, should make us pause for some sober self-examination. On this list, I would include Proverbs 18:2, which reads, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”
It’s very easy for us to make this proverb about somebody else. There’s that know-it-all at work, that pompous bore on Facebook. Don’t they ever listen to themselves? Don’t they ever realize how clueless they sound? Don’t they ever shut up? Maybe we could figure out some discreet way of getting them to read this, and it would cure them!
Proverbs 18:2 is certainly strong medicine, but it’s supposed to be taken internally. God doesn’t mean for us to go around labeling others based on how insufferable they are: “They’re a fool, and they’re a fool, and they’re a fool, and. . .” Instead, He wants us to consider whether we’re seeing a fool when we look in the mirror.
To paraphrase the webcomic xkcd, someone is always wrong, and not just on the Internet. There are wrong people at work. There are wrong people in our neighborhood. There are wrong people at church. We can tell that they’re wrong because they don’t agree with us.
All too often, we respond to people like that by sticking our fingers in our ears and telling them the Truth at top volume. If we’re aren’t in the mood for confrontation, we check out of the conversation and count ceiling tiles while they blather on, secure in the knowledge that whatever they say, they will continue to be wrong.
Guess what doing that makes us. It makes us fools.
Here’s the thing. We might think they’re wrong, but they don’t think they are. They have some reason for saying what they’re saying. If we don’t want to end up on the wrong side of Proverbs 18:2, we need to give them an honest hearing. Yes, I know it’s out of fashion to listen to people we don’t agree with, but we ought to try it anyway.
First, even people who are so absurdly, ridiculously wrong that they disagree with us still can tell when we aren’t paying attention to them. They appreciate it when we hear them out respectfully, and they don’t appreciate it when we don’t listen. It costs us nothing to be courteous, and courtesy is worth a great deal.
Second, the better we understand them, the better equipped we are to help them understand us. We’re much more likely to be persuasive when we address their actual beliefs and arguments, rather than our pre-conceived caricature of those beliefs and arguments. There is no substitute for hearing a position explained by someone who endorses it.
Finally, and I hesitate even to bring this up, it’s always possible that in some disagreement, our position might be the one that’s, um, not-right. I know; I know—everyone who is reading this has got it all figured out. But what if we don’t? Hypothetically speaking, that insufferable, pompous bore on the other side may have a point, but if we don’t listen, we will never realize it. I’d rather be embarrassed for a little while and right thereafter than wrong forever.
Fools want to be right. The wise want to be wiser. The path we go down is entirely up to us.
Psalm 27 expresses David’s confidence in God. Because God is his light and salvation, he can be fearless. He’s seen God defeat his past enemies, so he won’t be afraid of any future enemies, no matter how numerous they are. He wants to spend his days glorifying God in His house because he knows that God always will protect him. As he worships God now, he appeals to God to protect him even when his own family isn’t. He asks God to bless him both with instruction and protection, and he is certain that he will see God’s goodness before he dies.
Psalm 28 is another one of David’s appeals to God for help. David claims that if God won’t help him, he might as well be dead, so he is pleading with God to answer him. He doesn’t want God to punish him as God punishes the wicked. He expects, in fact, that God is going to reward the wicked according to their wickedness so that they will be permanently destroyed. The psalm concludes with rejoicing in God’s answer to prayer. God has protected David, and He will continue to protect His people.
Psalm 29 begins by calling on the inhabitants of heaven to give God the glory He deserves. In particular, David focuses on God’s majesty as revealed in the volume and power of thunder. The thunder the psalm describes is so powerful that it smashes trees and makes the ground shake. The animals are frightened, the leaves fall off the trees, and God’s people worship Him because of the display of His power. He is King even over the mighty storms, and with His strength, He can grant peace and strength to His own.
Psalm 30 has an ascription that says it was used at the dedication of the temple. It looks back on the way that God has saved David from his enemies. David then encourages the people to praise and thank God because even if they suffer for a little while, the future will surely be better.
David had made the mistake of trusting in himself, but when God withdrew His favor, he realized it was all really due to God. In that time, he pleaded with God to save him because dead worshipers don’t give God any glory. God responded and delivered him, so now he is going to praise God forever.
Psalm 31 was also written during a difficult time in David’s life. David begins by asking God to rescue him. God is his only hope, a thought he expresses with the words, “Into Your hands I commit my spirit,” words Jesus later uses on the cross. David hates wickedness and trusts God because he has seen that God is trustworthy. Nonetheless, he is currently suffering greatly, and all of his neighbors look down on him and plot against him. Despite this, David continues to trust in God, and he calls on God for deliverance. God’s goodness is so great that He always rescues His own. The psalm concludes with rejoicing that God has delivered David, and it calls on all of God’s people to likewise trust in Him.
Job 16 begins Job’s next retort to his increasingly snippy friends. He sarcastically notes that if his position were reversed with his friends’ positions, he too could look down at their misfortune. After this, Job returns to his primary theme. His troubles have one source: God. God has attacked him directly and turned him over to his enemies, even though he has done nothing wrong. Ultimately, only God can justify him and prove him right.
Job 17 continues Job’s complaint. He begins by asking his friends, if they won’t believe him, at least to protect him from others who are making false accusations. For this too, Job blames God. It’s God’s fault that he has been afflicted so much that the righteous assume he has done something wrong. Really, though, none of those people understand the truth. Job concludes with a lament that nothing is left for him except to die.
Job 18 contains the next reply of Bildad. Bildad doesn’t appreciate the tone that Job is taking with them, and he outright asks Job if he thinks his friends are stupid. After this, he embarks on a by-now-familiar recitation of all the bad things that happen to wicked people. Because they don’t know God, they are destroyed. Bildad’s implication is that because Job has been brought so low, he must have done something to offend God, whether or not he will admit it.
Job 19 contains Job’s next speech in the exchange. He asks how long his friends are going to falsely accuse him. They don’t know Job’s actions. If Job has indeed sinned, it’s a secret from them. They’re just assuming because of Job’s disgrace.
In this, though, they acknowledge something that is Job’s main theme. God is responsible for his predicament. God doesn’t answer when he cries for justice. God attacks him like a hostile army. God makes all of Job’s friends, relatives, and acquaintances hate him, even when Job pleads for mercy. Job also wants his words to be preserved, so that at last when God appears, He will vindicate him. In this, Job warns, there is danger for everybody who accuses him falsely. God will condemn them.
Psalm 26 defines righteousness and its results. The first three verses are a plea from David to God to vindicate him, a plea that David is not afraid to make because he knows he has been faithful to God. Vs. 4-8 defines David’s righteousness. Rather than associating with the wicked, he spends his time in God’s house worshiping him. Vs. 9-12 contain David’s plea to God to rescue him from the wicked because even though the wicked are not righteous, he is.
Job 11 marks the first time that Zophar the Naamathite speaks up. He is the most sarcastic of Job’s friends so far. He begins by expressing his contempt for Job’s “babble” and his hope that God would show up to set Job straight. He then caustically questions the limits of Job’s understanding of God. Who does Job think he is, that he can call God to account? Finally, Zophar returns to a familiar theme. All of Job’s problems are the result of his sin. If he acknowledges his sin, his problems will disappear and his life will be good again.
Job 12 is the beginning of Job’s equally sarcastic reply to Zophar. He resents Zophar’s mockery of him, particularly when Zophar thinks that he himself is sooo wise. However, Zophar has overlooked the fact that the wicked are prospering while righteous Job is suffering.
Next, Job points out that his suffering must be the result of God’s action. All created things reveal the power of the Creator. In fact, God is omnipotent. Nobody can control or restrain Him. Even the most prominent and powerful people cannot stand against His will.
Job 13 continues Job’s dissection of Zophar’s claims. Job wants a hearing before God, but in insisting that Job has no right to such a hearing, his friends are misrepresenting God. They’re being unfair to Job, and God will punish them for it.
After this, Job directly addresses God again. He says that he will continue to hope in God even if God kills him. He knows that he is righteous, so he has the right to come before God. From God, Job wants to learn two things. First, what has Job done wrong? Second, why does God hate him and persecute him so much?
Job 14 is the conclusion of Job’s rebuttal. He begins by describing the transitory nature of man, who is not eternal because God has chosen that he should not be eternal. A tree that is cut down may sprout from the stump, but man, once dead, stays dead. What Job would really like, if God is this angry at him, is for God to kill him now and resurrect him once God’s wrath is past. However, Job knows that this is a vain hope. Instead, he is going to have to continue in his suffering.
Job 15 contains the next speech of Eliphaz. He says that Job is being a windbag, hindering faith in God, and revealing his own sin with every word. Like Zophar, he demands to know who Job thinks he is, that he has the right to question the justice of God and the understanding of his friends, who apparently are much older than he is. Why is Job so angry when all people are inevitably wicked? Eliphaz then spends the remainder of the chapter elaborating on the fate of the wicked. They oppose themselves to God, so they can only receive evil and not good.