"Koheleth's Warning: Meaningless, Meaningless, All is Meaningless" (Part 2 of 8)
Turn with me to another piece of Wisdom literature. Proverbs, Chapter 2. And let me lay for you a foundation of the supreme value of wisdom in our Biblical experience. When I was reading these scriptures in Proverbs, it evoked so many memories because Proverbs was my favorite book as a child, which shouldn't surprise you if you know my background in philosophy. I was always intrigued with the Wisdom, the pithy kind of Wisdom of Proverbs. And some of my favorite scriptures were to be found in the second, third and fourth chapter of Proverbs. Let's look at Chapter 2, beginning with verse 1. The writer here says, "My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding. If you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden Treasure, then you will understand the fear of YHWH and find the knowledge of Elohim. For the Lord gives wisdom and from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding." May I make this point about the text. We seek wisdom and God supplies it. There is a reciprocity that goes on here. We have to apply ourselves in the pursuit of wisdom. But if we seek it, God will supply it. Look at the third Chapter of Proverbs: let's begin this time with verse 13. Blessed is the man, how fortunate, how lucky is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding for she -- and here you will see something that is going to be even more apparent later -- it's the personification of Wisdom, something that was done in Judaism and in the rabbinic period. Wisdom...she is more profitable (verse 14) than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies. Nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand and in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life. Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her. Those who lay hold of her will be blessed. The Torah scroll is wrapped around two spindles. And these spindles in Hebrew are called etz hayim. They are trees of life. That's what the literal meaning is. Trees of life...and when you come up to the platform to read the Torah, you take hold of these spindles. You have to grasp them firmly and lift up the word of God and bless the word of God. Bless God and his word and then lay the open scroll and read the text for the day. And I think that this is part of the imagery here. The word of God, wisdom, is a tree of life but you’ve got to grasp it. You've got to embrace it, says the NIV translator here. You've got to actively lay hold of God's word and elevate that word in your life to come into a proper relationship. But if you do, you will be blessed. Why do we study Ecclesiastes? We want wisdom. We want to be blessed. We want pleasant ways and paths of peace.
And finally, Proverbs 4:1, Listen my son, to a father's instruction. Pay attention and gain understanding. I give you sound learning, so do not forsake my teaching. When I was a boy in my father’s house, still tender and an only child of my mother, he taught me and said, Lay hold of my words with your heart, with all your heart. Keep my commandments and you will live. Get wisdom, get understanding. Do not forget my words or swerve from them. Do not forsake wisdom and she will protect you. Love her and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme. Therefore, get wisdom, though it costs all you have. Get understanding.
Why am I studying Ecclesiastes? Because I take this scripture quite literally. Wisdom is supreme. It's worth every effort to apply. And notice here these dynamic words that are used to charge us. Here it speaks of active participation. "Listen," it says, "pay attention, lay hold of, keep, get, embrace." Do you see all these dynamic words that are used? The pursuit of wisdom is not something that is done passively. You can't sit on your backside on a padded pew and be spoon-fed wisdom by a preacher. Wisdom is something that you have to actively, aggressively pursue. It has to be something that is of supreme value to you. And I hope that before our study is over, so you will understand just what wisdom is and why it is so important. So, we are studying this subject because wisdom is the supreme skill of life. Wisdom is greatly exalted in the Jewish culture. There is a whole genre of literature called Wisdom literature. The three primary examples of this are the books of Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. There are also several Psalms that are are called Wisdom Psalms. Let me enumerate them for you and maybe before our next meeting, you will read these Psalms and it will get you into the frame of mind of why wisdom is so important to us. For example, here are some of the primary Wisdom Psalms: Psalms 1, 19b, 32, 34, 37, 49, 78, 112, 119, 127, 128 and 133. Bingo! If you’ve got all those numbers, you’ve won the prize. And the prize is Wisdom. Wisdom is greatly exalted in the Jewish culture. But Wisdom is something that must be learned. It is not a natural endowment. It is not something that you are just born with. It's a learning experience. It's an experience that comes through teaching. It must be sought after. And it is sought by teaching, by instruction. What is Wisdom? Who knows the Hebrew word for Wisdom? Hokmah. A wise man is called a talmid hacham. He is literally "a wise student." The old sage, the white-haired, white-bearded sage is still a student, from the Biblical point of view but now after years and years of seeking after Wisdom and being instructed and taught; he is now a wise student. A talmid hacham.
Hokmah has a range of meanings like many Hebrew words, a range of meanings depending on the context. It can be translated in some contexts as "cunning," as "moral discernment," in other contexts, as "understanding" or as "great knowledge." Or it could be understood as "intellect" or "intelligence," sometimes. Or often, it is spoken of in the sense of an "ability" or" skill." But the primary meaning of Wisdom (in the Hebrew sense) is a "superior mental ability" or "special skill." Superior mental ability or special skill. That is what the root meaning of hokmah is. Now, if it is an ability or skill, then how do we acquire skills? By training, by counsel, and these are two words that are often associated with wisdom. Training and counsel (musar and etsah). Training and counsel leads us to wisdom. And indeed, from the Biblical point of view, the highest skill -- the supreme skill in life -- is to be able to have the ability to live successfully with the approval of God and man. You remember the scripture that refers to Jesus; he grew in stature and wisdom, in favor with God and man. In other words, he learned how to live successfully according to the divine plan. And that is what wisdom is all about. Wisdom, in truth, Ecclesiastes is about abundant living. In fact, we might title this series, "Abounding Emptiness, Abundant Living, The Challenge of Kohelet." Ecclesiastes.
So, wisdom, in its root meaning, refers to an ability or special skill. And the highest skill gained by teaching, gained by counsel and by instruction is to be able to live successfully in accordance with God's plan and man's approval. It is the abundant life that we all are truly interested in.
* This is an audio transcript, listen to the original message here.