In his pursuit of wisdom, Solomon sought meaning through the pleasure of sensual experiences as if they were the key to understanding God and enjoying life. He thought that the answer lay in a variety of such experiences: food, drink, entertainment, and sexual excess. When these failed to satisfy he threw himself into his work. As great as his deeds were, they did not satisfy either because he realized that after he died he would not be able to ensure that his legacy would be used properly. Someone else would come along too foolish to know better and all his work and energy would have gone for nothing. So what’s the point?
If we are wise we will see that Solomon’s experiences reflect the general trend of our own modern society. The media and popular advertising all convey the message that the meaning and purpose of life is rooted in sensual experience. Daily we are bombarded by ads and messages that tell us that the greatest pleasure in life is to be found in sexual activity, so we should pursue it and enhance it in order to draw from it as much as we can. People also seek meaning and purpose in various entertainments and experiences that give them an adrenalin rush, or they overindulge in food or drink. Many seek satisfaction in their jobs, in their work, in creating things or accumulating wealth, possessions or fame. They rarely stop to think about the long term merit or value of any of these things even when faced with their own mortality. Peace and contentment are found only in a life lived for the Lord.
As we enter this book, we should prepare ourselves for a bumpy ride. Unlike Proverbs which contrasts the positive benefits of wisdom in contrast to the negative characteristics of folly, this book presents a rather sobering view of wisdom from the heart of King Solomon borne out of a life of experience and trouble. In this opening chapter we note that he calls himself the Preacher, which in essence meant that as king he was the worship leader of Israel. To function in his offices he knew he needed wisdom. So early in his life he asked God to grant it to him (1 Kings 3:6-9) so that he could rule the Lord’s people with justice and mercy.
The Lord gave wisdom to Solomon, but not instantaneously as we might assume. Wisdom was not just something he miraculously developed: it had to be sought through study, observation and experience. He developed a thirst for knowledge, to try and find the meaning of life through a wide variety of experiences. Unfortunately his quest for wisdom led him to conclude that life was meaningless for he sought it through worldly experiences. Most of these experiences promised not only wisdom but peace and contentment. Yet at the end, he concluded that they were all pointless. Thus his desire in this book is to tell his own sons and us the futility of living a life apart from God. He knows this first hand. We would save ourselves a great deal of grief and pain by listening to him and applying his wisdom. There is nothing new under the sun so though young men and women might think they know it all, they do not. Therefore we should realize that we ignore tradition and the wisdom of older people to our detriment.
These final sayings of King Solomon reveal the words of wisdom he received from his mother regarding self-discipline and finding a wise and godly wife, instructions which he chose to ignore, but which we would do well to heed. At the start she instructs him to exercise justice and mercy on behalf of the poor and the oppressed. His duty as king was not to indulge himself in the lusts of the flesh. He was not to misuse his office and power to entertain himself, but to rule with righteousness and a clear head. These verses about drinking do not condemn the use of wine or strong drink. Abstinence from alcohol was rare in ancient times. Drunkenness is condemned for it reveals that one is concerned with one’s own pleasure and well-being. What is wise is to use one’s life and resources for the good of others.
The noble woman reveals this same outward concern for others. She is the epitome of all the lessons Proverbs has taught us. What is said about her serves as an example for all men, women and children. This noble woman is not interested in self-promotion or self-fulfillment but in doing God’s will. She practices discretion and diligence in all she does. And all she does is directed not toward exalting herself at all but towards benefiting her husband, her children, the poor and the entire community. That sounds foolish in our day when the world promotes the aggrandizement of the self. Even behavior that seems altruistic and charitable is used as a cause for boasting and boosting one’s own ego, exalting one’s own merits and goodness. Not so with this noble woman. Wisdom has given her humility. She knows her place in the world and her responsibility toward God. Such an attitude is to be exemplified by all of us.
As we approach the end of the book, we encounter a group of sayings by one Agur who bemoans his own lack of wisdom. Perhaps he has been reading all that has gone before. Such an attitude demonstrates great wisdom. The wise man is acutely aware of God’s wisdom and truth in relation to his own. Man’s wisdom and knowledge cannot even begin to compare with God’s. The best we can do is to seek to learn God’s wisdom. This puts an end to all of man’s selfish boasting and arrogant self-promotion. The wise man is humble, teachable, willing to learn new things about life from other people and experience, always aware that he has much to learn. His humility leads him away from greed toward self-discipline. He asks God only to meet his needs as he realizes that striving for riches and wealth only leads to greater trouble.
The things that the wise man learns from observing the world and the creatures in it reveal the great wisdom of God but the folly of those who ignore their place in the created order. Animals know their place and they function within the limits set by God. They use instincts given them by the Lord to help them survive. As much as man does to affect them, most creatures defy our attempts to control or limit them. God is in control not us. Of course we are not animals, for God has made us in His image, the capstone of all that He created. Nevertheless we must submit to God’s will in all things, recognize our limits and our place in creation beneath Him and, accept our total dependence on Him. We begin by abandoning all self-promotion and all attempts to justify ourselves before others or make ourselves appear better or smarter than we really are.
Among those who acknowledged the birth of the Messiah was a group of wise men, perhaps philosophers or astrologers from a land somewhere to the East of Jerusalem possibly Persia. From their astronomical observations of the star and their reading of the Hebrew Scriptures (Numbers 24:17) they discerned that a great Jewish king had been born. They traveled a great distance, a journey that took months so they did not arrive until months after Jesus had been born. By that time he was in a house. When they found Him they were overcome with ecstatic joy and worshiped him. These men had godly faith even though they were Gentiles, and not of the Chosen people.
Herod was the half-Jewish, half Idumean King of the Jews. The Jewish chief priests, scribes and teachers at his court were the leaders of the Chosen people. They possessed the words of God and claimed to understand and interpret them. Yet they were ignorant of the signs and prophecies the Scriptures contained. They had no idea about the birth of the Messiah. They were deeply disturbed at the suggestion that he had been born. They did not believe. If they had believed what the Magi said, they had they would have accompanied them and worshiped with them. Instead Herod, afraid of the slightest threat to His power, sought to do away with this “pretender” through savage cruelty. He did not know God at all for then he would have realized the futility of his efforts to subvert His plan.
At this time of year many people will read the scriptural accounts of Jesus’ birth. They will be proclaimed even in the media, but many of those who hear the message of salvation will not grasp its great importance. Many will misinterpret it as did Herod and his court. Many will not understand that Christmas is not about children or Santa Claus or gifts or family or food. It is about the horrors of sin and our inability to save ourselves from its power. And it is about God’s mercy in atoning for that sin Himself.
The men and women mentioned in this genealogy trace the human ancestry of Jesus the Messiah through the Chosen people from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. These mentioned here never saw the promise of God fulfilled, but Hebrews 11 indicates that they looked forward to it and had faith that God would provide a Savior. Here we see that promise fulfilled in Jesus who is a human being descended from Abraham, Judah and David. We note that of the 5 women mentioned in this genealogy, only one, Mary, was an Israelite by birth. The others were all pagans by birth even Ruth who was a Moabitess, a descendant of Abraham’s nephew Lot. While we know that she and Rahab exercised faith in the Lord, we are not sure about Tamar and Bathsheba. Nevertheless, their presence in the sacred genealogy indicates that Jesus is the Savior not only of the Jews, but of all mankind.
But the passage tells us something far greater and much more significant. In the words God spoke to Joseph, we learn that the child conceived in Mary is no mere man. He is God for He was conceived miraculously, without any human interaction, by the power of the Holy Spirit! Many today would deny this, even some who call themselves Christian, but the fact that Jesus is both God and man is one of the cornerstones of our faith. If Jesus were not really a human being, He could never properly represent us before the Father and take our punishment on Himself. If He were not God, fully divine and without sin, his death would never be acceptable to the Father, for if He would not be sinless. Therefore to deny the virgin birth is to deny Christianity itself. Thank God that His wonderful truth is here for us to grasp. Life in Christ gives blessing, meaning and purpose.
Luke opens the narrative of Jesus’ nativity by relating the events that caused it to happen in the town of Bethlehem in fulfillment of prophecy. While kings and kingdoms moved forward with their own agendas and plans, the Lord was using them to accomplish His plan. The King of Heaven became man in a foul smelling and malodorous manger in a small insignificant village in a remote corner of the mighty Roman Empire. The one who would change the course of history, who in fact determines and sets the course of kings and kingdoms came in a quiet and humble way.
The ones who noticed His birth were a mixed assembly of witnesses. There was a glorious company of heavenly angels, of course, who put on a splendid worship service glorifying and praising God who had fulfilled His promises to man. The rest of the group was composed of a rather insignificant number of people who would have lacked credibility in their own society. There was a small group of crude and smelly shepherds. They saw the heavenly spectacle and the baby Jesus but who would believe them? Then too there was a doddering old man and an elderly widow both of whom, though respected by the Jews, would have been dismissed as too old and senile to make sense. It was these simple yet righteous people that God chose to use and to bless with the message of His salvation from sin. He still does the same today and continues to use the humble and meek to transmit His word. While the world focuses on parties, gift-giving and/or Santa Claus, the Christian must aim to keep the focus of the holiday right where it belongs: Jesus as our salvation from sin.