Friday, February 28, 2014

CCXL – Isaiah 7-12

I’ll begin chapter 7 with a bit of backdrop.  Assyria to the northwest was like a dark cloud hovering over Judah, ready to strike at a mere whim.  This particular time was about 735 BC and Ahaz was now Judah’s king.  As we saw in the previous chapter, Isaiah had been commissioned to share the light of God’s words with His rebellious people who were sinking deeper and deeper into idol worship and out-of-control sin, approaching the point of no return.  Isaiah had already announced the inevitable day of judgment which God had foretold through him.  But in this post we will look at the hope that a messianic king would come and save God’s people.

Chapter 7 finds us skipping in time from the last chapter’s description of Isaiah’s commission during Uzziah’s reign to Ahaz’s reign.  Jotham reigned in between Uzziah and Ahaz.  {Confused yet?  Don’t worry about it.  The timing is not important.  Isaiah’s message is the important thing to know.}  There were a lot of politics involved in this situation of nations allying together, but the bottom line was that Syria had enlisted Israel (Ephraim) against Judah because Ahaz refused to join their coalition against the powerful Assyria.  Verse 2 says that the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken which simply means they were frightened of not only Assyria, but now the additional threat coming from Syria and Israel’s combined armies.  God clearly did not want Judah to align itself with Israel and Syria, as He instructed Isaiah to take his son to meet with Ahaz and in verses 8-9 he encourages Ahaz not to worry because God would not allow Judah to be defeated in battle.  Then skip to verse 10 as God tells Ahaz to ask for a sign, just to make certain that Ahaz believes that God will deliver Judah, but Ahaz refuses in verse 11, fearing to test the Lord.  {This response is to Ahaz’s credit.  It showed much spiritual maturity.  We are instructed by Jesus never to test God.}  These following verses show God’s determination to deliver Judah and Ahaz, but let’s be careful we understand why.  The Davidic line was openly threatened by Syria and Israel.  Research makes it clear that Syria had already stated who would sit on the throne in Jerusalem, which was the son of Tabeal.  God could not allow His Davidic covenant to be broken.  God’s intervention was imperative.  {I would be remiss to neglect verses 14-16, as it would point to Christ as the Messiah to the casual reader.  However, taken in context, it indicates that there would be a leader born in the very near future, whose name would be Immanuel (God with us).  In verse 14, the word used for virgin is taken from the Hebrew which means “young girl”.  But there are scholars who insist that this reference is to Jesus himself.}  In the remaining verses in this chapter, there are a number of metaphors used depict Assyria’s character.

Chapter 8

In the first eighteen verses in chapter 8 Isaiah prophesies the Assyrian invasion, and details the prophesies to each individual group, including that group in Judah which had rejected God’s choice of Ahaz to be their king.  Isaiah told them all that in spite of all of the plans, strategies, and military build-ups, Judah would prevail anyway because God was on their side. 

8:19 - 9:7    The Messiah Foretold

Isaiah begins this passage by exposing the foolishness of Judah’s people who seek mediums and spiritualists for guidance when God is available.  Then in the second verse of chapter 9 he foretells the coming of Christ.  I’ve always liked verse 6.  For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:  and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.  Verse 7 tells us that His kingdom and his kingship shall have no end.

9:8 – 10:4   Israel’s Captivity Foretold

This passage foretells of Israel's soon-to-be fate and urges Judah to consider it a warning.  As you read these verses try to visualize the actions taking place.  Rather gruesome but necessary as a reality check for Judah.

10:5-34   God’s Judgment on Assyria

God does not allow Assyria to go unpunished for its cruelty to His people of the northern kingdom.  We have already learned that Assyria will soon be taken over by the Babylonians.  But Isaiah goes on to prophesy that a remnant of Israel will return to the original “Promised Land”.  Also included in this passage of prophesies was the foretelling of Judah being spared from the acts of aggression of Assyria, while their cousins in the northern kingdom would be total consumed.

Chapter 11   The Davidic Covenant

Look in the first verse of this chapter and see that Jesse is mentioned.  Jesse is David’s father.  He goes on to emphasize God’s intentions of maintaining a descendant of David on the throne of Jerusalem and extends that to the Christ Himself.  Isaiah goes on in this chapter to describe to the best of his ability the character of Christ and the perfection of His reign, also mentioning that Israel and Judah would be once again united as one nation of God’s people.

Chapter 12    Songs of Praise

This is an extension of chapter 11.  Isaiah is trying to paint a picture worthy of Christ and his reign in chapter 11 which naturally leads to an outburst of praise in chapter 12.

We will continue in Isaiah with chapter 13 in our next post.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

CCXXXIX - Isaiah 2-6

I hope to cover chapters 2-6 in this post.  The pace will be brisk, but I shall try to stay on topic.

Chapter 2:1-5 deals with hope for a new Jerusalem in the future.  Isaiah jumps into the very distant future in these five verses, as he speaks of an everlasting peace among nations as all nations will become God fearing and obedient to God’s Laws.  Only through Jesus could this happen.  There are familiar phrases in verse 4, “they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks”.
In verses 6-9 Isaiah shifts abruptly back to the current condition of Judah, and he is speaking to God.  He goes on to describe the people as turning to pagan practices and bordering worshiping money also.  They are so busy making new idols to worship, they don’t take the time to assess their situation.  In verse 9 Isaiah urges God “do not forgive them”.
The remaining verses in chapter 2 refer to the day that God will personally visit Judah.  But instead of referring to this “Day of the Lord” as being a glorious one, Isaiah warns that this will be a dreadful day when God exacts justice on His disobedient people.  The words he uses are harsh because he wants to be certain that they understand the disastrous road they are traveling.

Chapter 3 – A Vivid Description of Jerusalem

As you read this chapter you will see Isaiah describe utter chaos in Jerusalem.  Note how he describes how leaders will be selected in verses 6-7.  Note in verse 9 that they parade their sins in front of everybody.  {This suggests that they are proud of their rebellious acts against God.  Sound familiar?  It’s alarming when people try to out-do each other in sinful atrocities.  The winner is always the one who is willing to stoop the lowest.  Let’s be careful not to get caught up in this.}  It goes on to address the women who are preoccupied with out-doing one another with self-adornment and an outward show of riches.  Isaiah is giving fair warning against this attitude in this chapter.  He goes so far as to detail some of the practices and the punishment that will come, in hopes that the people will repent and turn back to God and His commandments.  Isaiah is using the strongest language he can.  As we read this book, we see that he continually searches for words that will penetrate the hearts of God’s people, which should reveal his level of frustration as well.

Chapter 4 is relatively short but vivid.  Here he refers to the “Branch” of the Lord, and its beauty and splendor.  But his main theme in this chapter is concerning the few left in Jerusalem that have chosen to lead a righteous and Godly life.  They will not only be spared from God’s punished, but they will be glorified.  {Isaiah is especially concerned with the women in Judah, as his references to them are scathing, to suggest that their behavior has become disgraceful.}
In the first seven verses of chapter 5 Isaiah uses the parable of a vineyard to describe the city of Jerusalem.  It is very simple to follow and is very appropriate as he says that the vineyard is producing nothing but bad fruit, and God has wasted His time in caring for it with such a labor of love.
Chapter 5:8-30 – Judgment is Pronounced
Isaiah gets a little more detailed as he writes about the behavior of God’s people.  Early in this chapter he speaks of those who greedily gobble up land, so much more than they need, leaving others to suffer without.  He rails against those who drink heavily and actually have contests with drinking.  But he mentions in verse 16 that God will invoke justice when he visits.  You will find an appropriate warning in verse 20 where he is describing everything as being backwards.  {You have heard me mention this phrase on occasions past, suggesting that our standards are turned around.  This verse describes it to a tee.}  Isaiah goes on to warn them that they will be brought down by military invasion from a foreign nation, describing some of the horrors of war that should open some eyes.

Chapter 6  -  Isaiah’s Commission

It is at this point that Isaiah chooses to share his experience and his calling from God.  The setting for Isaiah’s call was a worship service in the Temple in Jerusalem.  God revealed Himself to Isaiah, which places this prophet in very special company.  He points out the exact time of this event as being the final year of King Uzziah’s reign.  He does his best to describe the glory of the Lord in the Temple, going on to describe the seraphim which were placed in the Holy of Holies.  He describes how one of the seraphim pronounces the cleansing of Isaiah by touching his mouth with the hot coal.  The seraphim had come alive, worshiping God singing of His holiness and greatness.  They sang “Holy Holy Holy”.  {The word “holy” means “separate”.  The significance of singing the word three times means complete in its separateness.  Not only is God separate from humans, but He is separate from everything on earth, in the heavens, and in the universe.  This hymn of praise was being used as a reminder of God’s power and position.}  In verse 4 he tells of the foundation of the Temple shaking as it can barely contain the glory of God Himself.  It is in verse 5 that shows how frightened Isaiah had become, as he actually pronounces his own condemnation.  This is when the seraphim in verses 6 and 7 cleanses Isaiah of his sins.  {This was necessary before God could commission Isaiah.  The same principle applies today, that we cannot be called by God until we have been cleansed and our sins have been atoned for.  Jesus took care of that for you and me, and all others that will accept this indescribable gift.}  In this act and pronouncement, Isaiah had received pardon, making him presentable to God.  This was a necessary step in the commission process.  Then in verse 8 Isaiah heard God say “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”  It was then that Isaiah answered the call, as he responded “Here am I; send me”.  Then God commissions Isaiah.  It is short and simple.  Go.  Tell.  {Sound familiar?}  As you read verses 9 and 10, you must realize that this not to be understood as an intended result, but rather an inevitable one, God knowing ahead of time how Isaiah’s words will be received.  The chapter ends with Isaiah asking “how long” and God’s answer being less than encouraging.  Note that Isaiah was not responsible for how his message was received, but was responsible only for delivering it accurately and completely.

Next post – Chapters 7-12

Monday, February 24, 2014

CCXXXVIII - The Book of Isaiah

This post begins the section of the Bible known as the “Major Prophets”.  They are considered “major” due to the length of the books, rather than an assumed superiority of importance.  We will begin in the book of Isaiah.

Isaiah’s name in Hebrew means “The Lord is Salvation” and was a common name for that period.  Isaiah himself was a well-educated man, capable of the extensive writing we see in this book.  Actually, he is considered to have been a member of the royal family being the son of Amoz.  Isaiah served Judah as God’s spokesman for about ninety years.  He began his ministry the last year of Uzziah’s reign, and ministered through the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah.  Isaiah had seen the emergence of a new empire, Assyria, and saw the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  He saw Judah taking the same path of idolatry and disobedience to God that doomed Israel, and tried his best to redirect their path.

This book, like no other in the Old Testament, points directly to Christ as Savior of the world.  Although this book was written over 700 years before Christ, it explains in some detail what He would come to do and how He would do it:  first through suffering, then through crowning glory.

People who have been Christians for a number of years and have studied the Scripture have had exposure to the book of Isaiah.  Many regard him as the greatest prophet of the Old Testament due much to fact that he is considered the “Prophet of Redemption”.  Many of the verses and passages are considered among the finest in Judeo-Christian literature.  To quote Frank Thompson,  Some modern scholars have studied this poetical prophecy as a botanist studies flowers, dissecting and analyzing them.  By the use of this scientific method the beauty and unity of the book, like that of the rose, is almost forgotten as the different parts are pulled to pieces for examination.”

This is one of the lengthier books of the Bible, containing sixty-six chapters.  This is one of those books of the Bible that I could spend months teaching, but that is not my plan, as it is too easy that way to lose sight of the main themes of the book.  Therefore I hope to do this in no more than ten to twelve posts.

This book divides itself into two major themes, the first of which (chapters 1-39) is primarily historical and contains mostly indictments against Israel and Judah.  The second theme in chapters 40-66 is about the glorious future of Israel, containing prophesies of blessings.

We are all familiar with the encounter Paul had with Christ.  Like Paul, Isaiah had an encounter with God, during which he volunteered to be His spokesman.

Chapter 1

To appreciate Isaiah’s words, one must understand what was happening in Judah and its capital Jerusalem.  Corruption, crime, injustice, and idolatry ran rampant throughout Judah and even in the Temple and among the priests.

Verses 1-9  -  The indictment  -  Isaiah does not mince his words in his opening statement as he wanted to get the people’s attention.  The situation called for direct language so there would be no misunderstanding of the severity.  He says that they have forgotten and forsaken God.  He states that even an ox or a donkey recognizes their master, but not Israel.  He says that they are totally corrupt from head to toe.  The land of milk and honey was now being besieged by strangers (pagans) and they are on the verge of being punished like Sodom and Gomorrah (vs 9)
Just in case you are uncertain as to God’s attitude toward His choses people, read verses 10-15.  Isaiah even calls them Sodomites, which would be an insult.  God, through Isaiah, tells them that their sacrifices mean nothing to Him.  He speaks with words of disgust.  God is fed up with their behavior and disregard of Him.

Verses 16-20  -  Call to Repent  -  The people have backslidden so far, Isaiah probably does not know where to start.  So he opens this call for repentance with a general plea of “cleanse yourselves”.  Then he tells them where to start:  Seek justice; defend the oppressed; take care of the orphans and the widows.  At least that would be a start.  He then goes on to tell them that it’s not too late.  If thy return to God, their sins will turn from “crimson” to “white as snow”.  All they need to do is “clean up their act”, and Isaiah would be around to guide them if they were truly serious about it.  In verses 19 and 20 Isaiah states the ultimatum quite simply:  If you repent and follow God you will return to eating the good of the land.  But if you continue to rebel against Him and His commandments, you will die by the sword of your enemies.  Then in the final phrase of verse 20, Isaiah says “for the mouth of the Lord has spoken”.  Isaiah is proclaiming the authority of his commission.  He is saying “these are not my words, but God’s”.  In this he was proclaiming himself as a prophet appointed by God Himself.

The remaining verses further describe the situation in Jerusalem and how much God is disappointed.  He says the city has become a prostitute, a city which once was occupied by righteous people now houses murderers.  The rulers were partners with thieves.  Bribes were the only way anyone can get what they want or need.  The orphans and widows have no one to take up their cause.  In fact, verse 23 says the widows cases do not even make it to the docket of the courts.  In verse 24 God refers to them as His enemies and forecasts the curses that are about to befall them.

I’m going to end this opening now and will pick up on chapter 2 in the next post.  I must take care to avoid getting bogged down, so the pace will pick up quite a bit.

Friday, February 21, 2014

CCXXXVII - Think On These Things

This is a good place for a quick review as we enter another section of the Bible referred to as “Major Prophets".  This section begins with Isaiah, which I will introduce in the next post.  The book of Isaiah takes place from 740-690 BC.

The Creation
Adam and Eve
The Fall
Cain Kills Abel
Noah and the Ark
Noah's Son:  Shem, Ham, and Japheth
Tower of Babel
Sodom and Gomorrah
Isaac Is Born
Hagar and Ishmael
Abraham Tested
Isaac and Rebekah
Jacob and Esau
Stolen Birthright
Jacob's Ladder
The twelve sons of Jacob = Israel
Joseph the Dreamer
Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife   Prison
Cupbearer and Baker
Joseph and Pharaoh
Jacob's Son's Reunite
Israel Goes to Egypt
400 Years of Slavery in Egypt
Moses is Born
God Commissions Moses
Ten Plagues of Egypt
The Exodus
Israel Through the Wilderness
The Ten Commandments
The Ark of the Covenant
The Golden Calf
Levitican Law
Forty Years in the Wilderness
Twelve Spies sent to Canaan
Moses Gives Final Sermons
Joshua Replaces Moses as Leader of Israel
Rahab the Canaanite Prostitute
Crossing the Jordan; 12 Stones
Battle of Jericho
Land Allotments for the 12 Tribes
Baal and Ashteroth
Gideon Lays Out the Fleece
Samson and Delilah
Ruth and Boaz
Hannah Dedicates Samuel
Saul - Israel's First King
David and Goliath
Jonathan, David's Friend
The Ark Returns to Jerusalem
David and Bathsheba
Solomon Crowned King
The Temple in Jerusalem
Rehoboam and Jeroboam
Leaders Matter
The Ungodly Kings of Israel
The Godly Kings of Judah
The Fall of Israel to Assyria
The Fall of Judah
The Three Groups Return and Rebuild Jerusalem
Queen Esther and Mordecai
Job Afflicted by Satan
Psalm 23 – the Lord is my Shepherd
Proverbs – Words to Live By
Ecclesiastes – A Dark Period for Solomon – Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
Song of Solomon – A Love song

 An Historic Timeline

>  Approx. 4000 BC - Creation
>  Approx. 2300 BC - The Flood
>  Approx. 2000 BC - Abraham
>  Approx. 1900 BC - Israel settles in Egypt
>  1800 BC - Death of Joseph
>  1780-1380 - Egyptian Bondage/Slavery
>  1380 BC - Moses - The Exodus
>  1380-1340 BC - Wandering in the Wilderness
>  1340-1300 BC - Joshua Enters and Conquers the Promised Land
>  1300 BC - Twelve tribes allotted land
>  1300-1050 BC - The Judges
>  1050 BC - The Israelites insisted on having a king like other nations
>  1050 BC - Saul is made king of all twelve tribes of Israel
>  1010 BC - David conquers the land for the kingdom
>  970-930 BC - Solomon is the last king of the united Israel
>  930 BC - The nation Israel is divided
>  930 BC - Jeroboam becomes king of ten tribes (Israel)
>  930 BC - Rehoboam becomes king of two tribes (Judah)
>  722 BC - Israel falls and is taken captive by Assyrians
>  586 BC - Judah falls and is taken captive by Babylonians
>  537 BC - First exiles return from 70 years Captivity with Zerubbabel
>  522 BC - Temple construction stopped by opposition
>  520 BC - Rebuilding of Temple Resumed
>  516 BC - Temple Finished and Dedicated
>  458 BC - Second exile group returns to Jerusalem with Ezra
>  445 BC - Third exile group returns with Nehemiah, City of Jerusalem re-established
>  430 BC - Books of Nehemiah and Malachi written
>  *** 400 years of silence ***
>  2 BC - Birth of John the Baptist

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

CCXXXVI - Concluding Song of Solomon

This rather short post will conclude Song of Solomon, starting with chapter 4.  This entire book is a love poem written to be put to music.  I am commenting on this book from the standpoint of the two main characters being Solomon and his love when he was at a very young age.
In chapter 4 Solomon describes her appearance in the most flattering way poetry will allow.  For a few examples, he describes her hair as a flock of black goats descending a mountain, which means it was long and flowing, moving in the breeze.  In verse 2, none of her teeth were missing and all were straight and pretty.  In verse 7 he says she was flawless in her entire physical being.  In verse 9 he says that she steals his heart with just one glance of her eyes.  Notice the references to Lebanon.  Lebanon grew the most fragrant of trees and flowers.  This was well known in these times, and only the most beautiful fragrances could be compared with Lebanon.  In keeping with the amorous language, she responds to his flattering words by inviting him to make love to her in the very last verse of this chapter.

In chapter 5 she tells of another dream.  This time, they had fallen asleep in each others’ arms.  But she was awakened by the knocking on the door.  It was him wanting back in to the house.  But by the time she could open the door, he was gone.  She desperately searches for him in the streets, only to suffer abuse by the hands of the watchmen that she had hoped would help her find him.  A dream that turned into a nightmare.  The remainder of chapter 5 is her praising her lover.  The term “ruddy” in verse 10 describes skin tone as youthful and reddish in color.  She considers him in a class by himself, seeing him as perfectly handsome from head to toe.

Chapter 6 begins with her friends offering to help her search for him.  Then she finds him.  She says in verse 3 that “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine…”.  This is her assertion that they are exclusive to one another.  He begins in verse 4 to describe her beauty again.  He compares her beauty to the city of Jerusalem which was considered a beautiful city back then.  He tells her to look away from him because her eyes are overwhelming, and again praises her beauty as beyond compare.

Chapter 7 has him to continue to describe her physical beauty, from head to toe in eloquent poetic language.
In chapter 8, the first four verses she wishes they could have intimacy both privately and in public.  She dreamed that he might be like a brother whom she could embrace in public without judgment being cast on them.  As a brother she could take him into her home without suspicion or criticism.  She ended this thought by saying she longed to be held in his arms, and would not be happy until then.

Then, beginning in verse 5, the writer concludes with a moving passage on the difficulties of love.  She described the power of jealousy in verse 6 and that it burned like fire.  Verse 7 has much to say in that love is so powerful that it cannot be quenched by “many waters”.  And that it was worth giving up all of one’s possessions to obtain.  In the remainder of chapter 8 they tell of their commitment to faithfulness.

This concludes the book of Song of Solomon.  This book is beautiful literature, but I found it frustratingly difficult to teach in a way that made any sense.  I attribute that to the poetic license taken by the writer, as his intent was for the reader to simply enjoy the beauty of it rather than seek understanding.

In the next post we shall begin our study of the Major Prophets with the book of Isaiah.

Monday, February 17, 2014

CCXXXV - Song of Solomon

We have just finished the book of Ecclesiastes, which I have suggested that Solomon wrote during his later years.  I believe Solomon also wrote the book we are beginning today, “Song of Solomon”, but in an entirely different time of his life.  Instead of being life-weary and depressed as he was when he wrote Ecclesiastes, we will see him as young and in love.  This book is unique, not because it is written as a poem or song, as other parts of the Bible share that distinction. But rather, it is unique because it contains the most human emotion and it provokes the most challenges of interpretation (with the possible exception of Revelation).  But the challenges to interpretations is not within the text itself like Revelation, but rather the book as a whole.  There have been serious challenges as to its having a rightful place in the Bible, which is caused by the difficulties of interpreting who or what the main characters represent.  For example, Bible scholars have disagreed about the meaning of this poem:  Some think it is written about one’s love for God.  Some think it is a prophetic poem written about Christ and His church.  Some think it is a poem about two young people in love.  Some think it is a poem about Solomon and one of his wives.  Some think it is simply a beautiful poem written about fictitious characters with the intention of being put to music.  I’ve read this book and I must conclude that it is a beautiful poem about a young Solomon and his true love.  And that is the way I have chosen to teach it.  It seems to me that Solomon and the young girl wrote it together, telling their love story, perhaps involving the assistance of someone perhaps with more of a flair for poetry.  And we must keep in mind that this person, as does all writers, takes some liberties in the name of poetic license which always causes some confusion to one who is trying to gain a complete understanding.  {Maybe I’m just getting older, but it seems God has been working a change in me in recent years.  This book serves as a reminder of that feeling.  I never cared much for poetry.  I just wasn’t wired that way.  However, when I read this book today I found it to be absolutely lovely.  The KJV is a bit more poetically lovely than the NIV.}
This book, using bold imagery and amorous language reveals the innermost emotions of these two people in love.  It seems to me that it was written mostly from the standpoint of the lady, but includes the words of the man (Solomon), plus the words of a group of the lady’s friends, to whom I believe she was telling the story of her thoughts and experiences.  So, we will study this book as we have the others, but while we do that, try to sit back and enjoy the story.
Chapter 1
After verse 1 states its title and/or dedication, verses 2-4 tell of the lady’s desire for her beloved.  I picture her at this time in the harem, speaking to the other ladies.  I say this because of her statement in verse 4, “Let the king bring me into his chambers”.  She was truly in love as she says his kisses are more intoxicating than wine.  And she acknowledges that all of the women wanted him.  The harem women respond in the last part of the verse.  
She abruptly changes subjects in verse 5.  She speaks of the dark color of her skin and that it makes no difference because she is beautiful anyway.  {For centuries, darker skin was not considered to be feminine because it meant that the darker woman was forced to work in the fields, being exposed to the sun, thus unable to spend the time to beautify herself, as the wealthier women were able to do.}
I see verse 7 as her searching for him.  It has the connotation of him being a shepherd, but this was a metaphor for whatever activity occupied a person throughout a normal day.
1:9 to 2:7 is a dialogue between the two lovers.  He likens her to a mare from among the chariot horses of Egypt, considered the most eloquent and beautiful animals in the world.  {I do not recommend that you tell any lady she looks like a horse.  That would not sit well.  But it was a compliment of beauty back then.}  Verses 10 and 11 are describing the way the Pharaoh’s horse is ornamented.
In 12 to 14 she tells him how wonderful his fragrance is.  They continue to compliment and flatter one another, as young lovers do.
In 2:2, he tells her that she is “a lily among thorns, and a darling among the women”.  This is telling her that she is more beautiful than all of the other women in the harem.  I also noticed that she likes to watch him sleep in her arms, as she often mentions, and does not want the other ladies to awaken him because he is sleeping so peacefully.
Now it seems to divert to a different event in time.  It was not during a time she was a member of his harem, but rather earlier when she was living in the country with her mother.  It was springtime and it seems they had not seen each other all winter.  These verses (8-17) are pretty verses as they tell each other how strong their love is.
Then starting in chapter 3, she seems to be describing a dream she has had.  She cannot find him and searches the streets of Jerusalem for him.  She asks everybody she sees, if they have seen her love.  When she finally finds him she will not let him go.  She holds him in her arms until he falls asleep, at which time she quiets those around her so as not to awaken him.
Then, starting in verse 6 the scene changes to a royal procession in which Solomon is riding in his royal chariot, surrounded by his royal guard.  {This might be the actual wedding day of these two.  I’m not certain, but it seems right.}

Next Post – Concluding Song of Solomon

Friday, February 14, 2014

CCXXXIV - Concluding Ecclesiastes

The writer (I still believe him to be Solomon) sums up the whole book in these last two chapters, although the final 6 verses were written by another person.  It appears this other person had read the entire piece and made brief comment on the writer and his material.  At first reading, these last two chapters seem somewhat out of step with the prevailing mood of the entire book, but not really.  The conclusion is that life is meaningless, therefore eat, drink, and be merry, getting as much pleasure out of life that you can.

Chapter 11

Verses 1-6 – Business and Earning Money

He starts this chapter with advice on business.  He suggests expanding ones business beyond the immediate community or town.  In verse 2 he is advising one to get into several businesses, as there is safety in numbers, suggesting in verse 6 that if one is bound to succeed.  He also warns against being too cautious as in these verses, saying that if you wait for perfect conditions, you will never sow nor reap.  {Reminds me of a saying I’ve heard many times:  If you wait for the perfect time to have children, you will never have any, as the “perfect” time will never come.}  In fact, in verse 5 he is referring to having children as he says that just because we cannot figure out how a child grows in the womb does not mean we should not have children.
In chapter 11:7 through chapter 12:8 the writer is talking directly to the young.  His advice is based his thoughts and conclusions drawn in the previous ten chapters.

Verses 7 and 8 are profound.  “Light is sweet” means that all the days of your life should be looked upon as good.  Each day when the sun comes up, be thankful you are alive and know that each day represents a new set of opportunities.  As verse 7 seems bright and cheery, verse 8 of course turns dark as it reminds us that old age and death are around the corner.  But let’s give the writer the benefit of doubt and assume he is just trying to press his point of enjoying life while you can.  In verse 9 he specifically addresses “You who are young”.  This refers to the age between adolescence and old age.  Enjoy pleasures that only the youthful are capable of enjoying.  But he responsibly adds a caution:  God is still in control and He expects us to be careful not to disrespect Him or other people in our lives.  In fact the very first verse in chapter 12 tells the young to remember God.  But then he continues to encourage them to enjoy life.  He says in 1b that there will come a time when you get old that you will no longer find pleasure in many activities.  {This is true.  Example: The young enjoy splashing in the swimming pool while the old just sit and watch them.}  In the following verses he describes old age.  The strong man is now bent over and weak.  His grinders become few (loses his teeth).  Windows grow dim (his eyes become weak).  4b refers to the inability to sleep and one’s hearing going bad.  Verse 5 says that when people age they become afraid of heights {this is true} and other things outside their homes that were not frightening when they were young.  Then he gets depressing again at the end of verse 5 through verse 7 saying that your life will inevitably end with death and the sound in the streets will become those of mourners at your funeral.  You will be buried and your body will return to dust from which you came.  As mentioned above, the writer’s final words is verse 8.  He ended as he began “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”.  Life is meaningless.  But at least he did give wonderful advice in the final chapters.

Chapter 12:9-14

As mentioned before, these final verses were written by someone else after having read the entire book.  This person wrote respectful thoughts about the author and was careful to give praise to the power and authority of God.  He praised this extensive work done by the writer in verses 9-11 acknowledging the in-depth study and pondering and soul searching necessary to write all of these thoughts.  The effort alone should be praiseworthy.  In verse 11 he uses three terms, saying that these words are to be considered “goads” for prodding people in the right direction, “nails” fastening these words in one’s mind his entire life, and “one shepherd” which refers to God as the One who oversees our actions and motives.  Verse 12 is the first of the Bible’s warnings about what one reads and allows to influence thinking.  We’ll look at this much more closely in books to come.  Note in the final two verses that the editor’s conclusion does not include the “eat, drink, and be merry” part.

My concluding thoughts on the Book of Ecclesiastes are brief.  As I stated in the introduction, one must understand the writer and his station in life before attempting to understand his words.  When he wrote this book he was in a state of depression and despair.  He had accomplished more than any other human being before him and gained more riches than anyone before or since.  But he was not happy and could not understand why.  And his inability to understand this and life’s other unfairnesses tortured him.  Therefore he found at least a little comfort in expressing his thoughts on paper.  And God chose this writing to be included in His Holy Bible.

In the next post we will shift gears of thought and begin studying Song of Solomon.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

CCXXXIII – Ecclesiastes 8-10


In this post we will continue listening to what Solomon has to say about various topics, all of which is are presented in a dark manner, much like we have seen in this book already.

Chapter 8 begins with the subject of obedience to the king.  Note that Solomon did not consider himself a despotic king, but all of his writings were for future generations and he knew there would be evil kings, so he spends the first nine verses giving instruction on how to deal with unworthy authority.  He says in these verses to obey the king, no matter what.  And he states the reason why in verse 2:  “because you took an oath before God.”  All of the king’s decrees or government orders were to be carried out, whether it be taxation or conscription for military service.  {This does not apply to today’s generation, and hasn’t for centuries.  In ancient Israel, kingship was considered sacred because not only were kings anointed by priests, but they were considered placed on the throne by God Himself.  Therefore to disobey the king was to disobey God, and this was not to be taken lightly.  I am not promoting civil disobedience, but rather saying that the same standards do not apply.  If they did, The United States of America would not have come into existence, as we declared our independence from King George III of England.}

Verses 8:10-15  -  The Disappointment of Expecting Justice in Life

To Christians, young, old, and everywhere in between, they all seem to be frustrated with observing the happiness of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous here on earth.  Solomon returns to this topic so many times, and he does it because he cannot figure out why it happens.  As stated in earlier posts, we Christians have access to more knowledge of the after-life, therefore we have more information on which we can gain understanding.  In verse 11 he is frustrated with how long a wicked person lives that lifestyle before he is brought to justice, if at all.  Solomon has at some time in his life observed (vs 12, 13) that a wicked person is given honor at his burial, instead of being described as the scoundrel that he was.  In verse 14 he simply states it another way, saying the wicked get what the righteous deserve and the righteous get what the wicked deserve.  He is just using this as an example to stress his point that life is not fair.  Then in verse 15 he expresses again that the best thing a person on earth can do is eat, drink, and be merry because they cannot change the lot in life that God has assigned them.

Chapter 9 – A Common Destiny  -  More Depressing Thoughts

Solomon continues his diatribe concerning the righteous and the wicked.  I think in verse 2 he is approaching dangerous territory when he says that even those who do not sacrifice to God are no different than those who do.  He goes on to say that death will be a relief from pain, the unpleasantness that jealousy brings on us.  Their names will be forgotten and will be regarded as having been insignificant.  In verse 7, here we go again:  Solomon’s advice, but he expands it just a bit.  He says eat, drink, and be merry.  But also always be clothed in white (color traditionally worn on festive occasions.  He adds to enjoy life with your wife.  One of the greatest joys that life offered to a man was to share the days of his life with a wife whom he loves dearly.  I couldn’t agree with Solomon more.  The marriage relationship is one of life’s most rewarding experiences.  A man’s wife, children, and grandchildren are the sources of happiness beyond comparison.  Then in verses 11 and 12 he attempts to qualify this advice by saying that one never knows when death will arrive.  Hard to argue with that, but we must not allow our outlook on life to progress to such a gloomy state.

Verses 13-18  -  Wisdom versus Folly

Solomon cannot abandon his preoccupation with wisdom, as he continues to mention it.  In these verses I believe he is telling a true story.  It’s about a small city being attacked by a huge army.  But by the wisdom of one man, the city was saved.  Sounds like a nice story, but then Solomon ends his little story by saying that the wise man, although he saved the city, was forgotten and met with the same destiny as all of the foolish men.  But in the last two verses he admits that regardless of one’s fate, wisdom is still better than folly.

Chapter 10

This chapter is written more closely in poetic form and deserves a moment of your time to read it.  The way it is written is the form that is used in much of the Book of Proverbs, but with a darker tone.  Solomon seems to be jotting down random thoughts of his current philosophy of life, dark thoughts but not as piercing as those in previous chapters.  But interesting to note is the last verse where it advises one to be careful about thoughts, as thoughts turn into comments, which will be interpreted to the negative and come back to punish.  Can we control our thoughts?  Only to a limited degree, but effort should be made.

We will finish the last two chapters of Ecclesiastes in our next post.

Monday, February 10, 2014

CCXXXII – Ecclesiastes 5 - 7

As we continue our study of Ecclesiastes, I must remind you to consider the state of mind which has consumed the writer at this point in his life, while bearing in mind that this writer (probably Solomon) was a deep thinker who has much for us to think about also.  As we continue with chapter 5 we see that the writer is still speaking reflectively, and actually is thinking out loud on paper.

Verses 1-7 in chapter 5 give precautionary statements about worship and our personal relationship with God.  It starts out by warning us to take seriously the entering of God’s house.  It’s not to be taken lightly with the attitude that you just happened by, and stopped in for a visit.  We’re talking about God’s house.  Verse 2 warns to be careful what you pray.  Your words to God should be chosen carefully.  Verse 4 speaks about making a vow.  The word vow means a solemn promise.  The Hebrews took this word very seriously.  A vow was an obligation.  When one made a vow to another person, it was made publicly so as to seal it legally.  Solomon urges that vows made to God are ions more important.  He is urging us to be careful of the vows we make, then be careful to fulfill them quickly before our minds allow their importance to be watered down.  This is good advice.

Chapter 5:8-6:12 – The Delusions of Wealth

Solomon changes the subject abruptly.  He dedicates this passage to wealth and its delusions.  {Allow me to remind you that the wealth of the current Queen of England feigns in comparison to the wealth of Solomon.  Therefore, if anyone is qualified to speak on this subject, it would be him.}  In this passage, Solomon dispels what are considered common delusions concerning wealth.  Those delusions are the same today as they were thousands of years ago.  Then, as now, it was thought that once wealth was acquired, it would be maintained, it would relieve us from all anxieties, and it would provide us with a sense of joy and accomplishment.  Solomon wants to set the record straight.  In verse 10 he reminds us that no matter how much wealth is acquired, it is never enough to make us feel that we are wealthy enough.  It is an appetite that cannot be satisfied.  Verse 11 suggests that those hungry for excessive wealth get the most pleasure out of observing their wealth.  This would include counting one’s money as a pleasurable activity.  From verse 15 comes the old saying “you can’t take it with you”.  In the last three verses of chapter 5 Solomon repeats advice that he gives a number of times in this book:  Enjoy the pleasures of life.  Do the work you have been assigned and find pleasure in it because this is your lot in life.  God’s gift to man is his work.  {It’s important to note that the term work in this context includes all areas of one’s responsibility, including his earning a living plus family and community obligations.}

Chapter 6

He continues his thoughts concerning wealth and work.  When he says in verse 1 that he has observed another evil under the sun, he means another unfairness.  {Remember from recent posts that Solomon is wrestling with injustices of life.}  When he says it weighs heavily on mankind, he is saying that this unfairness causes a lot of problems.  In verse 2 he is stating two problems.  One is that some are given wealth while others suffer poverty, with no apparent reason.  The second (I think this one bothers him about himself) is that the one who has toiled for his wealth will die, and his wealth will be enjoyed by others who did nothing to earn it.  {He mentioned this before.  I can tell that this is a thorn in his side.}  Read verses 3-6 and you will see him expounding further on the importance of enjoying life.  (This makes me glad I retired when I did.)  Verse 6 sums it up:  If a man acquires great wealth and lives a thousand years, but does not enjoy his prosperity, what’s the sense?  He will die and go the same way as the poor man.  The following verses he again reflects on the meaningless cycles of life in a depressing fashion, concluding that nobody can know what will happen in the future, after they are gone.  {I must remind you that there was no knowledge of the after-life in those days, and what little has been shared with Solomon, he has chosen to disregard.  We as Christians know that the best is yet to come.}

Chapter 7

Solomon begins a series of “proverbs”, but unlike his sayings in the book of Proverbs, these are written by a man whose state of depression reveals itself.  In the first twelve verses he repeats the meaningless and futility of efforts, and that death is better than birth.  This is to further stress the importance of seeking some pleasure in life, but he is careful not to cross the line of encouraging people to seek pleasures that would be against God’s law.

Solomon again abruptly shifts his thinking.  He says in verse 13 to “consider what God has done”.  He goes on to say that God has absolute authority and no one can change was He has done.  Also, nobody knows the future, and there is little we can do to effect it.  In verse 15 he self-reflects in his usual manner as he says “in this meaningless life of mine……”.  He further mentions the unfairness of a good man dying young while an evil man lives a long time.  The older Solomon gets, the more these things bother him.  He goes on to caution us not to be very wise or overly wicked, stressing moderation over extremes of anything.  Then he returns to laud wisdom and the seeking of it, going on to tell how he has tested all of life’s circumstances by his own wisdom.  As I stated in the introduction to this rather unusual book, Solomon was frustrated when he could not understand something.  And being the determined individual he was, he was not going to give up his search for understanding.  But this attitude is exactly what has brought him to his current state of despair.  If you read this chapter closely you will see all of the negative in it.  Such disparity and depressing thoughts.  He even says in verse 28 that there is only one righteous man in a thousand.  And there are absolutely no righteous women at all.  In the final verse of this chapter he suggests that God created man righteous, but man has corrupted himself.

We will continue on to chapter 8 in the next post.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

CCXXXI – Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 – The Order of Life’s Events

Today’s post continues the dark writings in this Book of Ecclesiastes.  Solomon expresses his thoughts as he has arrived at this unhappy station of his life that has swallowed him up in despair. 

Chapter 3

In 1965 a musical group named “The Byrds” recorded a song titled “Turn, Turn, Turn”.  It was a popular song among people in my age group.  I liked it.  Little did I realize that it was taken straight from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.  Listening to that song convinces me that The Byrds were not making quite the same statement that Solomon was making.  {No offence “Byrds”, but I do not find you quite so profound.}

The first eight verses are actually a poem.  Spend a moment and take a reflective reading of these eight verses.  Solomon was giving us a list of specific events among the many that God has fixed.  He is insinuating that man’s life is already fixed in a predetermined order which cannot be altered.  The writer is frustrated with this and it shows.  The attitude that persists from the writer continues to portray him shrugging his shoulders and sighing “What’s the use?”  {One can picture in his mind that Solomon is voicing one large complaint to God in this book.  This is flirting with disaster and I think Solomon realizes this.  I think perhaps he should have added to the poem with, “a time to complain and a time to stop”.}

Verses 9-15 tell about man’s inability to altar the events of his own life, starting out by questioning why a man should work at all, let alone work hard (toiling).  From the writer’s viewpoint there is nothing to be gained except fatigue.  In this passage the writer is suggesting that man’s “burden” is predetermined and his only chance for happiness is to find a way to enjoy the toil which God has assigned him.  In fact, that is exactly the advice Solomon is offering in this passage:  God is in control.  He has predetermined every part of your life.  So accept it and be happy with it.  Then in verse 15 the writer once again broadens his view and speaks of the past, present, and future.  He describes time as just being an endless cycle of the same events repeated again and again.  {As you picture Solomon at the time of his writing this, don’t you feel a bit of pity form him?  I do.}

Solomon seems to change the subject of his thoughts in verses 16-22 as he begins with the words “and I saw something else under the sun”.  He recognized that there was corruption everywhere, especially in the place where there should be none:  the justice system.  He says there is wickedness in the places of judgment but then expresses confidence that God will deal with that in due time.  Then in the remaining verses of chapter 3, the writer speaks depressingly of man’s fate, even having the same fate as animals.  {He is wrong about this.  God made man separate from animals and gave him dominion over them.  Solomon’s state of depression is making him say some foolish things.  We often do the same thing.}

 Chapter 4 has three main subjects: Oppression, Toil, and Friendliness.  He begins this chapter talking about the people being oppressed by either government or landowners or both.  He talks like there is no hope to overcome the oppressors.  {This section represents the biggest argument against Solomon being the author of this book.  This section is compelling because it seems like Solomon would have the authority to rid Israel of oppression.  But perhaps it has gotten so out of control, that even the king was powerless against it.  I see our government as so corrupt right now that no one would be able to fix it.}  Then note the second and third verses.  He says that the dead are better off than the living, and the one that is best off is the one who had never been born.  {It may be difficult, but try to keep things in their proper perspective while studying this book.}  Verse 4 is an example of where I just think he is mistaken, as he suggests that envy is the only motivator for achievement above and beyond one’s assigned tasks.  Granted, it might be a contributing motivator, but certainly not the only one.  He goes on to condemn laziness, then speaks of how all of life’s burdens are designed to be carried out by two instead of one.  {I agree.  Man was not meant to be alone.  Our study of Genesis taught us that.}  The final section of chapter 4 speaks of being a king and the frustrations inherent in that seemingly coveted position.  He was describing how when the king is young, people are pleased with him.  But when the king gets older and generations of his subjects are exchanged out, the people are no longer satisfied with the king and his leadership.

The next post will pick up in chapter 5, as the writer continues his assassination of the character of life.