Contradictions or a Perfect Balance: Thoughts on Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes, Part III

Secondly, we must maintain a canonical understanding of these three texts. Kidner writes, “Some of these dissonances…urge us forward to the New Testament; others again are still with us, putting into words the ‘groaning in travial [Romans 8:23] which the New Testament itself accepts as irreducible in the present age” (Kidner, 124). Otherwise, how can we understand promises such as Proverbs 11:23, “The desire of the righteous ends only in good?” How can this be if this righteous person suffers relentlessly for their entire life, un until their death? It is because their ‘desire’ is God Himself, whom they will inevitably possess, even at the point when their ‘end’ does not appear ‘good;’ indeed, their death is ‘gain.’ The suffering of Job will find its relief and reason in eternal glory. Whereas the vain life of Ecclesiastes will, in the end, be swallowed up by eternal life and all the injustices in the world will be set right by the Great Judge.

Thirdly, we must encourage and exhort our people to embrace all three texts fully and without compromise. It is probably not wise to make the following sophisticated conclusion, “Well, since it is possible that my children may not continue in the way I train them, then it probably does not matter if I train them at all.” May it never be! The uncertainty of the promise’s temporal fulfillment must not dicate our eagerness to obey the commandment. An obedient heart will seek to fulfill the commandments and endeavor to glorify God with a life of wisdom, while at the same time worshipping God in the seasons that betray our life of wisdom (Job 1:20-21).

On the other hand, it is probably equally dishonoring to God to be so engrossed in wisdom, that one fails to recognize the pain of aimless despair of those who are apart from their Creator. Therefore, a Christian must not only embrace Proverbs with a passion to obey, and Job with a heart to believe in the midst of great trial; he must also embrace Ecclesiastes in order taste the bitter cup of those who walk this world apart from true meaning and purpose.

Finally, each text must be understood as wisom. It is easy to understand Proverbs this way; it is a self-proclaimed book of wisdom. But where does the reveleation of wisdom originate in the Proverbs? The Lord Himself (Proverbs 2:6), and true wisdom is derived from a proper understanding of reality. Only a clear and true understanding of reality will lead to a life of real wisdom because wisdom, essentially, is the ability to live well in this world. Therefore, it can be maintained that not only Proverbs–but also Job and Ecclesiastes–are books of wisdom because all three teach us about true reality and give us insights into the way the world works so that we can better live in it.

Yes it is true that in a world governed by Yahwah, righteousness will lead to reward and unrighteousness will lead to punishment; but is also true that the same world governed by Yahweh has experienced a fall that has brought us into a situation where some of this reward and some of this punishment must be postponed for a short time and finally dealt with at the Judgement.

As we struggle with, live with, and teach our people, our rejoicing, our weeping, our assuming and our instructing must be guided by a full understanding and careful application of God’s Word. How dangerous it is to promise that which is not true, or encourage neglect, or to make false assumptions about hurting people. O that our teaching and counseling might be a manifestation of broken-hearted truth-telling, that knows well that there is a time to weep and a time to laugh; there is a time to speak and a time to be silent (Ecclesiastes 3:4, 7).

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