International Sunday School LessonStudy Notes
Lesson Text: Ecclesiastes 9:13-18Lesson Title: The Superiority of Wisdom
All of us have heard the statement, “You ought to try everything once.” It is a phrase used mostly of the European-American culture to get a human being to do something that they would not normally do. Ecclesiastes is a word from a man who tried everything once. At least it seems that way when you read the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes.
Ecclesiastes is a strange book. We might even ask, “Why is it in the Bible?” In places it reads like a rebellion to Christian truth. Yet, it is inspired by the Holy Spirit. If you took the words of this book out of the Bible, you might conclude that the author was pessimistic or a man who never knew the Lord. There is no mention of the Old Testament patriarchs, Moses, God’s covenant with Abraham or David, Israel, the Sabbath Day or the Lord’s Day. You never read about the temple, friends or even faith in Ecclesiastes. The verses and subjects are strange. Words such as “vapor, air, and nothing” appear often in this book. These are not exciting subjects and certainly not subjects someone would write a book about. The word “vanity” appears 40 times, 1 out of every 5 verses. It means “nothingness or emptiness.” “Vanity” only appears 30 times in all other Old Testament books combined.
The author, Solomon (Ecclesiastes 1:1), seems bored with life and disgusted with humanity. Yet, he never lets go of his faith (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). He questions the motives of God in every aspect of life. So, why is Ecclesiastes in the Bible? What is the benefit of this strange book? The benefit is that it is applicable to all who will read it. Also, it portrays life without faith which magnifies man’s need for wisdom. The questions Solomon, who refers to himself as “the preacher” (Ecclesiastes 1:1, 2, 12; 7:27; 12:8-10) asks, can only be answered by the Lord Jesus Christ. When life seems to run contrary to our thinking and expectations, we still have access to the answers most needed. And, the book obviously shows the superiority of God’s wisdom to that of the world.
Solomon was a wise man (1 Kings 2:6, 9; 3:7-12, 16-18). But his wisdom did not prevent him from questioning God and understanding that God has not revealed all the details of life. It was crucial for Solomon, as well for us, to realize that human wisdom, human achievement, human effort, and especially human religion are all “vanity.” Theologian F.F. Bruce noted, “The word of human beings, however wise in substance or eloquent in expression, cannot produce spiritual life; this is the prerogative of the Word of God.” The wisdom we find in God and His Holy Word is superior to all the wisdom in this world.
Solomon’s Consideration of Wisdom (Ecclesiastes 9:13-15)
As you read verses 13-15 it becomes obvious that Solomon is talking about some instance or situation he has been through in life. As we read about it will sound to us like a parable. To what special event he is speaking we do not know. It is likely that those living in Solomon’s day would have known exactly what he was speaking about. The importance of this event for us is not to know the actually occurrence, but rather the wisdom taught in it.
“This wisdom have I seen…” means that the experience he is about to describe was recognized by Solomon as an instance of worldly wisdom. “This” points forward to what Solomon will tell us about in verse 14. “Wisdom” in this sentence indicates that this is the object which is being considered, or as we understand it, an “example” of wisdom.
“Under the sun” is a phrase used 29 times in Ecclesiastes. This phrase describes life from the perspective of this world only, its values, priorities, and goals. Our world operates without any acknowledgment that there is someone “above” the sun, namely God. While some of what this world has to offer is good and satisfying, other sources of knowledge and wisdom are far from that. In fact, they can be frustrating, discouraging, and leave you without hope (Ephesians 2:12).
“…And it seemed great unto me” seems to indicate that the event Solomon had witnessed taught him a deeper lesson, one that he wants to share with those to whom he is speaking. In other words, Solomon had been impressed by the event he is about to share. So impressed he wants us to know about it. And while the Holy Spirit doesn’t tell us in our text exactly what event it was Solomon experienced, He does record Solomon’s teaching about it to teach us the superiority of wisdom.
“There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it:” This “little city” is not identified in scripture. “Few men within it” refers to the number of men who were available to defend the “little city.” The story continues with the words, “…and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it.” Don’t miss the key words, “great king, against, besieged, great bulwarks, and against.” These words tell a very frightening and devastating story.
The headlines of this story read, “Little City verses Great King.” What “little city” with “few men” to defend it could stand against a “great king” who comes to fight against it? The “great king” which may have actually been some Persian king, built “bulwarks” against the “little city.” These “bulwarks” are very likely “siege towers,” which were used both to discover the vulnerable parts of the city and also to lift the attackers upon the city walls when the overthrow was conducted (Deuteronomy 20:20).
“Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remember that same poor man.” “It” of course refers to the “little city” of verse 14. The “poor wise man” who “was found” or discovered inside the “little city” under attack, used his “wisdom” and “delivered the city.” Nothing is said as to who this man was or how he delivered the city. The lack of information on these details is interesting when you consider the fact that the Bible is filled with stories of men and women such as the Judges, David, and a host of others who delivered their people in times of danger. But the personality and procedures of this deliverance is not the important issue in this story. The important issue is that this “poor man, by his wisdom” came forward and by wise counsel relieved his countrymen from their perilous situation.
In order to better understand this “poor man,” we need to examine Ecclesiastes 4:13. It says, “Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished.” The word “child” in Ecclesiastes 4:13 is from a Hebrew word “misken” and can be interpreted “youth.” It is the same word for “poor” in verse 15 of our lesson text. The point of Ecclesiastes 4:13 is that a young man who is wise is better off than a king who has not learned wisdom with his years and will not heed to good advice when he is admonished.
“…Yet no man remembered that same poor man” can be interpreted a couple of different ways. First, “remembered” can mean as soon as this “poor man’s” wisdom was given to deliver the city, he feel back into obscurity, and was thought of no more; he gained no personal advantage, by his wisdom and his ungrateful countrymen forgot his existence. Based on this interpretation of the verse nothing has been done to commemorate the wise man’s heroic efforts; thus future generations would be unable to glean from this poor man’s wisdom. Second, Doctor Warren Wiersbe leans toward the interpretation that the poor man did not actually deliver the city. He interprets the poor man as having the wisdom to deliver the city, was “found” or asked about how to deliver the city, but his wisdom was rejected and that is the reason for what is taught in verses 16-18. That certainly is a possible way to look at it.
Either interpretation could be correct. However, in our world today it seems more likely that the second interpretation would more accurately fit. There is so much “wisdom” in God’s Word and in the people of God that much of our heartaches and troubles could be avoided. The problem is, people will not listen. And, if they do listen, they quickly forget. That was one of Israel’s main problems as a nation (Deuteronomy 4:9; 6:12). Our world is blessed to have the Word of God and the people of God. Both the written word and the work of that word in the hearts and lives of God’s people can be a great means of wisdom. Unfortunately, both the word of God and the people of God are despised.
Think about your family, your neighborhood, your church family and your nation. Think about those four aspects of your life and then think about all the “great kings” that would like to “besiege” them and find out where they are vulnerable. Some of the “great kings” in our day would be people with worldly mindsets, governments which govern with no regard for God, philosophies of life that are anti-Christ and anti-God. Now, think about the how many in your family, your neighborhood, your church family and your nation have access to wisdom in the word of God and the people of God. Why the breakdown of the family? Why so much divorce and remarriage? Why are so many professing believers worldly in their thinking and living? Why do we live in a nation that is spiritually, morally, financially and emotionally bankrupt? The answer, “…no man remembered that same poor man.”
The prophet Isaiah said that when nations so openly and blatantly turned away from God that He would “take away…the mighty man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the prudent, and the ancient, The captain of fifty, and the honourable man, and the counsellor, and the cunning artificer, and the eloquent orator” (Isaiah 3:1-3). The point is there would be no “poor wise man” left. And, if there were, no one would listen to them.
Illus. Joseph, wisest man in Egypt was treated the same way by the chief butler (Genesis 40:23).
Solomon’s Conclusions about Wisdom (Ecclesiastes 9:16-18)
The word of God and the people of God have every resource this besieged world needs to be delivered. But both are despised, and men will not from them what they stand ready to give. This is the conclusion and summary Solomon now makes in verses 16-18.
“Then said I,…” are words of observation or conclusions about to be declared. Solomon’s conclusion is not difficult to arrive at. “Wisdom is better than strength” simply means that “wisdom” is a better asset to have when facing any situation in life than military or political strength.
“…Nevertheless the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words not heard.” “Despised” means “no one paid attention” to the poor man’s words. “…His words are not heard” doesn’t mean that the people didn’t physically get the message. It means the man’s words of wisdom were only used for their immediate need and then forgotten, or that they heard what to do to defeat the king at the moment, but neither had any lasting effect.
The contrast in verse 16 is between physical “strength” and “wisdom.” “In today’s world, the accomplishments that highlight physical strength (such as those in sports) quite often generate far more interest and receive much more publicity than those that reflect wisdom, especially the wisdom that is grounded in a firm faith in the Lord.” (Standard Lesson Commentary 2011-2012). If you doubt that statement, pick up a newspaper on any given Monday and compare attendance figures between church and sporting events. To make the comparison even greater, compare Sunday morning service to those of Sunday School, discipleship training, and other church related meetings dedicated entirely to the teaching of God’s Word. The physical always attracts more than the spiritual.
Whether or not the world listens to the word of God and the people of God, one of the greatest assets a family, a neighborhood, a church, or a nation has, is the wisdom that comes from the presence of God’s Word and His people. It was said of Samuel, “Behold now, there is in this city a man of God, and he is an honourable man; all that he saith cometh surely to pass: now let us go thither; peradventure he can shew us our way that we should go” (1 Samuel 9:6). God has placed His Word and His people in this world to give direction and wise counsel. If you have never known that, believe it. If you do know that, don’t forget it!
“The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools.” The word “heard” is closely connected with the word “heard” in verse 16 and establishes a thought sequence as follows: “It is true, the wise man’s words are not heard; but if they are heard, it requires “quiet” which refers to a mental attitude appropriate for hearing. Our generation can’t slow down long enough to hear the word of God effectively. And when we do actually hear it, our minds are elsewhere. If you will position yourself to hear the wisdom God has recorded in His Word and personifies in His people, you will benefit greatly.
People with “quiet” humble dispositions are an asset to the cause of Christ whether they are speaking words of wisdom or listening to words of wisdom. In the case of preachers and teachers, it is those who can effectively communicate God’s wisdom that are the most beneficial. In the case of those who listen to that preaching and teaching, it is those who quietly listen that receive the most help. “Heard more” means “to have greater acceptance in the presence of the Lord.”
The contrast in verse 17 is between “quiet wise men” and “the cry of fools.” The “fools” in this verse are those who have refused wisdom and counsel from God’s Word. We live in a world of people who as the Apostle Paul said, “profess themselves to be wise…yet they became fools” (Romans 1:22). Their “cry” is an attention getter! Solomon’s point is that those who “cry the loudest” are usually the ones that “rule” or get their way. The wise men preach and teach quietly and are ignored. The fools holler loudly and usually get what they want.
Verse 18 continues the same line of thought as in verse 17. “Wisdom is better than weapons of war…” Solomon’s point is that “wisdom” can do what “weapons” or material force cannot. Solomon is not saying that weapons of war are not needed on occasions and should therefore be banished. He is saying that you can’t live by the power of weapons at the expense of the superiority of wisdom. “Weapons” can be a powerful thing. They have the capability of producing threats, great advantage, bargaining leverage, or in the worse case annihilation. But Solomon is firm in his conclusion that “wisdom” is “better.”
“…One sinner destroyeth much good” is a type of climatic statement. The positive consequences which a wise man’s counsel might accomplish, or has already accomplished, may be useless because of “one sinner.” Solomon is saying that as long as this present world views God’s Word and His wisdom in the manner in which they view it, “one sinner,” or one individual, like the captain at the helm of a ship, or the president as the leader of a country, or a preacher as the leader of the church, can “destroy much good.” In making this statement, Solomon is looking at each of us in the face who refuse to accept God’s Word and His “wisdom” as superior. Because of man’s refusal to accept truth, “much good,” is being destroyed.
Note: You may be of the opinion that it can’t hurt much for you to include your opinion right along side of the word of God. You may be of the opinion that listening to a preacher who is not God called or is not rightly dividing the word of truth, will not cause too much harm as long as you don’t listen to him every week. The Apostle Paul said, “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6). Let’s remember, Adam’s one sin infected the whole human race and Achan’s one transgression caused Israel defeat. It may be that one book on your shelf that contradicts scripture, that one teacher or preacher you listen to just because he is flamboyant that ends up “destroying much.”
During the dark days of the reign of Ahab, King of Israel, God raised up a wise prophet by the name of Elijah. He was without question a “poor wise man.” And his “little city,” the nation of Israel, had certainly been “besieged” by the evil wisdom of the kings wife, Jezebel (1 Kings 16:31). Elijah cried unto the king and the nation words of wisdom that could have led to revival had they only been obeyed. Yet, he was viewed as the “enemy” (1 Kings 21:20).
Whether it be the prophet Elijah confronting Baal worship and pagan leadership in Israel or Solomon telling a story about a poor wise man who had the answer but was not remembered, we all at times struggle in this fallen world. The message of God’s Word and the wisdom therein was superior in Elijah’s day, in Solomon’s day, and it is still superior in our day. Because wisdom’s ultimate source is God, it is God’s Word that ultimately matters. Don’t be discouraged today by a world gone crazy on humanism, philosophy and man-made religion. Stay with the Bible. Stay with the body of Christ.
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