David Grabbe, unraveling several apparently contradictory scriptures, exposes a fundamental flaw in western thinking—namely the binary (that is, either-or) thinking that leads us to construct false dilemmas. Perhaps the best example of this is the one delineated by Protestant theologians who conceptualize law and grace at the opposite sides of a continuum. They cannot imagine how God's sovereignty and man's free moral agency can co-exist. God is benevolent, but He is also severe. God is not waiting to smash us, but neither is He indulgent. If we acknowledge God as our sovereign, it stands to reason that we are duty bound to follow what He has said. As we walk in His grace, we begin to develop wisdom as to what is godly behavior and what is not. God's grace never undermines His sovereignty. Our daily walk with God should lead us to make choices resulting in wisdom and discernment.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating the warning of the apostle Paul that evil company corrupts good habits, warns us that the desire to sin is highly contagious and is a deadly, communicable disease. Because the world we inhabit swims in sin, we have the obligation to become a thinking people, voluntarily choosing God's purpose for ourselves rather than Satan's shameless appeal to self-centeredness, as demonstrated with Satan's enticement of mother Eve. Like mother Eve, we also contend against spiritual principalities for which we need the whole armor of guard and to be guided by God's Holy Spirit to defeat our deadly, carnal nature. The best defense a newborn, minimally contaminated by Satanic nature, has against the influence of sin are parents who ardently love God and His commandments. Solomon had to learn that wisdom, in its purest human form, does not give us complete understanding into the ultimate purposes of God, but wisdom, accompanied with unconditional faith in God, will actually brighten an individual's countenance, as was seen in the example of Daniel and his friends; godly wisdom has the power to change a person's appearance and brings about personal transformation. In a difficult situation, especially when dealing with tyrannical human governments, trusting God is the ultimate wisdom.
Calling Ecclesiastes 7 "the most significant Old Testament chapter I have studied," John Ritenbaugh summarizes the many lessons Solomon teaches in its twenty-nine verses. Along with its central paradox, the chapter emphasizes the importance of an individual's lifelong search for wisdom, closing with an admonition that mankind has brought his problems on himself.
As he closes the seventh chapter of Ecclesiastes, Solomon makes a confession about the search for wisdom, saying that, even to him, true wisdom remained beyond his grasp. Acknowledging this truth, John Ritenbaugh explains that, while wisdom will ultimately elude us too, we must continue to seek it because pursuing it is itself a great reward.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Proverbs 4:7, maintains that our supreme objective in godly living is attainment and cultivation of wisdom, which consists of attributes giving us skill in living. We learn that the Book of Ecclesiastes has no meaning for someone not called of God, relegating it as an epistle of despair from one of life's losers. But to those called of God, the treatise provides practical advice on weathering the trials of life under the sun, preparing us for a highly successful future spiritual life. With an over-the-sun orientation, we realize that the series of comparisons in Ecclesiastes 7 are not to be regarded as absolutes, but only as guideposts dependent upon prior experiences, and definitely require the proper follow-through on our part. The Bible is replete with examples of how things having had a successful launch eventually aborted, and vice versa, things having an insignificant and ostensibly hopeless beginning flourished and prospered. Consequently, we must evaluate the contexts in which the end of something is better. The long way, attended with humility, patience, and dependence on God, is preferable to any shortcut concocted by our willful, carnal nature. God wants us to use our trials to germinate the fruits of patience, peace, and self-control, bequeathing our offspring a legacy of wisdom, following the mindset of our father Abraham, who although an immensely wealthy man, lived in tents as a pilgrim, waiting for the ultimate spiritual prize of living as God does.
Ecclesiastes is a book of wisdom. The kind of wisdom that it teaches, however, is not of the purely philosophical variety, but is a spiritual sagacity combined with practical skill in living. John Ritenbaugh explains that this kind of godly wisdom, if applied, will protect a Christian as he experiences the trials and tribulations of life in this world.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the writings of the wisest mortal man who ever lived, admonishes us that we must use our faith to follow what God says, acquiring wisdom and understanding with all the energy and resources we have. There is a vital linkage between wisdom and understanding, but the latter comes only through hard work and experience. We have to participate, using effort in order to profit from the experience God gives us. The nexus of wisdom and understanding is just as valuable as striking gold. In the acquisition of wisdom and understanding, one must dig for it and meditate upon it, seeking counsel, and the attaining of the fruit of practical application-skill in living according to God's Word, making us adept at interpreting and processing life's events, grasping the whole pattern of circumstances. Skill in living is supreme; therefore, though it costs all we have, get skill in living.
Most of us have heard the courtroom mantra, "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." John Reid, however, applies these criteria to our behavior, showing that many of us shy away from "nothing but the truth"!
Using the analogy of Maestro Arturo Toscanini's ability to anticipate mistakes or sense when something was amiss, Martin Collins examines the vital subject of discernment— both physical and spiritual. Human discernment, according to Dr. N. Scott Peck, can be developed and exercised, triggering early warning systems with the reactions of revulsion and confusion when confronted by the presence of evil. Discernment can be developed by paying close attention to a person's vocabulary, his tone of voice, laughter, and body language. True spiritual discernment is a gift from God imparted through His Holy Spirit, enabling us to judge between good and evil, comparing things in life with God's word to see whether it matches God's standard. Like human discernment, spiritual discernment must be exercised by daily use until it becomes a habit. (Hebrews 5:14)