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Old Testament: Poetry and Prophets

Tom Pennington • Selected Scriptures

  • 2017-03-12 PM
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Alright, so we're going to start tonight with a short quiz. How many of you came just out of curiosity to see if I could actually cover that much? Yeah, that's what I thought. Well, it remains to be seen. I've committed to it. I'll get there and we shouldn't be here much longer than we normally are. Just kidding, just kidding. No, I think there is value - and obviously, you agree - to us sometimes stepping back and looking in an enlarged view at the meaning of scripture. There's great value to that and let me just encourage you as you consider that process, you start by getting an understanding, an overarching theme of scripture. We've done that together. The theme of scripture is that God is redeeming a people by His son, for His son, to His own glory. Once you have that, now you understand the thread that ties it all together. The next step down, then, is to understand how the Testaments and the blocks of books within the Testaments contribute to that great theme. We've said that the Old Testament simply says He's coming. The promised One is coming. And it shows the need for a Redeemer. And then you come to the Gospels, and you discover that He has come, and this is what He did when He was here. You come to the Book of Acts, and you see His continuing work through the Spirit in the early church. You come to the Epistles, and you see the ministry of Christ explained. This is what it meant. This is what He came to accomplish and here's the application of it. And then, of course, you come to the Book of Revelation. You see the ultimate revelation of Christ. He's coming again.

So, you understand, first of all, the large theme of scripture. Then you understand how the large pieces of scripture fit together. The next step down - and we're going to do this tonight - is to look at the theme of each individual book. Every book in scripture has a unifying theme. And so, your goal then is to step now down from that overarching view and look at each individual book and understand its theme. Once you understand its theme, then you're able to come down from there to understand how the parts of that book reflect back to the theme - back to the theme of scripture. And so, I hope that you'll grasp the importance of that. When we get to the prophets, for example, tonight, I'm not going to do much more than give you that overarching theme of the book and how it fits into Old Testament revelation. But that's a great start when you're out of that, then you can read that book in an informed way and understand how it's contributing to the larger portion of scripture in which it appears - and to the scripture as a whole.

So tonight, we continue our survey of the Old Testament. We've been taking an aerial view, really, of Old Testament history. That is, how the story of the Old Testament unfolds - how the history of the Old Testament looks from a thousand feet. To help us do that, I've divided the Old Testament into nine major movements. So far, we've examined seven of the nine movements. We've seen the universal dealings of God - that is, He dealt not with individuals but with mankind as a whole in the first 11 chapters of Genesis. We looked at the patriarchal period when God chooses a man through whom and his descendants through whom to put Himself on display. We saw that in Genesis 12-50. Then there's the several hundred years of slavery in Egypt recorded in Exodus 1 when the sons of Jacob go down to Egypt and there, they find themselves eventually in slavery. Then the Exodus - that amazing display of the power of God as He brings His people out of Egypt on eagle's wings and takes them to the land that He promised and that's recorded from Exodus through the end of Deuteronomy. So that covers those four movements of Old Testament history, cover the first five books of the Old Testament. Then in Joshua, we have the conquest and division of Canaan. And then, in Judges, and Ruth, and the first part of 1 Samuel, the period of the Judges - the darkest period Old Testament history, the low point when there was no central government, there was no king in Israel, and all of the tribes and all of the clans did that which was right in their own eyes and the result of that was a catastrophic failure morally and religiously in the nation. By the way, there is a powerful lesson there. Even bad central government is better than no central government.

When you come to the last movement, that we examined together - the seventh movement of the nine - it's the monarchy recorded in Samuel and Kings and in 1 and 2 Chronicles. We looked at the united period of the monarchy. That's when all 12 tribes were under one king united together - and that was a very short-lived period in Israel's history under Saul and David, a hundred- and twenty-years total. And then the kingdom was divided under Rehoboam, Solomon's son. We saw that the last time we looked at it together and the results of that were catastrophic. And the divided kingdom lasted in Judah until 586 when it was taken into Babylonian captivity.

Now, that's where we've been so far in Old Testament history. Tonight, I want us to step away from the flow of Old Testament history. Lord willing, next week we'll finish our study of Old Testament history, look at the last two major movements - the exile and the restoration from exile. But tonight, we're going to step away from the history and we're going to look at the twenty-two books in the Old Testament - in our Old Testament they're numbered a little differently in the Hebrew scriptures - that are not history. I want us to examine the basic message of the five books that we call poetry or wisdom literature, and we want to consider as well the basic message of the seventeen books that we call the major, and the minor prophets.

So, let's begin, then, with the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. We're talking really about five books, these books: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. I've given you the themes here of each of these books. Well, let me give you the overarching themes and then we're going to look into them a little more and unpack a little more of these wonderful jewels that the Lord has given us in the Old Testament scripture.

Job: the theme of the book is suffering and sovereignty. What is the relationship between human suffering and divine sovereignty? Why do the righteous suffer is really the question that's asked.

The Book of Psalms is simply a pattern of personal and, we should add, corporate worship. A pattern of personal and corporate worship.

And then you have Proverbs which is wisdom for the details of life. The law covers all of the big issues in life, but Proverbs comes back and fills in the details of a righteous life like don't talk to your neighbor with too loud a voice in the morning, don't spend too long as someone's guest. All of those practical details of life - how to govern your speech, when to talk, when not to talk. All of those details are covered in the Book of Proverbs.

Ecclesiastes: the theme is the vanity of life in a fallen world. No book in the Old Testament, I think, has been more helpful for me to understand life in the world in which we live than the Book of Ecclesiastes and it's a book that's often misunderstood.

And then finally, Song of Solomon. And the theme of Song of Solomon is the joy of married love.

So, let's look at them more specifically.

Let's begin with Job: sovereignty and suffering.

The setting of the Book of Job is during the patriarchal period - during the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - perhaps somewhere around 2000 BC. How do we know that? Well, there's several clues within the book. Now remember, this is not the time of the writing. This is the time in which the events occurred. We see that there are several things that point to the patriarchal period. Job lived a hundred and forty years, for example. His wealth is measured in his possessions. His family follows a kind of clan-like system. The geography is not Israelite. And even the specific name used for God orients it to that period of time, El Shaddai.

The date of the writing, on the other hand, is an issue in which there's a lot of disagreement. Some of the primary options: Jeremiah's time around the 7th Century BC, the 5th or 6th Century BC is another option, but probably the preferred option is during Solomon's reign in the 10th Century BC - in the 900s BC is probably when it was written under the inspiration of the Spirit. We don't know if there were documents from which the inspired writer borrowed. We're just not sure but we do know, ultimately, it was under the inspiration of the Spirit. It was received as a book that was given by God, received by our Lord, as well as He affirmed the Old Testament that included the Book of Job. The author of Job is either Solomon - that's one of the four options - or simply, we just don't know. And as I said, the purpose is to deal with the issue of why do the righteous suffer. And that's why, when you look at the Book of Job, you find that all of the main characters in Job all propose their own answers to the suffering of the righteous. If you never asked this question, it's probably because neither you nor someone you know has ever really suffered. But if you found yourself in that situation, you're struck with the issue of: why does God allow this in the lives of those He loves? And, as I said, each of the characters in the Book of Job has an answer. The narrator of the Book of Job- and you can see it in the first chapter and the second chapter as well - he lets us in on the clue that suffering here in this world is and can be a direct result of conflict in the spiritual realm over which we have no control. There's a discussion between God and Satan that ends up in Job suffering. So, there's that perspective that is a true perspective that were given.

And then you have the unhelpful perspectives of Job's friends - and you see this throughout the book - but the big picture of job's three primary friends is this: suffering must be the result of sin. You understand where this mindset's coming from. This is what's called retribution theology. Retribution Theology teaches that you can look at someone's outward circumstances in the world and that tells you whether or not God is pleased with them. In other words, He deals immediately and directly with people in the world. So, if you see someone prospering, in good health, then God must be pleased with them. And if, on the other hand, that's not true, then there must be some issue, there must be something we don't know about if you see somebody really suffering. This was very common in Old Testament times. It's even common in New Testament times. It's why the Pharisees thought those who were wealthy were blessed by God. It was Retribution Theology. There was a direct tie between your current outward circumstances and God's perspective of you. And this is where Job's friends were coming from. Suffering, hardship, difficulty, trouble must be the result of some sin. Now, they each came from a slightly different perspective with that unifying understanding. Eliphaz, he says, "listen, if you sin, you suffer". And he based his assumptions, if you look at his advice carefully, on his experience. This is what he knew. This was the experience he had. Then you had Bildad, and he says, "yeah, you've got to be sinning. If you're experiencing this, Job, you're sinning." He based his assumptions on his traditions. This is what has always been taught. This is how God's people have always understood reality. And then Zophar also agreed, "you're sinning." But he based his assumptions that this was true on his religious convictions. This is what God says, this is what scripture teaches. So, these were Job's friends.

Then there was Job himself. Job himself struggled with all of this and he came to the conclusion that the suffering of the righteous just doesn't seem to match theology. It doesn't make sense. He calls for an audience with God that he could lay out his case for God. God, why would you treat me this way?

And then there's the younger friend Elihu falls into his own category. His counsel, we're told, is wiser than those who were older than he was, and he confronted Job's self-righteousness. And he also was very close in some ways. Not all of his counsel was good, but he was much closer than the others. And he came to this conclusion, he said, "don't focus on the cause of your suffering, but on the result." God tries and teaches the righteous through suffering.

And then, of course, you have the ultimate perspective in chapters 38 and 39, and God's perspective is this, "everything - including suffering- is meaningful, even if you don't understand that meaning so trust Me." God's counsel of job is really quite astounding. I mean, if you had a friend who was suffering what Job suffered, what would you be tempted to say to them? What does God say? He says, let Me remind you of who I am and what I do. Let Me remind you of My wisdom in creation. You can trust Me - whether you understand or whether you don't. That's the message God lays out for Job.

Turn to Job for a moment. I want you to see and be reminded of Job's response to God. In fact, go back, first of all, let me just remind you of God's response to Job. Job 38:1,

The LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind.

So, here's God now speaking to Job. Setting things straight, He says,

Who is this that darkens counsel

By words without knowledge?

Gird up your loins like a man,

and I will ask you and you instruct Me!

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

Tell Me, if you have understanding,

Who sets its measurements? Since you know.

Or who's stretch the line on it around?

What were its bases sunk?

Who laid its cornerstone,

When the morning stars sang together

And all the sons of God shouted for Joy?

Who enclosed the sea with doors?

You know how He lays out one of these statements after another, He is essentially saying to Job, "I have done all of this. I control all of this. I have the wisdom to make it all happen. Who are you to question my wisdom in the affairs of your life?" That's great counsel for us when we find ourselves questioning the purposes of God.

Look at, then, Job's response. Job 40:1

The LORD said to Job,

Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty?

Here's what Job was really tempted to do in response to his suffering. He was a fault finder. He was, in a sense, subtly reproving God. And in response to that,

Job answered the LORD and said,

Behold I am insignificant, what can I reply to you?

I lay my hand on my mouth.

Once I have spoken, I will not answer;

Even twice, I will add nothing more.

And he responds eventually in repentance. Go to chapter 42:1-2.

Job answered the Lord and said,

'I know that you can do all things."

There it is. He gets it.

And no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.

In other words, You do what You choose to do, and You are wise and You are right.

Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?

Therefore, I have declared that which I did not understand,

Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

Verse 5

I heard of you by the hearing of the ear;

But now my eye sees you;

Therefore I retract,

and I repent in dust and ashes.

Job said, "I have no right to question You - to question Your wisdom, to question Your justice, and how you've dealt with me." And that's how the book ends - with God's response. This is a great book for you or anyone you know who is suffering because it is one of the most beautiful books in scripture, is one of the most penetrating books in scripture, and it answers the key question and it answers it this way: God is not going to tell you why you are suffering at this moment but He is good, and He is wise, and He is in control, and you can trust Him.

Job: sovereignty and suffering.

That brings us to the second of the poetry books, and that is the Book of Psalms: a pattern of personal worship.

Now, as far as Psalms, the date of writing, there's a huge range actually because the earliest Psalm that is in the Psalter is Psalm 90 written by Moses. That would have been about 1,400 years, probably around 1410 BC. And then we have Psalms like Psalm 126 that were clearly written at the time or after the exile, and so, sometime after 500 BC. So, you have a large span of almost a thousand years and most of the Psalms were probably written around 1000 BC during the reigns of David - we know many of the Psalms, seventy-five of them, written by David - and Solomon wrote two as well. So, the bulk of them. And then there were others who lived in their time period, who wrote as well. We'll see that in a moment. So, they were compiled over a long period of time. Perhaps ultimately, assembled by Ezra the scribe. But the Psalms are a massive period of time that they cover.

Now, they are organized into five books - or five divisions - and it's interesting because the five books sort of intentionally reflect the first five books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch. Book one of the Psalms is Psalm 1-41 and it deals with the theme of creation, sin, and redemption and it really reflects Genesis. Book 2, Psalms 42-72, deals with Israel's ruin and redemption, and it reflects the Book of Exodus. Book 3 is Psalm 73-89 and it deals with the holiness of Israel's sanctuary, and it reflects Leviticus. Book 4, Psalm 89-106 reflects God's sovereign rule of the nations, and it reflects the Book of Numbers. And then book 5, Psalm 107-150, the praise of God and the sufficiency of His word and it really reflects Deuteronomy.

So, there is intentionality to how the Psalms are organized. By the way, each of these divisions is followed by a doxology - by a statement of praise to God - and there are other evidences that point to division and growth as well, such as concluding statements at the end of these books. For example, of these divisions of the Psalter, for example, Psalm 72:20, which ends book 2 says this, "the prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended." And so, you have these points of demarcation where these books, these divisions within the Psalter, are set off. So, there is really a brilliant system of organization of the Psalms as we have received them.

Now, a question that comes up about the Psalms is what about the song titles? Well, I think it's important to realize, you know, those little super script that are at the front of each Psalm. It's important to realize that they are considered part of the canonical texts of the Hebrew Bible. In other words, when the Hebrew Bible was put together, they are included as verse 1 of the Psalms. That's why if you look at the Hebrew there's often not a correlation of the verses. Their verse 1 is not a verse yet in English, and there's a discrepancy of diversification in many of the Psalms because of that.

The New Testament also treats them as scripture and quotes from them authoritatively in several places - Mark 12, Acts 2, and Acts 13, and so forth - in the sermons that are preached.

What we do know, and I think this is probably as far as we can go definitively, is that they are from antiquity. That is, they are ancient, and we know this in a couple of ways. They're written in the third person about events. So, likely they were written after the event that is described in the psalm. Affixed to the Psalm sometime after it was written. But while that's true, when the Septuagint translators were trying to translate the Hebrew into Greek in the second or third century before Christ many of the technical terms that are used were so old and so antiquated that they didn't know what they meant, couldn't translate them. So, they were clearly quite old even in the first and second, the second third century BC. So that's about as far as we can go is they're clearly very old and they are considered in New Testament times to be authoritative. And to be specific, in dictating the events that are described in that Psalm or the setting of the Psalm.

Now who wrote the Psalms? Well, there are many authors. David is the primary author. Seventy-five of the Psalms are written by David and you're familiar with those. Of course, some of the most familiar Psalms written by David. Solomon, his son, wrote two of them. A group called the sons of Korah, which was a little Levitical family, descendants of the Rebel, you remember back in Numbers. They wrote 12 Psalms. It's a story of grace, isn't it? I love that. They wrote 12 Psalms. Then you have Asaph who also wrote 12 Psalms. A choir leader from the tribe of Levi - Psalm 50 and 73-83 - and then Heman the Ezrahite- Psalm 88. He founded the choir of the sons of Korah. Ethan the Ezrahite - Psalm 89 - founded, one of the three choirs of Old Testament Israel's Temple worship as well. And then Moses wrote Psalm 90. And then there are about forty-eight anonymous Psalms. We don't know who wrote them. But that's those, are the ones who authored the Psalms.

You know the theology of the Psalms? Let me take you to Psalm 100. I want you to see the basic theology of the Psalms. My father-in-law used to point to this often and he's absolutely right. When you read the Psalms, you'll see this recurring again and again, but you can see it here in Psalm 100.

Notice the simple theology of the Psalmist. This is one of those anonymous Psalms and notice what he says - specifically about God. In verse 3, he says, "Know that Yahweh Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture." It is He who made us a people, in other words. It's He who constituted us as His sheep. This has to do with the greatness of God. So, we see in the Psalms again and again, the greatness of God. And, at the same time, as we do in this Psalm, notice in verse 5, "for Yahweh is good; His steadfast love is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations." Once you see this pattern, you will see it throughout the Psalms. What you learned in kindergarten is absolutely true. God is great. God is good. You remember that little prayer? That's exactly the theology of the Psalms again and again. God is great. God is good. And you see it unfolded. And then, of course, around in Psalm 100, our response to the greatness and the goodness of God.

The purpose of the Psalms, then, is - and this isn't really two different purposes - it's really a different way of saying the same thing. The Psalms are a divinely intended - and I chose those words specifically - it is a divinely intended record and pattern of man expressing himself to God. God intentionally gave us a record of godly men expressing themselves, both individually and corporately, to God. It is a pattern, therefore, of personal and corporate worship. You want to know what your worship of God individually and what our worship of God corporately should be like? Read and study the Psalms and you see the full ranged orb of emotions. You see the subjective expressions of how the truths about God impact me. You see the object of celebration - of who God is separate from me, just who He is in and of Himself - of His works, of His deeds, and what our response to these should be. So, the purpose of the Psalms, then, is to establish for you and for me a model of personal and corporate worship. I would encourage you on a regular basis, as part of your daily time in the word to incorporate a part of that time to be working your way through a Psalm - to be understanding it, to be studying it, to be looking at it in its context, to be seeing who God is, and then worshiping Him in response. This will establish a pattern for you that is a biblical pattern of worship.

By the way, a helpful resource in that, I don't agree with everything. He writes, there are a couple of specific issues I would take issue within Derek Kidner's commentaries on Psalms in terms of, for example, he's an old earth guy. There are issues like that. But I would say this in terms of helping you understand the Psalms in a very concise brief way. Derek Kidner and the Tyndale series on the Psalms is excellent. But, be exposing yourself to the Psalms because this is what God gave us, this book to do is, to teach you how to worship Him.

There is a unity in the Psalms and that unity is, as I've said, is worship. The object of that worship is the Lord. It's a recognition of God's person. That is, His name, who He is, His attributes, what He is, His acts, what He has done. This is what you see. And, by the way when you go through the Psalms, be looking for that. Be looking for every time it says God is something and be looking for every time it says, "God does something because that's what you're doing, is you're seeing God. And by the way, in the Psalms there is an emphasis on Christ, as well. There are Messianic Psalms. But remember, Christ is the only Mediator. And so, in the interaction with God's people in the Old Testament, there was still only wanting one mediator. It was the second person of the Trinity who would eventually become our Lord Jesus Christ.

Then you have the responsibility of the worship. The worshipper there is to be of moral purity. There is to be a longing after God. "As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my heart after you, o God." And there's to be a genuine heart worship that issues forth in the life of obedience. Those who would worship God must come to Him humbly and obediently.

So, be in the Psalms. God gave you, the Psalms for this purpose.

Let's move on, then, to the Book of Proverbs - the Proverbs of Solomon. The theme of this book is wisdom for the details of life.

The word Proverbs comes from a Hebrew root that simply means to be like. It has a wide range of meaning. It's sometimes used as folk sayings, sometimes of allegory, sometimes of lament. So, they're all kinds of ways. This is a general word. The idea is, it's a comparison. Think of the Proverbs as kind of a combination of object lessons on the one hand and truisms on the other. And by truisms, I mean that the Proverbs are not guarantees. They're how life normally is. This is the way life normally works. It's not a guarantee. You know, of course, the most familiar one is, "train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." There's a lot of debate about that verse and I'm not going to get into that but even taking the traditional view of that verse that it is somehow saying if you spiritually train a child that eventually that child will come back to that way. Even if that's what that verse is teaching, which I'm not convinced that it is, even so, it's a proverb, it's not a guarantee. It means this is the way things normally work. So, be careful when you come to the Proverbs in that way.

The author of Proverbs is Solomon. You have different groupings of Proverbs, however, that came together in different ways. For example, you have those Proverbs that were written and compiled by King Solomon - clearly the first nine chapters of Proverbs, -but if you look at proverbs 10:1, you read, "the Proverbs of Solomon." So here are Proverbs that were written by Solomon and compiled by Solomon. Then you have those, if you look back in chapter 25:1, you have those Proverbs that were written by Solomon. These are also the Proverbs of Solomon. Verse 1 of chapter 25 says, "which the men of Hezekiah, king of Judah transcribed." So, much later than Solomon's life. The king Hezekiah, and those under his authority, compiled more Proverbs that Solomon had written. You have others that were collected. They weren't written by Solomon, but they were collected by Solomon, compiled by Solomon that simply called wise sayings, for example. And then, of course, at the very end of the Book of Proverbs, you have Chapter 30 written by Agur and you have 31:1, "section written by King Lemuel." And then, of course, the acrostic to the excellent wife for The Virtuous Woman is anonymous beginning in chapter 31:10. So different contributors but, the Proverbs.

Now, what's the purpose of Proverbs? Go to chapter 1 because the Proverbs begins with a very clear explanation of why it exists. In the first six verses of Proverbs 1, Solomon tells us why this book has been given to us. I wish I had time to get into this. I think I've done a message on this passage before. It's probably online on our website. You can listen. But let me just give it to you in the big picture. You have a verse 2 a summary after you read, "the proverbs of Solomon, the son of David king of Israel." In verse 2, you have a summary of the purpose, "to know wisdom and instruction, to discern the sayings of understanding." You have a moral purpose in the first half of that verse, and you have a mental purpose in the second half of that verse. Now, that's the summary, verse 2. Verses 3-6 develop that, explain that purpose. Verses 3-5 develop the moral purpose that was introduced in the first half of verse 2 and verse 6 explains and develops the mental purpose that's at the end of verse 2.

Here's what it looks like. Basically, here's the mental purpose. Verse 2 says, "to discern sayings of understanding," and verse 6 develops that, notice, "to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles." So essentially, it is to develop skill in dealing with this kind of literature, with this kind of approach to truth. That's the mental purpose of Proverbs.

But then there's the moral purpose that is introduced to us in those two words at the beginning of verse 2, "to know wisdom and instruction," and that's developed in verses 3-5. I'm not going to take time to walk, you through verses 3-5. Just look at those two words: wisdom and instruction. The word wisdom, the Hebrew word for wisdom is speaking of content - what Proverbs delivers. The word instruction is dealing with method - how Proverbs delivers it. The word wisdom is used one hundred fifty-three times in the Old Testament, and it's used in a couple of ways that show us what Proverbs is teaching us. Turn over to Psalm 107. I want you to see how wisdom is used because this will help you understand what Proverbs is promising you. Psalm 107:23,

Those who go down to the sea in ships,

Who do business on great waters;

They have seen the works of the Lord,

And His wonders in the deep.

For He spoke and raised up a stormy wind,

which lifted up the waves of the sea.

If you're prone to seasickness, don't read the next verse.

They rose up to the heavens, they went down to the depths

Their soul melted away in their misery,

they reeled and staggered like a drunken man

And then the psalmist adds,

They were at their wit's end.

Notice the marginal note. If you have a version of The New American that has a marginal note, you'll see there literally the Hebrew text for "they were at their wit's end" is "all their wisdom was swallowed up." What is the psalmist saying? He's saying here are skilled seaman who meet a storm that exhausts all of their skill. That's how the word wisdom is used - skill. All of their seamanship skills were exhausted. There was nothing else for them to do. The word is used that way, by the way, in Exodus to describe the skill God gave to those who were workers in metal and workers in wood and other things to construct the Tabernacle. So, this word wisdom really has at its root the idea of a skill. Wisdom is skill and, specifically, it is skill in this context in Proverbs. Proverbs promises to give you the wisdom or the skill to live in the details of life - in a way that pleases God. Not just the big sweeping picture of the law, but in the very details of life.

In addition, we're told how that's delivered to us in the word instruction back in Proverbs 1:2, "to know wisdom and instruction." This is how Proverbs delivers the skill for living in the details of life in a way that pleases God. This word instruction occurs fifty times in the Old Testament. It has the idea as in 2 Timothy 3:16 of training. This Hebrew word instruction is usually oral instruction. You can see it in verse 8, "Hear, my son, to your father's instruction." Okay, it's usually oral instruction and that's what Proverbs is. It's giving us the wisdom and skill for living in the details of life in oral instruction, the same oral instruction that Solomon gave to his son Rehoboam. Here's the danger. You can hear it and not do it which is exactly what Rehoboam did. But the skill is given to us in this oral instruction that God the Spirit under the inspiration of the Spirit has given through Solomon to us. Occasionally this word instruction refers to physical discipline as well as in Proverbs 13:24. But most of the time, it's oral instruction.

So, in other words, here's what Proverbs promises. Proverbs promises to give you the skill to live in the details of your life in a way that pleases God and the way it gives that to you is through the oral instruction. That's here – recorded, written for us on the pages of this book. It's a great book for those who are young and who are learning how to live in the details of life, but you never get too old for Proverbs. We all are still learning the skill of living out our faith in the details of life in a way that pleases God. There are a lot of Christians who get justification who don't get the details of life - what a righteous life looks like in the details of life. So much to be gained in this magnificent book.

Let's move on. Ecclesiastes is the vanity of life in a fallen world. The title of this book in the Septuagint is Ecclesiastes. That's why we have that title. In Hebrew, the title is Kohelet. Kohelet literally means the Preacher - one who speaks to the assembly. The author of this book is Solomon. That's mentioned several times - Ecclesiastes 1:1,12,16. So there's no real question about that if you believe the Scriptures at all. The date was probably late in his life. I believe it was near the very end of his life and reign - possibly after there was repentance for his idolatrous ways. I think there's evidence to that end even the poem on old age has a feel of a man who's experienced it. A man who knows what it's like to grow old.

What is the Book of Ecclesiastes about? This is a huge debate. There are three common interpretations.

The first interpretation is not a good one at all. Just sort of mark this one off your list. But this is out there and that is that Ecclesiastes is just man's reasoning. In other words, it's not from God. It's man's reasoning apart from revelation. Why would God include a book like that in the Bible? Well, if this is what it is then the purpose would be to expose the best wisdom an unregenerate man reflecting on life can provide. This is what I was taught when I was growing up. This book is not one to be followed. It's not one to be embraced. It is one to be read and to sort of shake your head at and say, how sad that anyone would come to that conclusion.

The problem with this view is that there is absolutely no warning in the context to avoid the contents. And in fact, if you look at the final chapter of Ecclesiastes, it seems to say exactly the opposite. Look at Ecclesiastes 12:9, "In addition to being a wise man, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge; he pondered and searched out and arranged many proverbs." Now, listen to this, "the Preacher," that's the man who's preaching in this book, Kohelet, he "sought to find delightful words and to write," watch this "words of truth correctly. The words of wise men are like goads," they pried you into action, "and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails." And here's the real kicker, "they are given by one Shepherd." This immediately, I think, flies in the face of this view.

A second interpretation of the book - this one is very common - and that is that it records for us the vanity of life apart from God. In other words, God gave it we ought to read it. We ought to digest it but what it's really telling us is if you don't know God this is how your life is. It's without meaning. It's vanity and this is only true if you don't know God. The purpose, in this case, is evangelism, essentially. It's to say "look, read this book because if you don't know God this is how bad life is for you." The problem with this view is, remember, it's Kohelet, it's one who speaks to the assembly of God's people. And there are other problems with this view as well as I'll show you when we come to the third common interpretation.

The third common interpretation - and this would be where I would land - and that is that this book is the vanity of life, even with God. Its purpose, in this case, is to provide a divinely inspired philosophy of life. It helps us understand life in a fallen world. The key phrase in the Book of Ecclesiastes is, "under the sun." It occurs many times, "under the sun." In other words, Solomon is writing from the perspective of what we see, he doesn't deny the existence of God but he's looking at life as we see it. And that's why he'll write things like the race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but time and chance overtake them all. He's not denying there's a sovereign God. In fact, in other places, he affirms it. He's saying as we look at life, the race isn't always to the swift. The battle isn't always won by the strongest person. It appears from our perspective that time and chance overtake them all and so you have to keep that in mind as you look at this book.

Now, there are two major propositions that really outline the Book of Ecclesiastes. The first is: life is a gift from God to be enjoyed.

Over and over again you'll read that expression. Celebrate the gift of life God has given you. Celebrate your work. Enjoy your labor under the sun because this is the gift of God. Again and again, we're told that this life is a wonderful gift and we're to enjoy it. Enjoy the wife of your youth. Celebrate with her. This is God's goodness to you. Life is a gift to be enjoyed.

The other proposition that weaves its way through the book is that life has serious limitations. Although it is a gift, it has serious limitations. What are those limitations? Well, there are two main expressions of the limitations of life. The first is the word vanity. If you look at Ecclesiastes 1:2, "'vanity of vanities,' says the Preacher, 'vanity of vanities! All is vanity.'" In fact, the Book of Ecclesiastes begins, ends, and is permeated with this concept of vanity. What is vanity? Well, the Hebrew word is breath or vapor. It's a metaphor. So, in Ecclesiastes, life as we know it shares one of the attributes of breath. It's transitory. It's fleeting. It's gone. It's meaningless or futile. There's nothing substantial to it. It's incomprehensible. The point of similarity varies with the context depending on what he's describing. When he uses this word, "vanity." It's breath. Life is limited by the fact that it's like breath.

The other expression that he uses is, "chasing after wind." This refers to that which is exhausting. It exhausts all of your energy but it's utterly futile in the end because you can never catch the wind. Now that sounds cynical and pessimistic but there's a reason. Both of those expressions - vanity and chasing after wind - sound like, "man, this guy had real issues. What a downer. You must have been a cynic, a skeptic."

No, there is a theological presupposition behind these two expressions and that is the fall of man. Look at 1:14. "I've seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind." Why? Verse 15, because "what is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted." Life in this world is crooked and lacking. Turn over to 7:29. You see the reason that lies behind the vanity that's in the world. "Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices." You see the theological presupposition behind the cynicism. The life is limited by – it's like breath, it's like chasing after wind - it's because of the fall. The world and life in it is not what it once was or ultimately will be because of man's fall into sin. You see, Ecclesiastes isn't saying anything different than Paul says in Romans chapter 8, when he says the entire creation has been subjected to vanity because of the fall. That's all Solomon's saying. The world is in bondage to the tyranny of the curse.

So how then is life limited? I wish I had time to develop this. I'll just give you the overview. Life is, first of all, life is not ultimately satisfying. It's a good gift but all the good gifts that make up this temporal life are not ultimately satisfying. Work? Great but it's not going to satisfy your heart. Marriage? Great. It's not going to satisfy your heart and on and on Solomon goes.

Secondly, there's another limitation and that is: man can't know the mysteries of life. There are a lot of things that happen that leave us scratching our heads - we just don't get, we don't understand.

And thirdly, we don't know what's going to happen in the future. We can't embrace what's coming? We don't know. And so, how do you respond to those things?

Folks, Ecclesiastes is not the work of a cynic or a hopeless existentialist. Solomon looks realistically at life and points us to the way of faith. At its heart, this book is a call to faith. Christians are naive this way. They expect life to make sense and when it doesn't make sense they lose their joy, and they no longer enjoy God's good gift of life. Folks, things don't make sense because we live in a world that is crooked and fallen. And so, when life doesn't satisfy, believe God is good and life is His good gift to us. When you find that you don't understand the mysteries of life, believe that God is sovereign, and that He has a plan. And when you can't know the future, believe that God does what is right and He will ultimately cause everything to be set right. He will make all things right someday. He's just and it will happen.

So, life is a gift, but life has serious limitations because of the fall and those twin realities are meant to drive us to God in faith, and fear, and obedience, and love. Look at how Ecclesiastes ends. Ecclesiastes 12:13.

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is this: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person for God will bring every act to judgement, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.

You know what Solomon says? Enjoy the gift but keep focused on the Giver because you realize the gift itself is never going to satisfy your soul. Only the Giver will. That's Ecclesiastes. And folks, that's a philosophy to live by.

So, let's move on to the Song of Solomon. The joy of married love. The title in Hebrew, and the Septuagint, and the Vulgate is all, "The Song of Songs." That's a Hebrew way to express a superlative. In other words, the greatest of songs. Well, 1 Kings 4 tells us that Solomon wrote 1,005 songs. And this was the greatest. This was his platinum hit.

The author is clearly Solomon. He's referred to by name in this book seven times beginning in 1:1,5 and so forth. He is specifically in 3:11 identified as the groom and the man in the story is referred to as having unprecedented wealth and luxury in 3:6-11. Clearly, we're talking about Solomon.

Now, the circumstances in which the Song of Solomon unfolded are these. It takes place in two places - in the city of Jerusalem and in the hill country of lower Galilee where she lived, where the bride lived. It covers a period of between one and two years. We know that because there are two springs mentioned - springs of the year in chapter 2 and again a second spring in chapter 7. It describes the betrothal, wedding, and early marriage of Solomon and his bride. It could be any time during Solomon's reign, but I really think and believe that this is almost certainly Solomon's first wife because, remember, he later added 699 wives and 300 concubines and, frankly, it would be a little hard to get this excited about number 700.

Now, the characters in The Song of Solomon, are these. Of course, there's Solomon. There's the Shunemite maiden. It's probably a resident of Shunem- three miles, north of Jezreel up in the Galilee, the lower Galilee area. Her family, according to 8:11, her family was apparently employed in the vineyards of Solomon. So, she's the bride. Then you have the "daughters of Jerusalem," as they're called. These are probably the royal servants appointed as the bride's attendants. You can see that hinted at in 3:10. This is really like a chorus providing a kind of color commentary on this relationship. The, the fourth group is the brothers of the bride in 8:8-9. They may be referred to in 1:6 - perhaps stepbrothers - and they are her supervisors apparently in the vineyard. So, those are the characters.

Now, what is this book about? Well, again, there are three common interpretations of the Song of Solomon. The first is allegorical. And this says, these aren't real people, this is an allegory, and if you're from a Jewish perspective, this is God's love for Israel that's reflected in this book and from a Christian perspective, this is Christ's love for the church. Some of the language that is used in some of the Christian poetry and hymns about Christ come from this book. For example, "the lily of the valley." Maybe you've heard songs where Jesus is described, "the Lily of the valley." That comes from the Song of Solomon. "The rose of Sharon," that's another description and that's because these people understood Song of Solomon to be allegorical or something related and that would bring us to the second common interpretation and that is typological. This would say, yes, it was based on historical characters and historical circumstances but ultimately, it's not about them, it is intended to picture Christ's love for His bride. You can read a lot, for example, Spurgeon has a lot of comments along this line. He will borrow a lot of language, from Song of Solomon, referring to our relationship to Christ. A third view, and honestly the view that that I would hold, is that it is historical and didactic its intended to teach us. Specifically, it's based on the historical relationship of Solomon and, I think, his first wife, and it is simply an ode to, an instruction, in the joys of married love. In other words, God in His word addresses all the issues of life, "everything pertaining to life and godliness," and you have here in the inspired record, a book of instruction about, married love.

Now, let me just comment on the metaphors. There are a lot of things. you probably don't want to write in like Valentine's notes to your wives, guys, in this book. Why is that? Well, let me talk about dead metaphors. You understand what a metaphor is. A metaphor, there is a topic. Let me give the example of Jesus says of Herod, "go tell that fox." Okay, that's a metaphor. For now. The topic is Herod in that illustration. The image is a fox. And when there's a metaphor like that, what you're trying to get is, what is the point of similarity between the topic and the image? What is the point of Jesus calling Herod a fox? It's probably not that he had red hair. Probably not that he had a tail. No, the point of similarity is that Herod was sly and crafty like foxes are. And so, that was the point of similarity. Now, where there is a live metaphor, the image still comes to mind. So, when you use that language, you picture the image. I think what you have in Song of Solomon are many dead metaphors for us. It's hard to say whether they were when they were originally written or not, but they are for us. In other words, it's not intended to draw the picture to mind. You don't think of the picture anymore, you just think of the association. Think of the metaphor a traffic jam. When you hear traffic jam, you don't picture jam. You picture a traffic jam, it has become a dead metaphor, it just means what it means. And I think many of those descriptions that we read in the Song of Solomon are like that. They're dead metaphors. And if they were live metaphors at the time, they're certainly dead to us now. And we need to think of them, not in terms of the picture, but in terms of the truth that's being communicated in them.

A basic outline, this is from The MacArthur Study Bible. I think it's a great outline of this book. You have the courtship in chapters 1-3:5. You have the wedding in 3:6 – 5:1. And then you have the marriage 5:2-8:14. And in each of these you just see married love developed. You know in the marriage aspect, for example, you see their first major fight. Their first major disagreement and the restoration from that and then as they begin to grow in their understanding of each other. So, this is really a beautiful book and when used properly I think a great point of instruction for those who enjoy God's gift of marriage.

Now, very briefly, I want to touch on the writing prophets of Israel. We talked about this last time in terms of the big picture, so I'm not going to spend time here. I just want to remind you that the prophet was one of the major offices in Israel and their primary role was to serve as God's mouthpiece to keep the king and the priests accountable to God's word. The prophets spoke for God. The very word prophecy means, "to speak before, to speak for another." And so, literally, a prophet is one who speaks for another. That's why more than 3,800 times in the Old Testament, you find the prophet saying, "the word of the Lord came to," or, "the mouth of the Lord has spoken," or, "the Lord says," or something like that. True prophets spoke for God, they spoke revelation from God. That prophecy, or revelation, from God took two distinct forms: predictive revelation predicting the future, but more commonly moral or ethical revelation. They're simply preaching against the sins of the people but it's still revelation from God.

Now, the note I didn't make as much last time, this is what I want to stress briefly is the timing of the prophets. There are sixteen writing prophets: Isaiah through Malachi. Seventeen books but 16 prophets. Jeremiah wrote both his book and Lamentations. Eleven of the sixteen writing prophets ministered before the Babylonian exile, and they wrote clustered before the fall of the North in 722 and the fall of the South in 586. Why? Because the prophecy served as an apologetic for Yahweh's power. The prevailing view of the pagan neighbors of Israel was that if one country defeated another and took it captive, its gods were stronger. So, can you see why it would be important for God to speak beforehand and to prophesy the captivity of His people, the exile of His people? Yahweh announces the captivity of His people before it happens. He explains why it's going to happen, and He says, "I am the real force behind it." And because those were written before it happened, you see that they bear the weight of an apologetic.

Now, I showed you this last time, I'm not going to spend a lot of time here. I just want you to see that there were prophets who wrote most of them before the exile, and you'll see that most of their messages centered to Israel in the North - Amos and Hosea - and to Judah in the South - six prophets spoke to Judah in the South. Then you have those who spoke during the exile - Daniel and Ezekiel to the Jews in Babylonian exiled - and then after the exile, after they returned from Babylon to the Jewish remnant, who returned to the land of Israel - Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

Now, what were their messages? Very briefly and I'll let you go. First of all, there were four major prophets, but five major prophecies because, again, Lamentations written by Jeremiah. Here are the five messages of the four major prophets. The message of Isaiah is a message of salvation. What's remarkable about that is Isaiah wrote to the South around the time of the fall of the North to say, "that's what's going to happen to you if you don't repent." This is coming but God will, in the end, rescue you. He will save you spiritually. He will save you from your enemies. Jeremiah wrote right before the Babylonian captivity in the South and the theme of his prophecy is God's final warning. It's coming. It's coming. They're coming. You better repent. And then, of course, Lamentations Jeremiah wrote after the city of Jerusalem was destroyed. It's one of the most sobering books in the scripture as you read what happened and his response to it. Ezekiel was a prophet during the exile. He was taken in 597 with the second group of that was deported to Babylon and he becomes a prophet living in Babylon, ministering to the people of God in Babylon and his message is condemnation for their sins, consoling them, but also promising restoration that will come in the future. Don't doubt God. And Daniel minister during the exile as well and it's fascinating that he's in Babylon and the people of God are in Babylon and his message is God's sovereignty over human kingdoms and empires and over all the nations over history itself.

What about the minor prophets? Again, we call the major prophets, major because their books are longer and required a scroll. We call the minor prophets minor because they're very short and all of them could fit on a single scroll. Here's the message of the twelve minor prophets and all I'm going to do is just really read them out to you. I want you to see them. Hosea is a message of God's hesed - God's loyal love in spite of Israel the North's idolatry God, still loved her. Joel: the coming day of the Lord. Both something that would happen during Joel's ministry and the future great day of the Lord that's still coming. Amos: social injustice in Israel. Amos attacks the North for their social injustice. Obadiah prophecies Edom's judgment. Jonah: God's mercy on repentant Gentiles. God will rescue those who repent, regardless of who they are. Micah: the justice of God versus the injustice of Judah. Nahum eventually prophecies Nineveh's destruction. She repented under the preaching of Jonah but about a hundred, a hundred fifty years later God destroyed her. Habakkuk prophesied just before Babel and came and took the people captive and he struggles with, "how God can you use those wicked people to chasten Your own people. And so, he goes back and forth struggling with God about that. I love the way Habakkuk ends with faith in God. Whatever happens, we will trust in You, will find our joy in You. Zephaniah describes future global judgment into the to the far future. Then, after the exile, you have three prophets, Haggai who calls the people to rebuild the temple once they've come back into the land, Zachariah who prepares them for Messiah. And then Malachi who calls them to repentance and says, "wait, for the Messiah is coming." The events of Malachi happen, or Malachi's prophecy happens between Nehemiah 12-13. So that's the message of the prophets.

How can we group that together? Let me end it this way, the prophets call for - or I should say, show - the prophets, show the patience of God. Think of the dozens, even hundreds of years that come between God's promise to judge and His actual judgment. You see the patience of God with a wicked people. God is slow to anger. You also see in the prophets, the grace of God. These prophecies are not merely an apologetic for God's character, they are genuine offer, an invitation of grace. You see God's justice and His judgment. Listen, God is gracious. He extends the invitation. He extends the offer: repent and live. But if you will not repent and live the prophets remind us, that while God is slow to anger, He does eventually grow to full and complete fury, and He will deal in justice with His enemies. And you see, finally in the prophets, the message of steadfast love and faithfulness to the remnant to those who truly believe. Many of the people the prophets wrote to were idolaters. They weren't even true believers in the God of Israel, and they got judgment. But when you read those prophets, you discover that to His own, the remnant who really believed, God was always faithful, His steadfast love, never left them.

And for us, that's the encouragement. God never changes. His steadfast love and His faithfulness are to all generations. Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for your amazing goodness to us for Your greatness for Your goodness. Thank you for Your word. Thank you, that You've put Yourself on display. Help us to be faithful students of it, and to learn of You and to worship You in response. We pray in Jesus name, Amen.

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