In this sermon, Pastor Dave Capoccia looks at Solomon’s teaching in Ecclesiastes 9:11-18 regarding the need for wisdom in light of life’s uncertainty. Specifically, Solomon provides four poignant observations about life so that you will seek the limited but real power of wisdom.
1. No Outcome Is Guaranteed (v. 11)
2. Disaster Falls Down Suddenly (v. 12)
3. Wisdom Can Powerfully Deliver (vv. 13-15)
4. Wisdom Faces Substantial Hindrances (vv. 16-18)
Thank you so much musicians. Let’s pray so you’re prepared to hear God’s word. Lord, your salvation is so great. Yet we are to walk worthy of it and You give us Your word to teach us what that looks like. Speak to us from Your word this morning. Enable me to explain it clearly. And Spirit, work in our hearts that we will not be mere hearers but doers also. In Jesus name, Amen.
Well, if you’re new with us, you might not know, but we’ve been going through the book of Ecclesiastes. It’s that book of wisdom in the Old Testament, written by King Solomon. And one of the things that struck me as we’ve gone through this book. I’ve been wanting to say this in multiple sermons now, but finally I get to tell you. One of the things that struck me is how similar sounding the teaching of Solomon frequently is in his book to some of the popular mottos and phrases of our culture, and cultures throughout history. For example, I mentioned to you in my sermon last time the phrase carpe diem, which is that Latin phrase, that famous Latin phrase, translated to seize the day or better translated, pluck the ripe day. When you hear somebody advocating carpe diem, maybe doesn’t sound very biblical. We think that represents worldliness and a heart enamored with idolatrous enjoyment of the vain treasures of the world. But even though Solomon never spoken Latin, in a sense he agrees with the carpe diem concept. And as we saw last time, he teaches life is uncertain, death is certain. Therefore pluck the ripe fruit of each day.
Here’s another example. When you hear someone who says eat, drink, and be merry, does that sound like the advice of a godly wise man? Is it not rather the ignorant pleasure seeker? The Bible twice uses this kind of phrase in a clearly negative context. Isaiah 22:13, God there reproves the people of Israel for instead of mourning and repenting of sin, actually feasting and saying to one another, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. Furthermore, in Jesus’ parable exposing the vanity of wealth in Luke 12:19, the rich man in that parable says to himself,
Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.
In these two examples, we might think eat drink and be merry doesn’t represent good and godly advice. Yet Solomon literally counsels those words in Ecclesiastes 8:15. We’ve already seen this. Solomon says,
So I commended pleasure, for there is nothing good for a man under the sun except to eat and to drink and to be merry,
Here’s one more example. Back in 2012, a certain phrase started to become popular in America, “yolo”, short for you only live once. Still today, you might see people justifying certain choices with a cry of “yolo”, choices that would probably make most of us shake our heads. Yet in a certain sense, Solomon would agree with the phrase you only live once. Indeed, we could paraphrase the instruction of the passage we saw last time in Ecclesiastes 8:16 to 9:10 in this way. Solomon says, you only live once and all opportunity in this world ends at death. Therefore, make the most of your life while you can.
Now why is this parallel? Is Solomon really just saying the same thing as the people of the world today? Well, despite the surface resemblance of Solomon’s instruction to these popular mottos, there is one big difference between what’s Solomon teaches by the Spirit of God and what most others advocate in these phrases. And that difference is wisdom. Wisdom. See, what’s missing from most of the carpe diem type calls that have appeared throughout history is genuine wisdom and by extension, because what is the root of wisdom? The fear of the Lord. It’s not there. Among the people of the world, carpe diem is often used to justify the pursuit of idols. Life’s uncertainty and death’s certainty is often used to justify sin. Hey, we are all going to die soon anyways, might as well sin and enjoy yourself. And yolo is often used as a justification for dangerous and downright stupid behavior.
This is not at all like Solomon’s instruction in Ecclesiastes. No, rather, as Solomon continues to his conclusion in this last portion of Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiastes 9 to 12, he is careful to remind us – yes, you should stop waiting around and instead work and enjoy God’s good everyday. Yet, you must absolutely do so in the wisdom and fear of God. Life is full of pitfalls and unexpected reversals. And God will, be assured, judge every thought, word, and action of your life. You only live once, so proceed in wisdom. It’s amazing how even a little wisdom can deliver you from many of life’s painful snares.
That’s where Solomon is going to focus our attention next, as we go to the next passage of Ecclesiastes. We’re in Ecclesiastes chapter 9 verses 11 to 18 today. So if you haven’t yet, please open your Bibles and turn there. The title of the sermon is the delivering power of a little wisdom. The delivering power of a little wisdom. I’ve given you the context already in my introduction, so let’s go straight to the passage. Ecclesiastes 9:11-18. Listen to the word of God as spoken by Solomon.
I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all. Moreover, a man does not know his time: like fish caught in a treacherous net and birds trapped in a snare, so the sons of men are ensnared at an evil time when it suddenly falls on them.
Also, this I came to see as wisdom under the sun, and it impressed me. There was a small city with few men in it and a great king came to it, surrounded it and constructed large siegeworks against it. But there was found in it a poor wise man and he delivered the city by his wisdom. Yet no one remembered that poor man. So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the wisdom of the poor man is despised and his words are not heeded. The words of the wise heard in quietness are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.
In this text, we see Solomon grappling again with one of the great frustrations of life that he’s brought to our attention in the book of Ecclesiastes – life’s uncertainty. It’s just the fact that you never know for certain how a situation is going to turn out or how it might change. However, this time as Solomon engages again with this topic, and he reminds us of wisdom’s limitations in the world, in our fallen world. It shows us that life’s uncertainties and its sudden calamities actually make wisdom all the more important. He teaches us that we need wisdom for this life. You need knowledge and skill for living. You need the very wisdom of God. Indeed, because nothing is totally guaranteed in life, you never know when just a little wisdom might be able to deliver you from a situation that otherwise seems absolutely impossible.
I’ve organized our passage here in Ecclesiastes 9:11-18 into 4 parts. Here’s the main idea. Solomon gives us four poignant observations about life so that you will seek the limited but real delivering power of wisdom. I’ll say that to you again. Solomon gives four poignant observations about life so that you will seek the limited but real delivering power of wisdom. Let’s look at those observations.
We’ll start with the first one in verse 11. The slides we’ll catch up soon, but our first poignant observation about life so that we seek the delivering power of wisdom is number one – no outcome is guaranteed. First observation we need to remember about life is no outcome is guaranteed. And look at verse 11.
I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all.
You may know that the summer Olympics just started in Tokyo. One of the most dramatic happenings in any sport is the upset, when the clear favorite, the champion team, the master athlete, doesn’t win. Instead, he’s beating by the underdog, someone unexpected, even an inferior team. Shouldn’t the best player or team always win? Usually they do, but not always. Sometimes the outcome is an upset. History is filled with these kinds of upsets and not just in sports, but really every category of life.
Solomon begins verse 11, he too is observing this truth about life under the sun. The fastest person doesn’t always win the race. The strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle. Why not? Solomon tells us at the end of the verse – for time and chance overtake them all. In other words, sudden changes in circumstances and seemingly chance events often cause unexpected results, even upsets.
You know, a french woman made news headlines this year at the Tour de France when at the beginning of this bike race, she accidentally intruded onto the roadway with a large cardboard sign. A cyclist ran into her sign and crashed. And because the rest of the cyclists were so tightly packed together at the beginning of the race, they crashed too. It’s a whole pile up of bikes right at the beginning of the race. Between that crash and another one later in the day, four participants, top cyclists in the world, had to withdraw. They didn’t even get the chance to prove that they were the fastest or the strongest cyclists. And why? Time and chance.
Though nothing is truly chance from God’s perspective. Proverbs 16:33,
The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.
From our perspective, random unknown factors sometimes skew expected outcomes and make the one who should succeed not. But this truth doesn’t just apply to contests of agility or strength, but also to matters of wisdom and knowledge. Notice in verse 11 after those first two descriptions, Solomon uses three terms to describe what is essentially the same group of people. He calls them the wise, the discerning, the men of ability. Someone from this group is a person who is skilled at life, who is knowledgeable about how to live and how to speak and even how to lead. He conducts himself well, even with righteousness and integrity. Such a person, such a wise person, should be rewarded for his conduct. He should be placed in an important position, be given food, wealth, honor. Actually the book of Proverbs, it proclaimed that food wealth and honor generally do come to those who live and speak wisely according to God’s wisdom. The thing is, those outcomes aren’t guaranteed. Even wisdom is not surety of success under the sun.
You may put together a truly awesome school presentation. You worked hard on it. You stayed up in the night just to make it perfect. And inexplicably, the day of you get sick and you can’t do your presentation well, and you get a low grade. Or maybe you are a truly safe and conscientious driver. You follow all the rules. You’re very, very safe. But then one time as you’re going through a traffic light for no apparent reason, it’s red but you forget to stop. What happens? You crash into an oncoming vehicle. You might live a life of true wisdom, outstanding discernment, righteous behavior. But for whatever reason, your efforts are never really acknowledged or appreciated, and you don’t receive much food wealth or favor. How can this be? A sovereign God ultimately knows none of that happened truly by chance. He works all things out for the good of His people, Romans 8:28. But from our perspective, when we see that happen, it kind of just looks like chance. You just fell into unfortunate circumstances. The fast don’t always win the race. The strong don’t always win the fight. And the wise don’t always receive the prosperity and honor that they should. It’s frustrating, but it’s reality. This is life under the sun because of the fall. This is the vapor of vapors world in which we live.
Now, Solomon is going to say something that will comfort us a little bit about that reality. But before we get there, it’s going to get a little bit worse. In this fallen world, not only number one is no outcome guaranteed, but also number two – disaster falls down suddenly. Number two, disaster falls down suddenly. You see this in verse 12. Look at verse 12,
Moreover, man does not know his time: like fish caught in a treacherous net and birds trapped in a snare, so the sons of men are ensnared at an evil time when it suddenly falls on them.
Solomon follows up his first poignant observation with another one that is similar. In life, no one knows when the time of disaster or crisis will fall. Solomon begins by saying man does not know his time. And some interpreters think that his time refers to the time of one’s death, and we even have phrases that are along those lines. It was his time. I guess it was just his time. It’s possible that death could be in mind here, but I think it’s broader than that. His phrasing need not refer only to the time of death, though certainly no one knows that, but really any time of great danger or disaster. And this is really what we see illustrated in the rest of verse 12. Solomon gives us two images of animals in great, even deadly danger.
First is a fish, a fish caught in a treacherous or evil net. Fishnets, from a fish’s perspective, they often fall down suddenly. The fish can’t usually tell there’s a net somewhere until they’re already caught in it. Once a fish is caught in the net, he will die unless somehow he discovers a way out. A second pictures is of birds trapped in a snare, which is actually another kind of net, a fowling net, a net trap for birds. The birds also, they can’t detect a hidden trap or net until usually after they’re in it. And once held in this snare, disaster will overtake a bird if not for some incredible escape.
Now Solomon provides these somewhat bleak images to help us see what man’s situation is like, what our situation is like. In the same way that fish and birds are suddenly trapped in harmful death, so the sons of Adam find themselves suddenly ensnared in evil times, times of trouble, times of deadly danger, times when we face wicked schemes. These times fall like nets from above or spring-like traps from below. And what can be done.
It’s sobering to think about how quickly a net of disaster could fall on any of us. In the moment, you seem fine and healthy. In the next moment, you’re experiencing a heart attack and need someone to get you to the ER fast. One moment, you’re respected and well-liked. Next moment, some secret malicious gossip has circulated and turned your entire family, your workplace, or your church against you. For one moment, you’re feeling a little bit low about your life circumstances. And then in the next moment, someone is inviting you to find comfort by going back into life dominating sin, a return to immorality, a return to drink, a return to drugs. You’ll feel better. No one can foresee the arrival of such times of crises, just as no one can foresee the times of great good and blessing. Every time and season is in the Lord’s hands, and it’s past any human scrutiny. We saw that in Ecclesiastes 3. An inability to fully understand our times and what will come next is just another difficult aspect of living in this vaporous world.
At this point you might say, okay, so what? What’s the point of talking about all this frustrating state of affairs? Why depress us by talking about the falling of sudden disaster if we can’t even do anything about it? Ah, but sometimes you can. Sometimes you can do something about it. A lot of interpreters, even preachers on this passage, they split Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 from verses 13-18. I think that’s a mistake because the sections are actually purposefully tied together, both in terms of the overall ideas and even in terms of the language, which I hope to show you. You see, even as Solomon gives us these sobering observations about frustrating aspects of life, it reminds us that sometimes, even in the face of disaster, you can find deliverance. You can escape. After all, no outcome in life is guaranteed, even those that are terrible. What’s the key? What’s the key to rescue and escape? What can deliver you even in the face of clear calamity? The answer is wisdom, even the wisdom of God.
This is a third poignant observation about life from Solomon. Number three – wisdom can powerful deliver. Wisdom can powerfully deliver and we see this in verses 13 to 15.
Also this I came to see as wisdom under the sun, and it impressed me. There was a small city with few men in it and a great king came to it, surrounded it and constructed large siegeworks against it. But there was found in it a poor wise man, and he delivered the city by his wisdom. Yet no one remembered that poor man.
In this section, Solomon tells us a brief story regarding wisdom. He says, also this I came to see as wisdom under the sun. That is to say, I saw this one example of wisdom in life. I want to tell you about it. Solomon further says, and it impressed me. Literally, it was great to me. It really astounded me. It blew me away. I took special note. Now, where did Solomon get this story? We don’t know. There’s no set of events in the Bible that exactly follow what Solomon describes here, but some are similar. Yet clearly, this isn’t something that Solomon merely heard about or made up because he says I saw it and I took note of it. He learned some lesson from it, and he wanted to pass it on to us. So this can’t be fictional. What’s so notable about this story? Why does it grab his attention? Well hearing it, I think you might see, the story has a very unexpected outcome. And the key factor is wisdom.
In verse 14, Solomon lays out the situation of a contest that looks totally hopeless for one side. That one side is the small city. We have this small city, probably walled. A lot of cities had walls back then. But this is not a very big city, so not a very big wall. And we’re told that this small city had few men in it, and few men means few soldiers. So we’ve got a small city with small walls and a small army. What are they up against? Well, Solomon says, a great king, and the great king means a great army, a large and impressive force that probably has a strong track record of conquering cities because that’s after all how you became a great king back then. You just went around and conquered. This great king and his great army, they surround the small city, and they construct large siegeworks against it. Literally great mountain fortresses, that’s the word for large siegeworks there.
The Hebrew word for fortresses is metsudim. I tell you that for a reason because interestingly the Hebrew word for fortress has nearly the same spelling as the word for net back in verse 12. In verse twelve when he mentions the net that comes down all of a sudden. It’s the Hebrew word metsudah. So you’ve got metsudim and metsudah. It’s almost the same word. I think Solomon is actually making a play on words here. He’s drawing attention to the fact that these siege towers, these siege fortresses around this small city, they function like an ensnaring net from which there appeared to be no escape. That makes sense, right, almost even visual. The city is caught in a net. Indeed, when we account for the two sides, doesn’t it look obvious what the outcome is going to be – a small city, small wall, small army against a great king with great siegeworks and a great army. The people of the city, they’re just like a small fish in a net, birds in a snare, they are clearly doom. Except that they’re not. There’s a plot twist. Verse 15,
But there was found in it a poor wise man and he delivered the city by his wisdom.
What? What are the chances of that happening? Certainly we have a lot of questions about this. Where does this guy come from? How did he appear? We’re only told he was poor. A poor man? You can imagine the people in the city – what’s this poor guy going to do for us? And maybe they were so desperate that they’re willing to give any guy with an idea a shot, poor or not. Well we don’t have anything to lose. Long behold, this poor man appears and a miracle happens. The poor man delivers the city, this nobody. Now there is a footnote in the New American Standard provides an alternate translation. The phrase could be – he might have delivered the city. He didn’t but he could have. That is possible grammatically and it does connect a little bit with some words in verse 16, but I don’t think that’s the best way to take it. Grammatically, the more likely sense is that the poor man in fact delivered the city. And that would appear to me why Solomon finds this event so fascinating. The poor man actually did it. And why would Solomon care if the poor man actually didn’t deliver the city? That’s not very much a notable story. In fact, how would you even know he could have delivered the city if he didn’t? So I think he actually did. The poor man, this poor wise guy save this tiny town from a great king and the great king’s net. How did he do it? Great tactics, charismatic speech, brilliant diplomatic negotiations? We don’t get the specifics. Solomon merely says, the man delivered the city by his wisdom. He’s just applying wisdom. Can you believe it, just one guy and a poor one at that, he pulled this off, saved himself and his compatriots out of a net.
What’s the moral of the story? Behold, the delivering power of wisdom. Even a little wisdom, even the wisdom of just one person. Life is uncertain. Crises appear suddenly. So wouldn’t you want the wisdom that can potentially pull off this kind of rescue? This is what Solomon has been emphasizing to us in the second half of Ecclesiastes, isn’t it? he’s been talking to us about the value of wisdom. Wisdom may not be able to do everything you’d like for it to do in your life. It can’t fix certain fundamental frustrations in this world, but it can do a lot. It can save you from certain disasters if you know it and you apply it. Therefore, seek wisdom. Act in wisdom. Seek the wisdom of God. Listen to His wisdom. Listen to His Word of wisdom. Put it into practice.
But let’s stay sober. Wisdom does have limitations and Solomon reminds us at the end of verse 15. Look at the end of the verse,
Yet no one remembered that poor man.
Typical humanity, right. This poor man is a hero. He helped the city pull off the spectacular victory. But did his amazing wisdom yield him the proper reward? Apparently not. The people forgot about him. They didn’t honor him with food or wealth or position. They didn’t even lift him out of his poverty. They just said thanks and went on with their lives. It’s true. Wisdom cannot totally fix the frustrations of life, but wisdom still has great power to deliver.
Now look now at your own lives. Consider how you might make the most of the rest of the days that God has given you, that He has set before you. You must make sure that you are seeking wisdom everyday. Wisdom can help you take certain basic precautions so that when disaster does strike, health-related or otherwise, you still have some ability to act and recover. Wisdom can help you keep your cool when everyone turns against you. It can also teach you those gentle words which can calm kings and diffuse murderous anger. Isn’t that what Proverbs say? Proverbs 15:1,
A gentle answer turns away wrath,
Wisdom teaches you that. God’s wisdom teaches you that. Wisdom can also give you wings to escape the alluring enticements of sin so that you don’t, in a moment of trial or weakness, plunge yourself back into binding ruin, back into a trap. That’s why we read Proverbs two earlier in the service. Solomon says explicitly, this will protect you from devious men and this will protect you from devious women. They are going to spring the trap in your weakness. If you’re armed with wisdom, you can escape. If you’re armed with God’s wisdom, you can escape.
Under the sun, no outcome is totally guaranteed and disaster falls down suddenly, but the wisdom of God can many times provide powerful deliverance in this life. Certainly, the wisdom of God in Jesus Christ will provide sure deliverance in the life to come. He will bring us safely into His heavenly kingdom, as Paul testifies. But even now, wisdom can protect and deliver you so many times. So don’t face life without wisdom. Value wisdom. Just as we were reading from proverbs two, value wisdom more than silver, more than gold, more than jewels, more than reputation. Read God’s word of wisdom. Hear God’s word of wisdom preached. Repent and believe in He who is wisdom incarnate, Jesus Christ. Seek discipleship among the brethren who also love God’s Word of wisdom. They can teach you how it works out in your life. And also, you yourself teach God’s wisdom to others. It’s life-saving, both now and eternally.
I told you there was some comfort coming. But after this inspiring story of wisdom’s rescuing power, Well Solomon is going to balance our thinking just a little bit more. One final poignant observation about life. Yes, wisdom is powerful to deliver, but number four – wisdom faces substantial hindrances. Number four, wisdom faces substantial hindrances. Versus 16:18, if you just glance there, you may see that Solomon provides three better than comparisons that involve wisdom. Solomon likes to use these in Ecclesiastes. Each of these contrasts highlight why wisdom is valuable and should be sought while at the same time identifying hindrances to wisdom that we must guard against, hindrances that would otherwise prevent wisdom’s delivering power from manifesting.
First hindrance appears in verse 16. I didn’t put these on the slides, but I’ll mention them to you. These are kind of like subpoint. Four A, what’s the first substantial hindrance? Prejudice. Look at verse 16,
So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the wisdom of the poor man is despised and his words are not heeded.
Solomon notes at the beginning of verse 16 what was obvious from the story he just told us – wisdom is better than strength. Having knowledge about what to do in a situation is better generally than having any physical strength or army. Wisdom is better than strength. However, Solomon notes, even if you have wisdom, you need to realize a lot of times people won’t listen to it. In fact, they will come up with flimsy excuses as to why they should dismiss your words as not worth heeding. Notice the poor man is mentioned again in verse 16. Apparently, even though his wise words once rescued the city, people didn’t really listen to his words after that. They might be willing to take a chance on a poor man while they were in desperate straits, but when time’s not so tough, they don’t care what he has to say. What does the poor man know. He just got lucky that one time.
Indeed, people come up with all sorts of reasons to not listen to wisdom, to disregard those who are telling the truth. He’s too poor. He’s too rich. You can’t believe a rich person. He’s a male. She’s a female. He’s white. He’s black. He’s a Democrat. He’s Republican. He’s too young. He’s too old. What does he know? He too intellectual. He’s not intellectual enough. You come up with many other common excuses. But the ultimate cause of such prejudice, these excuses against people and against the wise words that they speak, is really just pride. In our flesh, we’d like to think that we are already wise. We already have all the answers. We don’t need counsel or correction. We resent the spoken wisdom of others because heeding it, even listening to it, makes us look bad, makes us feel bad. So we avoid it. People avoid it even though such represent self-destructive folly. It is stupidity to let pride and the consequent prejudice to prevent us from benefiting from the delivering power of wisdom. You could be delivered by the wisdom that a brother or sister is telling you, but you’re too proud.
So verse 16 really has two implications for us from Solomon, two takeaways. On the one hand, don’t be surprised when people around you make excuses and don’t listen to wisdom. It’s just a fact of life. It’s a fact of falling man that proud heart, that prejudiced heart, that foolish heart, which is just the way we all come and easily slip into. On the other hand, even though we know to expect that, we must fight against that. Don’t be one of those people who can’t listen. Be open to wisdom coming, even from people you don’t expect. Remain humble and teachable. Seek out wisdom, counsel, discipleship from those who love God’s wisdom, who know it and live it out. Because if you do these things, then you will remain better armed to face the difficulties and crises of life. It can come suddenly. You have to be armed beforehand. You can’t just wait for the crisis to be like, oh I need wisdom now. It’s too late. You don’t have time to get that. You’re facing the crisis. Got to get on beforehand.
So prejudice is one hindrance to wisdom, but Solomon identifies a second substantial hindrance in verse 17. This will be point 4B – competition. Competition is another hindrance to wisdom. Look at verse 17,
The words of the wise heard in quietness are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools.
This verse, verse 17, features multiple contrasts within the comparison. There’s contrast involving wisdom and foolishness, also quietness and shouting, and mere men and a ruler. Now once again, solemnly clearly affirms that wisdom is better. Wisdom is good. You should listen to wisdom quietly spoken, even over the loud cries of a leader among fools. Wisdom is better. But in making this absurd affirmation, Solomon illustrates something that is frequently the case in life, that is there’s competition, competition between the voice of wisdom and the voice the folly. Solomon actually says the same thing in Proverbs 9. It’s the way he concludes that introductory section in the book of Proverbs. He personifies wisdom and folly as if they were two wealthy ladies in a city who are inviting the untaught people of the city to come in and have a feast. Lady wisdom calls out and says, there’ll be good and blessing if you come to me. And lady folly comes out and says the same thing. They’re competing voices. Now lady wisdom is actually able to deliver. Her guests receive life. But lady folly, her promises are deceitful. Her guests receive death.
You have a similar situation of competing voices in this verse, verse 17. In life, there are voices of wisdom and voices of folly. They’re actually all around us, aren’t they? And all too often, it’s the foolish voices that are the loudest and coming from the highest place. Think about our country, our society. Who has the most influence? Who garners the most attention? Celebrities, politicians, billionaire CEOs. What kind of lifestyle do they advocate, life of wisdom or life of folly. What do they promote? Isn’t it usually folly? They Are the ones who frequently are parading and promoting sin. This is good. What God says is good, no that’s evil, just like Isaiah 5:20 says. These are the ones who have the loudest voice, the most influence in. The insane people of the world. And we talked about that last time. All those who don’t fear God really live in insanity. They love to hear this kind of foolish voice. They flock to it. Meanwhile, where’s the voices speaking truth? Where are the voices speaking wisdom, and even calling out foolishness for what it is?Well, you can hardly hear them. You can’t even find them. After all, speaking wisdom is considered impolite today. And those who insist on doing so are often attacked and dismissed by society.
Here again, in Solomon’s comparison in verse 17, it’s meant to move us, I think, in two fundamental ways. On the one hand. We should not be surprised by the reality that exists in the world. Folly competes with wisdom and often succeeds in being louder and more distinguished. This has always been the case and generally will be the case until Christ returns. People love to have their ears tickled. On the other hand, we should be those who actually look for and listen to quiet wisdom. It won’t always be popular. It won’t always be loud. It won’t always be esteemed, but it has the power to deliver our lives, to save us from calamities. It’s worth listening to. It’s worth looking for. Bend your ear to wisdom.
Solomon mentions one more substantial hindrance that wisdom faces in verse 18. That’s point 4C – sabotage. Wisdom faces the substantial hindrance of sabotage. Let’s look at verse 18,
Wisdom is better than weapons of war, the one sinner destroys much good.
Verse 18 begins with another affirmation of wisdom based on the story of verses 13 to 15. Wisdom is better than weapons of war. Hopefully, we saw that. Knowing how to live well before God, how to react appropriately in times of crisis is far more valuable than mere swords, chariots, or siege towers. True wisdom can even overcome an abundance of advanced weapons. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but wisdom has a vulnerability, Solomon points out. It can be easily ruined or sabotaged by sin. Wisdom is easily sabotage by sin. In our story, it was just one wise man who saved the city, but in verse 18, Solomon says just one sinner, one wicked fool can destroy much good.
You know, in ancient and medieval times, many cities fell to siege, but not because their walls were overcome in some sort of assault and not because the city actually starved and the people died out due to disease. Many times the cities fell for a different reason – betrayal. It would take just one desperate person in the city, one person who was looking out for himself, concerned for his own life, to secretly contact the enemy and arrange for the gates to be opened at a certain time. This one man turns the entire city over to defeat by betrayal. Even a well fortified city could be defeated from within, just one man. And this is true of life in general, isn’t it? It just takes one person in a foul mood to ruin a fun gathering. It takes just one bad child to lead a whole group of well-behaved children into trouble. It takes just one proud and stubborn man to split an otherwise solid church. One sinner can indeed destroy much good. Solomon is going to say more about this. This is really the transition verse taking us into chapter 10, where we’re going to see the destructive power of even a little folly. That’s coming next time.
But what’s the takeaway for now? Again, I think two implications. On the one hand, don’t be surprised. Don’t be surprised when you see wisdom and good sabotaged in life. The best laid plans are often undone by one sinner, one fool. Don’t be surprised when you see it, but guard against it. Though no one is omniscient, no one can foresee all times of calamity, you can still act wisely. You can be cautious. Have a healthy amount of caution against those who proclaim themselves to be good and wise when they actually aren’t. We looked at that in Ecclesiastes 7.
But also you can guard against yourself. You can be the sinner who destroys much good by folly, even the good that you yourself did. If you built up your relationship with your spouse more and more, you’ve been acting wise, you been acting self sacrificially. And then in a moment of anger, you can throw it all away. Don’t do that. Guard against yourself becoming the sinner who destroys much good. And when there is someone in your group, in the church, who is committed to a path of sin, don’t just leave him there. Paul says in the book of 1 Corinthians – a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. For his soul’s sake and for the church’s sake, confront him. Plead with him to repent. Don’t just let it go because one sinner destroys much good.
In this whole passage then, Solomon is reminding us not to be naive. Wisdom does face some substantial hindrances in the world. Wisdom faces prejudice from pride. Wisdom faces competition from folly. Wisdom faces sabotage from sin. For these and for other reasons, wisdom is not a sure guarantee of success, though it is good, though it honors God, though it will have an eternal reward. Nevertheless, even now wisdom is still extremely valuable and therefore each one of us must seek it. Wisdom can often protect and save your life when there seems to be no way out. It’s true in life disaster often fall suddenly, but a little wisdom goes a long way toward rescue.
I will close the sermon today with a story. It’s September of 1983. Tensions in the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union had reached an all-time high. Russian officials believe that war with America was imminent and they were particularly paranoid that America might launch a sudden nuclear strike. Soviet military was therefore on high alert, determined to hit America preemptively, immediately with nuclear missiles if Russia detected any American missiles being launched toward Russia. It was like their finger was on the trigger. Shortly after midnight on September 26th 1983, Russian officer Stanislav Petrov was on duty at the missile monitoring station near Moscow. His computer suddenly reported with the highest confidence that America had launched one and then four more nuclear missiles toward Russia. It was Petrov’s duty to immediately pass on this computer report about American missile launches to his superiors, since there’d only be about 23 minutes for Russia to respond before the American missiles arrived.
But Petrov hesitated. Despite his computer’s high confidence of the missile attack, Petrov knew the computer system and its satellites were new and relatively untested. Moreover, ground radar had picked up no corroborating evidence of American missiles, though granted radar can only say so much. But perhaps most strikingly, if America really was preemptively attacking Russia with nuclear missiles, wouldn’t America launched hundreds of missiles to prevent a Soviet response instead of just five?
So considering these factors, Petrov breached protocol and did not notify his superiors. He decided to do nothing about the missile warning and simply waited the 23 minutes to proposed impact. The minutes ticked by but no missiles arrived in Russia. It turns out that the Russian computer system had indeed given a false alarm. It was caused, they later found out, by a chance alignment of sunlight reflecting off of high-altitude clouds that align with a particular satellite’s orbit. Talk about time and chance. Many people believe that the 1983 Soviet nuclear false alarm incident was the closest that the United States and the Soviet Union came to all-out nuclear war. Many believe that if it weren’t for Petrov’s wise decision to disobey orders and dismiss his computer’s report, that real missiles would have been launched by both sides, and America and Russia would have experienced massive loss of life and devastation. Who know how different the world would be today if not for one wise man in a time of crisis. God was so gracious to let Petrov to be the one who was serving on missile surveillance that night.
But there’s more. Despite his great service to his country, Petrov never received a reward from the Soviet government. And you know why? Because such would have embarrassed some of the top Soviet military officials and scientists. So he was never awarded. Few even knew about Petrov’s life-saving act until he published his memoirs in 1998. And still today, most people in the world have never even heard of Stanislav Petrov. Yet, he is an illustration to everything we just taught today. Stan’s another example of the value of wisdom, even a little wisdom to deliver. Life is uncertain. You only live once. Make sure therefore, that you live it in the wisdom of God.
Let’s pray. Lord again, we praise You for Your wisdom. You are a wise God and You do all things well, but we don’t know all the time what You’re doing. In this world, trials and crises are inevitable. Often in those situations we’re not sure what to do. Some disasters cannot be avoided, but some can. And actually You give us the wisdom to do so. Certainly Lord, we can avoid the disasters of sin. We can avoid so much the disasters of foolishness and naivety if we’ll just pay attention to Your wisdom. So Lord, I pray that we would, that this church would, that it wouldn’t just be one man of wisdom among us but every man and woman here, every child who is growing up, that they would know wisdom. So not only they can save themselves, but they can save each other. We can protect one another from being led astray. Lord, if there are any here today who’ve heard this message and don’t know the wisdom of Jesus Christ, who’d never been saved from a life of enslaving sin that will result in hell wrath forever, I pray that they would repent. That is the beginning of wisdom, the fear of the Lord unto salvation. But Lord, after that, and for those who already trust in You, I pray that they would seek and actually do wisdom in their lives. No longer just paying attention to how they feel or what’s considered popular, or what someone else wants them to do, but trusting Lord that You know what You’re talking about, that, Your way is wise and You will vindicate Your people many times in this life and certainly in the life to come. Thank you for being a good God. Lord, we know we have to humble ourselves. We won’t understand all the times. We won’t even necessarily see the reward in this life. But it will come. You will show us good because You are good. Thank You Lord. Amen.