What would you like to leave to the next generation? If you knew you only had a little time left and could leave one last piece of advice, what would you say? I’m not sure how I’d answer that, but I do know what Solomon left us. We’re not exactly sure how long he lived: Both Kings and Chronicles only say that he ruled over Israel for 40 years, but that not an indication of how long he lived. He wrote three recorded books which are forever part of Scripture, and his name is forever linked to wisdom. Regrettably, he didn’t leave behind the most valuable heritage, namely a godly example. He left behind lots of money and power to his son, and within one generation the entire kingdom--everything David and Solomon had worked for--was halved and was never fully recovered. All of that wealth? Jesus said that the lilies of the field are clothed better than Solomon in all his splendor.
On the plus side, he left behind one of my favorite books of the Bible (Proverbs), and in a way he did leave behind a valuable example. I’ve pointed out before that a bad example is invaluable: If you can learn from other peoples’ mistakes instead of your own, so much the better.
He starts out this last section by comparing wisdom literature with two word pictures, both of them having to do with shepherding. The first tool—goads—are used to drive sheep back onto the proper path, painfully if necessarily. The other tool—nails—are presumably used to nail fences up. In other words, wisdom sets up barriers to keep us from wandering into dangerous territory. So who’s protecting us? The one Shepherd over us all. His word is the only infallible source of wisdom, and we need to be careful not to add to his instructions. The book of Proverbs warns against this as well.
Let’s examine those two images, since there’s actually a good lesson for us here. Think about it for a moment. A goad is painful. It’s used to get an animal’s attention, and it’s not subtle. A fence which is nailed down is something a little different. It’s also for the sheep’s protection, but it’s a lot less painful. It would seem to me--knowing what I do about my Shepherd--that he’d rather use a fence than a goad on us. But it’s up to me as to what he has to use to keep me on his path.
So what were his final words to us? Ironically, they’re basically a repetition of the first words he spoke to us. He started out Proverbs with the source of wisdom—“the fear of the Lord.” As I said before, this is O. T. shorthand for a right relationship with God. It’s called “fear,” but it’s not being afraid of him. It’s awe mixed with love. We’re to fear the Lord and keep his commandments. This is the whole duty of man, the reason for our existence.
In his many years, Solomon had seen a lot of injustice in this world. He details much of it in this book: Good men suffering, while evil men seeming to get away with their schemes. But eternity gives meaning to this world. If this is all there is or will be, then nothing has any ultimate purpose. The Nazis who ran the death camps are all going to the same oblivion that their victims entered. A million billion years from now, the sun will have burnt itself out and the earth will be a lifeless husk. What difference will it make whether I’ve saved a life or taken it, whether I imitate Mother Theresa or Hitler?
But no. There's a God in heaven, and he sees. He hears. He knows. And he will one day judge everything that everyone has ever done. No matter what men might think they’ve gotten away with, they've gotten away with nothing.
That’s why it’s so important to be rightly related to this God who’s going to judge everything. And that’s going to segue into our next discussion.
Shepherd of my soul, I know that you use the most gentle way possible to get my attention. Please give me a soft heart and listening ears, so you don’t have to use more painful methods. I know, you love me too much to leave me alone. Thank you.