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Job and Solomon: spiritual wisdom vs. earthly wisdom
The Bible characters of Job and Solomon in many ways are on opposite ends of the biblical spectrum. Although the book of Job is placed in the Bible after Solomon, Job lived well before Solomon’s time. Job is quite possibly one of the oldest written works known to man. It was written over 4,000 years ago. Although it is the 18th book in the Old Testament, chronologically and historically, many scholars place Job after Noah and before Abram.
Job is a beautiful book of Hebrew poetry and it is also a book of philosophy, wisdom and theology.
Based upon my prior very limited reading and studying of the book and from hearing various sermons over the years, my grasp of the book and Job himself hinged on the following:
• Job was a righteous and blameless man who had material wealth.
• The devil says to God that the only reason that Job loves him was because God blessed him.
• God let the devil take all of Job’s material possessions as a test.
• Although Job laments the loss of his worldly possessions, he declares that “God giveth and God taketh away.” While he’d rather not have loss everything, he trusts God.
• The devil says that Job hasn’t really been tested so God let’s the devil afflict Job with sores and suffering to the point of agony but not to the point of death.
• Job preserves with patience through the suffering and in the end because of his faithfulness God blesses him with more than he had before.
While all of what I thought before is indeed true, it is far from being complete. When I thought of Job, I thought of a biblical character that was a paragon of patience and perseverance. While that is also true, my prior understanding of it came through the lens of knowing the end of the story and the blessings of Job by God therein. In essence, Job persevered through it all and as a result he was blessed with even more than he was blessed with before.
This limited understanding, or even misunderstanding on my part, was based on incomplete information of all of the events that transpired and a misapplication of that information to the conclusion of the story.
To me, the moral of the story was trust God even if you have to suffer and he will bless you in the end. While that may be true in some instances, that’s not true in all instances and that is not my newfound understanding of the moral of the book.
In essence I was applying earthly wisdom to the book of Job.
As was my understanding of Job before I studied the entire book, he didn’t just sit back and take what God was doling out. He struggled mightily with the pain and the isolation, but he did not curse God. He got right up to the line, but he didn’t curse God.
He struggled so much that he at times he wished that he were dead, never been born or, even worse, wished that he were still born.
“Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb? Or why was I not hidden away in the ground like a stillborn child, like an infant who never saw the light of day?
Fast forward over 1,000 years and we hear a familiar refrain from another biblical character who is suffering.
I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on mankind: God gives some people wealth, possessions and honor, so that they lack nothing their hearts desire, but God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil. A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.
In these words from King Solomon, he is lamenting the fact that he has everything that a man can ask for here on earth. Knowledge, understanding, money, power, fame, women and still it is not enough. His frustration has him like Job weighing the pros and cons of his current situation vs. having never crossing the threshold of life beyond the womb.
Bu unlike Job, Solomon comes to his perspective from a position of prosperity instead of a position of pain and poverty.
Why do these two bookends of human existence, of loss and of gain over 1,000 years apart come to the same conclusion?
I believe because God was trying to teach both of them and all of us the same lesson.
Their collective conclusion – You are God and I am not!
For Job, this revelation can be found in Job 42:1-6:
Then Job replied to the LORD: “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. 6 Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.
As for Solomon, his epiphany can be found in the last two verses of the book of Ecclesiastes 12:13-14.
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.
Although they both came to the same conclusion, they took very different paths to get there because in their heart of hearts they were very different people with very different experiences.
• God took everything from Job without him asking for it.
• God gave everything to Solomon without him asking for it.
God was trying to prove a point to the devil and the assembly of angels by allowing the devil to initially take everything from Job and then allowing him to physically afflict Job.
Job 1:11-12 and 2:6-7
But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.
The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.
Solomon was between 20 and 30 years old when he was placed on the throne by his father King David. One of the reasons that Solomon was made king was so that he could build the temple in Jerusalem because God would not allow David to do so because he had blood on his hands.
1 Chronicles 22:7-10
David said to Solomon: “My son, I had it in my heart to build a house for the Name of the Lord my God. 8 But this word of the Lord came to me: ‘You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight. 9 But you will have a son who will be a man of peace and rest, and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side. His name will be Solomon,[a] and I will grant Israel peace and quiet during his reign. 10 He is the one who will build a house for my Name. He will be my son, and I will be his father. And I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever.’
David was concerned about Solomon’s youth and inexperience so he helped prepare for the temple before his death.
1 Chronicles 22:5
David said, “My son Solomon is young and inexperienced, and the house to be built for the Lord should be of great magnificence and fame and splendor in the sight of all the nations. Therefore I will make preparations for it.” So David made extensive preparations before his death.
David prayed for Solomon that God would give him discretion and understanding as he put him in control over Israel. David also prayed that his son would keep the law and obey God for David knew that this was the key to success.
1 Chronicles 22:11-13
“Now, my son, the Lord be with you, and may you have success and build the house of the Lord your God, as he said you would. 12 May the Lord give you discretion and understanding when he puts you in command over Israel, so that you may keep the law of the Lord your God. 13 Then you will have success if you are careful to observe the decrees and laws that the Lord gave Moses for Israel. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged.
Solomon must have listened to his father’s concerns because shortly after being anointed as king God appeared to Solomon and said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” (2 Chronicles 1:7) Solomon showed great humility and thanksgiving and said to God “Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (2 Chronicles 1:10) .
God granted Solomon’s request and because he didn’t ask for material wealth, God gave it to him anyway saying, “…I will also give you wealth, possessions and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.” (2 Chronicles 1:12)
The second gift would be the foundation for his downfall.
• Job was righteous. Solomon wasn’t.
The very first verse of the book of Job declares Job’s righteousness. “In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.”
Solomon wasn’t righteous at all. He had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3) in complete violation of Deuteronomy 17:17. He spent nearly twice as long to build his own palace as he did building the temple – 7 years (1 Kings 9:10) to build the temple and 13 years (1 Kings 7:1) to build his palace. He also built palaces and altars for his pagan wives (1 Kings 9:24) and even joined them in worship of their pagan gods (1 Kings 11:4-8)
In contrast to Solomon, Job had one wife. Even though she told him to set aside his integrity and curse God and then die because of his steadfastness he did not dishonor her. Instead of calling her a fool, he rebuked her for talking like one. (Job 2:9-10)
Solomon didn’t seem to have any honor for any of his 700 wives whom he seemingly repeatedly criticized in Proverbs, describing their nagging as a leaky roof (Proverbs 27:15) and living on the corner of a roof to escape a quarrelsome wife (Proverbs 25:24). Song of Solomon, the love story in the Bible, shows the tender side of Solomon as it relates to women, but whatever was present there did not last.
• Job was restored unto God. Solomon was judged by God.
God restored Job and blessed him with more than he had before. (Job 42:12).
However, God pronounced judgment on Solomon. “The Lord told Solomon, “Because this is your attitude and you have no respect for my promises[b] or my laws that I commanded you to keep, I will certainly tear the kingdom away from you. I will give it to one of your servants.” (1 Kings 11:11).
Because of God’s love for Solomon’s father David, a man after God’s own heart, God decided to show some semblance of mercy upon Solomon in His judgment. “12 But I will not do it in your lifetime because of your father David. I will tear it away from the hands of your son. 13 However, I will not tear the whole kingdom away from you. I will give your son one tribe for my servant David’s sake and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I chose.” (1 Kings 11:12-13).
In the end:
• Job came to his conclusion through spiritual wisdom.
• Solomon came to his conclusion through earthly wisdom.
By all accounts even though God gave Solomon the wisdom that he asked for, he was not a wise man. To understand how I came to this conclusion we must take a closer look at wisdom.
What is wisdom? How is it connected to knowledge and understanding?
• Knowledge is all about the accumulation of information and facts.
• Understanding is the ability to translate meaning from those facts and apply it.
• Wisdom is knowing what to do next given your understanding, and what to do or not to do.
The reason Solomon wasn’t a wise man was because he did not choose to do the right thing given his knowledge and understanding. In other words he did not obey God, not because he didn’t know what to do, but simply because he knew and chose not to.
God gave Solomon wisdom but he did not take away his free will and with that free will, Solomon like all of us has the ability to choose and he didn’t choose to obey God.
In his writings and in his reign, Solomon dispatched earthly wisdom that is incomplete without spiritual wisdom
To me a good example of the incompleteness of his earthly wisdom can be found in Proverbs 3.
Proverbs 3:1-2; 5-6
1 My son, do not forget my teaching,
but keep my commands in your heart,
2 for they will prolong your life many years
and bring you peace and prosperity.
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.[a]
Most of us know verse 5-6 but look at how he starts out the chapter. He is telling his son to keep his commandments, not God’s commandments but his own.
I believe that Solomon’s wisdom was so incomplete that God made sure that the last two chapters of Proverbs were written by two other writers.
Chapter 30 is written by Agur, the son of Jakeh. Agur puts God back at the center of the Proverbs.
Chapter 31 is written by King Lemuel whose wisdom comes from his mother. This chapter offers the often quoted Virtuous Woman to end the book in my opinion to clean up all of the proverbs about nagging wives and immoral women that Solomon had in the previous 29 chapters.
Now going back to Job. He’s not 100% blameless. Yes, he told the truth and didn’t curse God, but his weakness in all of this was that he desperately wanted to be right even sometimes wanting to prove God wrong. He seemingly cared more about that than anything, probably because he knew in his heart that he didn’t “deserve” what he was going through. He was desperate because for him God was nowhere to be found.
One of the more fascinating aspects of the story was that Job and his friends never find out about what God is doing with Satan and the assembly of angels. They never know that God is doing all of this to prove a point.
In the end, Job just simply accepts his situation without really knowing that he was “right.” Being back in the presence and in communication with God even in the midst of all of his suffering was enough.
In humbling himself before God, he showed spiritual maturity and spiritual wisdom and as a result God restored him with even greater riches than he had before.
As for Solomon, as mentioned above, he is the reason that God allowed Israel to be separated into two kingdoms.
So what is the difference between earthly wisdom and spiritual wisdom?
• Earthly wisdom is knowing what to do or not to do, given your understanding of a situation, usually for the benefit of yourself or those close to you.
• Spiritual wisdom is knowing what to do or not to do, given your understanding of a situation, for the benefit of others, for the benefit of the advancement the kingdom sometimes even to your own detriment.
• The book of Proverbs are full of earthly wisdom.
• The Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes in particular are full of spiritual wisdom.
• Earthly wisdom makes sense.
• Spiritual wisdom sometimes doesn’t make sense.
• Earthly wisdom is intuitive.
• Spiritual wisdom can be counterintuitive.
• Earthly wisdom can be easy to get.
• Spiritual wisdom is often hard to find.
The good news is that we have access to spiritual wisdom through the earthy example of the life Jesus lived and through the Holy Spirit who He left behind.
So now matter how high we may get in life, like Solomon, or how low we may get like Job, when life on these dusty shores gets rough — and it will get rough — we don’t have to wish we were never born. We don’t have to wish that we were still born because with a little faith we can unlock some spiritual wisdom and instantly go from wishing we were still born to being born again.