Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Lessons From the Land of Oppression - Ecclesiastes 7

"For oppression makes a wise man mad,
and a bribe corrupts the heart.
The end of a matter is better than its beginning;
patience of spirit is better
than haughtiness of spirit.
Do not be eager in your heart to be angry,
for anger resides in the bosom of fools.
Do not say, 'Why is it that the former days were
better than these?'
For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this."
(Ecclesiastes 7:7-10)

Oppression! It comes to us in many forms and with many facets. At times in this life we have all been oppressed - all of us - in one way or another.

On some occasions it may have been an actual physical oppression by an actual physical oppressor. In my own life there have been several times like that - painful times - deeply oppressive times.

However, more often than not my personal oppressions have been in the emotional and spiritual realm. Not only avowed enemies but even loved friends and family have oppressed me by their words and absent actions and the lingering weight of heartache has been - well- oppressive!

I have oppressed myself from time to time by lingering too long in stubborn sin and being oppressed as I sat in my own idolatrously formulated seat of scofffers. God, in His wisdom, has even on at least one occasion seen fit to seemingly abandon me to be buffetted by an unseen enemy who's oppressive talons have at times been almost overwhelming and utterly - yes, oppressive.

Oppression comes in many shapes and sizes yet its wearying effects are the same and ultimately God's design in it is the same. That's what Solomon seems to be addressing in these four verses. His words have encouraged my currently oppressed heart this day!

First, Solomon gives us an honest picture of just how exhausting oppression can be upon the one oppressed. "For oppression makes a wise man mad."

Prolonged oppression can make us act as we normally would not! If you have ever spent an extended period in the center of oppressive suffering you understand this. As the days drag on you feel a bit like mad king Nebuchadnezzar who in his period of emotional and spiritual oppression headed out to munch on the grass that grew upon the distant hills! Madness accompanied this wise king's oppression and it often accompanies our own!

Sometimes, by grace,we begin strong on the anvil of affliction. By grace, we begin with Job crying out victoriously - "though He slay me, yet I will trust in Him." By grace, we don't listen when we are told to "curse God and die" but respond with similar sanctified speech as did this suffering saint who went before us: "shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adveristy?"


Somewhere along the way we stop responding "by grace" and begin responding "by self". Even righteous Job fell victim. He who had lost everything and yet in response honestly proclaimed "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord" is found (in chapters 29-31) wishing for the "good ol' days", wallowing in a pity part, accusing God, and just being flat out ticked off regarding his circumstances. His oppression led to a bit of worn out madness. Aren't you glad that the saints of scripture are real?! You are not alone, the madness of oppression is "common to man" (1 Corinthians 10:13).

We often begin strong and somewhere along the road of extended suffering we end up weak. That is Solomon's reminder to us in verse 7: "for oppression makes a wise man mad."

Matthew Henry encouraged my heart greatly with his thoughts on this verse. He writes:

"If a wise man be much long oppressed, he is apt to speak and act unlike himself and to break out in complaints against both God and man. We should therefore make a great allowance to those that are abused and long suffering. We know not what we would do if it were our own case."
Good words. Good reminder. This is not an excuse for our sin but a reminder to be gracious with others in their sin just as God is gracious with us in ours! How I pray that God will grant me the grace to be patient with the oppressed and that others will be mercifully patient with me.

Secondly, Solomon exhorts us to wait patiently upon the Lord's ultimate purpose in our oppression and upon His "right on time" deliverance from our oppression. "The end of a matter is better than its beginning; patience of spirit is better than haughtiness of heart."

OK - agreed - this is NOT an easy thing for we are NOT a patient people! We see in a mirror dimly and we want to see through a window clearly! We want the microwave version of sanctification. We want the Staples "easy" button in the midst of the slow-roast of life! We want what we want NOW - right now - post haste! And we are haughty and arrogant in our demands for God to act when and how we desire Him to! We need to stop! We need to cease striving and know that He is God and we need to take our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ!

While we may not know exactly what God is purposing in our pain we do know - by the declaration of His word - that He is purposing something! Nothing comes into our lives by chance but by sovereign ordination. Our times are in His hands - all of our times! Our paths are carved in perfect faithfulness - even the crooked ones. He is causing all things and causing them to work together for our good and for His glory (Romans 8:28). The end of the matter will be better than the beginning because the all-wise and righteous God is the keeper of the flame of refining fire. He will heat it up just hot enough - yet no hotter - as is perfectly necessary to bring us forth as purified, precious, and valuable gold! Therefore, wait patiently - by grace. Submit to His will in your oppression - by grace. Anticipate the certain deliverance of your King - by grace.

"Those who wait for the Lord, will renew their strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get weary, they will walk and not faint." (Isaiah 40:31)

Third, Solomon reminds us that we will not do any of this perfectly!! "Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, for anger resides in the bosom of fools."

He has already given us one honest assessment regarding the affects that prolonged oppression can have on a wise sinner's soul (vs 7). Here I believe it is alluded to once again.

You know, we are sinners - all of us (Romans 3:23). God is well aware of that - that is why Christ came! He is well acquainted with our frame and knows that we are but dust. We are all prone to wander and apt to stumble. We blow it - repeatedly. There is only One who is perfect - and it is not me!

We get angry. We lose our cool. We blow and spew like Mt. Vesuvius. It happens. It is a fact. So what do we do about it?

Solomon, being like us, encourages us to not be eager in our anger nor to let it reside in our hearts. Anger is going to rise up in the heart of oppressed sinners but how will we respond?

This morning I was greatly encouraged by these verses because honestly I do get angry far too often and yet I hate it about myself and find myself seeking and striving to have my anger ejected from my life. Like Paul in Romans 7 - I do the very thing I hate and hate the very thing I do!

I believe that the Romans 7 struggle is exactly what Solomon is getting at here in Ecclesiastes 7. We are not to eagerly seek after the angry flipping of our lid nor are we to make a special guest room in our hearts where it can come and stay and settle down and be made comfortable. No, we are to hate it and to want to be rid of it - and as true Christians we do hate it even though in paradoxical fashion we coddle it more regularly than we'd care to admit. Oh wretched sinners and transgressing adulterors that we are who shall save us from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!!

Quoting Henry again: "Though anger may come into the bosom of a wise man and pass through as a wayfaring stranger, it resides only in the bosom of fools."

Gracious Lord - help me to hate this all to frequent passer by and grant me the strength to evict him from my doorstep each time he knocks!

Finally, Solomon points us to be content in the moment that God has ordained. "Do not say, 'Why is it that the former days were better than these?' For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this."

Job said it - "Oh that I were as in months gone by" and we say it too - "Man, those were the good ol' days!"

Yet may I ask, is there truly ever any better day than the day God has ordained for us this day?

"This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it!" Beloved, do we believe the psalmist on this one and are we living accordingly?

Turning one final time to Mr. Henry:

"We must make the best of what is and not assume that the former days were better days. We are so much a stranger to times past and such an incompetant judge even of times present that we cannot expect a satisfactory answer to our inquiry. It is folly to cry up the goodness of former times so as to derogate from the mercy of God to us in our present times."


How foolishly, stubbornly, and self-absorbedly we (I) reflect upon the providence of God in our discontent and complaining states - as if He were acting in an unjust or unkind fashion!! ! How arrogantly do we (I) act as if we know what is best when in reality we don't know squat!! Oh, Lord our Lord help us to trust ourselves to the wisdom of holy omniscience that we would cease striving and know that you are God!

Yes - oppression hurts - sometimes like hell itself. However, equally YES, God is in our oppression with sanctifying purpose and with an already determined and right on time escape plan. "'Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus - oh for grace to trust Him more!!"

The end will be better than the beginning. Therefore, let us wait on the deliverance of the King of Glory and with Job let us recognize the folly of our grumbling and complaining and say:

"Behold, I am insignificant: what can I reply to Thee? I cover my mouth with my hand. I know that Thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of Thine can be thwarted. Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes."

God let Job rant and rave and rail for a moment in his oppression. Then God spoke and then Job shut up. We would be wise to do the same knowing that the same God who ordered Job's oppression restored Job in that oppression and "increased all that Job had twofold". Friends, let us wait patiently and humbly upon our God to do the same for us in just the right way and at just the right moment.


1 comment:

  1. How sweet are the examples of scripture. Yes! I am glad that they are real!!!! Thanks, Lori - I know, to God be the glory!!