Influence. How are you using your influence? I’m writing this in 2020 amid a global pandemic, political turmoil, racial tension, and many natural disasters. It doesn’t seem like most of have enough influence to affect change. Rather it seems the events of this year have surrounded and battered us like a tidal wave. It seems our influence is non-existent, and we’re struggling to keep from drowning in the flood caused by the crashing waves. I feel it too. But as we tread water, fighting to keep our heads above water in 2020, rather than allowing ourselves to focus on the struggle, I’d like to suggest that we all do have influence. Even when misfortune strikes, and we seem incapacitate? Yes, we have influence even then. Keep reading, and I think you’ll see what I mean.
In this week’s series of blog posts, we are looking for proverbs, but not from the book of Proverbs! We are still in the book of Ecclesiastes, and just as we discovered earlier in our study of Ecclesiastes, the Teacher (the writer of Ecclesiastes, who also might have been the writer of most or part of the book of Proverbs) gives us a bunch of proverbs to help us find wisdom in our sometimes confusing world.
This is the fourth week of blog posts studying the section of Ecclesiastes that covers most of chapters 7 through 10, and all of it is advice for wise living. The first of these four weeks, starting here, was also a collections of proverbs, and if you want, you can open your Bible to 7:15-8:8 and review them. After looking back at that section, turn to 9:11-10:20, our passage for this week, and just like that earlier section, we are once again going to be searching for proverbs.
Remember that proverbs are not promises. Proverbs don’t come with guarantees from God. What are proverbs, then? Proverbs are wise sayings that are usually true. Generally speaking, if we follow the wisdom of proverbs, if we apply them to our lives, we will find them to be true and our lives will be better for it. For most of the proverbs, though, if we think hard enough, we can also find exceptions that conflict with the wisdom in the proverb. Those exceptions, however, do not void the reality that the wisdom in the proverb will most often be true. So let’s begin, knowing that despite the possibility for exceptions to the wisdom, this week we’ll find how beneficial it is for us to learn and apply the wisdom of these proverbs to help us understand how to live wisely in this complex world.
As I’ve done often in this series, I’d like us to hear the translation of Ecclesiastes by my seminary Old Testament professor, David Dorsey, starting at 9:11: “11 I have observed another thing in this world: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong; nor does food come to the wise, or wealth to the intelligent, or favor to the knowledgeable; but events and misfortunes happen randomly to everyone. 12 A person does not know when tragedy will strike. As fish are caught in a deadly net, or birds are captured in a snare, so people are taken by surprise when disasters befall them.”
Did you see the proverb here in 9:11-12? “Misfortune surprises everyone.” Most people have experienced this proverb’s truth time and time again. From the small nuisances of life, like getting a flat tire, to the major shocks, like a house fire. Of course, often, after the crisis is over, when we begin to investigate what happened, we find the tell-tale signs of why the tragedy occurred, and then the tragedy might not seem so surprising. We knew our car tires were running thin, and we neglected replacing them for months. Or we knew we had plugged too many Christmas lights in one outlet, risking a fire hazard. But then there are the complete surprises that seem to have no cause whatsoever. Getting hit by lightning. A serious illness. A global pandemic, maybe. How do we respond when great misfortune makes its way into our lives?
The Teacher goes on to illustrate this proverb with a story of a small town that faced a terrible misfortune. Let’s see if we can find the proverb about how to respond to misfortune, as we read the Teacher’s story. Here’s how Dorsey translates 9:13-18:
“13 I saw an example of wisdom that was very sad: 14 There was once a small town with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it, and built huge siege works against it. 15 There lived in that town a man who was poor but wise, and he saved the town by his wisdom. But in the end no one appreciated what he had done. 16 But I said to myself, despite this, wisdom is still more powerful than military strength—even if that poor man’s wisdom was not honored and his words were not celebrated. 17 The quiet words of a wise person are more valuable than the shouts of a ruler who is a fool. 18 Wisdom is more powerful than weapons of war.”
Does anyone else feel bothered by this story because you want to know how the poor wise man saved the town, but the Teacher doesn’t tells? Sorry. The point of the story is not how the poor wise saved the town from invasion. The Teacher has another point. Did you see his point, which is the proverb in this verses? He repeats a version of it three times, once each in verses 16, 17 and 18. “Wisdom is more powerful than military strength.” In verses 16 and 18, he repeats it almost verbatim. HIs rendition in 17 is a touch different, focusing not on military might, but on a foolish ruler who shouts.
The Teacher’s point is that wisdom is far superior. More superior than great military might, more than an obnoxious leader. In international affairs, a loud-mouthed leader with a large army can make a big conflagration and get what they want. If we look back over the course of global history, we don’t have to search to find examples of their devastation. But do any of the Hitlers or Bin Ladens compare to the impact made by the quiet wisdom demonstrated in the three short years of the ministry of Jesus? The Teacher is right, wisdom is better. Get wisdom. Seek it out. Desire it.
Interestingly, this proverb is applicable to far more than the military, kings and would-be world leaders. “Get wisdom” applies to all of us. We all, old and young, have influence. Some of you have influence in your employment. Some in a volunteer capacity. Some in your families. Some with money. Some with time.
How are you using your influence? Are you using your influence like the loud foolish leader who tries to shout and intimidate, who tries to coerce and manipulate, for their own advancement? Are you using your influence like the weapons of war, causing damage and destruction to get what you want? Or are you like the poor wise man who uses wisdom for good?
What, then, is wisdom? So far the teacher has told us what it is not. It is not automatically found in the methods of might. It is not found in the use of manipulative words, in bullying, or in intimidation. So the Teacher has described a bit of what wisdom does not do, or what it does not look like. Wisdom avoids these negative actions.
Check back in to tomorrow’s post, as we’ll continue following the Teacher’s logic, seeing if we can discern more proverbs about wisdom.