“So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:9–11).
This weekend, many churches celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany, when we remember the wise men who visited Jesus. This feast brings the Christmas season to an end, but it also gives us an opportunity to reflect on the significance of the wise men and the nature of biblical wisdom. We can recognize that true wisdom has both a divine source and a divine focus. It comes from God and it directs us to seek our greatest needs and desires from Him.
The wise men sought a meeting with “he who has been born king of the Jews.” While in their homeland (possibly Persia), they had seen a star which led them to believe that a great king had been born for the Jewish people. So, they came to meet this great king. First, the went to the most logical place to find a king of the Jews: the palace of King Herod. There were no newborn princes there. So, they went to Bethlehem where, according to Old-Testament prophecy, the Messiah would be born. The star directed them to the home of a poor young couple and their baby boy. Against common sense, they offered their royal gifts to this working-class poor baby.
True wisdom did not submit to common sense: It followed God’s direction. They found the king of the Jews, not in a royal palace, but in a common family’s home. They worshiped God where He chose to reveal Himself, not where it would seem to make sense.
When we read the Old Testament, we usually associate “wisdom” with King Solomon. First Kings 3:12 tells us that God gave him “a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you.” Solomon’s wisdom is the fount from which most of the Book of Proverbs flowed.
Although the book does not specifically say it is written by him, Ecclesiastes is also usually ascribed to Solomon. Many Christians believe he wrote it near the end of his life, as he reflected on his greatest accomplishments and deepest disappointments. The passage at the beginning of this post is one of many from that book, reflecting his discovery that his boldest pursuits were “vanity and a striving after wind.”
If you wonder what that phrase means, step outside, catch the wind in your hands, and then bring it indoors and place it on your table. It will not work. You may feel the wind hitting your hand, but when you close your fingers around it, you will realize you have nothing. The air molecules that have pelted your palm immediately float elsewhere leaving you with nothing.
This illustrates how many live our lives. We grasp for something, and we find we have nothing. Or we grab hold of something, and we find that we have gained something worthless. We fool ourselves into believing one of life’s great lies: That happiness, satisfaction, and a sense of personal significance or meaning in life can be found in the things of this world.
Take time to read Ecclesiastes. Although written thousands of years ago, some of Solomon’s temptations and frustrations sound very current. He sought and achieved great wealth. He amassed power and influence. He pursued pleasure. He thought great building projects or other noble accomplishments would bring him satisfaction. Yet, throughout his life, he learned that all of these things could be lost in a moment. He would one day pass his wealth on to his heirs, and may one day be forgotten by his descendants. (I wonder if anybody has ever gone to ancestry.com and traced their family tree back to King Solomon? Probably not.) Those things that seemed to bring joy, satisfaction, and significance all seemed to end in emptiness, vanity, and chasing after wind.
However, this was not a cause for despair:
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14).
The flaw of worldly wisdom and common sense is that it focuses on everything that happens “under the sun” and does not recognize its source and focus in God Himself. The pleasures, passions, and purposes we often seek are temporary; a focus on God Himself is eternal.
I wonder about the aftermath of the Magi’s visit. Magi were usually employed by their king, so their visit was probably intended to be as much political as spiritual. Yet, they did not find what they expected. They did not cut a political treaty for their king with a powerful ruler. Instead, they left their gifts with a poor family and came back with nothing more than stories about a baby that somehow inspired them to worship. Yet, they had worshiped God incarnate, and Scripture testifies to this day of their faithfulness. We do not remember their names and their homeland is not specified, but we know that God remembers them. He says to them, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Most importantly, God invites us to seek our joy and significance by worshiping His Son instead of the things of this world.
It is not common sense, but it is wise.
Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.